It took a little while for Star Trek: Discovery to have a bad episode, but it is here, and it is just so terrible, not even a fun performance by the reliably great Rainn Wilson can save it, hampered as it is by bad decisions and even worse stereotypes.
The crew of the U.S.S. Discovery find themselves in somewhat of a tight spot after Captain Lorca is captured by Klingons. Getting him back is not only a personal and political priority, it’s a major part of the war effort, since their spore drive has made a major difference in the war.
It sets the stage for quite a few ethical questions, and not just because it was revealed that using the spore drive requires the creature Ripper, who is significantly weakened and hurt every time it’s used. But it doesn’t seem like that’s going to stop any time soon with Lorca deep in Klingon space and requiring the drive for a safe and quick rescue. And with Saru taking over as Captain, he’s already had ample reason to distrust Burnham and her conclusions.
Lorca’s bound to have his own problems, since his imprisonment also comes with torture in order to get him to reveal just what is so special about his ship. The Klingons have also devised tactics to keep prisoners from bonding, such as giving them the option to choose a fellow captive to take beatings for them. It’s a repulsive but understandable action that a desperate person might take in order to get a little relief after days, weeks, or even months of torture, but the show clearly doesn’t have too much compassion. It not only gives the only person seemingly willing to do this a name like Harry Mudd (the aforementioned Rainn Wilson), but depicts him as a weak, sniveling coward who also passes on information about the other prisoners to the Klingons. Sure, he’s apparently from the original show, but you think they could do some better updating. All the more insulting is the fact that he’s also the one who brings up what could be valuable points about how ordinary people with much fewer options than the elite who join Star Fleet cope with getting caught in the middle of an intergalatic war. But with the way it’s presented, Star Trek almost seems to advocate a philosophy of little people sucking it up and pulling themselves up by their boostraps.
But even that’s not as insulting as the female Klingon captain who personally tortures the humans aboard her ship, and is also such an appalling stereotype of a female sexual predator (one of the prisoners is only alive because she’s taken a liking to him), it would be downright laughable if the implications weren’t so serious. The Weinstein scandal has also led men to share their stories of being sexually exploited and assaulted, and while Discovery doesn’t take the route other shows and movies do with male rape, that of making it comedic or blaming him, it still needs to do it a hell of a lot better. Perhaps the show will have him deal with his trauma in later episodes, since he’s brought aboard the ship. Maybe I’m just tired of all the movies I’ve seen lately making female sexuality such a threat.
Another situation that’s handled rather badly is the reveal that Anthony Rapp’s Paul Stamets and Wilson Cruz’s Dr. Hugh Culber are dating, which is hardly a surprise given the chemistry of all the scenes they’ve shared, which has made them one of the show’s highlights.. But to just show them in their quarters together seems like a mistake. When exactly did they enter into a relationship? Why did none of the other crew members refer to it in their shared scenes? It seems unlikely that they’d have to hide their status, and just putting them together with no buildup or courtship seems like a wasted opportunity to watch them form a connection.
Then there are the big, gaping plot holes and questions. How exactly did Michael Burnham get away with releasing Ripper into space? How much is she going to get chewed out for that? Shouldn’t she keep it around to learn more from it? Why didn’t Lorca actually kill the Klingon captain? And finally, WTF was up with that last scene? Could a Mirror Universe be in our future?