STAR TREK: DISCOVERY Episode 5 Review – Choose Your Pain

By M. Pilon


I guess the writers weren’t too sure of themselves and needed to hold our hands to get us to feel for the poor tardigrade’s plight by have Burnham empathically dream up the pain. At least she got to do something that didn’t require someone dying around her.

I found Lorca being physically present at a Starfleet chinwag a bit contrived. It’s always gratifying to see Isaacs convey annoyance and impatience – he does it so well. But to be physically there? It’s wartime, there’s no time for pleasant get-togethers. This would have been done through comms. But I guess they needed a way to get Lorca away from his ship.

And I guess they needed to let us in a bit on the relationship between Katrina “I’m your friend” Cornwell and our mysterious Gabriel “I don’t like doctors” Lorca. But, really, as the episode unfolded, who could really see Captain Lorca, just meekly and patiently sitting in the passenger seat in the back of a shuttle? No, me neither. He would have been sitting up front with the pilot giving him a piece of his mind.

Didn’t Have To Choose – It Was All Painful

Captain Lorca meets Lt. Ash Tyler
Captain Lorca meets Lt. Ash Tyler

I didn’t have to choose my pain as it came at me in the form of a brick wall in the Klingon prison ship. We meet Ash Tyler (another male with a wasp name to replace a quickly-dispatched non-white female) who has purportedly survived by servicing his Klingon captor, L’Rell, for the past 6 months, ever since he was captured at the Battle of the Binaries. So, who is the L’Rell who was stuck on the sarcophagus ship, starving to death with Voq for the last 6 months since the Battle of the Binaries?

Oh yeah…android transformation anyone? I guess L’Rell’s mother’s house is from the planet of “What are Little Girls Made Of.” And I guess it’ll be a few episodes before Tyler makes it to the tribble-inhabiting Captain’s ready room when the jig will be up and someone kills him.

Then came the revelation that Lorca saved himself during a fight then proceeded to murder his entire crew to keep them from falling into the hands of the Klingons to save them from a hypothetical fate worse than death. And he presumably got a little bit of psych support (Doctor/Admiral Cornwell) for a month or two and then given a new ship and crew. Why? Because he’s showing his remorse by refusing to have his eyes fixed? The same eye ailment that would effectively render him useless in a battle where light flashes come at you from all angles unannounced? He must’ve had a really good lawyer and/or had a particularly, umm, forceful argument for psychiatrist/Admiral/friend, “Katrina.” Captains have scuttled their ships with all hands on board to save them from falling into enemy hands before, but the Captain always stayed after allowing all those who would take their chances to leave. But Lorca’s case, well…I’m sure he wouldn’t have gotten a new ship and crew as a reward, especially that quickly, even in war time.

Maybe the Kobayashi Maru scenario came about to weed out any Lorca-like wackjobs who would deal with defeat by killing off their crew a la Kevin Spacey in The Usual Suspects.

By Contrast – Burnham

Michael Burnham - can only be accused of attempted usurpation of authority and assault on a superior officer
Michael Burnham – can only be accused of attempted usurpation of authority and assault on a superior officer

On the other hand, we have Burnham who, not only did NOT mutiny and can only be accused of attempted usurpation of authority and assault on a superior officer (because she was stopped before she could carry out her plan), accused of mutiny and sentenced to life imprisonment, in a court martial out of the Inquisition, with no psych help and/or rehabilitation. I have trouble believing that even a mediocre lawyer would not have had the mutiny charge thrown out (a one-person mutiny, really – that’s like a one-person riot) and not have pointed out that her Captain had then reinstated her as an active crew member to go after T’Kuvma. Did Saru lie? And where were the Vulcans to apply some logic if not some badly-needed basic critical thinking to this situation? And basically, her brain was probably addled from all the radiation she suffered when she ventured off on her little trek with her suit only at “nominal” levels. I would have waited for the levels to reach “optimal,” but that’s just me.

