Originally Published on There Are Four Mics – A Star Trek Podcast
(We’re moving our Star Trek Discovery related content over here where it belongs)
The fastest way for a Star Trek episode to gain entry into my heart is with some beautiful, beautiful time loops. The seventh episode of Star Trek Discovery, Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad, fits the bill perfectly. It’s Groundhog Day with space whales, and that is a recipe for success. Let’s dive into a Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad review.
But even more? This episode is fun. Fun is always a critical component in my idea of Star Trek, and one that I think is easiest for writers to forget. But Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad has it in spades! It starts at a party in the mess hall with Wycleaf Jean’s “We Trying to Stay Alive” blasting and disco lights flashing, for crying out loud. Disco is showing it knows how to be funky.
The word “gormagander” itself is an outstanding addition to my Star Trek vocabulary. It’s impossible to not feel slightly jubilant when you say it. Toss in Mudd sporting an alien costume that looks like it was stolen straight out of a Twilight Zone episode? You’ve sealed the deal.
Rainn Wilson returning as Harry Mudd also really ups the fun factor for the episode. To be fair, I wasn’t enamored with the character of Mudd as played by Roger Carmel. So having Mudd return to Star Trek Discovery didn’t set my expectations particularly high. And previously met this iteration of the character just a few episodes back in “Choose Your Pain.” I thought he was intriguing in that episode, but I was unsure of how much longevity a character like that could have. Wilson’s performance in this episode, however, has entirely won me over. And the montage of the 53 times he murdered Lorca? It’s presented with the same perfect comedic tones as the “Groundhog Day” bit with Bill Murray killing himself repeatedly.
Some Things Didn’t Resonate
But there were a couple aspects that didn’t particular resonate with me this episode. First, it being a mechanism to explore Burnham and Tyler’s relationship. Like mentioned back in the “Butcher’s Knife Cares Not For the Lamb’s Cry” review, this show at times flirts with being too cute. In this episode, it takes the form of the secret that Burnham reveals to Stamets so he an easily get her to trust him in the next loop: the fact that she’s never been in love. When he blurts it out in the next loop, it comes across much more as a reasonable conclusion a person might come to based on observing her.
Same thing with the dancing sequence with Stamets, and her opening the next loop dancing with Tyler. The implication is that she remembered his tips and the conversation they had in previous loops, when clearly the setup makes that impossible. I did enjoy the concluding moments of the episode between Burnham and Tyler where they discuss all the scoop Stamets gave them about their interactions, however. This was not too cute by half. This was precisely the perfect amount of cute and I loved it. It’s just the stuff that led up to it that left me wanting.
The second aspect that didn’t really work for me was Stamets giving himself up because he couldn’t bear to watch his crew be murdered anymore. Stamets was the only thing keeping Mudd repeating the time loop. For him to give up the big secret not only came out of the blue, it made very little sense. Stamets surrendered because that’s what needed to happen in order to raise the stakes and keep the story interesting. It only felt artificial and forced.
The fun of time loops does the heavy lifting in this episode, supplemented by Rainn Wilson’s delightful return as Mudd. But the unfolding of the plot felt clunky and uneven. This absolutely ranks as one of the funnest episodes of Star Trek Discovery. I’m deeply grateful they’ve demonstrated the ability to have fun, but this doesn’t rank among the best of the season. Trying to further Burnham and Tyler’s relationship in a time loop episode, where both of them are inside the time loop, seems a bad move.
Pick up all of Star Trek Discovery season one on Blu-ray from Amazon here.