Episode 1.7 of Star Trek: Discovery, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” has had a singular reception among the episodes of the first season. Widely acclaimed as the best episode of the first season, it is also the most traditionally “Trekky,” a standalone adventure largely independent of the main series arc (despite its nominal status as a sequel to episode 1.5, “Choose Your Pain”). Harry Mudd returns on a mission of vengeance after having been abandoned in a Klingon prison cell by Lorca and Tyler; armed with a time-travel device that allows him to relive the last half-hour over and over again until he is happy with the results, the time-loop narrative is complicated by Stamets’s new, spore-infused status outside the normal flow of space and time. Stamets, Burnham, Tilly, and Tyler are able to use Stamets’s knowledge of the loops to contrive a situation that convinces Mudd he has achieved all his goals, only to pull the rug out from under him at the end of the episode after he has shut off the device and ended the time loop.
The episode’s ecstatic early reception was produced in its moment by a number of factors, perhaps most especially its status as the first “fun” episode after a series introduction dominated by dark and depressing plotlines (including among other things mutiny, war, the total destruction of the Shenzhou, and the brutal torture of sentient and nonsentient lifeforms alike). Rainn Wilson’s Mudd does indeed inject an infectious spirit of chaos into the proceedings, and the crew not only gets a longed-for “clean win” but achieves it by working together as a cohesive whole in a way that had not yet been seen on the series (a mood of TNG-style camaraderie that would return in even grander form as the moment of triumph at the end of the Mirror Universe arc in 1.13, “What’s Past Is Prologue”). The episode is also a familiar take on a well-worn Trek concept, the Groundhog’s-Day time loop, certainly updated for contemporary sensibilities and cinematic style but still coloring within the well-established lines of the Trek franchise (to an extent not found, arguably, in most of the rest of Discovery).
And it is, to be sure, a perfectly delectable episode.
But despite this popular acclaim rewatching “Magic” in light of what comes after does present some evaluative difficulties. Continue reading “Star Trek Discovery: Magic to Make the Sanest Rewatch Go Mad”