Is Starfleet effectively heaping the blame for the war on Burnham? And why is Burnham quietly taking it all likes it’s her manifest destiny?  The only way they would have known of T’Kuvma’s death is if Burnham told them. Did that start the war? Really? What about Admiral Anderson’s naivety in pursuing peace talk at face value? Gee – costly tactical mistake right there. If they were looking for someone to blame – I’m choosing him. If a man had been responsible for killing T’Kuvma, who was responsible for all the deaths aboard the Europa and all the other Starfleet ships, because of Admiral Anderson’s silly hubris, he would’ve been hailed as a hero, regardless of whether or not it caused Georgiou’s death – Georgiou went into this of her own accord. It’s not Burnham’s fault that Georgiou was issued with faulty, pre-21st century armour.

Where’s the diversity?

So there it is, we’re 250 years in the future and nothing’s changed – reward the men and pylori the women. That’s in the cases where the women are allowed to live instead of killed off only to be replaced by mostly white men.  Not that I’m keeping count but (OK, maybe I am a little) Captain Georgiou was killed and eaten and was replaced by Captain Lorca, Commander Landry was dispatched in a fit of sheer stupidity because the writers needed to get rid of her presumably to bring in this Tyler guy, not to mention the poor prison transport pilot just left to die and float in space. I really don’t understand what all the fuss is about regarding the diversity on this show. It’s disappearing quickly.

I have serious problems going along with the premise of this iteration anymore. I keep hoping critical thinking will kick in at some point and we’ll get a solid story with believable characters, or at least the optimism they keep promising. The execution is downright contrived at every turn and the delivery very episodic.  We’re still told what to think unless they make it a game of Let’s See If You Can Guess.  I think this show would benefit greatly from being wholly one thing or the other and not try to be a network show delivered on a streaming platform. And the infusion of an original idea, any original idea would be SO very welcome. Instead, it steals from bits and pieces of TOS – I guess that’s what they mean by keeping the show true to canon, while trying to cash in on the success of BSG and GOT. Whatever, I just want a good story and this ain’t it so far.

Connecting The Dots…Maybe

*Spoilers off the Port Bow…Maybe*

But, I’m lucky – this show’s free on my cable service. I’ll keep watching till I can’t. But now, I’ll just enjoy it for the fun of it. It’s pointless to try and analyze or critique it. The writers are all sitting there, safe behind their castle ramparts, hurling fuming nuggets of…Ah-Ah-I-know-what’s-going-to-happen-and-you’ll-feel-really-silly-when-you-find-out! while this is a journey we should all be taking together.  I will definitely pick that up when the storytelling rises above the videogame level, not to diss videogames. There are some really good ones out there with some amazing stories to tell. But Battlestar Discovery is not going there. I was hoping for more. I’m still hoping for more.

But, allow me to try and connect some dots, since this is obviously a game and just because I love puzzles and I can’t help myself.

Why is Burnham quietly taking it all likes it’s her manifest destiny?
Why is Burnham quietly taking it all likes it’s her manifest destiny?

There is no way that Burnham is a mutineer and the fact that she accepted this and all the other stuff heaped on her without defending herself makes no sense…unless she’s from a different time/universe and parachuted there to do a job. She’s a fish out of water here.

And, frankly, who knows that Sarek was able to communicate with her through some hologram in episodes 1 and 2 and, later through horcruxcom when the holographic phone was no longer accessible.

However, the story of how she got to the Shenzhou is too linear for a switch to have happened, it must have happened in the intervening 7 years and the good Sarek is the one who sent her on this mysterious mission to stop some horrible cross/universe bad thing to happen (spore madness, Disco ring tears in space, but most likely, an event that happened/didn’t happen that allowed the Klingons to win) and this was their covert way of communicating.  Or the attack on the science outpost is what brought her to the parallel universe and Sarek figured it out and is using her to fix something.

Still have a problem with Lorca.  How does he know that Burnham is a plant?  He’s not portrayed as a good guy and definitely not Starfleet material.  But he did wince at the punches in the prison.  Is he trying to out-Kirk Kirk in the Mirror universe and Burnham is the Spock who will help him? Or, he’s a good guy, desperate to fix something. The Klingons won the war in some other timeline/dimension and Lorca needs to fix it. Which would explain his single-mindedness and disregard of anything not specifically involved with winning the war. So that would make him as much of a warmonger as Kirk was a Nazi sympathizer in City On The Edge of Forever when he allowed Keeler to die.

