The fifth episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “Choose Your Pain,” is all about perspectives, seen through the lens of two interconnected ethical dilemmas. The first dilemma appears as the crew of the Discovery wrestles with ethical boundaries in their treatment of Ripper, the tardigrade that has been powering their spore drive’s navigation system. They discover that their efforts are putting the creature under increasing distress. If they continue using it, they risk killing a creature whom they are now convinced is sentient. It becomes clear to them that Ripper’s participation in their navigation system has been under protest and that its natural desire is to travel freely amongst the stars. Once they gave Ripper’s perspective full consideration, their decision on how to treat it became much clearer.
The second ethical dilemma in this episode arises when Captain Lorca finds himself on a Klingon prison ship where the prisoners are forced to “choose their pain” by either taking a beating or assigning it to one of their cell mates. As if that isn’t enough of a dilemma, one of Lorca’s fellow prisoners introduces him to some perspectives that are vastly different from his own.
Rainn Wilson offers a fresh interpretation of Harry Mudd, one of The Original Series’ most infamous recurring characters. Mudd represents the perspective of an Everyman that stands in contrast to the perspective of Lorca and the rest of Starfleet: “Have you ever bothered to look out of your spaceships down at the little guys below? If you had, you’d realize that there’s a lot more of us down there than there are you up here.”
Star Trek typically focuses on characters in the Federation’s spotlight — justifiably so, for they are usually the ones saving the day and getting all the glory. However, Mudd’s resentful words bring up a perspective not often considered in previous Star Trek iterations by pointing out that the actions of the heroic aren’t always viewed with awe and wonder by the less fortunate. In fact it is often the opposite. These people’s lives have been greatly disrupted by the battles and so-called adventures of people in their starships, as was the case with Mudd himself. Mudd’s tale of woe serves as a reminder that those with power should consider the impact of their decisions on the powerless.
The perspective of the Klingons is also highlighted once again in this episode. At one point Lorca remarks how their tactics are designed to spread terror, but Mudd sympathizes with them by arguing with him that Starfleet started the war “the moment you decided to boldly go where no one had gone before. What did you think would happen when you bumped into someone who didn’t want you in their front yard?” Mudd can certainly understand why the Klingons are fighting back, which is a perspective Lorca and the rest of Starfleet don’t seem to care about.
Indeed, Mudd’s perspective is ultimately ignored by Lorca and he is left behind during Lorca’s escape. I hope that Mudd’s departing promise that we haven’t seen the last of him comes true and that he returns for future episodes. Star Trek could use more focus on the perspective of others.
Whenever dealing with ethical dilemmas, it is essential to step outside ourselves and consider the perspective of others unselfishly. Placing a higher consideration on the well being of others than on ourselves may require personal sacrifice, but that’s what love is. Christians are called to love our enemies; it becomes much easier to love them when we truly understand them. Trying to understand your enemy rather than attacking them — what a powerful way to bring about peace.