a review by the Crow.
These are the voyages of the blog-ship The Corvid Review. One of its continuing missions: to explore strange new episodes of Star Trek, to seek out new characters and plots, to boldly go where no one has gone before.
And this week, we warp in to dock at the Starfleet episode:
DSC-05 Choose Your Pain
Harsh Environs in the Great Black
So, before I begin, I must make something clear: this won’t be as long as my previous Star Trek: Discovery posts. As I fired up the episode for a second viewing, I already knew that I wouldn’t have as much to say about this episode as compared to the last two.
And why is that?
Quite simply, I think this episode does such a good job of delivering the story that I can let my more critical side take a back seat. So, without further delay, let’s take a look at what sorts of pain this episode explores.
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS
The episode begins with a sequence, set to some very 2009 J. J. Abrams-style sound effects, in which we see Michael Burnham in the “spore chamber” at the heart of the s-Drive (I’m still fond of calling it the DASH-drive, myself). She makes her concerns about the drive’s effect on the Tardigrade known to Dr Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) — who we later find out is not the CMO, and they decide to work on an alternative path, to spare the poor water bear further pain.
Meanwhile, at a starbase some distance from the Discovery, Captain Lorca is told to slow down with the Discovery‘s escapades, since Starfleet is concerned about taxing its most valuable asset.
On his way back to the Discovery, however, Lorca is intercepted by a Klingon “Class-D7” Battle-cruiser and taken captive by L’Rell (don’t ask me how she’s here following the events of the previous episode — we never find out).
Our two plot-threads for the episodes are thus: Burnham, Stamets, and Culber finding out an alternative way to use the spore-drive without having to harm the Tardigrade during every single jump the Discovery makes, and Lorca’s adventures on the Klingon “prison ship”.
Of course, the major conflict, therefore, becomes the clash of priorities aboard the Discovery as they try to rescue their captain before it’s too late.
I’d originally thought that the episode would address the Matriarchs and what Voq will have to sacrifice while he is with them, but there’s no such thread in this episode. That’s one bit of speculation out the window, then.
Captain Lorca wakes up and meets our old friend Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd (Rainn Wilson). Also in the cell with them are an unnamed Starfleet officer and Lt Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). Mudd quickly settles into his flow, stories and all, while Lorca comes to grips with the situation he’s in. The ship’s ritualistic practice of making inmates “choose [their] pain” is shown to us, and soon, Lorca is taken to L’Rell for questioning.
I initially had a minor issue with the aesthetics of L’Rell’s red plastic ‘shoulder tips’ during one of the later scenes in TBKCNFTLC, but I’m glad they stuck out like a sore thumb to me, since I otherwise wouldn’t have noticed her right at the beginning of this episode (Netflix’s subtitles don’t name her during the abduction).
Mudd hints at something following the first demonstration of the “choose your pain” practice, and over the course of the episode, we find a great deal out about Lorca’s past.
While my overall view of where the Captain will find himself as the series progresses hasn’t changed, I find myself looking from a slightly different viewpoint, now. This episode almost single-handedly humanises a man who has so far been a rock, while not weakening him one bit.
It’s a lovely show of how the writing continues to improve with every episode of the show. Gone is the constant need to dump information and rush the viewer through the plot, and the show is all the better for it. The ‘treknobabble’ is on point, as well, and I thought it served its purpose just fine.
The characters and their interactions back on the Discovery are all handled with flair, and the conflicts and resolutions that we are weaved through over the course of the run-time all feel very natural, and I love it. I’m retroactively going to downgrade my rating for the previous episode since I thought that was the standard of writing I was to expect for the rest of the season; however, Choose Your Pain shines head-and-shoulders over that episode (don’t expect me to actually type that ever again) in terms of handling the content of the story.
That said, however, the moments one would expect to shine in this episode, such as Lorca’s interrogation, are left aside. Instead it is the continuing rivalry between Burnham and Saru (still my favourite character aside from Lorca) that gets the most meat on its bones.
We get to know Doctor Culber a little more, and some of the bridge crew finally get names. This is the second time we’ve seen Culber, and aside from one line he stumbles with delivering, I quite like the effortless, mildly-humorous take Cruz brings to the character. I do hope to see more of him in the future.
Even Ripper gets some moments, although vastly downgraded from the potential I saw with the character. I’d actually like to know how many people actually felt bad about the giant Tardigrade. While all the elements are there, I don’t think I bonded with our dear water bear as much as I should have. Of course, I feel bad about the idea, but the gut-punch from the crew’s treatment of it, and its reaction to their actions, but I don’t feel that we spent enough time with the creature.
And that might be one of the issues I have with the show in general. While I love the production value, and I’m happy it’s been granted such a lofty budget, but it’s dramatically shortened the time the show has to explore all of its potential. It’s not to say that the show’s been bad so far, but it’s a shame, since there’s so much more we could’ve seen.
