Trek Tuesday – I, Mudd

There are two original series Star Trek episodes featuring the flamboyant con-man Harcourt Fenton Mudd: Mudd’s Women and I, Mudd. I’ve picked on the weaker of the two because I’m looking at episodes that connect with Star Trek: Discovery. In this case my least-liked Discovery episode, whose name I don’t have to hand because on my own list of episodes I re-titled it “Episode 7: Seriously WTF Discovery Scriptwriters”.

The connection is a simple one. Harry Mudd has been introduced as a recurring character in Star Trek: Discovery as a kind of continuity with the original Star Trek. With the episode I, Mudd in particular, Mudd gains control of the Enterprise (in a manner of speaking) and the end of the episode, Kirk uses Mudd’s wife Stella as an ironic punishment for Mudd’s actions. Both these elements are used in the Discovery episode.

I’ve yet to re-watch “Mudd’s Women” but I’m not looking forward to it based on what I could remember. I, Mudd though is a very, very bad episode. A quick precis of the plot.

McCoy confides to Spock that he finds something odd about a new member of the Enterprise crew. Sure enough, shortly after this exchange, the new crew member begins to sabotage the ship. After attacking key areas of the ship (a secondary control room, engineering) the dodgy crew member has gained effective control of the Enterprise and has set it on a new course. Kirk confronts the man on the bridge where he reveals that he is an android called Norman. He assures Kirk that he means no harm but any attempt to regain control of the Enterprise will lead to it being destroyed.

Days later the Enterprise reaches its destination – an inhospitable uncharted planet. In structure on the planet is Harry Mudd who is now the self-elected king Mudd the First. the population is all androids, let behind by an advanced race from another galaxy that died out thousands of years ago.

After various events, the androids decide that humanity needs more asseritve looking after and decide to keep Mudd and the Enterprise crew on the planet, while they take the star ship and basically conquer the galaxy.

Kirk, Spock et al defeat the androids by doing wacky stuff and throwing contradictions at them in a way that might not have been a cliche at the time but now, well, it is just sad.

It is worth distinguishing between Mudd as a misogynist character and the extent to which Mudd-centric episodes are themselves misogynistic but the difference is slight. In this episode, Mudd has persuaded the androids to build large number of beautiful women robots who are there to serve Mudd (sex, naturally, isn’t mentioned but is implied). In addition, Mudd has had an android version of his wife created, which he keeps in a vestibule. Every so often he activates the wife-android so he can tell it to shut up. This, like most of the episode, is played for laughs but the joke falls very flat (as does most of the humour).

The ironic punishment for Mudd at the end is that he is left with the now re-programmed androids including multiple copies of his wife-android. Mudd’s crimes here are unclear – they mainly stem from his early characterisation of the actions of the androids as being under his command as king. However, the android Norman is revealed to be effectively in command.

It boggles me that this episode is one that seems to have inspired Discovery’s writers. The take-over the enterprise plan and the wife-as-ironic punishment elements bookend both the original episode and the Discovery episode and while the core stories are different (Discovery running a nearly good time-loop plot) the intention looks very much like a shout-out to a classic episode. Is I, Mudd regarded as a particularly classic episode among Trek fans? If so then I’m mystified.

The other unintended (I hope) connection with Discovery is the mile-wide plot holes. The Androids (and Mudd) need the Enterprise to leave their planet…but Norman somehow must have left the planet, traveled to Federation space, infiltrated Star Fleet, and got a crew assignment to the Enterprise before the story even begins. Also, in this process he needs to have not discovered that humans can behave illogically (even though his motive is to learn more about humans) AND he is also the central control computer of all the androids who somehow had to manage while he was gone.

I don’t want to bash this episode too much – it was a product of its day after all – but when planning a new Star Trek series it would be better used as an example of what not to do. Nor can I fathom why they brought Mudd back as a character – certainly not as comic relief because the new version of Mudd is a cynical monster, with all the same failings as the original but none of the charm. Perhaps that was their thinking? They looked at the 60’s version of Mudd and thought ‘actually this person is actually a terrible person, so let’s bring him back but make it more obvious that he is a terrible person’? Maybe, but I still don’t see why they would bother – who would that be for? Die-hard trek fans are hardly going to be delighted by Grimdark Mudd and viewers less concerned about the canon aren’t going to appreciate that being returned to his wife is a suitable punishment.

Next Time: Trouble With Tribbles!

