The Good: The acting is fine
The Bad: Humor falls flat, Neglect of organic character traits, Forced character problems, Recycled plot, Particularly lame macguffin to justify the plot
The Basics: Star Trek: Discovery seems to use up its budget on the long title when Harry Mudd returns in the "Cause And Effect" rewrite "Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad."
One of the real issues with making a prequel series in a well-established franchise is there is an immense potential to undermine the works that were previously-created, but come after within the canon of the franchise. Doing a prequel right means that the creators have to come up with entirely new material that is not even tangential to what has come before. The reason behind this is simple; if the ship in the prequel survives whatever phenomenon it encounters and manages to survive the series without its entire run being undone, the logical questions fans would have for any repeated phenomenon later on in the series would be "Why didn't the computer [or Data or another character who studied StarFleet history] recognize the phenomenon they were encountering as identical or similar to the one experienced by [insert name of prequel ship/crew]?" With the Star Trek franchise in the hands of people who have no apparent care for continuity, Star Trek: Discovery continues to do whatever its creators want without any reasonable expectation that it will satisfactorily address fan concerns about how the show relates to all that comes after it. So, with the Star Trek: Discovery episode "Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad," it is hard for fans of the franchise not to see it as a half-assed rewrite of the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "Cause And Effect" (reviewed here!).
"Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad" follows up on both "Lethe"(reviewed here!) and "Choose Your Pain" (reviewed here!). The most instant connection between the prior episodes is that Burnham has a relationship with Ash Tyler now and Harry Mudd returns.
Specialist Michael Burnham begins to bond with Tilly and Ash Tyler in advance of a party. Burnham feels like an outsider at the party and she is rescued from the awkward interaction when she and Tyler are called to the Bridge. En route, she runs into Stamets, who has become weird as a result of his interfacing with the Spore Displacement Drive. On the bridge, Saru recognizes an alien life form outside the ship as an endangered species. Burnham convinces Lorca to take the giant life form aboard and Harry Mudd comes out of the creature and kills a number of people before he contacts the Bridge. Mudd then destroys the Discovery, before creating a time loop.
When Tyler and Burnham are called away from the party again, the Discovery encounters the Gormegander after Stamets mentions one in the hallway. Mudd beams into Engineering where he tries to take control of the Spore Drive to sell Discovery to the Klingons. While Stamets is able to kill Mudd, the time loop reboots. The next time through the loop, Mudd captures Lorca and reveals that he has killed Lorca 53 times before. Stamets continues to reach out to Burnham to try to stop Harry Mudd from learning how to access the Spore Drive.
"Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad" is what happens when Star Trek attempts to chase after the frat boy demographic. The party on the Discovery is very drunk college guy style and the lowbrow nature of it is embodied (surprisingly well) by Mary Wiseman as Sylvia Tilly acting like a drunk sorority girl.
The macguffin in "Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad" is a Time Crystal, which is a ridiculous new magic crystal, which allows Mudd to create time loops. Burnham has heard of these magic crystals from the Vulcan Science Academy . . . which in the continuity of Star Trek: Enterprise did not believe in time travel. For sure, in Star Trek: Enterprise, the Vulcans were given irrefutable proof of time travel, but the viewer of "Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad" is expected to believe that Vulcan scientists not only accepted that time travel was real, but they managed to discover artifacts of immense power, like the Time Crystal.
Fans of Star Trek are less likely to be upset by the plot of "Cause And Effect" being reused as a malicious device for the episode than the fact that Harry Mudd in this incarnation is characterized as malicious and murderous as opposed to the low-grade buffoon he was in the original Star Trek. Rainn Wilson does fine with the material he is given, but the character is written entirely differently from the one established in Star Trek. But, just as fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation might wonder how the crew of the Enterprise-D did not do a thorough search for a Time Crystal, they are likely to wonder why the hell Harry Mudd would have ever done another caper without acquiring another Time Crystal first.
As for the original aspects of Star Trek: Discovery, Lt. Saru is once again completely undermined in "Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad." For an alien race that is entirely geared around sensing death and personal menace, the fact that Saru's "threat ganglion" are not going berserk in the episode makes no rational sense.
But, sensibility is not the hallmark of "Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad" or Star Trek: Discovery. "Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad" continues to characterize Michael Burnham as a forced outsider; a human who acts like a Vulcan for no clear reason (she was raised by a liberal Vulcan and a human after being rescued when her human parents were killed . . . but has been around humans for at least seven and a half years - more if she actually attended StarFleet Academy). Her rediscovery of human emotions is almost as problematic as Saru's threat ganglion not making an appearance even when Harry Mudd walks onto the bridge and kills Lorca in front of him.
The humor in "Magic To Make The Sanest Man Go Mad" falls universally flat and the attempts at the humor continue the episode's tone like the show is chasing after an audience nowhere near as smart as the Star Trek demographic.
For other Star Trek episode, movie, and seasons, please check out my comprehensive Star Trek Review Index Page!
© 2017 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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