Episode 5 of "Star Trek: Discovery" brings something that I thought to be lost in the vastness of the space this show operates within — hope.
The episode, titled "Choose Your Pain," introduces new characters, ratchets up the intensity and delivers a positive step after the show's rough start.
The episode begins with a dream. Michael imagines herself as Ripper in the teleportation machine. She screams out in pain and wakes up. She expresses her concern to the ship's doctor, claiming that this power source is limited as Ripper seems to be dying.
We quickly jump to Lorca in a board meeting. Starfleet command is requesting more tardigrades to duplicate the jump technology the Discovery has perfected. This immediately sets up the contrast between Starfleet's desire for more and Michael's desire for less. The board also reins in Discovery's role in the war because they don't want to jeopardize their best weapon.
Tilly sits down to talk to Michael at lunch. I am noticing Michael's hair gets better with every episode — it is nice to see that the ship is outfitted with a salon. Michael expresses her concerns about the tardigrade to Tilly, who quickly disregards it as stress.
Back to the board room, Lorca talks to his superior about Michael Burnham. Lorca seems paranoid about public perception of his power. He basically tells his superior it's "my way or the highway." Right before the opening credits, while on a transport back to his ship, Lorca is abducted by Klingons.
Saru is put on the spot as he is tasked with finding Lorca. The fear is that the Klingons know about the teleporter and are going to extract the information from Lorca. Saru wants to use Ripper to jump multiple times throughout Klingon space, a plan that Michael is none too pleased about.
Despite Micheal's reservations, Saru goes ahead with his plan to rescue his captain. Saru compares his traits to those of most decorated Starfleet captains (including Christopher Pike). He is emotionally compromised by Michael and his warning tentacles fly out whenever he is around. He doesn't want his emotions to get in the way of his work as acting captain. Saru continues to be the most compelling character on the show by a longshot.
Lorca's storyline takes a turn for the enjoyable when we are introduced to Harry Mudd, played by Rainn Wilson. Mudd is a character with a long "Star Trek" pedigree but I will judge him solely on Wilson's performance. Mudd, imprisoned with Lorca, tells the tale of his lost love. He fell into debt trying to appease a woman he loved and, while being chased by his lenders, fell into Klingon space. Mudd explains that the Klingons allow prisoners to accept a beating or pass it on to their cell mates. Astutely, Lorca points out that Mudd looks fairly unbeaten.
"You're gonna want to stick with me, I'm a survivor, just like you," Mudd says with a smile.
Michael approaches Stamets with her reservations. Stamets reprimands Michael, as using the living creature was her idea. Then we get a fresh helping of sass from Michael that feels really comical and out of place.
Stamets says, "What are you doing with your mouth?" And Michael replies, "I am swallowing the urge to set the record straight."
Stamets then says that he is looking to fix the problem, which makes the fact that he blamed Michael irrelevant. Not to mention it is simply false.
Lorca meets a fellow Starfleet crewmember, Ash Tyler. Ash seems like he's of good character, mourning the loss of his former captain, respectful to this new one. However, Tyler has been aboard the Klingon ship for seven months, which rings suspicious to Lorca. Tyler says the ship has taken a liking to him, whatever that means.
Mudd is awakened by his robotic spider stealing food from the others. We are given exposition as to Mudd's reservations about Starfleet.
Mudd says the war started "the moment you decided to boldly go where no one had gone before. What did you think would happen when you bumped into someone who didn't want you in their front yard?"
After Mudd lambasts Starfleet, the Klingons enter and take Lorca.
The engineering team attempts to solve the tardigrade problem through a timey-wimey way of explaining that they need to give Ripper's magic DNA to someone who is aware of their purpose. Tilly, excited, drops an F-bomb on us, reminding us that we aren't watching this on your dad's CBS network.
