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?

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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.

“I admit to penetrating the space whale, but it was completely consensual.”

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.

Or maybe they brought back Javid Iqbal for the role. He’s an awesome actor.

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.

TV Show: Star Trek: Short Treks

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  • Kradeiz

    It’s not surprising the short about Mudd was the best one; he and Lorca were two of the only Discovery characters I was really attached to. And Lorca’s dead, so…yeah.

  • Greenhornet

    Androids. Since it was firmly established that Discovery takes place BEFORE TOS, (As evidenced by the arrival of Capt. Pike) Harry has no access to a planet full of androids. Unless he’s willing to spend a metric ton and a half of what passes for money in Trek.

  • featuring appearances by Christopher Pike

    Saru is certainly getting a wide variety of first officer experience, serving under so many commanding officers on the same ship. I do wonder how “first officer to two megalomaniac impostors” in your record plays toward your promotion opportunities, though.

  • nikkolya

    Admittedly it has been a long time since I watched the original Mudd TOS episodes…but when did he become a murdering psycho? In Trouble With Tribbles his big con was…selling tribbles. And I can’t remember him being murderous in the second one either. In fact, his bio on Memory Alpha lists him as a notorious con man, swindler, and smuggler. Why would someone who is straight up willing to murder people left and right (on Discovery) go on to be okay just selling tribbles to people? I also don’t know why they decided to go from the mustache alone to a full beard other than the continued attempts by CBS to completely change the design of everything on Star Trek to make it unrecognizable.

    • Greenhornet

      Because it’s the current year!
      For the past decade or so, Hollywood has been trashing beloved characters for unknown reasons.

    • mamba

      His murders were in a self-resetting timeline and he knew it, so he knew they weren’t really going to die in the end and nobody would remember it, so a safe “dimension” to play in guilt-free. In essence he was running a few test runs and treating it like a video game because it basically was to him by this point. All murders would never happen by the end.

      Also, if curious, he didn’t sell Tribbles, he sold women (“Mudd’s women”), Some other trader called Cyrano Jones was the Tribble peddler on the space station in the episode you’re thinking of.

      As for the new look, I think it fits. This is a PRE-KIRK version of the character I remind you, and he might have felt more roguish and rough. By Kirk’s time, he had some delusion of grander, or at least learned the persona and cleaner look makes for better cons.

      • nikkolya

        Oh yeah…can’t believe I mixed up Cyrano Jones and Mudd (like I said…it had been a LONG time since I watched those TOS episodes and honestly, character wise, Jones and Mudd are pretty much the same smarmy character). That’s what I get for not looking back before typing.

        Though I still argue the point about the murder thing. This recap itself mentions that he has a rap sheet that list “several crimes, including 20 attempted murders, [and] ‘regicide'”, so even this episodes is saying he is, at best, a crappy murderer, but, at worst, an ambitious one. He still never once came across as someone who would be on the hook for 20 attempted murders and killing a duke (as he himself claimed it wasn’t in fact “regicide” because the person wasn’t a king). That kind of counters this idea that he was only okay murdering because of a “self-resetting timeline”. It really just seems to be that Discovery is trying really hard make Mudd seem more like a dangerous person, whereas TOS seemed to go out of its way to make it clear that he was a fairly hapless conman and I really don’t think this new Mudd fits the characters at all. Then again, I don’t think really anything about Discovery fits the character of Star Trek.

        • mamba

          Crap, you are totally right on the murders…they did list 20 attempted murders and so yeah they are outside the “magic to make…” episode for sure. They are definitely valid charges…though…

          I wonder though if Mudd being Mudd just had the charged trumped up because the people arrested him hated him so much? Like maybe he conned a duke and left him on a planet abandoned, so they charged him with “attempted murder” when in fact he just was running and didn’t care?

          I got the impression that Mudd while not a serial killer really has no problem with knifing someone if he had to to get away though. Or having to defend himself when a con goes bad and someone dies but still gets charged. Seems to fit the character more.

