(written from a Production point of view)
While on a mission, Lorca unexpectedly finds himself in the company of prisoner of war Starfleet Lieutenant Ash Tyler and notorious criminal Harry Mudd. Burnham voices her concerns about the repercussions of the spore drive jumps on "Ripper".
Aboard the USS Discovery, some blurry images of the vessel's bridge, mess hall, sickbay, and corridors are seen, until Michael Burnham is shown in engineering, looking at herself standing in Ripper's chamber. She then activates the ship's spore drive. When the drive initiates, Burnham cries out in extreme pain and Burnham outside the chamber screams as well. Burnham wakes up from this nightmare and looks over at her roommate, Cadet Sylvia Tilly, who is asleep and snoring. Later, in the Discovery's laboratory, Burnham consults with Dr. Hugh Culber about the tardigrade's seeming pain whenever the ship activates the spore drive. Culber responds that Humans don't know if the creature experiences stress or pain like they do and Burnham believes that the doctor thinks she is anthropomorphizing it. Culber notes that Burnham discovered that the creature can navigate the spore drive; a victory that may not be a victory now that the alien's condition is deteriorating. Culber nevertheless promises he will run some tests.
Elsewhere, Captain Gabriel Lorca is speaking during a briefing of Starfleet admirals at a space station. He touts the Discovery's successes during the last three weeks of the war, including the ship's prevention of the destruction of the dilithium mines at Corvan II, their breaking of the Klingon's supply line at Benzar, and the routing of an attack through the Ophiucus system. One of the admirals, Katrina Cornwell, notes that the reason Lorca has been brought to the briefing is to get the Discovery's experimental spore drive technology installed in as many Starfleet vessels as possible. Lorca remarks that he has asked Lieutenant Paul Stamets to release schematics of the ship's propulsion system immediately after their first successful jump. Cornwell tells the captain that Starfleet's newest classified facility in Jefferson, Iowa has received them and is building more units. However, Starfleet needs more tardigrades to ensure safe navigation. Over Lorca's objections, Cornwell informs him that Starfleet wants the Discovery to scale back on its missions, as they do not want to tax their prime asset during war time. Concerns from the highest leadership in Starfleet, Cornwell notes, is that the Klingons may have uncovered the Discovery as Starfleet's secret weapon. She thereby orders Lorca to reduce the use of the spore drive unless authorized to do so by Starfleet Command. Cornwell announces that the rest of the fleet will pick up the slack caused by the Discovery's absence. "That's a lot of slack," Lorca notes.
Back aboard the Discovery, Cadet Tilly walks up to Burnham in the mess hall, who is sitting down eating. She tells her roommate that she looks awful, and Burnham sarcastically thanks her. Tilly says they will have lunch together and she will tell her what is going on. "There's nothing to tell," Burnham replies. Tilly frets over this, noting there are many more interesting people than her on the Discovery and that she must have made many new friends by now. Burnham assures Tilly that she is not at fault, it is her. She has been preoccupied by Ripper's condition from the use of the spore drive and that she has no job to do aboard the ship. Tilly notes that this will give Burnham the time to reflect upon herself, which she doesn't like. "Really? I love feeling feelings," the cadet replies.
Back aboard the station, Lorca is treating his damaged eyes in the darkened briefing room when Cornwell enters and turns up the lights. Lorca, in pain, loudly demands that they be turned down. Cornwell wonders why he has not yet gotten treatment for his eyes and Lorca tells her he does not trust doctors, which she sees as a personal slight, given the fact that she is a doctor. Lorca replies that it is punishment for blindsiding him during the strategy session. Cornwell then brings up when Lorca brought mutineer Michael Burnham aboard the Discovery, and Lorca quotes Starfleet regulation 13982, which allows him to conscript virtually anyone in a time of war. Cornwell notes that many see Burnham as the cause of Starfleet's current conflict with the Klingons and seeing her avoiding justice for her actions during the Battle of the Binary Stars does nothing to help morale. Lorca reminds her that it is his ship and his way.
Later on, Lorca is aboard a shuttlecraft en route back to the Discovery when it gets ambushed by a Klingon D7-class battle cruiser. Lorca and the shuttle pilot arm themselves with phaser rifles and stand ready near the aft airlock. The Klingons enter and the pilot is killed after getting stabbed. "Captain Lorca," L'Rell says as she and her fellow Klingons take him away. On the floor of the shuttle, Lorca's medical device for his eyes is left behind.
On the bridge of the Discovery, Admiral Cornwell, via holo-communicator, informs the vessel's first officer, Commander Saru, that Captain Lorca has been taken prisoner by the Klingons. They do not know where he has been taken to, as the Klingon's warp trail has since dissipated. She notes that this was a targeted abduction and the Klingons have possibly taken Lorca to learn more about the Discovery's unique propulsion system. Saru confidently informs the admiral that they will find the captain. After ceasing communication, Saru orders helmsman Keyla Detmer to plot a course that will take them to the shuttle's last known coordinates at maximum warp. He also orders operations officer Owosekun to establish search parameters sector by sector in relation to escape vectors correlating to all known Klingon bases, colonies or planets. After issuing the orders, Saru's threat ganglia engages just as Burnham enters the bridge. She wants to speak to the captain, but, as Saru says, that will not be possible now. He orders Airiam to inform Stamets that they will likely make multiple jumps throughout Klingon space with the spore drive to rescue the captain. Burnham takes issue with the commander's plan, telling him she does not know how feasible it will be.
