Star Trek: Discovery's 'Choose Your Pain' Finally Feels Like Star Trek; Season 1 Episode 5

"You are... six years old. You are weak and helpless! You cannot... hurt me!" -Captain Picard, a badass, while being tortured

Star Trek has always been a way for us to look at the best and worst aspects of humanity, often through our confrontations with alien races. Different aspects of our fears, our personalities, and our sense of ethics play out on the stage of futuristic science fiction. Our frailties are exposed, and the crew is challenged to rise to the occasion, and to demonstrate the best of humanity, often in the worst situations. For the first time in five chances, Star Trek: Discovery at last succeeds in the latest episode, ‘Choose Your Pain.’

Fans of the original series will fondly remember Harry Mudd, but this cowardly, treacherous version almost gets Lorca and Tyler killed. Image credit: Michael Gibson/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive.


The tardigrade responsible for the spore drive starts to degrade, but the crew refuses to let it die, despite it putting the Captain’s life and even their own lives at risk. The Captain is captured by the Klingons, but acts in the best interest of his captured cellmate, Lieutenant Ash Tyler (from the Shenzou!), putting his own life at greater risk. Saru, the first officer, confronts his leadership shortcomings, and is pleased to be humbled and learn a lesson. And perhaps most impressively, Burnham follows orders, even when she knows she’s right and her superiors are wrong.

When Saru speaks with Culber and Stamets, he's initially convinced that the tardigrade must be used, even if it's killed, to get the Discovery where it needs to be to rescue Lorca. Image credit: Jan Thijs/CBS © 2017 CBS Interactive.


It’s not a massive payoff, but it’s a very big step in the right direction, and it gives me hope for the next installment of Star Trek: Discovery. Come get the review, and the science, of the latest episode today!


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By Mentifex (Arth… (not verified) on 15 Oct 2017 #permalink

I finally figured out the whole 'why is there that gap' in the primary hull saucer section, if you look at how they have structured the bridge as well, it looks like they just merged design elements of the center of the deep space nine station with the saucer section of a pre-JJ Constitution class star ship. The overall design of the ship also closely resembles one of the original sketches by Ralph McQuarrie (of Star Wars fame) before they settled on the more curvy organic looking design for the ST:TNG galaxy class cruiser.
I also note the ship is not painted, which makes it chronologically incorrect. Starfleet Federation ships were all painted with gray thermal-coat paint until around the time of the original Enterprise's refit when it was decided the newly developed alloy they were using to skin their hulls with didn't require it, and they could save adding many more tons of extra mass to the ship just to paint it.
As to the whole spoor drive thingy, why would you stick a human into a device that was already harming a durable creature that could actually survive far more damaging stresses like vacuum and stellar radiation?
If you want your fix of not so morally challenged space fantasy, Orville had a far more relevant plot, and saved the stupidity for just the comedy of awkward jokes. The captain has to weigh killing small children aboard an enemy ship in order to save a colony. He makes his choice, and is later coldly informed by the sole surviving adult of the alien vessel that the children will now have first hand experience of why they should hate and kill all humanity in a holy war.

I'm not that thrilled with this episode as Ethan is. In general, felt more or less the same to me as all previous ones. Shallow, incomplete and disappointing.

- we learn that captain Lorca blew up his previous ship with the entire crew on board, rather than let it fall into Klingon hands. An honorable gesture, except yes... he deserted his own ship first, alone, then he blew it up with crew there. Interesting that in this Star Trek, that actually gives you a promotion.

- we get a first ever "FUCK" word in Star Trek... ever. And that by a Cadet in front of officers. Not only is phrase never spoken in ST universe... but we even get more fucks with 2 other people there. Like ST script was only missing that word, and now we'll multiply.