Lorca makes the acquaintance of L'Rell, who, for whatever reason, looks worse this episode than she has in the past. Her mask seems more glued on and stiff and her costume looks more plastic. Regardless, she knows about the teleporter and goes about torturing Lorca by shining light in his photosensitive eyes.
The results are in, and humans are the only creature capable of swapping magic DNA with the tardigrade. The engineers continue to search for an acceptable substitute when Saru stomps in, threat ganglia flailing. He gives Michael a direct order to stop the tests until Lorca is rescued, and Burnham talks back to him. And I was hopeful that this would be the episode without an infuriating plot contrivance. Why is Michael so eager to talk back to her acting captain? She is aware of her position on the ship, she has two other crew members there to speak up instead, she knows Saru is already wary of her and his request makes perfect sense. Right now, the highest priority is to rescue Lorca and the tardigrade is depleting but it isn't dead.
"You are not an enemy Burnham, you are a proven predator," Saru accurately says. He also points out that Burnham's actions are exactly what killed Georgiou, which is true.
Back on the Klingon ship Lorca learns that Mudd is feeding intel to the Klingons through his spider. Mudd fires back by regaling Tyler with the tale of Lorca's prior command. A ship decimated by Klingons save one survivor, Lorca. Lorca blew up the ship with his entire crew on it to save them from Klingon wrath.
"They say confession is good for the soul. Good thing none of us have one anymore," Mudd says.
Discovery uses Ripper to teleport to the ship carrying Lorca. As a result of the teleportation Ripper shrivels into a coma. Saru tells Stamets to do whatever it takes to bring the tardigrade back to working condition, even if it kills it.
Back on the ship, Lorca and Ash use some fancy fighting moves to outsmart and kill their captors during beating time. The two leave Mudd behind while they make their escape. L'Rell finds an injured Tyler and the two scrap for a bit before Lorca ricochets a laser into her face. The two escape the prison on a Klingon ship. Saru, faced with a slew of approaching Klingon ships, is able to decipher the fact that the one at the front is not leading, but being chased. He is able to beam Lorca and Ash aboard.
The Discovery beams away but it is revealed that Stamets injected himself with the magic DNA and he was responsible for the teleportation.
Saru and Michael have a heart-to-heart. Saru is not afraid of Michael — he is angry at her and is jealous that Georgiou favored her. Because of Michael's actions, he never got his turn to be Georgiou's first officer. Michael gives Saru Georgiou's telescope as a sign of peace. Saru asks for Michael's help in reviving the tardigrade. She does this by jettisoning the tardigrade into space with the spores.
Stamets and the medical officer, who are together, share a tender moment of compassion in their bathroom. The episode ends with Stamets leaving the bathroom but the Stamets in the bathroom mirror sticks around for a few seconds. What side effects came from Stamets's gambit?
The main reason this episode was an improvement is the fact that it had a self-contained plot. Lorca was captured and the ship was sent to rescue him. While it was still part of the serial narrative this show has chosen, it establishes a problem at the outset and follows through with a solution by the end. While the plot is carried out, the show's larger story threads are pushed forward in a meaningful way.
The supporting cast shines in this episode. Saru continues to be a strong stand-out as a conflicted, cautious character who has lofty ambitions. The contrast between his tenuous nature, as a species bred as prey, and his lofty goals create a compelling character.
The character of Lorca is carried by Jason Isaacs's talent, but he walks among the moral gray areas of war with force. Ash Tyler is a promising, if not underdeveloped, character who will inevitably become a love interest for Michael — I'm calling it now. And Rainn Wilson is a great, light-hearted addition to the overly serious show; I hope he continues to develop as a recurring character.
This episode's major weakness is the protagonist, Michael. She continues to be standoffish and unlikeable. She displays great remorse for her actions in the premiere but continues to act in the same manner. Sonequa Martin-Green has shown talent but her performance in this episode belongs on a soap opera.
As someone who desperately wants this show to prove itself a success. I hope the show continues this positive trend with self-serving plots that advance the main story in smaller ways in future episodes.