[Warning: This post contains spoilers from Episode 5 of Star Trek: Discovery, "Choose Your Pain." Read at your own risk.]
In Sunday night's episode, we find out that not only is the tardigrade sentient, it doesn't like being forced to navigate the spore drive. The stress from one too many jumps sends the creature into survival mode, prompting Paul Stamets, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) to look for other alternatives.
They do so under a serious time crunch after Captain Lorca is taken captive aboard a Klingon prison vessel and finds himself sharing a cell with notorious intergalactic criminal and Star Trek fan favorite, Harry Mudd (played by guest star Rainn Wilson).
With the tardigrade out of action and humans seemingly the only viable replacement, Stamets makes the bold decision to test that theory by injecting himself with the tardigrade DNA. Fortunately for the lieutenant - who is based on the real mycologist of the same name - the experiment pays off and they're able to rescue Lorca. However, as we saw in the episode's final moments, it could come with some serious consequences.
TV Guide hit up Anthony Rapp to weigh in on that game-changing decision including why he risked his life for an untested theory. He also spoke up about Stamets' relationship with Lorca and whether or not the science officer would start warming up to Burnham.
How badly did you feel for the tardigrade in this episode?
I felt pretty badly for the sport. I'm a deep animal lover. It was definitely sad that that was one of the things that was happening. At the same time, I knew what the epissde was exploring so I was proud of the storytelling.
Towards the end, we find out that Stamets injected himself with the tardigrade DNA. How sure was he that that would work and why did he do it?
Rapp: I think I was pretty sure it was gonna work based on all the homework that we had all been doing...that the closest relative that could absorb the DNA and implement it would be a human being...so I was pretty sure it was gonna work. And the reason I did it was that it was the only option. And I wasn't gonna tell anybody about it because people were gonna say, "No don't do it." I wasn't gonna get authorization to do it so I had to just go and do it. It's just one of those things that had to happen. I couldn't stand by and let another creature be enslaved and forced into servitude and forced to do something that it wasn't consenting to do. At the same time, we had to make it work so I had to do what I had to do.
What convinced Stamets to change his mind about using the tardigrade with the spore drive? Was it Dr. Culber and Burnham's testimonies or the thought of losing his spore drive?
Rapp: I think it's the care for the sentient being. But I really believe that I wasn't totally...either willfully ignorant or just blissfully ignorant of the impact that it was happening until it was brought to my attention. It's not like I was willfully going, "Oh, who cares about this creature?" I was just not really aware of it. You know, nose to the grindstone making this spore drive work, not totally aware that the creature was suffering because of it. Once it's brought to my attention, of course I have to go, "Well Burnham, you started this, you have to help finish it." But wasn't in any way shape or form saying I was gonna ignore the problem. It's not like I wanna cause the suffering of a creature. Stamets is a biologist so I believe he has a regard for all life.
We got to see the softer side of Stamets like the scene where he's brushing his teeth with his husband, Dr. Culber. Can we expect more of those sweet moments like that in the series and how important is it for you to have that included?
Rapp: I think that the way that our relationship has developed feels very human and rich and I'm really happy with what the writers have given us to do.
What can you tease about their relationship this season?
Rapp: I can say that it feels very honest and interesting and complex and rich. And I'm grateful for it.
Star Trek: Discovery is very secretive. Do you find yourself doing specific things to make sure you're not going to leak a spoiler?
Rapp: I first got the word that I was doing the show a year ago. I mean I told my boyfriend, but I had to sit on it and that was a first for me, to have to be so secretive. So I've gotten pretty well accustomed to what it means to have to be secretive. I'm profoundly anti-spoiler as a consumer of culture. I avoid it like the plague...so it's not like I have to bite my tongue.
Stamets has an interesting relationship with Captain Lorca. What does he like or respect about him and what doesn't he?
Rapp: There's a real understandable tension around being pressured to make something happen for reasons that aren't always the most noble of reasons. The pressure has been to make the ship work so we can win the war. And while that's a good thing, yes we wanna win the war, it still is profoundly upsetting that the technology that was built around the notion of being able to uncover the mysteries of the universe is now being used in a militaristic fashion. So it's a source of anguish for Stamets. And then Lorca also happens to not expect any real desire for the scientific aspect of it to be realized. He's pretty much single-minded about it. So I think there's a lot of understandable conflict there but I think that's interesting conflict..
What about his dynamic with Burnham? Will he start to warm up to her?
Rapp: I think he's already starting to warm up to her. You have to earn some affection and respect from Stamets. He doesn't give it away. And so she demonstrates her scientific acumen and her ability to collaborate and her passionate steadfastness in the face of a challenge and so all those things have earned his respect. And I think it continues to get earned.
How would you best describe this version of Star Trek?
Rapp: I think that it's really, in a way, it sort of has the DNA of The Original Series and Deep Space Nine in many ways. In a way, we're asking longtime Trek viewers and fans to recalibrate their way of approaching watching a Star Trek series because...the whole show is predicated on the idea that things aren't always what they seem at first glance and layers continue to be revealed and complexity continues to be revealed. So just when you think you know someone or something, you might discover there's a lot more to it than that. So I think that in some ways, those have been themes of individual Star Trek episodes but we're getting to paint a much broader canvas with it.
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