Star Trek: Discovery – Episode 5 Review

Tilly, Stamets, and Burnham geek out on science

Episode summary

*This article contains some mature language towards the end

While en-route to the USS Discovery after a meeting with Starfleet, Captain Lorca’s shuttle craft is captured by a Klingon D7 Battle Cruiser, which we later learn has come under the leadership of L’Rell.  Lorca is taken prisoner where we meet Harry Mudd, a civilian, and Starfleet’s Lieutenant Ash Tyler.

Meanwhile Saru, now in charge of the Discovery, is forced to make an unpleasant decision to continue using the tardigrade so that the ship can spore jump into Klingon territory and save the captain.  This, after Dr. Culber confirms Burnham’s suspicions that jumping does massive harm to the creature.

Lorca who, after being tortured by L’Rell, discovers that Harry Mudd has been relaying conversation to their Klingon captors.  He and Tyler form and execute a successful escape plan, stealing a Klingon shuttle.  Once they are beyond the reach of the Klingon D7 ship, the Discovery locates the shuttle, beaming captain Lorca and lieutenant Tyler aboard just before their escape vessel is destroyed by pursuing Klingons.

Quick take on the episode

I’ll start off by saying that I enjoyed this episode more than any other Discovery episodes and gave it a 4-star rating.

Like every episode before it, Choose Your Pain is certainly not without problems.  Both in storytelling logic, and its lack of optimism.  The latter very is problematic for me as a long-time Star Trek fan.  However I found much of this episode’s dialogue to be noticeably better than any of the previous episodes we’ve seen.

First what I didn’t like, then what I did like.

There are apparent problems and logic errors in story

Captain Lorca aboard a shuttle craft
Captain Lorca aboard a shuttle craft

One thing that really bothered me was the idea of Lorca essentially being alone on a shuttle with just the pilot.  We’re expected to believe that Lorca feels so strongly about Discovery’s position in the war and how nothing matters but winning.  Yet he seems perfectly fine making himself a sitting duck for the enemy.  It also wasn’t clear why he needed to travel to his meeting with Starfleet in a shuttle craft instead of having his own ship take him there.   Then there’s the question of how the Klingon vessel knew captain Lorca was in the shuttle – and how close was Lorca flying to Klingon space?  Everything here seems risk.

It’s possible there are answers to these two problems:

  1. Lorca may have intended to be captured by the Klingons as part of a strategy of exposing how the Klingons identified Discovery as Starfleet’s secret weapon.  Lt Tyler could be a Starfleet spy, but I’m more inclined to believe he’s actually Voq, the Klingon in disguise as a human.
  2. There is a leak in Starfleet that has been feeding information to the Klingons.  Both about the Discovery’s capabilities and the whereabouts of Lorca in the shuttle.

I’ll say right now – both are total speculation at best.

Another technicality that bothered me was how Starfleet knew the pilot was killed in the subsequent fire fight aboard the Klingon D7?  I suppose it’s possible that the shuttle’s distress beacon was somehow remotely monitoring the vitals of the captain and pilot, and then relayed this information.  But none of that is stated in the episode.  So I have to assume that either this is a plot logic fallacy, or someone on the Klingon ship relayed this detail to Starfleet.  Someone in a position of some power.

Oh, and by the way, here’s what a Klingon D7 Battle Cruiser looks like now.  What exactly are we seeing?  Your guess is as good as mine.  Like every other space scene in Star Trek Discovery (and most interior scenes too), the brightness is turned way, way down.  Or is it that the darkness has been turned up – much like the tone of the series?

Klingon D7 Battle Cruiser from Star Trek Discovery
Klingon D7 Battle Cruiser from Star Trek Discovery

Here’s a few other things:

  • I’m continually bothered to references to “souls” – be of human souls, or alien souls.  By my count it’s has come up every episode so far, including Choose Your Pain.
  • I still find the spore and mycelial network subspace to be silly.  And that having a living tardigrade to navigate is key (living being the operative word)…. silly.
  • Captain Lorca has no problems at all killing Klingons for sport.  Why did he leave L’Rell to live?
  • Harry Mudd also knows an awful lot about captain Lorca’s past, but that’s likely to do with the overall story arc of the season.  I’m sure it’ll be revealed why at some point.

There’s other problems with this episode, but I don’t want to focus on them.  Like I’ve said, this is the best episode of the series yet for me, and I’d rather talk about why.

