Airing in the US on CBS All Access and in the UK on Netflix
Written by: Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman
Director: Lee Rose
Your spoiler ganglia are tingling
The word on the grapevine even before the first episode had aired was that the story was a bit touch-and-go until about episode 10 – at which point apparently, it dramatically improves, possibly something to do with the arrival of Jonathan Frakes. So hopefully the whole “displacement activated spore hub drive” or DASHD (oh yes) plot nonsense is beginning to show signs of winding down in episode 5, “Choose Your Pain”.
It starts with a weird dream that Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is having as she wanders through the deserted corridors of the USS Discovery and then finds herself inside the spore tube screaming as the “navigation tubes” are inserted into her body. She wakes up in her cabin to the dulcet tones of Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) snoring, cue opening credit sequence.
Next up is a conference between high-level Starfleet personnel; Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) orders Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) not to use the spore drive unless ordered. Starfleet Command is worried about “depleting their asset” a.k.a. the tardigrade that is showing distress with every jump. In addition, they think the Klingons have deduced that the USS Discovery is the Federation’s secret weapon and want to minimize potential risk.
Captain Lorca takes a shuttle to return to the Discovery, but along the way a Klingon warship drops out of warp practically on top of the shuttle and pulls it in using a tractor beam. Evidently, the Klingons were tracking it. Lorca jumps out of his seat, runs to the weapons locker, grabs two phaser rifles and tosses one to the pilot as they take defensive positions by the airlock. Within a few seconds the struggle is over and the pilot is punctured by two particularly gruesome body blows from a bat’leth. If one thing is clear, Star Trek: Discovery has shown us that one of the most dangerous jobs in Starfleet is a shuttle pilot.
Meanwhile…aboard the Discovery, we learn that the poor
dust mite tardigrade is in all sorts of trouble. In essence, every time the Discovery uses the spore drive, it weakens poor Ripper, to the extent that they might very well kill it. Thus the simultaneous, two-prong story unfolds; a battle onboard the Discovery between acting captain Lt Saru (Doug Jones) and Burnham, as the former wants to use the drive to rescue Lorca and the latter doesn’t want to kill the creature…and the actual survival of Lorca, now captive on board a Klingon warship. And frankly that element of this episode is far more interesting.
Upon being thrown into a prison cell, who does Lorca meet? The enigmatic, the charismatic, the mesmerizing and memorable, the one and the only Harcourt Fenton Mudd (Rainn Wilson). Yes, we all knew it was coming, but Wilson portrays an updated version of this character with relish. First seen in Star Trek TOS episode “Mudd’s Women” (S1, Ep6) then again in “I, Mudd” (S2, Ep8) and finally in an animated series episode “Mudd’s Passion” (S1, Ep10). In all three instances he was played by Roger C. Carmel, who also bought a unique deliciousness to the role and firmly established him as a fan favourite.
Lorca soon learns that Klingon incarceration is not much fun as guards regularly visit the cell and demand that the prisoners nominate one of their own to be beaten, usually to death. A strategy designed to stop the prisoners from bonding, so Mudd explains. Perhaps the Klingons had their own version of the Stanford Prison Experiment. Lorca sees a badly beaten man in Starfleet uniform lying on the floor at which point the guards enter the cell and shout “Choose your pain” thus giving us the episode title. Mudd hastily encourages Lorca to join him pointing to the poor, out-of-luck officer as the guards pick up him, dish out a serious beating then finally stamp on his head with their big Klingon boots as we hear his neck break. Charming.
Back on the Discovery, some progress is being made as how to use the spore drive without killing Ripper. We’re treated to a five minute long scene filled with technobabble even more incomprehensible than usual for Star Trek. Actually, this series has given us a brand new form of jargon…biobabble, as Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp), Tilly and Burnham baffle us with speak of spores, horizontal gene transfer, mycelium, mushrooms…honestly, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the writers had been on shrooms when they wrote this nonsense.