In Lorca's ready room, Saru and Burnham discuss the situation further. She says that she has become concerned that they are negatively impacting Ripper with every jump they make with the spore drive. Saru reminds her that he was told the creature was virtually indestructible, but Burnham disagrees. However, she cannot provide Saru with the proof to back up this assumption. He does not find this helpful and reminds her that they must rescue their captain. She tells him she does not know how many more of these jumps the tardigrade can sustain. "The more you hurt someone, the less helpful they become," she states. Saru demands she focus on the task at hand and to not bring up the tardigrade again until Captain Lorca is safely back aboard the Discovery. Dismissing Burnham, Saru asks the Discovery's computer to list Starfleet's most decorated commanding officers, both living and deceased. Listing notable captains such as April, Archer, Decker, Georgiou, and Pike, Saru wants the computer to analyze all data related to his performance as acting captain of the Discovery and to cross reference with success parameters and also to note where deviations occur. The computer asks the Kelpien to state his purpose for this new protocol. He tells it that there is an element aboard the Discovery that causes him to second-guess himself and it cannot continue, referring to Burnham. The computer suggests an alternative – he eliminate the destructive element. "Not an option," he says.
Aboard a Klingon vessel, there are faint screams in the distance. Lorca is unconscious and lying on the floor. Someone is carefully looking through his Starfleet jacket when Lorca grabs the man by his throat. Lorca demands the individual identify himself. The man tells Lorca that he is "Mudd, Harcourt Fenton Mudd, Harry for short." He remarks that Lorca's grip on his throat hurts and the captain lets him go. When asked where they are, Mudd tells Lorca sarcastically that they are on a resort off Antares Minor and he should try the spa. Lorca asks again where they are. "Typical Starfleet. No fun at all," Mudd sneers. He tells the captain they are on a Klingon prison vessel, a particularly nasty one. Lorca wonders why Mudd, a civilian, is aboard one and he tells Lorca that the only crime he is guilty of is loving too much. He tells the captain of his "sweet Stella," a woman whose family did not approve of Mudd, so to win her her father's respect, he borrowed a large sum from "non-traditional lenders," and he bought her a moon. It worked like a charm – until he fell behind in his payments. Mudd was chased by creditors all the way into the Klingon's hands when the war broke out and they deposited him on the prison ship where he awaits his fate. Near Lorca and Mudd, a wounded Starfleet officer is moaning in pain. Just then, two Klingons enter and ask the prisoners to "choose your pain." Mudd points towards the weakened Starfleet officer. The Klingon officer punches the man and throws him around the cell, until he is kicked in the head and dies. The Klingons drag his dead body out and Mudd explains that the Klingons regularly ask their prisoners to choose their pain – they can choose themselves for a beating or choose one of their cellmates. This is done to prevent the inmates from bonding. Lorca notices that Mudd seems to be free from any bruises or injuries. Mudd tells the captain that he has learned to choose wisely. "Don't judge," Mudd says. "You're going to want to stick with me. I'm a survivor – just... like... you."
In the Discovery's engineering, Burnham enters with Dr. Culber. Culber warns her that Stamets never listens to him but she thinks she can handle him. "Please, show me how," the doctor says. After some posturing to Stamets on how his spore drive is revolutionary and beyond genius, the lieutenant shoots back that he knows he is brilliant and wonders why Culber is with her. Explaining that he is concerned about the physical effect the frequent jumps are taking on Ripper, Culber explains that medical scans on its frontal lobes show cumulative deterioration. Burnham believes they must find a workaround that does not involve Ripper being a critical component for the spore drive. If they do not find one, they could lose them both as well as Captain Lorca. Stamets asks Culber if there is someone on Discovery who requires his attention and the doctor states that he is due to help the ship's chief medical officer with an Andorian tonsillectomy. After Culber leaves, Stamets and Burnham argue further, until Stamets asks her if she wants to be right or if she wants to fix it.
Aboard the Klingon prison ship, Mudd is sleeping when Lorca comes across a male Starfleet officer lying on the floor. Arising, the Starfleet officer tells Lorca he was "pulled out of rotation." The man explains that sometimes the Klingons let them heal up so they last longer. "Shit, you're a captain?" he asks. Lorca and the officer sit together on the floor and he offers the captain his scrap of food. Lorca refuses but the officer insists, telling him he needs to keep up his strength. He has already lost one captain and he will not lose another. Identifying himself as Lieutenant Ash Tyler, he tells Lorca his former commanding officer was Steven Maranville of the USS Yeager. Tyler was captured at the Battle of the Binary Stars and has been in the prison for seven months. Lorca suggests Tyler may be a liar, as no one survives torture at the hands of the Klingons for seven months and asks the lieutenant if they have a reason to keep him alive. Tyler explains that the female Klingon captain of the ship has taken a liking to him. Lorca wants to get his hands on an active comm relay to signal the Discovery for extraction. Tyler is dubious of this, as they are deep within Klingon territory but Lorca assures him that the Discovery can rescue them. Just then, an insect crawls between them. "Mudd, if I see that pet of yours again...," Tyler says as the insect crawls up to Mudd's shoulder with Tyler's scrap of food. "Apologies, lieutenant. Stuart has boundary issues," Mudd says while eating. Lorca questions why Mudd would take food from the only two men standing between him and death and Mudd explains that he had a good life and a respectable business until it got blown up by Starfleet and their war. Mudd tells the Starfleet officers that he and others like him are tired of getting caught in their crossfire. Then, two Klingons enter the cell, grab Lorca by his throat and take him away.
