Discovery Recap: Choose Your Pain (Season 1, Episode 5)

“Do you want to be right? Or do you want to fix this?” -Stamets

Previously on Star Trek: Discovery: Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) officially joined Team Science which made Stamets’ (Anthony Rapp) resting bitch face be fractionally less bitchy, Lorca (Jason Isaacs) skulked about reminding everyone what war is good for (ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING), Landry (Rekha Sharma) fought Fluffy and Fluffy won, Culber (Wilson Cruz) made us remember why we love a man in uniform, Tilly (Mary Wiseman) began her career in illicit spore smuggling, Saru (Doug Jones) tried to get someone, anyone, to acknowledge that Burnham is DANGEROUS, Kol (Kenneth Mitchell) stole Voq’s (Javid Iqbal) ship with nothing more than BW3 and a cask of bloodwine, L’Rell (Mary Chieffo) proved that Klingon women do it better, and everyone, including the audience, mourned Captain Georgiou (Michelle Yeoh).

The camera floats through the out of focus and empty halls of Discovery until we come upon Burnham. And another Burnham? One Burnham is hooked into the spore drive, and the other is operating it. It’s like Burnham is, dare I say it? Looking into a mirror. One Burnham throws the switch and the other one screams, almost like hurting others always ends up also hurting yourself. Luckily for Burnham, this is a dream and she’s actually tucked safely into bed listening to the dulcet snoring of Tilly.

The dream unsettles Burnham enough to bring her concerns to Culber, who is still rocking the white uniform, aka the hottest thing we’ve seen on Star Trek since Nichelle Nichols existed. She points out that Fluffy is acting like his name is actually Moan-y and she is worried. Culber promises to look into it, even though he’s a doctor, not a zoologist.

Lorca is trying to convince Admiral Cornwell (Jayne Brook) that not only is Discovery the best ship that has ever flown for Starfleet, but that they are a-okay to go and kick more Klingon ass. Absolutely no problems at all. Fluffy? Fluffy is the fluffiest, ok, and he is doing just fine. He loves his new job and he loves being able to fight Klingons: every Tardigrade’s childhood dream. Cornwell is not buying the bullshit Lorca is peddling and she tells him to stand the fuck down.

Back in the cafeteria, Tilly sits down with Burnham and tries to cajole Burnham into dealing with her feelings like a functional adult would. Burnham just wishes there was more to do on this ship so she could ignore all of these shitty emotions properly, like a good Vulcan would. Tilly blinks her Disney Princess eyes and tells Burnham to feel, don’t conceal.

Lorca is lurking in the dark, hypospraying his own eyes and muttering “CURSES” under his breath when Cornwell interrupts him with both logic and bright lights. He hates both. Cornwell is not impressed. Lorca needs to stop being a creep, and stop recruiting war criminals. Lorca reminds her that he does whatever the fuck he wants and that’s why he has a ship and a spore drive and a mutineer.

Lorca tries to get back to Discovery, but the Klingons have other ideas, attacking the shuttle and tractor beaming Lorca and his pilot to their doom. Lorca doesn’t go down without a fight, pulling out every Starfleet hand to hand fighting technique but the butt first attack. He’s overpowered, and L’Rell drags him off.

Cornwell briefs Saru, letting him know that Lorca got his dumb ass captured and all of his screaming about HIS SHIP didn’t save him when he was being swarmed by Klingons. Cornwell reminds Saru that Lorca knows all about their super secret spore drive and they need him and his creepy vibe back before he spills the beans and ruins their tactical advantage. Saru starts barking orders, but Burnham strolls onto the bridge like the living personification of all of his insecurities and resentments and ruins his day with stuff like, “We’re killing Fluffy” and “Maybe we shouldn’t strap a living creature into our ship like a car battery.” Saru just wants to do his damn job, he doesn’t want to have to confront grey morality.

Saru heads to fret in private, making the mistake of Googling whether or not he’d be a good captain. This is just as bad of an idea as the time I got on WebMd at 3 am and convinced myself my foot would have to be amputated because it was tingling. The computer spits out a list of awesome captains like Robert April, William Decker, Phillipa Georgiou, Not Saru, and some others, like Not Saru. Saru realizes that maybe psyching himself out of his own command might actually be a shit idea and goes off to Captain better than any of those other Not Saru captains could.

