Review: ‘Star Trek: Short Treks’ Wraps Up With The Fun And Twisted “The Escape Artist”

Rainn Wilson as Harry Mudd in the Star Trek: Short Trek "The Escape Artist"

“The Escape Artist”

Star Trek: Short Treks Episode 4 – Debuted Thursday, January 3rd
Written by Mike McMahan
Directed by Rainn Wilson


The fourth and final installment of the first season of Star Trek: Short Treks once again changes things up with a delightfully fun exploration of the classic character of Harry Mudd. Rainn Wilson returns to the role for the third time in his funniest take yet, helped along by Rick and Morty veteran writer Mike McMahan. Full of nods to both Discovery and Star Trek: The Original Series, “The Escape Artist” continues the Short Treks tradition of experimenting with different tones, this time by offering an escapist adventure that steps up to the line but doesn’t cross over entirely into satire.

Rainn Wilson in Star Trek: Short Treks “The Escape Artist”



Mudd, not I

“The Escape Artist” kicks off fast, with an indignant Harry Mudd being sold from one tall masked bounty hunter to a different Tellarite bounty hunter. Our lovable rogue has once again found himself on the wrong side of the law as he switches from indignant wronged man to smarmy negotiator, but nothing he can say will stop the transaction, leaving him literally brought down, and facing a very angry Tellarite. While his goal is to bring Harry to the Federation for a bounty, captain Krit is taking personal delight in having Mudd in his custody. Turns out Harry stole the Krit family ancestral cudgel–although having this Tellarite also angry at Mudd for running out on his sister was a bit of a tired trope.

Like the previous Short Trek, this one settles into a two-person short, this time with rapid-fire banter between Mudd and the Tellarite Tevrin Krit, ably played by Harry Judge. Wilson gets to really show off his skill here as he switches from tactic to tactic to try and talk his way out of yet another jam. But this Tellarite has his number, and his criminal record, and isn’t falling for any of Mudd’s tricks. We can see more of the classic Mudd here, as he gives his takes on the list of charges in his Federation file, scoffing over the various charges that made him deserving of a 100,000 credit bounty. Lines like “He was a duke, hardly counts as regicide, what are we attempting to murder now, accuracy?” bring some welcome levity to the usually serious Discovery, and is certainly a change of pace from the previous three Short Treks. The episode also establishes that it takes place sometime after the Discovery season one episode “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” as Mudd’s file also includes the crime of “penetrating a space whale.”

All us humans look alike? That’s racist

Mudd’s way with women

“The Escape Artist” surprises by finding the time within this short format to introduce a series of flashbacks, setting up how the situation Mudd finds himself is is actually quite familiar. We see snippets of Mudd trying to talk his way out of an Orion jail with a rather dimwitted guard and his more savvy superior. There is also a longer scene with Mudd and a rather angry diminutive female alien bounty hunter, who was unswayed by Harry’s invitation for a romantic date, even under the light of 27 moons. And there was even a very short glimpse of Mudd getting nowhere with an even angrier Klingon, possibly the one who captured him for L’Rell, before the events of “Choose Your Pain.” One has to wonder how Mudd ever charmed his way into marrying his wife Stella with hamfisted attempts at seduction like telling his Orion capturer, “Your skin is luxuriously green, like a delectable lime.”

The amount of time Mudd spends tied up may qualify as a fetish

This surprising variety of locations and minor characters showed an impressive level of production design in terms of sets, costumes, and props for this short form. While a lot of what was seen was recycled and repurposed from various episodes of Discovery, it all came together and felt new enough. The Tellarite merchant ship bridge was particularly well done and even though we had seen Tellarites before in the first season, this was the first time the new makeup was put to the test with a major character, with successful results. Jeff Russo’s music also impresses here, bringing in a new sound to fit the lighter tone of the episode, that still fit with his overall Discovery themes.

What was that you said about smelling bacon?

Choosing his pain

After trying every trick up his sleeve, including a hidden knife in his boot, Mudd and the Tellarite finally arrive at a rendezvous with a Federation ship, which seems to generate genuine fright for Mudd. Proud to have resisted Mudd’s various schemes to dissuade him, Captain Krit is ready for Starfleet to hand over his cash, but it turns out Mudd actually had a cunning plan the whole time.

In a fun twist that again harkens back to The Original Series, it is revealed that the Tellarite bounty hunter has been duped and his prisoner, which he paid that other tall female bounty hunter for, is just an android copy of Mudd. In fact, the USS De Milo appears to be running out of room to store all the Mudds piling up, one of whom is wearing a costume straight out of the TOS episode “I, Mudd.”

