Star Trek Discovery “Choose Your Pain” review

Adam Mathew 23 October 2017

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Boldly goes into space unexplored by this series.

Ah, yes, the dream sequence – an intro classic. In '80s television it was about as fashionable as big hair and power-wearing neon to blind enemies and prospective mates. It's a narrative device that's alive and well in modern TV, too, though with the advent of Internet forums, scenes of deliberate vagueness turn diehard fans into crazy conspiracy theorists.

Case in point: does Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) start this episode by having a simple lucid dream? Or is it a precognitive vision gifted to her from the sentient alien aboard the Discovery? My theory: she's had too many space mushrooms.

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In an out-of-body moment, we slide through the corridors of the ship to locate Burnham. She's in the containment tank that's usually reserved for Ripper, a tardigrade alien that allows Discovery to teleport anywhere in the universe. Oddly, on the other side of the room, Burnham is revealed to be her own captor – an evil doppleganger is manning the controls.

Elsewhere, Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) is off-site, bragging to a bunch of Admirals about the capabilities of his ship; she's effectively an elite spec ops unit that can jack-in-the-box about the cosmos at will. The smile is wiped off our beloved Captain's face, however, when some Klingons kidnap him while he's en route back to the Discovery. They're tired of being made to look like incompetent toh-pahs on the battlefield and want to know the secret of the Federation's hit-and-run tactics. Hoping to torture it out of Lorca, they lock him up with two cellies: the idealistic Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) and Harcourt Fenton Mudd (Rainn Wilson). Yes, fans of the original Star Trek series – and Dwight Schrute from The Office – will be loving the return of this intergalactic scumbag.

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The title of this episode soon comes into play when Lorca checks into this day spa from hell. At random intervals, Klingon jailers walk in and ask one prisoner to “choose their pain”, at which point, like a lethal game of Spaceship Survivor, the person who is voted out gets their brains stomped into the deck. The amoral Mudd casually selects a rando redshirt (not literal, sadly) to pay the piper. After the sentence is passed, he introduces Lorca to Stuart, a pet insect pal that steals him food. Ash explains the reason he's still alive is because he's allowing himself to be banged by the ship's captain, female spymaster L'Rell (Mary Chieffo). Don't judge him too harshly. If the choice was having my brains hammered into the floor, or shagged out, I know what course I'd set.

Lorca meets L'Rell in a torture chamber and proceeds to interspecies-sex-shame her into abandoning the line of questioning about the Discovery. For his insolence, the light-sensitive Lorca cops the Clockwork Orange treatment with high-beam lights. Interestingly, in a confessional to his cellmates afterwards, we find out the reason why our Captain never had this ailment corrected by Starfleet medics. In his last command, Lorca opted to self-detonate the U.S.S Buran to prevent its crew from a fate worse than death at the hands of their Klingon attackers. Lorca somehow survived the blast, but he wants to keep the flash damage as a reminder of what he's done. He's chosen his pain.

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The Captain has also chosen to be shrewder than Space-Schrute. Tweaking to the fact that L'Rell knew too much about his first conversation with Mudd, Lorca rips a listening device out of Stuart and hurls the little beast against the wall. (Take that, obscure Easter Egg to Stuart Bloom from The Big Bang Theory) When the guards return for Question Time, Ash and the Cap hatch an escape plot. End result: two Klingon neck snaps, half a dozen disintegrations by phaser, L'Rell cops a wicked facial scar and the traitorous Mudd is left locked in the mess he's created. Clearly we can expect those two characters to return again for vengeance, possibly as a team.

On the deck of the Discovery, an Acting Captain Saru (Doug Jones) is racing against time to get to Lorca, but he's fighting a battle of ethics with Burnham over the tardigrade. They've used the sentient creature to make a jump into enemy space near the Klingon vessel, but the process has put the beast into survival mode – another use to escape the system would be tantamount to murder. A passionate Dr. Culber (Wilson Cruz) sides with Burnham against the adamant Saru – Engineer Stamets (Anthony Rapp) is put in the middle. He has developed a tardigrade DNA extract that would allow another sentient life-form to tag in for the tardigrade, but it's untested. Incidentally, this science is remarked upon by Tilly as being “fucking cool” (an eff-word first for the Trek franchise).

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Push comes to shove when Lorca's stolen escape ship zips into transporter range. A quick exit is required and requested by Saru; Stamets provides the black alert that teleports everybody out of harm's way. Small catch, though: he's decided to use himself as a guinea pig – a process that almost kills him. Stamets is nursed back to health by Culber, who, in another first for the franchise, he's in an openly-gay relationship with. The Engineer insists he's fine, but when he finishes brushing his teeth and walks off to bed, his evil twin remains remains standing at the mirror. Dun dun dun – nice callback!

VERDICT

Choose Your Pain shifted away from the techno-babble science of the Discovery and focused much more on the equally complex lives of its crew. Great intro scene callback. Decent Klingon kill-count. And Rainn Wilson played Mudd just as dirty as we like it. The episodes of this new series continue to “black alert” warp from strength to strength.

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