Welcome back to another week where we recap, react to, and ruminate about Star Trek: Discovery Episode 7: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad.” This post will contain mild spoilers, so don’t read ahead until you have watched episode 7.
As with the other posts in this Star Trek: Discovery series, there won’t be a lengthy recap. Instead of we will focus on the basic of what we learn. As before, I’ll be pulling reactions and ruminations from my Star Trek community.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 7: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” Recap
In Star Trek: Discovery episode 7, we revisit a common trope: time loops. But this time, it was fun. More on in the reactions sections.
There wasn’t much in the way of discovery (pardon the pun) in this week’s episode. It was more about confirming what we already knew and character development, plus seeing more growth in the crew’s interpersonal relationships.
Stamets is still very weird after injecting himself with Tardigrade DNA. Mudd is great at holding grudges, which we already knew thanks to events in Star Trek: The Original Series. Burnham and Tyler have feelings for each other. We learn how Stamets and Culbur met.
The action of this episode is about the Klingons still trying to find ways to get their hands on the spore drive technology. But, through the action, we get to see some great interactions between the crew as they solve “puzzle of the week.”
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 7: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” Reactions
I could almost see the huge smiles through the words written in the Star Trek community’s discussion thread for Star Trek: Discovery episode 7.
While people have been enjoying Star Trek: Discovery to date, there has been comments about things that people are missing from previous series: The close relationships between crew members and more contained “puzzle of the week” stories. The overall arc of Discovery is one they are enjoying, but there hasn’t been enough levity to offset the heaviness of some of the topics tackled so far.
While some members of the community did quibble about music choices, and there were some great discussions around that, the list of things that people thoroughly enjoyed are much longer.
People loved the way the time loop was handled. As soon as “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” completed the first loop, many of us immediately recalled the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode, “Cause and Effect.” They both start with the crew having leisure time with each other and end with the destruction of the ship. However, unlike “Cause and Effect,” where each reset started out exactly the same, the writers said to us, ” Okay. You’ve seen this before. You know what is going on. We will switch this up for you.” And it was fun.
Not surprisingly, people also loved Mudd. Mudd has always been a fan favorite. He is often compared to another fan favorite: Q. Members noticed a whole lot of nods to this, from Mudd calling Lorca, “mon capitaine,” to Mudd whisking people away with the transporters with a flick of his hand.
Another great nod to fans comes from Mudd. For decades, fans have talked about how it’s way too easy to get a console on a starship to explode. The ship would barely be bumped, and KABOOM! There is some plasma conduit explosion or what have you. So, when Mudd said, “There really are so many ways to blow up this ship. It’s almost a design flaw,” there was much appreciation. It was another, “Hey, fans. Yes, we see you and we’ve heard you over the years. Let’s have some fun poking at ourselves.”
Ending the episode with Stella was also great. Katherine Barrell did an amazing job mimicking the tone of the future Stella that we see in “I, Mudd.” The writers of Star Trek: Discovery episode 7 did a great job tying in Mudd’s storyline in this series with what we’ve seen of Mudd in Star Trek: The Original Series.
While everyone enjoyed these minute details that made them feel like they were watching Star Trek, the thing that made people the happiest was seeing the growth in interpersonal relationships; seeing the crew come together to solve a problem.
It is because of the fact that one of the things people enjoy the most about Star Trek is the relationship between crew members, that this week’s ruminations section is going to focus on relationships. More specifically in the context of Burnham.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 7: “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” Ruminations
While Star Trek: Discovery episode 7 featured interpersonal relationships between all crew members, the focus was on Burnham as she struggles with the hows of forming relationships.
Relationships are difficult. Some of us have great difficulty forming relationships, including myself. I look at the seemingly ease with which others form relationships, and I’m baffled. Often, it causes me to feel alone but not lonely. As mentioned last week when we explored Burnham’s and Lorca’s past traumas that resulted in C-PTSD and PTSD, I too have C-PTSD. Also as mentioned, C-PTSD can result in someone not being able to form a sense of self. And not to be too repetitive, I’m also on the autism spectrum.
The reason why I mention these things again is because both of these things make forming relationships complicated, for lack of a better word. As a result, were many scenes this week that really hit me.
The first is many scenes with the same theme: Overcoming a barrier created by the brain that makes starting conversations difficult. In this case, it was all the times that there needed to be some type of personal interaction between Burnham and Tyler. Tilly tries to engineer it for social reasons. In later jumps, Stamets is the one who helps Burnham take a scary leap.
Every time Burnham holds her breath and pauses to analyze before approaching Tyler, I could feel that anxiety. I know it and the mental process behind it, even if the sources for it could be different.
But then, there was a scene that really smacked me.
It was a conversation between Stamets and Burnham while they were dancing with each other. Stamets was telling Burnham how he and Culbur met. During that conversation, Stamets says something that may sound cliché or obvious to most, but for those of us who have difficulties forming relationships, for whatever reasons, it can be a source of panic. The lines were:
Never hide who you are. That’s the only way relationships work.
