Episode 5 went by in a flash.
I started watching it, ‘girding my loins’ for way too many Klingons and subtitles, and before I knew it the credits were rolling. The episode flew by in what felt like 20 minutes, not 47.
Every week this show gets better.
Episode Number: 105 (Season 1, Episode 5)
Episode Title: “Choose Your Pain”
Story: Aaron Harberts, Gretchen J. Berg and Kemp Powers
Writer: Kemp Powers
Director: Lee Rose
Tilly to Michael: “I love feeling feelings.”
Stamets to Michael: “What are you doing with your mouth?”
Burnham, in response: “I am swallowing the urge to set the record straight.”
Mudd (in reference to his pet arachnid): “Apologies, Lieutenant. Stewart has boundary issues.”
Interesting Bits and Pieces
Some people called it fan service, I thought it was awesome. Context? When Saru is having a bit of a command crisis, he calls up a list of some of Starfleets most decorated Captains. Who?
– Captain Robert April
– Captain Matt Decker (later, Commodore Decker and the father of Commander Willard Decker from Star Trek: The Motion Picture)
– Captain Philippa Georgiou
– Captain Christopher Pike
Also, we saw a map that included some very familiar locations:
– The K-7 Space Station
– Rura Penthe
– the Mempa Sector
I didn’t see Khitomer, but according to some fans it can be seen up in the corner of the map.
These call outs work – a lot better than the Gorn skeleton, the Horta in the corner, and a neutered Tribble on Lorca’s desk. They’re nice additions that link directly to continuity and make sense in the context of the episode.
If the team behind Star Trek: Discovery want to reward us fans, this is the way to do it. It’s not gratuitous.
The Recap and Review
We kick off the episode with a dream sequence and it quickly becomes clear our favourite mutineer has been deeply affected by Ripper the tardigrade’s situation.
Michael wakes to Tilly’s gentle snores and decides to pay Doctor Culber a visit. She needs Hugh’s help to determine whether or not they really are causing the tardigrade pain.
Hugh points out that they can’t know whether or not they’re hurting Ripper, because they simply don’t know enough about his biology – Michael agrees that she could be anthropomorphising Ripper, but when the doctor says he’ll help she is thankful for his assistance.
Ripper’s reaction to the spore-drive was one of the most troubling things about last week’s episode and I personally found it difficult to watch. It was a relief to see them dealing with the ethics of using another life form against its will.
Credit where credit is due, the animators did an incredible job of showing us Ripper was in pain and confused, Ripper came to life under their care. Sonequa Martin-Green’s performance added to the impact and made every scene she shared with Ripper meaningful and let us know that maybe we weren’t misinterpreting his reaction.
While Hugh starts his tests, we jump over to a space station located somewhere near the Klingon border where Lorca is addressing a small group of Admirals. Starfleet is impressed with the DASH drive (Displacement-Activated Spore Drive) and the success Discovery has had with it since the disaster on the Glenn. They want to roll it out to every ship in the fleet, but they need more tardigrades.
Until they find more, they want Lorca to pull back on his attacks because they believe the Klingons now know about the DASH-drive and are super keen to take the Discovery no matter the cost.
Lorca is not happy.
Back on Discovery, Tilly and Michael have lunch. Tilly, as usual, is being adorable and Michael is unusually distracted. Tilly takes Michael’s distraction to be a rejection of her friendship in a telling exchange of dialogue that gives us some interesting and simultaneously heart-breaking insight into her character. The subtext is that people find her a bit too much, and as a result she doesn’t have many (or any) friends. Michael slowly realises what’s going on, and assures Sylvia that that is not what is happening.
Michael brings Tilly into her confidence and tells her about her concerns regarding Ripper.
Back on the Starbase/Space Station, Lorca and Admiral Katrina Cornwell (Jayne Brook) discuss Michael Burnham. Cornwell expresses her concerns around Lorca taking Michael on board, and he pretty much tells her to take a leap into a matter/antimatter reactor. He reminds Katrina that Starfleet gave him “the fullest latitude” to fight the war his way… and he isn’t all that nice about it. Katrina reminds him they’re friends, but Lorca brushes it off.
We also learn, in this exchange, that Lorca and Cornwell might have been something more than friends.
