Jan 29, 2018
Star Trek (TAS) “Mudd's Passion” (part 1 of 7)
| SUMMARY: Swindler and raconteur Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd returns once again to make life difficult for the crew of the starship Enterprise. Only, this time he’s a cartoon, and so is the rest of the crew, in this, the most hilarious episode of the short-lived 1970s Star Trek animated series (but is it intentionally hilarious? You be the judge).
Cartoon Kirk and Cartoon Spock arrest Cartoon Harry Mudd for trying to sell phony love potion crystals to miners. But by preying upon Cartoon Nurse Chapel’s unrequited lust for Spock, Mudd escapes, taking Chapel as a hostage. Much to Mudd’s surprise, however, the love potion actually works, which everybody learns the hard way when it’s accidentally released into the ship’s ventilation system.
Yes, it’s another “entire crew becomes love struck with each other” Star Trek episode, unfortunately sitting in good company with the likes of TNG’s “The Naked Now” and DS9’s “Fascination”, the latter also featuring a performance by Majel Barrett-Roddenberry. Coincidence? I think not.
Surprised? I’m assuming you are. Or at least you would be, if you lived in my world, where everything hinges on what I decide to recap next.
I’ve been saying for years that the Worst of Trek section would unfold in a predictable fashion: two recaps from each series, in chronological order of when the show debuted. After “Profit and Lace” and “Let He Who Is Without Sin…” from Deep Space Nine, the next logical thing to expect would be a Voyager recap. Or… so you thought.
I never expected to deviate from my long term Worst of Trek schedule, and to be honest, I don’t have a good explanation for this detour. Maybe it’s because we’re sort of at the halfway point in my initial runthrough of the Worst of Trek, and I deserve a breather. Or maybe I’m just really, really putting off having to deal with Voyager.
Or maybe it’s because just recently, I happened to discover this vastly underrated show called Star Trek. No, not the Star Trek that ran from 1966 to 1969, but the Star Trek that ran from 1973 to 1974, Saturday mornings on NBC.
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I’m kind of amazed at how many Trek fans don’t know (or don’t particularly care) that for a brief period of time between “Turnabout Intruder” and Star Trek: The Motion Picture—when fans had virtually nothing to sustain their hunger for new Trek besides scattered novels and slash fanzines—Kirk’s Enterprise was on TV screens again, continuing its mission to seek out new worlds, now in full animated glory.
Of course, I’ve known about the animated series for years. Up until recently, I had only seen a couple of episodes, which were less than impressive. So that’s probably why I never seriously considered recapping the animated series here.
Well, maybe it was some of the loving references to TAS slipped into the final season of Enterprise, or maybe it was the ongoing rumblings that the animated series would finally be released on DVD in late 2006 (though I refuse to believe it until I’m holding the discs in my hands), but there came a fateful day when I resolved to sit down and watch all 22 episodes. (Well, a fateful month, anyway.) It took me a little while to get into it, but after the first few episodes, something finally clicked, and now I love the animated series just as much as the other shows.
I’m not going to claim that TAS stands up there with the best of Trek. It was clearly scripted for a younger audience; if not children, then certainly adolescents. Each episode was only about 24 minutes long, hardly enough time for a involved plot with a satisfying resolution. And to be honest, some episodes were just plain silly.
But when you think about it, there are plenty of live-action Trek episodes that could be described as “just plain silly”. And live-action Trek also had its fair share of episodes that were clearly scripted for adolescents (or clearly scripted by adolescents. Take your pick).
The producers of TAS were obviously more interested in the action-oriented, cool-sci-fi-concept, high-adventure aspects of Star Trek than the mature and thought-provoking stories told on the original series. Some Trek fans might disagree, but I personally see nothing wrong with a little superficial action, or high-flying adventure for the sake of adventure. And if you can put yourself in that semi-teenage mindset, I promise you’ll have a great time watching the animated series.
Unfortunately, there was one person who didn’t have a great time watching TAS, or at least didn’t see it as meshing all that well with the live-action shows. That guy happened to be Gene Roddenberry, which is probably the number one reason so many Trek fans hold TAS in low regard.
The legend goes that around the time TNG was set to premiere, Gene Roddenberry’s office issued an infamous memo. This memo, for the very first time in Trek history, dictated exactly what was and what was not to be considered “official Trek canon”.
