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Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Star Trek: Discovery 1-07: Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad (Quick Review)

Episode:7|Writer:Aron Eli Coleite & Jesse Alexander|Air Date:29-Oct-2017

Today on Sci-Fi Adventures I'm watching an episode that skips the pre-credits entirely and jumps straight into the action, so I'm going to do the same for a change. SPOILERS tho.

They actually went and did it, they put a disco on the Discovery. They were literally playing Stayin' Alive by the Bee Gees! Well okay, they were playing Wyclef Jean's We Trying to Stay Alive, but close enough.

Even after Sabotage in the Kelvin movies it still seems kind of anachronistic for the Discovery crew to be dancing to a song that's 260 years old, but I much prefer this to the alternative. They could've gone with future disco or they could've brought out the transparent green space instruments and had someone singing Irving Berlin. We're in 2017 and they picked a track from 1997 that samples a song from 1977, so it's not too modern but it's not too dated either. Plus it's fitting as the episode samples a plot from 1992 Next Gen episode Cause and Effect.

I'm just happy to see them all relaxing and acting like human beings at a party, which is something I've been wanting from Star Trek for so long. Sure the DS9 crew had parties (Dax even got a fire dancer once) but the Next Gen crew seemed far too cultured to do anything wilder than listen to a music recital. The snobbery factor was high. I'm also happy to see that the light strips built into all the walls also have a 'rave' setting.

Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad is all about love... but it's also about breaking routine, so it actually helps that seeing a modern party in Star Trek is weird. It's weird to Science Specialist Burnham too; she's been up in the higher ranks so long that she never got to hang out with the rest of the crew like this. The episode also breaks routine by skipping the teaser for the first time in a regular Star Trek episode, to my knowledge (though a couple of the pilot episodes did it), and by generally being upbeat and fun instead of grim and gritty. Sure a lot of people do get killed in very horrific and painful ways, but it's all undone by the end! Even the villain gets a happier ending than he deserves, walking free to a life of luxury despite likely getting a few thousand kills on a ship with 135 crewmembers and learning the secrets of their secret weapon.

Creator Bryan Fuller likes Halloween so much that he numbered the Discovery NCC-1031 as a reference to the 31st of October, so even though he left a while back I still expected an episode airing on the 29th to be a little spookier than most. But it turns out that this episode would've been better placed on Valentine's Day, because it doesn't let you forget for a moment that it's all about love. And shooting people.

The clue's right there in the title, as it's a quote from Homer's The Iliad that makes a bit more sense if you include the line that comes before it:
“…There is the heat of Love, the pulsing rush of Longing, the lover’s whisper, irresistible—magic to make the sanest man go mad.”
Though you'd be forgiven for thinking that Stamets is the sanest man going mad, because he really goes through some stuff in this episode, but he was mad enough to start after becoming the spore drive supercomputer, so this time loop ordeal has only made him stranger. Though he is one of the people in a relationship here, along with Burnham and Tyler, and Mudd and Stella. Not the jörmungandr gormagander though, that poor creature was too distracted with the wonders of space to get laid... because I guess every animal they rescue on this ship is a mirror for Burnham.

The episode's all about a very Star Trek crazy science fiction plot, but here it's been used as an excuse to tell a story about Burnham's isolation and how she's working to change that. She's not very good at parties, dancing, falling in love etc. but events push Stamets to push her and Tyler together. In fact, it's absolutely critical for the safety of the crew and the survival of the entire Federation that the two of them dance and talk about their feelings. And in the end she chooses to sacrifice herself to bring him back to life. It bothered me a little how obvious it was being about it, they basically announced it with a log voiceover, but at least the episode stayed on point throughout. Plus how could I dislike a story that led to the line "I'm just sad we missed our first kiss"?

It's almost cheating for a science fiction series to go with a time loop plot as they tend to end up as fan favourites. Next Gen's Cause and Effect, Dark Matter's All the Time in the World, Supernatural's Mystery Spot, SG-1's Window of Opportunity, that episode of Doctor WhoFarscape's Back and Back and Back to the Future... okay maybe not that last one. It's not a guaranteed win, but Discovery managed to pull it off well here, putting its own twist on the trope by having two rivals who both remember the loops and making neither of them the protagonist.

Keeping Stamets off screen so much makes it harder to follow how he's changing events, but it seems like it's ultimately about how it took him 50+ tries to convince the Discovery crew to trust each other like a regular Star Trek ensemble so they can solve a typical Trek plot. I feel like I must have missed the part where they got the crucial clue they needed to stop Mudd, but man it was satisfying to see these people all working together to fix a problem instead of being miserable jerks.