Lorca finds himself a prisoner of the Klingons alongside Mudd (Rainn Wilson). Some Klingons bust in and ask them to “Choose your pain!” Mudd doesn’t even blink before throwing some poor sap under the bus and he’s promptly beaten to death. Mudd explains that the Klingons keep them from uniting by playing them off each other, meaning they get to choose who gets the beating. Mudd seems not at all bothered by this because he’s a selfish piece of shit. At least they’re sticking with canon.

Burnham enlists Culber to help her try and convince Stamets to stop wiring Fluffy into his spore drive. First she tries flattery, which might work on a lesser, more insecure grumpy scientist. Stamets just stares at her and wants to know A) what the fuck? and B) how she convinced his #SpaceBoo to back her up on this weak shit. Culber takes his cue to gtfo and Stamets reminds Burnham that SHE’S the one that first had the idea to hook Fluffy up to clamps. This isn’t entirely fair, obviously, and Burnham makes a face so pissed off that even Stamets is impressed. He also emphasizes that they could sit around singing “Portabello, Portabella” all day long but what they actually need to do is science the problem away.

Back in Lorca’s cell he trips over Lieutenant Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) who has apparently been hanging out in this hellhole for seven months. Lorca side-eyes this immensely and Tyler implies that he’s been trading his hot bod for his life with the ship’s captain. I mean sure, what’s a Mudd episode without casual sexual assault that’s not really acknowledged as sexual assault? Mudd has been eavesdropping and training bugs to steal food, like we all would if we were in space jail.

Mudd gives a speech about Starfleet arrogance and imperialism, about how they keep pushing farther and farther out into space and never once wondering if maybe the rest of the galaxy might be better off if they would just stay in their damn lane. This speech would resonate a lot more if it wasn’t coming from Mudd, whose sense of morality is about on par with a sentient wood chipper. Luckily for Mudd, the Klingons come to drag Lorca out by his neck before he can lunge across the room and beat Mudd to death with his shoe.

Team Science reviews all of the mushroom science to try and figure out how they can remove Fluffy from the equation and still navigate the mushroom space. I have zero idea if any of this science is plausible, but I understand it, kind of, so that’s a win. Tilly is overwhelmed with the sheer awesomeness of the sciencing and declares it “fucking cool.” Stamets agrees. It IS fucking cool. There has never been more people smiling all at once in the entire history of Discovery. Burnham is ready to FIX IT.

Lorca is strapped to a chair, which normally I’d figure would be his idea of a fun Friday night, but unfortunately L’Rell is pacing around, speaking excellent English and threatening him with torture. Real torture, not the fun kind. L’Rell wants to know how the eff he keeps managing to come out of nowhere to ruin her day. Lorca is like, yeah, man, Discovery is awesome but it’s just because of me. Also, hey, why are you banging a puny human dude? L’Rell just laughs a lot and Clockwork Oranges Lorca. Yikes.

Saru is still trying to get his name on the “Greatest Captains of All Time” list and is ready to go to black alert, but what? Wait a second? What is Stamets doing and why does he want Saru to fail at being a captain? He confronts Team Science and reminds them that his reputation, wait sorry, he means the captain, was his name Lorca? Yeah Lorca, needs them and he will not fail! Burnham steps in to tell Saru that they’ve figured out a work-around. Strap a human in there! One that can consent. Saru is not having it, because this is a shitty idea. Burnham tries to use this thing called “empathy” that she learned at the Vulcan Science Academy to talk him down, but Saru just calls her out for her condescension and confines her to quarters.

Back in Klingon Alcatraz, Lorca busts Mudd for being a slimy asshole. He’s been transmitting to the Klingons the whole time, while Lorca was just trying open up and show trust, you know? Ha, just kidding he specifically dropped information so he could figure out who was ratting him out because he’s a devious motherfucker. Mudd is cornered, so he goes on the offensive, revealing some juicy exposition about Lorca’s last command. Turns out, Lorca not only abandoned his crew but destroyed them all himself so they wouldn’t fall into Klingon hands and DAMN. I knew Lorca was cold as ice, but that is next level. The worst thing about it is he clearly thinks he was justified and kind of weirdly proud of it? All I can say is “Danger, Will Robinson!” to everyone on the Discovery because this dude is a serious menace.

Saru is on the bridge of Discovery, channeling Lorca’s pragmatic amorality. He orders Stamets and Tilly to go to black alert. Both of them are clearly distressed at Fluffy’s howls of pain, as they should be, let’s face it. Fluffy curls into a ball, moaning, and loses all of his water. It’s heartbreaking. Culber explains that Fluffy has gone into something called “cryptobiosis”, where he basically shut down his life signs and went on strike until he can get some worker’s rights around here. Saru, in a truly disturbing way, orders Culber to crack open Fluffy and plug him back in. It is chilling, and Culber tells him straight to his face that he won’t do it. Saru turns to Stamets, who says that he will. Culber shoots his #SpaceBoo a look that says that Stamets will be sleeping on the couch for a good long time.

