Strange that an episode featuring a never-ending time loop where a lot of the crew dies in the course of defending the ship would be one of the most entertaining, fun and light episodes Star Trek: Discovery has given us.
And yet, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” achieves just that.
A lot of that can be chalked up to the presence of one Harcourt Fenton Mudd, who wants to sell Discovery’s secret weapon to the Klingon in exchange for a lot of money. (I’d argue that Mudd may be lying a bit there since it’s fairly obvious that he has an iffy relationship with the truth. It doesn’t seem too huge a stretch to think that Mudd has bartered with the Klingons to set him free in exchange for handing over Discovery to them. That would go a long way toward giving Mudd more motive to reset the timeline when he finds out who Burnham is and she kills herself. Mudd may need that extra money to pay off whatever debts he’s accrued and would rather spend his life running from, rather than marrying Stella).
When I heard Rainn Wilson was cast as Mudd for the upcoming season, I was both intrigued and apprehensive. I was worried that Discovery could fall into the same trap that Enterprise did when it brought in the Borg. I didn’t want to see Mudd shoehorned into the show as a publicity stunt or ratings grab like the Borg were in Enterprise. I wanted the character to be well used and to maybe get some sense of what led him to be the man we see when Kirk and company meet him during the original series run.
After two solid episodes of Wilson chewing the scenery, I’m glad to see that I shouldn’t have worried. Mudd’s inclusion works well and if he goes on to become a recurring thorn in the side of Lorca and company, I certainly wouldn’t mind.
Credit a lot of that to Wilson, whose work in this episode was just spot on. Mudd’s scheming made him a good threat and his connection to Lorca from their time in the Klingon prison cell served as a great motivation for Mudd’s time loop creation and his desire to sell out the ship to the Klingons. I do find myself wondering if Mudd and Tyler were both placed in the cell with Lorca as some type of test or a way to make Lorca choose between the two men. I have feeling that while Mudd is more transparent in his desire to give the Klingons the ship, that Tyler may be playing a longer game. I just can’t quite shake the feeling (SPOILER info and speculative articles aside) there’s more to him than he’s letting on. After all, it’s not like it’s easy to survive seven months of Klingon torture and come out as relatively unscathed as he did.
There’s also the feeling during Burnham’s final log entry that she and the crew are being set up to have the rug pulled out from under them. Clearly, Lorca could be removed from command when and if Admiral Cornwell is released/escapes her Klingon captors. A lot of this episode felt like it was putting the characters into certain positions for us to see dominoes begin to fall during the back half of the season. It feels like this is crew of outsiders who have found a way to work well together and are building the type of relationship that drove other Trek series. But I can’t help but wonder if this trust could all be easily shattered by a betrayal or two. Again, it seems like Lorca could easily fall out the crew’s good graces when how he’s taken advantage of events to keep Cornwell from taking the ship from him comes to light.
And while I’m not necessarily sure that seeing the first ever wild kegger on a Star Trek show is the best idea, I’m willing to roll with it for the character work here. And while it was interesting to see Stamets teach Burnham how to dance, I would be lying if I said there weren’t echoes of “The Doctor Dances” from the new Doctor Who running through my mind.
Overall, though, I was very pleased with the episode and felt it worked well on just about every level. It may be my favorite episode of the series so far.
A few smaller items:
- If you ever asked me what the scariest red-shirt death in all of TOS was, I’d tell you that it’s when Kirk beams two random red-shirts into nothingness thinking the ship is still orbiting the planet in “And the Children Shall Lead.” For years, I’ve morbidly wondered what that was like for those two red-shirts. Well, I think we’ve got an answer now when Mudd has Lorca beamed into space and we see him die. And now that scene has become more chilling than ever.
- Speaking of deaths, it was nice to see how many ways Mudd came up with to eliminate Lorca.
- Mudd’s line of “mon capitan” made me wonder if Mudd be to Lorca what Q was to Picard. And if that’s the way it goes, I’m fine with that.
- I feel like we missed an opportunity when Stella didn’t call Harry by his full name.
- Speaking of Stella, she doesn’t seem quite as harsh as we see her android version will be in “I, Mudd.” Does she become harsher or is that Harry’s perception of her because he has to give up his devious ways to settle down with her?
- Stamets being outside of time and having to work with Burnham to try and stop Mudd brings up some intriguing questions. It also makes me wonder if there’s more of a side effect to using the spore drive than we’ve been led to believe so far. I don’t want to this to become like the speed limit we put on vessels in later TNG thanks to a pretty forgettable season seven episode. But I can see how the writers are setting things up so the spore drive can be put aside and not around to do something like, say, bring Voyager home easily.