Wednesday, April 17, 2024

A Muddy Time Loop Proves to be Entertaining

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Episode 7: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”

Stardate 2136.8.

After recording a personal log entry, where she highlights recent and interesting happenings on Discovery and admits to some personal desires and fears, Burnham goes to a crew party. Briefly surprised by a sudden powering down, and unused to social mingling, she gravitates to Tilley. Tilley encourages her to go further in her “relationship” with Tyler. Burnham insists there is no relationship between them; they’ve spent time together as crewmates and, perhaps, friends. Nothing more. When Tyler comes over to the pair, Tilley quickly leaves Burnham and Tyler alone. Before they can start talking, First Officer Saru calls them both to the bridge.

Confused by Tyler’s parting words—“Saved from the horrors of small talk by duty”—Burnham chases after Tyler, apologizing for any rudeness. On their way to the lift, Burnham runs in Stamets and Culber. Literally. She apologizes, and Stamets hugs her. He then comments on Tyler’s height and mental capacity after capture and torture. Culber apologizes for Stamets’ behavior. Ever since connecting with the spore drive, he has been acting strangely. After shutting down an inappropriate relationship question from Stamets, Burnham and Tyler head to the bridge.

On the bridge, they discover the unidentified signal Saru noticed is a gormagander: an intergalactic whale and endangered xenospecies. Since its health is compromised and its endangered status, Discovery is duty-bound to transport the creature to a facility for monitoring and protection. Lorca orders it be brought aboard.

Down in the transport bay, Burnham waits with medical and operations crewmembers for the gormagander to arrive. When it arrives, medical discovers abnormal readings. The gormagander’s mouth opens, and a creature emerges. It shoots on sight, killing several crewmembers. Burnham manages to hail the bridge. The intruder makes his way through the ship to deck six before being locked down by Lorca. The intruder unmasks himself. It’s Mudd.  He promises to sell the Discovery to the Klingons as revenge for Lorca leaving him behind and robbing him of his “sweet Stella.” Although he’s trapped, he promises Lorca he has all he needs to complete his mission, and that he will see Lorca “earlier.” Mudd sets off a series of explosions, and Discovery is destroyed.

Stardate 2136.8.

Burnham and Tyler are called from the crew party to the bridge. In the hall, Stamets stops Tyler and Burnham before they can enter the lift. Stamets frantically tells them they have been there before. Many times before. As Culber grabs him and takes him back to sick bay, Stamets shouts to Burnham and Tyler that it all starts with a gormagander.

They’re confused until they reach the bridge, where the signal Saru has noticed is revealed to belong to a gormagander. Saru informs them of the creature’s health and the regulations regarding its protection. Tyler and Burnham both interject, remembering Stamets’ warning. They can’t prevent it from coming on board, but Lorca allows Burnham and Tyler to run point on transporting the creature.

The gormagander arrives. The readings are the same. Burnham examines them more closely and realizes an energy signature like a transporter beam is present. Discovery suddenly goes under black alert. Lorca didn’t order a jump, and they can’t deactivate the drive from the bridge or hail engineering. Tyler and Burnham managed to get into engineering, where they find Mudd. Tyler demands to know how Mudd escaped prison. Mudd claims it was Stuart before demanding to know how the drive works. He’s put himself behind a containment field, preventing Burnham or Tyler from doing anything as the drive overloads. Stamets shoots Mudd from behind. Unfortunately it’s too late. Stamets promises to see them again soon before the spore drive explodes.

Stardate 2136.8.

Stamets tries to track down Burnham at the crew party, but she’s already made it to the bridge. She encourages Lorca to bring the gormagander aboard. On her way to the transporter bay, Stamets catches up. He tells her they are caught in a temporal loop. She doesn’t believe him, but he manages to convince her to come with him. On the bridge, Lorca gets a message from Dr. Culber regarding Stamets. Lorca heads to sickbay, but the lift suddenly stops. The doors open and reveal Mudd.

Elsewhere, Stamets explains the situation to Burnham, explaining that by combining his DNA with the Tardigrade—which was a multidimensional creature—he is able to exist outside of the temporal loop and remember every passage through these 30 minutes. But it’s getting hard each time. Afraid that Mudd will eventually learn about his role in the spore drive, Stamets convinces Burnham to share a secret with him, something she had never shared before and that will immediately prove to her they’ve had this conversation before. After she shares it, Stamets says he’s sorry.

