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Monday, 16 October 2017

Star Trek: Discovery 1-05: Choose Your Pain (Quick Review)

Episode:5|Writer:Kemp Powers|Air Date:15-Oct-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching an episode of Discovery with a title that sounds like it should be a quote from a Mortal Kombat game.

This is one of my quick reviews, meaning that I'm writing it in a rush and I'm leaving out the scene-by-scene observations I usually do. There'll still be plenty of words though and many of them will be SPOILERS for this episode and earlier ones.

Choose Your Pain is actually an episode about people choosing who gets the pain, named after the fun game that Klingons like to play with their guests in the pipe storage room. They get to pick between physical pain or the emotional pain of knowing that they're causing others to suffer (demonstrated a bit too obviously by Burnham's nightmare of being both the victim and the tormenter at once). Saru consistently chooses to inflict pain on Ripper because he'd do anything to save his captain, Mudd chooses to give the pain to anyone who isn't him because he's not overly encumbered by empathy, and Lorca chose to keep his pain as a reminder... but to also give it Tyler, possibly because they'd worked out a plan in advance? I wasn't clear on that.

Stamets, on the other hand, decided to step up and enter the Spock self-sacrifice box to take on Ripper's pain and get his All Access pass to everything on the network. I'm a bit surprised that the Ripper arc has ended so soon, but it's great that the writers didn't drag out the moral dilemma of our heroes having to torment a potentially sentient creature to save lives over and over again. There was a bit of doubt at first, but the team found the third way like a proper Starfleet crew and released the creature to warp away and tell all his sceptical tardigrade mates down the mycelium pub that he was abducted and experimented on by aliens. I was also surprised that Burnham didn't disobey orders and inject herself with the magic DNA, seeing as she's the plucky protagonist and that's what she always does, but she actually sat in her quarters like she was told and let the rest of the ensemble (successfully) handle the crisis. In retrospect, I suppose it always had to be Stamets who gained the ability to talk to mushrooms. BUT AT WHAT COST???

The episode put less focus on Burnham in general, which meant more time for Stamets, Saru and Lorca to shine (and for Dr. Culber to get anything to do at all). Now we've learned that Stamets is in a relationship with the doctor, Saru's not really that timid as a captain even though he doubts he's had enough mentoring, and Lorca's suffering from survivor's guilt after blowing up his last ship with everyone on board. Why he wasn't on the ship at the time is a mystery though. You'd think that this episode would be about getting to the core of what kind of person he really is, considering that it's about him being isolated and tortured, but he's still as ambiguous and shady as ever. He had no hesitation in throwing Mudd's pet insect across the room, smacking the guy in the face with the butt of his gun and leaving him in a Klingon jail cell though.

According to the Discovery's computer, the traits shared by the best Starfleet captains are: bravery, self-sacrifice, intelligence, tactical brilliance, and compassion, and it's possible that Lorca's lacking in the self-sacrifice and compassion departments. He does at least know the Starfleet double fist slam though, and he scores highly in prison escaping.

Lorca's temporary incarceration means we finally get to meet two characters promised from early on: Lt. Ash Tyler and Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Harry's not a perfect doppelganger for his original incarnation but he's still recognisably the same asshole. He'll steal your food, he'll choose you for beatings, he'll bug your conversations and all the while he'll blame it all on you. He feels that it's Starfleet's fault the war started, because they were inevitably going to start scaring the neighbours with their 'boldly go' attitude and it's the little guys like him that suffer for it. The little guys that accidental stray into enemy space while running away from people they owe money to.

To be honest, I totally expected Mudd to be the source of the weird artefacts and Gorn Skeletons in Lorca's war room, so it came as a surprise to me when it turned out that the two had never met. I figured the two of them would at least get on together, but nope, even Lorca can't stomach Mudd's bullshit. Mudd's the worst human we've come across so far, and he helps calibrate the moral scale so we can see where our heroes are standing right now,  and they're actually fairly heroic during this episode... while Lorca's not around to prod them. The idea that Mudd was secretly working with the Klingons to (literally) bug the cell is ridiculous though... mostly because it's their cell; they could've put the mics in the walls if they wanted to (like in every other room on the ship).

His cellmate Ash Tyler comes across as one of the better humans, though I spent the whole episode trying to decide if he's actually Voq. I've been thinking about this for a few days now, ever since someone put the idea in my head that there might be a Klingon spy on the ship, and I'm surprised by how much sense it makes. Tyler's played by Shazad Latif, who was apparently going to play T'Kuvma's ashen protégé before he mysteriously switched to Starfleet to take on a different role. At the time I just assumed that he hadn't been doing well in that bulky new Klingon makeup that seems designed to utterly hide all trace of an actor's real face, but the producers had liked him and wanted to keep him on the series somehow. But I got a bit suspicious when I noticed he was replaced with a guy called Javid Iqbal, who hasn't been seen in interviews, or in anything else ever it seems. Especially considering that Shazad was born 'Shazad Khaliq Iqbal').

