Episode 5: Choose Your Pain
The capture of Captain Gabriel Lorca (Jason Isaacs) by a Bird Of Prey Klingon ship unexpectedly upgraded Lieutenant Commander Saru (Doug Jones) to the big chair. In the meantime, Reaper is suffering and barely regenerating from all of the jumps it helps the Discovery make via the spore drive. Concerned and pained, Burnham proves to Lieutenant Stamets (Anthony Rapp), with the help of Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz), that Reaper is in fact not only capable of feeling pain, but is also sentient. Thus begins the mission to save the creature, despite Captain Saru’s orders to use him as a last option to save Captain Lorca.
The Torture Of Captain Lorca
When Captain Lorca is on his way back to the U.S.S. Discovery after meeting with high-ranking Starfleet Command officers, the shuttle is intercepted and beamed up to a Bird Of Prey warship and boarded by Klingon warriors. The Klingons capture Captain Lorca and bring him to a cell where two other humanoid beings are also being detained as prisoners.
Shortly after his arrival in the prison, Lorca witnesses a Klingon torture tactic in which one of the Klingon guards speak (this time in English): “Choose your torture.” The tall man they are speaking to points at another prisoner, who is subsequently beaten nearly to death. We later find out this is the Klingon way to prevent prisoners from bonding.
The Bird Of Prey ship was well designed externally, particularly detail-wise, and even reminiscent of Star Trek: The Next Generation (TNG) but with a few, newer twists. And although the new look of the Klingons’ themselves has finally grown on me, I would’ve personally liked to see the inside of the ship darker, dingier, and with more reds and steam coming out of grid floors, much like as previously done in Star Trek TNG. The depth of this look always made the place look and feel more macabre and feared, like the Klingons themselves.
Ultimately, the prisoners’ cell just wasn’t quite creepy enough for me, especially knowing that in a previous episode we learned that Klingons ate Captain Georgiou. Overall, the cell seemed too normal and missed that deep, grungy visual approach. The brutality of the beating on the human prisoner was ferocious in and of itself, but the overall look of the cell felt like it reduced the brutal nature of the Klingons.
When Lorca is brought to the Bird Of Prey’s captain, a female Klingon, she asks him about the special engine on-board the U.S.S. Discovery. After Lorca denies knowing what she was talking about regarding information she had been fed, she tortures him with bright light fixed on his damaged eyes using a torture device he is tied to.
The torture device seemed real enough, don’t get me wrong, but sadly, it also felt like a missed cause. They wanted to use his light sensitivity, which was a callback to when we first meet Captain Lorca and his damaged, light-sensitive eyes are first mentioned. Functional, but even so, I would’ve liked them to get more creative with it.
Go deeper. Make me fear the Klingons to the point that I’ll have nightmares. They did it so well the week before! Do it again and again! Make me shiver when I see Klingons. The torture just was not as convincing as I thought Klingons should capable of delivering and even made me yawn a little. Hopefully, the show will dare to be as bold as they were in the last episode, emphasizing fearsome creativity with the Klingons. Especially for the torture, anyways.
Henry Mudd Is Back on Trek!
The other humanoid male in the cell with Captain Lorca is none other than the anticipated “love-to-hate” character from Star Trek The Original Series: Henry Mudd, who played by the awesome, nerdy Rainn Wilson (mostly lovingly known for his role as Dwight Schrute in The Office).
In the original series, Mudd was deeply sarcastic and rather funny, and naturally, always getting in trouble. He had a special relationship with Captain James T. Kirk. I remember the episode “I, Mudd,” which was not only original, but left me curious about this goofy yet intelligent character. When I learned that he would be brought back in Star Trek: Discovery, I wondered how exactly they would adapt the character to fit a more futuristic Star Trek of today, even though he was being portrayed by an actor I thought was perfect for the role. I was not disappointed.
One of the quotes that I most appreciated in the episode was from Mudd, when he confessed that yes, he had been feeding information to the Klingons with the help of his pet insect:
“What did you think would happen when you bumped into someone who didn’t want you in their front yard?”