- captain Lorca watches without much interest or any intervention as a lower ranking starfleet officer gets beaten to almost death in front of his nose. He's much more concerned with his eyes and himself. This is before he was "tortured"

- captain Lorca leaves a human on board the Klingon ship, for what will surely be his death. I can see Picard and Sisco acting very differently in that situation

- chief science officer injects himself with DNA modifying thingy that everyone agrees has unknown effects. He faints for a while, yet not a word is said by doctor or anyone after it. Doctor being his partner... but no.. you're fine... all good.

- After saving Lorca + 1... nothing on that in the end, no re-caps.. nothing. It was more important to dump the alien over board like a pile of dung, hoping it will come back alive, then to actually end the episode with some conclusion.

All in all, at least in this season, there's scarce hint there will be any worlds or civilizations to see, let alone explore. On the other hand, maybe it's for the best. You really don't want to be on the receiving side of a new species and encountering this lame crew and ship.

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 16 Oct 2017 #permalink

The single biggest thing they got right in this episode of ST:D were the Klingons. In all previous episodes the writers were trying to fill them out so they weren't one dimensional, but the actors are in such heavy prosthetics that they can't emote so they can't connect to the audience. Apparently the rubber masks also make it so they can't. .talk. .faster. .than. .one. .word. .every. .few. ..seconds. But, it doesn't really matter because nothing they do has anything to do with the plot of the episode. Their scenes drag and they only serve to derail whatever momentum the episode had.

In this latest episode, they didn't do any of that. Klingons were back to being one dimensional villains who all spoke English and served their regular role to move the plot along. That, more than anything else, made this episode better.

I love how space is seen as a body, an existential thing, this takes us to a whole new level of understanding, matter as organisms …

By Elle H.C. (not verified) on 16 Oct 2017 #permalink

I'm not seeing the upside of this latest episode.

Michael Burnham:

Michael Burnham did defy orders... instead of prepping the tardigrade monster for propulsion, she went around Saru's back, got the ship's doctor to weigh in, and the two of them convinced the science officer to take the entire propulsion system offline.

So yes, she mutinied again. What's weird is that they didn't need to do that... They evidently sequenced it's DNA, compared it to a galaxy-wide database, figured out a way to splice it's DNA (or the spore's DNA?) into human DNA, mocked it up, and put it in a ready to use hypospray, all in about 5 minutes.

It was also weird at the end, when Saru tells Michael that he's not afraid of her (despite his fear ganglia things coming out whenever she's around), rather he's jealous of the time she had under their former captain's tutelage. As a consolation prize, she gives him the captain's old telescope. Well, she didn't want it anyway, probably can't keep it if she goes back to prison, and is basically a poor substitute for having a good mentor. Basically a 'Here, have my trash.'

I absolutely agree that she is a bad science communicator though! But then again, that's yet another reason she's a poor Vulcan student and made a lousy First Officer.

Finally, Saru told her to make the tardigrade beast better, but she didn't even really try, she just hoped that jettisoning it out into space with some spores would work. Plus, it didn't look like she got Saru's okay with that, so there's another mutiny for you.

The Genial Genital Fungus Beast:

This entire Tardigrade situation didn't make any sense. They only called it a tardigrade because of its looks (minus the killer tentacles), but now it shrinks up just like one too? As far as I know, real ones only do that when they dry up naturally, they don't expel water!

That's the other thing... this thing is clearly not expelling actual water! It's some kind of substance that dissipates in seconds, even though there's gallons to start with. Saru tells them to rehydrate it, and not only do they not even try (another part where everyone defies orders), they don't tell him that it wasn't water, and they probably don't have any of whatever substance that is on board!

Finally, at the end, Saru tells Michael to make it better. So she blows some spores on it, then just expels it into space. First of all, there's no reason she should have thought that would work, since they didn't give it any material with which to rehydrate. Second, if it worked it space, it should have worked inside the ship too. Third, it did in fact work, and it rehydrated itself with material that came out of nowhere. Finally, when it did jump away to freedom, it did so with a giant light show! That contradicts how it supposedly sneaked on board the Glenn.