According to Roddenberry’s memo, only live-action episodes of Star Trek, its spin-offs, and the feature films were to be considered canon. Trek novels were not canon. Trek comic books were not canon. Trek role playing games were not canon. Trek computer games were not canon. And sadly, despite the fact that Roddenberry himself was intimately involved in its production, TAS was also not to be considered canon.
If you don’t frequent Trek discussion circles, you have no idea what kind of firestorms can be summoned forth just by mentioning the word “canon”.
“Canon” has a lot of meanings in the worlds of literature and visual media, but for the purposes of Star Trek, it’s basically everything that actually happened in the Star Trek universe. Never mind that it’s all fiction, and none of it “actually happened”. If it’s not canon, then it’s not part of the fictional universe that began with TOS, at least as far as Roddenberry was concerned (and by extension, Paramount / Viacom / CBS, which has mostly abided by Roddenberry’s wishes to this day).
Even though it’s come to be an emotionally charged word, really all that “canon” means is that if you’re a professional writer, and you want to write an episode for a Star Trek series, these are the facts and events that you can’t contradict.
For instance, canon is pretty clear on the fact that Spock is a human-Vulcan hybrid. If you pitched a story that began with the presumption that Spock was a Martian, it’d be a pretty tough sell. (However, to actually violate canon, the story would have to contradict this fact without explanation. If someone wrote a story where the big revelation was that Spock was really a Martian all along, but just pretended to be half-Vulcan because he was a covert agent, that would instead be what we call retroactive continuity, or a “retcon”. Although, one hopes such a story would be just as much of a tough sell.)
On the other hand, Star Trek canon has never explicitly stated that Spock was the very first human-Vulcan hybrid. (Some fans sincerely believe this to be the case, and that’s called “fanon”—stuff that’s practically canon just because so many fans assume it’s true.) Regardless, the path was free and clear for the writers of Enterprise to introduce the very first human-Vulcan hybrid, born to Trip and T’Pol in the final episodes of the final season of Trek on TV.
TAS may not be part of the official Trek canon, but this doesn’t mean that writers are forbidden to reference events in TAS. They just wouldn’t be bound to those events. This was also seen in some of the later episodes of Enterprise, which canonized a lot of Vulcan lore from the TAS episode “Yesteryear”.
All things considered, canon really shouldn’t be a contentious issue among Trek fans. But it’s gotten that way because too many people equate “canon” with “worthiness”, as in “worthy of being a part of the Star Trek universe”. Which is not what it means at all, but it’s probably easy to get that impression, particularly from that infamous memo Gene Roddenberry issued during TNG’s formative years.
Roddenberry’s motives in putting out the memo are the subject of a lot of speculation. Due to the (perceived) failure of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, he ended up being mostly excluded from involvement in the Star Trek feature films. The “canon” memo, some believe, was Gene’s way of reasserting control over a franchise that had been ripped out of his hands.
And also, at that time in Trek fandom, before any of the spin-offs, there were several wildly divergent Star Trek continuities, from the novels to the comics to the RPGs to the reference manuals, all with differing levels of “official”-ness. With most of these sources contradicting each other, and with a new series coming out, Roddenberry knew he had to step in and attempt to clean up the mess. He went with the most sensible solution, which was to ignore most of it, and for whatever reason, he included TAS as part of that mess.
I’ll admit, there are legitimate issues with the animated series that probably motivated Roddenberry to cut it out of canon. The animation itself, done by Filmation, was pretty shoddy. I wouldn’t call it significantly worse than other Saturday morning kid’s shows from the ’70s (many of which were also produced by Filmation), but at the same time, it’s noticeably cheap.
Large portions of the show would consist of static frames where absolutely nothing moved besides a character’s lips, or his or her eyebrows. And other times, the animation is so rushed that you can’t even follow what’s going on. On top of that, a lot of stock music from Filmation’s library, which they used in all their other cartoons, is used so often in TAS that I still hear it in my sleep. (Although, it’s worth pointing out that lots of stock music was used on TOS. How many times did we hear that simple flute theme every time something vaguely “romantic” was happening on screen?)
There was also an issue with Trek crossing over into Larry Niven’s “Known Space” universe. One episode of TAS, “The Slaver Weapon”, was an adaptation of Niven’s short story “The Soft Weapon”, which included a race called the Kzinti.