It was also satisfying to see Mudd run rings around them on his solo commando raid, at least when it was revealed how he did it. I mean they never did explain how he found Discovery when the Klingons clearly can't do it, but his Trojan space whale made a lot more sense when they discovered the shuttle hidden inside. And of course, Mudd shouldn't be able to singlehandedly take over a Federation starship... but it's less implausible that a driven and resourceful man with a good memory and infinite retries can eventually pull a Tom Cruise, master the perfect run and figure out how to use all the ship's tech against its crew. It's a shame he didn't pull a Bill Murray while he was at it and learn not to be a dick, though he did seem to mellow out a bit after spending 25 hours straight killing Lorca in every way he could think of.

Mudd's a bit of a cold-blooded psychopath his episode, which seems a little out of character, but I suppose his killing sprees were leading up to a final bloodless run. The guy was so cocky and in control after a day of retries that it was it like watching a Star Trek/Doctor Who crossover... if the Doctor kept shooting people all the time. I wouldn't say he's mad though, because that would be a variation of that ultra-clichéd "You're insane!" line that I hate, and I'm glad Mudd turned it around on Burnham when she said it by replying with "No, I'm Mudd." It's what she deserved.

Seems like the Discovery isn't the only ship that can teleport though, as they send out a signal to Stella, detect a warp signature after 11 seconds and are told that her ship has arrived 16 seconds later. Even in the best case scenario of Stamets sending a message to Stella with the ship's general location the moment that time had reset and then telling her to wait for final coordinates, that still means there's just 30 minutes between her learning where Mudd is and travelling there.

I'm expecting this episode to be a lot of people's favourite so far, and a lot of people's least favourite. It depends on how attached you are to the dark, gritty, serious mood of the series up to this point, and how sick you are of 90s Trek. Personally, I think I liked the episode roughly equally as much as every other episode so far, because I'm apparently easy to please but hard to impress lately.

It's definitely the most fun episode of Discovery and it demonstrates better than any of them so far that the series isn't going to be locked down to one tone all of the time, despite the serialised story. But it's not going to pull a Voyager-style reset either, as Stamets is happy to tell anyone what happened, and Burnham and Tyler's relationship has taken a big jump forward.

Stamet's multi-dimensional nature and Burnham's reputation are what saves the day here, so I suppose the moral of the story is to experiment on yourself and piss off the Klingons. Or maybe it's to play the cards you've been dealt. Or maybe it's that if you keep spending all your budget on CGI monsters and the virtual shuttle bay you'll never be able to afford to get your actors down onto a planet like The Orville does every week.

Actually the moral is stated outright at the end: if you don't break out of your routines you'll never defeat Harry Mudd and find love. Also if you keep trying at something and never give up, you can achieve amazing things... then get caught and forced to live with a woman you hate.

Nothing bad happens to any shuttles or shuttle pilots this week, though Harry Mudd does shove a shuttle down a space whale's throat and then uses it to destroy/hijack the Discovery 50+ times.

I love his goofy light-up Andorian helmet by the way.

Discovery will return with Si Vis Pacem... uh, some long Latin title. But coming next on Sci-Fi Adventures, it's Babylon 5's All Alone in the Night.

You should break out of your comfort zone and leave me a response in the box below! Unless you've gotten into a routine of writing comments, then you should totally stay in that rut.


  1. Mudd says he managed to rob a bank, presumably by doing it in a time loop. Assuming that's true, did Mudd have to blow up the bank the way he did Discovery to reset the loop? It seems like a bank would be harder to blow up than a ship. Of course, it's Star Trek...maybe banks have self-destruct mechanisms.

    1. Did he have to blow up the ship to reset the loop? I thought he just did that because... well, it's really easy to blow Discovery up. It's almost a design flaw.

  2. I... I did not pick up on the Jormungandr/gormagander thing at all. Wow.

    All the way through, my brain was telling me that I should hate this episode. Time loop plot? Gah! Space whale? Urk! Even so, I thought it was great fun, so I suppose I've learned to ignore my brain?

    1. I didn't pick up on it either until I went searching the internet to find out how to spell it.

      And there's nothing wrong with time loop plots! Time crystals and space whales are a bit dodgy, but time loops have given us some of the very finest episodes of many series! And a couple of pretty decent movies too.

    2. I think I was wary because time travel episodes in Trek usually -- although not always, as you point out -- signify that the writers have run out of ideas (cough) Enterprise (cough) and it seemed a bit early for that to happen in Discovery.

    3. Enterprise WISHES it had a time loop episode.

      I'm not sure I agree with you about time travel, as every Trek series (and Farscape, Babylon 5, Red Dwarf... Doctor Who) went time travelling in its first season, and the Original Series had visited 20th century Earth twice before its first year was over.

      Though on the other hand, orb visions aside, Deep Space Nine didn't really introduce time travel until season 3 and Voyager had time travel by episode 3, so maybe you're onto something.

    4. You know, you're right. I love the B5 time travel episodes and most of the Red Dwarf and TNG ones, and I always have, um, time for a time travel movie.

      (Except Looper, which was dumb as a post.)

      I think I'm just traumatised by Voyager and Enterprise and their general poor approach to time travel.