In which Deadmau5 has really let himself go, there’s a Window of Opportunity to this Cause and Effect, and happy endings depend on whether or not you can appreciate them.
Burnham’s personal log proceeds as she explains the routine she’s found herself into. Tilly’s still basically her only friend, but overall the Discovey is helping win the war, even as Stamets gets weirder and weirder. More expressive and ebullient, certainly. Also, Burnham is growing close to Nash, but is separated from the rest of the crew by her history. Even at the party.
There is a variant of beer pong in use in this century. During the party the lights go out (which shouldn’t happen due to multiple redundant systems) but Tilly is more interested in whether Burnham is Gittin It with Nash. Tilly may be interested, but it’s Sisters before Misters when Nash tries to Lei her, and then he and Burnham are called in to work. Burnham’s excuse for not being personable is that on the Shenzhou her rank precluded fraternization, so it seems that at this point Starfleet does have some guidlines about who gets to bump uglies with whom.
Stamets… remains weird. The mushroom spores are definitely… what can we say here without it being a horrible pun? Sending him on a trip? Making him spacey? The doctor has built him some cybernetic implants to ease the stabby-ness of the spore drive navigational system. Burnham and Nash escape from awkward questions about their relationship status to the bridge, where Saru has found them a biological spacefaring mass of classification Gormagander, which they know enough about as a lifeform to assess it as being in poor health. They are nearly extinct and spend so much time eating alpha particles that they don’t mate enough to keep up their numbers. In other words, they’re space-pandas. Since it’s endangered, protocol requires them to transfer it to a reserve for preservation.
They have a shuttle/cargo bay big enough for it, and somehow beaming it into a full atmosphere of pressure and and earth standard gravity doesn’t immediately kill it. It also appears to respire, despite living in space. Once they beam it aboard, abnormal readings turn out to be a passenger and marauder, who steps out of its mouth and starts shooting people. Once CIC has him trapped in a corridor, after killing at least four people, it turns out that the person under the bunny helmet is Harry Mudd.
Harry makes a really big speech about selling Federation state secrets to the Klingons as soon as he finds out what they are, which strikes me as exactly as much evidence as you’d need to beam him into the brig or, if you’re a buck-the-rules kind of guy like Lorca, space. However, he makes a reference to having enough data for another attempt, makes a more cryptic reference that sounds a lot like time travel, and vanishes in a massive explosion that destroys the ship and everyone aboard.
Back to last night’s party which, hey remember that mysterious power fluctuation. Bet we can guess what will have had triggered that now! In this go-round, things go exactly as they did in the previous branch of the timeline until Stamets runs up to them to warn them about a problem with the timeline, but since he’s ranting like a maniac they don’t listen to him, although he does manage to shout a warning about the gormagander.
This time it’s Saru who quotes regs, but both Burnham and Nash are sufficiently cued in to want to overrule. Since flouting the regs would subject Lorca to court-martial he orders them to follow the regs, and Burnham doesn’t waste time spinning a crazy story, just offers to take point on the retrieval given her specialist training. Nash throws in a demand for security. This time when they beam it in, Burnham goes in close personally for scans, but Mudd doesn’t emerge. Instead, they’ve detected a transporter beam, and the next thing they know the Jump drive has been activated and Mudd has taken control of engineering. He’s got the drive on overload to force a pressure tactic and make them tell him how to work the drive itself, and enough foresight to have taken control of the computer, but he didn’t count on Stamets being immune to his timeline stuff and have already been in waiting for him. Mudd is stunned.
This is not the second iteration. Possibly not even the tenth. Stamats is the Groundhog Day protagonist, but we’re not following his iterations. Just where he intersects with Burnham. On the loop where Stamets gets to the point of short-circuiting disbelief by parroting back the overblow explanation of how he could be crazy exactly as Burnham says it, Lorca is called to the Sick Bay and hijacked by Mudd. This loop is spent with Stamets getting the Secret-Only-You-Know passcode so he can cut in earlier next time and get Burnham to find out about Mudd from Nash.
