Choose Your Pain Shows The Depths Of Discovery’s Darkly Twisted Nature And Willingness To (FINALLY!) Embrace LGBTQ Life

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Holy mother of dragons.

For those of you who missed last week’s review of Star Trek: Discovery I was pissed. As a friend of mine pointed out, I’d been spoiled by the first three episodes of the new Trek series and was holding it to a very high standard. Episode 4 failed abysmally to meet that standard, and I wasn’t pleased.

While it’s true that last week’s episode was light years ahead of many other episodes of past series in the franchise (I’m including all but a handful of Enterprise episodes and about half of Voyager in that, not to mention early DS9 and the first two seasons of Next Gen.), it still sucked by Discovery standards.

Having just watched Choose Your Pain, I’ve concluded the series made the executive decision to take the Awesome quota that should have been last week’s fair share and redistribute it to CYP.

This week’s episode of totally fucking awesome.

I feel an F Bomb is justified this week, as the episode itself dropped not one, but TWO.

If there was any doubt that Discovery has knocked DS9 of the pedestal of Dark and Twisted Trek, this week proved it.

Wow.

SPOILERS AHEAD

I’m not going to dissect the whole episode with my usual level of glee, I feel pulling it apart to try and figure out what made it so amazing will somehow detract from its genius. Instead, I’m going to give you this highlights:

Captain Lorca

Captain Lorca’s past (or at least part of it) was revealed and it is seriously screwed up. It makes me wonder what happened before he was driven to blow up his own ship, and everyone on it, in order to spare them the pain for torture. It also gives him a whole new dimension. He’s seemed decidedly devoid of compassion up to now, but this week’s episode clearly demonstrated he feels for those under his command deeply, and will do pretty much anything for them.

He is a captain Spock would be proud of, however, fully capable of putting the needs of the many ahead of the few or the one. He’s also gifted with clairty regarding the realities of war, and understands that, as unsavory as certain things are, the faster the war is ended the better for all concerned.

It might not always be pleasant for those under his command, but I’ve always had the sense Lorca carried the weight of the entire Federation, not just his ship, on his shoulders.

What made him feel responsible for everyone? Why was he so certain of the specific agonies that awaited the crew on Kronos?

I’ve a feeling there’s a lot more to this story, but we’ll have to wiat and find out what.

The Return Of Harry Mudd

The episode also saw the return of a TOS character that’s usually quite divisive among fans. Harry Mudd featured in two episodes of the original Star Trek, and they are generally either loved or loathed.

This week Lorca finds himself taken prisoner with Harry and we get a glimpse of just how despicable the man is. Unlike Lorca, his sense of self-preservation trumps everything. I found it very cool to see a known character revisited in such a way, and suspect we’ll be seeing him again.

I for one hope we do, as Rainn Wilson gave a great performance and had some good chemistry with both Lorca and Ash Tyler.

Speaking of whom….

Ash Tyler

Despite complaining last week about the unceremonious dispatching of Commander Landry and the rather unfair (IMO) loss of a female character when so few actually get lines, I was very glad to see Ash added this week.

He’s extremely pretty to look at, acted by Shazad Latif, who did a cracking job, and is already a character I greatly enjoy.

I was very worried at one point he was going to die before getting back to the ship, but thankfully he didn’t.

Ash is part of what made this week’s episode so dark and twisty, having survived the seven months since the Battle at the Binary Stars as a prisoner of the Klingons, by becoming the concubine of the ship’s captain (a woman, if you were wondering).

This is such a wonderful subversion of a greatly overused trope that I’m quite delighted by it, despite the obviously unsavoury nature of Tyler’s predicament.

In a short space of time he proves himself to be steadfastly loyal, very smart, brave and (despite everything he’s been through) hopeful. And yet, when he confronts his abuser he goes completely postal and reveals just how damaged he’s been by the experience.

Not that I want to torture the poor boy, but I really hope we get to see more of that damage as the show goes on and he’s not magically reset to emotional neutral now he’s escaped.

Stamets and Colber

I called it last week the second Doctor Colber was introduced (the only highlight of an otherwise dismal outing), and the close of this week’s episode proved me right.

We officially have our first gay couple on a Trek show. Thus far this has been beautifully handled. It’s neither gratuitous, nor in your face. Unlike the shoe-horning of Sulu’s new gay status into the last film (not their finest moment) it’s organic to both characters and obviously an intrinsic part of who they both are.

You may think, ‘Surely all relationships are about the people in them?’ but when it comes to LGBTQ in SFF, trust me, they’re not.

Often as not they’re about proving a point.

The point being, ‘We’re not rampantly homophobic, honest, look, this dude’s totally gay!’.

I really hate it when the LGBTQ community are misrepresented (so much so I published a paper on it this year, do check that out), but I’m delighted to say Discovery is doing a damn fine job of portraying two gay characters, in a relationship with each other, in exactly the same manner they would portray two straight characters in a relationship with each other.

And that is how it should be!

It was also very nice to see the softer side of Stamets, who has edged very close to being the obsessive scientist who sacrifices everything in the name of his precious invention. Choose Your Pain totally blew that possibility out of the water, as he not only went up against acting-Captain Saru to advocate for Ripper (siding with Michael in the process), but risked his life rather than endangering Ripper again.

Bravo, Stamets, you’re officially my favourite character (for now at least).

Everything Else

I could happily ramble about this episode all day, but the heart of my adoration is the fact it did a lot of things Trek has frequently resisted and/or usually sucks at:

  • Seamlessly blended several subplots without issue.
  • Broached the subject or rape without totally screwing it up (if you’re wondering when they screwed it up in the past, please watch TNG’s ‘The Child’, and Enterprise‘s ‘Unexpected’).
  • Provided character background without info dumping or boring me.
  • Had genuine conflict between various characters, not just the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’.
  • Fabulous dialogue, good pacing, great tension and the occasional bit of humour thrown in for a breather.
  • All the actors did tremendously and there was a deceptive amount of new material added to the overarching plot, without it being obvious – little things you can tell are likely to be crucial at some point, but for this episode were just part of the background.
  • Avoided turning an LGBTQ issue into a freak show attraction (see DS9’s ‘Profit and Lace’ if you’re unsure why I half expected this to happen).

Like I said, I could go on forever, but I’ll leave you with this thought:

We’re five episodes in and Discovery has already killed off main characters, made their protagonist an anti-hero, introduced a genuinely portrayed gay relationship, and said fuck twice.

And we still have ten episodes to go…

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Hazel Butler
Hazel is a Dark Fantasy/Urban Fantasy Author and freelance Writer from Cheshire, England. She runs The Write Copy Girl (www.thewritecopygirl.com) offering professional copywriting services to business owners. She is also a regular blogger on The Huffington Post and several other sites. Her books include Dark Urban Fantasy Novel Chasing Azrael (myBook.to/chasingazrael) and Dark Fantasy Novella Bleizgeist (myBook.to/bleizgeist).