Star Trek #1459: Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad

FORMULA: Cause and Effect + I, Mudd + Starship Mine

WHY WE LIKE IT: A good twist on Groundhog Day.

WHY WE DON'T: But haven't we done this before?

REVIEW: The repeating sequence trope has been done and probably been done to death (indeed, this episode came out while Happy Death Day, a slasher variant, was in theaters). Star Trek itself had TNG's Cause and Effect. So does it make sense for Trek to attempt it again? Not without a few twists, which I do think this episode provides. I did, however, hope time travel/anomalies wouldn't show up on Discovery, at least not in the first season. Under Brannon Braga, Voyager went to that well way too often, and Enterprise was saddled with a Temporal Cold War that made my eyes glaze over. Then Abrams picks up the baton, and his whole side of the franchise is born out of time travel. I realize some of Trek's very best stories had a time travel element, but with Discovery's serialized arc, it feels out of place. Especially if you're going to give this power to Harry Mudd. He's so powerful in this, it almost breaks the character.

So the twists on the formula: For one, instead of following a lead thrown into this situation, Burnham is an oblivious part of the repeating sequence. Harry Mudd has created the time loop and used it to become an expert in that time and place. The more loops he goes through (and we see only a fraction), the more he knows about Discovery and her crew, and he's able to take control of her vital systems, indulge in killing Lorca repeatedly, and get ever closer to unlocking the secret of the spore drive so he can sell it to the Klingons. The second twist is that Stamets, also a secondary character, is aware of the time loops thanks to his link to the mycelial network, and is actively trying to stop Mudd, but not after anyone dies. The perfect loop must be achieved. So it's a battle between two time-aware characters, Burnham and the rest pawns that must be convinced to do certain things before its too late, on every loop. The new Stamets, with his groovy, touchy-feely outlook on life is perfect for this because he'll need to use his new-found empathy (in the normal sense, not the Betazoid sense) to get Burnham, Tyler, et al. to trust him. Thankfully, the trope's familiarity can be used to skip ahead through later loops, trusting the audience to understand what's going on without having to explain everything. Now somebody explain Mudd's rabbit helmet and I can sleep.

Even with Stamets so important to the story, Discovery's format demands that Burnham be the central character, and she's the one who actually beats Harry. Sure, Stamets has to feed her information she herself found out in previous loops, but she does a lot of the leg work, destroys Mudd's weapon (I guess it's also "time-aware" and can't return in the next loop), and cons the proverbial con man by making him think he's won, letting him deactivate the loop, then sending him home to his wife. Though Burnham's triumph is a nice punch the air moment, and really based on Mudd's prime weakness - he talks too much - it's not without its problems. The Klingon ship that supposedly comes to get the spore drive and Burnham (as prized POW, T'Kuvma's killer) conveniently flies alongside Discovery, not in front of it, or else the jig would have been up. Sending Harry back to a pretty Stella and her rich father who will settle all his debts also seems like a paltry punishment for someone we saw murder Lorca and others, not to mention abuse a space whale. Perhaps this is all undone, but some of us sitting outside the time continuum remember it. Of course, we need to get Mudd to his rightful place in TOS history, but the show shouldn't become about continuity plug-ins for fans only. That's two in a row now.

Beyond the plot, there's some good character development for Burnham. It starts with a dramatic log entry, her usual, only to show the challenge of the day is going to a party. Her awkwardness is obvious, especially compared to Tilly's drunken comfort (and SHE'S usually the awkward one) and Tyler (who gives great speeches). The party is VERY 21st Century, with flip cup tournaments and hip-hop music, which is going to bother some viewers I'm sure, but the franchise has so often acted like music ended with classical, it feels like a innovation. Burnham stands out, the only in uniform. Her budding attraction to Tyler is explored, they share a kiss that is lost to a time loop, but revealed to them in the final version anyway. His wistful look at the end, which he claims is due to "missing" that kiss, might be an indication that he's falling for her AND YET must eventually betray her. It is gonna suck SO HARD when he turns traitor (or worse, into Voq). Burnham's deep dark secret that she's never been in love isn't a big surprise given she was raised in an emotionless society and wouldn't know what the feeling was even if she had it. So they establish the show's will-they/won't-they, but remain true to the characters in the way it's set up. The ref flag is perhaps waved by Stamets who tells the story of his falling in love with Culber, and it having its basis in honesty. Is the Burnham-Tyler relationship mature for being honest about the impossibility of consummating it at this juncture? Or is the story meant to contrast with Tyler's possible facade?

LESSON: If at first you don't succeed, get a little help from your friends. And stop worrying about mixed metaphors while you're at it.

REWATCHABILITY - Medium: Mudd returns a bit too quickly to offer a gimmicky episode that's distracting from the thrust of the larger arc. It's nevertheless got enough twists to still entertain, and the character development is pretty strong.


Anonymous said...

The party illustrated one of my biggest peeves with most modern Star Trek: a lack of contemporary pop culture (same problem I have with The Orville). Aside from the occasional mention of a holosuite program from Quark or Jake's novelist aspirations, pop culture doesn't seem to exist otherwise.

I know that no one wants to try to predict music or other entertainment will be in 300 years, but at least try, even if its cheesy (see the Gil Gerard Buck Rogers TV series).


Siskoid said...

While that's not a problem for me, you do make a good point. Trek has no problem attempting to foresee future technology, politics and even sports, but arts & entertainment are rarely broached.

Given how silly their future sports are though, maybe that's a mercy.

Madeley said...

"...the franchise has so often acted like music ended with classical..,"

But, as Dr McCoy would tell you, Wyclef Jean IS classical music.


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