Star Trek: Discovery 1.05 – “Choose Your Pain”

Originally posted at

Last week, I made fun of the show for having a pretentious title.

This week, I would like to make fun of it for having a completely naff title. Fans, right? Are they ever happy?

As it happens, yes! Quibbles aside, I rather enjoyed this episode, and here is the post (complete with parenthetical digressions) to prove it.

…is it a quibble or a proper complaint when I point out that it’s 2017, and the cast contains two women and four men? Only Voyager and the first season of TNG, have managed to have more than two women in the regular line-up. The ratios vary, but the closest we get to parity is the magic 30%.

This, coupled with the fact that we’ve lost two female characters of colour in five episodes, is a bitter pill. Do better. Do much better.

So, of course, we got a new male regular, Lieutenant Ash Tyler.

Here are my feelings:

  1. Pleasure at seeing a Middle Eastern Starfleet officer in this age of The War On Terrorism and Muslim Bans and all that nonsense.
  2. Aesthetic appreciation of Shazad Latif and his remarkably attractive face.
  3. Irritation that it’s Yet Another Dude.
  4. Cautious interest at the depiction of a male rape victim…
  5. …coupled with trepidation that it’s going to turn Extremely Bad.

(I did note with interest that Ash Tyler is in some ways a Strong Female Character — introduced as a rape victim, but gets revenge via slightly improbable hand to hand combat, rescued by manly captain guy, rumour has it he’s a love interest for Burnham…)

Also, he is probably a Klingon spy.

This is a Reddit theory which has rapidly gone mainstream: “Ash Tyler” is in fact Voq, last seen fleeing the wreck of the Shenzhou with L’Rell to seek refuge with the matriarchs of House Mokai.

See, Shazad Latif initially auditioned for the character who would become Voq — and the guy credited as Voq now, one Javid Iqbal, doesn’t seem to exist. He has no other credits, hasn’t done any publicity, has no social media presence — there’s not even a headshot. No one knows what he looks like under that make-up.

And sure, maybe he’s shy! A shy method actor!

Or it’s Shazad Latif under the mask. (Incidentally, “Latif” is a stage name — his real family name is … Iqbal.)

If you’re curious, Javid Iqbal is credited as Voq for only three episodes. Now, IMDB’s records are … dubious (Michelle Yeoh was initially credited for all fifteen), so we can take that with a grain of salt. But it’s iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinteresting.

(Drive-by reminder: Lorca has a tribble on his desk. In “The Trouble with Tribbles”, a Klingon spy is discovered only because the tribbles see through his disguise and scream at him.)

(Having said this, Tansy Rayner-Roberts and I have figured out that the DIS Klingons are all evil time travelling tribbles wearing humanoid suits, which is why they look different and speak strangely. WE ARE THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, PEOPLE.)

(Also, the Galactic Suburbia Slack is great, and you should definitely subscribe to the GSub Patreon and join if you’re a listener.)

My take on the theory is that it seems credible so far — moreso than Tyler’s explanation for how he has lasted seven months in captivity relatively unscathed (physically). (Klingon women: not gentle.) If it’s true, I like that Voq, to pursue T’Kuvma’s goal of “remaining Klingon”, has sacrificed his Klingon identity.

But it also makes me a bit reluctant to bond with Tyler, and if he hurts my lady Michael, I will end him.

The Voq Tyler theory raises a bunch of questions — here’s a list:

  • Does “Tyler” know he’s Voq, or has his mind been wiped?
  • Is L’Rell the captain of the Klingon ship? No one seems to know for sure, not least because the actors sound so different when they speak English, and the credits are unclear. If it was L’Rell, her appearance has been altered, and she seems shorter and older than before.
  • Heavy Klingon make-up plus my ever-worsening face blindness is a curse.
  • …but I digress. If that was L’Rell, and Tyler’s memories are implanted (but real to him), that makes their relationship seriously messed up and interesting, but also threatens to lead into some kind of tedious jealousy subplot if it’s true about Tyler being attracted to Michael.
  • Is Mudd in the cell as a way of forcing Lorca and Tyler to quickly form an alliance?
  • Something something game theory?
  • People talk about game theory in this kind of situation and I have literally no idea what it is.

Along with Ash, we were also (re)introduced to Harcourt Fenton Mudd…

Ugggghhhhh Mudd

That was my reaction when I heard that Harry Mudd was making an appearance in this series.

Mudd was introduced in TOS to be a recognisable character for 1960s audiences who might not bond right away with these futuristic Starfleet officers. He was conceived as a harmless con artist with a line in zany shenanigans.

I’m sure you won’t be shocked to learn that the character hasn’t aged well. His first scheme is, at best, a mail order bride scam, and at worst, sex trafficking.

I’ve seen grumbles around the internet about Mudd being “rewritten” as an out and out villain, but his behaviour here is consistent with what we’ve seen in his TOS appearances — the difference is that now he’s trading with the lives of men, not women.

Rainn Wilson is making several appearances as Mudd, and while I can see it getting old real fast, I’m more open to the possibility than I was before I saw this episode.

Lorca probably knows what game theory is

I bet he pontificates about it in darkened rooms all the time.

