It’s Groundhog Day on the Discovery as Harry Mudd reappears with a plan to both get his revenge on Captain Lorca for leaving him behind on that Klingon prison barge, and to make himself filthy rich by selling the Discovery and its spore drive to the Klingons. Mudd’s plan involves time travel—to be exact, boarding the Discovery (ingeniously by hiding inside a kind of space whale that Lorca is bound by Federation law to beam onboard the ship) and using a temporal device to repeat the same 30 minutes over and over until Mudd knows enough about the starship to be able to manipulate every essential system onboard, including the main computer and the transporter, and effectively outsmart anyone attempting to stop him. The one mystery that eludes Mudd is the exact manner in which the spore drive operates, and that also factors into the flaw in his plan, as the spore-infused Stametz is able to see outside the timeline and warn Burnham and Tyler so they begin to figure out a method for outmaneuvering Mudd.
If it sounds like I’m giving everything away, it’s to this episode’s credit that the writers know we’ve been down this road before—this isn’t just Groundhog Day, it’s TNG’s “Cause and Effect,” so “Magic” doesn’t waste any time with the mystery of what’s happening. Stametz’s warning comes mere minutes into the show’s runtime, and the rest of the episode plays out with Mudd gradually revealing his plan (and frustrations) and Burnham and Tyler building their own counter-plans while acknowledging their own growing attraction to each other. The episode’s pacing is relentless, with almost Scorsese-like, balletic camerawork and editing and a willingness to chop out nuggets of dialogue in its early time loop scenes, trusting the viewer to be well ahead of the characters as we, like them, have been through all this before.
Rainn Wilson’s Mudd continues to entertain—he makes a knockout entrance, marching out of the maw of an unconscious space creature on the Discovery’s shuttle deck, blasting away at the scrambling Discovery crew while wearing what appears to be an Andorian space helmet, and there’s a bravura montage sequence of him joyfully executing Jason Isaacs’ Lorca multiple times (he also has one great line: “I can’t believe I’m saying this, but I’m actually tired of gloating.”) But’s it’s to the show’s additional credit that Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham holds the episode together, both through her own discomfort with human social rituals (like a party on Discovery’s version of 10-Forward, which is even located in sort of the same part of the ship as the Enterprise-D’s fabled lounge) and with her willingness to gamble with her own life as a way of interfering in Mudd’s plan. In fact, every time “Magic” threatens to bog down in our pre-knowledge of the tropes of this whole time loop genre, the plotting gets more ingenious, and Burnham’s ultimate chess move against Mudd, just when it seems the con man has complete control over time, the universe and everything, is terrific. There’s even a nod to TNG’s “The Most Toys” as Mudd demonstrates a particularly painful alien weapon from Lorca’s quarters on a “generic crewman,” and later Tyler, showing both going through horrific agony before we see Burnham shockingly turn the weapon on herself.
Is it perfect? Not quite—for all the character interplay, including a moment for Lorca to dig up his disturbing backstory involving a crew ruthlessly sacrificed in order to save them from Klingon slavery, the rapid-fire pacing of “Magic” misses some opportunities to allow the characters other than Burnham and Tyler to breathe—Lorca and Saru are purely reactive here, and even Stametz, who we see in early scenes is being driven almost mad with joy by his new tardigrade DNA, has little to do other than clue Burnham and Tyler in to Mudd’s machinations. But it’s refreshing to see an episode like this that shows that Discovery can do more than give us the miseries of the Klingon war. And the show continues to undermine the whole Tyler conspiracy theory about him being a Klingon spy—if he is, he’s the greatest Klingon spy ever, or maybe the worst, since he’s already had multiple opportunities to sell out the Discovery and its crew, particularly here. It’s more interesting to see how his human relationship with Burnham works out than any spy revelation would be.
GEEK Grade: B+
The next episode of Star Trek Discovery – “Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum” – airs on November 5th, 2017.