The fourth and final (at least for now) Star Trek: Short Treks episode entitled 'The Escape Artist' premiered January 3 on CBS All Access, wuth the 14 minute short featuring (and directed by) Rainn Wilson (The Office) as Harcourt Fenton Mudd, known to Trek fans as Harry Mudd. First appearing in Star Trek: The Original Series and portrayed by the late Roger C. Carmel, Mudd is a con man, thief, and overall scoundrel. Wilson's Mudd, who showed up in multiple episodes of Star Trek: Discovery's first season, was darker, more violent, and a lot less campy than Carmel's original. The short focuses on Mudd's attempt to talk his way out of being sold to the Federation by a Tellarite bounty hunter (Harry Judge) and includes flashbacks of other occasions when he has tried to talk his way out of capture. If you are planning on watching the 'The Escape Artist" and want to enjoy the entertaining twist ending, read no further. Captain, there be spoilers here!
The first three Short Treks were emotionally moving, following characters through moments of personal growth and significance. Going into 'The Escape Artist' I was prepared for the tone to be different because of Wilson, but I must admit the episode was still a surprise. A mix of "Harry Mudd, This Is Your Life" and "A Day in the Life," the entire short takes place in the course of a few hours as Mudd is sold to a bounty hunter whose sister Mudd slept with and whose family heirloom Mudd sold. As the bounty hunter sets a course to turn Mudd over to the Federation and collect his bounty, Mudd uses their commute time to convince his captor to accept an alternate arrangement (or really any alternate arrangement).
Mudd's arguments range from feigned innocence, to flattery, to bribery, to attempted escape, and everything in between. Each time Mudd makes an argument, the viewer sees a flashback of the last time Mudd tried to use that same argument. You get a feeling for just how many times Mudd has been captured. These flashbacks also include some nice Star Trek: TOS and Star Trek: Discovery cameos, most notably Voq and the Orions.
In the end, the bounty hunter does turn Mudd over to the Federation – only to learn that the Mudd in his custody is a high quality android copy with a Mudd-matching DNA covering. We also learn that this bounty hunter was not the first the Federation had come across who was conned by Mudd attempting to sell copies of himself for money. In fact, the Federation could have fielded a baseball team of Mudd-roids.
While I must admit that I really enjoyed the twist ending and I did laugh out loud a couple of times during the episode, it just wasn't as funny as I assumed it would be. Maybe with Wilson starring/directing and the campy history of the character, my expectations were just too high. The line where Mudd is accused of penetrating a space whale was supposed to be funny, but came off as just awkward. I was slightly entertained when Mudd attempted to convince the bounty hunter that there was a Resistance to the Federation – and Mudd was a part of it – but that was mostly because I was thinking "Does he report to General Leia?" The best line, by far? When Mudd told an Orion that his enemies would be "green with envy" before the scoundrel was taser-balled by someone in Gamora cosplay.
'The Escape Artist' wasn't perfect and wasn't my favorite of the Star Trek: Short Treks, but it was fun, entertaining, surprising, and worth a watch. The end scene where Mudd is being waited on by his Mudd-roids – essentially talking to himself – was a fantastic visual and left you wanting to know who he would rip off next. It was also a little bit jarring, however. If Mudd has the technology to build a DNA covered replicant of himself, why does he have a wall of analog clocks behind him on his ship? I would have preferred something that gave us a little more insight into Mudd's origin and mindset, rather than what amounts to a series of some-what amusing anecdotes. The good news is we are only two weeks away from the January 17th premier of Star Trek: Discovery season 2 and will soon have all the Trek content we would ever want to unpack and over-analyze. So in the mean time, have a jipper!