Monday, October 16, 2017

REVIEW: 'Star Trek: Discovery' - Saru Leads a Daring Rescue Mission After Lorca is Captured in 'Choose Your Pain'

CBS All Access' Star Trek: Discovery - Episode 1.05 "Choose Your Pain"

While on a mission, Lorca unexpectedly finds himself in the company of prisoner of war, Starfleet Lieutenant Ash Tyler and notorious intergalactic criminal, Harry Mudd. Burnham voices her concerns about the repercussions of the spore drive jumps on "Ripper."

"Choose Your Pain" spends a bit more time trying to develop the supporting characters of Star Trek: Discovery. That's very much appreciated. At this point in the season, Michael Burnham really is the only multi-dimensional character. Yes, I've enjoyed what Doug Jones and Jason Isaacs have been doing as Saru and Lorca, respectively. But they still don't have the kind of character details that make them feel fully realized quite yet. Even in this episode, the characters are still spending a lot of time talking about tragedies in their respective pasts and making big, declarative statements during times of crisis. All of these characters are defined by their actions through life-or-death situations. That seriousness is where the show wants to be set for the majority of its storytelling. It's a creative decision that has been made and the audience just needs to accept it. It's not as uplifting as previous Star Trek series have been. Discovery sets out to be dark and serious. It's still finding a nice way to be episodic in nature while telling an overarching story. And yet, it's grown a little annoying that the characters only exist when they are making these bold decisions during the most dangerous of times. The tension has been raised. But it would also be nice to see more of how these characters exist in this world when things are quiet aboard the ship. Those moments of peace can help deepen and strengthen the characters moving forward. Of course, action is still nice as well. That can do wonders for establishing characters. It's just been a little too familiar and predictable as of late.

And yet, "Choose Your Pain" follows through on its characters' actions with everyone seeming to have a good reason for what they decide to do. Last week's episode was defined by the story happening in order to be as big and intense as possible. Plot twists occurred simply to keep the audience at the edge of their seats. This episode still has that quality as well. But it's easy to connect with the impassioned plea Michael has for the handling of Ripper when it comes to the spore drive. This form of transportation has gotten so much attention in this season so far. It's been an accelerated plot device as well. It's gone from a mystery to the greatest weapon to use in this war in the span of three episodes. The cost of this device is wearing on Ripper after only a free jumps. That highlights just how dangerous this substance can really be. The show needs to establish the cost of all of this during this season in order to explain why more ships in Starfleet don't travel this way. Michael sees the toil the jumps are doing on Ripper. She's the only one who actually has compassion for the creature. She sees it as an alien that can't communicate with the world the way every other species does. And yet, it still feels pain like the rest of them. She doesn't want to be responsible for its death and leave them stranded in the middle of enemy territory doing an extremely inopportune time.

Of course, that's the risk that comes throughout this entire episode. Lorca has been informed that the Discovery is going to be used sparingly in this war with the Klingons. The technology is too valuable to fall into enemy hands. The ship needs to do everything in its power to replicate this formula to ensure that more ships in Starfleet can travel this way. Discovery has proven itself as the game changer in this war. Starfleet knows it and the Klingons are aware of it too. That's why the enemy has decided to kidnap Lorca while he is returning from this meeting. It's a familiar story of the captain needing to get rescued. It forces Saru to step up as captain of the Discovery while Lorca needs to find a way out of his dangerous predicament with the help of his fellow prisoners. Those potential allies are Harcourt "Harry" Fenton Mudd - a memorable character from the original series now played by Rainn Wilson - and prisoner of war Ash Tyler - played by series regular Shazad Latif. This episode gets its title from the game the Klingons play with their prisoners in letting them decide who gets beaten to ensure that they don't band together to fight their way out. Ash is the frequent choice. Lorca's interrogation by the Klingon leader then reveals that Harry has been trading information with their captors. And so, it's a familiar case of Lorca and Ash working together to escape while leaving Harry behind as he vows to one day get his revenge on Lorca. Because this character has a future history with the series, it seems inevitable that he'll appear again. But there's nothing in this episode to suggest that that is all that necessary. He's perfectly fine as this colorful oddity who is along for the ride in this specific plot.

