“Choose Your Pain.”
That was the title of the fifth and possibly best-yet episode of STAR TREK: DISCOVERY. Like many of the strongest stories of literature and cinema, the title “Choose Your Pain” works on multiple levels.
- “Choose your pain” is what the Klingons say to the captives on their prison ship before beating the living crap out of one of them.
- Michael Burnham is, arguably, choosing her pain when she holds onto the loss of Captain Georgiou and wallows in her seemingly endless morass of un-Vulcan-like self-pity and guilt.
- Saru, likewise, is holding onto the loss of Captain Georgiou but also to his pain at having not been chosen to be her first officer and thereby not being able to learn from her experience and wisdom in the same way Burnham did.
- Captain Lorca can and should get his eyes fixed, but he chooses not to. He holds onto the pain the light causes him and lives in mostly dark places, a harsh reminder of the heartrending decision he made during his previous command of the USS Buran.
(Please note, there’s a theory currently making its way around fandom that the Lorca we’ve seen so far is actually a Mirror Universe counterpart of the “real” Lorca. The reason the Buran was destroyed was to eliminate any witnesses—including the “good” Lorca—and that the whole interchange was orchestrated by Section 31 in order to acquire a captain who knew how to be ruthless in fighting the Klingons. The reason that Lorca refuses to get his eyes fixed—a problem stemming from being transported to this universe—is that he doesn’t want the doctors to discover what he really is.)
Obviously, my blog today assumes that the above theory is NOT the case. Instead, let’s just assume that Lorca is merely a man who was forced to make a tragic decision to destroy his ship and kill his crew to save them all from slow, painful deaths on Qo’Nos. For this, Lorca has chosen to keep his pain as a reminder…and potentially as self punishment for what he did.
Like Lorca, I and many other Trek fans who are either not watching the show or frequently complaining about it are choosing to hold onto our “pain.” We simply can’t seem to let go of our issues with the new series and enjoy Star Trek: Discovery for everything it gives to us as fans. Like Lorca, we choose to continue living in our dark places.
In short, WE ARE LORCA!
As I’ve said numerous times, Discovery isn’t “my” Star Trek. I’ve complained about the Klingon make-up, the Starfleet uniforms, ship designs, and the Discovery crew members essentially being dicks. I’ve commented about how I don’t want to watch this show with my seven-year-old son because the lessons Discovery is teaching—whether intentional or not—is that the ends can justify the means and that it’s okay to be bitchy to the people who are on your team. “My” Star Trek didn’t teach those lessons…or if it did, those were rare exceptions that served to hammer home the REAL lessons about these characters: that they were, indeed, heroes and worthy of our inspiration and emulation.
Now with the fifth episode of Discovery, I’ve got yet another reason to keep my son away from the show: two F-bombs within 10 seconds of each other. Plus, I’m pissed off all over again at the ship design. We finally heard a Klingon vessel identified as a D-7 battlecruiser. In my mind, a D7 looks like the top image on the right, and yet they give us the redesigned one on the bottom…which doesn’t even look close to a real D7! That’s my “pain.”
On the other hand, the scripts and the producers throw in so many wonderful nuggets from the long 50-year history of Star Trek. Unlike previous series, which tended to shy away from referencing TOS except in very rare instances (with the exception of season 4 of Enterprise), Discovery has given us tribbles, Sarek and Amanda, a Gorn skeleton, and a whole bunch of “blink and you’ll miss it!” references to TOS. For example, on the above map of the Klingon cruiser’s likely course after abducting Lorca, we see Deep Space Station K-7 and Rura Penthe, as well as the Morska and Mempa systems (the latter from TNG).
We also get an intriguing interpretation of Harry Mudd that wasn’t as off as I feared it would be. Obviously, the original actor Roger C. Carmel has long since passed, but Rainn Wilson captured many of his quirky mannerisms. We even learned the “secret origin” of Harry’s wife Stella…if that is to be believed. Harry in this episode was both fun and menacing while staying true to the original character.
And then there was that list of the most decorated Starfleet captains… 60% of whom were/are captains of a starship called Enterprise. Of course, it was cool seeing all those names we recognize, even if one wonders where Garth of Izar (whose exploits were already required reading at the Academy by this time) was or why there were no highly decorated captains for nearly 100 years between Archer and April. Even so, the list was pretty cool to see.
It’s obvious that the writers and production team are paying very close attention to the smallest details, and embracing so much of what has come before.
So what is my damn problem???
With so much of the new series hewing so wonderfully closely to the long and expansive history of Star Trek, why am I focusing so much of my angst on the fact that they simply hired the wrong production designer? After all, that’s the main problem, right? He was the guy insisting on new uniform designs, completely original Federation and Klingon starships that weren’t required to look anything like what had been established before, and re-imagined Klingons as hairless and unrecognizable, all but blowing the make-up budget for the season. Had the original production designer not left with Bryan Fuller, the show would have looked more like it fit into established Trek, and we’d all have much less to complain about.
But why can’t I just let that go? Why am I letting one production designer ruin this show for me? Why am I choosing that pain?
Actually, he’s not really “ruining” the show for me. I watched episode 5 and really, really enjoyed it. The fact that the crew were no longer being complete dicks to Burnham and each other helped a lot. (Not sure exactly when, how, or why that shift happened, but it was most welcome for me as a fan and viewer.) And yes, they let the Tartigrade go—after almost killing it, of course. The show still taught the lesson that the ends (saving the captain) justify the means, but at least they faced and ultimately corrected the consequences of that decision.
Maybe there’s hope for this show after all?
So how long will I choose to hold onto my “pain” when it comes to Discovery? Why not just let go of all my little gripes about the show, subscribe, sit back, and enjoy it completely? Like Lorca, it would be so easy to just get my eyes fixed, turn up the lights, and move past my “pain.”
Well, perhaps I’ll let Captain James T. Kirk answer that question for me…
Yeah, I realized that I just quoted Star Trek V. And maybe that’s why I’m considering lightening up a little on Discovery. Maybe I’d rather be McCoy in this scene than Kirk.
I still don’t like the new Klingons or the scenes where they speak for three minutes with subtitles. And I stand by my belief that putting Discovery onto CBS All Access in the U.S. was a bad business decision. We’ll see if I’m ultimately right or wrong on that prediction.
But in the meantime, Trek fans are being treated to a TV series with episodes costing $8-$8.5 million! Previous Trek series were lucky to get a quarter of that budget! Sure, Discovery still isn’t “my” Star Trek. But so what? Maybe it’s an alternate universe/timeline, maybe it’s a reboot, and maybe it’s just a bunch of very dedicated people working really hard to produce an incredibly good TV show with some minor flaws here and there.
Will I choose my pain like Kirk did? Like Lorca does? Or will I let it go like McCoy?
Right now, I’m still a Lorca. I’m still a Kirk. But for how long?