With our love for the Star Trek universe, we are almost pushed to admire Starfleet and the United Federation Of Planets for their ideals, but when Mudd brings up the arrogance of the fleet and its way of discovering new life forms and civilization, specifically saying “to boldly go where no one has gone before,” he also begs the question: “Were you really prepared for what was out there?” And that, I must say, I loved wholeheartedly.
The show is bringing new depth to Henry Mudd, as well a psychology that I just can’t resist. I want to know more and I want him to be ever-present in the series because his cunning and viciousness are delectable. He doesn’t care about the well-being of others, he only wants to survive and stick it to Starfleet Command. He’s a rebel to be feared because of his calculating mind.
Despite having been left in the Klingon prison cell when Captain Lorca and Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) organized their elaborate escape, I’m quite sure we haven’t seen the last of Henry Mudd.
Meanwhile On Discovery
Reaper was a great concern of mine simply because I am a huge-hearted animal lover. Everything that is alive, from a caterpillar to a tall tree, I love and respect, so when that big, slimy, alien-worm was brought on board the U.S.S. Discovery to be used as a “pilot” for the spore drive, I was afraid, citing the outcome of the Equinox episode from Star Trek Voyager.
When hearing Reaper’s cry and pain, I knew Burnham had to find a way to save it and free it, because I refused to believe that we could still be so heartless toward animals in a future such as Star Trek. My heart sunk, seeing it suffer inside the tube and forced to guide the U.S.S. Discovery across space in search for Captain Lorca.
Let’s face it, Reaper looks like a microbe (specifically, the real and cherished tardigrade), but yet, in so few episodes, I fell for it and wanted the happy outcome. Burnham’s compassion was palpable and real, serving as just another testament to Sonequa Martin-Green’s superior acting capabilities.
When Burnham convinces the ship’s doctor, Dr. Hugh Culber to perform tests on Reaper, he of course finds that the animal is indeed suffering and showing signs that he is aware of his own existence. Both Burnham and the doctor bring this new information to Lieutenant Stamets, who suggests (with his signature arrogant smile) to try to figure out a way to duplicate the alien to make the organism believe it is Reaper, thus still being able to jump across space without bringing further pain to Reaper.
Their hopes were short lived, though, when Commander Saru refuses to listen to Burnham’s warning about Reaper’s torture. Saru orders Stamets to prepare for Black Alert and to jump, on his signal, to the last location of Captain Lorca’s shuttle. After Reaper is used, his audible agony debilitates everyone in the engineering laboratory. After the jump, the creature releases water from its body and shrivels into a dehydrated ball.
But when ordered to jump again, Lieutenant Stamets refuses. Saru shows up in the laboratory and Burnham tries to explain that they might have found a solution to prevent further use of Reaper. Dr. Culber backs Burnham, refusing to participate in the torture of an innocent life, but Saru is determined to save Captain Lorca and orders Stamets to prepare Reaper for another jump.
When the jump occurs, the U.S.S. Discovery was indeed able to save and beam Captain Lorca and Lieutenant Ash Tyler back to the Discovery, but then shortly after, realized that Stamets’ life signs were fading. They discover he had used the himself as the catalyst to jump (instead of Reaper) as the research had shown similarity with human DNA. Stamets wakes up and laughs madly, happy to have experienced such a scientifically-driven adventure.
When the episode ends, Saru confesses to Burnham that he was never afraid of her, but angry because she had a chance he had never been given: to be Captain Georgiou’s Number One. It was a heartfelt moment, especially when he tells her to save Reaper and free it from their use.
We see Reaper released in space, the glowing organism regaining its strength and disappearing into space. It almost felt like an ending happy enough to be in the Walt Disney universe, but it was shortly lived.
Dr. Culber and Lieutenant Stamets are brushing their teeth in their bathroom (also thus excitingly introducing the first openly same sex couple in the Star Trek universe). Shortly after Dr. Culber leaves the bathroom, Stamets follows, but his reflection sticks in the mirror and smiles before leaving.
Obviously, there seem to have been lingering effects of his participation in the jump… Oh, Star Trek.
