SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK: DISCOVERY
"CHOOSE YOUR PAIN"
"Choose Your Pain" reintroduces Star Trek fans to the irascible Harcourt Fenton Mudd, this time played not by Roger C. Carmel, but Rainn Wilson. Not only is Wilson's portrayal consistent with Mudd's character as we came to know him in three episodes of the original series (counting his one animated appearance), the creators also give us some of his backstory and even some justification for his famous attitude toward Starfleet.
Mudd's introduction here is smooth and well-integrated into this week's episode of Star Trek: Discovery, but as enjoyable as it is, there's much more going on. We get to know a little bit more about Captain Lorca's motivations, his friendships (and not) with Starfleet brass, and his response to stress. We also finally get to meet Ash Tyler, who joins the cast as an escaped prisoner of war who we are led to believe was raped by his Klingon captor.
In brief, the episode's story goes like this: after a meeting with the Admiralty on a Starbase, Captain Lorca is kidnapped by Klingons, who torture him in an effort to learn how the Discovery manages to be seemingly everywhere at once during the war. He's imprisoned with Tyler and Mudd; meanwhile, First Officer Saru has to find and rescue the captain before he can reveal any information. But there's a wrinkle: the spore drive is slowly killing the tardigrade, which means that each use of the drive brings the crew closer to the day they won't be able to use the drive at all.
Naturally the rescue is successful, but the episode subverts a couple of audience expectations - notably, mine. Last week I theorized that the mushroom drive would ultimately fail because the evolved human ethics of the 23rd century would make torturing an animal for such ends unconscionable. While that theme is developed in this episode, Stamets, Tilly and Burnham find a workaround: by gene splicing mushroom DNA into a human subject, they discover they can power the drive with a volunteer - in this case, Stamets himself. Burnham and Tilly release the tardigrade, neatly solving the ethical problem.
But now, of course, audiences are left to wonder why, since the drive now appears ethically viable, it doesn't appear in Star Trek shows set later in the franchise's internal chronology? I guess I'll have to come up with another theory.
The escape from the Klingon prison ship features a couple of very interesting choices: the weapons Lorca and Tyler steal vaporize their enemies, something rarely seen on Star Trek since the original series. I appreciated this touch, as vaporization always seemed more horrifying to me than the "kill" effect seen on The Next Generation and later shows; at least there was a body to bury in the latter series. Being vaporized means poof! you're gone, as if you never existed. And both sides, in the original series, used this technology. It's macabre, but I find it gave the original series a chilling edge, and I'm glad to see the effect come back here; lethal weapons should be horrifying.
I also found it horrifying - and revealing - that Lorca and Tyler left Mudd behind. They had some reason for doing so, but can you imagine Captain Kirk - who loathed Mudd - leaving him to such a fate? Never. Tyler I can excuse, being thoroughly traumatized by his experience, but Lorca had an obligation to rescue any civilian in that situation. I have a feeling this will come back to bite him.
This was another solid episode, perhaps my favourite of the series thus far. The Discovery's crew is starting to act more altruistically than in episodes past, more in keeping with who they should be, given the utopian setting (even in wartime). Saru gets some more character development. And there were a couple of delightful easter eggs, particularly the name-drop of Robert April and Christopher Pike; in fact, this episode brings Robert April into the Star Trek canon officially, as his one previous appearance was limited to the quasi-canon animated series. (Robert April was Gene Roddenberry's initial captain of the Enterprise/Yorktown early in the development of the original series.)
One final note: I was a little stunned to hear two f-bombs dropped on tonight's episode. I'm not opposed to the use of earthier language in Star Trek, but were it me, I would have saved it for a more dramatic moment - something earned, rather than thrown away for shock value. But all in all - a strong installment.