Replacing the Tardigrade:

Ethan was spot on when he pointed out that the DNA explanation didn't make any sense... If humans were a match, so too would any other plant or animal on earth be a match. But also as Ethan pointed out, so too should most, if not all, organic based alien life! Not only because they said that the spores extend all throughout the galaxy, but also because in the Star Trek universe most alien species can mate with humans, technically making them actually the same species, just different subspecies! One of the great TOS novels, Spock's world, had a vision of how Spock, a half human half vulcan hybrid, came to be, and that was through a lot of futuristic high tech gene splicing and medical care. However, no one ever picked that idea up in any of the TV shows, so from just TOS and TNG we know of vulcan/human, klingon/human, romulan/human, and betazoid/human, and probably more I can't remember right now. Plus, Worf's first girlfriend, who was klingon/human, was an oops, as was their son Alexander. Long story short, they should all be as compatible with this magical space fungus as humans are.

All that aside, why would they think it would be a good idea to not update the space engine so that it doesn't stab you in the nipples?

Speaking of the nipple stabs, it did seem weird that everyone (except for the ship's doctor!) rushed in to check on the science officer and just stood there (Saru briefly touched his ear, that's it). I guess we're meant to figure that they didn't know how he was reacting to the trauma of being a spore flight computer, but they already knew he wasn't dead because they were just looking at a readout of his life signs! But they did know that the machine had stabbed him repeatedly in the chest! The heck, guys!


Our main Klingon characters from all the previous episodes do not make an appearance. We just get a ship full of Klingon redshirts.

Also, and relating to the interspecies mating angle, Lorca evidently thinks that humans have a different number of genitals than Klingons?

Also, the Klingon captain just got a painful cheek wound, and her eyes looked fine. It would certainly have been poetic justice for her eyes to have been damaged after her torture of Captain Lorca, so that was a missed opportunity. Maybe they'll have changed their mind about that in a later episode, but if so, it won't be because they showed it in this one.

Captain Lorca:

How reprehensible of Captain Lorca to force suicide his own crew because he didn't think they could handle being imprisoned, when he himself easily escapes identical imprisonment?

Granted, the guy they pick up (not a person from the Shenzou) could easily be a spy. It's hard to tell. On one side, they did escape super fast, and very easily, and Lorca did say that no one can withstand klingon torture. On the other hand, they did disintegrate rather a lot of klingons on the way out, and the captain even got winged in the head. But back to the first hand, we don't even really know if she was the captain, she may have just been part of the ruse.

If she was the captain, she's doubly lucky. First, that Lorca didn't finish her off, clearly a dumb move. Second, that the Discovery didn't come over in the confusion, fight their ship, take back all their prisoners, and kill everyone on board. What was Saru thinking!

USS DIscovery as a show:

Finally, I believe this episode is the worst episode so far. The internal consistency is still terrible, but worse, it does nothing to show the hopefulness of the future.

More to the point, as a show, it has gone off the deep in with depictions of torture, bloody wounding, curb stomping, nipple stabbing, and problematic language. A lot of shows go this unnecessary route when they don't appear on network television in order to seem edgier and appeal to an older crowd. That's why I don't like this, it means the show is doubling down on abandoning the kid demographic.

Here are a few other things that bother me about the episode.

-How did they get the space tardigrade's DNA when their cans don't work on it?

-How does the nipple stabbing device work on the tardigrade when it's hide is super tough?

-How does the Discovery get a transporter lock on Lorca and the new guy when their shields are still up? And if they can get the lock, why didn't their sensor scan pick up human life signs? And if they didn't make a scan, why not?

-It seemed like the klingon masks got worse this time around... the klingon captain's real lips were spilling out from behind the immovable mask's fake lips, and it was distracting.

-It bothered me that Lorca didn't go back to help the other prisoners. He knew there was at least one other Starfleet officer as well, not just Mudd.

