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Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Muddling to Make the Sanest Fan Go Mad

SPOILERS for Star Trek: Discovery's 
"Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" 

"Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad" is, in my view, the weakest episode of Star Trek: Discovery to date, but it has its virtues, most of which are unrelated to the hour's central device, the once-novel, now-familiar, time loop conundrum.

In "Magic," Harry Mudd, having somehow escaped from the Klingons, is bent on revenge against Captain Lorca, who left him to rot on a Klingon prison ship. Using alien technology that allows him to reset time and experience events over and over, Mudd is bent on capturing the U.S.S. Discovery and selling it to the Klingons, with disastrous effects on the Federation's war effort. Luckily, Paul Stamets, thanks to his connection to the spore drive, can detect Mudd's interference with the time stream, and he enlists the help of Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler foil Mudd's scheme before time runs out...for the last time.

At first I found it a bit difficult to reconcile this episode's depiction of Mudd as a ruthless mass murderer--he brutally kills Discovery crew members over and over during the course of his plan to capture the ship--until it hit me that Mudd only kills one person on what he thinks is his last go-round. Maybe he was running through all the scenarios until he could capture the ship bloodlessly? Or maybe I'm just rationalizing, trying to make Discovery's version of Mudd compatible with the one we see in the original series. On the other hand, we know that the Mudd of "Mudd's Women" has received psychiatric treatment, so perhaps at some point between Star Trek's new "now" and Kirk's era, Federation medicine heals Mudd sufficiently to transition from mad murderer to jovial con man. Well, that will serve as my head-canon, anyway.

It seems a bit of a cheat to introduce a high-concept, TNG-style episode so early into what has, so far, been a pretty significant departure in storytelling style from past Treks. Maybe this episode would have worked better as a breather in season two or three, when personalities are more established. On the other hand, we get to see Burnham starting to come out of her shell a little, perhaps driven out by the stressful events of "Magic...".

I disproportionately enjoyed a number of this episode's features:

  • The return of a personal log, an old Trek staple (Burnham's, in this case)
  • The civilian costuming
  • Mudd's bug-headed space helmet
  • Continued use of the "vaporize" setting on the phasers - still chilling
  • The brazen use of "Stayin' Alive" at the party that opens (and re-opens...and re-opens...) the episode
  • The many gruesome and morbidly hilarious deaths of Captain Lorca
  • Mudd's ultimate comeuppance
All in all, this hour was an amusing diversion, but I'm not sure it really serves the show's narrative arc. Future episodes will tell. 


Jeff Shyluk said...

I enjoyed the episode, thinking that the previous one was weaker. This week's episode did suffer from a heavy case of third-act-itis, though. Susan and I at first thought that Stella's father was being played by John Lithgow, which would have been a tour-de-force. A Lithgow-alike, I guess.

Interesting to see the characters unbend a little. Tilly's monotonous naïvete rubs off onto Burnham and makes her somewhat less inflexible, whereas Tilly inherits some of Burnham's laboured composure - a much overdue refining of both characters' cross-grained edges.

Stephen Fitzpatrick said...

I was also taken aback by Mudd's ruthlessness as well as the lack of comeuppance, but like you say, if he becomes more subdued as he goes, maybe that's okay?

And I wonder if the helmet was Andorian?