How many Mudds does it take to screw in a self-sealing stem bolt?

Things close out quickly with the real Harry Mudd, revealed to have been that female masked bounty hunter, who has been selling the Muddroids to hapless other bounty hunters. He has an impressive ship full of trophies and booty, narcissistically crewed by compliant copies of himself. He wraps thing up sipping his favorite drink – the jipper – and arranging yet another android deal, along with a callback to earlier in the episode, when he attempts to sell “a slightly used cudgel.”

It’s always cocktail hour on Mudd’s ship


Rogue with a cause

Like with the previous Short Treks, “The Escape Artist” brings an opportunity to explore a character, proving insight and backstory. Harry Mudd appeared in two episodes of TOS and an episode of The Animated Series, setting him up as a smuggler and career criminal with a bit of style and charm. Wilson previously played Mudd twice in the first season of Discovery, with a much darker take on the character, stepping in ably as a foil to the even darker Captain Lorca. In Short Treks Wilson’s Mudd maintained that dark tone, but brought a bit more of the TOS-era Mudd’s panache to the role.

It was never firmly established, but this episode could actually take place after the events of “I, Mudd” if we assume Harry’s androids were based on tech he picked up from the planet he was stranded on in that episode. Another indication that this mini-episode takes place well beyond the last time we saw Mudd in season one of Discovery is how his rap sheet was notably longer than shown in the TOS episode “Mudd’s Women.” The counter-arguments that this episode jumped forward into the TOS era would be that the USS De Milo seemed to fit more with the Discovery timeframe, and Mudd was still sporting his full beard and not the classic mustache seen in TOS.

Exploring Mudd’s ability to get himself out of captivity was a clever choice for the team, as all previous interactions with Mudd indicate that he somehow continues to wriggle off various hooks. In “I, Mudd” Kirk says to Mudd, “I thought I left you in jail,” to which Harry replies cryptically, “And thereby hangs a tale.” The android twist in “The Escape Artist” was not only a nice nod to “I, Mudd,” but also showed us that what sometimes seems like bumbling is part of Mudd’s act. Harry Mudd is actually quite crafty, here using his status as a wanted fugitive to make a profit, a scheme devious enough to qualify him for a spot in the Ferengi Divine Treasury.

This Short Treks also dipped its toe a bit into Mudd’s psyche and perhaps gave us some insight into how he justifies his actions. While it was yet another dubious angle to talk himself out of captivity, there was a possible kernel of truth in his talk of a “Resistance” to the Federation. In the utopian future of Star Trek, it would take a certain kind of anti-social and anti-establishment personality to become a criminal like Mudd. They may have been B.S. lines, but Mudd’s critiques of the Federation’s “hegemonic supremacy” and talk of people forced to “fight for scraps” could be an insight into how he sees himself as fighting the system. Doesn’t every good villain see themselves as the hero?

All in, “The Escape Artist” felt in line with the character of Mudd, while at the same time giving us more insight into how he operates and making us want to see him again. With two appearances so far, it could be that Mudd can evolve into the Discovery’s Q, popping in periodically to harass the crew of the USS Discovery with dangerous and zany schemes.  This mini could also have been a trial balloon for a Mudd-centric spin-off for Star Trek’s expanding universe of TV shows. Wilson has shown that he could carry such a thing, although a little bit of Mudd goes a long way.

Would you buy a used cudgel from this man?

Mike McMahan’s twisted Trek

“The Escape Artist” is also notable for being the Star Trek TV debut of writer Mike McMahan. Previously McMahan has shown his love of Trek through his popular parody Twitter account @tng_s8, which spawned the officially licensed humor book Warped: An Engaging Guide to the Never-Aired 8th Season. More recently, McMahan has been busy on the hit sci-fi animated comedy Rick and Morty, which earned him an Emmy in 2018. And in October it was announced that he has been tapped to develop Star Trek: Lower Decks, an upcoming Star Trek animated comedy.

The humor in “The Escape Artist” definitely showed some of that Rick and Morty sensibility.  Fans of that show and other similar comedies may have been amused by this Short Treks, which laced a healthy dose of gags into this character study. But humor is very much subjective and McMahan makes some choices for Star Trek which didn’t always work in “The Escape Artist.” And while it may fit in with classic Mudd episodes and their 1960s approach to gender, some could see how this episode’s portrayal of the female characters exclusively as past or potential sexual partners of Mudd’s as disappointing to some viewers who welcome Discovery’s goal of a more “woke” Star Trek.

