On the bridge, Lorca wonders where his officers are. Just then, fanfare begins to play through the computer and Mudd enters the room. With the ship’s computer firmly under control, Mudd begins threatening the crew. As he does so, Tyler, Burnham and Stamets enter, and Tyler wastes no time in shooting Mudd. Tyler’s shot is blocked by a force field, though, and Mudd kills him without a second thought. Mudd demands the secrets of the spore drive or else he’ll start killing crewmen. Unable to watch any more of this, Stamets reveals himself as the key and Mudd beams the two of them to engineering.
With Tilly’s assistance, Burnham realizes that Mudd is remotely controlling his time crystal, which is stored on his ship inside the Gormagander. Knowing that, and realizes that Mudd has no read to reset time, she resolves to force him to do exactly that. In the ready room, Burnham reveals her identity and the fact that she killed T’Kuvma to Mudd. Having convinced him that she’s worth at least as much to the Klingons as the spore drive, she kills herself and Mudd restarts the loop. This time, Mudd enters the bridge an Lorca yields his chair. A suspicious Mudd accuses Stamets of “passing notes in class,” but Lorca insists that in order to avoid a repeat of the Buran (his previous ship, which was lost with all hands) he’s willing to turn over the ship, Stamets, and Burnham, provided his crew is spared. Mudd agrees and sends Discovery’s coordinates to the Klingons. Soon, a warp signature is detected and the computer indicates that there are two Klingons waiting to beam aboard. Mudd heads to the transporter room with Burnham and Stamets in tow.
On the way, the two goad Mudd into admitting that he’s not so concerned with getting back to his “dear wife” Stella as he claims, revealing that they’ve accessed Discovery’s computer records relating to both Stella and her father, an arms dealer of some repute. As they accuse Mudd of having seducing Stella and absconding with her dowry, Tyler rounds the corner with a security team. Tyler then reveals that the Klingons aren’t coming, that they required the control panels in the captain’s chair – a non-critical system, and thus free from Mudd’s control – he, in fact, sent his coordinates to Stella and her father, who materialize as Mudd and his “entourage” enter the transporter room, despite his desperate attempt to order an override. Mudd immediately sets about ingratiating himself to his would-be bride, which proves easier than he may have expected.
When Stella’s father asks how he can repay Starfleet for tracking down his wayward son in law, Tyler asks only that he makes Mudd spends the rest of his days at Stella’s side and out of Starfleet’s hair. Of course, we know how that works out. With that, they return to their ship. Later, Burnham and Tyler make awkward small talk while waiting for a turbolift. In the end, she acknowledges her “complicated and strange” feelings for Tyler, who in turn admits that he’s sad they missed their first kiss.
Let’s cut to the chase here. ‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’ is among the strongest outings of ‘Discovery’ to date. That is in no small part due to its standalone nature. Speaking for myself, I quite like ‘Discovery’ overall, but it’s not without its issues (and to be fair, it’s hardly the first ‘Trek’ that left drydock before getting its space legs). The issues I’ve had with it tend to come in the form of continuity nitpicks and larger structural gripes (this isn’t really the place to get into it, but the words “plot convenience” come to mind). Because of the way the show is written, those tend to crop up more when you’re dealing with the season arc than a standalone episode. And while it’s nothing that breaks the show, they do tend to take me out of the episode (I am, after all, the kind of fan who nitpicks these shows professionally). But even leaving these nitpicks aside, the fact that ‘Magic’ is a standalone means that it’s not burdened with picking up from or laying track for another episode, which makes it that much easier to approach it on its own merits. It also lets the writers kick their heels up and have a little fun, something that always benefits the episode but isn’t necessarily a good fit for a season arc that deals with a devastating interstellar war.
It’s also impossible to discuss the episode without addressing the elephant in the room. As a time loop episode, it is extremely reminiscent of the ‘Next Generation’ episode ‘Cause and Effect’. Structurally, they’re very similar, depicting multiple iterations of a time loop with a number of repeating scenes throughout the episode. Though ‘Cause’ limits itself to one iteration per act , ‘Magic’ fits a few more in, specifically for character moments like Stamets and Burnham’s talk in the corridor and Burnham’s dance with Tyler. Like Jonathan Frakes did with its predecessor, David Barrett does his best to differentiate the scenes that repeat through each iteration of the loop. But while Frakes excelled at building subtle differences into those scenes, Barrett relies more on the more kinetic filming style that characterizes ‘Discovery’, simply barreling through the repeated portions to get to the new stuff.
But the cast are the real heroes here. While Burnham is given some weighty emotional material to wrestle with (ably handled by Sonequa Martin-Green), it’s Anthony Rapp who steals the show. Whether it’s his euphoric state early in the episode, the manic desperation with which he tries to warn Burnham and Tyler, or the sensitive compassion he shows when having the relationship talk with Burnham, Rapp masterfully captures the many moods of Paul Stamets. And then, of course, there’s Rainn Wilson. While Wilson’s take on Harry Mudd is notably darker and more serious than the original, many of his lines (and indeed, his line readings) perfectly echo Roger C. Carmel’s classic performance, all while making the part unmistakably his own. Even Stella and her father prove something of a highlight toward the end, with a fun albeit brief exchange with Mudd and costumes that are pure original series (more subdued, perhaps, but very sixties nonetheless).
All that said (all two thousand words of it!), ‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’ isn’t free of all of the more irksome foibles that plague ‘Discovery’. This is best exemplified the first time Mudd takes control of the bridge. During that scene, his addressing Bryce as “random communications officer man” is supremely appropriate given how abysmally ‘Discovery’ has handled its extended supporting cast. Hopefully, this will change in year two, but as of the end of Season One, characters like Bryce, Detmer, Airiam, Rhys, and Owosekun are lucky if their names have even been spoken on screen, despite their being constant presences on the show. Bonus points if you actually know who each of those people are without turning to Google or Memory Alpha.
That’s it for this week. For more on ‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’, check out my friend Tony Schaab’s review here. Did you feel the episode provided a welcome break from the season arc or did you find yourself wishing they’d just break the time loop and get on with it? Let us know in the comments and be sure to check back in two weeks for the next ‘Final Frontier Friday’!