Saturday, November 4, 2017

Discovery, Season 1: Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad, Season 1
"Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad"
Airdate: October 29, 2017
7 of 15 produced
7 of 15 aired


Burnham begins to adjust to her new role on the ship when things are interrupted by an unwelcome visitor - Harry Mudd.

Is that a Klingon in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?


Matthew: It will not be possible to discuss this episode without talking about "Cause And Effect." This is most certainly related to it in a referential way, though it has a bit of a different plot turn with Stamets being  aware of each loop, which allows for strong scenes of character development... well, not development, actually, but exposition, since the development is reset. On the one hand, I liked that there was a "villain" in this iteration of the time loop story, because it was fun to see the clever ways Mudd used his foreknowledge to achieve his ends. On the other hand, the mechanics of the plot are not as clearly delineated as in TNG, and it seems like a fair amount of cheating is occurring. The ship explodes each time for some reason, but it is not established why this is. Some times it seems to be Mudd detonating an explosive, other times the DASH drive overloading. Also unclear is whether Mudd's dying would present any difficulties, and he seems to die in one of the loops - even if he is stunned, how and where does he wake up in the next loop? Where does he need to be in order to survive and prosper in the next loop? This time crystal on his wrist - if it is destroyed, does he die, or cease to be regenerated? It's all very messy and it isn't explained very well. So, while it is interesting and entertaining in the way that good Star Trek can be, it isn't completely satisfying in the way the best Star Trek is.

Kevin: I agree even when I saw the preview, Cause and Effect immediately sprung to mind. I liked the work they did to twist the time loop narrative from previous iterations. We don't get several loops with no one knowing like we did in TNG, and I like that after establishing that Stamets recalls things from each loop, it remains a Burnham episode. I think its fun for her to have the drama of being conscripted to help but not immediately have the information in each loop. I also think they did a good job, mostly, of varying the loops. Other than the gratuitous violence, the episode had a lot of variation. It would have been far more boring if he just walked out of the space whale mouth each time.

Matthew: Several scenes here provide a great setup for character work and for working on the setting. Burnham's log gives us a lot of nice slice of life scenes, and Stamets' discussions with her (whether or not they seem believable being recapitulated in shorter and shorter intervals with each loop) are a nice way to learn about both characters (though her "secret" was kind of lame...). The party scene is a nice way to give us a feel for the crew, in all its beer pong, deejay, lesbians, and wheelchairs glory. The romance between Tyler (who almost certainly seems to be an imposter, which is STUPID) and Burnham is fun, though again is basically reset by the end.

Kevin: I think there is enough in the button of them discussing previous loops at the turbolift at the end to indicate that while those events did not happen per se, their mere existence in some timeline will have an impact on their interactions (assuming Ash is not a Klingon ugh). I agree the secret is lame and almost deducible having met her for ten seconds. I think I would be equally annoyed had they kept it secret on both ends, but she has to have something juicier. The party is a little...edgier...than most Trek soirees, but it certainly suits the notion of people at war blowing off steam. Tilly was pitched just the right amount of quirky again. I liked Stamets talking about why his relationship with Culber works, and it landed with sweet but not treacly sincerity.

Matthew: I was not a huge fan of Harry Mudd's characterization - namely, as a murderous psychopath. For one thing, his motivation made very little sense. He was getting along just fine in his prison cell, giving information to the Klingons in order for special considerations. Then, his other stated motive, getting back to Stella, was belied later in the episode when it was revealed that he left her in the lurch intentionally. The whole rich father backstory was also strange. Were Dark Mudd's scenes enjoyable? Sure. But they remain irritating given the intentional relationship being claimed by the show runners between him and his TOS incarnation, by which time he apparently has mellowed considerably and escaped a much older Stella's clutches with no repercussions. Why is this Mudd again, except as a cheap attempt to trade on fan nostalgia?

Kevin: The sheer quantum of horrifying violence was starting to grate. The problem from a story perspective is bringing in Stella to laugh us out to the credits is a classic TOS ending, insofar as it was the literal ending of I, Mudd. It's also the ending for a different episode. Had he been pranking Lorca each time with like a whoopie cushion on the captain's chair or a phaser full of spring loaded snakes or something, maybe it would have felt like less of a tonal shift. With some minor alterations to the timeline in which DSC takes place 100+ years after Voyager, his plot would have been near flawless. A darkly humorous trickster villain? Sure. Again, all my problems, my only real problems with this episode stem from the discord between this and TOS, a problem wholly of the writers own making.

