Welcome back to another week where we recap, react to, and ruminate about Star Trek: Discovery Episode 5: “Choose Your Pain.” This post will contain mild spoilers, so don’t read ahead until you have watched episode 5.
As with previous posts in this Star Trek: Discovery series, there won’t be a lengthy recap, but instead of we will focus on the basic of what we learn. Once again, I’ll be pulling reactions and ruminations from my Star Trek community.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 5: “Choose Your Pain” Recap
Once again, a lot happens in this episode. The basics of what we learn in Star Trek: Discovery episode 5 can be summed up succinctly. However, the discussions that followed have been intense. Before we get to the reactions and ruminations, let’s just very quickly summarize.
Starfleet wants all ships to be equipped with a Tardigrade and spore drive technology. Starfleet has a classified intelligence agency in Iowa. Lorca is captured by the Klingons, where he meets Harcourt Fenton Mudd (Harry Mudd). Mudd reveals some things about Lorca’s past which, if true, are not good. Mudd also reminds audiences of the central theme of this season:
Lorca: Starfleet didn’t start this war.
Mudd: Of course you did. 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?
“What do you think would happen” was also a common theme in Star Trek: Enterprise, where interactions with the Klingons led to where we are in Discovery.
As we suspected, the Tardigrade is sentient. Saru is so clouded by his anger towards Burnham that he won’t listen to her. More conflict ensues, which leads to Stamets doing something reckless but just. The Tardigrade is released. Lorca returns to Discovery. “Choose Your Pain” ends with a creepy mirror scene and audiences screaming.
Of course, a lot more happened. There was torture. There were conversations about Burnham, with Lorca saying, “My ship. My way.” We meet Lt. Ash Tyler. Tilly and Burnham’s relationship deepens. There was swearing.
What we continue to learn is that Starfleet in this era is still finding its way. It’s not the utopia we see 100 years later. That said, there are a bunch of caveats that we will explore in the reactions and ruminations sections.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 5: “Choose Your Pain” Reactions
Hoo-boy! I’m not even sure where to begin with the reactions to “Choose Your Pain.” Up until episode 5 of Star Trek: Discovery, the reactions from my Star Trek community have been mostly positive. Someone even dropped a poll. The results: Seven percent say Star Trek: Discovery is bad and five percent say it is horrible. A 12 percent disapproval rating is not bad. Nineteen percent feel neutral.
While I think it would be fair to say that those who rate Star Trek: Discovery as either good or excellent still feel that way, those people are very divided on what they think about events surrounding Lorca, which we will explore in the ruminations section.
After I finished watching episode 5, I thought the discussions and reactions would refocus on the general themes introduced in episodes 1 and 2, and reintroduced by Harry Mudd. After all, last week’s discussion was focused on Lorca. Those who closely follow Star Trek news know well that Lorca was going to be someone we would not like. We also know that unlike previous series where the morality of show was depicted through its captain, Star Trek: Discovery is centered on Burhnam.
Because of what we know about Lorca, I was really surprised that, after the swearing, which isn’t new to Star Trek, the most division and source of negative reactions was because of Lorca. I’m not even sure if “negative” is the correct word to use. Regardless of which word we use to describe the reactions, it resulted in some amazing and thoughtful discussions.
As I’ve already said, we aren’t supposed to like Lorca. The center of the show is different, which I suspect is what is causing the difficulty viewers are having with Lorca. Viewers haven’t quite made that mental adjustment. If it were admiral-of-the-week, it wouldn’t be provoking these reactions.
Because the reactions are so tightly woven into the ruminations, let’s get down to business, as we focus once again on Lorca.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 5: “Choose Your Pain” Ruminations
Normally, I’d be pulling discussions from the Star Trek community’s weekly discussion thread. This week, another thread popped up that focused on Lorca. With permission, I will be pulling the discussions from both.
This week, we talked a lot about Lorca vs. Sisko, and Lorca vs. Kirk. In the weekly discussion thread, there was a lot of overlap between Lorca vs. Sisko and the arcing theme of imperialism and colonization, with the other thread mostly focused on Captain vs. Other Captain. There was a lot of politics in the former thread, so I’m going to mostly focus on the latter and leave it up to you if you want to dive into some deep global political discussions that are not through a typical ahistorical lens.
