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Star Trek: Discovery - Choose Your Pain - Review: "The First F-Bomb in the Franchise's History"

Star Trek: Discovery 1.05 "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not For The Lamb's Cry - Review:
Directed by Lee Rose, Story by Gretchen J. Berg & Aaron Harberts & Kemp Powers & Teleplay by Kemp Powers

Choose Your Pain was a very interesting episode of Star Trek: Discovery that for the first time since the series premiere, pushed Michael to the sidelines in order to focus on other characters, allowing our first real taste as to what Jason Isaacs' Captain Lorca was capable of. The Discovery has been acting as Starfleet's secret weapon in the war against the Klingons for a while now and it was only inevitable that the Klingons would find out sooner or later that they had an ace in the hole, and as a result make Captain Lorca their primary objective to capture and gain information from. Lorca himself, despite his best efforts to resist was captured by superior numbers, and thrust into a cell where in order to prevent the captives from bonding, a practise with the name "Choose Your Pain" is followed where one of the prisoners must choose which one of the others must be tortured. It's certainly gruesome, but it must yield results.

Balancing the emotion with drama this week, Choose Your Pain did allow Saru to be put in the Captain's seat as First Officer. It turns out that the reason he doesn't like Michael very much is because Saru, much like Captain Georgiou was always hoping that one day she would become a Captain of her own ship rather than become Starfleet's first mutineer. However unlike Georgiou he was hoping she would become a captain for different reasons, namely that he himself would get to learn from the best. This is evidenced by Saru's increased nervousness that he feels out of his depth, wondering what previous Captains would have done in his place. There were shoutouts here to Enterprise's Captain Archer and Christopher Pike, who has recently shown up in the Abrams films. Whilst obviously they would have to get a different actor play the role of Pike, Pike is someone who could very much appear in the timeline without any great leaps in canon. It would serve as a further way to ground Discovery in the rest of the franchise, and hopefully this is something that can happen at some point, whether in its first season or in its last. Either way, Saru himself is wrestling with the decision about whether or not to remove Michael from her position for the course of the episode as he recognises how troublesome she can be, and it comes to a tipping point when they need to use the Ripper to jump to and from Klingon space and save their Captain. His decision is to remove the obstructive element from the scenario, and as a result, things go badly wrong when the Ripper - now known as the Tardigrade, sensing danger, makes itself less welcoming to the crew.

Saru's first command operation was an interesting one and an experiment that allowed us to explore more of his character more just as much as it fleshed out Lorca's. Saru himself proved to be different again from Georgiou and Lorca, obviously nowhere near as experienced as either and the experience cost him as he made some frequently rash decisions. But in the end, with the help from Michael, he decided that he wouldn't in the future base his actions against what past Captains would have done. After all, this situation was completely different to anything that they were likely to have experienced. This was perhaps out of of all the arcs here that one that felt the most true to the Trek storylines that the franchise has jostled with in the past, treading very familiar ground at times. And it quickly became apparent as well that the title "Choose Your Pain" did not just refer to Lorca in prison, but also Saru as well, alongside several other characters who all faced incredibly hard choices this week.

Michael herself also played a role in this episode in discovering an alternative to using the Tardigrade as a power source, sucking its lifespan, but it turned out that it wasn't quite as clear as it appeared to be, with humans being used as a viable alternative. This also allowed us to spend some time to flesh out Stamets' character on top of the time spent with Saru and Lorca, because previously he was merely seen as a self-centered asshole on a bad day, with Michael quickly working out that the best way to get him to see what needed to be done was to use his ego to their advantage. They discover that humans are also compatible and able to use themselves as a supercomputer. But much like the Tardigrade, it would prove far too costly and potentially kill the subject involved. Especially when Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) also discovered that it was if it died during the jump, it would be murder which was something that he was not willing to play a part of. Stamets appeared to ignore Culber's advice and take Saru at face value, but later, when jumping away, it appeared that they hadn't been able to use the Tardigrade to save the ship, it had been Stamets, sacrificing himself for the ship's survival.