Thanks to AfterTrek we also find out that Cornwell was a psychiatrist in her previous Starfleet life. This is alluded to on screen when Katrina and Lorca have a tense exchange about doctors, after she suggests he get his eyes fixed. Lorca pointedly tells her he “doesn’t trust doctors.”
Leaving the Admiral, Lorca boards a shuttle to return to his ship but the Klingons have other ideas. They’d like to invite Lorca to a party where every time a Klingon says “choose your pain” you have to take a shot of blood wine.
A D-7 Klingon cruiser that doesn’t look like a D-7 Klingon cruiser warps right in on top of the shuttle, and things go from bad to bloody in a matter of moments.
The Klingon’s board Lorca’s shuttle, pretty much gut the shuttle pilot and leave us with the revelation that there are now two jobs in Starfleet that you don’t ever want to do – security AND shuttle pilot.
Then we jump to the main title sequence.
After the main titles, we return to Discovery where a holographic Admiral Cornwell tells the bridge crew that Lorca has been captured – and they’re tasked with rescuing him.
Starfleet believes the Klingons have learned about the new drive, and are after Lorca to get more information.
Saru, the acting-captain in Lorca’s absence, sets to work issuing orders when, suddenly, his threat ganglia poke out. The turbo-lift doors open – revealing Michael. She tells Saru that she’s looking for the captain, and Saru fills her in. She cuts right to the point, and expresses her concerns about Ripper. Saru, as someone who once described his species as, essentially, “cattle”, is surprisingly unsympathetic.
He retreats to Lorca’s ready room and consults the computer about leadership, with issues about Burnham at the forefront of his mind. This is where we get the shot of Starfleets’ most decorated captains, mentioned above in our “Interesting Bits and Pieces” section.
During Saru’s introspection, the computer pretty much suggests he jettison Burnham out an airlock. Thankfully he doesn’t.
It’s really interesting how much Burnham effects Saru. We’re not given long to think about that, because we jump to the Klingon ship and meet…
Harcourt Fenton Mudd, played by Rainn Wilson.
Way too much fuss was made about Harry Mudd’s inclusion in Star Trek: Discovery, with some people thinking it was unnecessary and some having an issue with Rainn Wilson stepping into the role.
I hope all of that fuss has now been put to rest, because it works, and Rainn is excellent.
Thanks to Harry, we learn that the Klingon vessel is a prison ship. We also learn that the Klingons like to group their prisoners into shared cells.
Lorca asks Harry what a civilian is doing on a Klingon prison ship, and Harry tells him he has no idea and that his only crime is the crime of love – then, in a nice monologue that evokes the original series, talks about his beloved Stella. As Mudd waxes lyrical, Lorca checks out their cell and finds a Starfleet officer broken and huddled in a corner.
We quickly learn why this officer is so broken.
The Klingons walk in and ask Harry to “choose his pain.” He points at the huddled Starfleet officer and the Klingons go to town on him, beating him senseless. They end his life with a brutal and shocking, skull cracking stomp to the head and then drag the body out.
Lorca stares on in shock as Harry tells him the rules. They can either accept the beating themselves, or pass it to someone else in the cell.
Lorca is stunned, and, judging by the look on his face, disgusted.
We leave Lorca and Harry to visit with Stamets, Culber and Burnham. Burnham wants to enlist Stamets’ help with Ripper and tries to charm him… which doesn’t work. Hugh takes the more direct approach and tells Stamets that they’re there to talk about the effects of the spore-drive on the tardigrade.
They convince Stamets and he agrees with the both of them. They need a solution, and can’t continue to use a potentially sentient life form against its will.
It’s taken this version of Trek a while to give us this side of Starfleet. It’s so indescribably wonderful to see these conversations taking place, and to see a glimpse of the Starfleet and Federation I love.
If I have one issue with Star Trek: Discovery, it’s that since the death of Captain Georgiou we haven’t seen anyone expressing or ‘living’ the ideals of Starfleet and the Federation. Yes, Star Trek fans love special effects and compelling story lines and new species, but a lot of us are dreamers too: we want to believe that this shitty period in history that we’re all stuck in will end, and that something beautiful and amazing will come out of the mess of the last few centuries. Our new Trek has kind of been saying… yeah, everything is still sorta shit.
Back on the prison ship, Lorca continues to explore his cell, probably in an attempt to stay as far away from Harry Mudd as he can. He stumbles across Lieutenant Ash Tyler.