There’s great dialogue and interesting dilemmas

Choose Your Pain is full of great dialogue, including this interaction between Michael Burnham and Lt. Stamets
Choose Your Pain is full of great dialogue, including this interaction between Michael Burnham and Lt. Stamets

Burnham: “I am swallowing the urge to set the record straight.”
Stamets: “That won’t get us anywhere.  Do you want to be right or do you want to fix this?”

Before this episode of Star Trek: Discovery aired, I had concerns about the way Rainn Wilson spoke of his portrayal of Harry Mudd.  His take of the character sounded like too much a divergence from the character of The Original Series.  I’ll just say it.  Mudd’s dialogue is great and it was fantastically portrayed by Wilson!

“But I sure as hell understand why the Klingons pushed back.  Starfleet arrogance.  Have you ever bothered to look out of your spaceships down at the little guys below?  If you had, you’d realize there’s a lot more of us down there than there are you up here.  And we’re sick and tired of getting caught in your crossfire.”

– Harry Mudd

As Star Trek fans, we tend to forget that most humans are not members of Starfleet.  In fact, Starfleet is supposed to represent the best of humanity, so only a small fraction of people ever get in.  Rarely does Star Trek talk about the impact the few have on the many, in this way, when it comes to humans.  Deep Space Nine did it a bit with the Maquis, and there are other sprinklings here and there throughout the various shows.  Discovery looks like it’ll do it best, forcing us to remember the impacts of our actions on unseen people.

In terms of moral dilemmas, Choose Your Pain is full of them and I loved that.

The episode opens with a nightmare Burnham is having, which is clearly her conscience eating away at her.  Her investigations not only helped make spore drive work, but revealed the devastating consequences it has on an innocent life form.  Burnham wants to try and make things right this episode, even if it means once again going against orders.

Saru is presented with his own dilemma.  Not to use the spore drive because of what Burnham has told him and leave his captain as a POW, or do harm to the tardigrade life form and increase his chances of seeing his captain again.

Saru goes against Culber's warnings and confirms Stamets will follow commands
Saru goes against Culber’s warnings and confirms Stamets will follow commands

Doctor Culber shows his true colours by holding his ground against Saru’s wishes to heal the tardigrade for the purpose of using it again to spore jump.  I was a little surprised at the insistence of Saru to pursue this course of action.  How quickly the hunted became the hunter.  Then I remembered he’s been under the tutelage of Lorca for the past few months, which is sure to have some impact on Saru’s command decision making.  This entire story line works really well and certainly fits within Trek lore.

We also got to see Lt. Stamets secretly making the decision to inject himself with the tardigrade DNA so that he could perform the jump navigation himself, thereby saving the tardigrade.  It’s poses a severe risk to Stamets’ life but he chooses to do this, not for glory, but rather than harm the tardigrade again.  This is good Trek!  It’s also the first time we really get a sense of the Stamets’ moral compass, and it’s bang-on.

There’s a great scene where he levels with Burnham about wanting to be second in command under Georgiou, and that he feels he was robbed of the opportunity because of Burnham’s actions.  It’s honest and well written.  In that same scene we learn that even though Saru made the decision to proceed with the tardigrade, it wasn’t without personal pain or consideration.  He gives Burnham the order to go save the Tardigrade’s life.  The scene with Burnham and Tilly releasing the tardigrade into space is truly a beautiful moment of Star Trek.

Burnham and Tilly are excited to see that the tardigrade has survived
Burnham and Tilly are excited to see that the tardigrade has survived

One other tidbit I want to mention that’s not about dialogue or plot.  The Klingon weapon’s kill setting is a pretty powerful modernized visual.  It not only looks good but also sticks to what we know about weapons of the future.  They can disintegrate the living.

The language of Star Trek

As an aside, everyone online seems to be talking about the use of the word “fuck” by Cadet Tilly and Lieutenant Stamets.  Perhaps Lt. Tyler’s use of the word “shit” was so appropriate that nobody seemed to notice it earlier in the episode.

“Shit! You’re a captain?”

– Lt. Ash Tyler

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About Cassius Adams

Cassius Adams is the creator of and is a content contributor. He has been a Star Trek fan for nearly three decades. Cassius discovered his passion for the franchise early into TNG's run, and nourished that passion throughout DS9, Voyager, Enterprise, and the movies. Cassius can be reached by emailing or you can follow him on Twitter at @supercass