Star Trek #1457: Choose Your Pain

FORMULA: Allegiance + I, Mudd + Emergence

WHY WE LIKE IT: Harry Mudd, I guess.

WHY WE DON'T: The gratuitous swearing.

REVIEW: It's the one with Rainn Wilson as Harry Mudd. As a more restrained version of Roger Carmel's famous scoundrel, he does fine. Doesn't quite bring the same theatrical relish to the role, but then, I'm on record as finding Mudd an annoying comedy character, going against all normal fan wisdom. So I don't have a lot of skin in the game. The younger Mudd is more cynical than his future self, abused and disabused by the system and the war it currently supports. Lorca finds himself in a Klingon prison cell with him and Lt. Ash Tyler, who helps him escape and joins the cast; he seems poised to take Landry's role as a loyal security man. Harry, alas, isn't brought along. Too mercenary a spirit, he sold Lorca out to the Klingons, spying on the Starfleet men for them, so they leave him behind. He swears vengeance, whatever that means for a con man like him. I'm sure he'll return, but it seems an empty threat to make to a hard man like Lorca.

And it took me a second viewing and checking the credits to realize the Klingon captain in charge here is Voq's right-hand woman L'Rell. The heavy make-up, change of lighting and voice change when she speaks in English were enough to confuse me, but it's also that the time line is jarring. Three weeks before (the previous episode), she was heading to the Matriarchs with Voq in tow. Now she's in command of a ship and Voq is nowhere to be seen. And Ash Tyler says he survived seven months in jail because the captain took a liking to him. Seven months? There's a discrepancy there, and I'm going to call it right now, Tyler is going to be a Klingon agent. And in the same episode where the other plot has talk of illegal eugenics and DNA splicing, there's a chance Tyler is actually Voq. L'Rell DID say he would have to sacrifice everything... even his Klingon purity? But then I had to rein in my paranoia, because Tyler attacks and almost kills L'Rell (who winds up disfigured by a phaser blast, but survives), and they're alone together when long enough for it not to be a performance. And if it IS a performance, no WAY can Voq pull that off with 3 weeks' preparation. I'm gonna call shenanigans if it turns out to be the truth. Tyler has probably just been brainwashed, of anything, a sleeper agent with fabricated memories, the narrow escape at least partly staged by the Klingons.

Back on the Discovery, the next piece of the scientific puzzle is replacing the tardigrade with a more willing subject, as its use becomes tantamount to animal abuse at best, and slavery at worst. Of course, getting the captain back creates an urgency that pushes the moral dilemma, and Saru may or may not be justified in ONCE AGAIN not listening to Burnham on matters of xenoanthropology. Sigh. His whole thing with having the computer compare him to Starfleet's best captains (all names we know) is moot because he doesn't ask for the result, and it's hard to know if he voids the program because he's proud of himself or because he acknowledges his failures. In effect, while he figures out the lead fighter is his captain and knows not to fire on him at the end, he is otherwise an obstructionist and the science team takes things into its own hands, in spite of his orders. After Burnham graciously gives him Georgiou's telescope, he finally does the right thing by ordering the tardigrade be freed before Lorca can take command again. One imagines he's not consulted. The creature's release is a nice, touching moment.

Push coming to shove, Stamets injects its DNA into himself and becomes a spore drive pilot in its stead. This hinges on a piece of technobabble according to which the tardigrade exchanged DNA strands with the mushrooms, and that somehow gave it access to all the coordinates accessible through the mycelial network of the fungus' roots, which apparently spread into some part of subspace and cover the entire galaxy/universe. Look, it doesn't matter how many times or ways you explain it, it still won't make sense. Perhaps that's why Cadet Tilly has to drop the F-bomb just then, so it would shock us out of thinking about it. Because yes, this is the episode where the word "fuck" is said by Starfleet personnel, twice. In no way does Tyler's "shit" and Mudd's "goddamn" earlier in the episode prepare us from this tonal break from the entire franchise. It's meant to be funny and surprise us, but it's just jarring. Now, I get it. Tilly is really meant to be a normal person in this scenario. She's frazzled, she's socially awkward, she's overweight (for TV, in other words, she's a normal-looking girl), she doesn't have perfect skin, and like normal people, she can blurt out an expletive now and then. But you either hold to a format or you don't. And after 700+ hours of Trek, it's a step too far.

Let me nevertheless end on a more positive break from tradition - an actual, true blue, gay relationship on Star Trek! Turns out Doctor Culber (not CMO, it appears, so not THE ship's doctor but A ship's doctor) wasn't just irritated with Stamets for professional reasons. These guys are life partners (we don't know if they're married, but they share quarters). The show doesn't get too overt with displays of affection, but Culber expresses his concerns about the man he loves having experimented on himself (the out-of-phase mirror sequence means we're in for side effects), though Stamets hopefully wins brownie points by saying he did it to save his man's life, and because he knew the creature's well-being was important to him. In a normal episodic Trek show, we would have found out about all these characters in the first episode. Discovery is taking its time introducing them, but one wonders if the focus on Burnham might make them all support players rather than an ensemble, the members of which could lead their own episodes. Hopefully, the focus on Lorca this episode means developing the rest of the crew isn't a moot point.

LESSON: Star Trek is no longer family entertainment.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: We find out more about Lorca, get a famous guest-star from TOS, and finally(?) complete the crew, with some intriguing foreshadowing of things to come. The technobabble is still dumb though, and I think the effing level of swearing is a mistake.

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