Thursday, 19 October 2017

Stirring the Mudd: S1 E5 Choose Your Pain


The war stretches onwards with Discovery seeming as Starfleet’s best and most secretive weapon since the linking of the tardigrade lifeform to the spore drive.

Thing is it’s not all going to plan and the macrocosmic lifeform is getting weaker with each jump raising concerns for Burnham who was the one to initially work out that the hook up might be the answer to their engineering woes.

Just to add to the stress, Lorca manages to get himself captured by L’Rell onboard a Klingon D-7 battlecruiser on his return from a meeting with Starfleet admiralty. While on the one hand this does give us the unfortunate chance to be introduced to a very duplicitous interpretation of Harcourt Fenton Mudd it also finally adds Shazad Latif to the cast as Lieutenant Ash Tyler, formerly of the USS Yeager which was lost at the battle of the binary stars. 

Rainn Wilson is excellent in the role of Mudd taking him away from the purely comedic turn of Roger C Carmel and twisting it into something darker and unnerving at times with a ton of set up to make sure we want him back and by god I do.  His treatment of his cellmates and contempt for Starfleet is seething under the surface and I bought the character and the backstory they expanded on slightly. Nice nod to Stella who we last saw in android form in I, Mudd some 49 years ago. 

How does this all link? Well, Saru is quick to demand the need for multiple spore drive jumps to search and rescue Lorca before he blurts out all of Starfleet’s secrets. This places this week’s big conflict into place where in Burnham, backed my Doctor Culber (Wilson Cruz) finds herself up against the acting captain to protect the very creature she found a use for.  There is at times a lot of plot exposition to refresh viewers from the previous episode around the workings of the spore drive/tardigrade yet the story here is engrossing because of the difference of opinion between the characters. The ultimate resolution is satisfying and places Stamets in a whole new light quite removed from the seemingly eternally disgruntled Starfleet conscript. 

The relationship between Culber and Stamets is handled excellently with their disagreements on duty nicely mirrored against their personal partnership. Not heavy handed, subtle and I think it will work wonders in later episodes of the two continue to have differing viewpoints. 

This second story also contains a third strand with Saru reviewing his own performance in command of the Discovery during Lorca’s absence. Nice little homage as he compares his stint against the likes of Pike, Matt Decker, Robert April, Archer and Philippa Georgiou while having to deal with what he terms as a destructive element. Perhaps more of an additional strand to the rescue attempt this line does provide some more character development for the Kelpien first officer. He has self-doubt and still sees Burnham as a massive personal problem especially at a time of crisis. Their relationship has totally spin round since The Vulcan Hello with Burnham using him as a guinea pig for her ideas last week and this week Saru blatantly going in opposition to everything she said as he asserted himself into the temporary captaincy. Saru isn't one to hold back on the cutting remarks and again uses Georgiou's death as a weapon knowing full well the impact it will have on Burnham.

However, for me this was a Lorca-heavy episode right from the pre-titles. We learnt a lot about the captain’s previous command and how he ended that plus we get to see him in an out of familiar circumstances leadership position. His persona here is much less stern than usual as he seeks a way to survive in the Klingon prison cell. His actions in leaving Mudd behind are - WILL - come round to bite him on the ass in a future episode but considering the dishonourable intentions of the trader, I don’t think we blame him. 

L’Rell doesn’t have a vast amount of development here aside from the news that she can speak Federation Standard while she tortures Lorca and not very much on that count it seems. Is this all set up for something? What’s going on behind the scenes and where’s Voq (and yes, I have seen the internet theories)? She is positioning herself as the central Klingon character moving into the mid third of the season but we still have others to meet beyond her, Voq and Kol. Surely the power play is going to expand more before it is wrapped up? 

Choose Your Pain - a direct reference to the choice the Klingon guards give their prisoners in either taking a beating or dishing it out to a cellmate - is the darkest moment of the series so far but the most enlightening when it comes to the main cast. It is also extremely violent as Star Trek episodes go with an officer knifed by Klingons in the pre-titles, Lorca tortured and a brutal fight to escape all locked inside 48 minutes of story. Nor does the show feint away from showing the violence and it only goes to show how our acceptance of this level of graphic content has become almost blase.

For one we finally have a complete roster with the  rescue of Lieutenant Tyler and secondly it offers something more than just 45 minutes of Burnham with the others sprinkled around for variety. Isaacs is refreshing and compelling on screen in every scene and I utterly believed in his character whether undergoing torture at the hands of L’Rell, confronting Mudd or saving Tyler from the Klingons and making Good their escape. On that note, anyone else think that was a little easy?

Couple of points that didn’t sit too well for me though. Those Klingon dragonfly-like ships were a little too Lexx for my liking and looked utterly out of place on Star Trek. I’d have also chosen a different designation for the Klingon cruiser when it’s announced at the start because that AIN'T a D7. Did these elements affect the telling of the story - no, but for purists I think there might be some nervous twitches that the stuff created in CG might be stepping a little too far from the realm of what might be considered canon. 

Then there’s the f-bomb that was dropped. Wow. Swearing in Star Trek. Do I mind? Not really. Was it a surprise? Yes. It is quite ‘un-Trek’ if you will and did few a tad out of place but I’m not writing my whole review around one throwaway line of dialogue because there’s more to Choose Your Pain than the word f**k (x2). 

I am loving the returning bridge crew on Discovery. While they don’t have a ton of lines or a lot of screen time in total the continuity is wonderful and faithful to the franchise yet there’s that distinct difference that with this series the bridge isn’t the main focal point of the show for action and nor are that set of officers. For me that’s one of the biggest differences to get used to although Discovery really is opening up a lot of threads and arcs that we still have 10 episodes left to tie up. 

Overall a sure-footed effort here that I really enjoyed from start to finish. Good opportunity to explore Lorca and probably make a few fans question whether or not he is a Mirror Universe character. Oh - and on that note, what about those last few seconds - anyone else thinking that the Mirror Universe was being hinted at there? What effect has injecting himself with tardigrade genetic material done to Stamets? Is he now connected to the micelial network? Duh duh duuuuuuuh....!

How did Choose Your Pain rate in your books?

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