The Complexities of Forming Bonds in Relation to Michael Burnham and Ourselves
And this is where I once again pull conversations directly from the community, editing some of it as to not be repetitive. These conversations are the result of me sharing the above quote and asking, “It’s not only relevant to relationships on the ship, but to Burnham as she tries to figure out who she is. What are your thoughts on this? What does that line make you think of?”
Gray Brothers: That line in particular feels like foreshadowing with Tyler. If he is who/what we think he is, that concept will definitely come into play. I also think it’s advice to un-learn a lot of the Vulcan conditioning with which she was indoctrinated from at a young age.
All of her rage and grief and fear have been pushed waaaaay down for YEARS, and it has eaten away at her soul, pretty much. If she was more skilled at communicating her true feelings, and had had a more effective outlet for her fears, maybe things might’ve worked out differently at the Binary Stars. Pretending her emotions aren’t there has clearly not worked for her.
That’s a particularly Vulcan solution to the problem, which again hearkens back to her conversation with Sarek in “The Vulcan Hello.” He literally told her about a solution that worked for his people that might very well be a mess for her. Warned her pretty clearly to be a good steward of that information. She wasn’t. So that turned out to be right on the money, and excellent foreshadowing in its own right.
Burnham has spent her whole life trying to be whatever her mentors, Sarek and Georgiu, wanted her to be. Or what she thought they wanted her to be. She’s now a criminal, an outsider, alone in deep space, often behind enemy lines, with no one to rely on but herself. As a result, she now faces the daunting task of “discovering” her true identity. One that belongs to her and no one else. Hell of a story when you think of it that way.
[An aside: Being what you think others want you to be is another common thing with survivors of childhood trauma. It’s a survival mechanism and it contributes to the inability to form a sense of self.]
Me: [stuff about my C-PTSD and being autistic] which makes [forming relationships] even more difficult and I have relationship contracts, even with close friends, because it helps me to navigate things that don’t come naturally to me.
Human relationships don’t come naturally to her either for a lot of reasons and being told just to be yourself when you don’t even know who that is, is difficult to say the least. Like what parts do you show? What parts does anyone even care about? How do you attempt to form a bond when you don’t understand your place in the world? Anyway, I have lots of thoughts and there is a lot here to Burnham.
GB: Excellent point about “just be yourself!” That must have provoked some anxiety in her, because there is no “default setting” on which to fall back. No go-to in case all else fails. So, when someone tells you something like that, it makes you realize just how lost you really are. Or think you are.
As last night’s episode unfolded, she had a much easier time finding her voice than she realized. Marching up to Tyler, dancing with him, being very up-front and forthright. Maybe she now sees she’s not as lost as she thought. That her case isn’t so hopeless or uphill as she thought it was. She’s gaining confidence in her abilities again. She’s gaining acceptance amongst her colleagues. Weeks ago, they refused to give her details of the spore drive project, kept her locked out the labs without a breath print, and wouldn’t even give her a phaser in the face of certain death without arm-twisting. And now things are changing.
There was a veeeeery small moment in last night’s episode that I loved. Tyler called her “Specialist Burnham.” That was a huge deal. Before now it’s ALWAYS been “Michael Burnham, The Mutineer.” From everyone she’s met. So cool.
Me: Interesting that you saw her as having a much easier time. I saw her hesitating and finding the strength to do it, then relief when it wasn’t as bad as her brain told her. It’s learning through doing, and plays into the final lines about turning new corners even when scary because your future could be there and not on the same familiar path that feels safe.
Every time she approaches someone, it’s a risk for a bunch of different reasons, some of which you already mentioned. As I said in previous posts, we’ve explored similar themes before with Spock and Data, but it’s nice to see it done through a human. My friends and partner always like to joke and call me a Spock/Data/Dr. Spencer Reid/ Sheldon Cooper hybrid, and when I don’t understand a joke or sarcasm, they say to me “Nothing, Data.” But having a human character like this may help us to better find our place among the “normals” because it’s a human showing these traits.
GB: Well, I guess it was “easier” in the sense that she was at least showing the courage to try. That courage would not be possible if it weren’t for outward circumstances changing for the better.
In the olden days, names carried tremendous power. They told the world all about you without having to go into extreme detail. “So-and-so, son of So-and-so.” You weren’t just carrying your name around at that point, but that of your father as well. That’ll make you think twice about what you say and do, because now that name is fused into yours, and how you’re remembered will affect how they’re remembered.
Or a strong title like “William the Conqueror,” “Alexander the Great,” “Richard the Lionhearted.” Surnames not being a convention, you wanted to make sure that addendum was something awesome. Something meaningful.