Mudd manages to get Lorca to take him to his personal war laboratory, where he kills him with his own weapon. This is the 54th time he’s kill Lorca.

Stardate 2136.8.

Stamets catches Burnham at the crew party. He tells her the secret: she has never been in love. Shocked, she believes Stamets when he once again tells her they are stuck in a temporal loop that always ends in everyone’s death. Stamets begs her to talk to Tyler about Mudd, assuring her that he will since he likes her. Burnham messes it up the first time, accidentally insulting Tyler before they are called to the bridge. Burnham goes with Stamets, berating herself for blowing their one chance before the loop resets itself. Stamets helps her prepare for the next loop, teaching her to dance and telling her about how he and Culber first met. After his story, Stamets tells her honesty is what makes a relationship work. Explosions rock the Discovery. They hold hands as the deck is engulfed in flames.

Stardate 2136.8.

Burnham seeks out Tyler. She leads him onto the dancefloor and tells him to lead. While they dance, Burnham grills him on Harry Mudd. Surprised at first, Tyler eventually believes Burnham when she tells him they are all trapped in a temporal loop started by Mudd. As his former cellmate, Tyler is the only one with information that could break them free. Tyler kisses her, and then tells Burnham everything he knows. They realize Mudd must have a time crystal, which would allow him to create loops. He’s used it before to break into a Betazoid bank, where he repeated the same section of time over and over until he memorized everything. Armed with the knowledge, Burnham, Stamets, and Tyler search for Mudd.

Mudd takes over the bridge with weaponized dark matter, banishing Lorca to the brig. When Burnham, Stamets, and Tyler arrive, Mudd uses the dark matter on Tyler, obliterating him. Furious, Burnham heads toward Mudd, until Saru stops her. Mudd threatens to kill every crew member until someone tells him about the spore drive. Unable to handle any more death, Stamets reveals his role as the navigator of the spore drive.

While Mudd takes Stamets to engineering, Tilley and Burnham investigate the gormagander. They discover Mudd has been keeping his ship inside the creature, causing the distress but also allowing him to control time since the ship carries the energy source needed to power the crystal he wears on his wrist. Tilley and Burnham realize they must convince Mudd to reset time, or else everyone who has died will stay dead and the Klingons will get the ship. Burnham decides to play Mudd’s game. She congratulates him on his cunning in Lorca’s ready room, but then offers him a more tantalizing prize: herself. She is Michael Burnham, T’Kuvma’s murderer. The Klingons would pay a fortune for her. Before Mudd can detain her, though, Burnham commits suicide by ingesting the dark matter. Mudd resets the loop.

Stardate 2136.8.

Mudd heads for the bridge. Burnham finds Tyler at the crew party. While Mudd hijacks the main systems, Lorca allows Tyler—at Stamets insistence—to make adjustments to the security protocols. Everyone converges on the bridge, where Lorca hails Mudd as “captain.” Immediately suspicious, Mudd accuses Stamets of cheating, but Burnham insists Stamets has shown them the impossibility of resistance. Lorca immediately turns over the Discovery, Stamets, and Burnham to Mudd; he cannot bear a repeat of the Buran. Mudd accepts and orders the computer to send coordinates to the Klingons. The Discovery rejoins the normal time stream, and Mudd forces Burnham and Stamets to the transporter room.

On their way, Stamets reveals they know he is lying about Stella. Mudd never bothered to lockdown the archives, so they’ve done their research. Stella’s father, Barron Grimes, is making a fortune as an arms dealer in the war. Stella, then, was never taken away; Mudd abandoned her, taking her dowry along with him. But because she is in love with him, Stella has hunted him down, even convincing her father to put out a reward for Mudd’s safe return. Tyler and Burnham manage to disarm Mudd, and inform him no Klingons are coming. Tyler rewired the captain’s chair. Mudd’s hail went out to Stella.

In the transporter room, Stella and her father beam aboard. Mudd declares his undying love for her, and his fear she would reject him because of his debts and past. He had set out to straighten his reputation, but his plan had gone astray, leading to the current predicament. Stella says she’s always known and always loved him. Grimes asks what Starfleet would have from him, since they returned Mudd to Stella. Tyler just asks Mudd stays by Stella and out of Starfleet’s way until the end of his days. The three of them beam back to Grimes’ ship.

In the hall, Burnham and Tyler talk about the previous time loop, where they danced. Burnham tells him that Stamets had informed her she liked it. Burnham admits her feelings are complicated and strange. Tyler understands and doesn’t push, but he does admit he regrets not remembering their first kiss.

