by Eric Renner Brown | via Entertainment Weekly
A week after a whirlwind episode that included Adm. Cornwell’s capture by the Klingons and called Capt. Lorca’s allegiance into question, Star Trek: Discovery took a different tack in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” Though the ongoing Klingon conflict lingers over the episode, none of the aliens appear — a welcome reprieve, considering that the Klingon storylines have been some of the show’s weakest in its early installments.
Instead, “Magic” brings back Harcourt Fenton Mudd, Rainn Wilson’s zany, interstellar swindler whom Lorca and Tyler left aboard a Klingon vessel in “Context Is for Kings.” In the highly entertaining “Magic,” Mudd’s back with personal vengeance, but also a larger purpose: He wants to ascertain Discovery’s secret worth and then pawn the ship off to the Klingons.
The episode begins innocuously. In a voice-over reading of her personal log, Burnham explains that she’s slipped into a routine aboard Discovery before lamenting that she’s about to face one of her “greatest challenges so far”: a party. What’s anxiety-inducing for Burnham is amusing for viewers: Apparently, in the future, they still play beer pong and listen to Wyclef Jean. As Tyler gives a speech, Tilly prods Burnham about what appears to be a burgeoning romance between the two. Burnham brushes away the comments, and when Tilly leaves Tyler and Burnham alone, they’re called to the bridge before any substantial conversation can occur.
En route to the bridge with Tyler, Burnham bumps into Stamets. The engineer remains altered from his integration with the spore drive and hilarious rebuffs Burnham’s instinctive apology: “Why would you apologize for a random act of physical interaction?” he asks. “These are the moments that make life so gloriously unpredictable!” In another noteworthy turn, Culber, who is with Stamets, refers to the engineer as his “partner” — previously, Discovery has only acknowledged Culber and Stamets’ romance in private. Burnham and Tyler continue on to the bridge, as Stamets cracks wise about a possible romance between the two.
Once the duo arrives on the bridge, the crew determines that the foreign object that had initially caused alarm is actually just an injured gormagander. The “space whale” is unwell, and Burnham advises that, due to the species’ endangered status, Discovery should take it aboard, rehabilitate it, and take it to a “xenologic facility.” With an eye roll, Lorca gives the go-ahead.
Needless to say, things don’t go as planned. When Discovery beams the gormagander aboard, a figure — later revealed to be Mudd — emerges from its mouth and begins shooting members of the crew. Over the intercom, Mudd explains his plan, says he “will see you later or, rather, sooner,” and then detonates the ship.
The timeline then snaps back to the party. As the episode unfolds, it becomes evident that Mudd has trapped Discovery in a 30-minute loop so that he can workshop the ship’s secrets. Mudd’s plan seems bulletproof — an infinite number of do-overs until he figures out a solution that works — but he doesn’t anticipate Stamets’ special properties. The engineer proves the key to Discovery’s ultimate triumph over Mudd.
Initially, Stamets’ attempts to stop Mudd fall on deaf ears. When Tyler and Burnham leave the party for the second time in the episode, they’re chased down by a panting Stamets, who tells them that they’ve been here before. When Culber says Stamets is ranting, the engineering shouts, “What I need is for all of you placid people to finally start listening!” Burnham and Tyler still doubt him, but Stamets tells them “it all starts with the gormagander.” When they arrive on the bridge and see the creature in space, they know something’s afoot.
This time, they suggest treating the creature skeptically, but Saru urges Lorca to bring it aboard. However, as Burnham and Tyler head to see the gormagander, the ship goes into black alert. They head to engineering, where they find Mudd sipping out of a goblet and tinkering with the drive. When Tyler tries to shoot the intruder, his shot is blocked by a containment field. Stamets appears and shoots Mudd from another angle, but the victory is short-lived. “As days go, this is a weird one,” Stamets says. He’s lived the timeline multiple times, but has “yet to find a way where it ends with a win for the home team.” The ship explodes again.
In the new repetition of the loop, Mudd lures Lorca from the bridge, explaining to the captain that he needs him to access certain parts of the ship — and revealing that he’s already murdered Lorca 53 times, indicating that, while the episode has only shown three repetitions, the characters have experienced many more.
Meanwhile, Stamets finds Burnham as she’s heading to examine the gormagander and explains his significance. Because he melded his genetic material with that of the tardigrade, a multidimensional creature, to interface with the spore drive, Stamets can exist outside the timeline. But he’s also the missing element Mudd is chasing to make the spore drive work. Stamets instructs Burnham to tell him a secret so that in future repetitions he won’t have to waste time explaining himself. She whispers something to him and says, “I’m sorry.”
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