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Star Trek Dis - Season 1 - Episode 07

Star Trek Dis - 1x07 - Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad

Originally Aired: 2017-10-29

Synopsis:
As the U.S.S. Discovery crew attempts to let loose at a party, an unwelcome visitor comes aboard bringing about a problematic and twisted sequence of events.

My Rating - 6

Fan Rating Average - 6.76

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Problems
- Burnham's log entry cites the stardate as 2136.8, which would incorrectly place this episode during the middle of TOS.
- One of the time loops goes something like this: after some brief coaching from Stamets, Burnham tries to talk to Tyler about the time loop. It doesn't go well and Tyler gets immediately summoned to the bridge and wanders off. The scene then cuts to the corridor, where apparently more than half of a loop (some 20+ minutes) has gone by, because by the time Stamets and Burnham are done dancing, the time loop ends. What happened during those ~20 minutes they cut over? Did Stamets and Burnham really wander the corridors for all that time discussing her failed attempt to have a conversation with Tyler offscreen before their dance scene together?
- There is a typo on one of the computer screens, which reads "Security Protocals."

Factoids
- The Gormagander is an endangered species. There have only been 57 cases of near miss encounters with starships over the last 10 years.
- Mudd's line about his "multilegged friend" Stuart is a reference to an awkward, but funny line from Spock in TOS: A Taste of Armageddon: "Sir, there's a multilegged creature crawling on your shoulder."

Remarkable Scenes
- Stamets: "You are astonishingly grounded for having endured seven months of torture!"
- Harry Mudd emerging from the Gormagander and shooting people.
- Mudd's rant to Lorca followed by his immediate suicide bombing of the ship.
- Mudd somehow kicking off a time loop.
- Stamets' inartful attempts to explain the time loop.
- Mudd: "There really are so many ways to blow up this ship. It's almost a design flaw!"
- The Mudd-kills-Lorca montage.
- Mudd belittling the unnamed bridge officer as "random communications officer man."
- Mudd getting tricked by Burnham and blowing up the ship in frustration to reset the time loop.
- Mudd being doublecrossed and reunited with Stella.

My Review
This episode is an awkward attempt to rehash previous entertaining standalone time travel episodes like TNG: Cause and Effect or Voy: Relativity sandwiched in the middle of an otherwise totally serialized story. Let's do a time loop episode while Admiral Cornwell is a prisoner of the Klingons! Ugh. That said, for the most part this is a skillfully done rehash. And even more notably, Burnham's personal log at the start of the episode makes some things explicit that were left too vague in previous episodes. The most significant is the revelation that Stamets is indeed capable of piloting the spore drive sustainably now. Likewise, many on the crew have noted the changes in Stamets' personality, but largely don't think much of it or find it all that concerning. Ditto with many on the crew noting Tyler being surprisingly well adjusted for someone who spent seven months being tortured. It's important to have dialog making note of these things, lest the audience think the narrative intends to portray such things as unremarkable. Better late than never for the story to get around to that. It's still pretty annoying that they're not dealing with the whole evil-Stamets-in-the-mirror cliffhanger though.

The real star of the show this episode is Mudd. He was hilariously entertaining in nearly every scene he was in, which is a bit of a surreal thing to take in given that most of his scenes in past episodes (including his previous appearance in this series) were mostly cringeworthy. And while it is pretty annoying to have a largely filler episode right after the cliffhanger with Cornwell captured by the Klingons, one kind of weird silver lining about the otherwise awkward timing of this episode is that Lorca faces real consequences for abandoning Mudd despite not seeming to face any for abandoning Cornwell in a similar fashion. The way the narrative is structured this doesn't seem like an intentional irony, as nothing in the plot draws any attention to the parallelism whatsoever, but it was nevertheless fairly satisfying to see anyway. As was seeing Lorca die repeatedly.

