Airing in the US on CBS All Access and in the UK on Netflix
Written by: Bryan Fuller & Alex Kurtzman
Director: David Barrett
Scanning for spoilers now Captain…
Best episode so far. And you can always count on a time-loop episode to guarantee a good story – just look at Stargate SG-1‘s “Window of Opportunity” (S4, E6) or Star Trek TNG‘s “Cause and Effect” (S5, E18) – and the lengthy titled “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” is no different.
There’s no pre-intro sequence with this episode, just a brief recap of past events…and for the first time, it’s apparent just how many producers there are on this show. Seriously, call Guinness, this has to be a record. Just like when “and” and “&” are used to differentiate the contribution that writers have made, variations on this show include “Produced By”, “Producer”, “Co-Producer”, “Consulting Producer”, “Executive Producer” and of course “Co-Executive Producer”.
For this one episode alone, we make it a staggering 21. Granted a few of them are in name only…but still.
Anyhoo, moving on.
Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) is making an entry to her personal log, talking about settling into her new role and how much she’s enjoying it. It ends as she remarks she is about to face her toughest challenge yet aboard the USS Discovery – a party; the doors to the mess slide open and there’s a full-on rhythmic ceremonial ritual in full swing. Resembling a cross between a frat party and an office Christmas party, Burnham’s reservations reflect how we have all felt at some point or another – that agonizing choice whether to stand in the corner like a lemon or try and attempt to make conversation without making a fool of yourself. Cadet Tilly (Mary Wiseman) is actually quite fun here, which makes a welcome change from wanting to shut her in a broom cupboard and out of the way all episode long. Lt Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) stands and gives a stirring speech about remembering fallen comrades and Tilly remarks about how hot Tyler is looking and also how Burnham and Tyler look at each other.
Moments later Burnham and Tyler are face to face and seconds before it all becomes too awkward, both are summoned to the bridge. “Look at that, save from the horrors of smalltalk by duty.” remarks Tyler, smiling.
At this point we’d like to revisit the theory that Tyler is in fact a Klingon spy. Let’s face facts, ever since you read that, you’ve been looking for the tiniest piece of evidence in every episode since – as have we – and while there is some interetsing quirks that certainly support something is afoot…he’s just way too cool and more than that, way too human, to be a surgically altered Klingon undercover agent. That’s not to say there isn’t a twist coming…but that just seems more and more unlikely. He could be a sleeper, that seems more plausible; borrowing a Boomer plot element from Battlestar Galactica, sure why not. But if he is a Klingon, then he’s definitely done his homework on human behaviour.
A strange alien has been detected in space directly ahead, it’s a “Gormagander” which is endangered species, so naturally they beam it aboard to try and help it. On the way to the shuttle bay Tyler and Ash bump into Lt Paul Stamets (Anthony Rapp) who’s even more eccentric than usual.
However, when they’re analyzing the enormous creature out pops the enigmatic, the charismatic, the mesmerizing and memorable, the one and the only Harcourt Fenton Mudd (Rainn Wilson). Wahoo!
It seems Mudd has gained a time crystal and is manipulating time, in a repeating loop, to gain control of the Discovery. Each loop around he has been learning more about how to take over the ship’s vital systems – much like Major Cage (Tom Cruise) in the excellent Edge of Tomorrow (2014). Mudd is working his way around to the Displacement Activated Spore Hub drive or DASH drive so he can master that and sell Starfleet’s secret weapon to the Klingons.
Wilson is delicious as Mudd, playing him a hateful yet hypnotic relish. Oh, he’s hell bent on revenge with Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) for leaving him behind on the Klingon battle cruiser a few episodes back in “Choose Your Pain“. We even get to see a montage of how many times Mudd has killed Lorca, enjoying every moment of it, in previous time loops. He seems to have anticipated the crew’s every move to counter him and thankfully we’re not bombarded with technobabble as the Discovery’s only hope is – you guessed it – Stamets, who is existing on multiple planes of existence as a result of his interaction with the spores and is therefore the only one (aside from Mudd) to remember each loop as it passes. Each loop ends and begins again, after Mudd has tried, unsuccessfully to access the DASH drive and causes the ship to explode. He sometimes initiates the destruction deliberately in order to start the loop again to learn more and have another go.
So it’s all up to Stamets, but what follows is well written and well put together. He tries to explain the situation to Burnham, but naturally on his first few attempts he runs out of time. So he asks her to tell him something that she has never told anyone before. She whispers it in his ear…and for a moment, we think that he will whisper it back to her at the appropriate time, so we don’t know what it is. No…he actually blurts it out in the middle of the party during the next loop.
But that itself further supports the other, underlying, very-Star-Trek theme that is prominent in this episode, love. Stamets tells Burnham how he and Dr. Hugh Culber (Wilson Cruz) first met and Burnham admits that she has feelings for Tyler. In order to defeat Mudd, Stamets needs some – any – information that Tyler might have overheard while he was in that Klingon hellhole with Mudd. Apparently, according to Stamats, he tried to ask Tyler in previous loops, but it didn’t work because Tyler didn’t believe what was going on…and well, “reasons”.
Consequently, he has to first persuade Burnham what’s going on – but he’s got that covered with the “secret fact” – then she has to talk to Tyler. It’s all a bit convoluted, but it’s nicely put together. The dialogue isn’t contrived and it’s well handled. Plus it’s punctuated with snippets of Mudd’s mischief and frankly he steals every scene he’s in.
Without wanting to completely spoil it, the final solution is quite clever and Burnham must persuade Mudd to reset the loop one last time since Tyler was killed in the last one and if they exit the loop now and continue forward…well, you get the idea.
This is by far the best episode yet. The characters seem more rounded and fleshed out. However, the change in tone at the end was extremely sudden and totally out of character with the rest of the episode. Mudd is handed over to the love of his life, Stella, and he’s all soft and gooey. Not long ago, he was beaming Lorca from the bridge out into space without an environment suit and throwing mini dark matter grenades at members of the crew, resulting in “one of the most painful ways to die” and now he’s suddenly rolling over like a house cat. He doesn’t even have to face punishment at the hands of her father. You know what would’ve been better than that? Anything.
How about Mudd is beamed off the Discovery screaming “Nooooooooo” at the hands of Stella’s influential and important father and two security guards as he must pay penance for letting down his Klingon buyers by working in the mines of Rura Penthe. Or something.
Decompress the shuttle bay ✓
• Mudd is screen gold “toodles”
• The timeloop plot is being criticized, but there’s no harm if it’s done well, which this was
• Stamets finds a nice balance here and his story about how he met Culber felt genuine
• Lorca presence was understated, but effective when it needed to be
Use the tractor beam ✗
• The change in tone at the end was so sudden I got whiplash
• If Tyler is a Klingon, it’s going to suck, ’cause he’s turning out to be quite cool
• Saru’s fear ganglia seem to be asleep
• An entire ship, albeit a shuttle, was hidden inside the space whale?
• Star Trek: Discovery S01E06 “Lethe” REVIEW
• Has Star Trek: Discovery set up a clever Klingon spy sub-plot?
• Massive Mirror Universe hint at end of Star Trek: Discovery S01E05
• Star Trek: Discovery S01E05 “Choose Your Pain” REVIEW
• Star Trek: Discovery S01E04 “The Butcher’s Knife Cares Not for the Lamb’s Cry” REVIEW
• Star Trek: Discovery S01E03 “Context is for Kings” REVIEW