Another week, another unmissable Star Trek Discovery episode. It seems the show can do no (or at least very little) wrong as it takes Burnham and co on another whirlwind ride of character development. Rather than abandoning the change Burnham went through in last week’s Lethe, episode 7 thankfully embraces it and even has some fun with the Vulcan who, having realised she wants to become more, has no idea how to make that happen. Enter Tilly, Tyler, and Stamets who each - in their own way - help her on her journey. If this is all sounding a bit too Kumbaya for you, then don’t worry, there’s also a big bad to defeat and a heavy sci-fi element to Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad. Read on for more, but beware if you haven’t seen the episode yet as there’s spoilers to follow.
It’s only taken seven episodes, but Burnham has finally found a routine aboard the Discovery with a permanent position on the bridge and a small, but budding social life. As if to mock this routine, episode 7 employs a sci-fi classic as Discovery falls victim to a time loop employed by none other than Harry ‘you haven't seen the last of me’ Mudd. Confusing timelines, no consequences, hilarious scenarios… who doesn’t love a good time loop story? This is a win for fans who might feel like the new Star Trek series has forgotten it's a sci-fi show as Mudd, having escaped the Klingons, repeatedly attempts to take over the Discovery, each time learning more and more about its all-important DASH drive. While I’m a little surprised to see Mudd again so soon, it’s a solid plot which sees the rogue out for vengeance (against Lorca) and profit (he intends to sell Discovery to the Klingons), making it almost impossible to take your eyes off Rainn Wilson as he runs around causing havoc in an unapologetic and ballsy manner.
Thanks to the Tardigrade’s DNA, Stamets is the only one, other than Mudd, who is outside the time loop and can remember what’s happening, and it becomes his mission to make Burnham believe him so she can enlist Tyler - who knows Mudd the most - to help them. Cue, a few surprisingly poignant and emotional exchanges between the pair which should feel out of place but don’t (thanks to the character groundwork laid by previous episodes). Why didn’t Stamets just approach Tyler himself? Well, he tried and it didn’t work, but Tyler believes Burnham more easily because he likes her (Oooooooooo!).
This brings us to the other plot thread of the episode, which sees Starfleet off duty as the crew party and Burnham and Tilly gossip about boys. Like much in Star Trek Discovery, it’s a new tactic for the iconic show, but a welcome one nonetheless. While it might jar with some fans, it’s enjoyable to watch the series acknowledge that this would be a part of life aboard a starship and it's been obvious that there’s something between Tyler and Burnham since their first meeting.
Time loop episodes are full of advantages and pitfalls and Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad uses and avoids them well. Repeating events, especially in high pressure situations, allows characters to develop faster, form stronger bonds, and make revelations they wouldn’t normally. In short, one time loop episode is usually worth about three normal episodes in terms of character development, and this is exactly what we see here. By the time episode 7 is done, Burnham has made further leaps in her desire to change and built a relationship with Tyler we wouldn’t have seen otherwise without it feeling rushed. There’s also a danger with such episodes that the repetition becomes boring for audiences, but Discovery sees this coming and employs some impressive cinematic skills to avoid such consequences (I particularly enjoyed the Lorca death montage).
If I’m looking for faults - and I am because they’re really hard to spot - it would probably have been better to have had a more straight-forward action episode between the last episode and this one. We’ve now had two character-development heavy, mostly self-contained episodes, one after another, and while both are excellent it’s good to mix and match to break up the pace. A war-focused episode would also have given an opportunity for the Klingons to put in an appearance as they were a no-show again. Discovery’s early episodes taught us that the war with the Klingons is the important, overarching story arc of the season and yet we’re seen scare little of them recently, and no sign whatsoever of Voq since episode 4. There may well be a good reason for this, but until we know for sure, it just looks like bad storytelling.
Finally, there’s no continuation of the plot threads from the previous episode, which means we’ve no idea if Starfleet ordered Lorca to abandon Ambassador Cornwell to her fate or not, AND, I find it weird that people aren’t more concerned with Stamets’s drastic change in behaviour.
Putting these minor complaints to one side though, this is another standout episode for Discovery. Everything about it hits the spot - the story, the performances, the pacing… even the ending is surprisingly refreshing as the crew give Mudd exactly what he wants and let the time loop play out so that it can rejoin the natural timeline. For sure, there are some questions which need to be answered about the overall story arc of the show, but there’s plenty of time for that and in the meantime this is a fun, self-contained episode which you don’t want to miss. If I could create a time loop to watch it again for the first time, I would.