Just saw the latest and last of four CBS-AA Star Trek: Discovery “Short Treks”, and well… my wife says if you have nothing nice to say, you should say nothing.
So… thanks for reading.
Okay, I’m half-kidding. While it’s true that I don’t have nice things to write regarding Short Trek #4, “The Escape Artist” (written by Michael McMahon), I will write them anyway.
**** STARSHIP-SIZED SPOILERS ****
A shackled Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson, who also directed) is remanded into the custody of a Tellarite bounty hunter (Harry Judge), by a mysterious, helmeted female alien. Mudd is then taken to the Tellarite’s ship, where they warp away to rendezvous with a Federation starship to collect a reward for the Federation criminal.
During the voyage, as the ever-conniving Mudd tries to con his way out of custody, we see flashbacks of Harry in very similar situations with other bounty-hunting aliens (including the green-skinned Orions and what appears to be a diminutive Klingon).
After his latest attempt to talk his way out fails, Mudd and the Tellarite are beamed aboard the Federation starship. The Tellarite demands the bounty on Mudd, as the starship captain takes him to a holding area full of Mudd lookalike androids. The captain shoots Mudd’s arm off to reveal him to be yet another of the sophisticated androids. Both the Tellarite and the starship captain have been duped.
Back on the bridge of another ship, the ‘mysterious female alien’ is revealed to be the real Harry Mudd, who is already arranging his next con as a squad of lookalike Mudd androids attend to his every whim.
As I once wrote in my review of Discovery S1’s “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”, I’m not a fan of how former low-rent smuggler/space-pimp Harry Mudd has been reimagined as a brilliant cyberneticist who is more of a borderline Bond villain than the bumbling ne’er do well we saw in the original series (which is supposed to be set nearly ten years after these events…).
“The Escape Artist” completely undermines the ‘future’ TOS episode “I, Mudd” which saw Mudd land on a planet of advanced humanoid (but alien-built) androids who seemingly existed solely to sate Mudd’s every desire. This was supposed to be the first time Mudd had every seen such sophisticated androids, and now we find out he had an army of them that he’d somehow built himself a decade before? This is supposed to be the same Harry Mudd who broke out of a Denebian prison but couldn’t even navigate his escape craft. Now he’s mastered the manufacture of perfect humanoid replicas (something even Data’s creator hadn’t quite pulled off a century later) just to con the entire galaxy’s collection of bounty hunters.
Mudd’s fortuitous landing on a planet full of humanoid androids in “I, Mudd” is now (retroactively) turned into a ridiculously implausible coincidence rather than a struck of good fortune. The master humanoid android-maker will someday land on a planet of equally perfect alien-made humanoid androids…who’d a thunk it, right? Apparently, scriptwriter Michael McMahon. It was bad enough Super-Mudd was turned into a master hacker in “Magic…”, now he’s bested Star Trek’s best experts in cybernetics as well.
It’s also interesting how none of these newfound abilities show up on Mudd’s permanent record during his inquest aboard Kirk’s Enterprise in “Mudd’s Women” (which also takes place several years in Mudd’s future). Captain Kirk would’ve thrown him in the brig the moment he discovered his true identity.
Rainn Wilson’s Mudd isn’t necessarily a bad character or villain, but he’s just not the same Harcourt Mudd we saw in 1966 and 1967 (and 1974, if you count the Star Trek Animated Series’ “Mudd’s Passion”, which I do). The late Roger Carmel played Harry Mudd as sort of a Falstaff-like braggart; a legend in his own mind, more than anywhere else. Rainn Wilson’s Mudd is a deeply sinister, intelligent and frankly dangerous guy; which makes him far less forgivable, let alone likable. He’s more of a galaxy-wide threat than a bumbling, low-rent crook.
Aside from the major monkey wrenches this episode throws into Star Trek’s own ‘future history,’ it also suffers from being not terribly funny…despite the fact that it’s clearly intended to be a comedy short, as judged from the riffs on the Discovery main title theme, and other flourishes. Star/director Rainn Wilson’s constant high-pitched overacting to ‘sell’ the jokes comes off as desperate rather than sly. The flashbacks of Mudd’s other selves in captivity become repetitive very quickly…and this is only a 16 minute short.
It also doesn’t help that Star Trek’s ‘other’ prequel series, “Enterprise” already did an entire episode (S2’s “Bounty”) about a previous Tellarite bounty hunter (same species) taking a captive Captain Archer (Scott Bakula) to the Klingons to collect a reward. “The Escape Artist” is a condensed rewrite of “Bounty” with “I, Mudd”’s androids thrown in as a comedic coda. It’s more a collection of used parts than an original short.
The Short Treks to date have been intriguing, if a little problematic. Nice character pieces, with occasional oversights in story logic. However, “The Escape Artist” is just pure nonsense. Personally, I’m hoping they’re through with rewriting the Harry Mudd character for this incarnation of Star Trek, and that their itch to use him again is permanently scratched.