DIS: S1E05: “Choose Your Pain”

In which Burnham bucks authority again, Lorca’s not nearly as dumb as he can pretend to be, and the dear doctor is dearer to some. 

 When last we left off, the crew of the Discovery had learned that stab-torturing a grizzly-bear-sized tardigrade let them blink-travel at warp-stupid-fast, and if Michael Burnham isn’t concerned about the ethics then she’s at least bright enough to be concerned about what pissed off the tardigrade on the Glenn. Meanwhile, Voq had been betrayed but has at least one loyal follower.

That costs good money in Germany.

Now the bridge is empty, as is most of the ship, with a sort of dreamy quality. Only Burnham is visible, standing at her engineering station. At a guess I’d imagine that this may be a tardigrade-eye-view of the local environment. But no, in fact Burnham is watching herself in the mushroom chamber. And getting stabbed with the navigational hookups. Empathy can really take its toll. Her next move is to try to work with Doctor Colber to point out its increasing lethargy. He agrees to run some tests on it to help determine why it’s getting worse and worse as they perform more and more jumps for the war.

Starfleet has been building new Spore drives, but they don’t have the tardigrades to run it. The Admiralty wants Discoveryto dial back on running out this so-far-non-renewable resource, in case they need to study it instead of expending it. No concern for the tardigrade as much as operational security.

Tilly is really insecure but fully capable of wielding that as a conversational battering ram and doing some cafeteria therapy. While this is going on, Lorca jams a needle into his eye as treatment for his eye problem. Command is also pissed at Lorca for recruiting Michael, but coming to him unofficially and in an advisory capacity. On his way back from the conference, Lorca’s shuttle is abducted by a Klingon D7. His pilot is summarily killed, but Lorca is captured and his medicine is lost in the scuffle.

We seem to know for certain that Lorca was captured, and the Klingon warp trail is cold. Saru, now in command, is tasked with retrieving Lorca. He senses that Burnham is about to come onto the bridge, suggesting that indeed his species threat-reaction is based on a sense humans do not possess. However, he is able to hear Burnham out in the ready room, though not accede to them based on the current information. Fun fact from his next line of inquiery – Matt Decker is already one of the most decorated captains in Starfleet. That puts a human-lifespan perspective on where and when this conflict takes place. Chris Pike, too. In fact, there are no captains on that list who have not been referenced at some point in Canon by this time, although one is from a TAS episode I haven’t done yet. Saru’s reason for this is to have the computer create a metric of his actions to measure him up against the best Starfleet has ever had to offer. It suggests that instead he should kill Burnham.

Lorca wakes up in a Klingon prison being picked over by Harcourt Fenton Mudd. He’s here for ‘loving too much,’ notably borrowing from loan sharks to impress a woman, falling behind on payments, and being chased into Klingon territory. Also present is a catatonic prisoner. When the Klingons arrive, they demand the prisoners ‘choose their pain.’ Mudd points to the whimpering guy and they knock the crap out of him. The way this works is that captives can take pain themselves, or make it worse for their cellmates. Mudd lacks both bruises and remorse. This is meant to prevent prisoner bonding, which makes it a bit weird when Harry tries to use the fact that he sells out a broken guy as a selling point for team loyalty.

Burnham attempts to butter Stamets up as a prelude to explaining to him why keeping the biological component of the spore drive healthy is a necessary means to keeping the system as a whole working. Stamets is a big dumb idiot and way too proud of his research to listen. He’s shifting the blame for using the tardigrade onto Burnham.

Remember Red, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies. – The Shawshank Redemption

There are more prisoners, some of them Starfleet, and one of whom gives Lorca a bite of ration. Lt Nash Tyler has lost his captain and been captured for seven months, at the Battle of the Binary Stars. He’s still alive because the Klingon captain has… taken a liking to him. To keep morale up, Lorca lets some information drop about the Discovery and her spore drive. And that’s when Mudd’s pet spider steals their food.

Civilians, or at least Harry Mudd, blame Starfleet for the war, for pushing the boundaries of human space. The next time the Klingons come in they go right for Lorca, almost as if they’ve been listening and now know that he has information about the Federation’s Secret Weapon.