Mudd ‘usually kills the captain’ at a certain time in the loop, and he does so differently every time just for kicks. He’s killed Lorca 53 times, and if he means ‘personally’ and not ‘as a byproduct of blowing up the ship’ then there may be more loops under his belt.
On a next loop, Stamets shows up at the party just after the power outage, tells Tilly to go bang a musician and tells Burnham her secret, which is that she’s never been in love. Unsurprising, but sad. It is sufficient to make her believe him, but then she borks the assist because she likes Tyler and can’t get the question out. Thus, as in all groundhog day episodes, we take a brief diversion from the stakes in order to master a tangential skill – Stamets teaches her to dance. Next loop, Burnham drags Nash to the dance floor to make him dance with her, and apparently the DJ noticed this because I don’t remember that song being played in previous loops, prior to or post-blackout. They do, however, have time for Burnham to explain the situation. Even to share a kiss, just in case this loop is the one that matters, or possibly because it might not be.
Turns out that Mudd robbed a betazoid bank which, aside from being staffed by telepaths, had all sorts of buzzword security devices. He claimed to have ‘memorized the security patterns’ and in light of a time loop machine that runs on ‘equilibrial matter states’ it’s plausible. More specifically, time crystals, which are a real thing that I look forward to science getting to a point where this episode is just as stupid-buzzwordy as the time Picard said they’d never solved Fermat’s Last Theorem.
This time, just about the time Lorca’s missing Burnham and Tyler, someone hijacks the sound system with some music, and in walks Harry Mudd, finally tired of gloating and showing off a blue crystal that’s apparently the most painful way to die in space. Weaponized dark matter that rips people apart horribly, and which he uses on Nash for breaking in to spoil his fun. Incidentally, Mudd has a protocol in place that can snap a force field into place without his somatic prompting and since we now know the computer is capable of dealing with that level of complexity I expect to see it pop up in the future. Or, that someone will decide maybe automating the ship to this extent is a bad idea and rip all that programming out of the Constitution classes just in time to make them TOS-consistent.
Eventually, Stamets breaks down, unwilling to watch more people die and unable to figure out a plan to break the loops. Somehow ‘befriend a transporter technician using time loop powers and beam Mudd out of the space whale and into a plasma manifold’ hasn’t occurred to him. Also, by telling Mudd the secret he’s more or less committed to always being hunted by Mudd and maybe making Nash permakilled. Burnham goes to confer with Tilly, and together they find the energy source that’s powering the time machine inside the gormagander… inside his ship. All they need to do now is to reset the time stream… and get all the information they found to Stamets so he can get it back to them.
To that end, Burnham goes to Mudd to trip him into waxing poetic about Stella. And to tell him that she is Michael Burnham, killer of T’Kuvma. Once she knows he knows how valuable she is, she eats one of the dark matter grenades and dies tracelessly and in horrifying agony. Mudd wants that sweet cash, and resets. This time, Harry seems to be getting either bored or tired, but the crew are working hard to set up enough security protocols to stop him from taking over. They appear to have convinced Lorca of the problem, and are prepared for him when he gets to the bridge… and surrender it to him.
Mudd doesn’t believe it, but Lorca presents a reasonable case – he doesn’t want to lose another ship and crew. It’s down to the wire – if Harry passes the threshold without resetting, they’ll rejoin the timestream and there will be ‘no turning back’ so if that’s how this works, the protocol I would put in place would be to simulate the computer obeying him and simulate the incoming Klingon warp signature. Just enough to take them out of the loops. Indeed, the loop ends and his crystal evaporates.
In fact, it’s even better. Stella, Mudd’s ‘one true love’ is the daughter of an arms dealer. That Harry ran out on, and who has a bounty on him. Presumably that his call went out to, instead of the Klingons. They are not hear to flense him, however. Stella actually loves him, so Harry gets to go back to her and marry her… or else.
Speakint of relationships, Burnham and Nash are walked back a bit from their high-water mark, but it is, perhaps, a bit more honest and genuine.