It’s an intense time on the Discovery this week, as Captain Lorca gets kidnapped by Klingons, we meet the immediately infamous Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson), and Lt. Stamets makes a bold but rash decision.
[Editor’s note: Spoilers for Season 1, Episode 5, “Choose Your Pain” follow.]
Not One Big Happy Family (Yet?)
When you compare “Discovery” to other “Trek” series, one aspect that stands out is the comparatively small size of the cast.
There’s a new addition this week, though, after Lorca brings on board Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif), whose status as a former prisoner seems like it’s left him pretty messed up. The engineering team of Stamets, Tilly, and Burnham has coalesced into a fun trio, and all of Burnham’s interactions with Saru are interesting, given how those characters have a deep backstory.
However, the cast in general hasn’t really come together yet as a full ensemble, which speaks to the unconventional nature of the plotting here, but could be problematic if it continues much longer. The Discovery is a far more complicated ship than its predecessors, but there’s still a hope that something resembling a family emerges within this cast.
Real talk: It takes an awfully long time for many of these Starfleet officers to come around to the Starfleet-y point of view that maybe abusing a living creature for the sake of a navigation system isn’t a great plan. The solution they come up with after pushing Ripper to his limits — infusing the tardigrade DNA into a more willing host — will undoubtedly have repercussions down the line for Stamets. But it’s hard not to feel relieved by Burnham’s decision to give the creature its freedom, and feel joy at its blasting off into the stars.
That Spinning Ship Effect Is Still Fantastic
In fact, to quote Tilly, it’s “so fucking cool.”
Speaking of Those F-Bombs…
Up until now, the most memorable instance of swearing in the “Trek” universe was perhaps Captain Kirk shouting “double dumb-ass on you!” in “Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.” But, courtesy of CBS All Access’s looser standards, we get both Tilly and Stamets exclaiming over the joys of science in a truly authentic way. It’s undoubtedly weird, to hear this level of profanity in “Trek,” but there’s a joy to it as well.
In General, A Darker “Trek” Than Ever Before
Another realm “Trek” doesn’t often engage with is sexual violence — usually, the franchise takes a more metaphorical approach. Here, though, we have it basically acknowledged that Tyler was subject to nonconsensual advances by L’Rell (Mary Chieffo), pushing the show into darker territory than we might be used to. And that’s all before Lorca and Tyler break necks and shoot to kill as they escape the Klingon ship. Those new phaser effects are cool, but also yikes.
Also, speaking of dark moments: Learning what we do about Lorca’s prior command is just one of the episode’s most brutal blows, but it does come with a newfound understanding of why his eyes still aren’t fixed. It’s hard to imagine past “Trek” captains making the same choice… Well, actually, Sisko would probably have done it. Picard, maybe. But no way Kirk would have.
Hey, Harry Mudd’s Got an Edge
Like so many other aspects of “Discovery,” we see the series take an element of the original franchise and give it a darker spin. Rather than a jovial conman type, Wilson’s take on Mudd (a character from “The Original Series”) has an edge of ruthless anarchy to him, representing a non-Starfleet point of view that does honestly strike a chord. We don’t know enough at this stage about what exactly Federation society is like in this era. But Mudd is just one reminder that it’s not exactly a picnic.
Even In the Future, Dental Hygeine Matters
Speaking of new territory: The episode ends on a note of relative domestic bliss — just two men in love, brushing their teeth side-by-side in the bathroom — which is relatively unprecedented for “Trek.” (Hell, sci-fi in general. How many spaceship bathrooms can you remember seeing?) While it’s a bit odd that Stamets and Culber wear matching Starfleet-issue pajamas (in this more militaristic era, does Starfleet even regulate sleepwear?) that’s nothing compared to the final look at Stamets, who may say that he feels okay, but is clearly transformed by this new glimpse of the universe he’s gotten.
One Weird Ride
It’s still hard to be sure where “Discovery” is taking us at this stage — the mysteries only seem to be piling up, while we wait for these people to fully coalesce into the sorts of characters we’ll want to follow for years. But so far, the journey is an interesting one, and we’re still on board, especially given the way in which “Discovery” keeps surprising us week after week.