In space jail, the Klingons show up and tell everyone to choose their pain. Mudd braces himself, but Tyler volunteers to take the beating. But hark, it was just a ploy, and now Lorca and Tyler are ready to bust out of space jail in true Starfleet fashion. Mudd chuckles. Well, wasn’t that a delightful adventure? Can’t wait for you to bring me back with you, eh chums. Lorca tells him to eat shit and die in space jail. Mudd’s howls of promised revenge are a pretty good aural backup for a jail break.

I’m going to take a moment and say that I really dug Rainn Wilson’s performance as Mudd. He portrayed the “ha, ha I’m just a TRICKSTER” with just the right sinister edge. The thing I always hated about the original Mudd is that there was no acknowledgment that he was actually a horrific human being. So. He’s supposedly going to be back, judging by both IMDb and his revenge wailing, so we’ll see how his story turns out. I was pleasantly surprised, so there’s that.

Fighting their way out, Tyler’s injury is slowing them. He tells Lorca to leave him, and surprising no one, Lorca is like, k, and Usain Bolts his way out of there. He vows to come back, but do we believe him? Mayyyybe?

L’Rell knocks Tyler around a little to remind him how good he’s had it on her ship until Lorca ACTUALLY COMES BACK and shoots her right in the face. I’m actually surprised he doesn’t kill her. After all of Lorca’s ruthlessness, he leaves a known enemy with a non-fatal wound to come back and get her revenge later. If I was Lorca, and I loved killing shit across the galaxy, I’d start with the Klingon that tortured me, but, okay.

Tyler and Lorca hightail it out of there in a stolen shuttle. Tyler correctly guesses that Lorca’s eyes were damaged when he destroyed his last ship. Lorca says he keeps the pain to remember his crew, which I’m sure is an extremely comforting useless gesture to all of the people he killed because he really likes his John Wayne impersonation.

Saru is watching the escape, and his unique insight into predator v. prey patterns allows him to pick out Lorca’s shuttle and hail them. They beam out just as the shuttle explodes, a beloved Star Trek staple. Saru asks Stamets if the tardigrade is ready, and Stamets says that the ship is ready to jump, which is not actually what Saru asked him. Saru hits black alert and they spore jump away.

Lorca and Tyler bond over their daring shenanigans, and Tyler tells him that “there’s no place he’d rather be.” Sooooooo Tyler is a spy, right? We’re all thinking it? L’Rell, Hand of the King, totally captured Lorca and let him escape with Tyler to embed a spy on the ship. If she tortured Lorca, the odds that she’d get the technology she wanted is low. But if she actually got a person on the ship who could take the time to understand and study the technology before he stole it… well that’s a better plan. Maybe Tyler is exactly the puppyish Lieutenant he seems. Or maybe not. Only time will tell!

Saru calls to congratulate Stamets for actually following orders only to be met with silence. Turns out Stamets didn’t follow orders at all, but injected Fluffy’s DNA into himself so he could strap himself into the spore drive and take Fluffy’s place. Tilly figures this out when they find Stamets passed out on the floor, looking dead as a doornail. But he’s not! As Saru checks his pulse Stamets wakes up to start hysterically laughing. It is SO creepy and hilarious.

Saru goes to check on Burnham who is still sitting in time-out. He finally admits to Burnham that he’s not actually afraid of her, he’s ANGRY with her. Which, duh, dude but at least you’re facing it now. The death of Georgiou continues to push Saru and Burnham together as much as it drives them apart, but this scene goes a long way to reconciling their conflict. Saru tells Burnham to go save Fluffy.

Tilly and Burnham give Fluffy a spore bath and space him. The feeling of open space and those sweet, sweet mushrooms revives him and he does what we would all do, which is gtfo IMMEDIATELY, before these hideous humans decide to use him as a navigation system again. It’s lovely, actually. It feels very TNG-ish, alien life rescued and freed. A feeling of great joy… and gratitude.

