Review: Star Trek: Discovery, “Choose Your Pain”

Man, the quality of this show is so all over the map. I still don’t know what to make of it. I guess the good news is that this time the pendulum has swung back toward “pretty damn good, actually.”

The official logo for Star Trek: DiscoveryThere are really two plots to “Choose Your Pain,” though they are connected. The first sees Captain Lorca captured by Klingons after returning from a meeting with Starfleet. While being interrogated, he encounters Discovery’s final main cast member, Shazad Latif’s Lieutenant Tyler (which sounds like it could be an alternate version of my old Ensign Edwards moniker), as well as a character familiar to fans of the original series.

The second and far more interesting plot deals with Discovery’s attempts to rescue the captain, which run into trouble as the stress of jumping begins to take its toll on the Ripper.

It is this plot that really makes “Choose Your Pain” memorable for me. It does a great job of expanding on last episode’s questions around the Ripper. Is the spore drive hurting it? Is it sentient? If yes to either of those, how can they justify using it the way they have?

This entire arc is vintage Star Trek, and it gives me great hope that Discovery will not simply be paying lip service to Trek’s idealism. This is some good sci-fi right here.

I also very much appreciated that this was not another case of the focus being put solely on Burnham to the expense of all else. Indeed, almost every cast member has a chance to shine: Saru, Burnham, Tilly, Dr. Culber, and of course Stamets.

As of “Choose Your Pain,” I am now ready to officially declare Stamets my favourite Discovery character. This guy is just pure awesomeness. The snarky exterior concealing a noble soul is just an excellent angle for a character, and the actor plays him well.

Anthony Rapp as Lieutenant Paul Stamets on Star Trek: DiscoveryThey’re doing a good job of polishing Burnham’s character, too. She’s still ridiculously undisciplined, but at least now she’s using her disobedience for good.

Getting back to Stamets, it is also worth noting that Star Trek has finally gained some openly gay characters, as it has been revealed that he and Culber are an item. It’s kind of hard to view this as too praise-worthy since Trek was beaten to the punch on this front by basically every sci-fi show in the last fifteen years.

Seriously, I’m hard-pressed to remember a sci-fi show I’ve seen in recent memory that didn’t have any LGBT representation. Continuum didn’t have any main cast members (except maybe Garza, depending on how seriously you want to interpret her constant flirting with Kiera), but it had a couple of incidental mentions of queer characters, like Kiera investigating a murder in the future and instructing someone to “inform her wife.”

Still, better late than never, I suppose. And they have done a pretty good job of establishing Stamets so that he’s not just the token gay guy. So far Culber doesn’t have much of an identity outside being Paul’s boyfriend, but there’s time for him to be fleshed out.

It’s also interesting that they’re already an established couple. Don’t see much of that on Star Trek, or really in the media in general.

Another interesting first this episode was the cursing. Can’t recall ever hearing any f-bombs on Star Trek before, but in my humble opinion, it’s about fucking time.

Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham on Star Trek: DiscoveryI try to keep my language fairly clean on this blog, so as to present a professional image, but in my day to day life I’m actually quite foul-mouthed. I think it’s an honest way to express one’s self, and there can be as much art to swearing as there is to any other use of language.

My point here is that the lack of cursing on Star Trek never sat quite right with me. Trip strikes me as the sort of guy who would let the occasional expletive fly. So I’m glad to see Discovery loosening up a bit on that front. Especially in such an adorable fashion.

The downside is that Lorca’s plot is a lot less compelling than what’s happening on Discovery itself. There’s some interesting insight into Lorca’s past, which furthers my growing theory that he’s actually the main villain of this season, but the story is full of huge holes.

Why is the man at the head of the Federation’s entire war effort traveling in a dinky little shuttlecraft with just one guard? How are the Klingons able to charge into Federation space and take prisoners with apparent impunity? How is it that two half-crippled Starfleet officers against dozens of heavily armed Klingon soldiers somehow ends with the Klingons losing?

Oh, Discovery, you make my head hurt sometimes.

Thankfully, the rest of the episode is excellent enough to compensate for these issues.

Overall rating: 8/10

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Review: Star Trek: Discovery, “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry”

I have this scene in my mind. It’s the Discovery writers room, and they’re pitching episode titles. Someone quips, “Well, we’ll never come up with any titles as over the top as the original series had.”

The official logo for Star Trek: DiscoveryAnd for some reason Neil Patrick Harris is there, and he leaps to his feet and declares, “Challenge accepted!”

It’s the best explanation I can think of for “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry.”

Anyway, four episodes in, I’m still not quite sure what to make of Discovery.

On the one hand, the main plot of this episode does have a nice Star Trek-y feel. Captain Lorca brings Burnham to his Bond villain lab and sets her to studying the creature they recovered from their ill-fated sister ship, dubbed a “Ripper.” It’s the sort of scientific mystery that Star Trek thrives on, with a nice undercurrent of moral quandary. So I like that.

Also, Stamets continues to be awesome.

However, there are also a number of things that are bothering me — about this episode, and about Discovery in general.

For one thing, the show is still favouring spectacle over good storytelling to an unhealthy degree, as evidenced by Landry channeling the spirit of Leeroy Jenkins, as well as a lavish CGI sequence of… a shirt being replicated.

Seriously.

A Klingon in Star Trek: DiscoveryI also remain very unhappy with Discovery’s portrayal of the Klingons. This episode once again takes every opportunity to make them as over-the-top craven and villainous as you can imagine, often in ways that run totally contrary to how Klingons have traditionally been portrayed.

Still having a hard time wrapping my head around their new look, too. Their make-up is so thick you can’t really see the actor’s facial expressions, so they can’t emote properly. Kind of sucks the personality out of them — what little personality is possible with such shallow writing, anyway.

Finally, one other thing that worries me is that after four episodes, this seems to just be the Michael Burnham Show. Every episode focuses on her, to the point where all the other characters are left by the wayside.

Now, I’m not just saying this because I’m not her biggest fan. She is slowly growing on me, actually — I like all her little Vulcan mannerisms.

But even if Burnham was the greatest character ever, it would still be problematic if the show focused only on her. There are lots of other really interesting characters on Discovery — Saru, Tilly, Stamets — but they’re just not getting enough screentime to be properly developed. There’s too much of a laser focus on Burnham.

Star Trek is at its best when it makes full use of ensemble cast. That’s a lesson Discovery would do well to learn.

Overall rating: 6.9/10