Aboard Discovery, Stamets is explaining the problem of how the spore drive is killing Ripper. Explaining how the mycelial network acts as a matrix that serves as an intergalactic freeway system, the tardigrade's unique genetic makeup allows it to navigate the network because of its symbiotic relationship with the mycelial spores. When Ripper borrows DNA from the mycelium, it is granted an all access travel pass around the galaxy. Tilly suggests building a virtual Ripper, thereby tricking the mycelium into thinking it is communicating with the real thing. Stamets replies that he already tried that; it only allowed for small jumps. He knows why now – the spores and the drive were functioning at only a fraction of their capacity until they introduced a living co-pilot. Stamets announces that all they have to do to relieve Ripper is introduce the same sequence into a compatible host, one that understands its role in the process and does so willingly. "You guys, this is so fucking cool!", Tilly blurts out. Stamets stares at her and she apologizes to the lieutenant for her outburst. "No, cadet. It is fucking cool," he responds back at her.
Meanwhile, Lorca is strapped into a chair while L'Rell speaks to him in English and asks if he has ever been tortured. He notes her English is good and she tells him she descended from spies – languages are useful to learn. Particularly of those, she notes, who seek to destroy the Klingon Empire. L'Rell tells the captain that he has been busy the last three weeks, referencing Discovery's rescue of the Corvan system and their disappearance without a trace. Demanding to know his vessel's secret, Lorca feigns ignorance. Continuing on, L'Rell reveals her knowledge of Lorca's sensitivity to bright light. "Well, we all got something honey. You're seeking solace in the arms of a Human male. We don't even have the right number of organs for you. Why so hard up?" At this, L'Rell growls and strikes Lorca in the face. Going behind the captain, she pulls out a device to forcibly keep his eyes open and turns on three glowing lights. Lorca yells out in pain.
Saru emerges from the ready room and asks Lieutenant Rhys when his analysis of Discovery's long-range sensor data will be complete. Rhys responds that they have narrowed it down to three potential courses, which pass through the Mempa system. Saru asks that Stamets be made aware that they will be proceeding on their rescue mission. However, Owosekun reports that Stamets has taken the spore drive off-line. To find out why, Saru heads down to engineering. Tilly, Stamets, and Burnham are looking for compatible DNA sequences when Saru arrives and demands to know why the drive was taken off-line. Stamets informs the first officer that they were working on trying to find a substitute for Ripper. Recalling their earlier conversation, Saru informs Tilly and Stamets that Burnham was told to stand down from this until the captain was rescued. Bunrham shows Saru a hypospray containing tardigrade DNA and replication catalysts to initiate rapid gene transfer in a host. Burnham suggests a Human host but Saru dismisses this, reminding her that eugenics experiments are expressly forbidden. She knows this and tells him they need more time. Saru angrily tells her he gave her an order. She responds that she knows his Kelpien culture is supposed to be on the heightened lookout for enemies, but she assures him she is not one of them. Saru becomes even more angry at this and says she is not an enemy – she is a proven predator. He tells her that saving Ripper will not bring back nor change the fact that her current behavior is exactly the kind that led to the death of Captain Georgiou. Then, Rhys hails Saru and tells him they have located the battle cruiser Lorca has been captured on. Saru orders that Stamets bring the spore drive on-line and that Burnham confine herself to quarters immediately.
On the prison ship, Lorca is placed back into his cell. Pushing Mudd, Lorca grabs his pet Stuart and finds a transmitter attached to it. He crushes the transmitter with his foot and tells his two fellow inmates that earlier he dropped a little conversational nugget about ghosts to see if Mudd or Tyler could be trusted. He tells them both that he just had his words parroted back to him from L'Rell. At this, Lorca throws Stuart into the wall and Mudd shouts that he almost killed his pet. Tyler then shoves Mudd into the wall and tells him he is finished. When the time comes to "choose their pain", Lorca and Tyler will both choose Mudd. After their confrontation, Mudd walks over to Lorca and asks if he is going to let an idealistic young man like Tyler humiliate himself by siding with the likes of him. Going into further detail, Mudd reveals that Lorca was previously the commanding officer of the USS Buran, a vessel that was ambushed by the Klingons a month into the war. Only one crewman was able to escape – Lorca, the captain. Lorca explains to Tyler that Mudd is only half right. The Klingons attacked and he did escape, but he did not let his crew die. He blew them up. Knowing what awaited them on Qo'noS, the Klingon homeworld, namely degradation, torture, and a slow public death, he did what he did.
On Discovery, Saru has Stamets engage the spore drive and has the ship put on black alert. Stamets beams Ripper into the chamber and the ship's spore drive activates. However, Ripper collapses in the chamber and goes into a state of extreme cryptobiosis, reducing the water content of its body to less than one percent, according to Dr. Culber. Its life signs have dropped so low, they cannot even detect them. Saru simply orders that they rehydrate the creature and bring it back. Culber argues with Saru that it is not like waking someone from a nap – the tardigrade is now in survival mode. Saru replies that so are they – Ripper is their only chance to escape Klingon space. He tells a nearby Stamets to be ready to force the creature to comply and he follows orders.
