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This week on Star Trek: Discovery it became clear that there really is a strong Star Trek series lurking under the surface. Unfortunately, that series continues to be mired down in a central arc that doesn’t make all that much sense. It’s not too spoilery to divulge that the major conflict in Discovery is a Starfleet-Klingon war, which, on paper, sounds pretty cool. After all, Deep Space Nine did an excellent war arc (which, in turn, paved the way for Battlestar Galactica‘s brilliant war story). But the problem here is that the show is fuzzy about what actually caused the war to start- and just exactly which Klingons are engaged in the battle and which aren’t. It’s something that still shouldn’t be confusing five episodes into a series.
On the plus side, “Choose Your Pain” did a lot to flesh out the show’s most interesting character: Commander Saru, the alien played by Doug Jones. Deepening this character, and his relationship to Michael Burnham, gives us another character to really root for. A number of the Discovery crew members are harsh characters, lacking empathy themselves, which in turn makes it difficult to pull for them (the two most glaring of these are Captain Lorca and Lieutenant Stamets, both of whom softened a tad this week, but still need a lot of work). If it’s nearly impossible to actually care about the Klingon War, we need to have heroes to root for. While I don’t think Discovery is worth the CBS All Access cost yet, I’m encouraged that the show is starting to flesh out crucial characters. I just wish it knew what to do with it’s central story. Now, onto the spoilers.
Half of “Choose Your Pain” was a good episode. The other half was just an excuse to have some fight scenes and bring back Harry Mudd. As I mentioned above, giving the spotlight to Saru, and forcing him to make the morally wrong choice, was smart. Saru represents something we, as a Trek audience, don’t have familiarity with. He’s an alien species we haven’t encountered before (which, perhaps, means something not so great for his species down the line), so we don’t know how he will react to certain events. It’s nice to have a bit of surprise when it comes to a character after all these years of Trek. I mean, we all knew what Lorca was going to do on the Klingon vessel. We knew that Stamets was going to “do the right thing” in the end. And we knew that Burnham was going to prove her worth to Saru. But I honestly didn’t think Saru would order the death of a living, sentient creature (of course, that didn’t actually happen, but Saru didn’t know that at the time). Watching his thought process in the moment and then hearing his justification and confession to Burnham at the end of the episode was a really lovely touch.
The less successful half of the episode was the Lorca arc. Mudd was fine, but bringing back an iconic guest star from The Original Series solely to expose him as the exact same untrustworthy character from before doesn’t make much sense. I suspect Mudd will be back again, somewhere down the line, to attempt revenge on Lorca for leaving him on the ship, but I just can’t get myself to really care about it. And that gets me to the crux of my problem: Lorca isn’t all that interesting as a character. So he has a tragic past, wherein he had to blow up his vessel to save his crew from the Klingons. That’s awful, and Starfleet probably should have looked a bit deeper into the incident and his mental state after, because Lorca shouldn’t be commanding a starship.
He’s rash and chafes under Starfleet command (which, looking at past captains, isn’t too out of the ordinary). But, unlike past captains, I think Lorca’s actions might lead to someone getting killed. He’s wasn’t willing to drop the Spore Drive, despite orders to do so- and I suspect he wouldn’t have been too worried about killing that poor creature to keep using it. We now know he has a vendetta against the Klingons- something that will almost certainly come into play down the line. And, to top it off, I don’t really find him all that engaging. Jason Isaacs is doing a good job with what he’s been given, but I don’t really want the show to delve into a maverick captain who wants to get the Klingons by whatever means necessary. Mostly because that means we’ll have to deal with the Klingons, and they are by far the worst part of the show, but also because Lorca needs more nuance for us to really care about him. The show has managed to get there with Saru. I can only hope it makes the same leap with Lorca.
— Lieutenant Ash Tyler (played by Shazad Latif, who I really enjoyed) is the last main cast member to appear. Per Latif, the series will explore his PTSD, stemming from his time on the Klingon vessel. I really hope the show handles this particular arc well, as it appeared Tyler suffered not only beatings but was also sexually assaulted at the hands of the Klingon captain, giving the story the potential to address something that is often shied away from on television. Even in his brief appearance, Latif has already carved out an interesting character, full of empathy and willing to sacrifice for his fellow officer. I’m excited to see where his story leads.
— Well, it turns out airing on CBS All Access means Star Trek can start dropping F-bombs. I can’t recall if any were dropped in the Star Trek: The Next Generation films, but this was certainly a first for a Star Trek television series.
— I enjoyed the low-key confirmation that Stamets and Doctor Culber are together. Culber is much more likeable than Stamets, so I think their relationship can go a long way to making us care about Stamets.
— So far, the best moments on the series have been simple conversations between Burnham and her fellow crew members. The moment with Saru at the end of the episode was especially poignant, and her friendship with Tilly is a joy. If the show focused more on creating and deepening these connections and less on wasting time trying to make us care about the Klingons, the series would be much stronger.
— Speaking of the Klingons, does anyone understand exactly which parts of the Empire are fighting this war? Is it all the houses? Are they just trying to destroy the Federation because they want to, or are they still stuck on the whole T’Kuvma thing? Because I thought Kol lost all their support last week.