I actually like Lorca as a character, in that I’m having a good time sort of hating his guts and wondering how he even got command of a starship. Twice. Because my theory last week, that he was a Section 31 operative who was given Discovery after the war started, is completely wrong.

No, he’s just a guy who nuked his own ship rather than let his crew be taken prisoner.

I have questions:

  • Why wasn’t he on the USS Buran?
  • Captain Picard heroically saves his crew but has to abandon the USS Stargazer, and he’s court martialled. Lorca loses his crew and his ship, and Starfleet’s like, “Weelllllll, okay, we’re not angry, we’re just disappointed, anyway, here’s a new ship, go do whatever.”
  • I MEAN.
  • Like, Burnham got a life sentence for mutiny, Lorca doesn’t even get a house arrest?

He also leaves Mudd, a civilian, behind in Klingon captivity. Which is bad Starfleeting, but perfectly in character.

Truly, my main issue with Lorca is a fear that he’s not being set up as the antithesis of what a good Starfleet captain should be. I want him to become the boogeyman who lurks in the nightmares of Picard and Sisko and Janeway, going, “This is what you must never become.”

Meanwhile, back on the Discovery

Burnham takes a backseat for the second half of the episode, which gave us a better look at the rest of the ensemble. Particularly Stamets, who gets his wish of talking to mushrooms.

Stamets has evolved very quickly from “colossal jerk in a way we’ve seen on lots of shows and honestly I JUST DON’T CARE” to “character I’m very fond of”. Not least because his interactions with Dr Culber are delightful, and it’s much easier to like a character when you see them interacting with someone who … also likes them? It’s recursive, but it works for me.

I guess I’m Team Stamets now, which is good, because I didn’t want to hate Star Trek‘s first openly gay regular who isn’t Sulu, but also disconcerting, because now I have to come to terms with Anthony Rapp’s lack of eyebrows. (It’s fine, I’ll get used to it, I hardly ever notice Matt Smith’s forehead anymore.)

Cadet Tilly continues to be a delight (“I love feeling feelings”), pushing Burnham just enough, and abandoning protocol and good manners with her potty-mouthed enthusiasm for SCIENCE.

But the real ensemble winner here is Commander Saru, which conveniently almost rhymes with “Kobayashi Maru“. As acting captain, Saru faces his own no-win scenario, having to choose between the life of his captain or that of a possibly-sentient being, and all without (he feels) adequate training.

The key thing is not that Saru makes the right choice, but that he makes a choice at all, knowing that he will have to live with the consequences. That’s the point of the whole Kobayashi Maru challenge — which James Kirk misses, incidentally.

For the record, I do think that Saru made the right choice. But I also think that Burnham was right in trying to find an alternative, and I think that Saru might have done better to give her that task officially, but with the caveat that the Tardigrade might have to be sacrificed.

One thing I love about Discovery, and which keeps it firmly in the nebulous category of Proper Star Trek, is the emphasis on people accepting the consequences of their actions. I’ve never agreed that the TNG characters were “too perfect”, but they were certainly aspirational in their willingness to deal with the outcomes of their choices.

On the other hand, episodic television made that easy. DS9’s characters were more challenged in that respect, but I think it’s with Discovery that we really see the impact of choices made. Even Captain “moral boundaries are for plebs” Lorca chooses to live with the disability that reminds him of his actions and lost crew.

As for Burnham, she faces the challenge of doing nothing. This is not a passive or easy option for her. We know from “Battle at the Binary Stars” that she can succumb to despair and fatalism, but we also know just how ruthless she can be in the cause of the greater good. To resist that urge, and trust that her crewmates will do the right thing, is a big leap for her, and it’s rewarded with her … she’s not quite reconciled with Saru, but they’ve taken another step down that path.

This Week’s Jerk Rankings

  1. Harry Mudd. Ugh, that guy is the worst.
  2. All the Klingons. I assume they’ve been subscribing to Cardassian Torture Weekly. Well done on the villainy, guys.
  3. Lorca. Like, congratulations, you are not literally the worst person in the galaxy this week, but you nuked your crew, you’re still awful.
  4. Saru. He will be getting a stern letter from the Royal Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Tardigrades. Yes, even though I think he did the right thing.

Other observations

  • According to ancillary sources, Vice Admiral Katrina Cornwell is a psychiatrist by training, and is unofficially observing Lorca’s mental health as she supervises him. I love her, I ship them, I also want her to meet Burnham so I can ship them, she’s just great (so far).
  • Just how did the Tardigrade rehydrate in a vacuum? Let’s not think too hard about that.
  • The “brief history of Tardigrades” dialogue was truly clunky and badly needed those gratuitous F-bombs.
  • Lieutenant Joann Oswekun had dialogue! As did Keyla, the cyborg or robot lady, and a new dude named Rhys.
  • Spoilers: actual spoilers in this link. Don’t hover, even the URL is spoilery.
  • Steph notes: Cadet Tilly is wrong, feelings are terrible; a mirrorverse episode might have Space Captain Auntie Michelle in it and I deserve that; Vice Admiral Katrina Cornwell played one of my favourite characters in Chicago Hope and I loved her.

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