Tyler is excited to see a Starfleet captain, and tries to feed Lorca, who refuses, while Stewart, Harry Mudd’s cute little arachnid pet, steals the food for Harry who smugly eats it in front of both men.
Mudd is entirely unsympathetic. He’s a prick and I love Rainn’s gleeful but restrained portrayal of the character.
We learn that Tyler was on board the USS Yeager and has been on the prison ship since the Battle of the Binary Stars.
We also learn that L’Rell, the captain of the prison ship, has taken a… liking to Tyler. There is subtext here that suggests he has been sexually assaulted by her.
Tyler and Lorca end up in an argument with Mudd, who challenges both men, telling them that they started the war by bothering to “boldy go”. He tells them he can understand why the Klingons don’t want them in their ‘front yard.’
At this point, our overly bloodthirsty Klingons return. They take Lorca to L’Rell. No “choose your pain,” they just drag him out.
We probably need to talk about Tyler here – because fandom has gone bonkers about his character.
On my first watch, a few things Tyler said didn’t ‘drop’ in my mind. I didn’t find myself analysing it all too deeply until my second watch.
In my first watch, I came away thinking “Manchurian Candidate.” Klingons are crazy-strong. It’s canon. We see it in this episode. They throw their human victims about like they’re sacks of potatoes, and the human skull is pretty strong. One stomp shouldn’t shatter a grown man’s head – but one Klingon stomp does. But, a tortured Lorca and an exhausted, repeatedly beaten, undernourished Tyler take a few out in a couple of scenes time. Not once, but twice, and then they steal a fighter and escape. Everything pointed to them being let go.
Inbetween my first and second watches of the episode, I listened to a podcast where it was suggested Ash Tyler was Voq, our Albino Klingon. I’m now 98% convinced he is. This article, from TrekMovie, was what pushed me from my Manchurian Candidate theory to the Ash is Voq theory. Visit TrekMovie here.
There’s only one fault with the analysis – nothing in the episode tells us how long L’Rell has been in command of the prison ship. She could have taken a liking to him in recent days, or of course it’s all a lie to deceive Lorca. Time will tell, as will whether or not we see Voq in any future episodes.
One last thing, was the officer who had his head stomped the real Ash Tyler?
Back on the Discovery, Tilly, Stamets and Burnham are working together, trying to find a solution to Ripper’s dilemma.
Tilly suggests creating a virtual Ripper. Stamets talks about his earlier research and how he tried to use software to fix the problem but it only enabled small jumps. He points out that things only started to work to their fullest potential when a sentient creature was interfaced with the mycelium network.
He suggests they find something or someone else, who is willing and can fully understand the choice they’re making.
It’s at this point we have another first for Star Trek.
Tilly says: “You guys, this is so fucking cool!” She quickly realises that might not have been the best or most professional thing to say in front of her boss. Stamets stares at her, eyebrow raised for a moment, and then with a small sly smile, agrees. “No cadet, it is fucking cool.”
So… the f-bomb. I admit it grated, but in that scene it worked. It would have worked better if Stamets hadn’t used the f-bomb too.
We leave our intrepid trio of Ripper-savers to jump over to L’Rell, who has captain Lorca strapped into a nasty looking chair.
She talks to him about torture, he compliments her English, she talks about being descended from spies and then asks him about his ship and its mode of transport.
Mary Chieffo is, as per usual, extraordinary. I don’t have words to describe how much I admire this young actor. What she can do under all those prosthetics is amazing.
L’Rell tells Lorca in an almost seductive way, that she knows about his photo-sensitivity and then forces his eyes open with a device straight out of a horror movie and uses bright light to torture him. Some fans have suggested this scene is reminiscent of Picard’s torture at the hands of the Cardassians in the episode “Chain of Command.” It did pop into my mind briefly when I was watching, but I don’t really see a similarity past the fact it featured bright lights.