In the prison cell, the Klingons return and again ask the prisoners to choose their pain. Preparing to choose Mudd, Tyler asks Lorca to instead pick him. Lorca reluctantly agrees. The Klingons begin brutally attacking Tyler until he suddenly moves out of the way on the floor, distracting the guards and allowing Lorca to subdue the Klingon watching him. Lorca and Tyler eventually kill both the guards by snapping their necks and take their Klingon disruptors. "Where the hell did that come from?", Mudd asks. Tyler replies that escaping was always a two man job – he just waited until the right man came along. Mudd realizes that Tyler had played him. Starting to walk out of their cell with the two Starfleet officers, Mudd is stopped by Lorca, who tells him he sold them out and he will stay in prison. Lorca hits Mudd in the mouth with his weapon and they walk out. Mudd, with blood in his mouth, desperately tells Lorca that he cannot take it in prison any more and promised Stella that he would come back to her. Lorca and Tyler don't listen and lock Mudd in his cell. Mudd shouts out, "You can't walk away from me, Lorca! I'm coming for you, you hear?! You haven't seen the last of Harcourt Fenton Mudd!" Lorca and Tyler fend off Klingon warriors in the corridors using hand-to-hand combat and their disruptors. Tyler eventually collapses and encourages Lorca to leave him behind. Lorca says to Tyler that he will come back for him, tells him to hide and leaves to find a way out. Just then, L'Rell comes over to Tyler and asks if he can really leave her after all they have been through together. Tyler slowly gets up and begins fighting her. Eventually, she falls to the floor, where Tyler begins punching L'Rell repeatedly in the face. Lorca returns at that moment, vaporizes an oncoming Klingon and fires a shot that hits L'Rell in the face. She screams in agony and the two men head for the ship's docking bay.
Aboard a Klingon raider, Lorca and Tyler are flying away and redirecting all auxiliary power to shields. They are being pursued by five raiders, closing fast. Lorca manages to destroy one. Tyler asks the captain if his eye condition happened when he destroyed the Buran. "We choose our own pain. Mine helps me remember," he replies. On the bridge of the Discovery, the raiders have been detected. Saru orders a red alert and quickly deduces that Lorca is on board the raider being chased. Gaining communication with the Discovery, Lorca identifies himself and orders for two to beam out. Materializing in the transporter room of the Discovery, Tyler collapses. Lorca hails the bridge to let them know they have them and to initiate the spore drive. Saru calls engineering and asks Stamets if they have been able to revive the tardigrade. Stamets simply replies that they are ready to jump. Rhys reports that the Discovery will soon be in weapons range of the raiders. Saru orders black alert and the ship disappears. In safety, Tyler thanks Lorca for rescuing him. Lorca wonders why, since he dragged the lieutenant back into the war onto a ship with a target on its back. "There's no place I'd rather be," he says.
Saru calls engineering to congratulate Stamets but receives no answer. Owosekun reports that Stamets is in engineering but his life signs are in distress. Heading down, Saru, Tilly, and other crew members find Stamets in the chamber unconscious, having injected himself with the tardigrade DNA. Tilly asks if he is dead and Saru cannot answer. Just then, Stamets awakens and asks if they made it. Saru tells him they did and the lieutenant begins laughing hysterically.
Saru heads to Burnham's quarters to fill her in on what happened, but she responds that Tilly has already brought her up to speed on the situation with Ripper. Burnham then asks Saru one question: is he afraid of her? Saru says he is not – he is angry at her. He is very jealous that he never got the chance that she had to be a first officer under Captain Georgiou on the USS Shenzhou and learn everything she had to teach. He anticipated that Burnham would get her own command and he would move up, but he never got that chance. He believes that if he had, he would have been more prepared for the events of today. Burnham assures Saru that he did very well and that Captain Georgiou would have thought so, as well. Burnham then goes under her bed to get Captain Georgiou's telescope and tells Saru that it is his now. Before leaving, Saru tells Burnham that Captain Lorca has yet to be cleared for command and he has much to attend to. He does order Burnham to do one thing: go save Ripper's life.
Elsewhere, Tilly is with Burnham and says "May the sun and moon watch your comings and goings in the endless nights and days that are before you," before Ripper. Turning, Tilly asks Burnham if she is sure this is going to work. Burnham says no, but adds that if this is Ripper's response to an adverse environment, what does it consider to be hospitable? She notes that this creature has been to the far ends of the universe and she hopes that what makes this creature most happy – is to be free. Burnham fills Ripper's chamber with spores and the creature is released into open space, where it opens up again and disappears to parts unknown. Burnham looks up and smiles.
In Lorca's ready room, the computer is about to begin a performance review of Saru when he cancels the protocol, saying aloud, "I know what I did."
In Culber and Stamets' quarters, Culber is scanning Stamets with his medical tricorder when the astromycologist asks him to stop worrying and stop doctoring him. Culber replies that one tends to worry when they are doomed to love a brilliant but reckless maniac who is willing to risk his life for glory. Stamets tells his partner that the captain's life was in danger but Culber reminds him that captains are in danger every day. The two begin brushing their teeth and Stamets says that for his whole career, he has been trying to understand the essence of mycelium and now, for the very first time, he does. During his connection to the spore drive, he saw the vast network – an entire universe of possibility he never dreamed existed. Also, he knew Culber would leave him if he let anything else endanger the creature. "Don't do anything that stupid ever again," Culber tells Stamets. "You may not care about you," he adds, "but I do." Before going to bed, Culber asks Stamets if he feels OK. Stamets says that he does. Stamets then leaves and his reflection is looking back in the mirror with an odd expression.
