Star Trek: Discovery – Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad Review

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Before Discovery started, Hazel asked me if I’d like to share the reviewing duties for it.  Unfortunately, since the NHS has silly rules about not letting me watch Star Trek during office hours, I haven’t been able to get anything done in time – until this week, when I’m off work.

We’ve talked about our opinions of the show, and we both agree that while it’s a great show, with lots of potential, the individual episodes have been a bit inconsistent.  However, we seem very divided on which the good episodes are and which ones are below standard.  The two part début we agree was fantastic.  But where she loved ‘Context is for Kings’ and ‘Choose Your Pain’, I much preferred ‘The Butcher’s Knife…’ and ‘Lethe’.

I’m really not sure what she’ll have made of ‘Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad’, partly because I’m not at all sure what I thought of it. Bits of it were tremendously exciting and there were a lot of entertaining parts. But just as often, the pace dragged and the resolution was just so convenient and poorly executed.

Before I get started: Spoiler Warning!

Now that’s out of the way, a little context – Magic is time loop episode, in which the crew of Discovery experience the same thirty minutes 50+ times, and the only one who recalls what’s happening is Stamets.

Now we’re clear on that…

Forcing The Pace

The pacing was so variable.  It dragged so much that literally nothing happened for five whole minutes after the recap and the title sequence, just showing us bits so that we can recognise them when they happen again.

Every time we went around again, the pace slowed down until we started to get the changes.  But then towards the end of each loop, it accelerated so much that it left you breathless.  The episode basically only had two gears and the shifts were jarring.

A Patchwork of Plots

The producers seemed to have a set of ideas plotted out for the episode.  Let’s do Groundhog Day! We’ll bring back Harry Mudd!  Michael and Tyler can kiss!  Michael can outwit Mudd by sacrificing herself!  But those parts got wrapped up in a very inconsistent story that didn’t make a lot of sense.

The subplot between Burnham and Tyler was disappointing.  Last week set up the potential for a relationship between them, forcing it onwards here only to have it all undone by the nature of the time loop felt like a misstep.

Hopefully, in a few weeks, we’ll have come to see them grow closer to the point where Michael can take that next step towards some kind of relationship – but we’ve now already seen them kiss, so it won’t have the same impact that it might have done.

Mudd Returns

The appearance of Harry Mudd in ‘Choose Your Pain’ I thought was a nice touch, but I couldn’t see how the character there would become the cheerful bounder of the original series.  Here, even more, I can’t imagine the man who will happily murder Lorca and his crew countless times in order to sell out the Federation to the Klingons will go on to pal around with Kirk in fifteen years time.

I also find it hard to understand why Lorca would let Mudd go off with all the knowledge that he’s gained of how Discovery works.  Given his grudge against Starfleet at this point, why would Harry not send all that information to the Klingons?  But Discovery lets him go off to his miserable marriage (with a girl who looked far too young to become the shrieking harpy whose android copy we saw in ‘I, Mudd’).

Magic Devices

Harry’s plan didn’t make all that much sense either, using a time manipulator to steal the Discovery’s secrets in order to sell them to the Klingons.  Surely a time controller would be worth a lot more than a new star drive?  And aren’t there easier ways to make money with such a device than memorising security routines in order to rob banks?  What happened to just finding out the results of sports events and betting on them?

The technology throughout the episode was all MacGuffin based.  We don’t know where the time loop generator came from, how Harry got it, or how it worked.  Also, how did he escape the Klingons – one line about how it was a feat to make any escape artist blush was not a satisfying answer.

The resolution also took liberties with technobabble.  Tyler rewired the captain’s chair, and this undid all of Mudd’s handiwork on the computer.  How?  Why didn’t the computer obey him once they left the bridge and the chair behind?

Other Issues

Mudd’s initial appearance wearing a rather insectoid helmet with antennae seems to have been solely for the reason of delaying the reveal of his identity for an extra thirty seconds- but given that he’s been seen in the recap, the surprise had been spoiled anyway.  I did think that it was a nice design though.

One last problem – where exactly were they that both the Klingons and Stella’s father could both reach Discovery’s location within minutes?  If they could arrive that quickly, I’m not sure how much of an advantage the spore drive actually is.

The Redeeming Parts

But the episode had its good points.  I did enjoy the way that they played with the usual Groundhog Day trope.

While Burnham was the character that we followed through the loops, she wasn’t the one who was aware of it.  Stamets had to convince her each time and was forced to keep finding ways to persuade her more quickly.  This had a side benefit of letting us know that more iterations had occurred than we had seen.

A Two Man Show

The best things about the episode though was the cast, and two actors in particular: Rainn Wilson and Anthony Rapp.

I may have complained that Mudd seemed very different here from his TOS appearances, but I put that down to the script.  Rainn Wilson stole the show here with a portrayal that showed humour as a sheer mask over anger and greed.  He appeared more dangerous and cunning than many other, supposedly more serious, threats in the franchise.

His only competition here was Stamets.  Every time Anthony Rapp appeared on screen, I was smiling.  His newfound, rather spaced out personality was entertaining, especially when played against his increasing frustration with other people not catching on to what was happening and his eventual disgust at seeing his comrades die over and over again.

Rapp gave a great performance here, moving from comedic beat to more heartfelt character moments without ever seeming to break stride.  The rest of the cast also seem to have fitted into their roles a little more comfortably by now, but this was Rapp’s show, even given his limited screen time.

Final Verdict

Apart from that, there was a lot of entertainment.  The montage of Mudd killing Lorca, and Stamets dancing with Michael… these were nice moments sprinkled through the episode.

But as a whole, it didn’t make a lot of sense

In the end, I think that when I remember ‘Magic…’ it will be for the good moments rather than the actual story.


Steve Harper

Steve works full-time for the NHS and tries not to spend too much of his day plotting out his series of vampire novels. Away from the office, he divides his time between playing games where he is a vampire, playing games where he hunts vampires, and playing with Lego (he has numerous Lego vampires).

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