Star Trek Discovery: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”

It’s Gormagander Day as someone’s idea of Harry Mudd traps the Discovery in a time-loop in an murder-laden attempt to sell out the Federation to the Klingon Empire.

Strangely enough, it’s also the lightest-toned ep thus far. I fully expected to hear the TOS “funny” music at some point.

Titles: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”

Directed by David M. Barrett
Written by Aron Eli Coleite and Jesse Alexander

Sonequa Martin-Green as Michael Burnham
Jason Isaacs as Captain Gabriel Lorca
Doug Jones as Saru
Shazad Latif as Ash Tyler
Anthony Rapp as Paul Stamets
Rainn Wilson as Harry Mudd
Mary Wiseman as Sylvia Tilly
Wilson Cruz as Dr. Hugh Culber
Katherine Barrell as Stella Grimes
Peter MacNeill as Baron Grimes
Emily Coutts as Keyla Detmer
Jason Deline as Medical Officer
Patrick Kwok-Choon as Rhys
Sara Mitich as Airiam
Oyin Oladejo as Joann Owosekun
Clare McConnell as Dennas
Kenneth Mitchell as Kol
Damon Runyan as Ujilli
Julianne Grossman as Discovery Computer


After playing Jonah, Harry Mudd uses alien technology to trap the Discovery in a time loop so that he can sell the ship’s secret to the Klingons.

High Points:

The plot may be a little absurd– time travel often is– but they use it to explore the developing relationships among the characters, and this episode does that better than anything Discovery has shown us so far. And, despite all of the temporary death, it downplays the violence, which I think some viewers will appreciate.

Low Points:

Discovery calls itself a prequel to the original series. It looks and feels more like a reboot. The powers that be want it both ways. In this ep, they want to give us a Harry Mudd who bears scant resemblance to the character we saw in TOS, but they want to give him an ending that sets up his appearances in TOS.

Can we really believe the crew of the Discovery would be okay with leaving a homicidal maniac/traitor in the hands of Stella and her father, and smirk, in the way Kirk did when he left a far less dangerous con man to a similar fate?

The Scores:

Originality: 2/6 I have a feeling I’ve experienced this premise before. Repeatedly.

Effects: 6/6 The gormagander gets reduced to plot device, but it illustrates the potential for contemporary effects to expand on Trek‘s potential.

Acting: 5/6 Wilson may not be the Harcourt Fenton Mudd we remember, but he makes a memorable villain.

Production: 6/6

Story: 5/6 It’s good to have the occasional standalone (more or less) episode in a serialized show.

Emotional Response: 4/6 This story has many things in common with old Trek. It needed to call its villain something else.

Overall: 4/6

In total, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” receives 32/42

8 replies on “Star Trek Discovery: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad””

  1. I agree that Mudd seems to have been let off easy (of course, we know he wasn’t, and you could argue that they know Stella’s dad has the means and ability to keep him put). But saying he bears “scant resemblance” to TOS Mudd? I have to disagree. They got his mannerisms down pretty well. He even looks a lot like TOS Mudd. Minus 10 years and about 50 years of acting style.

    My low point is I kind of hate timeloop stories. But… it actually worked.

    • Looks a little like him. Has many of his mannerisms.

      But the TOS guy was a petty con-man, not a homicidal master-criminal who would sell out his entire species and all their allies to the Klingons.

      • Interesting philosophical question there: was Mudd *actually* homicidal? In the initial iterations of the time loop he was undeniably killing people, but that was in the knowledge that time was going to be reset and it ultimately “wouldn’t matter” because they wouldn’t know about it on the next pass. That doesn’t excuse the sadism of putting many members of the crew through some quite painful deaths, and many times over such as in the case of Lorca, but being sadistic isn’t the same as being homicidal. I suppose a legal analogy would be if Mudd were to borrow something and return it without the owner being any the wiser, could he be found guilty of theft?

        By the final run-through, he’s actively avoiding everyone on the way to the bridge and potentially didn’t kill anyone at all. The fake offer to enslave the crew actually came from the crew, not Mudd, so he’s technically not guilty of that either. It’s quite possible that he was having a lot of sadistic fun in the initial phase, some of it arguably justified in the case of Lorca who had abandoned him on the Klingon ship, but fully intended to complete the final run without fatalities (except maybe Lorca because of the revenge thing) and escape on the ship he had hidden in the Gormagander.

        Perhaps the writers didn’t change Mudd all that much after all?

        Still somewhat disappointed that they’ve resorted to the Groundhog Day trope already, but it was handled quite well, accomplished a lot of character development, tied the loose end of Mudd’s incarceration, *and* set up his appearance in ToS. Judging by the previews for the next episode it also gave the viewers a light-hearted and perhaps necessary pause before heading into the conclusion of the first “chapter” as well, so no major complaints here.

        • Maybe. I just see it as too much of a departure, and return to my old stance, why not just reboot the show? Discovery is fine as some version of Trek, but I’m not feeling it as a prequel.

          • I’m still getting that “doesn’t feel like a prequel” vibe too, no matter now much I try and ignore it – it still feels like it belongs either at some point after TNG with a new, non-Klingon, foe – or in yet another alternative/reboot timeline. I’m sure when they wrote (or re-wrote?) the scripts they were aiming to put it into its stated place in the timeline through all the nods to the ToS era, but now that they seem to have toned down Saru and Tilly that aspect has become the most irritating part of the show for me. Almost every time they bring up something connected with ToS it yanks me out of my immersion because I think subconciously I see all that as history, rather than current or imminent events.

  2. I have to give the timeloop gimmick points for having a plausible (in context) reason for someone to remember the loop. And for resisting the temptation to have others remember the loop after a few loops. Also, points for not using the rememberer as the point of view for the story.

    Anyone else notice the “quantum” variance in the timing and other actions from loop to loop, even before there should have been time for a butterfly to have affected anything?

  3. I was happy to see that the loop was done in a new way, in that it wasn’t our main characters who were remembering, it was the antagonist.

    The episode was fun, and I enjoyed it. I do think this Mudd is very different than the Mudd we saw before, as different as comparing Cesar Romero’s Joker to Heath Ledger’s.

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