          Mudd went from TOS’s bombastic blithering liar to a ruthless slimy guy who’s stab you in the back in a second. Though as for ruthlessness, I do remind people that even in TOS, he had NO issues with kidnapping and selling out the entire crew of the enterprise out to basically a prison planet for their lives just to save his own skin and laughing about it to Kirk’s face. So is murder really off his radar? Would he REALLY care if someone died as a result of his schemes? Doubt it…

          • ppi23

            It’s a test run to measure fan reaction & “subvert expectations.”
            If poorly recieved then an exposition-rich episode will happen sooner where they fix Mudd’s reputation by proving he was framed the whole time, or that he unfairly took the blame for someone else. If they want to complicate the story’s detail, then they will make the murderous reports all a planted deception orchestrated by Mudd for some greater purpose which will be revealed in the 2nd episode of a 2-parter

  • ppi23

    Oh deer. The man in the top image suffers from cyanosis
    Oh no: The men in the 2nd scene image suffer from cyanosis
    Third Image: Holy shit everybody in the 23rd century is BLUE

    Nearly 2/3 of the color spectrum have been lost!! (Blames Comcast)

  • mamba

    I loved this episode, Mudd is hilarious, and I think I can pin down when it took place through logic:

    First off, it definitely predates TOS Harry Mudd’s shows due to them just meeting Pike and hence pre-dating Kirk. Also remember the androids serving him in “I Mudd” never let him leave the planet. THEY made the androids, and not Harry. So the androids he’s using are just an acquisition and not linked to TOD “I Mudd’s androids.

    Second off, it definitely is AFTER discovery “magic to make the sanest man go mad” because one of the charges listed against him is the gormagander penetration.

    So the chronology is square between those 2 episodes. The order has to be “magic”, then “escape artist”, then “I Mudd”.

    Also, someone pointed out that the flashbacks show the androids have a pre-programmed tic phrase. I think this is incorrect, and is just Mudd’s personality using lines that worked in the past. He’s definately better as a thief/conman then as a murderer. Though on THAT point, I remind everyone that he had a time-reverser…he knew that any death he caused wouldn’t stick unless he wanted it to, so why NOT experiment in this safe space with killing your enemies and getting revenge. It’s all about to be undone anyway, so no guilt and pure fun. Best of all, the victim would never even know you did it to them unless you told them so no crimes added!

    • Greenhornet

      Except that the “gormagander penetration” means SOMEBODY remembered the murder spree. Either Harry did that for some retarded reason, or the writers screwed up, AGAIN.

      • mamba

        Not true…remember that only the ENDING timeline counted for Harry Mudd in that episode. The one where he lets the time crystal go away and then realizes he’s been tricked by the crew.

        By THAT timeline, not a single murder is remembered (except by one human, the spore drive inventor guy) because they never technically happened in the timeline. But they DO remember how he got aboard to get to that state…by penetrating the gormagander.

        So in the regular non-looped timeline, he’s charged with gormagander penetration, attempted stealing of a starship, and probably a few other stuff, but murder was absolutely NOT one of the charges as in the stabilized timeline nobody died. Not a screw-up at all.

  • Gepard

    Those (probably) weren’t flashbacks, but cutaways to other Mudd androids in captivity. It’s a fun little joke, playing on our assumptions about how this kind of montage storytelling works.

    I really enjoyed this one, and out of the four it’s the only one I’ve bothered to watch more than once. It was nice to have something with a coherent plot and light tone, two elements that DISCO has tended to struggle with.

  • Kali From the Zone

    Doing one thing pretty well, I guess: It reminded me how much I REALLY miss Roger C Carmel, the REAL Harry Mudd. This episode is yet another pale imitation of the original — which, of course, is what Discovery always was. I am SO glad I am missing this series completely.

    I’m actually starting to think fondly of The Outrageous Okana, TNG’s attempt to bring Mudd back that was short-circuited when Carmel died before he could be approached to star. Ah, what might have been.