Episode Impression

Ah, the time loop. A Star Trek classic. TOS never had a time loop—although “Mirror, Mirror” (Season 2, ep 10) is the closest approximation and one of the best episodes by far—but Next Generation handled the trope masterfully in “Cause and Effect” (Season 5, ep 18). It’s a little surprising, considering the up-and-down success of Discovery so far, they would bank on such a staple trope for a late-season episode.

But “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” wasn’t awful.

In a break from the war with the Klingons, episode 7 turns to some of the interpersonal growth and conflict they were hoping to develop (which they claim is the first breaking of Roddenberry’s rule on interpersonal relationships and direct conflict but conflict has always been a thing. Spock and Bones butted heads, kind of often? Playfully sometimes but still? Riker and Troi and Picard and Wesley—mother and son—were constantly back and forth? It wasn’t high drama but it was there.) Which translates into: Burnham and Tyler need to be dating. We go from a single handshake to their first kiss in less than an episode.

I knew they were setting it up, but come on. A little more build-up would have been nice, as well as more logical.

Yes, Tyler was the only one who could have shared information on Mudd thanks to their prolonged captivity together, but there had to be some other way than “Burnham struggles through the fraught fields of love” to do it. Banking on the “poor Vulcan who has never felt love” was also just in poor taste, since Burnham has felt love: parental love toward Amanda and Sarek, and the debilitating crash when that love was not returned by Sarek. It’s not “Romantic Love” but it is love. It matters. Her secret then—“I’ve never been in love”—is cliched and tired, and screams “only romantic and sexual love matter.”

How the time loop is established makes absolutely zero sense to me, as is why the captain’s chair is a “non-critical system” Mudd wouldn’t think to control. But “Magic” was clearly going for the thrill of the time loop; no need to get us bogged down in the little details like how the crystal works and how he even got the ship in the space whale without killing it.

Stamets and Mudd’s performances were fantastic, and kept the episode from dragging. The limited loops (6 in total) still give the sense that the temporal problem is overwhelming because of how desperate and tired Stamets and Mudd get throughout the episode. Stamets’ hyperactivity in the beginning, played as part of the lingering spore-high, degenerates into believable hysterics as Stamets fails time and time again to stop Mudd, and then to get Burnham and Tyler to stop Mudd. Mudd’s boredom as he finds new ways to destroy Discovery and end Lorca’s life, but fails to find his answers, also reinforces the idea that the half hour has gone around hundreds of times (well, at least 60), without us needing numerous clip segments.

I’m glad Discovery kept the clip segments to one, and focused it on Mudd’s multiple murders of Lorca. I don’t like him, and I admit I took a kind of vicarious pleasure in seeing him die over and over again.

That scene could have done with a bit more build-up as well. Mudd and Lorca are cut from similar cloth, and Mudd personally called out Lorca in his revenge. There should have been more discussion about Lorca abandoning him on the Klingon prison ship. There should have been jabbing at Lorca for his role in the Buran and what could have changed to make the Discovery’s crew so much more worthy of saving than his previous command. It was a missed opportunity to let Wilson have a little more fun with his twisted-but-charming Mudd.

The end of “Magic” brings in a character seen once in TOS. In TOS, Stella only appears as a shrewish android Mudd can shut off on command. I like that Stella is given a history, a personality, and is revealed to be young and devoted. So devoted she convinces her father to hunt him down to the end of the universe. She’s clearly someone who shouldn’t be in love with Mudd but fell for him because he gave her attention she never had before. Mudd wasn’t ready for her to fall hard and fast, and seeing him packed off for a shotgun wedding was kind of nice.

Considering what happens in TOS, I just hope this Mudd doesn’t end up killing her.

Mudd appeared in TOS twice (and once in the animated series but let’s not go there), so I don’t think we’ll see much of Harry Mudd again in this season. Which is a shame. He’s a fantastic momentary villain: much more of a  nuisance than a threat. I could be wrong, though. If Mudd got out with Klingon help then maybe they’ll come to collect on his promises.

“Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” was a pleasant break. Without having to watch Lorca get away with everything because he’s a war hero, and without having the Klingons or Vulcans shoe-horned in to show how humans are vastly superior, there was time to go among some of the crew and see them interact and grew, however quickly.

But next week, the war returns. Someone will probably die. I’ve got my killed-list ready.

Images Courtesy of CBS

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