Meanwhile, it's so fascinating to see Saru as captain of the Discovery. He's tasked with saving Lorca from behind enemy lines. It's a daunting task. It's one where it forces him to calculate the best qualities of Starfleet's most respected captains. He's running programs to figure out how to best lead this mission. But the analytics don't ultimately mean anything. They highlight the precise mind that he has. But it's much more engaging to see him actually in charge. He's focused on the mission and dismisses what Michael has to say about Ripper. It's not out of animosity either. Yes, his ganglia indicate that he does view Michael as a predator. That frightens him. But he's also determined to rescue his captain. He doesn't want to be deprived of another captain because of this war. And so, it gets very personal very quickly. Sure, it's a very formulaic story as well. His success in this mission isn't because of any big moment of sacrifice on his part. The crew rescues Lorca because of Lorca's skills on the enemy ship and the actions of Michael and Stamets with the spore drive. But it's compelling to see Saru take stock of everything that has happened. He knows he doesn't need to run the program to figure out how he did. But he also has a heart-to-heart with Michael about all of this. He's angry at her for depriving him of valuable time he could have had learning from Georgiou. As such, it's heartwarming when she gives him the telescope. It's a nice step towards rebuilding that bond.

Of course, not everything is that nice and neatly resolved by the end of this episode either. Lorca is back on his ship. Stamets and Michael have made huge discoveries about how to enact the spore drive. The show isn't doing a great job at explaining how it all works and how effective it can be. Right now, it's just important to highlight that humans share the same biological material that could allow them to replace Ripper in the chamber. The opening of this episode suggests that it's going to be Michael in that chamber making that painful sacrifice. She's the lead character who understands the pain and destruction this takes on the creature in there. But she's not ultimately there. In fact, this is a pretty small episode for Michael. She raises her concerns and argues back-and-forth with Saru. But it's ultimately about Lorca, Saru and Stamets. This episode finally confirms that Stamets and Culber are in a relationship. The show probably didn't need to be so elusive with that detail. It's nice that it doesn't need to be commented on. But the uncertainty before that reveal was a little too awkward to be all that effective. And now, it's introduced just in time for it to be compromised. Stamets navigated the drive from within the chamber. He was the human who went in there. He comes out seemingly fine. He has a new perspective on the entire universe and how everything is connected. But the show ends on the ominous note of something changing him as well because of that. There needed to be consequences for this action. Hopefully, the show takes them seriously and doesn't just gloss over these details to ensure a war can be fought between Starfleet and the Klingons.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Choose Your Pain" was directed by Lee Rose with story by Gretchen J. Berg, Aaron Harberts & Kemp Powers and teleplay by Kemp Powers.
  • Klingon scenes have really been a slog to get through this season. It's not a language that can be spoken quickly. The actors have struggled to emote under all the prosthetics as well. So even when the Klingons are primarily speaking English in this episode, it's still too complicated and cumbersome. Lorca notes that his captor speaks the language well but that isn't evident all that much.
  • Ripper goes into a survival mode that makes it essentially useless to the crew of the Discovery after their jump across enemy lines. Culber refuses to wake it up from this state knowing how devastating that could be. And in the end, it's not necessary. Michael has the freedom to free the creature back into the wild. It's back where it belongs.
  • With the introduction of Ash Tyler, every series regular for the season has now been introduced. Ash and Lorca immediately form a bond because they escape imprisonment together. Ash has been there since the start of the war and kept alive because the captain of the ship developed feelings for him. After escaping, it should be interesting to see what dynamics form between him and the other regular characters.
  • It continues to be odd to hear swearing in this show. First of all, it's a Star Trek series. And second, it's a show produced by CBS. And yet, it doesn't have the same restrictions as previous entries in this franchise. Plus, it's airing on All Access where the business model is completely driven by subscribers willing to pay so much a month to see these episodes. So this week, Mary Wiseman and Anthony Rapp got to say "fucking."
  • So, that final tease makes it seem like there are now two versions of Stamets roaming around the ship. There's the original who now sees the beauty in the universe unlike ever before. And then, there's his seemingly evil doppelganger whose intentions could really be anything. It's a fascinating tease that should be addressed sooner than later.