The fourth installment of Star Trek: Short Treks—the series of monthly mini-episodes leading up to the premiere of Star Trek: Discovery Season 2—brings to a close an enjoyable run of stories focusing on both main and secondary Discovery characters. Each one has given us a little window into a corner of the Discovery universe that we wouldn’t have otherwise gotten, adding new information to characters that we’ve grown to love over the course of the first season (with the exception of “Calypso,” the second episode, which introduced us to not only an entirely new character but a new time frame as well). “The Escape Artist” is far less substantial than the three mini-episodes that preceded it, but it proves to be a great deal of fun.
The episode gives us a glimpse into the life of galactic scoundrel Harcourt Fenton Mudd, deviously played by Rainn Wilson, when Starfleet’s not around. We know of his escapades when stumbled upon by Captain Kirk, or when he finds himself in a Klingon prison cell with Captain Lorca. But “The Escape Artist” is a peek into the everyday life of a conman. We find him a prisoner of a Tellarite, who is purchasing him from an unknown alien. The Tellarite intends to turn Mudd over to the Federation, who have placed a sizable bounty on his head for a long list of crimes. Through flashbacks, we see similar situations play out with Mudd in the possession of other unsavory types like Orions and Klingons, repeatedly trying to gain his freedom by swindling, cajoling, bargaining, and ultimately begging. But in the end, his fate is sealed—he is turned over to Starfleet.
Only, there’s a twist. Neither Mudd nor the alien who is selling him are who we think they are. Written by Michael McMahan and directed by Wilson himself, “The Escape Artist” is a fast-moving, enjoyable romp that keeps the audience guessing throughout, with a couple of great Easter eggs (like seeing some of Mudd’s outfits from The Original Series in the final scene). And while it doesn’t really give us much in the way of new information like the previous three mini-episodes do, it does at least help solidify Wilson’s reinterpretation of a classic Trek ne’er-do-well, which is significantly different from what we saw in The Original Series, where Mudd was little more than a comedy villain.
As a whole, Star Trek: Short Treks has been an enjoyable diversion, sort of like a salad and appetizer course to tide us over until the main course, Discovery Season 2, is served. We’ve learned a little bit of Tilly’s family history, we met a new character 1,000 years after the crew abandoned the Discovery for reasons as yet unknown, and we saw the circumstances that brought Saru to the attention of Starfleet. Season 2, which launches on Thursday, January 17 on CBS All Access, will feature additions to the cast, including Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, Ethan Peck as Spock, Rebecca Romijn as Number One, and Tig Notaro as Jett Reno, as the USS Enterprise under Pike’s command encounters the Discovery with assignments of a new mission. Make it so!
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