Lorca is captured by the Klingons and Discovery must go to his rescue, while Burnham worries about the effects of the spore drive on the tardigrade.
Tropes in this episode include:
- Artistic License Biology: While explaining the workings of the spore drive, Burnham states that Ripper, "like its microscopic cousins on Earth," is capable of integrating foreign DNA into its genome by horizontal gene transfer. This plot point appears to have been inspired by a 2014 scientific paper that was found to be erroneous (the authors apparently mistook DNA of surrounding organisms as having been imported into the tardigrade specimen when it hadn't been).
- Aliens Speaking English: The Klingons, L'Rell in particular, speak English to their human prisoners. L'Rell notes that, as a spy, learning the language of one's enemies has advantages. The guards seem to know just enough to play their game with the prisoners.L'Rell: Have you ever been tortured, Captain?
Lorca: Your English, it's excellent.
L'Rell: I'm descended from spies. Languages are useful, particularly when it comes to understanding those who seek to destroy the Klingon empire.
- As You Know: Stamets finally explains how the spore drive works, even though Tilly already knows and Burnham has presumably had it explained already.
- Big Damn Heroes:
- Lorca reappears to gun down a Klingon about to get a jump on Tyler, and then wounds L'Rell, allowing Tyler to get away from her.
- The Discovery beams Lorca and Tyler off the Klingon raider just before they get bounced by their four pursuers.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: Lorca comments that human males don't have the right number of organs for a Klingon female. Evidently it's not just internal organs that they have two of.
- Boldly Coming: Lorca taunts L'Rell for having sex with a human male prisoner, Tyler.
- Continuity Nod:
- Mudd mentions his wife, Stella.
- Saru asks the computer to list the most decorated Starfleet captains. The list contains, alphabetically: Robert April (first captain of the Enterprise NCC-1701 according to Star Trek: The Animated Series), Jonathan Archer (Star Trek: Enterprise), Matthew Decker (commander of the USS Constellation from the episode "The Doomsday Machine"), Phillipa Georgiou, and Christopher Pike (the Enterprise's current skipper, who will show up next season and then remain in the chair for over a decade before turning the ship over to a certain James T. Kirk).
- The scene where Stamets jacks himself into the spore drive shares similarities with Spock's death scene from Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. In both cases, a science officer risks his life in a chamber of the ship's engine room to ensure a successful Hyperspeed Escape, the commanding officer comes down to the engine room to see the science officer lying unconscious and possibly dead, and the officer comes to and asks if the ship is all right. The difference is that Spock makes a Final Speech before dying, while Stamets laughs like a maniac before recovering.
- Cutting the Knot: When Saru sets up a program to compare his performance as captain to that of some of Starfleet's more decorated officers, he justifies this to the computer by saying he's trying to test his performance in light of a present disruption (Burnham). When the computer suggests he simply eliminate the disruption, he says that he can't without elaborating.
- Dirty Coward: Harry Mudd, as expected. Whenever it's time for the prisoners to choose their pain, he always passes the beatings on to someone else. He's also passing information to the Klingons in exchange for softer treatment.
- Disintegrator Ray: The Klingon disruptors are set to vaporize whatever they hit. They may not even have stun settings. The only reason L'Rell doesn't end up a cloud of mist is because she was only grazed, but she's still badly scarred.
- Dispense with the Pleasantries: Stamets isn't impressed with Burnham's attempt at flattery.Burnham: Lieutenant Stamets. Your spore drive is genius. Beyond genius. What you've achieved for the war effort, for the whole of science itself, it's a contribution—
Stamets: I know I'm brilliant. What are you trying to get out of me?
- Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: Defied. This episode strongly implies that L'Rell has been raping Ash Tyler as a form of torture, which is played as something horrific.
- Exact Words: When Saru asks if the tardigrade is ready for another jump, Stamets only says, "We are able to jump, Commander." He's not lying, but he didn't answer the question, either.
- Eye Scream: Lorca treats his light sensitivity by using an autoinjector that delivers a needle right into the front of his eyeball.
- Facial Horror: A near miss from a Klingon disruptor cooks the left side of L'Rell's face.
- Fate Worse than Death: Lorca claims that he spared the crew of the USS Buran from Klingon Cold-Blooded Torture by killing them before they could be taken prisoner.Lorca: I knew what awaited them on Qo'noS. Degradation. Torture. Slow, public death. It's the Klingon way to spread terror. Not my crew. Not on my watch.
