REVIEW: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1, Episode 7 – Debuted Sunday October 29th
Written by Aron Eli Coleite & Jess Alexander
Directed by David M. Barrett
Things get crazy when Harry Mudd pays an unwelcome visit to the USS Discovery in what was certainly the most fun episode yet for the series. Rainn Wilson has truly made the role of Mudd his own, finding ways to go dark and add more humor along the way. Shazad Latif also stands out in this episode, adding more dimension to the recently introduced Lt. Tyler. “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” feels like a classic Trek story in many ways and works as a great stand alone episode, which is unusual for this highly serialized show.
Routine, party of one
Skipping the usual teaser, episode 7 of Discovery jumps right into familiar territory with a personal log from our focal character Michael Burnham. This is actually the first time the show has used the traditional Trek trope of a log as narrative device, setting the stage for an episode that feels very familiar in many good ways. This point is emphasized with how Burnham tells and shows us how she has fallen into a comfortable routine onboard the Discovery as a science specialist, but also sets up her dilemma arc for the episode.
Burnham still struggles with making personal connections, beyond the ever-effusive Tilly, of course. Michael confronts this dilemma when she enters a raging party complete with the surprisingly contemporary touches of beer pong and 1990s hip-hop. Sonequa Martin-Green effectively portrays herself as “the other” while talking of redundant starship power systems as a hammered Tilly (believably played by Mary Wiseman) confronts the real space elephant in the room, what is up between Lt. Tyler and Burnham?
Some may balk at such a raucous event on board a starship but these nerds turned into front-line warriors need a way to let off some steam and Star Trek history has plenty of examples of parties and alcohol imbibing. Plus, the party works as a good touch point for the plot after Mudd comes on board and starts playing with time like Wyclef Jean sampling a disco classic.
Mudd, Mudd, Mudd, Mudd, Mudd…
In a classic Star Trek move, the Discovery encounters a space creature called a Gormagander. However, it isn’t the creature driving the plot, but what was hidden inside, as Harry Mudd emerges wearing a deliciously ridiculous bug-eyed-monster helmet, possibly intended for use by Andorians. Harcourt is out for revenge on Capt. Lorca who left him on the Klingon prison ship at the end of “Choose Your Pain.”
Rainn Wilson carries the episode as he chews up the scenery as Mudd setting off a series of repeating time loops so he can learn the secrets of the USS Discovery, and deliver it to the Klingons. Somehow this act of high treason filled with psychopathic levels of murder and destruction still makes this the lightest and most fun episode of Star Trek: Discovery. Jason Isaacs perfectly plays straight man captain to Wilson who hearkens the camp of Roger C. Carmel’s original Mudd, but takes it to a darker level as he relishes in killing Lorca over, and over…and over.
Of course, repeating time loop episodes are nothing new to Trek, but the way it was handled in this episode with the introduction of the cat-and-mouse game never felt like this was a repeat, of those “repeat” episodes. And while Mudd was introduced to Discovery in “Choose Your Pain,” writers Coleite and Alexander chose this episode to nicely evoke “Mudd’s Women” and “I, Mudd” with all the classic elements of humor, crazy technology, a nefarious scheme and Mudd being undone by his own hubris.
The episode also was a showcase for Anthony Rapp, who gets groovier and groovier every week. Often the point of view character for these types of episodes is the one who figures out that something is wrong, but in this case it was the tardigrade DNA-fueled Stamets who was time loop aware, leaving him to approach Burnham after each loop to find out more about her to eventually work together to defeat Mudd. This was a clever way to introduce some character development into the mostly stand alone episode, as we learned more about Stamets, Burham and their emotions.
While the resolution of defeating Mudd by using non-essential systems was clever, how his final fate was handled was not. The writers seemed to want to fit with TOS Mudd episodes which ended on a lighter note, but this just felt off. His final run through time may not have involved any murdering, but Mudd clearly racked up a number of high crimes. It defies logic – and seems somewhat sexist – that his punishment was to reunite him with his wife. The revelation of the real Stella had an interesting twist with her being younger, sweeter and cuter than we would expect. Perhaps the old battleaxe android version of Stella Mudd creates a decade later is a twisted version of this true Stella.
You can take the girl out of Vulcan, but…
As has become the pattern, the true heart of the episode was Michael Burnham’s arc. In this case, it was learning how to connect, and possibly to love. We are reminded how much Burnham is still a fish out of water having grown up as part of Sarek’s family on Vulcan. Torturing the metaphor, the Gormagander (like the monster-turned-vital-friend Tardigrade) is another creature that represents Burnham, this time it is one that literally forgets to mate.
This episode is sneaky in how it delves into the issue of Burnham learning to understand her feelings for Lt. Tyler as a mechanism to move the plot forward. The one key to getting her to trust Stamets is her revealing she has never fallen in love. Apparently not even her human surrogate mother Amanda was able to teach her how to deal with the emotions regarding relationships, especially with romance. Lucky for Burnham, she has the shroomed-out Stamets available to play cupid. After she is confounded by the story of how he and Dr. Culber fell for each other, he breaks her Vulcan training by telling her “love is not logical.”
Of course being a time loop episode we have Burnham and Tyler’s first kiss now in an erased timeline, but we are obviously headed down a road with these two getting close and Latif and Martin-Green are showing promising chemistry. This will be a relationship to watch especially close for those who think there is more to Lt. Tyler than meets the eye.
Out of the routine
This episode (for the most part) took a break from the heavy Klingon War arc, but as Burnham notes in her personal log, which nicely bookends the end of the episode, it is good to “step out of the routine.” It is nice to see that Discovery can let its hair down and have a laugh or two. And it’s OK that we have to wait another week to learn the fate of Admiral Cornwell, taken hostage by the Klingons at the end of last week’s episode. While this episode stands alone, it didn’t feel like the kind of mid-season filler that plagued many previous Star Trek series. In the end, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” is one of the most satisfying of all the Discovery episodes so far.
Random thoughts and easter eggs
- First Star Trek episode to skip opening teaser since TNG pilot “Encounter at Farpoint” in 1987
- First use of a “captain’s log” on Discovery comes from Captain Harcourt Fenton Mudd.
- Mudd claimed to have robbed a Betazoid Bank.
- Party scene featured disabled crewperson in a powered mobility chair.
- Funniest line of the episode (and slight 4th wall break) may be Mudd referring a bridge character as “random communications officer man.”
- Was Mudd’s line “Adieu, mon capitaine” an homage to Q? Will Mudd be Lorca’s Q?
- Also was “There really are so many ways to blow up this ship, it’s almost a design flaw” another bit of foreshadowing?
- Saru’s line “technically it’s not a fish…” felt very Data-like.
- The costumes for Stella and her father had a very old-school TOS style.
- Another shot of war map contained many known systems like Archanis, Qo’noS, Omega Leonis, Barolia, the Asure Nebula and more.
Star Trek: Discovery is available on CBS All Access on in the US and airs in Canada on the Space Channel. It is available on Netflix outside the USA and Canada.
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