Forget The Borg, Interstellar War or Jonathan Frakes’ Beard, The Agony Booth Is The most Terrifying Thing To Come Out Of Star Trek. Ever
The Agony Booth may be the most insidious torture device ever conceived.
That’s not a sentence I ever thought I’d type, but after seeing the last few episodes of Star Trek Discovery-where the USS Discovery and her crew wind up in the Trek verse’s notorious parallel Mirror Universe-it’s a question I can’t get out of my head.
First introduced in the original Star Trek series when Captain Kirk and friends were transported to the mirror universe via transporter accident (Mirror, Mirror), the Agonizer Booth is a tool of torture and punishment preferred by the evil Terran Empire (a human supremacist organization that is the antithesis to the United Federation of Planets). The prisoner is forced to stand in a booth roughly the size of a coffin while their pain centres are pushed into overdrive. Even worse, not only can the intensity of the pain (or agony) be regulated, but so can the location of the pain.
After watching the first episode following Discovery’s Christmas hiatus (where it was revealed that the ship had jumped to the dreaded parallel dimension), I went back and watched the Enterprise episodes that told Captain Archer’s story in the Mirror Universe (“In A Mirror Darkly”). It turns out the Agony Booth was invented by Dr. Phlox and Major Reed (both members of Archer’s crew, though he wasn’t the captain of the Enterprise in the MU) and it made traditional, messier forms of torture obsolete. As Phlox explained, the body could eventually adapt to excessive pain focused on one part of the body. The Agony Booth removed that possibility by offering the ability to shift the pain to anywhere in the body.
But the true, diabolical genius of the booth didn’t become clear until I saw it reappear in Discovery. Masquerading as her MU counterpoint, specialist Burnham escorted her “prisoner” Captain Lorca (its a long story) onto the Imperial ship Shenzou, where they soon find themselves in a room full of Agony Booths. And screaming victims.
You’d have to be a bit of a sadist to pull this off, but imagine being trapped in a phone booth, with barely enough room to stand upright (but nowhere near enough to stretch your legs) while parts of your insides take turns feeling like they were on fire or being eaten by acid. No one’s asking you questions or demanding answers so you have no hope of stopping the pain or even earning a reprieve. There’s definitely no pain killers or medical relief in sight. It’s just you and the agony with nothing but your screams to keep you company.
And you don’t even know how long your there. No idea how long your torment goes. No idea how much you have to endure. Your world is nothing but pain. Pain and patience.
This nightmare really became clear after watching the final scene of “The Wolf Inside.” As I mentioned earlier, after arriving on the ISS Shenzou (a ship that Burnham captains in the MU), Captain Lorca is immediately locked into an Agony Booth where his torture begins. And continues. While Burnham and Lt. Ash Tyler (also from the regular Universe but with plenty of baggage of his own) are seeking comfort in each other’s arms and making intergalactic whoopie, Lorca is still in the Booth, screaming as his body is overcome with wave after wave of pure torment.
The scary part? The people were already being tortured when Lorca first arrived are still in their respective booths, hours later. And still screaming.
Anyone whose seen Discovery knows that Lorca is beyond tough. He destroyed his previous command, killing over 300 crewman to keep them out of Klingon hands. And speaking of Klingons, not only did he endure Silence of the Lambs style interrogation by one of their top torturers, all he came away with was a slightly worse disposition. Seeing him scream is beyond unnerving. Seeing how shaken the experience left him (refer to the above pic) was somehow worse.
I can’t decide which would be worse; knowing how long your trapped in purgatory with a clock in sight, watching helplessly as the minutes turn into tortured hours. Or just being locked in a booth, having the pain cranked to 10 and not knowing how long you’re there. Not knowing when the agony will end. Or if it will.
We’ve seen plenty of Star Trek’s more imaginative ideas become reality. Smart phones, tablet computers, there are even some scientists talking openly about warp engines. Let’s all hope the Agony Booth remains purely fiction because I don’t know if I could live in a world where such an evil thing were a reality.