REVIEW: “Choose Your Pain”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1, Episode 5 – Debuted Sunday October 15th
Written by Kemp Powers, Story by Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts & Kemp Powers
Directed by Lee Rose
The fifth episode of Star Trek: Discovery slowed down the pace, but picked up the emotional impact. “Choose Your Pain” delivered strong character development across the board along with a good amount of nods and references just for the fans. Rainn Wilson stepped well into the role of Harry Mudd well, bringing humor and dramatic conflict with Jason Isaacs’ Captain Lorca. As the first third of Star Trek: Discovery’s first season wraps up, the show continues to grow…and grow on me.
“Choose Your Pain” starts with a dream sequence, but not the kind that tries to fake you out. We pick up the thread from “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry,” with Michael Burnham seeing herself as Ripper the tardigrade. The character parallels with Michael and the tardigrade may be too on the nose, with her literally feeling poor Ripper’s pain, but the sequence effectively sets up the moral quandary for the episode over if they can continue to use the creature to make the Spore Drive go.
And apparently Burnham isn’t alone. In fact, as we pop over to Captain Lorca attending a conference with Starfleet brass, they seem to be concerned that he is endangering the unique component that makes the Spore Drive into their most effective secret weapon. Although the admirals may not have the same empathy for the creature as Burnham, as it was noted they are “hunting” for more so every ship in the fleet can eventually have its own tardigrade-controlled drive.
We are presented with some nice scenes with Lorca and Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook), which reveal they have some history. Jason Isaacs gets to extend Lorca’s range with a bit of a softer side – or maybe just a bit of a less hard-ass side. We get more evidence that Lorca plays by his own rules, as Cornwell notes concerns about his recruiting of Michael Burnham, but interestingly she lets slip that there is some debate over if Burnham’s reputation for starting the war is justified. These and other scenes demonstrate how “Choose Your Pain” delivers character development in more subtle ways than previous episodes.
On his way home from the big meeting Lorca gets captain-napped by the Klingons, which seemed way too easy, but it’s wartime and maybe resources are stretched too thin to give this very important person a bit more security than a small shuttle and a single pilot. Thrown into a very depressing cell on a prison ship, we finally meet Rainn Wilson’s Harry Mudd, who does not disappoint as he starts cracking wise and talking about his beloved Stella.
But unlike his two turns in The Original Series, Mudd isn’t here for comic relief. Through a series of scenes which graduate in intensity, more and more about both Mudd and Lorca is revealed. Mudd hits Lorca over how he destroyed his last ship, killing his own crew to keep them from being captured by the Klingons. And Lorca uncovers Mudd’s lies and how he has sold them out to the Klingons. It was cruel but believably in character for Lorca to leave Mudd behind, however we haven’t seen the last of Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Wilson and Isaacs sparring in the minimalist setting of the cell had the feeling of a Beckett play, with each tearing through the other’s layers to expose their inner truths.
There were three lights
The Klingon scenes also introduced a new character for the show, Lt. Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), who has been in custody since the battle from the series premiere. Lorca is dubious that anyone could survive that long and it is implied he only did so because L’Rell took a liking to him and possibly even used him as a sex toy. We can see the beginnings of what will be an arc for Tyler to recover from his mistreatment and rejoin Starfleet, on board the USS Discovery. Although the eventual escape from the Klingon ship may have been even easier than Lorca’s capture. This could possibly just be to move the plot along, or maybe Lorca shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss his suspicion of Tyler.
Pain is a recurring theme throughout the episode with the tardigrade, Michael and even Saru all experiencing different kinds of pain on board the Discovery. And inside Klingon ship, the guards give the prisoners the option to “Choose Your Pain” by picking who gets beaten next. Lorca’s treatment even hinted at Star Trek’s most famous episode dealing with torture, TNG’s “Chain of Command,” with L’Rell using a series of bright lights to torment Lorca and his light-sensitive eyes, Clockwork Orange-style. Mary Chieffo continues to be a bright light among the mostly dull Klingons as she reveals her philosophy on how “Glory must be earned, through sacrifice and pain.”
Captain Saru’s basket of easter eggs
Meanwhile on the good ship USS Discovery, Saru finds himself as acting captain, tasked with finding Lorca while the secret ingredient to make the ship function is literally curling up into a ball. Just like his character, Doug Jones stepped up to the dramatic challenge with scenes between him and Burnham echoing classic Trek moments such as “The Tholian Web,” when McCoy questioned Spock’s ability to take command.
