Directed by David M. Barrett
The crew of the USS Discovery come across a Gormagander – a space-faring species – that is under distress. The Endangered Species Act requires Starfleet personnel to offer assistance, however the alien life form is being used by Harry Mudd to advance his personal agenda. Havings attained technology presumably created by a 4th dimension species, Mudd creates and controls a time loop, helping ensure a successful takeover of the Discovery, which he intends to sell to the Klingons.
Fortunately for the crew, Lt. Stamets, having altered DNA, is aware of the loop and can recall events from each passing iteration. He enlists the help of Burnham and Tyler who learn of their personal interest in each other while they team up to stop Mudd.
With time having looped well over 50 times, things are looking up for Harry Mudd and grim for the crew of the Discovery, as each pass brings him closer to achieving his goal.
Quick take on ‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’
I’ll start off by saying this: it’s hands-down the best episode of Star Trek: Discovery yet. I give it 4.5 stars.
At the beginning of the episode, I didn’t have very high hopes. Beer pong at a kegger on Starfleet’s most advanced starship in the 23rd century just didn’t sit right with me. While the party scene occupied a lot of screen time, fortunately very little of it was teenage shenanigans and drunks. Also fortunate that we only had to sit through Tyler’s militaristic speech once in full.
That said, I loved the way the writers wrote Burnhams part. Her discomfort being at the party, her never having been in love. Her characterization in this context was bang-on and totally believable.
Lieutenant Stamets really stands out in this episode. The change in physiology has certainly had an impact on him, making a much more relatable and seemingly empathetic person – something completely missing in his character in earlier episodes.
There’s also scenes with enough humour that I laughed out loud. Humour has been somewhat missing in Discovery up until now with few exceptions, but has always been a part of Star Trek, regardless of the series.
Undeniably a good standalone ‘Star Trek’ episode
Stardate 2137.2. The seventh episode of Star Trek: Discovery titled Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad harkens back to both Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Voyager fan favorite episodes. Time loops have been seen in both those series before, so while that means the basic premise of this episode isn’t completely original, the concept of weaponized time loops, or controlling them, is a new twist.
Early into the episode we find the crew of the Discovery actually getting along with each other and trying to do something for the greater good at the same time. Par for the course for any Star Trek show but Discovery has been a different kind of Trek where conflict seems annoyingly constant among crew-members.
With a Gormagander in distress, Captain Lorca, rather than trying to use it to advance his war agenda like the tardigrade, decides to beam it aboard and help. We get to see that there are indeed scientists aboard Discovery that, when not at war, have a mission more reminiscent of the ones we’re used to seeing on Star Trek. Now Burnham is one of them, taking on a title of “Science Specialists” in her capacity as bridge crew aboard the Discovery.
Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad diverged from previous Star Trek: Discovery episodes by being much more episodic. While it does continue the season-long story arc, it’s the first time an episode felt important on its own and could stand on it’s own feet. The pacing was great and I felt like so much more happened in it’s 47 minutes. Not only does this episode feel more like Star Trek than any before it, I found it to be the least predictable too. Beyond what was ascertained from the teaser, I wasn’t easily able to predict any of what was about to happen – a nice change.
The romance between Michael Burnham and Ash Tyler felt well written, with great dialogue, and perfectly-acted. When I watched the trailer at the end of last week’s episode, it felt forced and even fake to think romance would get this far between the two of them in a single episode. But watching it progress, even if it’s actually all taking place over a 30-minute period, felt completely natural. Stamets’ help certainly made it that much more valid.
Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad has a good amount of action that somehow doesn’t seem to take away from the plot or dialogue. Instead it helps to move the episode along in just the right way at the right times. In previous episodes action happened and I didn’t find myself caring enough for the characters to be concerned. This episode I found myself cheering for the crew and the action seemingly meant something.
Story aside, the visuals were also great. We see a Gormagander, which is essentially a space whale. It looks realistic and the visuals surrounding it make complete sense. There’s plenty of other visual effects throughout the episode, but none of them caused any disbelief – instead they enhanced it.
Harry Mudd, portrayed by Rainn Wilson, played a near perfect villain this time around. His confidence, well placed, his actions believable. Knowing he controls a time loop its great to see Mudd has planned for so many contingencies and yet the showrunners don’t dumb it down by showing us that process. The result was a beautifully unpredictable character that one continues to love to hate.
A final short summary
For the first time, Star Trek: Discovery really felt like Star Trek. I mean the Star Trek that Gene Roddenberry created over 50 years ago. We get a crew that works together to achieve a goal and does so without internal conflict. Each plays off the other’s strengths and the result is an episode that’s smart and entertaining.
I’ll call it now – Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad will show up on many Star Trek fan top-50 favourite episode lists.
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