Season 1, Episode 7
Written by Aron Eli Coleite and Jesse Alexander
Directed by David M. Barrett
“There really are so many ways to blow up this ship, it’s almost a design flaw.”
Whoa! We’re seven weeks into Discovery and we’re already locked into a repeating pattern of Plotline Number 7.
This week on Star Trek Discovery, Plotline Number 7 makes its second appearance this season. Pretty soon it’s going to be a recurring character like Harry Mudd, rather than a plot device. Plotline Number 7 usually functions like a puzzle; the steps to avoid some terrible outcome must be worked out and put into place in the sequence, or some ever repeating doom reoccurs.
The premise of a repeating loop Plotline Number 7 holds that, with enough repetitions, we as humans can eventually figure things out, get things right, and create the happy ending. I heard somewhere that this is the basic pattern of reincarnation: we just keep living roughly the same lives over and over again, hopefully ascending to higher levels with each iteration. However, this seems an entirely too optimistic view. I think this theory woefully underestimates the human capacity for fucking things up beyond all repair in new and interesting ways, indefinitely into an infinite number of repetitions, in an infinite number of parallel universes. But I repeat myself.
This Plotline Number 7 allows Burnham to keep trying out a new way of being until she gets it right. In fact, we get to know Burnham far better this way than we do just watching her work through problems in real time. Plotline Number 7 may provide a kind of backup storyline (as discussed in last week’s review) but here it is used in a new way. Though you might think that repeating the same loop of time over and over again would simply result in everybody doing and saying the same thing each time, instead what we see is a person, and a nascent relationship, develop faster and further than if the timeframe wasn’t repeated. This creates a clever and useful device. How interesting to see something so technological – here the time travel is made possible by special crystals whose processes are never really explained – being used for character development instead.
To begin, Burnham records her sense of isolation from the other crew members as she settles into the routine on board Discovery. Her sense of separation grows even worse when she attends a party. She’s not the most social creature, and on board her former ship, her rank prevented her from any kind of fraternizing. By nature and history, she’s not plugged into the community aboard ship. She feels an attraction for Ash Tyler, and he feels one for her. But for all of her scientific intelligence and experience, as far as relationships go she’s a newborn. That is until, she receives a little help from an unlikely matchmaker: Harry Mudd.
Last time we saw Harry Mudd, he was trying to figure out how to screw Lorca and Tyler to his own best advantage on board the Klingon prison ship. We meet him this time when he secretes himself and his ship inside some giant endangered space critter called a gormagander. Like a shady, futuristic Jonah, he walks out of the mouth of a whale. In the first performance of his little play, he shoots a bunch of people and then causes a huge explosion which destroys the entire ship and everyone on it.
Mudd wants to take over Discovery, find out what makes it so special, and sell it to the Klingons. He alleges that this is his revenge against the Federation for separating him from his true love, Stella. He uses the time loops to one, keep killing Lorca in new and different ways for his own amusement, and two, learn more about the spore drive technology with each repeat. Once he knows how it all works, he can end the looping and make his deal.
Mudd faces several obstacles in carrying out his scheme. First, he doesn’t know that Stametz constitutes the living key to making the spore drive work. Second, Stamets is no longer time challenged like the rest of us, so catches on quickly to what Mudd is trying to do. Mudd is a quick study and has worked out all of the ships security protocols and uses them to his advantage. But Stamets is an even quicker study than Mudd and he takes this ballgame into a whole other league.
We’ve seen in prior episodes that Stamets has been affected in unusual ways by his integration into the spore drive. He gets loopier with every jump. It would be easy to brush this off as just some kind of psychological or emotional reaction to the use of the technology. But don’t forget, Stamets merged his own DNA with the tardigrade. He changed his DNA. He is no longer human, or at least no longer only human. The scene in which Stamets left the bathroom while his reflection remained suggested that he is splitting into multiple entities. This week, unlike all the other crew members, he is able to witness and also to remember as each loop of time plays out. Stamets has transformed into a multidimensional human being. The reflection business did not indicate that Stamets’ personality was splitting; it showed that he can occupy time in a different way, and maybe even occupy times in different ways.
Stamets realizes what Mudd is up to and tries to alert the others. He keeps devising different ways to defeat Mudd, none of which work. Because he is the only one who remembers each time loop, he has to keep convincing the others that he’s not crazy each time. This wastes precious time. He gets Burnham to tell him a secret so that he can use it to shortcut all of her doubts on the next time loop. She reveals to him that she’s never been in love. On the next go-round, he uses this to shorten the time that he has to spend explaining the situation, so they can start fixing the situation.
With each time loop, Mudd learns more and more about the ship’s secrets. At some point he will learn enough that he can stop hitting repeat and sell the ship to the Klingons.
Stamets needs Burnham and Ash Tyler to help him best Mudd. Stamets needs them to trust him, and he really needs them to trust each other. With each loop, Burnham and Tyler go a little deeper into their mutual attraction. Burnham confronts her awkwardness in personal relationships out of necessity. What would play out linearly without the time loops instead gets intensified and compressed by the urgency of the situation, or should I say situations. Burnham steps outside her emotional comfort zone in order to get Tyler’s help to save the ship. In essence, Burnham and Tyler go on 50 first dates with each one taking place on Groundhog Day. They go from stiff and professional, to interested but tentative, and then to taking chances on revealing their feelings. They dance and then they kiss. Meanwhile Mudd gets ever closer to figuring out how to work the spore drive so he can complete his deal.
Finally Stamets, Burnham, and Tyler work out a plan. They discover that Mudd uses time crystals to work his time travel magic. Unfortunately, they are too late; Mudd has just discovered how the spore drive works so he is not going to hit the reset button. So Burnham tells Mudd that the Klingons will pay even more for her than for the ship, because she killed T’Kuvma. Then she kills herself to force Mudd to reset another time loop.
This time Lorca, Stamets, and Burnham pretend that they cannot figure out a way to defeat Mudd. Rather than risk the lives of the crew, they simply hand over the ship to Mudd in exchange for letting them all live. A Klingon ship warps into the vicinity, and the Klingons beam on board to complete the sale.
Except surprise! It’s not Klingons after all, it’s Mudd’s ex-girlfriend Stella. Mudd claimed that he was separated from Stella by the stupid Federation war with the Klingons and so he blames them for ruining the love of his life. Actually, Mudd jilted Stella and ran off with her dowry. He needs to make this deal with the Klingons because he needs an awful lot of money to disappear. As in witness protection disappear: Stella’s father just happens to be an intergalactic arms dealer. Rather than turn over the ship to the Klingons, the crew turns Mudd over to Stella and her dad. They claim him just like he was a piece of property. Stamets et al figure out that the best way to defeat a con man is to pull off a con of their own.
Even though they can’t remember it, Burnham and Ash Tyler began a new relationship. Now they just have to retrace their steps. Oddly enough, Mudd begins a new relationship, too. His relationship with Stella, and his new father-in-law, has certainly moved into a new phase.
With each time loop, Burnham revealed more and more of her vulnerable inner self to Tyler. Even though they have to rely on Stamets to tell them about it, it still counts. Because of Plotline Number 7, Burnham and Tyler share the possibility of a future together. With a little help from Harry Mudd.