At the end of the last episode, Voq was about to go with L'Rell to sacrifice 'everything'. Now three weeks later he's entirely absent while she's got a ship and a career torturing her new boyfriend. We know that Klingons can disguise themselves as human and we see someone change their DNA in this very episode, so did he choose this pain? There were certain clues I spotted that pointed towards that being the case: Tyler's survived torture for a ridiculously long time, there's been enough of a time jump for Voq to have visited the matriarchs already, and we see another Klingon speaking English fluently. Plus after seven months locked up, Tyler escapes captivity pretty easily the week Lorca arrives. He even says he was waiting for the right person to show up... who happens to be the person the Klingons were specifically targeting.

On the other hand, Tyler is likeable, competent and skilled in a fight, which is entirely unlike Voq, and it seems unlikely that the guy could impersonate a Starfleet officer so well when he wasn't even all that great at being a Klingon. Plus Tyler and L'Rell get a scene together alone and he spends most of it punching her in the face, so that seems to blow a hole in that theory... almost like the writers were deliberately trying to throw us off the scent! So yeah I reckon that either Tyler is Voq or we're being misled into thinking he is.

This is a penguin.
Here's something much less interesting: some weird pointy Klingon ship shows up in this story and they call it a D7. But the D7 class has already been pretty firmly established by the Original Series on account of it being the only type of Klingon ship we ever see. I don't mind Discovery making up new ships, like I said we didn't see a whole lot of them back in the day, but what they've done here is like showing a picture of an apple and labelling it 'zebra', and my brain doesn't like it. And you can't say that the D7 I've shown up there is too primitive a shape for modern audiences when it's about as complex as the Discovery herself.

Filling in the gaps in continuity is one thing, completely replacing the classic ship designs is another thing. A bad thing. Discovery is the only sci-fi series with the rights to use these iconic Star Trek ships, it shouldn't be ashamed of them!

In happier continuity-related news, Robert April, first captain of the USS Enterprise, has finally entered the Star Trek canon for real. He's also revealed to be one of top five most decorated captains in Starfleet, along with everyone else who's ever captained an Enterprise, Matt Decker of the USS Constellation, and Captain Georgiou! So congrats to Captain Archer for holding on to a top five placement for 100 years, presumably because he saved Earth, helped formed the Federation and became one of the first presidents, and commiserations to Garth of Izar who didn't quite make the cut. Possibly because CBS would rather just forget he exists right now after the ridiculous court battle of Axanar.

In conclusion: I thought that Choose Your Pain was another decent enough episode, just like the rest of them. I'm still humming loudly with my fingers in my ears whenever they start talking about spore drives and mycelium networks, and now that Stamets has injected himself with mushroom DNA and lightened up a bit I have to constantly fight off the urge to make a 'fun-guy' joke, but this felt more like proper Star Trek, with hope and ethics and stuff, and I'm considering that to be a good thing. I'm even starting to like the daft spinning hull now that the shock's worn off, mostly because it looks pretty (plus it amuses me that the concentric rings mean that the ship literally has a target on its back).

But what does the weird reflection in the mirror at the end mean? Well, it's got nothing to do with the Mirror Universe, because, a: Stamets' uniform is the same and b: why the fuck would the Mirror Universe be visible in an actual mirror? My theory is that when they broke the light barrier with the s-drive, they also broke light. Light is broken now, it doesn't reflect right. Next episode is going to be them fixing it. Or maybe Stamets is just tripping on 'shrooms 24/7 now, I honestly don't even know with this series.

Discovery will return with Lethe. But next on Sci-Fi Adventures, I'm watching Deep Space Nine's Melora. For some reason.

I imagine you've likely got some opinions or comments of your own about the episode, but we won't know for sure unless you type them up in that box down there.


  1. "Light is broken now" is the kind of plot complication that would appeal to me, truth be told.

  2. "and commiserations to Garth of Izar who didn't quite make the cut"

    That's because Lorca has yet to become him once he turns insane for good and changes his name after too much spore exposure.

    1. I wouldn't put it past these producers to pull that, but I kind of hope they don't. I also kind of hope they do.

  3. I did think the tardigrade was going to stick around and that it would be the explanation for why the Mushroom Drive isn't in any of the other series; it's banned by Starfleet because of the torturing-living-things aspect. Perhaps it'll be banned because of the creepy J-Horror mirror aspect instead.

    I thought I was being clever when I guessed that Voq has turned human, but apparently everyone is thinking it. Ah.

    1. Now we need a three episode arc of the crew dealing with their cursed shadow-selves crawling out of every reflective surface and trying to swallow their souls. Second episode they learn that their mirror images are just misunderstood and in the third they all part as friends... meaning that they have to try something even more insane to get the drive working next time. Great, now I've got myself wondering what the next level up from animal torture and human/animal/mushroom gene splicing is.

      Also I was so impressed with my Voq is Ash theory at first that I originally had it hidden inside a spoiler box because I didn't want to spoil the twist for everyone if I was right. Then I went browsing forums and realised that everyone else had already come up with the same idea themselves, so I scrapped the spoiler box. I suppose we can all be clever though!