Captain Harry Mudd. There is a moniker to chill your average Starfleet officer to their bones. Well, those that have them.
The latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery, Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad, takes up the well used Star Trek trope of time travel. That’s not to say that it was poorly done, but it is certainly something we’ve seen many times in the various incarnations of Star Trek, both on television and in film.
The U.S.S. Discovery is now the greatest and most effective ship in the fleet in the Federation’s war against the Klingons. With such stress it’s normal for the crew to want to relax and let down their hair once in a while. So not only is Discovery a ship of war, it can also be a ship of fun. A great way to let off tension is to have a huge party. At this party we see the crew frolicking, relaxing, and generally trying to have a good time. Michael Burnham, with her Vulcan upbringing, is clearly out of her element. Fun is not a Vulcan concept.
However, an unexpected contact in space causes the fun to end early. An endangered form of ‘space whale’ is brought on board Discovery only to discover it carries its very own Jonah in the form of Harry Mudd. Storming from the beast Mudd assaults Discovery in an effort to capture her single handedly. He fails, but is unperturbed at his failure and calmly destroys Discovery.
We find ourselves once more at the Discovery’s crew party where the uncomfortable Burnham is again enduring music more than two centuries old. Thankfully for her there is a call to the bridge, but on the way she is accosted by Lt. Stamets who, by lucky coincidence is able to remember the previous time loops by reason of having had his DNA fused with that of the tardigrade (anyone else thinking TARDI is rather familiar?).
We have to go through several iterations of the destruction of Discovery as Mudd refines his method to successfully capture the Discovery in order to sell her to the Klingons. Initially, Stamets has difficulty in getting Burnham to believe him that these time loops are actually happening until he asks her to tell him a secret. A secret she’s never told anyone so she will believe his story immediately. From this point on Stamets and Burnham work together in each loop to find a way to stop Mudd.
Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad taps into the ‘magic’ of what makes Star Trek so wonderful. It uses a ‘known’ scientific idea and works that by twisting and altering it to fit the needs of the story and not having the story fit the idea. The idea of a time loop has been seen in many films and television episodes before, and there is ample opportunity for the story to fall back on the technical aspects of time travel, but Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad does an admirable job of keeping the story focused on the characters and not on the science.
This has always been Star Trek’s primary focus, the characters. It provides characters that we grow to identify with and care about. This is the first episode of Star Trek: Discovery where I’ve cared about any of the characters. In this case Harry Mudd.
Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad is a much lighter episode than we’ve seen so far. From the antics of the crew at the opening party (who knew Tilly was such a party girl?) to the rather humorous resolution, this episode is closer to the style of the lighter episodes of Star Trek.
Rainn Wilson’s version of Harry Mudd in this episode is much more in keeping with the one we remember when Roger C. Carmel portrayed him in the original series, than the one he did in his previous appearance in Choose Your Pain. This new version of Mudd is more cutthroat certainly, but there is still a hint of piratical charm in there that allows the character to be forgiven for his more aggressive entrepreneurial inclinations. To the point that the crew would rather see him in a prison of his own devising than take the trouble to formally charge him through Federation channels.
After the last two episodes, which I felt were weak and did nothing to advance the overall storyline of this arc, Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad is an entertaining diversion. It still does very little to advance the storyline set forth in the first few episodes, but what it does offer is some hope that the rest of the series, while certain to take some downward turns, can end on a generally positive note.
That is one of the enduring features all versions of Star Trek have. That humanity can endure hardship and suffer great loss, but not lose the overall positivity that the future will always be better and brighter.