Star Trek: Short Treks “The Escape Artist”
And finally, we come to the last of the four Short Treks released on CBS All Access in anticipation of the second season premiere of Star Trek: Discovery. My initial viewing of “The Escape Artist” was honestly a bit of a bewildering experience. Somehow, I had been led to believe that this would be a prequel to last season’s “Choose Your Pain”, showing how Harry Mudd (Rainn Wilson) ended up on that Klingon prison ship prior to meeting Lorca and Tyler.
Instead, it’s basically a random day in the life of Harry Mudd that has (almost) nothing to do with the Klingons, and it isn’t even clear where in the Star Trek timeline it’s taking place. Most likely, it’s happening not long after “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”, since that’s the last time we saw Mudd on Discovery. But given the lack of any chronological cues, you could just as easily say this is happening between or after the two TOS Harry Mudd episodes. I guess “The Escape Artist” is continuing the Short Trek tradition of leaving it up to the viewers to decide when the story takes place.
And this will be a lighthearted mini-episode, which we know when part of the opening credits play to a disco version of the Star Trek: Discovery theme song. So… it’s the disco DISCO theme?
On a Tellarite merchant vessel, a bounty hunter named Tevrin Krit (Harry Judge) is taking custody of Harry Mudd from another unnamed bounty hunter, who’s a tall woman in armor and a mask. The woman beams away, and Krit explains that he hunted down Mudd to have his revenge: Mudd slept with the Tellarite’s sister, and also stole the “family cudgel”.
Harry claims ignorance of what a “cudgel” is, and says Krit must have him confused with another human. So Krit pulls up Mudd’s holographic wanted poster, which lists several crimes, including 20 attempted murders, “regicide” (which Mudd plays down because the guy was just a duke), and “penetrating a space whale”, probably a reference to Mudd hiding inside a gormagander to sneak aboard the Discovery.
The Federation now has a bounty on Mudd’s head, and Krit stands to claim a sizable reward. Mudd insists he’s “never been in a situation like this before”, and then we abruptly get a flashback of Mudd in the same situation before.
Specifically, he’s having a very similar conversation on a Klingon ship with none other than Voq himself, before he got surgically transformed into Tyler. I don’t see anything to indicate Shazad Latif is playing Voq again, so probably there’s some unused footage being repurposed here. Or, they put his stand-in in the makeup to play the part instead.
Mudd talks so much nonsense that he gets Voq’s boot to his face, and then it’s back to the present and the Tellarite ship as it goes to warp. Mudd says it’s all coming back to him now, and he apologizes for sleeping with Krit’s sister and stealing the cudgel (and later selling it). He apologizes, and when that doesn’t work, Mudd claims to be part of a “secret resistance” against the Federation and its goal of “total hegemonic supremacy”, and asks if Krit wants to join up.
Krit laughs in his face and wonders if these lines have ever worked on anyone before. Cue another flashback to Mudd using the same lines on a different bounty hunter, a diminutive alien who looks like a mini-Jem’Hadar. She’s got Mudd chained to a yoke and is leading him across an alien planet, and soon Mini Hadar realizes she’s forgotten where she parked her ship.
Mudd mocks her for losing her ship, then hits on her, and then it’s back to the present. Krit says he thought Mudd was rich, but Mudd replies that he’s flat broke, thanks to Federation taxes. He says if he had money, he’d be “sipping jippers on a beach somewhere” instead of being out here.
This leads to another flashback where Mudd is tied up by an Orion, and Mudd is explaining that he is in fact rich. He promises that in return for his freedom, he’ll give the Orion enough latinum to make his enemies “green with envy… green-er”. The Orion starts to consider the offer, when suddenly an Orion woman bursts in. She calls her partner an “imbecile” and points out their entire conversation is being recorded by a security cam.
Mudd then hits on the Orion woman, saying her skin is “luxuriously green, like a delectable lime”. In response, the woman pulls a spherical device out of her pocket and throws it at Mudd, causing electricity to course through his body.
Back in the present, the Tellarite ship comes out of warp and is greeted by a Starfleet ship that identifies itself as the USS De Milo. Krit has them both beamed over to the De Milo, where they’re greeted by a Starfleet officer. The officer asks if Mudd was escorted by a tall, female bounty hunter in a mask. The officer then reveals that Krit’s prisoner is not really Mudd, but rather an “android replica”, and ships have been showing up all week to turn over who they think is Harry Mudd, but is really an android.
He leads them to a cargo hold where there are half a dozen Harry Mudd androids all standing around blabbering, and they’re also listening to that disco DISCO theme. One is even dressed in a jacket with epaulets that’s very similar to the one Harry wore in “I, Mudd”.
And it seems the Mudd android we’ve been following up to this point isn’t even aware that he’s an android, until Krit accidentally rips off his arm. He screams while all the other Mudds repeat the “sipping jippers on a beach” line.
We then cut to the real Mudd’s ship, which appears to be made up of stolen parts from Klingon and Starfleet vessels. The ship is full of Mudd androids, including one who pours one of those “jippers” for the ship’s captain, who turns out to be the tall, female bounty hunter in the mask.
She takes off the mask, revealing that she’s actually the real Mudd. Just then, Mudd gets a transmission from another alien ship looking for him. He pretends to be the bounty hunter again, saying he’d be happy to turn over Mudd, along with a “slightly used cudgel” that he smacks against his hand. Cue the closing credits, which play to a slow jazz version of the Discovery theme.
This is probably the best of the Short Treks, but given how mediocre the other three entries are, that’s not saying a whole lot. The plot is coherent, it has a distinct beginning and middle and end, and it doesn’t leave you with scores of unanswered questions after it’s over; this is the only Short Trek that I can say all three of these things about.
Though, there are still a few unanswered questions, such as: how can an android have flashbacks? Do Androids Dream of Electric Orions? If we were watching an android Harry Mudd the whole time, how could he be reminiscing about prior adventures? In theory, this could be a bit of misdirection; the “flashbacks” might not be flashbacks, but rather brief interludes of completely different Mudd androids playing out the same con. That’s probably giving this script too much credit, though.
But the big unanswered question is, when is this taking place in the Trek timeline? The presence of androids suggests a tie-in with “I, Mudd”, where Harry crash-lands on a planet of androids, but there’s no direct reference to that episode made here. So I guess we’re to believe that Mudd just happened to learned how to build androids before ending up on a planet full of them.
Also, where’s his fiancée/wife Stella? The last we saw of Mudd on Discovery, he was being forced to marry Stella to avoid running afoul of her arms dealer father. And we know from TOS that he eventually does marry her. So why wasn’t she even mentioned here?
If Short Treks continue, I hope they ditch this “loose continuity” thing and let the shorts pick up directly where full-length episodes leave off. If you only have 15 minutes to work with, why not build off already established events and characters, instead of forcing baffled viewers like me to spend half the running time trying to place the story within a larger context?
And that’s about it for Short Treks. The four shorts weren’t a total waste of time, but they certainly could have been much better. But I think that describes most of Star Trek: Discovery up to this point.
Next up: Season two of Star Trek: Discovery returns on January 17, and once again I’ll be recapping every episode. See you in two weeks for the season premiere, “Brother”, featuring appearances by Christopher Pike, Spock, Number One, and maybe some Discovery characters as well.