I’ve been heavily critical of the Klingons, primarily because of the distracting subtitles and heavy makeup that makes their vocalisations hard to understand. So how about a positive? This episode was, from memory, subtitle free and it made a difference. It let me really pay attention to the Klingon scenes within the flow of the episode – no rewinding and rewatching, breaking me out of the moment. I came away from that simple experience excited by them. What I do love about these Klingons is how deep we’re going into their culture and the effort the writers are going to, to make these guys feel real and not just ‘different.’ They’re starting to come across like a real, multifaceted species, rather than the stereotype and caricature they turned into in the TNG era. They’re more nuanced in this Trek. That’ll probably piss off some fans, but after an intriguing start with Worf, everything became “honour” this and “honour” that and “I’ll drink blood wine on the corpses of my enemies.” In this show they have so many different dimensions to them. Different houses with different perspectives and physical characteristics – just like us and the many different races that make up humanity, and this very real and very current fear of multiculturalism. I love this aspect. The Klingons are interesting and forbidding again and they are finally starting to grow on me.
We leave Lorca, screaming, in the capable and malicious hands of L’Rell to return to the Discovery.
Staments, Burnham and Tilly are unable to find a compatible species in the database that is capable of working the spore-drive. At that point, Saru walks in, and he’s pissed.
Michael tells Saru that they have a sample of tardigrade DNA and could use it to empower a human to work the spore-drive. Saru reminds her that Eugenics is not allowed. The discussion quickly goes down hill, heating up when Saru accuses Michael of treating him like one of her anthropology subjects.
Refusing to hear anymore, he orders Stamets to bring the drive on line and to use the tardigrate. Turning on Burnham, he confines her to quarters.
We jump back to the prison ship where Lorca confronts Mudd and accuses him of being a spy for the Klingons. Lorca sprinkled some things in his initial conversation with Mudd which was parroted back at him during his interrogation, making it likely Mudd told his jailers and is working with them. But was it Harry or Ash?
Mudd goes in for a very distracting attack and turns the tables on Lorca. He brings up Lorca’s last command, the USS Buran.
It’s here that we start to get a deeper glimpse into Lorca, and some indication of why he’s as hard-ass as he is. We learn that Lorca survived a Klingon attack, but his crew did not.
Rather than let Mudd continue, Lorca takes back control of the conversation and in an unusually candid moment tells Mudd he only knows half the story. He tells Mudd and Ash Tyler that he blew his crew up to avoid them being captured by the Klingons.
Ash Tyler lowers his head and the scene switches to a black alert on the Discovery.
Stamets beams the tardigrade into the reaction chamber. Tilly watches, distressed, as Michael, in her quarters, worries about Ripper. It is obvious Stamets is not happy with how things are transpiring either and in a nice, beautifully filmed moment we watch our heroes realise that they really have been thoughtlessly torturing Ripper.
As they jump, the tardigade screams in pain and collapses.
Stamets and Tilly rush into the chamber, but they’re too late to do anything. Ripper curls into a ball, shedding all of his water and breaking my heart in the process. We quickly learn, thanks to Doctor Culber, that Ripper has gone into a state of extreme cryptobiosis.
Saru dispassionately orders Doctor Culber to rehydrate the tardigrade and hook it back into the engine.
More than anything, from stomped heads to tardigrade torture, this was one of the most shocking scenes in this episode. Saru knows what it’s like to be used against his will by a more powerful predator, yet he mercilessly orders his crew to commit a crime, telling them that if they’re right, and Ripper is sentient, he’ll be judged in accordance with his actions.
Culber refuses to participate.
Saru doesn’t appear to care. I expect he does, and I expect, deep down, this is hurting him quite badly. Saru orders Stamets to do it. There’s a quirk in Paul’s voice as he agrees to get the drive working.
Back on the prison ship, the Klingons turn up in the cell and ask Lorca to “choose your pain.” Ash tells Lorca to choose him. Lorca, after some resistance, does.
It’s a trick. Ash and Lorca overpower the Klingons all too easily.
Both men dash out of the prison, with Harry begging to be taken with them. Disgusted by Mudd, Lorca doesn’t let him come. Harry angrily tells Lorca he hasn’t seen the last of him.
In a nearby corridor they have another fight with the Klingons, and these ones are also surprisingly easy to defeat.
Ash gets injured in the scuffle and Lorca uses a disrupter to blow a Klingon into a cool looking green smoke before the lieutenant is killed. Ash can’t continue and suggests Lorca come back for him. Lorca hesitatingly agrees and disappears.
Suddenly, L’Rell is there and Ash finds some kind of inner strength and gets up and starts to punch her. He lets loose, and it looks like she’s taking one heck of a pummelling. If this is all a ruse to deceive Lorca and the Federation, is Voq (Ash) unleashing on L’Rell because he has been surgically altered to look like the very species he hates? The species that killed his Messiah?
