Discovery gets stuck in a loop as Rainn Wilson's character returns
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 story lines 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.” (Recap continues on page 2)
The loop resets again, and this time Stamets runs into the party. “You’ve never been in love,” he forcefully tells Burnham — and, upon hearing her secret, she believes him. But she misses an opportunity to dance with Tyler, whose brain Stamets had told her to pick to learn how to combat Mudd. The repetition has already been lost, in a sense, so Stamets teaches Burnham to dance “for science.” In a tender moment, the engineer tells her that “love isn’t logical” and that she shouldn’t hide her true self.
The loop resets yet again. Burnham immediately asks Tyler to dance — “I thought you’d never ask,” he says — and they step onto the floor as Al Green’s “Love and Happiness” plays. (Side note: Easily the best musical episode of Discovery yet.) Burnham cuts to the chase and explains the situation, and Tyler asks if she’s using “Vulcan humor.” When she says she’s not, he remarks how the “night has gotten weird” and kisses her. As they head to the bridge, Tyler and Burnham deduce that Mudd is using some sort of a crystal to establish the loop.
On the bridge, a scene that’s both serious and silly unfolds. As Mudd appears, the computer greets him as “Captain Mudd” and he tells the assembled crew that he’s “actually tired of gloating.” He transports Lorca to the brig and jokes that he’ll kill any officer on the bridge — even, in a seriously fun meta moment, an extra he identifies as “random communications officer man.” When Stamets, Burnham, and Tyler appear on the bridge, Tyler attempts to attack Mudd — and Mudd uses an agonizing, bulbous dark matter weapon on Tyler that kills him instantly. Broken, Stamets reveals his secret to Mudd.
Knowing the jig is up, Burnham heads down to examine the gormagander with Tilly, telling her that if Mudd pulls Discovery out of the time loop, anyone who has died will remain dead — Tyler included. Burnham cooks up a final plan.
Entering the captain’s quarters, where Mudd has taken up residence as he waits for the Klingons to arrive and receive the Discovery, Burnham explains that she knows something they’d pay even more for than the ship. “I murdered T’Kuvma, the Klingon messiah,” she says, indentifying herself as Michael Burnham; her name hadn’t appeared on Discovery’s manifest because of her status as a specialist, not an officer. In a remarkable scene, Mudd asks what’s in it for her and Burnham says Tyler. “Lieutenant Tyler is dead,” Mudd says, but Burnham grabs one of his dark matter bulbs, quips “not for long,” and swallows it, killing herself. Mudd’s forced to reset the timeline again.
Playing on their own terms, Discovery finally outsmarts Mudd. The swindler enters the bridge and a dour Lorca offers him the ship. “Don’t try to con a con man,” Mudd says skeptically. “I’m not,” Lorca explains. “I’m negotiating with a businessman.” Lorca says he just wants to save his crew, and is willing to turn over Burnham, Stamets, and the ship itself to Mudd and the Klingons. An exultant Mudd takes the bait, just as the computer announces a Klingon ship has appeared beside Discovery.
But it’s soon revealed that Tyler reprogrammed the captain’s chair to deceive Mudd. The security officer ambushes Mudd, Stamets, and Burnham, revealing to Mudd that the ship that’s appeared actually belongs to Barron Grimes — a wealthy arms dealer whose daughter, Stella, Mudd had wedded for her dowry and then abandoned. “Turns out you can con a con man,” Burnham tells Mudd.
In an odd moment of anti-climax, Stella and Barron Grimes beam aboard Discovery and, essentially, tell Mudd he’s off the hook — so long as he spends the rest of his life with Stella. It’s a peculiar resolution to a peculiar — but engrossing — episode.
Once the action subsides, Burnham and Tyler discuss their romance — or lack thereof. “What I’m feeling is complicated and strange,” Burnham says. Tyler instructs her to take her time, only joking that he’s “sad we missed our first kiss.”