And this is a tiny, tiny tedious complaint but take it as you will: I enjoyed that Culbert acknowledged the relationship publicly and no one blinked. That's good. I'm annoyed he said "partner." For some reason I just deeply associate the use of that word with gay couples in the 90s who had no legal status. If they aren't in some kind of legally committed relationship, they're boyfriends; if they are, then it's husbands. 'Partner' is the word we used to be more accurate than 'roommate' but less offensive than 'husband,' and it grabbed my ear in a really weird, and slightly annoying way.


Rainn Wilson is not responsible for the scripts he's given. He is not responsible for the choice of using the Mudd character. He is responsible for playing the role as best he can, and he does a great job here. He conveys palpable menace as well as an insouciance and irreverence. His line readings, when they need to be funny, succeed. I enjoyed every second he was on screen. I just was consistently drawn out of that enjoyable feeling by the part of my brain that can't help but ask questions of the TOS iteration and make comparisons to that character.

Kevin: If he were not Harry Mudd, I'd almost be willing to tuck him in a comfortable second place to John DeLancie's Q for darkly funny villain. Even with my problems with the script, the portrayal still has these notes of Carmel's mustache twirling that don't feel like mere imitation. I agree, I enjoyed watching him immensely, moreso than his appearance in Choose Your Pain.

Matthew: Sonequa Martin-Green is tasked with making us care about her character's emotions, even when the character gets reset each time. Again, she is not responsible (at least not entirely) for the feeling that someone is cheating in preserving her development through time cycles, but overall it really works. Her chemistry with both Anthony Rapp and Shazad Latif really helps their scenes.

Kevin: If the show slows down at some point and into (please please please) a non-war arc, I'd really interesting what she could do with a quiet, bottle episode. I think she has the basics of the Nimoy/Lenard Vulcan acting down. She clearly feels but does not express emotions and it makes the viewer feel them for her. I've said before, but it bears repeating, that she just anchors a scene beautifully. I particularly enjoyed her work in the ready room with Mudd. Whatever the shortcomings of the plan, it felt clever and watching her sell it and force Mudd's hand with her suicide all hit from a character perspective. I also really liked Rapp this time. It was the right, and so far, best balance, of his prickly genius and his post-DASH grooviness. I also want to give an honorable mention to Doug Jones, whose bit about the gormagander made me laugh every single time. That is top notch character work, sir.

Production Values:

Matthew: I really enjoyed the fact that we 1. stayed on the ship the entire time, 2. never saw the Klingons, and 3. got new angles and takes on scenes each time through. The party was a particularly nice way of making Discovery feel like a real place, and the use of licensed music and quick cut camera angles was effective.

Kevin: I, for one, was just really surprised to see a Star Trek party with something other than classical music. They must really, really have a killer budget, and they're using it to make the world better not just more full of CGI. It did not occur to me when watching it, but I now appreciate the clear injoke that "Staying Alive" is a ...wait for it ...disco song. The day glo Solo cups felt a little weirdly anachronistic, but like that Seinfeld joke about toilet paper, how much change is there really gonna be? I liked the collar on Tyler, it was a nice touch of "future fashion" without being absurd or shiny.

Matthew: The optical effects were typically excellent. The creature looked quite good. The dark matter deaths were cool looking as well. Was the gun in Lorca's armory an early Varon-T disruptor? The various destruction effects on the ship were well done.

Kevin: The ersatz Varon-T effect was particularly good. Too good, cumulatively. The beam out effect was well done and had the benefit of a bit of distance to let the viewer fill in gaps. For as much as we complain about too many jump cuts around here, here they served the episode since the loop was so short and like it did in TNG, the new angles helped sell the repetitions without being boring.


Matthew: I've listed a lot of complaints here. But all in all, this is definitely the most Star Trek episode yet, despite its flaws. I was consistently entertained, and the setup tickled that part of my brain that is tickled by good Star Trek mind-bending science fiction. I think this feeling allows it to just squeak into 4 territory, despite the things that consistently irritated me, such as sloppy plotting and strange character motivations.

Kevin: I think this is easily the best episode since the premiere and maybe a little better than it in places. This is my favorite thing Star Trek can do, in a way. Use science fiction to establish something crazy but focus the story on the characters dealing with it and being changed by it. The spine of the episode is clearly Burnham's emotional state before, during, and after the events shown, and I was engaged fully with that throughout. Some top notch acting pushed this a little more readily into 4 territory for me, for a total of 8.


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