Star Trek Discovery “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” review

Adam Mathew 8 November 2017

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A bit of space is good for a relationship.

Here it is folks, the best episode of the series (so far). But before we dive in, let's celebrate something: Star Trek Discovery was just green-lit for a second season. The experiment has been a success. I can't wait to see who'll grow the beard.

For now, in the present (stardate: 2136.8) protagonist Michael Burnham has transitioned from hated mutineer to settled and accepted on a new ship. Her Vulcan-hardened heart is also slowly beginning to melt for newcomer Lieutenant Ash Tyler. She finds him particularly interesting – intriguing, if you will – during an off-duty dance party (which, I think, was deliberately lit in colours reminiscent of The Original Series sets).

Here's a shocker: Burnham is crap at parties. Interpersonal fraternisations were impossible during her Vulcan upbringing, plus she's become distracted by a power redundant relay that stops the music (an impossibility with the technology running the Discovery). When Cadet Tilly eventually coaxes her into breaking the ice with the L.T., they're called to the bridge, because Captain Lorca is vexed by an orca.

That's a gormagander to you and I – a space whale that's so focused on feeding on alpha particles, they ignore all tasks, like mating. Yes, it's Burnham's spirit animal, and protocol dictates it must be beamed aboard as it's in distress. Shipping Moby to the closest xenological facility proves to be impossible, however, as this visitor is actually a Trojan horse.

Harcourt Fenton Mudd, the two-faced human criminal Lorca left to rot in a Klingon prison jack-in-the-blubbers out. He wastes four red shirts and informs the Captain that he's here for revenge, and to sell Discovery's secrets to the Klingons, The Klingons. Oddly, he expresses an intent to “kill Lorca as many times as possible” before suicide bombing himself and turning the Discovery into a fireball.

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Rewind. We're back at the party and Wyclef Jean's “We Trying To Stay Alive” is pumping pure irony over the speakers. Ash is giving the exact same speech about the fallen (read: redshirts from episodes 1 through 6) and Tilly is still trying to play match-maker. Ah yes, it's a good old fashioned time loop episode. Star Trek Groundhog Discovery.

This time around, a pre-bridge conversation with Stamets isn't centred on him busting their balls for secretly liking one another. All he can get out is “beware the gormagander”. Sure enough, it arrives, but a squirrely Burnham and Tyler can't convince the Cap to ignore the beast – this is a constant in the time loop because to ignore the whale is to risk court-martial.

Instead of bringing the jihad, Mudd is found sipping champagne in Engineering as he marvels at the Discovery's secret spore drive. He says he's missing the final component, but he'll figure it out eventually.

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An out of breath Stamets (read: the final component himself) arrives, out of breath. As a nearby computer counts down to a critical core overload, the unnaturally calm engineer explains that they've been here before. Multiple times. The DNA infusion he did with the trans-dimensional Tardigrade lets him retain one consciousness across multiple time-streams. That said, he's yet to find a sequence of events that end with a win for the home team.

Comical shrug. Core explosion. And, you guessed it, we're back at the party again.

As the predicament goes on (or...repeats, at least) Stamets slowly establishes a plan. He knows that the time to beat is 30 mins, and that Mudd's death resets everything, thanks to a time crystal thingamabob on his wrist. Stamets also establishes a means of pure logic to make Burnham instantly believe his future self/selves. She reveals that she's never romantically loved anyone, nor been loved herself.

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Downside: Mudd is a master infiltrator who's been progressing as well. In his search for the secret of the Discovery, he's found no spore drive solution, just a secret compartment in Lorca's quarters. (I was expecting space porn, but apparently it's just a cache of a very illegal and dangerous weapons.) Mudd also goes drops into a wonderful killing montage. 53 Lorcas bite the dust in creative ways, all while this villain casually mungs down a sandwich.

One all-consuming explosion later and we're partying once more, only this time Burnham asks Tyler to dance (but demands he lead). She lays it all out, and earns his trust by revealing their mutual feelings towards one another. They sneak in an alternate-reality kiss and formulate a plan with Stamets.

The engineer goes to “Captain Mudd”, reveals himself to be the key to everything, and the new owner of the Disocvery sends pick up coordinates to the Klingons. Before they can arrive and get enslaving'. Burnham floats a counter offer: Yes, the Klingons would pay handsomely for the war-winning Discovery, but they'd reach for their chequebooks faster to get their hands on her – the one who murdered their messiah, T'Kuvma. With the bait laid out, Burnham suicides, forcing Mudd to flick the switch and reset the universe one more time.

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When Captain Mudd makes his entrance on the bridge, the crew appears to be already up to speed with the situation. Stamets says his victory is a universal certainty, Mudd likes this info but still smells a trap. Lorca's speech about not wanting to relive another all-hands-on-deck massacre, like the one he's responsible for on the Buran, convinces him, however.

With Mudd's time crystal willingly destroyed, Stamets and Burnham spring their trap. They've used one of their time rolls to investigate this mysterious Stella person Mudd is always moaning about. She's supposedly the long-lost love who makes him lash out at the universe. Turns out she's actually in search of him (and her stolen dowry), not the other way around. The Discovery crew have rewired the comms panel to send for her instead of the Klingons, and she arrives with her father's considerable fleet.

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Turns out you can con a conman. Instead of a phaser blast to the face, Stella's father promises to effectively imprison his rapscallion of a son-in-law. He'll be locked away in the worst prison in all the cosmos...marriage. Thus. the (groundhog) day is saved, and, though our two star-crossed lovers have missed their first kiss, permission for further docking procedures has clearly been given.

VERDICT

A solid episode that expertly balances high-tension with intimate off-duty exposition (where people somehow happily dance to 200-year-old music). The influence of The Original Series was unmistakable here. This was a welcome holiday ep.

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