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Discovering Trek: Short Treks: The Escape Artist

This is my guide to Star Trek Discovery: Short Treks, the short episodes that are set to bridge the gap between now and the launch of Discovery Season Two, set to begin in January. This is the fourth short "The Escape Artist.”

Damn it man! This had nothing to do with Harry Houdini

Mudd has slept with a Tellarite’s sister in order to steal their family cudgel and we see a series of flashbacks demonstrating, a little heavy-handedly, that Mudd has been in similar scrapes before. His repeated use of the word “filth” evidences the clear hatred he has for alien species. The Tellarite, who sounds a bit like Yoda, isn’t buying anything Mudd has to say and the episode appears to be designed to showcase the hilarious escapades of the roguish Mudd, but he comes across as a misogynistic, racist psychopath. I am going to be clear, I get that Mudd is a criminal and capable of murdering Lorca over a hundred times, but the writer is also asking us to like or find amusing his antics, and this is dangerous territory, Mudd is not a lovable rogue in the Han Solo mould, he is a simpering sociopath, who would literally sell his own granny to make money. What are we laughing at? His racism or his sexism? It’s a big performance from Rainn Wilson, who also directed this short, but despite a few decent one-liners, the writing isn’t the strongest, and you are left wondering what was the point?

“What are we attempting to murder now? Accuracy?”

Our first flashback is with a Klingon, second an unknown alien female (where Mudd introduces another way he can be prejudiced by mocking someone's height) and thirdly an Orion. The Orion scene is probably the most effective as he almost cons a male Orion guard, appealing to his vanity and proclivity for capes, only to be tasered by a female guard who will not stand for his shenanigans for one moment. The wonder is that Mudd ever gets away with any of his schemes as each flashback shows that his banter rarely has any effect. Eventually Mudd’s bargaining with his Tellarite captor leads to nothing and he begs to not be handed over to the Federation, a fate he genuinely seems keen to avoid.

But as always Mudd is playing the long-con and we see the Tellarite beam over to the U.S.S. De Milo and a sarcastic crew member informs the bounty hunter that this is just a cloned replicant of Mudd. He reveals a brig full of Mudd’s much to the Tellarite’s horror. He has been scammed and the episode closes with the revelation that Mudd has created an army of these clones and is scamming bounty hunters across the universe, exchanging these versions of himself, disguised as a bounty hunter, in exchange for vast sums of Latinum.

The writer of the episode is Mike McMahan one of the main writers on Rick and Morty, he will also be helming the new animated Trek series, the other “Lower Decks.” I have watched a couple of episodes of Rick & Morty, as the premise of an adult version of the Doc & Marty relationship from Back to the Future sounded inspired, but so far it strikes me as something I would have watched at University, whilst stoned. Even so I expected more overt humour from this episode but found Mudd’s schtick tiring rather than laugh out loud funny. This episode along with "The Brightest Star" felt formulaic and obvious, leaving me hoping for something more or different.

Of the four Short Treks, Calypso was by far my favourite followed closely by the Tilly-centric episode that started the run. It will be interesting to see whether any of the short episodes will be the foundations for future Discovery storylines, otherwise they add some depth to existing characters, but exist merely as curious one-off episodes. I personally had hoped there would be more obvious links to existing story-arcs, like a Section 31 episode or a hint towards the existence of non-mirror Lorca.

When we look at the Tellarite’s in this period of Trek history, we can assume that the events of the TOS episode “Journey to Babel” are yet to occur. In this classic episode we see Sarek confronted by Gav, a Tellarite ambassador, over his decision to vote in favour of bringing the Coridan’s into the Federation to protect them against illegal dilithium mining. Gav turns up dead and Sarek is a suspect in his murder. This is the episode where we first learn of Spock’s estrangement from Sarek, according to Amanda (Spock’s Mother) the estrangement began 18 years previously. This is territory we could be set to explore in season two of Disco, as we know Spock will appear played by Ethan Peck (Gregory’s grandson).

“Journey to Babel” was written by legendary Trek writer DC Fontana, who also contributed a Trek Novel called Vulcan’s Glory, which looked at a young ensign Spock working for the first time alongside Captain Pike. I would love to see a detailed look at Spock’s relationship with Sarek and see his connection to Pike, a figure he is so committed to that in TOS he is prepared to face court martial to help the man. Pike always seemed like a potential father figure to Spock, and I was disappointed when this was ret-conned in the Abrams films with the relationship re-worked to be all about Kirk and Pike.

I round off this recap with a book recommendation; I have just finished Michael Chabon’s novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, which may become one of my favourite novels. The book is full of nuance and tragedy and it is no surprise that his episode, Calypso, was the best by far. I cannot wait to see the depth of characterisation he comes up with for the new Picard show. So, if you like comic books, history and Harry Houdini, I can’t recommend the book highly enough.

Join me in the Claytemple Star Trek forum where the chat boldly continues, and thanks to all those who contributed such great chat last time out. Season Two of Discovery starts in the UK 18th January.

John is a writer and clinically diagnosed Trekker. You can get the latest news about his published work at his website The World Outside the Window. Live Long and Prosper.

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