The sheer force of Mudd's hysterical personality can't carry us through weak plot logic, however, and there was quite a bit of that here. For starters, Mudd's time loop device was quite an overwrought piece of technology. He reportedly acquired it prior to his imprisonment, as he had used it to rob a Betazoid bank. He then somehow reacquired it after somehow escaping the Klingons. He then somehow located an endangered space whale, somehow buried his ship inside it, and somehow positioned the space whale in the path of the Discovery. And as if all that weren't difficult enough to swallow, the time loop device itself was apparently a stable, reliable piece of technology and Mudd just so happened to be the first person to get ahold of it by virtue of encountering "a four dimensional race" who "perfected the technology" supposedly on Mudd's behalf. Seriously?

Another pretty weak moment was when Burnham confronted Mudd about her value as a hostage in an attempt to get him to loop time one more time. As she's discussing it all with him, she stands in front of a table full of those purple death balls easily within reach. Mudd then turns his back to Burnham, giving her ample opportunity to snatch one and assassinate him with it. Instead she waits until Mudd is much closer to the table and then much more riskily snatches them up while Mudd is watching and promptly kills herself instead of him. It's a powerful scene, and especially amusing given that Mudd kills himself out of frustration to reset the time loop immediately afterward, but there was no reason Burnham couldn't have just cut to the chase and taken Mudd out to accomplish the same goal, just as Stamets did in a previous loop. The scene perhaps would've been less entertaining that way, but it would've made a lot more sense.

In addition to those flaws, the second half of the episode is just generally a lot less charming than the first half. Instead of focusing on gradual, hilarious refinements to the time loop as TNG: Cause and Effect did, the story begins to lazily cut over most of Stamets explaining things to people over and over, better each time, and instead shows the crew magically becoming more informed with each time loop. By the time they reach the last time loop, Stamets has somehow found a way to organize a conspiracy against Mudd that involves several crew members acting in a coordinated fashion. It's hard to imagine how Stamets could've crammed all that prep of so many people into a five or so minute elevator pitch so effectively. It seems the writers couldn't imagine such a scene either, choosing instead to cut over it rather than try to write it.

On balance though this odd, mostly filler episode still succeeds in being more fun than it is flawed. And as a result is one of the stronger stories so far.

The following are comments submitted by my readers.

  • From Coihue on 2017-10-30 at 12:55pm:
    Hey, there is the time travel. As I said in the previous episode, they will reset time till the time previous Georgiu's death. They can not be able to stop the war, but everything else will be reset.

    Also, there was a Q homage when Mudd says "Mon capitain!"
  • From Matthew on 2017-10-30 at 6:00pm:
    There were fun bits here but I think you're being very kind Eric! The extent to which they hid Stamets setting things up (which could have been some fun interactions with characters other than Burnham) bothered me too. The Cornwell angle not so much since I think it's a justifiable (in fact good) command decision from Lorca even if for the wrong reason - they can afford to lose her more than the Discovery. And he has asked Saru to inform Starfleet so any negative consequences will be deferred until Cornwell comes back (if she does).

    I hope this really is the end of Mudd, since I didn't find him hilarious at all. The character talks like he's stuck in a tediously self regarding, totes not amazeballs, sarcastic social media feed. I'm getting the feeling that the whole writer's room has a bit much of that, and a banterish style that is either snarky or plays to the echo chamber. His violence towards Lorca is justified in character terms because of Lorca keeping him locked up but that stops making sense, and becomes tonally really odd, when presented in ha ha comedy montage. Fishing for laughs out of someone dying in different ways is, in my book, not really Trek. (Trek can and should do comedy - though it tends to work better when the characters are really established, like that DS9 baseball one - Take Me Out To The Holosuite? - that should really be lousy filler but is actually great.)

    Oh and 4D race we've never heard of and no-one seems that curious about? How the jiggins did that get through script review? Must have been someone who watched Interstellar and thought the Tesseract bit was really good but needed more Deus Ex Machina factor.

    Lethe was v good though - especially the properly grownup acting, writing and subject matter in the Cornwell / Lorca scenes. More please!

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