Having a secret android hijack a spaceship in the first five minutes of an episode might have worked for the original Star Trek series, but these days, plot twists on TV happen differently. On Star Trek: Discovery, there are much longer cons afoot. In its fifth episode — “Choose Your Pain” — the show is proving its primary mission is to cleverly misdirect the audience so we won’t notice what is really happening right in front of us. An old trick they learned from Harry Mudd years ago!
Spoilers are ahead for Star Trek: Discovery Episode 5, “Choose Your Pain.”
When Captain Lorca is captured by Klingons, he’s promptly thrown into a prison cell with none other than Harry Mudd, the infamous con man — first played by Roger C. Carmel — from the original series episodes “Mudd’s Women” and “I, Mudd.” And, even though Rainn Wilson’s new portrayal of the character is delicious and excellent, this episode isn’t really about Harry Mudd. Instead, it’s all about fucking with the audience’s mind.
If you were in the Don’t Trust Lorca camp before this week, you were rewarded in this episode with a new piece of information. Captain Lorca — in a move worthy of the insane Matt Decker from “The Doomsday Machine” — left the entire crew of his previous ship to die rather than have them be captured by the Klingons. Harry Mudd is aware of this story, somehow, but is the rest of Starfleet?
The beginning of the episode conveniently has Lorca take a shuttle to a Starbase, where he’s told the Discovery is being pulled off the front lines for a little bit. But this isn’t the big news. In one telling scene, the admiral in charge bugs Lorca about why he hasn’t gotten the damage to his eyes fixed. He grumbles about not trusting doctors, or something, and everyone forgets about it. Sure, the news that he self-destructed his last ship and killed everyone on board seems big, but it seems like it helps us forget about this detail with his eyes.
In the 23rd century of amazing space medicine, it seems insane someone wouldn’t just get their eyes fixed in three seconds. In Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Kirk gains access to top secret files with a retinal scan. In previous episodes, we’ve learned that Discovery uses a breath scanner to let people into classified areas, not a retinal scan. Maybe Starfleet will institute a retinal scan after everything that goes down with Discovery. It’s a shot in the dark, but it does seem like a pretty big deal.
Everything else that happens in this episode feels like another version of Lorca dodging the question about his eyes just rearranged slightly differently. Why the heck did Lt. Tyler have a romance with his Klingon captor? Just to stay alive? Is that all there is to that? What was up with Harry Mudd’s story to Lorca about why he was in prison? In the original series, we learned Harry ran away from his wife Stella because he hated her. Here, he gives a sob story about buying Stella an asteroid but falling behind on his payments.
Harry is a con man, so one of these two statements is surely a lie, but which one? In the episode “I, Mudd,” Kirk famously says that “everything Harry tells you is a lie,” setting up a brilliant robot logic paradox when Harry then tells the robot Norman — that same one who hijacked the Enterprise — “I am lying.” The robot’s brain can’t handle the paradox of a known liar admitting to lying at that exact moment. Smoke comes out of the robot’s head as his mind has a total meltdown.
Harry Mudd will return to Discovery, of course; he’ll need to get even with Captain Lorca. But, considering this episode ended with a bizarre tease that there might be a duplicate of Lt. Stamets lurking in an alternate reality, Star Trek: Discovery has made each one of the viewers exactly like that poor android Norman. Because when known liars are telling the truth about shifty Starfleet captains, it’s enough to make our brains have a meltdown, too.
Star Trek: Discovery airs on Sundays at 8:30 p.m. Eastern on CBS All Access.
We finally know why Star Trek: Discovery Klingons look so different. Check out this video to find out more.