This Star Trek: Discovery review contains spoilers.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 7
Time loop narratives are a mainstay of Star Trek storytelling. The Next Generation did it to particularly memorable effect with “Cause and Effect,” directed by Jonathan Frakes (aka Riker). The key to a good time loop episode, as Frakes demonstrated admirably, is to make sure that enough stays the same for the loop to exist, while changing enough to keep the audience interested.
“Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” found a good balance in its fifty minutes, showing the time loop con man Harry Mudd sent the Discovery into from various perspectives. It was especially successful in moments like the Lorca murder montage, which, told from Mudd’s perspective, saw the bitter conman killing the Discovery captain again and again in various ways.
In any time loop narrative, it is important to have at least one character who begins to suspect that a time loop exists. For “Magic,” this was Stamets, who continues to go through changes since he injected himself with giant space tardigrade DNA.
Discoveryplayed a bit faster and looser than I would have liked with the rules of the time loop. (How were so many characters able to retain so much information as the time loop progressed? Stamets isn’t that good at explaining.) However, this episode was so much fun and moved at such a jaunty pace, it was hard to care too much. Or at least it became apparent at a certain point that, to enjoy the episode, one had to look past some of the logic.
The main emotional thrust in the episode came in the exploration of Burnham’s love life. The time loop began, at least for Burnham, at the attendance of a very bro-y Starfleet party aboard the Discovery. Burnham gazes longingly at probably-a-Klingon-spy Tyler, while a tipsy Tilly (who, in a lovely turn of events, seems to absolutely rock at parties) questions Burnham about her feelings.
It’s a bit of an invasive about-face for a show that has shown only sporadic interest in character relationships, but a welcome one. As the time loop progresses, Burnham must use her burgeoning connection with Tyler to find out more about Mudd. When Mudd kills Tyler in one of the time loops, Burnham, in a bad ass moment, sacrifices herself in order to get Mudd to reset the loop.
While I’m not sure Burnham’s “secret” that she’s never been in love was the best code for Burnham to use with Stamets, it did provide a solid theme for the episode. Burnham has experienced so much of the galaxy, and experienced so many feelings during her rocky time in Starfleet, but she has never been in love. The fact that Burnham and Tyler share their first kiss in a time loop they will never be able to remember is probably suitably tragic for a couple that seems doomed, if Tyler’s suspicious background turns out the way so many suspect.
Eventually, the Discovery crew work together to trick Mudd at his own game, sending him back into the waiting arms of his “beloved” Stella (played by Wynonna Earp‘s Nicole Haught!). Something tells me we’ll be seeing this con man again, hopefully in a similarly standalone episode. Watching “Magic” made me wander if Discovery wouldn’t be better sticking to a higher degree of standalone episodes that focus on character-driven progressions rather than plot-driven ones.
“Magic” wasn’t the most plot-tight episode Star Trek has ever given us, but it was a lot of action-packed fun — an hour that kept the characters and audience on its toes. Discovery could do a lot worse (and has) with its middle-of-the-season episodes. We could do with more episodes that focus their action on the “everyday” happenings of this ship and her crew and that rely on classic Star Trek formulas to help define its characters and their relationships.
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