The Kzinti are a felinoid species which, the episode tells us, were engaged in several wars with mankind in the past. “The Soft Weapon” was clearly part of Niven’s Known Space canon, a canon that also included Ringworld, and allowing the Kzinti into Trek continuity brought up all sorts of thorny legal issues. If a future Trek episode referred to the Kzin wars, how much would Niven have to be paid? Would Niven even allow it? (Nevertheless, Trek writers over the years were able to insert subtle references to the Kzinti, most notably the Tzenkethi in Deep Space Nine and the Xindi in Enterprise.)
The vast majority of Trek fans abide by Roddenberry’s memo, and don’t consider TAS canon. But there are a vocal few who indulge in what we call “personal canon”. That’s individually picking and choosing which facts and events and elements of Trek that you yourself consider to be “canon”. And as you might expect, these “canon” judgments tend to fall along lines of quality, e.g., Enterprise sucked, so it’s not canon. Or “turd season, dude, never happened.”
These fans are usually regarded as overly obsessed at best, and crackpots at worst. I used to feel that way, too, until I gained an appreciation and love for all things TAS. I gotta admit, TAS is now part of my personal canon. And even though I do enjoy the show, that’s not the main reason I consider it canon. No, really. I’m definitely not the kind to pick and choose that sort of thing based on value judgments; I mean, I fully accept that mankind’s first deep space mission will be commanded by an arrogant, incompetent buffoon named Archer.
No, the real reason I consider TAS canon is that it’s a TV show called Star Trek, and it was made with the input of Gene Roddenberry, William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, Deforest Kelley, James Doohan, Nichelle Nichols, George Takei, Majel Barrett-Roddenberry, Walter Koenig, TOS story editor D.C. Fontana, TOS director Marc Daniels, TOS scriptwriters David Gerrold and Stephen Kandel, and TOS guest stars Mark Lenard, Roger C. Carmel, and Stanley Adams. Honestly, if that’s not Star Trek, then I don’t know what is.
It would be tantamount to making an album with performances by John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr, produced by George Martin, engineered by Norman Smith and Geoff Emerick, with an album cover drawn by Klaus fucking Voorman, and not calling it a Beatles album.
At some point, you have to say, come on. TAS is Star Trek. And anyone who thinks differently has probably never seen it.
(Actually, fans are kind of lucky that so many TOS veterans participated in the animated series. Originally, Filmation only wanted to include the voices of Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley. But Leonard Nimoy took a stand, saying that the secondary characters were just as important to the show, and refused to sign on to play Spock unless they also brought on everyone else. So Nichols, Doohan, Takei, and Majel Barrett all got to return. Unfortunately, they ended up not having quite have the budget to hire Walter Koenig, which is why Chekhov is nowhere to be found on TAS.)
If you’re a true Trek fan, there’s plenty to enjoy here. TAS gives us a return to the Guardian of Forever. TAS tells us about Spock’s childhood. TAS introduces us to the first captain of the Enterprise, Robert April. TAS features the very first appearance of what would become the holodeck in TNG. TAS gives us one of only three Tribble episodes ever made. TAS gives us Kirk’s middle name of Tiberius, long before Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country canonized it. And TAS is the only place where you can see Uhura taking command of the ship.
I know this is the Worst of Trek and all, but the episode I’m recapping, “Mudd’s Passion”, isn’t the worst of Trek, or even the worst of TAS. To be honest, I would much rather watch “Mudd’s Passion” than the two live-action episodes that feature Harry Mudd.
Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudd, played by Roger C. Carmel, originally appeared in “Mudd’s Women”, an early first season episode, and try as I might, I have never been able to figure out what point they were trying to make with that episode (other than, “you too can be happy living a life of sexual slavery!”). The other Harry Mudd appearance was the second season episode “I, Mudd”, which was a little better, but still a pointless trifle. (Honestly, out of all the great guest characters on TOS, why was Harry Mudd the only recurring character?)
Harry made his final appearance in “Mudd’s Passion”, which I’m recapping here not because it’s terrible, but because I have a love of all things TAS, and here’s an episode that I think will explain why. Maybe. Either way, you’ll have to admit this is one hilarious episode, even if it’s for all the wrong reasons.