And how does the Klingon infiltration fit in with this story?  I was obviously right with the android replacement theory (see previous Opinion piece, “Connecting the Dots”) but where is it going?  You can’t take over the Federation with a low-level Security Officer.  I was expecting Lorca to be replaced and Burnham to make it right – or maybe he has…  If so, I guess the tribble will have disappeared from his desk in the next episodes. This is definitely a video game journey through TOS. I know the writers and cast will be laughing at us when Episode 9 is aired and we’ll get all those: “Told you so!”  Not looking forward to that.  The fans deserve better treatment and less awkwardly-delivered stories.

It’s Not All Bad:

OK, I did enjoy all the guys doing guy stuff. Isaacs and Latif obviously enjoyed getting physical and it was fun to watch. All that testosterone under pressure and that rightful indignation. Mudd fit in well with the Battlestar darkness of this show. And, as the slow train wreck of Landry’s storyline was predictable, so is the hurt that Mudd will assuredly heap on Lorca and the Federation for their abandonment of him and his Stella sob story.  His speech about how little Starfleet cares about the little people is a valid one and has been recurring throughout the iterations but never really examined closely. And, in normal Starfleet universe, as Starfleet, it would have been a no-brainer that Lorca would have rescued a civilian. So, if my above suspicion is correct, then Mudd had to be part of the plan to get Tyler aboard the Discovery. I’m sure he will be rewarded for mission accomplished and he’ll be set free. Question is: Does Lorca know and is his rather contrived capture and escape with his new friend just a ploy by the Federation to identify the mole? After all, we’re told that Lorca’s a brilliant tactician. Not too brilliant if we take this at face value. And, since we’ve been systematically TOLD what to think in this series as opposed to the writing and characterization getting us there, I guess he knows it. Not taking Mudd along is a conceptual mistake but obviously needed to create some antagonistic drama between Mudd and the Federation later on.

And I couldn’t keep a straight face during Lorca’s torture session. Come on – “Humans don’t have enough organs for you!” Then L’Rell gives him one across the face? That’s straight up Klingon foreplay.

L'Rell slaps Captain Lorca
L’Rell slaps Captain Lorca

Moving Forward

So Burnham still reinforces her reputation as the resident Jonah – she’s now responsible for the spacing of the tardigrade (luckily, that turned out well). I still need someone to explain to me why, if sporing from one system to another is what it does naturally, why it was so stressful on the tardigrade to be told where to go. Oh well, it’s gone now. And Burnham will of course be blamed for whatever will befall Stamets as a result of his absorbing the weird space creature DNA.

I feel bad for Stamets. He was my least-objectionable character so far and his future does not bode well. He took one for the team and it will obviously come back to bite him in the f***ing cool, and possibly impact the entire crew. He certainly does a good crazy-maniacal laugh. So, I guess the mirror thing at the end is telling us that our poor astromycologist is out of phase with the universe.  I hope they’re not going to where the real Stamets has gone with his mushroom/spore entomological warfare, though that would explain the gross deformation of the Glen’s crew. Makes you feel sorry for the bugs.

Not sure the contrived reconciliation between Saru and Burnham worked for me. Saru showed himself to be resentful, said he was angry at all the time Burnham stole from the time he felt he was owed with Georgiou. But here’s the thing – a First Officer doesn’t spend all that much time with the Captain as the First Officer is the one on duty while the Captain sleeps so, what’s the problem? His introspective analysis of the 5 Klingon shuttles was a bit forced and would’ve worked better if it had been an answer to a question from Lorca at the end.

Speaking of the f-bomb, I truly didn’t realize someone had said it so it was a good thing that Stamets repeated it, like – hear this Trek fans, this is a first. Welcome to streaming. Now where’s the sex?

Not in Episode 6. But there will be a strong merchandising element with “DISCO” T-shirts to be sported by Tilly and Burnham. And, by all accounts, Sarek’s horcrux will be acting up. But I could be wrong.

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About M Pilon

M Pilon is a retired TV Producer, Director and Writer who now spends her time developing and writing her own projects, satisfying her curiosity and trying to do her part to make this a better and more inclusive world. M Pilon credits TOS with influencing the course of her life, like thousands of other kids of her generation. She's maintained an interest in the franchise.