With “Choose Your Pain,” Discovery begins to dig a little deeper into its characters and some interesting questions surrounding the exploration of the final frontier.
While being held prisoner by the Klingons, Lorca is called out by Harcourt Fenton Mudd (better known as Harry in a call back to the original series) over Starfleet’s perceived arrogance at heading out into the final frontier and expecting the rest of the universe to be fine with it. Mudd argues that Starfleet failed to take into account how parties that weren’t Starfleet officers might react to this – from the humans who already had business in space to the various alien races that humanity would encounter during its exploration of the final frontier. In some ways, Mudd’s argument echoes the concerns the Vulcan’s had about turning humanity lose into the stars without some kind of guidance or training wheels that we saw repeatedly on Enterprise. And, on some level, Mudd has some valid points, whether it’s the fact that Lorca destroyed his own ship or that Starfleet has started a war with the Klingons that is having a huge impact on the rest of the galaxy. It certainly has had an impact on Mudd himself, though a lot of what let Mudd to that cell is his own doing.
It makes me wonder just how Mudd would react if he knew just how far Lorca is willing to go to win the war. As we saw last week, using the spore drive has a profoundly negative impact on the tartagrave. And while Burnham, Tilly and Stamets are trying to find a way to help use the spore drive without negatively impacting the tartagrave, the answers aren’t coming fast enough. That’s because the Klingons have kidnapped Captain Lorca and are holding him prisoner, trying to find out more about the technology he’s using that allows to Discovery to seemingly be everywhere at once and inflicting massive casualties on the empire.
Lorca is apparently a captain who can’t see past his own prejudices and feels that the ends always justify the means. We find out that he killed his last crew rather than allowing them to fall into Klingon hands. Lorca states that he did this to save them from the torture that we see inflicted on himself and his fellow prisoners. But I can’t help but feel that he’s hiding something more. We certainly see that while humanity can evolve, there are still old hatreds and deep seated resentments that can crop up, even in some of the best that Starfleet has to offer (Kirk’s hatred of the Klingons in the movies, for example). I can’t help but be curious as to why Lorca is allowed command of another ship and given the latitude to win the war that he’s been given if he sacrificed his last crew and ship to keep them out of Klingon hands. And why did he choose for himself to survive the experience and not at least some of his crew. I can’t help but think that Lorca is hiding something deeper here – and that we’ll find out what it is before the season is over.
It could also explain the connection that Lorca seems to share with Burnham and why he’s willing to give her a second chance when no one else in Starfleet is.
I can’t help but wonder how Lorca will take the news that Burnham has let the tartagrave go free. As with her decision to begin the series, it’s apparent that Burnham is doing what she thinks is right based on the data provided and her experience. Burnham isn’t quite as emotionally neutral as she’d like to be and her concern over the creature’s well-being, to the point of nearly defying Saru’s orders and convincing Tilly and Stamets to go along with her, feels right. Burnham can’t prove with data that the tartagrave is suffering, but she knows deep down that it is. (Though I’d argue the creature going into a deep hibernation rather than allowing it to be used to move Discovery around the universe is a pretty big clue).
The tartagrave also gives us a moment to examine Saru a bit deeper. With a deep concern for being a good captain, Saru tries to distill what makes a good Starfleet captain using the computer. It’s interesting that Saru deletes this file and doesn’t compare his actions in the rescue of Lorca with the traits the computer came up with (I have a feeling they’d come up wanting, especially in light of the list of people we see on screen). I imagine the computer would deduct major points for Saru’s forcing various members of the crew to use the tartagrave to power the spore drive, even when all the evidence says it’s having a negative impact on the creature. Saru’s choosing one life (Lorca) over another (the tartagrave) seems to boil down to a loyalty that Saru has for the captain or the chain of command structure. It also makes me wonder if Saru really feels comfortable in command of things. With Starfleet’s mantra including “boldly going” in it, you can’t help but wonder what Saru’s race that senses death coming and tries to avoid it can really be an effective commander or explorer. I get that Discovery is a science vessel that’s been conscripted into a war ship by Lorca (I’m really curious to see if the answer to why this happens will become apparent in future installments) and that may explain why Saru isn’t comfortable with command when and if a military situation arises.
It also gives us a chance to see what Saru harbors resentment toward Burnham. With Georgiou listed as one of the prime examples of a good captain, Saru was looking forward to learning command style and having a mentor when Burnham left. By starting a war and getting Georgiou killed, Burnham has taken that away. Now he’s got Lorca, who is a bit more of a loose cannon that Georgiou and isn’t listed among the top six or so great captains in Starfleet history (though I’d debate with you the relative merits of one Jonathan Archer based on what we were presented with in Enterprise. But that’s for another time, I suppose).
And while “Choose Your Pain” wraps up one part of an arc, it puts a few more cards on the table – most notably the final scene where it appears there’s something in the mirror that will need to be addressed soon. (I’m guessing they’re going to let us stew on this for a week or two before we get back to delving into it more).
I also suppose I’d be remiss if I didn’t talk about Discovery’s dropping of not one but not f-bombs.
I realize that this show is one that is TV-MA and that hearing salty language like we did here isn’t anything new there.
But I can’t help but wonder if we put this in just for the sake of saying, “Look, we can say f***” on this show instead of it actually informing the character or situation. I get that Tilly was excited and possibly that the use of the colorful metaphor would make sense based on what we’ve seen of her character. And then having Stamets echo it back felt like his attempt to connect with someone in the crew when he’s not been comfortable doing that in other situations.
But I can’t help but feel that Discovery could or should have used their f*** like hell was used in the original series. The one time it’s uttered, it’s by Kirk and it emphasized the emotional impact of the decision he had to make to sacrifice Edith Keeler and his happiness to ensure that time played out like it was originally supposed to. The use of the colorful metaphor there underscored a lot of things from the episode and gave us some insight into where Kirk was in that moment. Here it felt like they were swearing just to swear. It felt like a scene in “Encounter at Farpoint” where Picard asks for the “damn noise” to be turned off simply because we could say “damn” now rather than it adding something to the character or situation.
But, it is what it is, I suppose. I just hope we don’t suddenly have everyone on the show swearing like sailors….
So, that’s about it except for some small things.
- Based on the tease to end the episode, I won’t be shocked to see the fellow prisoner in Lorca and Mudd’s cell turn out to be a spy or plant of some kind.
- The Mudd we see here is an interesting figure. He clearly has no love lost for Starfleet and he’s willing to swear out vengeance on Lorca. It sort of explains why he fled from the Enterprise in “Mudd’s Women.”
- Will we find out that there are bigger forces behind the Klingon war than we initially imagined? Or has Discovery somehow dropped into the mirror universe through is use of the spore drive?