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Now that’s more like it. After six hit or miss episodes, Star Trek: Discovery finally hit on the right balance of character and story with “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” and delivered a really good, fun, and memorable episode. Harvey Mudd returned, this time along with a plot worthy of bringing the character back into the Trek fold, and we finally got a chance to learn more about the show’s two emotionally distant characters: Burnham and Stamets. This was also the most “Trek” episode of the series’s seven episode run, giving us a standalone story that was divorced (for the most part) from the season-long war arc. Not sure if that says more about the direction of the series than it should, but I think it’s pretty telling that the show is having trouble with its serialized episodes but scores a big win with an episodic piece. No matter what, I think this is a great indicator of what Discovery can become, once it gets into the zone.
Now, time for some spoilers.
I know something decidedly not of the good is going on with him, but I have to say how much I love this new Stamets. Not only do I love the interesting turns for the character, I love that it’s giving Anthony Rapp more to do than simply play the jerk scientist. This new Stamets has a deepening range of emotions, and getting to see him interact on a positive basis with his fellow crewmembers is a delight. Yes, it will all come crashing down once his boyfriend puts two and two together (which, one assumes, will be sooner rather than later, as Dr. Culber is already starting to get worried about Stamets’s behavior), but I hope we get to see Rapp traverse even more emotional depths with the character before it all comes to an end.
Another major plus of the episode was the work done on Burnham’s character. Last week gave us a look into her life on Vulcan and her relationship with Sarek (a really great piece of writing that I hope will resonate further throughout the season). This week we got to see Burnham’s Adventures in Flirting, as she finally managed to get out of her own head and connect on a deeper level with Tyler. Kudos to Sonequa Martin-Green and Shazad Latif for keeping the characters socially awkward, but still managing to make everything seem natural. Also, kudos to the writers for not simply dragging out the will-they-or-won’t-they tensions forever and just letting the characters admit their attraction. There’s nothing wrong with getting two characters together early, so long as writers can keep the story interesting. I trust, that in the midst of a war, there are plenty of stories to be told that won’t neuter this interesting relationship before it gets a chance to start.
Finally, I enjoyed that, for once, Lorca was willing to listen to those around him and stop going off half-cocked. The episode subtly reminded us of his tragic past (when he told Mudd he didn’t want a repeat of his past disaster), but it was in service of the overall story rather than a nagging reminder that Lorca is a loose cannon. Giving us Lorca moments like this makes it easier for us to understand how he managed to fool Starfleet Medical and get another ship. That being said, I really hope the show invests time in telling the PTSD story the way it should be told. I had been wary of where this was going last week, but I’m starting to have faith the series is going to do right by Lorca and Tyler in this regard.
— I’m enjoying Tilly’s sense of fun (which, in turn, serves to make other characters fun). But I would like her to have a little bit of substance each week. She’s a smart woman who got a really great posting as a cadet. Let’s see why she got this gig.
— The lack of Klingons this week was a definite plus. And that’s not a good thing.