As I stated in the episode 1 and 2 post, we each are going to bring a lot of our own experiences into how we react to Star Trek: Discovery. My view comes from living in a country with a government that has committed genocide mixed with a country that fought wars to keep a Canadian identity. I was also in the Canadian Armed Forces, where it was deeply rooted into us the importance of not losing one’s way in a time of war.
This isn’t to say Canada is perfect in these areas. Far from it. Canada has ignored many atrocities, including against its own citizens. But it does heavily play into how I view Sisko and see some of his actions as completely unforgivable. It contributes to why it never ceases to disturb me that people hold up Sisko as some type of hero and better than Lorca.
I say all of this to reiterate some of the themes introduced in Star Trek: Discovery: Episode 3 “Context Is for Kings.” The issues we are about to discuss are complicated and nuanced; most often told through a very ahistorical lens. Every country has its own propaganda. One of the things the writers of Star Trek: Discovery are trying to do is to bring attention to this very issue.
As I did with episode 4 discussions, I’m just going to copy and paste sections of the discussions so that nothing gets lost in a clumsy attempt to paraphrase. The discussion is because of this article written with the premise that Star Trek has lost its soul.
The first part is about Lorca vs. Sisko. I’ve edited some of it as to not be repetitive:
Me: I just finished reading this and goes back to what I said in the weekly discussion thread. Also want to reiterate the fact that Sisko advocated for and committed war crimes, but everyone is cool with him, never ceases to disturb me. Sisko was not a good guy but some people continue to paint him as such. Lorca is supposed to represent the enemy and at least we are under no delusions about whether or not his actions are good.
Gray Brothers: Sisko’s questionable actions were always the exception rather than the rule, and he ALWAYS struggled with them. As the author points out, Lorca didn’t even blink. Zero hesitation. Never mind that Sisko would NEVER bail on his crew and blow them to hell to spare them degradation. And no-one in DS9 would be good with what was being done with the Tardigrade. Quark would be on the fence if money was to be made, but at the end of the day, even HE would do the right thing.
Me: I don’t buy that. Not after he dropped a WMD on a planet and no-one even questioned him. They followed orders.
GB: He made it uninhabitable to flush out criminals, knowing there was no other way. He gave advanced warning, AND a chance for them to clear out. Lorca wouldn’t do that.
Me: [There have been many discussions about this same thing.] People do mental gymnastics justifying this while those in the receiving end of the bombs are like FU. One hour is not enough time [to evacuate]. Just goes to show how good state propaganda is at making people feel okay about these actions.
Pawel Kurzydlowski: I think Lorca is everything Sisko would be if he served aboard starship on a frontline 24/7.
Things got really interesting when Kirk was brought into the mix:
Mike Cherry: I think this article is just trying to be provocative because no one could reasonably look at Kirk vs. Lorca so far and say “oh, yeah, Lorca is the bad guy.”
Morality is easy when it’s written in a void. Discovery shows people making complex moral decisions in a dangerous setting that is in flux. The whole argument that a previous captain would have allowed their crew to be slowly tortured to death would make the captain more moral is… well, it doesn’t match what I think of as moral.
Compare Discovery to The Original Series. Kirk flew around the galaxy screwing around with (or, you know, actually screwing) people without much regard for his actions and that’s the moral high ground? Hey, your civilization is based on a computer taking care of you. Well, we blew it up; hope you figure out farming in hurry before you all starve to death. The original series was SO MUCH SHITTIER to aliens without any self-reflection. And Discovery is set in an existential war.
And the Mudd comparison? The Klingons will (assumably, for Lorca) eventually kill Mudd in the Discovery timeline — Lorca is cruel and/or vindictive to allow that. Kirk imprisons Mudd on what is essentially solitary confinement for the rest of his life with only automatons programmed to incessantly harass him for eternity; they most likely would prevent him from committing suicide when it comes to that. That isn’t cruel, that’s freaking creatively sadistic. That’s crazy-pants horrible.
Me: I just want to add the writers have said we won’t like Lorca and we are not supposed to. At the NYCC presser, someone started their question by saying “I love Lorca” to which Isaacs responded, “That was your first mistake,” followed by the entire cast laughing. So, while I agree with all of your points about Lorca and leaving his crew to be tortured and Mudd, he’s not a hero, or even a grey hero like some view Sisko. But he certainly does a great job in pushing these awesome discussions about morality. It wouldn’t be Star Trek if it didn’t provoke these conversations.
