the story: Lorca is kidnapped by the Klingons.
what it's all about: This one will probably end up being known for two things: the return of Harry Mudd, and the first explicit same-sex relationship in franchise history. Okay, three! The swearing. Wow, right?
Let's tackle each one, shall we? Harry Mudd appeared three times over the course of the original and Animated series. Had the movies (and thus, the return of Khan) never happened, he would continue to have a dominant place in Star Trek lore. As it is, he was reduced to a brief nod in the Abrams timeline (Star Trek Into Darkness), which might have been the sum total of his further significance, until it was announced he'd appear in Discovery, depicted by The Office's Rainn Wilson, no less. So what was that going to look like? Turns out, both the character and actor justified the gambit. Mudd even gets something of an origin story from the appearance, and arguably becomes a far more significant, and poignant, character, despite being at the same time as arrogant and opportunistic as ever.
The first explicit same-sex relationship in franchise history, meanwhile, is a follow-up to the brief glimpse of Sulu's love life in Star Trek Beyond, and I do mean glimpse. But the scene at the end of "Choose Your Pain" between Stamets and Culber leaves no doubt of what we're seeing. This is akin to the kiss, at least in the franchise, between Kirk and Uhura in "Plato's Stepchildren." Where that kiss broke broadcast history by featuring a white man and a black woman kiss, the LBGTQ community has for years enjoyed mainstream representation, but its inclusion in Star Trek, long delayed, is a breakthrough of another variety.
And the cursing...! The decision to air Discovery on CBS All-Access has been met with considerable controversy, but one benefit is a loosening of network (and syndicated) guidelines. This is the first instance of those loosened restrictions, in a scene where the ice is broken with a knowing wink to the audience, as if the characters are giddy to be so liberated but also shocked that they're getting away with it. One can easily imagine the salty McCoy joining in...
The episode itself relies less on Burnham than the first four of the series gently pushing her aside to share the focus with Saru (always worth spending time with) and Lorca (whom we learn more about). We also meet the last series regular, Ash Tyler, but actor Shazad Latif proves himself, alas, to be by far the weakest member of the cast. It's not surprising, in some ways. Latif was originally cast as a Klingon, but allergies to the prosthetics forced the producers to redirect his participation. In some ways this is the first visible proof of the complicated production history of the series.
Thematically it's the first episode of the series to step away from strict serialization, although one lingering plot thread is resolved, the life-form that had been utilized by the ship for its alternative propulsion system being released back into the wild, so to speak, a resolution for events depicted in the previous episode ("The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry"). "Pain" also has Klingons in it, with some interesting new things to say, especially where Lorca, Mudd, and Tyler's imprisonment aboard one of their ships is concerned. It's where the name of the episode comes from...
- franchise - Mudd's back! And also, the same-sex relationship. And swearing!
series- The soft break of serialization is evident.
- character - Lorca, Stamets, Saru, and even Mudd all have strong showings.
- essential - This is all strong Star Trek material.
Rainn Wilson (Mudd)