So, what if you’re “Michael Burnham, The Mutineer”? To be re-christened “Specialist Burnham” or even going back to just plain ol’ “Michael Burnham” is a hell of an improvement, and not one that should be taken lightly. How many people get to start over again like that? She’s proud to be forging a new name in the fires of circumstance. And she will not make the same mistakes again. That HAS to make things “easier” to SOME extent. Ya know?
Me: I don’t know if I would use the words “easier” or “courage.” But that is where my pedantic autistic and psychology hat come in but I think I understand your meaning.
I think what you are trying to say is that by giving of the new title, it allows her to draw on parts of her she hasn’t been allowed to before. And because it is a scary thing to do, the support of those around her allows her to draw into her innate resilience. Resiliency is the term we use in psychology because it speaks to a positive personal attribute and not something that allows others to judge you, like calling people a coward because their threat response is to freeze while calling someone courageous because their threat response allowed them to fight or flee.
GB: I’d say resiliency is a terrific word, and I’m happy to use that instead.
The above discussion is in the context of forming relationships when you are not neurotypical. There are many reasons outside of trauma or autism or generalized social anxiety or depression, and more, for why someone would have difficulties in this area.
An area I hadn’t thought about, until the following comment, was a sense of guilt and unworthiness because of past actions:
Don Piano: I’d say that’s a quite generic line for common audience, but when someone can relate to the character Burnham in some way… that’s the hardest thing to do.
You have to put yourself in the shoes of someone who screwed up so bad, lost everything and everyone. An adult who has to rebuild a life from the roots, as a young person does: first steps into the society, but in the worst case scenario… when no one likes or trust you no more.
Being “that” yourself sucks, sure thing… pretending to be someone else or living like a hermit between people could sound like acceptable solutions, not the easiest path, but kinda safer.
Anyway, I do relate with this scenario, so that’s my point of view.
Why Are the Interpersonal Relationships Between Starship Crew Members So Important to Us?
I’m often bothered by some commentary that boil Burnham’s character down to someone who needs to redeem herself. I’m even more bothered by commentary that says she is unworthy of redemptions. On a personal level, that discomfort comes from self-blame and guilt surrounding years of trauma and messages I received that told me I am unworthy of being alive, never mind that I’m unworthy of friendships or being liked. I’ve internalized a whole lot of victim-blaming that I’m still unpacking, even after years of trauma therapy.
But for people who are looking for redemption, we cannot minimize how they also see themselves in Burnham, or how her struggles to find her place in an entirely new situation speaks to them. They deserve to be accepted and have the opportunity to change course. Sometimes life throws us stuff and we don’t always make the best choices, but we can change and become a better self.
To many people, “never hide who you are,” may be a no-brainer. Then there are those of us who are autistic who find this very confusing because we are having to constantly decipher what people mean, which makes relationships even more difficult to navigate. To quote Deanna and Lwaxana Troi in “Haven”:
TROI: On that subject Mother, there is such a thing as too much honesty with humans.
LWAXANA: If they’d only say what they think instead of hiding it. An entire shipload of such inconsistency could drive one insane.
There are also those who fear that telling the wrong things about their past will result in rejection.
Regardless of the complexities of relationships, there are some things that do bind us all together.
Acceptance. Belonging. Family, even if it’s chosen family. These are all things we need, even if the degree to which we need it can vary greatly. Lack of these things are the things that can make someone who feels alone, because they think there is no-one else like them, feel lonely.
Maybe this is why the interpersonal relationships on the various series seem to be one of the most important things people need out of Star Trek. Maybe that is why showcasing these relationships in Star Trek: Discovery episode 7 “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” brought people the most enjoyment.
Most, if not all, people have felt lonely at some point in their life. Besides optimism for a better future and morality plays that allow us to discuss so many different topics, Star Trek gives people a sense of belonging and family. And it’s not just seeing the ship’s crew as a family, but it’s also the communities that, for 51 years, have been created because of this franchise. Star Trek not only shows communities, but its fans also create them.
What do you think about Stamets words about never hiding who you are? To which degree of difficulty do you find it to be your complete self with others?
Until next Wednesday, Live Long and Prosper!
Catch Up With Other Posts in the Star Trek: Discovery Recap, Reactions, and Ruminations Series
Star Trek: Discovery Episodes 1 and 2: Recap, Reactions, and Ruminations: We ruminate about Burnham’s actions as it relates to her past, and how the message of “we come in peace” will not always be received as such.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 3: Recap, Reactions, and Ruminations: We ruminate about Section 31, the many Starfleet officers who have broken the prime direction, and Alice in Wonderland.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 4: Recap, Reactions, and Ruminations: We ruminate about Captain Lorca and his requirement for unquestioning loyalty and the consequences; blindly following orders versus challenging them.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 5: Recap, Reactions, and Ruminations: We ruminate about the times some of our favorite captains did extremely questionable and unethical things, and how it related to Lorca.
Star Trek: Discovery Episode 6: Recap, Reactions, and Ruminations: We ruminate about the effects of surviving trauma, C-PSTD, PTSD, and how it relates to Burnham and Lorca.