"Why don't you get your damn eyes fixed?"
"Oh, you know, Katrina, I don't trust doctors."
"Should I take that personally?"
"It's punishment for blindsiding me in that pathetic excuse for a strategy session."
"Cut the crap, Gabriel."
- - Katrina Cornwell and Gabriel Lorca
"Computer, initiate new protocol. Please record all data related to my performance as acting captain of Discovery, and cross-reference with success parameters. Note where deviations occur."
"State the purpose of the new protocol."
"There is an element aboard this ship that causes me to second-guess myself. That cannot continue. I must remain clear-headed in pursuit of today's mission."
"Alternative solution: Eliminate destructive element."
"Not an option."
- - Saru and Discovery's computer
"Who are you?"
"The name is Mudd. Harcourt Fenton Mudd, Harry for short. I reiterate – ouch."
- - Harry Mudd, grabbed by his throat by Lorca upon awakening
"Where are we?"
"On a resort off Antares Minor. You should try the spa. The hot-stone massage is delightful."
"Where are we?"
"Typical Starfleet. No fun at all."
- - Gabriel Lorca and Harry Mudd
"They may look stupid, our Klingon hosts. They're anything but. They regularly give us the choice to choose our pain. We can accept the beating ourselves or pass it on to our cellmates. It's our captors' way of keeping us from bonding."
"You seem conspicuously free from bruises."
"I've learned how to choose wisely."
- - Harry Mudd and Gabriel Lorca
"Starfleet didn't start this war."
"Of course you did. 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?"
- - Gabriel Lorca and Harry Mudd
"You guys, this is so fucking cool!... I'm so sorry."
"No, cadet. It is fucking cool."
"You suffer from extreme photosensitivity."
"Well, we all got something, honey. You're seeking solace in the arms of a Human male. We don't even have the right number of organs for you. Why so hard up?"
- - L'Rell and Gabriel Lorca
"How dare you treat me like one of your xenoanthropology subjects! You're not an enemy, Burnham, you are a proven predator! And I know this, not only because my instincts tell me that you are, but because your actions show me that you are. Saving this tardigrade will neither bring back, nor change the fact that this is exactly the kind of behavior that killed Captain Georgiou."
- - Saru, scolding Michael Burnham for disobeying his orders regarding the tardigrade
"You can't walk away from me, Lorca! I'm coming for you, you hear?! You haven't seen the last of Harcourt Fenton Mudd!"
- - Harry Mudd, after Lorca and Tyler leave him in the prison cell
"Thank you, captain."
"For what? Dragging you back into the war on a ship with a target on its back?"
"There's no place I'd rather be."
- - Ash Tyler and Gabriel Lorca
"Permission to speak freely? Are you really afraid of me?"
"I am not. I am angry at you. Angry because of how much you stole from me. I am deeply jealous that I never got the chance you had."
"To be Captain Georgiou's first officer?"
"You stood by her side and learned everything she had to teach. The anticipated scenario, you would move up and out. Captain your own starship, and I would take your place. I never got that chance. If I had, I would have been more prepared for today."
"You did well. Very well. She would have thought so too."
- - Michael Burnham and Saru
"You should have the privilege to see the universe the way she did."
- - Michael Burnham, giving Georgiou's telescope to Saru
- This is the first episode to feature Harry Mudd that doesn't include the word "Mudd" in the episode's title.
Story and script
- Upon developing this episode, its writers wanted the installment to provide a deeper insight into Saru's personality. In retrospect, Executive Producer Aaron Harberts clarified that "the whole point of this episode" was to demonstrate that, although the Saru character had initially been portrayed as arguably too cautious or cowardly, this wasn't actually true of him. Harberts went on to say, "We really wanted to make sure that the audience could understand that those on the bridge would understand that the things that make him Saru are a giant strength." (AT: "Choose Your Pain")
- While writing Mudd in this episode, Harberts and fellow Executive Producer Gretchen J. Berg started with where he is by the time of TOS and then worked backward from there. "I think for us it was important to think about the origin of Harry Mudd," explained Harberts. "I mean, we've seen him in TOS, and at that point, he's already such a scoundrel. We were interested in sort of trying to figure out, well, when did he begin that path, when did he go down that path?" (AT: "Choose Your Pain")
- Gretchen J. Berg and Aaron Harberts occasionally referred to the Klingon prison scenes as their "black box theater scenes." ("Star Trek: Discovery: The Voyage of Season 1", DIS Season 1 DVD & Blu-ray special features)
- From the writers' perspective, ending the episode with Stamets' reflection lingering in a mirror represented foreshadowing and a moral that he had been wrong to take the alien creature's DNA and then insert it into his arm. However, the writers also concluded the episode on that mysterious note because they wanted the viewing audience to wonder. (AT: "Choose Your Pain")
- Early scripts named Mudd's insect friend "Bugsy". However, Ted Sullivan renamed him "Stuart" as an in-joke reference to Stuart Bloom from The Big Bang Theory. (AT: "Choose Your Pain"; )
- This episode marks the first time that a different actor other than Roger C. Carmel played Harry Mudd, as the character is instead portrayed by Rainn Wilson here. He described this outing as a "pretty meaty episode" in which Mudd "gets a lot to do." (Star Trek Magazine issue 189, p. 17) Wilson also remarked that this episode "so beautifully set up" Mudd's desire to seek revenge on Captain Lorca. (AT: "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad") Wilson elaborated, "I think it's a great episode. I think it's terrific. I think it works on a number of different levels [….] The writers did a terrific job of just kind of laying in [Mudd's backstory] [.…] So, I really love that aspect of it." 
