This article contains spoilers for the Star Trek: Discovery “Short Treks” episode, “The Escape Artist.”
His name is Mudd. And while we already knew he was a bad, bad man in the Star Trek universe, it turns out in the new Star Trek: Discovery “Short Treks” episode “The Escape Artist,” there may be multiple Harcourt Fenton “Harry” Mudds running around – most of them androids, and with the simple goal of “sipping Jippers on a beach.”
Starring, and directed by Rainn Wilson – who appeared in two episodes of Star Trek: Discovery‘s first season, in the role originated by Roger C. Carmel of Star Trek: The Original Series – “The Escape Artist” picks up with several bounties on Mudd’s head for crimes, (including that of penetrating a goramander). One Tellarite thinks he’s clever, and lucky, enough to capture the galactic con-man, but it turns out there is a twist: The real Harry has been spreading around android dupes of himself to collect on his own bounty, and escape capture.
“There is a long rich history between Harry Mudd, and androids,” Wilson says, referencing The Original Series episode “I, Mudd.” “Harry uses people, and androids are a very easy way to pull one over; it is slave labor, and you can fool people.”
“With Harry, nothing is as it seems,” said the actor, known for his work as Dwight Schrute on The Office, the James Gunn flick Super, and The Meg. Wilson shared he had been trying to bring Mudd back for some time after his initial Discovery episodes. Wilson says the talks involved the hows, and whys of story, and scheduling, when the script by Michael McMahan (Rick and Morty) fell into his lap out of blue, along with the opportunity to direct the short.
Whereas he had directed three episodes of The Office, Wilson says he had never directed anything as complicated, and demanding, as “The Escape Artist,” which heavily involves special effects. However, he added that the character of Mudd himself presented a challenge.
“The trick with Harry Mudd is how you balance the comedy with taking him very seriously,” he says, adding that the short is more comedic than his two outings on Discovery, and he sought to combine the humor with the dastardly of Mudd.
“You have to believe the stakes are life and death. Lives are in the balance,” he said. “It is an interesting challenge as a director, and as an actor, to make all of that sing.”
And have no doubt, Wilson views Mudd as a self-serving, threatening villain. He noted that people think of Carmel’s performance as comedic from Mudd’s initial encounters with Captain Kirk’s Enterprise, “but when you really look at what Mudd is doing, he is selling sex slaves to mining colonies, and in the second one, he is stealing the Enterprise, and going to trap the crew on a planet with these androids.”
This makes a character such as Mudd refreshing in a universe such as Discovery, where people are typically earnest. Wilson observes that while it can be a dark and serious show, “Other than Captain Lorca, people are who they say they are…So Harry Mudd turns that on his head; whatever he is presenting, things are very, very different.”
By flashing back to previous encounters – what are initially presented as Mudd’s memories, rather than androids accessing data – “The Escape Artist” hints at the “multi-varied rich backstory” of other Mudd adventures. Interestingly, the short also reveals that Mudd is pretty good at being bad. Although he does get caught a few times in the short, he always manages to get himself out of certain death, through conversation, scheming, and maybe even occasional seduction. And, at least with his android doppelgangers, things seem to be working out for the incredibly smart character.
In this, Wilson compares Mudd to Lex Luthor – a character he has voiced in the DC Universe Animated Original Movies The Death of Superman and Reign of the Supermen, to be released this month. He says, similar to Lex, he could be pretty successful in his supervillainy, if not for his own ego. “Harry is going to be the smartest person in the room, but his hubris is going to be his undoing. I hate to compare Harry Mudd to Lex Luthor, but while in the Den of Geek, why not go for it?”
Wilson also channels the ultimate fan debate of Star Trek vs. Star Wars by saying Mudd’s character opens up an opportunity to explore the civilians living under the auspices of the Federation, outside of official delegates or Starfleet personnel.
“You get to see a different side of what humanity is [with Mudd]; it is an opportunity where the Star Trek world can have more of that fun Star Wars feel of the Han Solo, of the smugglers, merchants, traders, and people living on the fringes of the Federation,” he says, observing that, “Perhaps people feel the Federation is more like the Empire.”
“I have always enjoyed the Star Trek universe more than the Star Wars universe, and love the intellectual rigor — exploring big, human ideas while Star Wars is ultimately fun gun fights in space,” Wilson added. “Star Trek is more about big ideas, but Mudd opens the door to an exploration of people living in the Federation.”
Calling Harry Mudd one of the most enjoyable characters he has played, Wilson said he hopes to appear in more Discovery adventures, “or other series,” but that he doesn’t know about the character’s involvement in Star Trek: Discovery season 2. Given the chance, he said he would like to find out how Mudd met his wife Stella, and his relationship with her, and her family.
Meanwhile, Rainn Wilson seems to enjoy delivering Harry Mudd’s new catchphrase that, if he were rich, “I’d be sipping Jippers on a beach,” which closes out “The Escape Artist.” Saying it a few times for this interviewer, he joked it’d be a great idea for a Harry Mudd T-shirt: “Let’s get on that!”