But in the end, McMahan showed he knows his Star Trek and he knows how to lace laughs into the format while still telling a story, which gives hope for the upcoming Lower Decks show.

For some reason, I have a splitting headache

A worthy experiment, now on to season two

In the end “The Escape Artist” was a nice little bit of entertainment to keep us going as we wait for the debut of the second season of Star Trek: Discovery, which is finally coming in two weeks. The four entries offered a variety of tones and styles, each feeling unique. While not always consistent, and with some comprises along the way, this bit of experimentation within Star Trek was a welcome diversion that also offered up some clues for what is to come for characters like Saru, as well as some of the creatives like McMahan with his upcoming animated show and Michael Chabon, who is working on the Picard series.

With just 15 minutes of new content a month, Short Treks was not worth it alone to subscribe to All Access. But if you are jumping back in for season two of Discovery, it is certainly worth the time as an added bonus. Indications are that there will be more Short Treks in the future, and hopefully, CBS and team continue to bring in new talent and try new things within this format, and maybe bring some of what works into the other bigger Star Trek shows, including Discovery.

It’s still two more weeks until Discovery season two? Okay fine.

Random thoughts and images

  • The episode contained the first reference in Discovery to latinum
  • The USS De Milo has a similar design to USS Discovery, but it is not the same as the Crossfield class, it appears to be a smaller mid-level starship akin to the Nebula class of the 24th century.
  • A crewperson on the De Milo was seen with same kind of tactical helmet used on the USS Shenzhou in the Discovery pilot
  • For those keeping track, Krit’s ship was the Tellarite merchant ship DR-756
  • Mudd tries to seduce a bounty hunter by promising to take her to see the 27 moons of Tartus IV, not to be confused with Tarsus IV, location of the Governor Kodos’ massacre
  • The loot on Mudd’s ship included the Mona Lisa, numerous bat’leths and his helmet from “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”
  • The modulated voice used for Mudd’s female masked disguise was reminiscent of Leia’s Boushh disguise from Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi

The USS De Milo

Mudd’s ship of androids

Mudd’s helmet from “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad”

Daft Punk still popular in the 23rd century

Star Trek: Discovery is available in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV. It is available on Netflix everywhere else.

Star Trek: Short Treks is available in the USA on CBS All Access. It airs in Canada on Space and streams on CraveTV.

Keep up with all the Star Trek: Discovery and Short Treks news at TrekMovie.

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That was a load of fun. I got a little confused as to when it took place in the chronology, but that was easy to look past.

Yeah it was a lot of fun. It would make sense to be set post “I, Mudd”. Kirk reallly leaves a lot of messes around for others to clean up…

This is before I, Mudd, these androids are much less advanced than the ones in I, Mudd.

These Short Treks have been a shot of fresh air into the Trek format. I thoroughly enjoyed them and hope they make more in between seasons of Disco, Picard and Lower Decks.

Agreed. Three of the four have been great (only the Saru episode didn’t work for me).

The male Orion guard is Dan Abramovici. The female is Myrthin Stagg.

When I was watching it, I thought the female guard might be Anna Kendrick. :-)

Yeah I see that. This actor looked taller though. I thought her and the guy were awesome. Probably my favorite scene of the episode. I’m hoping to see them follow Harry to the main series. Maybe as his incompetent security team?

How tall is Rainn Wilson? Dwight always towered over people on The Office.

I laughed so hard at that scene. The dialogue was so funny and they did a great job for the little time they had.

That guy looked and sounded familiar. Is he a comedian?

I looked him up (I have a crush now) and I don’t think so… He’s a Canadian actor. He was a lead in a movie on Netflix called Ben’s At Home and beside that some roles on TV. Mostly Canadian TV it seems. Too bad.

Canadian actor. Funny though. I hope they bring them back.

I loved them. Wouldn’t have thought an Orion man would be so awkward but it makes sense and the performance was hilarious. Loved them. I want to see those characters in the main series.

Fun Times. Now bring on Season 2!

It wasn’t my favorite of the 4 Short Treks, but I liked it and it was a lot of fun. I completely agree that it’s great to see them taking some chances and trying new things with Trek in this format. I do hope we see more Short Treks and that they continue to push the boundaries. In particular, I’d like to see more shorts that are not tied to the Discovery context – different time frames, characters, etc.

Interesting that on the USS DeMilo, two of the Mudd-droids each lose an arm…

I’m not sure why Harry Mudd is so popular as a character? I find him somewhat boring myself.
Haven’t actually seen this episode though so cannot have the right to pass any judgement on it.
The full episode he was in in Season 1 I remember was fairly decent but not exactly that interesting.