- Lorca actor Jason Isaacs once stated that he had played his scenes involving Admiral Cornwell in this episode as though Lorca wasn't intimated by her and actually wasn't willing to take orders from anyone. However, Gretchen Berg disputed this assessment of Lorca, stating, "I feel like Lorca probably feels like he got called into the principal's office a little bit, and he didn't like that at all, and she doesn't like that he doesn't like it." Isaacs responded by admitting he had to accept Berg's interpretation. (AT: "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry")
- Working in collaboration, L'Rell actress Mary Chieffo and dialect coach Rea Nolan carefully extrapolated, for this episode, how L'Rell's native Klingonese might affect her accent when speaking English. They then wrote their ideas in a dialect sheet that Chieffo used to play her part in this episode. Concerning the document, she said, "That was definitely for that episode, because it was the first time we were exploring it." (AT: "Choose Your Pain")
- Mary Chieffo also enjoyed performing L'Rell's screams near the end of this episode, such as her yell when Lorca and Tyler are just about to depart from the Klingon prison ship. "I love that wail. That was a very fun one," she said. "Also I like the blast scream. That was a fun one to do [too]." (AT: "Choose Your Pain")
- Saru actor Doug Jones cited part of this episode as his favorite moment from DIS Season 1. This was, specifically, when Burnham and Saru are privately reconciled and Burnham presents Georgiou's telescope as a gift to Saru. Jones described the scene as "really lovely" and added, "It was a nice brother and sister moment, coming back together moment, that I loved." (AT: "The War Without, The War Within")
- The final scene of this installment was a highlight for actors Wilson Cruz and Anthony Rapp. "When I first read the tooth-brushing scene, I was really, um… grateful for that chance, you know, to show something really domestic and simple and heartfelt, but also not mushy," reminisced Rapp. "And it was also really sweet for Wilson and me to play that scene in that way." Cruz noted, "I love the brushing-the-teeth scene." ("Star Trek: Discovery: The Voyage of Season 1", DIS Season 1 DVD & Blu-ray special features)
Music and sound
- During the week of 1 October 2017, the post-production staffers were working on this episode's sound mix. (AT: "Will You Take My Hand?")
- None of the musical cues in this episode were released in the soundtrack collections Star Trek: Discovery - Season 1, Chapter 1 or Star Trek: Discovery - Season 1, Chapters 1 & 2.
- This episode takes place in December 2256, three weeks after the events of the previous episode, "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry", and seven months since the colloquially named Battle of the Binaries.
- Like Star Trek: First Contact, this episode starts with a sequence set in an unusual-looking environment soon revealed to have been a nightmare experienced by a main character (Picard in that case).
- In the teaser, Lorca mentions the Discovery having undertaken missions at Corvan II (which L'Rell later references also), Benzar, and the Ophiucus system. Although the actions of the ship and its crew at Corvan II are portrayed in "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry", the other missions have not been depicted in the series. However, Benzar is additionally referenced in a few other Star Trek productions. Though the Ophiucus system was never depicted before this episode, Ophiucus III was referenced in "Mudd's Women", the first produced episode to feature Harry Mudd.
- This outing also reveals that the Klingons in Star Trek: Discovery take prisoners, whereas, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Admiral Kirk tells Saavik, "The Klingons don't take prisoners," a statement thereafter contradicted many times in Star Trek.
- In this episode, a list of notable captains heavily references previous Star Trek, listing Robert April, Jonathan Archer, Matthew Decker, Philippa Georgiou, and Christopher Pike. This is the first live-action episode to acknowledge the existence of April, though Star Trek tie-in fiction based on previous live-action Star Trek series had, prior to this episode's release, already done so, and April actually appears in the series finale of Star Trek: The Animated Series, "The Counter-Clock Incident". However, the animated series was considered apocryphal for many years, and literary sources remain so.
- This episode features the earliest appearance of Harry Mudd chronologically, set before earlier-produced episodes TOS: "Mudd's Women", "I, Mudd" and TAS: "Mudd's Passion" as well as the later-produced first season DIS entry "Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" and the Star Trek: Short Treks episode "The Escape Artist". As with his introduction in this episode, Mudd is strangled, by Kirk rather than Lorca, in "I, Mudd".
- This episode reveals that Hugh Culber, who first appeared in "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry", is not the Discovery's chief medical officer, as he mentions that he is about to assist the ship's CMO with an Andorian tonsillectomy.
- This episode marks the debut of DIS regular character Ash Tyler and the first appearance of recurring character Rhys.
