Welcome as always to the latest installment of Final Frontier Friday! We’re doing something new this week, by which I mean we’re looking at our first episode of ‘Star Trek: Discovery’! (Well, our first since the end of our premiere countdown back in September anyway.) So sit back, settle in, blow four months worth of dust off your CBS All Access login, and join us as we take a look at the series’ seventh episode, ‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’.
‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’ marks the first ‘Discovery’ episode that functions more or less as a standalone affair, featuring only minimal connections to the larger arc of the first season. In fact, that’s one of the major reasons I decided to cover this one. It’s an easy place to just jump in, hit the ground running, and jump back out.
The episode also features a couple of firsts, including the first use of source or licensed music in ‘Star Trek’. While past Starfleet crewmembers have expressed their fondness for public domain-friendly (or composed in-house) styles of music like jazz, classical, and Klingon opera, the party showcased in ‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’ notably features Wyclef Jean’s ‘We Trying to Stay Alive’ and Al Green’s ‘Love and Happiness’. Also, with this episode, David M. Barrett became the first established ‘Trek’ director (he had previously helmed the ‘Enterprise’ episode ‘Divergence’) to work on ‘Discovery’. He would, of course, be followed in just a few episode’s time by Jonathan Frakes, who may have directed an episode or two of his own.
On to the show!
As the episode begins, Burnham arrives at a party. The occasion? Simply the crew blowing off steam. With all the subtlety one might expect from her, Tilly tries to maneuver Burnham and Tyler together, though the two are saved by the bell – quite literally – when they are called to the bridge. On the way, the two talk, with Burnham apologizing for her lack of social graces and Tyler wondering why she continues to isolate herself. Before long, they bump into Stamets – who, thanks to the spore drive, is uncharacteristically cheerful – and Culber.
On the bridge, we learn that the ship has crossed paths with a Gormagander – an endangered spaceborne life form. In accordance with protocol, they bring the Gormagander aboard for transport to a xenologic facility. Burnham proceeds to the shuttle bay to beam the creature aboard. Once it’s aboard, something – or rather someone – walks out of its mouth and guns down several crewmen. The intruder blasts his way through the ship before being trapped in a corridor. At this point, he removes his helmet, revealing himself as Harry Mudd. Bent on revenge against Lorca (who left him to rot in a Klingon prison), Mudd declares his intention to find out what’s so special about the Discovery and sell its secrets to the Klingons. After taunting Lorca, Mudd pulls a device from his pocket, and presses a button, destroying the Discovery.
We then find Burnham and Tyler back at the party. Once again, they’re called away and bump into Stamets. This time, however, he’s frantically trying to warn the others of… something. No one takes him seriously, but as the turbolift doors close, he shouts that “it all starts with a Gormagander.” Tyler and Burnham arrive on the bridge and are visibly unnerved when Saru reports that the Discovery has encountered a Gormagander. Once again, they bring the creature aboard, though this time Tyler accompanies Burnham to provide security support. The Gormagander is beamed aboard. Burnham detects something resembling a transporter beam and suddenly the ship goes to black alert. Arriving in engineering, Tyler and Burnham find Mudd, who has activated the spore drive – but with Stamets nowhere to be found. He’s guessed that the engine is the key, but can’t figure out how to make it work. Suddenly, Stanley appears and shoots Mudd from behind.
Stamens explains – in his own vague way – that the ship is stuck in a time loop, that they’ve been through several iterations, and that despite somehow being aware of it, he has yet to figure out a way to pull off a win for the home team. Just then, the ship is destroyed by the overload Mudd created in the spore drive and we’re back at the party. Stamets bursts in looking for Burnham just after she and Tyler have gone. He intercepts Burnham on the way to the shuttle bay and once again – this time more lucidly – explains the time loop, though she remains skeptical. Back on the bridge, Tyler reports that the Gormagander is aboard and Lorca is summoned to sickbay regarding Stamets. His turbolift control is overridden, though, and he finds himself face to face with Mudd. Mudd has now assumed control of the computer and appropriated a phaser. As Mudd tries to extort Lorca’s cooperation, Stamets continues his conversation with Burnham, asking that she tell him a secret so that they can shortcut to her trusting him on the next loop. She agrees.
Lorca leads Mudd into his private research area. As Lorca warns Mudd against killing a Starfleet captain, Mudd informs him that he’s already killed Lorca fifty-three times. With moments to go before the ship explodes, he makes it an even fifty-four.
Back to the party!
Stamets catches Burnham on time, distracting Tilly before telling Burnham the secret she shared – that she’s never been in love. Stamets suggests that she ask Tyler about Mudd, reasoning that he’ll open up to her since he likes her. While Tyler does try to ask her to dance, Burnham’s lack of social graces quickly sours the conversation. This time, she leaves the party with Stamets rather than reporting to the bridge as ordered. When she asks for advice on “connecting in that way,” Stamets tells her to dance with him, so he can see what he has to work with. As they awkwardly dance in the corridor, he tells her how he met Culber. As the story ends, so does this iteration of the loop. Back at the party, Burnham finally gets to dance with Tyler (much to Tilly’s delight). During the dance, she explains the situation with Mudd and confesses her feelings for the security officer. Reasoning that “if time really is repeating, this won’t matter,” Tyler kisses Burnham just before they’re called to the bridge. She tells him to ignore it and presses him about Mudd. Tyler recalls some of Mudd’s prison boasts, which include the seemingly impossible robbery of a Betazoid bank that leads Burnham to realize he must be using a time crystal. Armed with that information, Stamets leads the two in pursuit of Mudd.
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