Star Trek Discovery: Captain Lorca

STAR TREK: DISCOVERY posterI read this comment on Reddit and decided to repost it. You can read the original here. There are some spoilers, so if you haven’t watched the series and intend to, you might want to avoid reading this until after viewing episode 5.

I’m an Iraq vet and Star Trek nerd and I feel like I have some insight to this character that not a lot of other fans have. I’d like to share that insight but there’s no short way of doing it so I hope everyone will forgive me if I open the reel and let some line out on this one.

I think we should be looking at Lorca like a soldier with PTSD. He’s thought he was fine, he’s told himself he’s fine, and then the next thing he knows he’s becoming violent with the people he holds dear before he can even stop himself. He’s paying the price for being the kind of man you send into combat.

I have some experience with this and it’s a really tortured state of mind. This is the sort of event that leaves you feeling vulnerable and confused. And it’s a weird sort of vulnerability because what you’re vulnerable against are all your own fears and doubt about yourself. You’re scared of what you might do and after encountering the enemy enough times you’re scared of how quickly they could appear and start fucking up your day. What no one else is picking up about the scene where he turns on Cornwall is that he’s so damaged he’s starting to sleep with weapons. That is a bigmongous red flag that he’s having trouble, not that he’s evil.

The phaser in the small of his back at the end isn’t an ominous sign. Notice he didn’t even set off his first officer’s danger sense. That’s because there’s actually nothing shifty about that and he represents no danger to his own people, of whom Cornwall is a member. He’s scared and he’s trying to be prepared. I can relate to that. He’s living in a world where it’s possible he could be reading a book one minute and in hand to hand combat in the next and it terrifies him. He’s lost a crew and he really hates himself for that and he doesn’t want to have that happen again and have the reason he couldn’t stop it be that his phaser was in a drawer or on a table nearby when the moment he needed it came.

I think what we’re looking at in the final scene is a man who’s trying to take a trusted friend seriously and subjecting himself to serious self examination. He’s not looking in that window thinking cold calculating thoughts. He’s examining himself and trying to figure out what the right thing to do is. He’s blaming himself and second guessing his choices. He’s thinking “They took her hostage and you just let them!”, “How did you not see this coming you fucking idiot?”, “WHY DON’T YOU JUST DO SOMETHING?”.

I watch this scene and I see a man tortured by the difference between what he should be and what the reality of his situation has made him, because people who haven’t been in that situation don’t really understand what it takes to breed and condition and season an accomplished fighter and killer.

If you examine a lot of us who came back from the war one thing you will find is that we feel more suited to those moments where bullets are flying and people need to be killed. We’re still pretty fucking good at that, but it’s the rest of life we can’t get re-accustomed to. To this day you could put me in downtown Mosul in a firefight and I’m going to do the things I’m supposed to. I’m going to rack up a bodycount and do whatever it takes to make sure enemies die and my buds live. I’ll mow people down and cheerily put extra rounds in the ones that go down so we can all be sure they don’t get back up. I will shoot, move, communicate, and do my job in that situation like a well-oiled gear. I’ll even enjoy it. Putting bad dudes down means good people stay up so in those moments where bad dudes need to be put down it’s not even going to cause a particular lot of stress for soldiers like Lorca to pull the trigger and dispatch an enemy. If you have a solid sense of who needs killing and who needs protecting then the killing part is actually pretty enjoyable because you know it means they won’t be hurting anyone.

I know I probably seem like Ted Fucking Bundy for being able to talk about killing like this to normal people. But I’m not. I’m going to run to the gas station, grab some beers, and when I get back I’ll talk some about what combat does to people, how you select for people who might have to deal with combat, the realities of violence, and how it pertains to how we should view Captain Lorca because I don’t think this is a character that’s going to fit particularly well into any previously established popular trope.

First, fighting wars is hard and being the kind of man who commands the men who fight wars is even harder. It is not for everyone and there’s personality types that just can’t do it. The personalities that can are not all flowers and roses. The ideal sort of commander is almost some weird kind of benevolent and self-critical sociopath.