- Though characters have used strong cursewords in Star Trek films before – notably, the use of "bullshit" in Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek, and "shit" in Star Trek Generations – this marks the first use of such strong language in a series (though the term "bollocks" was used in DS9: "Time's Orphan" and the French curse word "merde" was uttered by Jean-Luc Picard in TNG: "The Last Outpost" and "Elementary, Dear Data"), and the first use of "fuck" (or a variation thereof) in the franchise (outside of licensed tie-in fiction, such as the Pocket Enterprise novel Kobayashi Maru by Andy Mangels and Michael A. Martin, and the Vanguard novel Precipice by David Mack).
- At one point in this installment, Cadet Tilly starts to talk about the Daystrom Institute. This references duotronics inventor Richard Daystrom, who appears in TOS: "The Ultimate Computer". The institute itself has also been referenced multiple times in Star Trek. It was seen for the first time in PIC: "Remembrance".
- Here, Saru repeatedly uses the same command Lorca said for engaging the spore drive in "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry": "Go."
- Stamets endangering his life in order to enable the ship to flee a dangerous situation recalls Spock doing the same thing in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan and, in the alternate reality, James T. Kirk doing so in Star Trek Into Darkness. In all three cases, the jeopardized character is behind a glass partition in a closed-off section of engineering when they lose consciousness. For Spock and Kirk, the experience proved temporarily fatal, whereas Stamets recovers from his brush with death (though Tilly asks, before he regains consciousness, if he is indeed dead). Also, like Kirk with Spock in The Wrath of Khan, Saru attempts to talk with Stamets before realizing he has placed himself in jeopardy to save the ship and is consequently not available to speak to.
- Although Owosekun's operations console refers to Stamets as the chief engineer at one point, Ted Sullivan discarded this as a production mistake, quipping, "I'd say he's the chief engineer of spore drive but not of engineering." 
- The final scene of this episode reveals that Paul Stamets and Hugh Culber are in a relationship with each other. This was the first same-sex relationship regularly depicted in a Star Trek TV series, and followed the introduction of the husband of the alternate-reality Hikaru Sulu in Star Trek Beyond.
- Numerous segments of footage were deleted from this episode. Three such scenes are included on the DIS Season 1 DVD and Blu-ray.
- The first deleted scene, presumably from the start of the first act, involves Saru, as acting captain, recording a personal log entry in the captain's ready room while waiting for Lorca to return from the strategy briefing. In the log entry, Saru reveals that the stardate is 4774.7 and that he feels unsettled and wary. The only thing he has found to warrant these apprehensions is a nearby unmapped rogue planet, which he says he has christened "The Orb of Our Undoing". Receiving notification that Starfleet Command is attempting to contact him, he then leaves the ready room in preparation to receive the transmission, straightening his uniform jacket as he departs.
- Another moment that was ultimately excised is a scene extension that follows Owosekun reporting to Saru that Commander Stamets' life signs are failing. In this version of the scene, green screen is visible through the window-viewscreen during the shot of Owosekun, and, in response to what she tells him, Saru orders, while leaving the captain's chair, for security and medical officers to head to engineering. Outside of the engineering test bay, he rendezvous with Ensign Tilly and a group of other low-ranking officers who have been locked out of the room by Stamets. After Tilly tells him what has happened, Saru instructs the computer to override the lock using his command authorization code – kappa-beta-six. He then leads the other officers through the door and down into the room's ground level, as he does in the final version of the episode, the only difference being that this version of the scene doesn't have voice-over from the computer stating, "Warning. Failure to initiate spore-drive deactivation sequence. Spore chamber active. Density at sixty-eight percent."
- The third deleted scene again features Saru and was to take place immediately after Burnham and Tilly release the tardigrade into space. In the scene, Saru walks out of the doors from the ready room and strolls onto the bridge (where green screen is again visible through the window-viewscreen). On the bridge, he tells the bridge crew they can be proud that the day has been "a job well done," an announcement they applaud. He initially reacts to the applause with a look of surprise but then slightly bows in response and subsequently wanders back into the ready room. The footage then proceeds as it is in the final version of the episode, with him about to hear the computer's assessment of his command performance before he stops it, confident that he knows what he has done.
- Also deleted from this episode was an extended, humorous moment that showed Mary Wiseman, in her role of Tilly, eating. "She did about twenty seconds of just eating a potato chip," recalled Wilson Cruz, "when Lee Rose was directing; she just let the camera roll on it, because it was like, 'Wow.' I never knew…." Remarked Aaron Harberts, "It will see the light of day somewhere." (AT: "Despite Yourself")
Reception and aftermath
- AT: "Choose Your Pain" discusses the making of, and events in, this episode.
- Prior to the release of this episode, Aaron Harberts commented about the relationship between Stamets and Culber, "The moments that are most special to me are the moments where they're downloading about their day while they're brushing their teeth."  Harberts was also proud of how he and the episode's other writers had written Mudd. "I really think that his monologue about how wartime has changed him and many others was an interesting piece of his history," Harberts enthused. (AT: "Choose Your Pain")
- Exactly a week before this episode was released, Gretchen Berg revealed, in AT: "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry", that it would explain "really in detail" the Discovery's spore drive. Berg herself was very approving of the scenes between Lorca and Cornwell. "I think that it's an interesting sort of checking in," she remarked. (AT: "The Butcher's Knife Cares Not for the Lamb's Cry") Berg additionally commented, "I also really love the performances in 'Choose Your Pain'." ("Star Trek: Discovery: The Voyage of Season 1", DIS Season 1 DVD & Blu-ray special features)
- The DIS writing staff highly approved of how Rainn Wilson originated his portrayal of Harry Mudd in this episode. "Once we saw him do Harry Mudd in episode five, we just, like, loved him," noted Erika Lippoldt. 
