Short Treks’ “The Escape Artist” in Review
Are you a fan of Harcourt Fenton Mudd? If so, pour yourself a jipper (whatever that is) and settle down on the beach, because we’re reviewing “The Escape Artist”, the Mudd-centric Short Treks episode written by Star Trek: Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan and directed by Mudd actor Rainn Wilson.
As the episode begins, Tellarite Tevrin Krit pays a female alien bounty hunter for her delivery of Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Apparently, Mudd had a dalliance with Krit’s sister and stole his family’s ancestral cudgel. Mudd tries to talk his way out of it, feigning ignorance and assuring the Tellarite that he’s never been in a situation like this before. (In a cutaway, a Klingon holding Mudd captive stomps his face.) Mudd suddenly remembers the tryst with Krit’s sister, taking the cudgel as a memento, and selling it to raise capital for a secret resistance against the Federation.
Mudd tells a skeptical Krit they could collaborate to take control of their destinies, especially as they are kindred spirits. (Another flashback shows that Mudd used similar lines with another bounty hunter before flirting with her.) Mudd explains that it’s a common misconception that he’s rich; if he had any money, he’d be “sipping jippers on a beach somewhere.” (While bound by chains, Mudd previously told a male Orion guard that he was rich and that, if the guard freed him, he could make the guard rich too, but their conversation was terminated by a female Orion guard who replaced the male and proceeded to electrocute Mudd.)
Krit’s ship encounters the USS De Milo. Mudd begs for Krit not to hand him over to Starfleet, but Krit vocally signals for them to be beamed aboard the Starfleet vessel. A Starfleet officer who greets them says that “Mudd” is an android duplicate sent to distract Krit long enough that he couldn’t get a refund. The officer reveals a half-dozen other Mudd androids already in captivity, and the newly arrived “Mudd” is confirmed as yet another android when his arm detaches.
On Mudd’s ship, one of many more Mudd androids serves a jipper to the “female alien bounty hunter,” who is revealed to be Mudd in disguise. Mudd is contacted by a ship and makes a deal to turn in another “Mudd” as well as an offer on a slightly used cudgel.
This episode is a farce — and I mean that as a genre, not as an insult. How much you enjoy it may depend on your tolerance for farce in your preferred type of Star Trek. There aren’t really lessons to be learned here, other than perhaps don’t believe everything you’re told and don’t be too quick to buy into something that might be a con. That said, if you enjoyed the silliness of the original “I, Mudd”, you’ll likely have a good time here. Rainn Wilson is clearly enjoying himself, as are the actors surrounding him.
Is this an important Star Trek story going forward? Well, yes and no. Barring a return of Mudd in Strange New Worlds, it seems unlikely anything we see here will pay off elsewhere. You could argue that it leads into Mudd’s appearances in The Original Series, but I’m inclined to agree with Keith R.A. DeCandido and assume this short takes place after “I, Mudd” and perhaps before “Mudd’s Passion”, at least until Mike McMahan says otherwise. This would mean the androids in this episode were produced by the machinery he found in “I, Mudd”, rather than it simply being a coincidence that Mudd keeps running into sources of advanced android technology.
This is historically notable as the first released Star Trek episode from Lower Decks creator Mike McMahan. “The Escape Artist” also fulfilled some of the stated missions of Short Treks per Alex Kurtzman, who stated on the Short Treks DVD and Blu-ray, “I loved the idea of expanding the definition of what traditional Star Trek is [….] I like using [Short Treks] as an experimental playground for different directors and different styles and different tones.”
More than any other episode in Season 1, “The Escape Artist” broadened what Star Trek could be. “Runaway” showed we could have an episode with just one cast member. “Calypso” showed we could just have the ship and no cast members. “The Brightest Star” showed we could just have a cast member and no ship. And here, we see an entire episode built around a two-time Discovery guest star (and three-time TOS/TAS guest character) who isn’t even a member of Starfleet. In Season 2, Short Treks went on to push the boundaries even further, as it based episodes around completely new ships, schoolchildren, and even a tardigrade. Here, we got a taste of what was possible.
There’s not a lot more to say about this one, other than sometimes it’s a treat to watch the bad guys… as long as it’s all in good fun.
Roger McCoy is pretty sure he was watching Star Trek before he was born! He has contributed to the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthology series from Simon & Schuster (not directly related to the TV series of the same name) as well as a couple of unofficial Doctor Who anthologies. He believes a Star Trek story does not have to be canon to be good and does not have to be good to be canon, but if a story is Star Trek then you have his attention. He can be found online on his laptop in the other room; come on over and say hi! He’s probably just looking at Star Trek news.