In the middle of this very violent act, Lorca returns, melts off half of L’Rell’s face with a disruptor blast and drags Ash to a Klingon raider.
The next scene is both men in the fighter, and they’ve escaped. Way too easily.
As they fight off their pursuit, we learn that Lorca’s sensitivity to light was caused by the destruction of the Buran, and that he suffers through the pain of damaged eyes in memory of his former crew.
The escape scene is beautifully directed and acted and is visually stunning. The space battle scenes look GREAT! Everything Star Trek: Discovery is doing is feature film quality. This series looks better than the Kelvin-timeline films.
We don’t spend nearly enough time with Lorca, Ash and the space battle and find ourselves back on the Discovery. They detect the raiders and Saru works out Lorca is on one of them.
Discovery contacts him and beams both he and Ash aboard, just as their fighter gets blown apart.
Saru asks Stamets if the tardigrade is hooked up. Stamets noncommittally advises they are “able to jump.”
In the transporter room, Lorca helps Ash up and welcomes him back to the war.
On the bridge, Saru is trying to get in touch with Stamets. He’s advised Stamets’ life signs are in distress and in a scene reminiscent of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Saru races to engineering and finds Stamets collapsed in the reaction chamber.
Tilly tells Saru that Stamets injected himself with the tardigrade DNA.
For a fleeting moment it looks like Paul Stamets is dead, but suddenly, Stamets comes to and starts to laugh hysterically.
We cut to Burnham’s quarters. Saru comes in and they finally have it out. Saru tells Michael that’s he’s angry with her and that she’s taken a great deal from him.
Saru wanted what Michael threw away. He had hoped Michael would get promoted to her own command, and that he would become Georgiou’s first officer. He’d hoped to learn under Georgiou’s guidance. He’s angry at Michael for destroying her own life, for destroying his dreams, and for, in his opinion, getting their captain killed.
Michael takes it and apologises. Then, in a sweet moment, she tells Saru that he did well as acting captain, and gives him Georgiou’s telescope.
Hopefully, now, their healing can begin.
Michael finds Tilly and together, in what is a beautiful scene, they set the tardigrade free. He uses some spores Michael poured over him and jumps toward a distant nebula.
The episode ends with Stamets and Culber together in their bathroom, brushing their teeth in what is a very simple but poignant scene. Culber is worried about the DNA injection, and gently lectures his partner.
Stamets tells him that he had to do something because Culber was in danger.
He tries to describe his experience with the spores, but can’t quite find the words, describing it as “unspeakably beautiful.”
Hugh tells his partner to never do that again, because though Stamets might not care about Stamets, he does.
As Culber goes to bed, Stamets lingers for a couple of seconds and then turns away. As he does, his reflection stays in the mirror and smiles.
It’s a wonderfully creepy way to finish the episode.
This is the most Star Trek episode to date. I loved it. It was action packed, it was full of drama, the performances from every cast member were outstanding.
It was shocking, revelatory and poignant. My only complaint is that it went too fast. I do not know how they squeezed all of that in.
This series is really taking flight. It didn’t exactly have a bumpy start, but it did take it’s time bringing us to the mystery – and it feels like we’re finally there.
Is Ash Voq in human disguise? There is precedent for this. In the original series episode “The Trouble with Tribbles”, the character of Arne Darvin was revealed to be a Klingon.
What did Lorca do? Why didn’t he go down with his ship? What’s the story behind him killing his crew, but somehow surviving?
Will we see Ripper again?
Have Saru and Michael finally started their path toward becoming friends again?
What is going on with that reflection in Hugh and Stamets’ mirror?
Most people out there in fandom think this is hinting at an upcoming Mirror Universe episode. We do know one is coming. Will it be next episode?
I don’t care. I’m just enjoying the ride.
There is no question. I LOVE THIS SERIES.
Special Effects/VFX: 10/10
Overall, five Starfleet deltas out of five.
Star Trek: Discovery airs in the United States on CBS All Access with new episodes released Sundays at 8:30pm ET. In Canada the show airs on the Space Channel at 8:00pm ET. Outside of the USA and Canada, Star Trek: Discovery airs on Netflix with new episodes dropping in the UK at 8am BST Mondays, and in Australia at 6pm Mondays AEDT.
Live long, and prosper. See you in about a week.