Stamets and Culber are brushing their teeth in their super cute space pajamas, having a moment before bed where they talk about science, and the universe, and how Culber would’ve left Stamets in a hot second if he had harmed Fluffy. Culber tries to get through to his #SpaceBoo to remind him to PLEASE be more careful with the sciencing. It. Is. ADORABLE. I love how they introduced these two wonderful Gays in Space as separate people and grew them as characters before revealing their relationship. It was still pretty clear there was something between them, but it drives home that they are people, first and foremost. I kind of want them to make out, because um, have you seen them? But this domestic interlude is somehow even more intimate.

While we’re all still swooning over the cute, Stamets looks into the mirror and smiles. He walks away… BUT HIS REFLECTION DOES NOT. I legit screamed and physically recoiled, it is that fucking creepy. It’s easily one of the creepiest things I’ve ever seen on Star Trek. *SHUDDERS* *SCREAMS* *WALKS INTO THE SEA*

This last mirror shot helps reinforce the theme that has been woven throughout the whole episode. We had Dream Burnham being a mirror for Real Burnham, Mudd being a mirror for Lorca, Burnham being a mirror for Saru, and it really was an episode of people confronting dark places in themselves. Which is cool, because those dark places absolutely needed to be confronted before everyone on this ship could get their shit together and become the Starfleet crew we know they can be.

This episode also helped allay some of the concerns I had leftover from last week’s episode. The crew is starting to bond, the relationships are strengthening, and there were many crew members making ethical and brave choices this episode, especially Burnham and Stamets. I always knew the intent was to show a darker Starfleet that would then move more towards the optimism and I’m glad to see it arcing in that direction. Overall, I’m really starting to deeply care about the characters and can’t wait to see what happens next.

Custom Gifs by Aaron Reynolds: @sweartrek, PatreonTumblr

  8 comments for “Discovery Recap: Choose Your Pain (Season 1, Episode 5)

  1. Agreed the mirror was… deliciously creepy beyond words. I jumped up out of my seat and flailed my arms around “did you see that?!”-style before realizing I was watching alone, and that I would have to contend with nightmares by myself. Still, awesome. I love being scared; thank you Trek for the wholly unexpected fright!!

    That said. THANK YOU Andi for talking about it here. I feel like no one is talking about it. Such a great episode but seriously, for me, all pales in comparison to that terrifying mirror. This changes everything about the show.

    Love. It.

  2. I love these recaps – thanks! And I love the podcast.
    I would say that sacrificing your crew do that they (and their ship with all the valuable tech) doesn’t fall into alien hands is something we’ve seen captains do before. Admittedly they’re usually on the ship themselves, but I can definitely see Janeway making the call to kill her crew if necessary. Kirk too.

  3. I have a theory. It does seem that Tyler and Lorcas had a far too easy escape,which would indicate that Tyler is working for the Klingons. Now we could take that a bit further and speculate that he is actually a Klingon himself,altered to look like a human(which we know they were good at,even then). Now what Klingon do we know of that already has unusually pale skin and probably already in a relationship with L’Rell? And was warned he would have to give up “Everything!”?

  4. The reflection in the mirror was the creepiest thing I’ve seen on any Trek since that episode when the super-powered spoiled brat space kid(Charlie X) turned some crew member’s faces into blank slates of flesh because they were laughing. It completely freaked out 7 year old me.

  5. I really hate how they talk about Tyler being sexually assaulted, although not in so many words, and there is this idea that he is a traitor. It’s too bad in that episode the writers don’t make it clear whose side he’s really on. Then again maybe they think it’s ok to create a character that is a POW and then maybe do a fake out. Too bad as the important topics of being a POW/PTSD plus being sexually assaulted are not topics Star Trek has explored before. It seems so far that it’s not something they want to take seriously. Maybe I am overreacting but this is the first time I have been really disappointed in this show. Don’t market a character a certain way and then create a scenario where rather than discussing what happened to the character we are discussing whether or not he is plant. Poor writing in my opinion and if he actually turns about to be bad? Ugh how terrible.

    • I definitely do not think you are overreacting. It was disappointing for me too. We might get more details about what went down but either way, the lack of examination over what would clearly be sexual assault was not great.

      • Thanks for understanding! Means a lot to me. I too hope we get a further examination on this topic and producers don’t decide to do a fake out.

  6. Seriously, that last scene with the reflection was creepy af. I’m trying to think of anything that scary in any other ST show, but everything else was kinda cheesy _and_ scary at the same time. Or it was supposed to be scary for the characters, not viewers, like that time when Garak got high on something and killed a redshirt.

    This though. This was clearly meant to be freaky for us as viewers, and boy did it work.

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