-It bothered me that Lorca started talking about fairly personal or sensitive information while in the klingon space dungeon, then said he was tricking his cell mates in order to see which one sold him out. Thing is, none of them did! The place was bugged (literally, how very droll) with a listening device in Mudd's pet bug. The thing is, why wouldn't you just assume the entire room is designed to be bugged right from the start? That was pretty foolish.

-Saru deletes his computer request to find out how he stacked up to other great Starfleet leaders before he got his answer. He just looks introspective for a bit, then says 'I know what I did'. However, we don't get to see if he means he thinks he did a good job or a bad job! Interesting that when Michael interprets his last order of 'save the tardigrade's life' as 'eject the thing out into space and hope for the best', it means they'll never be sure whether or not it was intelligent! After all, if it was, then he'd be on the hook for some kind of space war crime, probably worse than Michael's crime.

-Michael was ordered to communicate with the tardigrade, and at no time did she attempt to do so, despite having a link directly into the things brain. Also, they had the thing captured for weeks, and had the thing docile for at least 3 weeks, and no one thought to invite an actual vulcan over for a mind meld? It's not like they were incommunicado - they had shuttles going to and fro, and they even got physical space mail! Now it's gone, good job there, buddy!

-I think the Mirror Universe got a little bit too literal at the end there. If we hadn't already been thinking that everyone was acting as if it were opposite day every day, this still would have been a slap in the face to say, "Eh? Eh? Mirrors!"

-We were on a klingon ship, where were all the battleths?

-Why, when the shuttle Lorca was on was hit with a tractor beam, didn't they try to warp away?

-Why, one the same shuttle, when they had so much time to prepare, and they grabbed their phasers, did they stand so close to the door they couldn't even get a shot off? Actually, why did they forget there was a port hole in the roof and stand directly under that, too? Even if Lorca forgot, shouldn't the pilot have mentioned something? Why don't they have phaser grenades? Couldn't they have ejected their wee warp core? Beamed a torpedo onto the ship like in episode 2? Their shields were obviously down! Heck, they could have opened that round ceiling port themselves, shot their phaser rifles at the emitter, then escaped. The writers really dropped the ball... so much for a gritty and realistic Star Trek battle!

Why is it that Starfleet are never given some kind of space karate or space kung fu training? Everyone's always street brawling. Why is it only the Vulcans who have decent martial arts? Even Worf in TNG was guilty of this except for two times: when he was showing off his battleth skills to his son Alexander, and when he teaches Tai Chi.

@Adam #6:

And you seriously think you are a high level ST fan?
You obviously understand very little. (Just kidding :-)

@Adam wrote:

It was also weird at the end, when Saru tells Michael that he’s not afraid of her (despite his fear ganglia things coming out whenever she’s around), rather he’s jealous of the time she had under their former captain’s tutelage. As a consolation prize, she gives him the captain’s old telescope. Well, she didn’t want it anyway, probably can’t keep it if she goes back to prison, and is basically a poor substitute for having a good mentor. Basically a ‘Here, have my trash.’

That scene was about institutional racism and becoming woke. In a past episode it was made clear that even on Saru's home world he is a minority. He's a minority in Star Fleet and the scene conveyed his lack of success was not due to a lack of ability but rather systemic issues that served to inequitably advance Burnham.

Burnham validates his oppression and signals her allyship by saying "You should have the privilege...." as she gives the telescope. I don't believe that awkwardly worded line of dialogue was accidental. The telescope was trash but it was just in the scene as a vehicle for Burnham's virtue signal and to indicate character growth.

Saru did say that he was a prey species and that his species was farmed, but never specified that the farmers were another intelligent race. That would make sense, but then again a lot of this show doesn't make sense. They also didn't say that they Saru's species were minorities on their home planet (they're not farmed anymore, so maybe that other race is gone?) but he might be in starfleet. Maybe they'll delve further into this later, but I'm not holding my breath for it appearing onscreen. I've heard there's a novel out, maybe they go into it in there?