Episode 6: Lethe
When Sarek (James Frain) is on his way to a mediation mission to bring peace between the Klingons and Starfleet, he finds himself duped by his assistant, who was a veiled Logic Extremist (Vulcan extremists who believe that humans are inferior to their race). Sarek teleports himself into a nebula and back just in time to prevent his assistant’s explosion from killing him. Meanwhile, Burnham is suffering Sarek’s fate through their katra link which was established years ago when he brought her back to life after the Logic Extremists had once successfully killed Burnham.
Vulcan Logic Extremists
When Ambassador Sarek is on board his ship alone with his assistant, he realizes after the young Vulcan injects himself with a toxic compound that his life was at risk. The young Vulcan explains that humans are inferior and that they should not be walking among Vulcans as equals. Before the young Vulcan assistant is about to explode (in an attempt to kill Sarek for his alignment with humans), the ambassador quickly teleports himself away for a short time before returning to the ship, which drifts in a dangerous nebula.
The episode revolves mostly around Burnham experiencing Sarek’s physical pain and dying thoughts. These dying thoughts were troubling to Burnham as Sarek, a Vulcan, felt shame, failure, and disappointment as he constantly revisited the memory of Burnham’s graduation day from the Vulcan Science Academy (VSA). Despite finishing first in her class, the Vulcan Council refused to accept her in the Vulcan Expeditionary Group due to her human emotions that were still not perfectly suppressed by their standards.
Surprisingly, when Burnham tries to interact with Sarek in his own memory which was shared with her through the katra that he left in her, he pushes her away and affirms that his thoughts were his own and she had no right to be there. But Burnham knew that Sarek was dying and that she had to find and save him, despite feeling that what she was seeing was that his greatest failure was to have put trust in her.
When it is revealed that when Burnham surpassed other Vulcans in her class, and that logically, she should have been considered to join the Vulcan Expeditionary Group, Logic Extremists attack and kill Burnham. Dead for three minutes, Sarek saves her. In spite of it all, Burnham carried the guilt of being a disappointment to her adopted father her entire life, and so when feeling him “summoning” her, she wakes up in a bed in medical bay and begs Captain Lorca for help in saving Ambassador Sarek, to which he agrees.
It is no secret: Star Trek’s Vulcans are an arrogant race that deserve a good slap in the face on a regular basis, but bringing in extremists? That’s oddly interesting and also appropriately logical. Every nation has their own extremists, racists, misogynies, etc., and Vulcans shouldn’t be an exception. However, what triggered my attention was how the extremism was conveyed, especially now that we know Klingons are also racist/extremists.
I believe the differing of depictions of extremism was successful, as Klingons are obviously more expressive and Vulcans are emotionally withdrawn. Where it is about passion for the Klingons, it is about logic with Vulcan Extremists.
Through the Star Trek series, we have learned that Vulcans are not only haughty, but also easily annoyed by human behavior. They see our emotions as a weakness rather than strength. Personally, I always thought that Vulcans made a crucial mistake in their assumption that we were inferior: they compared their rational selves to us when instead of emotions impairing us, emotions drive and inspire us.
In this particular episode, I was naturally enraged at Vulcans for judging Burnham by her human race instead of her academic record. She obviously was worthy of the Vulcan Expeditionary Group, but because she was human and therefore capable of emotion, she was an outsider and refused of a dream she was made for.
I was outraged, but honestly, that outrage reminded me of what Star Trek has always been best at: displaying many sides of current, sensitive issues through the lens of science fiction.
Spock vs. Burnham
To learn a little more about those Logic Extremists, Captain Lorca calls Starfleet Command and speaks to a Vulcan about the situation. According to the Lead Vulcan he engages, humans were thought inferior to extremists and Vulcans as a race, but that Starfleet would take care of the problem and they would save Ambassador Sarek because, of course, there were protocols to follow. Unsatisfied, Captain Lorca says something that had me laugh and feel proud of:
“You can tell the Vulcans you’re welcome and that I’m happy to clean up their mess. Discovery out.”
To accomplish the mission to save Ambassador Sarek, Captain Lorca brings Burnham to see Lieutenant Stamets to discuss a way to recreate an artificial mind-meld device to project herself inside Sarek’s mind to wake him. Once done, Captain Lorca decides to put his new protégé, Lieutenant Tyler from the previous episode, as the pilot. Inside the shuttle, Lorca reminds Tyler to “Bring her back without a scratch.” Tyler smiles and promises the shuttle would be in good hands, but Captain Lorca was referring to Burnham: “Bring her back in one piece or don’t come back at all.”
