Monday, January 7, 2019

Short Treks: The Escape Artist Short Trek
The Escape Artist
Airdate: January 3, 2019
4 of 4 produced
4 of 4 aired


Harcourt Fenton Mudd tries to weasel his way out of being captured and delivered to the Federation by a bounty hunter.

 What's a little bondage between friends?


Matthew: Reviewing these short treks has been an exercise in not punishing them for the sins of the main series. This episode especially requires that sort of distance. Here we have a solidly written and acted character study of Harry Mudd, one which is consistent with his TOS appearances while breaking new ground with the character. This of course raises the question of why no one, given many more months and larger budgets, with more staff to help, could make Mudd something other than the vile piece of shit, acting completely out of character, that he was during Discovery Season One.

So I will try my best. This short jaunt into his character gives us a funny thematic device, showing us how he has basic con artist routines that he employs with many a mark. Mudd is being delivered for a Federation bounty by a Tellarite, and wants to weasel his way out of it. Parallel flashback show him doing the same with other various bounty hunters. The twist is that Mudd has been creating android replicas of himself to dodge this bounty, via the process that he apparently employs in "I, Mudd."

Now, enjoyable elements aside, I do have a difficult time squaring the two stories. In "I, Mudd," it seemed as though the android race who descended from "The Makers" (a species from the Andromeda galaxy) did not share the technology with Mudd, they merely let him use it to create female androids he might enjoy. Has he met one of these Maker androids prior to this story? What is their relationship? Is he currently only able to replicate himself for some reason? All of these questions go unanswered.

You know what would have been a fine venue for this story? A full episode of a Star Trek series that was dedicated to telling interesting science fiction stories than needn't fit into some grand Marvel Movie-style plot. Does this story need to be told? Nope. But could it be enjoyable? Sure. Here it is a tease, and an ultimately unsatisfying one, because it ends too soon having ignored all major questions. But it's fun.

Kevin: I ended up really liking this one. I think since it largely only aimed for character sketch, it probably had the closest to a 1:1 ratio for intent to result of the four shorts. This is a better use of the format since it doesn't end up with them compressing a narrative beyond its crush strength. And while I agree with the timing and logic issues of Mudd's access to androids at this point, it feel more successfully like an homage than any of the other callbacks. Even to the extent it creates a continuity problem, it annoys me less since it's a tiny point for a tertiary character rather than monkeying with the base code of the universe.

I will even say I disagree that this should or could have been a full episode. Forty-three minutes of this might have felt like a waste of time. Sixteen was a fun little amuse bouche. I do heartily agree that the tone of Mudd here is much better than the one we get in the season. And I even more heartily agree that the ability of the writers to do a good job here where it largely doesn't matter makes the defects in the season proper all the more infuriating.

Something else I'll add. If the character's name were Larry Fudd, you would have no idea at all that this was Star Trek. It's fun and it's well done for what it is, but it still hasn't surmounted that hill of really adding to the canon rather than just haphazardly exploiting it. That all sad, I can't deny that I thoroughly enjoyed this and laughed out loud a couple of times, something I've only done ironically during the season.


Matthew: Rainn Wilson finally acts like Harry Mudd. Finally, we get the humor, the caddish behavior, the charm that existed in Roger C. Carmel's indelible portrayal during TOS. We are shown definitively that it was entirely the fault of the writing that Mudd had been so unpleasant to watch during Discovery Season One. I would definitely watch more of this portrayal. Who knows, maybe he'll get a spin off show.

Kevin: Agreed. Wilson is a talented comedian and given the space and lack of explosions or hideous violence, it really shines. In fact I'm going to bestow a compliment I haven't had time to bust out since Cause and Effect. He gave essentially the same speech half a dozen times and each run through had just enough of a spin to make them feel different and kept it fresh.

Production Values

Matthew: This was pretty well done, and both the android effects and the onscreen duplicate effects were basically perfect. The costumes and alien make up jobs were interesting. All in all, right on par with Discovery's production levels.

Kevin: Nothing to add here, really. Production values were pretty good as usual.


Matthew: I am again between a 3 and a 4 on this. If it were completely divorced from Discovery and did not have to square with the TOS stories, it would be a truly fun little jaunt. It would however still suffer for not being a fully developed story. I think overall I find it to be about as engaging as Calypso, and so I will give it another 3.

Kevin: I gave Brightest Star a 4 on the strength of the character work and how it intrigued me. I think I will give this a 4 as well on the strength of the character work and the general sense of momentum and fun. That makes a total of 7. Now that the four are done, I will still say that they still didn't quite justify the effort. By and large, the stuff that worked, like the tantalizing future glimpsed in Calypso and the character work in the last two, only made me wish that they were present in the show proper. In the end, Star Trek has struggled as often as not in 2 hour plus movies, so it's not surprising that 16 minutes snippets don't quite suit it. Star Trek is a longer form story that benefits from 26 episodes a season or the length of a book. That all said, there is a lesson here. Freed from trying to fit every story into some grand galactic threat, they writers showed that they can achieve the basics of story writing quite well. So more of this, just not in such small packages, please.

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