When you’re selecting for a warfighter you’re looking for someone who can feel complete and utter contempt for an enemy and kill them gleefully while having protective feelings towards civilians. You don’t want guys who see the humanity in everyone and want to sit around drum circles or shit. If a marine pisses on the corpse of an enemy he’s actually doing his job right. He is there to hate and to kill certain people for what they’ve done. You can’t get a guy like that without allowing for the kind of guy who might just drain his bladder on a fresh corpse while it cools. It’s hard to get the kind of people who can hate enough to kill without hating enough to engage in what I’d call extracurricular activities. In reality we should just accept that and appreciate that pissing on someone really isn’t as bad as riddling them with bullets and ending their life. If you can do the greater then balking at the lesser makes no sense at all.

It isn’t pretty. It isn’t ideal. But if you need bodies piled up it’s the kind of guy you select for. Same with the ones who kill wounded. Show a warfighter that the enemy uses deceptive suicide tactics and they’re going to adapt. Find two or three enemies with grenades positioned under them so that the spoon comes off when you move them, and you’re very quickly going to become the kind of guy who shoots injured and disabled enemies on the battlefield because you can’t be sure it’s not a ruse to kill you. Instead of risking your life on every enemy casualty it’s just easier and more sensible to shoot them where they lay because that is what they’ve taught you that you have to do to survive.

Just imagine rolling up on a wounded man in Iraq in July. He’s wearing a winter coat and beckoning you to come closer and begging for your help in broken english. The only right answer to this is splashing his brains all over the fucking sidewalk. If you’re so determined to take the high road that you walk towards this man, then congratulations because you just died and in doing so you’ve made all your friends and buddies more eager to kill and less likely to trust any surrender or plea for aid. The answers to these sorts of problems aren’t easy and inked in blood.

And none of this is easy. The more you do it the more it wears on you and the harder it is to go back to normal life.

Lorca is dealing with all of that. He knows Cornwall wants to take his command but I think this incident in bed and the talk they had has left him so shaken that he’s going through cycles of doubt and he sees the fault in himself and wants to try and do this her way. I see a man suffering and trying to get himself right. He faults himself for the way thing went between them. She was so fearful of him that an admiral left a captain’s room partially dressed. How badly must she have wanted to get away from him for that, given the far-reaching implications of what that can mean? This was a scene about the loss of trust and vulnerability. Lorca understands what it means for her to leave like that.

Plot-wise I think what we’ll eventually see is him trying this her way. He’s mired in enough self-doubt and self-loathing and paranoia to knock down a horse, so I think he’s going to try to put his trust in Cornwall when he feels he can’t trust himself. And in the end I think Cornwall will be recovered, but she’ll appreciate that you can’t accomplish these sorts of tasks and goals without men like Lorca and that they need the room to maneuver.

Or maybe she dies, and maybe Lorca tries to do everything her way. Maybe he puts her faith in her like that, has that faith shattered with her death, and this sets him traveling further down the path he already is.

It’s early in the series so it’s hard to say, but compared to Picard I think we’re going to find that Picard is the kind of man you send in to win battles and moral victories and that Lorca is the kind of man you send to win wars Picard would lose. Personally I don’t think you can have the kind of civilization that produces a Picard without a lot of men like Lorca killing to defend it whenever necessary.

I’ll end this by saying one thing we all know is true: If at the end of this series Lorca was to be charged with warcrimes, then Picard would make for one hell of a defense attorney. I think in the end that Lorca is going to be the kind of man Picard would defend in court.

Going a bit off the path now, but how perfect would it have been if Picard defended Tom Riker after the events of Defiant on DS9? Going way off path but Imagine Picard serving as legal counsel to Tom Riker after having been imprisoned and tortured himself by the Cardasians. That would have been a real fucking episode. Could have done more to tie DS9 and TNG together while playing off what might have been some of the best episodes of both series. It would have been so good.

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