- Feed the Mole: Lorca intentionally dropped information to Mudd and Tyler just to see if they could be trusted. When L'Rell repeats things he said that only Mudd could have heard (Tyler was only present for some of them), he knows Mudd is responsible and deduces that his pet bug is acting as a listening device because the bug was present for what he told Tyler.
- Finishing Stomp: The Klingon guard ends his beating by stomping on the head of the one selected. Tyler and Lorca use this to get the upper hand and overpower the guards by allowing Tyler to take the beating and then dodging the final hit.
- Lorca is surprised that Tyler survived seven months of Klingon torture, thinking that no human could last that long.
- Tyler attributes his survival to L'Rell's affection for him. Lorca has no reason to question this, but the viewers know this is impossible: L'Rell was stranded with the rest of her crew until very recently.
- Going Down with the Ship: Defied—Lorca was the only one who survived the destruction of the Buran.
- Green-Eyed Monster: Saru admits that most of his hostility towards Burnham stems from her being Georgiou's first officer and their mutual admiration of her. He had hoped that when she moved on to her own command, he would finally get to study under Georgiou, whose death prevented that from ever happening. Once he admits it, his threat ganglia stop coming out in her presence.
- Heroic Sacrifice: Stamets risks his own life to act as the biological control of the spore drive to spare the tardigarde.
- Ignored Expert: Burnham, Tilly, Culber, and Stamets all try to warn Saru that using the spore drive is harming Ripper — and Saru ignores all of them and orders them to prepare for another jump.
- I Will Only Slow You Down: Tyler tells Lorca to leave him behind, so Lorca does promising to come back when he finds a way off the ship.
- It Can Think: Burnham states she thinks Ripper is sentient. Dr. Culber's examinations also lead him to concur with Burnham's suspicions.
- Jerkass Has a Point:
- Though Saru clearly behaves like a bully, Burnham did disregard his orders to wait until Lorca returned to discuss the issues around Ripper.
- However rude Stamets may be until his first trip through Mushroomland mellows him out, he is right when he tells Burnham that using the tardigrade in the spore drive was her idea, and if she wants to put a stop to it, she needs to come up with something better.Stamets: To be clear, the Tardigrade was your contribution. I never intended to utilise a living creature as a navigation tool.
Burnham: I didn't, either.
Stamets: You say "portabella", I say "portobello". You are the cause of this situation, Burnham. (sees her lips move silently) What are you doing with your mouth?
Burnham: I am swallowing the urge to set the record straight.
Stamets: That won't get us anywhere. Do you want to be right, or do you want to fix this?
- Jerkass Realization: Saru acknowledges that much of his attitude toward Burnham was due to his being jealous that she was able to learn directly under Georgiou and he never had that chance.
- The Mole: Harry Mudd has a bug on his pet bug that the Klingons are using to listen to the prisoners.
- My God, What Have I Done?: Tilly and Stamets look remorseful when they use Ripper for one more jump, and even more so when it shrivels up afterwards.
- Mythology Gag:
- Mudd claims the war broke out because of Starfleet "boldly going where no one had gone before".
- This won't be the last time a Starfleet captain leaves Mudd trapped in a prison they've both spent the entire episode in as retaliation for Mudd's past duplicity.
- Amusingly, Mudd claims his problems started when he borrowed money from questionable sources in order to buy a moon to impress a woman he loved so she'd marry him. In the aforementioned future imprisonment being trapped there with multiple copies of his wife is what he considers cruel and unusual punishment.
- No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: Tyler delivers a vicious pounding to L'Rell for the way she sexually abused him.
- No Plans, No Prototype, No Backup: Played with. Stamets has provided the schematics that allows Starfleet to duplicate all of the technical components to the spore drive, but without the tardigrade they cannot make use of it in any practical sense.
- Pay Evil unto Evil: Lorca and Tyler leave Mudd behind because of his betrayal of other Federation prisoners.
- Pet the Dog:
- Mudd can easily watch other human beings get brutally beaten (and dragged away for torture and rape), but he does seem to be genuinely horrified when Lorca attempts to squash Mudd's bugged bug, Stewart. (In Mudd's next appearance he claims that Stewart ditched him, so it's possible that the insect was a sentient being.)
- As his last act before Lorca can resume his post, Saru orders Burnham to save Ripper, thus allowing her and Tilly to release it back into the wild.
- Precision F-Strike: For the very first time in any official Star Trek series:Tilly: You guys, this is so fucking cool! (Beat) I'm so sorry.
Stamets: No, cadet. It is fucking cool.
- Professor Guinea Pig: Stamets tests the tardigrade gene therapy on himself to make the spore drive work.