Stamets has come around to action on the whole tardigrade problem. From the bottom up, the way the tardigrade works is that it incorporates fungal DNA long enough to access the subspace fungus network. The nav computer then gives the tardigrade coordinates, so Tilly suggests building a virtual tardigrade – mechanizing the process at the gene-transfer level rather than the navigation level. However, Stamets has problems doing that without knowing why. They now believe that the fungus needs a willing participant, which is what brings us into powered-by-a-forsaken-child territory. This is when we get the first tv-spot F-bomb in Star Trek history.

Lorca’s got his interview with the interrogator. She’s aware of his role in the Corvan system rescue. Since she knows about his little eye problem, that’s her vector of torture, and given the sensitivity involved and the fact that it’s been brought up twice now, Lorca’s probably going to end this little arc with prosthetic eyes.

Saru’s narrowed down the Klingon vector to three possibilities, but Stamets has just disabled the Spore drive while they’re trying to find a viable alternative to the tardigrade. Saru storms down to engineering to indicate that asking mommy after daddy said no is not the kind of conduct he would want from those under his command, and that’s when Burnham hits him with a bomb – they have a hypospray that should let a human take the place of a navigational tardigrade. This would be perfectly ethical except that it falls under the heading of ‘forbidden eugenics experiment.’ After this shouting match, and the bridge’s indication that they’ve probably found the cruiser with Lorca on board, Saru orders the tardigrade emplaced.

As suspected, the prison is bugged after all. The good news is that this was intentional by Lorca as a probe to see if anyone could be trusted. To fire back at Lorca for outing him, Mudd explains to the crewman that Lorca was the sole survivor of the USS Buran, surviving and fleeing when nobody else did. In fact, he killed his crew rather than letting them be publicly tortured and executed. So the voting for the Klingons’ next round is going to be a bit less one-sided.

The Discovery spins up and the tardigrade knows exactly what’s waiting for it. Once the jump is concluded it collapses, shrivels up, and… well it’s not dead, but it’s doing what tardigrades do to survive hostile environments – drying up and protecting itself in hibernation. Saru refuses to listen to Doctor Colber and orders them to forcibly crack it open. This to Stamets.

Speaking of ethical conundrums, the Klingons make Lorca choose who gets beat, and Lt Tyler asks to be the one to take it. This, it turns out, may have been a ruse to get the Klingons to drop their guards long enough to have their necks snapped and their weapons taken. Nash Tyler had a long plan that he couldn’t use Harry for. And the two of them leave him behind with threats of revenge.

Klingon disruptors of this era fire bolts that vaporize humanoid targets in a puff of green murder. After the fight, Tyler can’t keep up and tells Lorca to leave him. He does have enough strength to make a go at the captain of the ship and beat the crap out of her in retribution. Lorca comes back to rescue him, and it turns out the ‘ricochet’ from a nearby disruptor bolt is not fatal but will dissolve your face where it hits. I am not certain why they didn’t take the extra second to put her out of their misery. It’s wartime and she knows state secrets.

Lorca and Tyler escape in a little Klingon two-man fighter, and it comes out that Lorca’s eye damage happened when he destroyed the Buran, possibly by staring at a warp core explosion to burn it into his memory. The Discovery is nearby, and Saru realizes from his predator-prey insight that Lorca is on that ship being chased. They get Lorda successfully and Lorca orders Jump. When asked whether they’ve revived the tardigrade, Stamets acknowledges only that they are ready to jump. With the teaser, it seems obvious that this is a little unorthodox even by the standards of the Discovery.

Still less weird than the end of “2001: A Space Odyssey”

Of course, what tends to mark a heroic character, particularly in an episode about volunteering for suffering, is that you don’t order others to do it for you. Stamets is the one who took the dose and got stabbed. He’s alive and ecstatic that it worked, once he wakes up. Saru has to go to Burnham to eat crow and own up to how his distrust and anger at Michael has messed with his confidence. Burnham offers Saru Georgiou’s telescope, and perhaps helped along by this, Saru gives Burnham the task of saving the tardigrade, and her first guess is filling it with spores and spacing it. It manages to rehydrate in deep space, even though they didn’t space any water with it, and it blinks out.

Saru at least has the confidence to turn off his performance review program before getting the result. Stamets might be having some relationship problems after going the extra mile to carry out orders – what do you expect when you’re in love with the ship’s doctor and your highly experimental research? He got to both save Doctor Colber and not make the ethical doctor leave him, as well as really get in touch with his research. Of course, there may be side effects, of the parallel-universe-encroachment nature, or possibly the Hellraiser nature.

Did we miss something awesome?