But what makes it worse it is that without warning Tilly spouts out, “This is so fucking cool.” Stamets just stands and looks at her in the same way just about everyone watching this is now looking at their TV…wondering if they just heard that right. To which he then replies, “Yes cadet, it is fucking cool.”
It feels like Discovery has suddenly fallen to the lowest common denominator. And it really cheapens not only the episode, but the series. We know Tilly has questionable social skills and not only does it feel like it’s being laid on a bit thick, but this just isn’t necessary. I’d far rather a subtle use of swearing if indeed it needed to be included. Say, Lorca defeats 15 Klingons using a blaster, a bat’leth, his bare hands…whatever he can. Still standing, bloodied, bruised and battered, a door opens…and 15 more Klingons run in. Under his breath and barely audible, Lorca mutters, “Fuuuuuuuuck.”
Anyhoo, back to the much better element of this story: the events unfolding on the Klingon warship. Lorca spies yet another man in a Starfleet uniform lying in the shadows who turns out to be Lt Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif). In a fairly obvious way, he is set up so that the audience thinks he’s some of sort of spy, relaying information learned in the cell back to the Klingons, however it turns out to be Mudd, as he’d basically been looking out for number one – a true Mudd mannerism. Unknown to us, Lorca and Ash team up after this fact is uncovered and what follows is a pretty cool escape.
The next time two guards enter the cell, Mudd nominates Ash. Lorca reluctantly agrees as Ash pleads with him to let him be the one so that Lorca may live. The beating begins…and at the moment the Klingon is about to snap his puny human neck, Ash rolls aside, sweeps the guard’s legs and takes him down. At the same time, Lorca has launched himself at the other guard and between them they manage to overpower the two Klingons, snapping their necks in a beautiful moment of revenge-fuelled fury. Naturally, Mudd begs that they take him with them, but Lorca smacks him in the face with butt of a Klingon disrupter and closes the cell door behind him. Best moment of the whole episode right there. “You haven’t heard the last of Harry Mudd..!” He screams through the bars.
Poor Ripper has shriveled up and just about lost the will to live and Saru is demanding that Stamets, Burnham and Dr. Hugh Colber (Wilson Cruz) un-shrivel it and make the spore drive work. Ash and Lorca fight their way to a shuttle bay and manage to escape the Klingon warship. Burnham is banished to her quarters and Stamets does the decent thing and plugs himself into the spore drive, thus saving the tardigrade. Discovery does its fidget spinner thing and intercepts the shuttle Lorca and Ash have escaped on.
Finally, Burnham and Tilly have the blessing of still-acting captain Lt Saru to do whatever it takes to save the tardigrade, so Burnham sets it free, in space, with a cloud of spores for company and off he goes, merrily into the cosmos. So long, Ripper.
To conclude then, it’s still a very ho-hum episode and less than brilliant reviews right now are not helping Discovery – the rating we’ve given this episode is pretty generous. But, hopefully, people will have enough foresight to at least see this through the end of the first series, which if you look at IMDb, appears to be 15 episodes. So fingers crossed everything between here and 10 isn’t any worse than this.
Life of ignorant bliss on Talos IV ✓
• Harcourt Fenton Mudd, or Harry to his associates
• The escape of Lt Tyler and Cpt Lorca is seriously kick ass
• Did we mentioned Harry Mudd, ’cause he’s really worth mentioning twice
Death by a Varon-T disruptor ✗
• Using an expletive on Star Trek – just for the sake of it – really cheapens this episode
• The whole spore drive/tardigrade thing is stupid and always has been
• Stamets always looks like he’s been eating too much liquorice when he talks
• Star Trek: Discovery S01E04 “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” REVIEW
• Star Trek: Discovery S01E03 “Context is for Kings” REVIEW
• Star Trek: Discovery S01E01-E02 “The Vulcan Hello” & “Battle at the Binary Stars” REVIEW
• NYCC: Star Trek Discovery panel
• Get Caught Up On The Star Trek Timeline Before Discovery