- Properly Paranoid:
- At the strategy briefing, Cornwell voices concern that the Klingons have identified Discovery as Starfleet's secret weapon. Lorca's capture and interrogation by L'Rell justify Starfleet's concerns.
- Lorca is suspicious of both his cellmates and arranges his own little test of whether or not either of them can be trusted. He's right to suspect Mudd, who's been feeding intel to the Klingons, and as for Tyler oh, Gabe, you have no idea...
- Put on a Bus: Ripper is released into space by Burnham with enough spores to enable it to jump to wherever it wants to go, now that they have a workable alternative.
- "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Mudd makes it clear that he blames Starfleet for the current war and his own personal suffering.Mudd: I used to have a life, Captain, a good one. A respectable business. That all got blown up because of your goddamn war.
Lorca: Starfleet didn't start this war.
Mudd: 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?
Tyler: You're siding with the enemy?
Mudd: I'm not siding with anyone. But I sure as hell understand why the Klingons pushed back. Starfleet arrogance. 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. And we're sick and tired of getting caught in your cross fire.
- Red Shirt: Lorca's shuttle pilot is killed as Lorca himself is captured.
- Relationship Reveal: Although long spoiled if someone had read articles from before the series first aired, if someone had not, that Stamets and Culber are a couple. Making their previous interactions much more literal.
- The Reveal: Lorca destroyed his previous ship, the USS Buran, after it was disabled by the Klingons. He rationalizes this as sparing them torture and slow death by the Klingons, though it does not explain how he survived. He hasn't had the problem with his eyes corrected from the injuries he sustained in the incident as a form of self-punishment.
- Sarcasm Mode: When Harry meets Lorca.Lorca: Where are we?
Mudd: On a resort off Antares Minor. Try the spa. The hot-stone massage is delightful.
Lorca: Where are we?
Mudd: Typical Starfleet. No fun at all.
- Sherlock Scan: Saru uses his instinctive and cultural background to recognize that the behavior of the four trailing Klingon raiders is akin to pack predators and that the fifth raider is their prey, making Lorca the likely pilot of the raider.
- Sleep-Mode Size: Ripper goes into a state of cryptobiosis after the latest spore drive use proves too much, expelling most of the water in its body and shrinking to about the size of a beach ball.
- So Proud of You: After their heart to heart described above, Michael assures Saru that despite their differences, his actions today were exemplary and that Philippa would have agreed with her assessment, even gifting him with Philippa's telescope as a way of saying sorry.
- Spotting the Thread: When Tyler mentions that he was captured during the first engagement with the Klingons, Lorca deduces that he would not have been held for such a length of time unless there was something his captors were keeping him around for. Tyler admits that L'Rell likes him personally, which has kept him alive.
- Stealth Pun: Mudd's pet bug is carrying a listening device.
- Teleportation Rescue: Discovery beams Tyler and Lorca out of the stolen raider just before it's destroyed.
- Time Skip: About a month has passed since the previous episode. After their success at Corvan 2, the Discovery has used the spore drive in several other engagements, turning the tide of the war.
- Title Drop: The Klingons say "Choose your pain" whenever they come to beat somebody up.
- Tyrant Takes the Helm: Acting Captain Saru barks orders, disregards the advice of those under him, and generally throws his weight around in the name of completing the mission. Justified, as he admits to Burnham later that he didn't have any of the mentoring that she had as first officer to Captain Georgiou, and he is really learning as he goes.
- The Unreveal: When first assuming command, Saru instructs the computer to check his command decisions against the ones made by the most illustrious captains in Starfleet history. At the end of the episode, he starts to ask the computer to tell him the results, only to belay the order because "I know what I did." We never do find out how he measured up, though he certainly thinks he'd have been found wanting.
- Wake Up Fighting: Lorca's reaction to Mudd examining his unconscious body is to wake up and grab him by the throat.Mudd: Ouch!
Lorca: Who are you?
Mudd: My name is Mudd, Harcourt Fenton Mudd, "Harry" for short, and I reiterate...ouch!
- Wetware CPU: The giant tardigrade acts as this for the spore drive, forcing Stamets to inject himself with a genetic treatment to act as a substitute when the tardigrade suffers a physiological breakdown and must be released.
- We Will Meet Again: When Lorca and Tyler leave Mudd in the cell."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!"
- Wham Shot: Stamets turns away from the bathroom mirror — and his reflection stays there for several seconds with a really creepy smile before copying his action.
- Wounded Gazelle Gambit: Tyler reveals that he was pretending to be more psychologically broken then he really was in order to wait for the right person to make an escape with as it was at least a two man job. Mudd is put out Tyler conned him.