After two attempts, Cadet Tilly and Tyler wonder if Burnham will actually be able to save Sarek. But with a few words from Tyler, Burnham is reminded that near death, one does not think about who failed them, but instead who they have failed and their own regrets. Burnham decides to go back in and it is then revealed: the greatest failure of Ambassador Sarek.
By Sarek’s side, after fighting him for the third time, Sarek shows her the truth of what happened the day of Burnham’s graduation. When he met with the council of the school, he was told that both his children were human or half human (referring to Spock, who was still very young at the time) and therefore it wouldn’t be acceptable to have two humans applying for the Vulcan Expeditionary Group due to their race. Sarek had to choose and he chose his own blood over Burnham.
Burham wasn’t angry with Sarek to have chosen Spock over her, but that her whole life she believed she had been a failure to him. Then, Sarek admitted that his greatest failure was to have chosen Spock over her, especially because he chose wrong. After all, Spock went on to join Starfleet Academy while Burnham had desired nothing more than to be part of the Vulcan Expeditionary Group.
Burnham proceeds with the mind-meld and manages to awaken Ambassador Sarek, who is then successfully beamed on board the shuttle and brought back to the U.S.S. Discovery to recover in sickbay.
Star Trek: The Lorca Mysteries
As usual, Captain Lorca is not without his own problems. His recent behaviors have led Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) to beam on board the U.S.S. Discovery to talk about Lorca’s drastic decisions, including going back to that whole having-a-mutineer-on-board-his-ship bit. Lorca quickly reminds the Admiral that he was granted permission to command his ship as he see fits to win the war.
Along the way, Cornwell reminds him that he had just been tortured and that she couldn’t see the friend she once knew ever since the last battle which almost cost him is vision. As often does in shows, one thing led to another and they sleep together. But then, when Lorca’s back is to Cornwell, she sees scars on his back, and when the tip of her fingers come in contact with his skin, he jumps on her and points a phaser gun at her. Cornwell pushes him off and says that he isn’t fit to command anymore and leaves, stating that she would bring this to Starfleet Command to have him relieved of command until he was stable again.
At the point where he pointed a phaser at Admiral Cornwell, I knew that Lorca had something in his mind: he had to get rid of Cornwell because he wasn’t about to give up Discovery. Captain Lorca is entirely too devious to give up that easily. After only a few episodes, it has become apparent that Lorca is a resourceful man, but also that very special type of villain-borderline-anti-hero.
He has his own agenda that he hides well, but he also seems to be a hero in his own dark ways. I am incredibly addicted to Captain Lorca’s mind. But of course before anything else, he had to get rid of Admiral Cornwell.
With Ambassador Sarek in sickbay, when Lieutenant Commander Saru comes to Captain Lorca’s door, he mentions that Admiral Cornwell would be an acceptable replacement to the ambassador as she was a counselor herself and thus fit for the job of diplomat. Mostly, he knew she wouldn’t pass up the opportunity.
At that point, I knew Lorca planned the mission as a trap and that the Admiral would die along the way. I couldn’t believe that for the first time, Star Trek went with a canon character (the captain of the main ship, on top of that), as a villain? Anti-hero? Honestly, I’m not sure yet, but nonetheless, the blurred line is invigorating.
When meeting with the Klingons in a neutral environment with the Elders of Cancri 4, Admiral Cornwell is quickly taken hostage while all other beings present were savagely killed. Voq appears as a hologram and announces that he is pleased with Ambassador Sarek’s replacement.
The whole situation has a multitude of possibilities and questions, but mostly, my focus remains on Captain Lorca and his feelings toward his past and his goals for the future. Clearly, he would stop at nothing with his mission, but why? Also, why is Lorca so determined to keep Burnham on board? So many hooking, obsessive questions!
In closing, fans will be pleased to know that CBS All Access confirmed that Star Trek: Discovery will have a second season!
In final and somewhat unrelated news, I just saw that in my report for the show, I wrote “Note to self: Captain Lorca has a nice ass.”
Live Long And Prosper