The finale is muted, compared to the previous few episodes, but it leaves us with just what we need to move forward. Discovery is moving in interesting ways, and I’d like to propose we start thinking of the series in terms of “acts”.
I’d like to divide the series up in the following way:
- Discovery Act One: The Shenzhou episodes. [1 & 2]
- Discovery Act Two: The Tardigrade episodes. [3, 4, & 5]
- Discovery Act Three: I’ll propose possible names below. [6 — ]
From this point on, I’ll maintain a continuing list of Star Trek: Discovery episodes in accordance with which “act” the episodes belong to. I’m guessing that will help organise my thoughts in case I ever go into speculating about future storylines.
As always, I’m going to go into spoilers below (albeit not as much as the last time). I’ll leave our ratings below. If you don’t wish to be spoiled, please stop scrolling after the following section.
THE CROW: 7/10
THE AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE: 8/10
Spoilers lie ahead. Please stop scrolling.
This is your final warning.
Failure to comply will result in your being spoiled.
Complaining afterwards is futile.
I Choose Your Spoilers
WARNING: THIS SECTION CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS
Here’s a lovely photo of our two best-rivals:
Doug Jones continues to knock his role as Saru out of the park. He’s by far the most complex character so far, and I love how he’s been handled (minus the errant line of dialogue in the previous episode). While Lorca continues to intrigue me, it’s Saru I want to find out more about. But anyway: on to spoilers!
Be free, Riphraim! Fly safe, you adorable big bug, you!
(And on that note: poor Stuart. It was Mudd’s fault, not his!)
But where does that leave us? What was that almost-haunting final scene with Stamets? I have a feeling I might name the following “act” of the series the “Stamets Episodes”, if nothing is pushed to the forefront more than his newfound connection to the mushrooms he so dearly wanted to converse with.
I’ll hold myself off from going too far into spoiler territory right now, since I simply have far too little data to work off as-is, but I’m getting some serious vibes that Stamets’ little experiment at the end of the episode has irreversibly changed his relationship to the ‘mycelial network’. Words like “phase”, “unhinged”, and “displacement” all come to mind.
And with all this in mind, the burning question that grows larger (despite my argument about Section 31 at the end of my review of the previous episode) is how in the hell this magical spore-network is never mentioned again. The two simplest answers are simply: either the spore-network is destroyed/rendered unusable (a form of astro/xeno-fungal genocide, perhaps?), or that the Discovery goes down, all hands on deck, and those in the know follow their path.
Going by how science and discoveries go, however, it’s most likely the former, but I’m happy to wait and see how this plays out.
Now, a little about L’Rell and Tyler…
An episode of Star Trek I find myself pointing to every few months is TNG‘s A Matter of Perspective, a Star Trek rendition of Akira Kurosawa’s excellent Rashōmon . In my memory, it is the first episode of the franchise (in my order of viewing) which addressed the concept of rape, and it did so quite boldly. Now, I’m not going to go in-depth with that episode, but the reason I bring it up is Lt Ash Tyler’s reaction to L’Rell.
In the beginning, we take it that Tyler has some sort of agreement with L’Rell to spare him from the practice of “Choos[ing One’s] Pain”. And when we see L’Rell advancing on Tyler during his escape with Lorca, the episode first hints at L’Rell perhaps having some genuine desire for Tyler (which goes without saying, I suppose).
And then, we see Tyler’s reaction.
Oh dear me. When I first heard the character would be someone suffering from PTSD, I originally thought that it would be quite straightforward: Klingons, war-time, beatings, Klingons… you know the drill.
But no, he’s been routinely raped by L’Rell. Straightforward. Tyler did not get to “Choose [That] Pain”.
Now, here, I have a lot to say, but I wonder how much of it is necessary. The timing of this episode’s release, combined with both recent and past events (mostly to do with the way people behave and say, these days) in my personal life do not help the matter, either. I think I’m going to save my thoughts for another post, but what I would like to say, in the most basic of terms is this:
I’m proud of Star Trek for taking this route. I’ve long said that a serious test of a bad-arse hero (with a battered past) in any story would be to survive rape, but it’s conspicuously absent in the realm of male characters (with the exception of Guts from Berserk, who is the only one I can think of). It’s not necessary, but it’s something that is lopsided in fiction. Given how people are, these days, and the sad way in which people are happy to fling faeces at one another in the most abhorrent of ways, it brings to mind an interesting argument.
I declined to comment on a lot of things when I started reviewing this series, and this story element whips right back around to those very things. It’s something I think I should address in the near future.
I’ll cut short my ramble for now, but I’ll address this in greater detail at some other time, as promised. It’s always great to see Star Trek, the franchise that broke more barriers at a time when it was difficult to do so — and continues to — boldly go where no one has gone before.