“I’ve learned how to choose wisely.” — Star Trek Discovery Review — Choose Your Pain

Star Trek: Discovery, Episode 5
Choose Your Pain
Posted by Clinton
Animated GIF of Lorca saying "Not on my watch."
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With episode 5 of “Star Trek: Discovery,” (“Choose Your Pain”), we’ve reached the one-third mark in our season 1 story arc. Do we know where we are? Do we know where we are headed? Since “Discovery’s” story line is shrouded in secrecy, there is no way of telling. Or is there? If we accept the supposition that this season is about Michael Burnham’s (Sonequa Martin-Green) journey toward redemption, there may be some clues.

Writers often turn to Joseph Campbell’s classic 12-stage “Hero’s Journey” story structure when crafting sweeping sagas such as this. So, how well does Burnham’s story track to the classic structure?

Stay with me, now. Think of this as, well, a journey.

Episodes 1 and 2 (“The Vulcan Hello” and “Battle at the Binary Stars”) would be our first step along the hero’s 12-stage path. At this stage, we first see Michael Burnham as having the ideal life. She lives in what Campbell would call stage 1, the “Ordinary World.” She is being mentored by one of Starfleet’s most decorated Captains and is about to be offered a command of her own. Life is good.

Suddenly, the Klingons arrive and her paradise is lost. She has entered stage 2, the “Call to Adventure” stage. This situation requires Burnham choose between two paths: she can either obey her Captain, or do what she feels is logical. She does not choose wisely. Her Captain dies, she starts a devastating war and she is sentenced to life in prison. The universe has called out to her in a most violent way.

In episode 3 (“Context is for Kings”), the so-called “second pilot,” we are deep into Burnham’s despair. She has withdrawn into herself, ready to accept her fate. She is so far removed that, offered a chance to serve aboard Discovery, she would rather go back to prison. Not that Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) cares about her opinion, of course. This would be stage 3, her “Refusal of the Call.” In fact, even though she is forced to accept the position working for Lt. Stamets (Anthony Rapp), she constantly reminding everyone she is “just there to help.” She has no real commitment to the cause. No purpose. Her assignment doesn’t connect her to her ship. In “Choose Your Pain” she confesses to Tilly that “I barely have a job here. I’ve never been less busy.” She is rank: None.

Animated GIF of Tilly saying "I love feeling feelings"
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It is at this point Burnham should enter stage 4 and “Meet the Mentor.” Now, while this mentor could mean Lorca, Stamets or even Tilly (Mary Wiseman), I believe it is someone else. I believe it is Ripper, the tardigrade.

The mentor often offers advice, insight into the dilemma, or even presents an object of importance. Ripper does not speak and offers no material objects. It is simply a creature that has the unique ability to travel the mycelial network. But the mentor can also offer self confidence. This offering is not apparent at first. The creature is hostile, even deadly. Yet Burnham sees past that reactionary behavior. She empathizes with the creature and re-engages with the real world to fight for its life. Ripper is the one who provides Burnham with what she needs to overcome her doubt and accept the quest.

Burnham looks up and smiles.
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Which brings us up to the end of episode 5. Burnham sets Ripper free. At this point she is also free; ready to take the next step and “Cross the Threshold.” That yet-to-be-taken step would be stage 5 of the 12-stage hero’s journey. And, if my math is correct, that means we are one third of the way through the stages.

Of course, a story can have more than one character on a journey:

Saru also saw his world ripped apart. His flight response and jealousy of Burnham made him a first officer who ran solely on protocol, with no ability to grow. But his performance in the rescue of his Captain has given him confidence. The confidence to not unfairly measure himself against Starfleet’s most-decorated Captains. He appears staged to “Cross the Threshold” as well.

In addition, “Choose Your Pain” offered us insight into Captain Lorca’s past. His refusal to have his eyes repaired is his constant reminder of the crew he lost and his vow to not let it happen again. In a way, he may be the farthest behind in his journey. He has not accepted the challenge of change. He is stuck at the gate.

The questions we are left with at the end of “Choose Your Pain” are many. What information have the Klingons gleaned about the U.S.S. Discovery? How will L’Rell’s injury affect her decisions? Why did Stamets’ reflection persist in the mirror? Do we trust Lt. Tyler? How will Harry Mudd attempt to exact his revenge? But, more importantly, if we are indeed following the hero’s journey, what is the the threshold Burnham — and, by extension, Saru — must cross? For this is the step that will define the actual path ahead.

Next episode: “Lethe”


Random Thoughts and Observations:

  • Sorry, folks. The future will not solve snoring.
  • Did we get all the swearing out of the way?
  • Can I get one of those futuristic toothbrushes?
  • How did L’Rell find her way to the Klingon ship so quickly?
  • How did the Klingon ship know where to find Captain Lorca? The Klingons called him by name in the shuttle.
  • Love that Lt. Stamets uses the pronunciation of a mushroom variety as an alternative to the “To-may-to” “To-mah-to” saying.
  • We can assume that not everything Harry told Lorca about his past is true.
  • There are three lights.
  • Nice to be reminded that eugenics experiments are still forbidden.

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