MC: I want to wait and see. I feel/hope that ideas about heroism will be challenged. I hope he’s complex enough to make it an interesting conversation about what “heroic” means. I hope he isn’t an asshole just to be different from other captains.
GB: “The whole argument that a previous captain would have allowed their crew to be slowly tortured to death would make the captain more moral is… well, it doesn’t match what I think of as moral.”
I think perhaps you misunderstood me. Sisko would never have saved his own skin and blown up everyone else, is what I was saying. He’d have gone down with this ship, as expected. Which is exactly what he attempted to do when the Defiant was overrun by Jem’Hadar during the Dominion war. He ordered the self destruct of the vessel, from the bridge, and waited for the inevitable. Fate intervened (i.e., the writers), but he clearly demonstrated he was willing and able to die alongside his crew.
However, I loved the rest of that reply. It’s fascinating to look at Kirk, to whom Dr. Marcus referred as an “overgrown boy scout,” in that light.
Scott Carpenter: The whole article is (IMO) misguided. It continues the trope that Lorca is supposed to be the hero. He’s not. It continues the trope that Burnham is going rogue. She’s not. It continues the trope that Starfleet and Federation morality sprang, whole and complete, without a stumble or misstep, from Archer. That’s not how this works. That’s now how any of this works.
And it seriously misremembers TOS.
Rainn Wilson’s Mudd is lacking Roger C. Carmel’s buoyancy and mellifluousness, so I don’t believe he’s going to age into someone who can banter with Kirk. Or that he’ll be playful with Starfleet rather than bitterly enraged at how he’s been treated.
Arranging to have 400 people kidnapped and stranded in a series of underground caves on a barren planet is playful?!? Let me just jot a note down to never, ever, ever let Ms. Trendacosta plan any outings for me.
MC to GB: Admittedly I may have missed something or be reading things in that aren’t there, but I assumed that there was more to the Lorca-ship-blowing-up story then him just abandoning ship and blowing everything up. As in, maybe later on we’ll get a more complete picture of what happened and why he wasn’t on the ship at the time.
Justinian Herzog: Except… he knew the Klingons were listening and unloading information to get the last word is… meh?
PK: Lorca didn’t rush to explain because he knows that this was not his brightest moment. As he said himself he left his eyes “broken” to remember about what he did. It’s perfectly normal when we don’t want to talk about things we are ashamed of. Of course, if there is more to it and it will be revealed later I will be happy because this story arc has potential.
We, fans, need a bit of realism in the show. Realism which will remind us that it’s easy to be ethical in times of peace, but war makes [it] even [more] crystal clear people make bad things. War times need people like Lorca, Sisko, Jellico. Especially when you fight with enemy like Klingons. But war times also need people with high moral standards, to remind the first ones that every victory has its price.
The above is just a fraction of the discussions that were spawned because of one thing Lorca said, which is unlikely the complete picture. I wanted to tag the comment about whether or not Lorca is telling the truth because he knew the Klingons were listening with “mic drop.”
There has been some discussion about whether or not Star Trek: Discovery is actually Star Trek. One of the things us hardcore fans love about Star Trek is that it tackles issues of morality, leaving us debating and discussing the implications of many societal issues. Everything from war to individual rights to how we treat other cultures. The fact Star Trek: Discovery episode 5 provoked such in-depth conversation around maybe 30 seconds of dialogue demonstrates to me that Discovery is in fact Star Trek.
Things are not simple. These issues are complex and nuanced. There are people like me who firmly believe that you lose all sense of morality if you are willing to do things, like ignore the Geneva Convention. It’s by no accident that it was mentioned in a previous episode. It is during times of war, when it is most difficult, that we need to uphold those things otherwise we are doomed to repeat atrocities of the past.
For other people, they think the Siskos and Lorcas of the world are necessary; they don’t see any other way of solving certain issues. I can’t blame them when the narrative often fails to present viable alternatives. This is all that certain people know.
People stand up — often at great personal cost — or sit down and history judges. How history judges depends on many things, like who writes the history.
These are not easy discussions to have but I’m glad we are having them.
To Cherry’s comment about a more complete picture, remember what Burnham said in “Context Is for Kings”: “Sometimes down is up.”
We are only at the beginning of this journey. Hold on to your butts. I think we’ve only just been exposed to the tip of iceberg. I see many thought- and discussion-provoking episodes to come.
Having read the above ruminations, do you still view Lorca in the same light or has your opinion changed?
Until next Wednesday, Live Long and Prosper.