With Stamets, Dr. Culber and Burnham questioning his judgement and pretty much ignoring his orders, Saru starts to question himself, leading him to doing some research on great Trek captains. This resulted in showing a screen with references that included Captains Archer, April, and Pike. The hunt for Lorca also used a map chock full of well-known Star Trek locales such as K-7, Rura Penthe and others. These fun bits of fan service were a delight that worked organically, unlike the silly and pointless ‘delta in the sand’ moment from the premiere episode.
“Choose Your Pain” was less Burnham-focused than previous entries and allowed other characters to shine through, and not just Lorca and Saru. Mary Wiseman’s Tilly is starting to show that she is more than just a ditz, as she worked with Stamets (Anthony Rapp) and Burnham to solve the problem of making the drive work without torturing Ripper. It’s nice to see them all banding together, although some of the exposition moments had the excitement of a PowerPoint presentation at a Federation science symposium. Doing the technobabble still seems to be a weakness for Sonequa Martin-Green, with Mary Wiseman and Anthony Rapp more adept at delivering this uniquely Star Trek dialog. However, the dropping of two f-bombs may not have been the best way to break up the science-heavy mood and was potentially gratuitous.
It was also classic Trek to have the solution to the dilemma not be pure ‘teching the tech,’ with Stamets sacrifice by injecting himself with tardigrade genetic goo and stepping in for Ripper. The moment of triumph on the bridge when Saru called down to engineering had a nice echo of the scene in Star Trek II when Kirk called down only to find out no one was celebrating in engineering, due to Spock’s sacrifice. For a second you almost believed that this show was willing to go there and kill off Stamets.
Saru and Burnham also take a step forward in a heart-breaking scene played beautifully by Jones and Martin-Green, as they finally have it out over the death of Captain Georgiou. They still clearly have issues and Saru’s resentment may not be entirely rational, but maybe his threat ganglia won’t keep emerging every time Burnham is about to show up.
Things also come full circle as Burnham saves and frees Ripper. This creature was a monster that killed members of both the USS Glenn and Discovery crews and yet in a typical Star Trek twist, no one disputes that the right answer is to let him go to travel the interstellar fungus highway on his own. And does this also mean that Burnham too is now free? Does she no longer see herself as a monster? Her redemption may not be complete, but with every episode she takes another step.
Men in the mirror
The episode ends on a touching scene with Stamets and Culber, with Anthony Rapp and Wilson Cruz again demonstrating great chemistry. We believe this is a real couple who love each other as they simply brush their teeth and chat in front of the mirror. The fact that they happen to be the same gender is not an issue and the inclusion of this relationship is welcome addition to Star Trek’s tradition of diversity.
What may not be a welcome addition to the crew is Stamets’ reflection. The episode took a mysterious and creepy turn as Anthony Rapp turned away from the mirror but his reflection decided to stay. Clearly his stint in the reaction chamber had some kind of adverse effect. Could this ominous mirror image be from the Mirror Universe? Is that a bit too obvious? We will hopefully find out soon enough.
Welcome to the family
What makes any Star Trek show is how the characters come together as a family and with “Choose Your Pain” we are starting to see how this crew is slowly, but surely forming into that unit. This episode may not have had as much action as previous entries, but it had more emotion than all of them. For me, I am really starting to care about and feel with these characters. Star Trek: Discovery is fast becoming a welcome part of my Star Trek family.
- Besides those mentioned above, namedrops in this episode included the Daystrom Institute.
- Klingon disruptors were scary and cool how they vaporize targets into a green cloud.
- The Klingon Raiders are so cool.
- Did they change the design of the Klingon D-7?
- Discovery crew complement 134.
- Once again we hear about a familiar alien (Dr. Culber’s Androian tonsillectomy) but we don’t see them.
- Jeff Russo’s score stood out, really helping deliver some of the emotional punch the episode needed.
- Are shuttlecraft pilots the red shirts of Discovery?
Star Trek: Discovery is available exclusive in the US on CBS All Access with new episodes released Sundays at 8:30 pm ET. In Canada Star Trek: Discovery airs on the Space Channel at 8:00 pm ET. Discovery is available on Netflix outside the USA and Canada with new episodes made available Monday at 8 am BST.
Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery news at TrekMovie.