This feels like the conclusion of the Tardigrade's own arc in a way and closed the chapter on its storyline by setting it free again into the outer reaches of space. It's now becoming clear why this spore technology wasn't used to power Starfleet ships en masse in future series, and that's because of the high human cost that is likely going to play a huge factor in getting the project cancelled by Lorca's superiors. Lorca himself probably won't be too happy about it as he's someone who looks ever so slightly crazier than your previous Starfleet Captain, not afraid to go to the extremes necessary for success. We learned some dark, disturbing things about him this week including the fact that he was willing to kill his entire crew to save them from the certainty of several doomed months as Klingon POWs, which seems like a very unStarfleet choice to do. Either way, you can't help but not like Lorca at this point, thanks in part due to how great Jason Isaacs is in the role, bringing fantastic charisma to his character. The fact that he comes into conflict with the higher-ups in Starfleet command also somehow makes him more likeable as well, in a kind of underdog way. It's Discovery against the universe at this point, and it wouldn't surprise me if it wasn't too long before Lorca's superiors became more involved in how the ship operated in the future.

The two contrasting personalities of characters that we met serving as Klingon POWs were also interesting and served as nice counterparts to each other. Whilst Tyler was a more traditional, by the book Starfleet soldier, Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson), wasn't, in fact serving as someone who actively hated Starfleet and viewed them as responsible for starting the war in the first place by pushing too far away into the unknown. Mudd himself has appeared on the original series itself so whilst we didn't get Pike, Mudd's addition was nonetheless an interesting one. Lorca's decision to leave him behind was rather cold (again, unlike traditional Starfleet standards), but then again, you could see why he opted to do so.

We also got a peek into the more personal lives of the characters this week, more specifically, Stamets and Culber. It was established that the two of them have been in a relationship for a while, and as a result he's slowly becoming more likeable as the series progresses. One of the benefits of a serialised approach is that the characters aren't reset to the way they were by the end of the episode allowing them to change and evolve, and this has proved to be for the better in his case. The relationship dynamic between Stamets and Culber feels like a breath of fresh air in the franchise as well, and also, ominously teased a potential mirrorverse arc. For those of you who don't know the mirrorverse is an alternate dimensions where things didn't exactly turn out the same way as they did in the main story, and I'm really excited to see where the show explores this going forwards, with numerous "What if?" potential to introduce. Either way, Stamets' reflection not walking away from the mirror when he did was certainly ominous indeed.

The show also dropped the first F-Bomb in the franchise, not once, but twice, this week from the unlikeliest of sources in the form of Tilly, who I wasn't expecting to deliver it not once but twice at all. It's interesting and although there have been some complaints that it feels like the show trying to be edgy, it doesn't bother me that much. It's good to see the characters allowed to let off some steam every once in a while and serves as a reminder too that rather than invent their own swear words like shows like Battlestar Galactica have done (frak), Star Trek Discovery at least decides to stick to ignore that aspect altogether. One of the benefits it seems of not being on CBS' main network is that you're freed from normal network conventions, which the show has decided to exploit here. At the same time, hopefully it's something that's kept to a minimum and only used sparingly, if at all, as it barely worked here in the episode's context.

What did you think of Star Trek: Discovery's latest episode, "Choose Your Pain"? Let me know in the comments section below and check out the next episode on Sunday through CBS All Access, or the following day on Netflix outside of the US and Canada.

About the Author - Milo MJ
Milo is an Arsenal FC supporter and loves TV shows like Battlestar Galactica, Justified, The Wire, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and Person of Interest. He reviews Preacher, The Exorcist, Star Wars Rebels, Star Trek Discovery, Silicon Valley and Veep for Spoiler TV and will be covering Castle Rock, Counterpart, Krypton, Marvel's New Warriors, Rise, Marvel's Runaways, Succession and Trust. He also contributes to comic reviews on a weekly basis for All-Comic. He also regularly watches and reviews films on Letterboxd, and you can find his ever-changing list of 300 favourite movies here.
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