You really have to watch the episode. He was anything but boring in this one.

This version I find interesting enough– a welcome Q-like guest star. The original Hormel version was just god awful and I scratch my head when people tell me he’s a “fan favorite.” I’d never seen Mudd’s Women until last year when a friend who watches DSC with me immediately put it on after “Magic” ended, and good lord what a load of hot garbage. How anyone compares TOS Mudd to Han Solo as a “loveable rogue” is beyond me. That version is basically Captain Kangaroo, and no more dangerous or entertaining.

And I laugh when people say DSC is poorly written…

Rain Wilson actually made Mudd interesting.

I saw this on a post on youtube and I agree with it. The scenes with Mudd in other prisons might not be flashbacks but other Muddroids that were traded.

Exactly! Thats why the story was so smart! It led us to believe it was Harry thrown in other prisons when in reality its just the experiences of all the androids he was selling them off to.

That’s what I thought as well.

This is confirmed!

-That means that, upon further review, the scenes initially perceived as flashbacks are moments that do not involve the real McCoy (not to be confused with another original series character), but rather different groups’ dynamics with their own respective Mudd bots. Wilson says the method of portraying the “flashbacks” was the most complicated and challenging part of the entire filming process.

“The audience assumes they’re flashbacks, but they’re actually alternate realities,” he says. “There’s a different Mudd in every different situation, and all the different Mudds we’re meeting throughout the episode are not the real Harry Mudd. When you see the real Harry Mudd at the end, he’s a little bit more of the dastardly Harry Mudd who set this all up. The android Mudds are more comedic and lighter versions.”

I have to admit, I was not really anticipating the Mudd Short Treks episode but I have to agree with most, it turned out to be quite good. In the end, all four were quite entertaining but of course it is frustrating to watch a 15-20 show when there are so many questions to answer. I guess that is the beauty of the format. Anyway less than two weeks to go until Disco Season 2. Maybe now is a good time to check out the Orville. Happy New Year everyone!!

I have to say, just like the last short, The Brightest Star, going in my expectations were pretty low. I didn’t really know what to expect but exceeded my expectations immensely and turned out to be such a great and fun little story. The last two shorts were not only great IMO, but it really gives me a lot of hope we are going to get more stories like this with some actual color and more character stories and not just ‘dark’ and ‘edgy’ DIS was going for most of the time and only mildly succeeding at IMO.

I have said this in the other thread but these shorts show EXACTLY the type of stories I thought the first season was missing and felt a lot more like traditional Star Trek. These stories could’ve been on any Trek show: TOS, VOY, DS9, etc and brought elements all those shows did very well. If Discovery had more of this type of variety I think there would’ve been less scorn (but could be wrong about that ;)).

Anyway, great short! I’m actually happy there is another season of them coming now.

Variety is key. Dark is fine but not every episode.

Thing is season1 was dark and setup the contrast for this short to work.

Loved the “Disco” musical cues!

The lounge lizard version of the Disco theme in the closing credits was very amusing.

That was my second favorite of the four, after “Calypso.” Truly hilarious!

IMO – The reviewer got one thing wrong. The other scenes they cut to with Harry Mudd WEREN’T FLASHBACKS. They were ‘current’ scenes with all the other Bounty Hunters who got taken in by Mudd’s android scam. :D

Loved it!

That was underwhelming. I’ve never really cared for the Mudd character and I believe Rainn Wilson is overrated. The sets design featured so much PVC piping that I expected to see the Home Depot receipts as further set garnish. None of these Short Treks have been spectacular and this one was the worst. Ready for the attacks because I don’t tow the party line. Feel free to disagree all you wish.

I think that these last two short treks were the best but the first two were also good. This one brought me back to the Harry Mudd I remember from TOS. Now looking forward to season 2.

I still have to pinch myself that we are actually getting new Trek! Love this

If I had any money I’d be sippin’ Jippers on a beach somewhere!

Ah man that ultimate trolling scene really did it for me :D

Appetizers are a great way to describe these Short Treks because “The Escape Artist” is delightful, and among one of my favorite Star Trek episodes. I am so juiced for session 2. New favorite Star Trek catchphrase: “What are we trying to murder now, accuracy?” I suckle at the teat of this line.

Funny story, well performed by Rainn Wilson. This one and Calpyso were my favourites.

Nice Short Trek. It came across as a STAR TREK episode (Something I hope season two of Discovery will do). Love the twist towards the end about Harry.

From what I understand this short featured orcs pretending to be Star Trek aliens.