- Both Aaron Harberts and Gretchen Berg were surprised that, from the moment viewers saw Stamets and Culber brushing their teeth together, the relationship between these two characters began to gather many followers and a lot of audience investment, a development which Harberts and Berg had thought wouldn't arise until later in the first season. (AT: "Despite Yourself")
- After Trek host and Star Trek fan Matt Mira was impressed by Saru's command skills in this episode. "Just as a viewer of the show, I really think Saru knocked it out of the park in the captain's chair," Mira exclaimed. He was also wowed by how much care the creative team had evidently taken in devising the way L'Rell speaks English, attention to detail which he described as "great," also considering it "awesome" that they used a dialect sheet for her English dialogue in this episode. (AT: "Choose Your Pain")
- Jordan Hoffman, host of Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast, referred to the bathroom scene at the end of this episode as "profound" and "so perfectly done" because he felt that having Stamets and Culber brush their teeth together implied a high level of intimacy between the pair of characters. He also commented that this depiction of a domestic partnership between two men "will certainly get no shortage of cheers from people in the audience." ("Episode 68: 'Choose Your Pain' Recap & Anthony Rapp Interview!", Engage: The Official Star Trek Podcast)
- The episode's use of "fuck", and its violence, caused the Space channel to receive criticism from the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council, after the episode was broadcast uncut in its regular 8 pm time slot. The CBSC deemed Space had violated their rules for not broadcasting the episode without the required warning icon. 
- 30 September 2017: Title publicly revealed 
- 15 October 2017: Premiere airdate on CBS All Access
- 16 October 2017: International release date (outside Canada and the USA)
- 29 October 2020: US broadcast premiere on the CBS Television Network.
Video and DVD releases
Links and references
- Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
- Doug Jones as Saru
- Shazad Latif as Ash Tyler
- Anthony Rapp as Paul Stamets
- Mary Wiseman as Sylvia Tilly
- Jayne Brook as Katrina Cornwell
- Mary Chieffo as L'Rell
- Wilson Cruz as Hugh Culber
- Rainn Wilson as Harcourt Fenton Mudd
- Conrad Coates as Terral
- Emily Coutts as Keyla Detmer
- Julianne Grossman as Discovery Computer
- Patrick Kwok-Choon as Rhys
- Sara Mitich as Airiam
- Simon Northwood as Shuttle Pilot
- Oyin Oladejo as Joann Owosekun
- Christopher Russell as Milton Richter
- Kirk Salesman as Shuttle Klingon 2
- Tyler Evan Webb as Shuttle Klingon 1
- Nick Alachiotis as Klingon
- Ray Cammaert as Vulcan Instructor
- Steve Gagne as Klingon
- Adam Winlove-Smith as Klingon
- Jason Lee Bell as stunt Klingon
- Mustafa Bulut as stunt double for Shazad Latif
- Nicole Dickinson as stunt double for Mary Chieffo
- Geoff Meech as stunt double for Jason Isaacs
Acamar; acting captain; Adelphous; Andorian; animal kingdom; Antares Minor; anthropomorphism; April, Robert; Archer, Jonathan; au; Azure Nebula; Baron Grimes; Battle of the Binaries; Benzar; Benzite system; Beta Lankal; black alert; Buran, USS; Buran casualties; Carraya; classified; confession; Conners; Corvan II; Corvan system; creditor; cryptobiosis; D7-class; Daystrom Institute; Deep Space Station K-7; distress beacon; DNA; docking bay; DSC 01; Decker, Matthew; Earth; English language; eugenics; eye; Federation database; floor show; fucking; freeway; frontal lobe; genome; Georgiou, Philippa; horizontal gene transfer; hot stone massage; Hromi Cluster; Humans; hypospray; Iconians; induction coil; instinct; Iowa; Jefferson; Khitomer; Klach D'kel Brakt; Klingon Bird-of-Prey; Klingon raider; L'Rell's battle cruiser; Maranville, Steven; Mempa sector; Mempa system; moon; Morska system; Mudd, Stella; murder; mycelial network; mycelium; nervous system; Ophiucus system; pain; photosensitivity; Pike, Christopher; portobello; predator; prey; Prototaxites stellaviatori; Qo'noS; red alert; replication catalyst; rescue mission; Ripper; Rura Penthe; snoring; soul; spore chamber; Starbase 1-type (unnamed); Starbase 157; Starbase 343; Starfleet General Orders and Regulations; stress; Stuart; subspace domain; symbiosis; tardigrade (macroscopic); tardigrade (microscopic); tonsillectomy; toothbrush; torture; tractor beam; unnamed planet; unnamed Starfleet ships; Vulcan; warp trail; xenoanthropology; Yeager, USS; Zaldan; Zan Periculi
- "Choose Your Pain" at StarTrek.com, the official Star Trek website
- "Choose Your Pain" at Memory Beta, the wiki for licensed Star Trek works
- "Discovering Your Pain" at MissionLogPodcast.com, a Roddenberry Star Trek podcast
- "Choose Your Pain" at Wikipedia
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