I don't think it's about being woke. It's either about Michael being nice to Saru because she's a nice person, or more likely, given her nature, it was a calculated and sociopathic move to manipulate Saru's emotions, especially considering the way she called him into the beast lab an episode or so ago under false pretenses just so she could see how his threat ganglia reacted.

Basically, Michael's a bad influence on Saru. I think that's why Saru halted the computer's evaluation of his time as acting captain. He didn't want to hear that his actions showed that he was emulating first Lorca (by being overly harsh on the tardigrade), then Michael (by trusting his gut that Lorca was in the klingon shuttle instead of ordering a sensor sweep) and finally going back to his old ways (by fleeing the battle instead taking out more of the enemy and freeing more prisoners), instead of his idol, Captain Georgiou.

Ethan, I read both you and Orac here on ScienceBlogs and Orac has just mentioned that ScienceBlogs will soon be shutting down for good at the end of the month. There going to be another place where we can see your article summaries and make discussion like this, other than on Forbes itself?

By Anonymous Coward (not verified) on 17 Oct 2017 #permalink

@Adam wrote:

I don’t think it’s about being woke. It’s either about Michael being nice to Saru because she’s a nice person, or more likely, given her nature, it was a calculated and sociopathic move

I only wish. I'd loved for them to have gone the anti-hero route with Michael. Can you imagine a Breaking Bad Star Trek? Michael Burnham starts out as a regulation following pacifist as ingrained by her Vulcan education. An encounter with Klingons rattles her into making a poor decision that sets her on a path into becoming an Arya Stark-like sociopath through her involvement with Section 31 and the increasingly horrible decisions she justifies.

I'd watch the hell out of that but there is no way we're headed there. Bryan Fuller's original plan started with wanting to put a "woman of color at the helm" before any story or anything else was written. This show from the outset put virtue signalling first and everything else second. It shows.

You are free to believe as you want but I think having the acting captain of the most advanced ship in the fleet whine about his jealousy from not having fair opportunity is par for these writers.

"... has just mentioned that ScienceBlogs will soon be shutting down for good at the end of the month."


By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 17 Oct 2017 #permalink

:(( that sucks

all the years of article posts, and comments, and discussions... just gone... Unless Ethan decides to migrate the whole database, but he hasn't said anything yet :(

By Sinisa Lazarek (not verified) on 17 Oct 2017 #permalink


That does sound like an interesting idea for the show. They never ask us for our opinions though!

Bryan Fuller’s original plan started with wanting to put a “woman of color at the helm” before any story or anything else was written.

Too bad they didn't stick to the plan.

I can't help myself.

Just saw it. Still not happy but I can see maybe progress along Etjhans (desperate) defense.

Swear words. I don't actually care. But really? Loose the kids? Even Firefly and Battlestar used substitute words. Frak.

Ship still sucks, disks are a-spinning. I don't buy the filling in DS9 ship argument - thats after ST. This ship should be between Enterprise and ST. They trapped themselves into that with sequelitus.

A sick, sex-tired 7 month prisoner takes out several Klingons in hand to hand combat. I don't think so.

The GFB 'dehydrates' or whatever flowed out of it, and when injected into space rehydrates - with what from where?

And yea 50% DNA works. It was risky but the guy survived. So we are done right - instant travel for everyone. Whats the problem? Klingons would use prisoners of war.


By Steve Blackband (not verified) on 18 Oct 2017 #permalink

Still stuck on the rotating hull sections .
We got a side view last week which has made me realize something you guys may be ahead of me on.
The discs have no spokes to a hub. Thus to rotate they will not be physically connected to anything - they 'hover' there.
And again we only see them rotate when they jump. If thats all they are for, then why did they make the ship able to do that BEFORE they knew about the genital fungus beast and the anal spores, and how jumping works?

I refuse to talk about why the whole ship spins before the jump :-)

By Steve Blackband (not verified) on 20 Oct 2017 #permalink