 

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13 thoughts on “Trek Tuesday – I, Mudd

  1. Back in the day, we thought Mudd was funny, as a character without much in the way of redeeming features. It was a simpler, more natural time!*

    I’m not sure but what he may have been intended to be the merchant in The Trouble with Tribbles but was unavailable. I do recall that when he died, TNG was going on, and I heard a rumor that they’d been at work on an episode that would have brought H.C. Mudd to the ‘present’ (of the series), having been in suspended animation or something, and that it was to end with him doing something heroic, “for Kirk!!”

    * My pal Mike introduced me to this phrase. The original instance was the Betty Boop cartoon, SASSY CATS, which has a scene where cats are swiping milk by dipping their tails in the milk bottles and letting another cat suck it dry. They were doing this in a veritable assembly line, and it looked squicky as hell, as you may well imagine. I gave Mike a WTF look, and he answered, “It was a simpler, more natural time.” I still use this, even if only to myself, when watching media of a bygone day in situations that might otherwise require me to wear an oven mitt to protect my skull from organic damage caused by smacking myself on top of the head way too hard, over and over.

    Note: testing whether italics are possible here. Pay no attention to the angle brackets.

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  2. The two Mudd episodes with their 1960s sitcom stereotypes such as the nagging wife really haven’t aged well, but Mudd was one of the more iconic villains of the original series. I have a [i]Starlog Photo Guidebook of Science Fiction Villains[/i] published in 1981, i.e. after [i]Star Trek – The Motion Picture[/i], but before [i]The Wrath of Khan[/i] came out. The Star Trek villains listed are: Gorn, the Romulan Commander from “Balance of Terror” and Harry Mudd. There is also a tiny paragraph about the Klingons. No Khan, but then his iconic status is mainly due to [i]The Wrath of Khan[/i] which would only come out the following. Though it’s also interesting that the Klingons were considered lesser antagonists than the Romulans at this point.

    I suspect it’s precisely because Harry Mudd is one of the most iconic villains of the original series that Discovery has decided to reuse him. Also see Lorca’s tribble and the Gorn skeleton in his collection, more callback to some of early Star Trek’s most iconic episodes .Coincidentally, I wonder if much of the Enterprise’s problems during the original series were due to the fact that Mudd, Gorn, the tribbles, etc… had encountered Lorca and the Discovery beforehand and decided to wreck vengeance on the Enterprise, which had nothing whatsoever to do with any of this.

    Harry Mudd is a pretty horrible person by modern standards, so the Discovery writers decided to portray him as just that. And indeed Mudd, the murderous psychopath, is a hugely entertaining villain, much more interesting than the dour and interchangable Klingon fundamentalists. However, like so often with Star Trek Discovery, the portrayal of Mudd as a ruthless psychopath does not fit in with the portrayal of Mudd as a not so loveable, but ultimately bumbling and ineffective con man from the original series. Honestly, they should have created a Mudd-like character for the part, just like the trader in The Trouble with Tribbles is a Mudd-like character, rather than reuse the actual Harry Mudd.

    That said, I like the time loop episode of Discovery. It’s probably the best episode of the series to date and also the only one I unequivocally enjoyed. The only problem is that it doesn’t really fit in with the rest of the show and indeed seems to belong to a completely different show, one I would probably have enjoyed more than the Star Trek Discovery we got. But then, Discovery’s main problem is that it looks and feels like Frankenstein’s Star Trek, stitched together from bits and pieces of completely different shows that we never got to watch.

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      1. Yes, the ending of the episode would have fit into the original series, where Mudd’s crime were much lesser, but it doesn’t fit into the grimdark world of Star Trek Discovery.

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  3. By happenstance, Mark Evanier just mentioned Roger C. Carmel on his blog, to the effect that Carmel was a little surprised but happy enough that of all the things he appeared in, his two appearances on Trek kept him fed for the rest of his life. Not residuals, but making appearances at Trek cons and the like, signing autographs.

    JJ’s right about the shape of the angle brackets to use. As it happens, I used “i” instead of “em” and got the same result. I guess I’m duty bound now to try and see if I can get “blink” and “marquee” to work. But not tonight!

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    1. kiptw: I used “i” instead of “em” and got the same result

      I used to use <i> and </i>, and then I discovered that my italics didn’t show up in all browsers, so I trained myself to use <em> and </em>, instead.

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      1. I looked at the page source. Cora used BBCode (square brackets) rather than HTML markup (angled brackets). Presumably WordPress doesn’t (or isn’t configured here to) support BBCode.

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  4. Interesting. It is an iconic episode that I always found hilarious in the ’70s. It was a simpler, more nnatural time. (Thanks, kiptw!) That Mudd was not so much a villain as a rogue, making Kirk look like a stick-in-the-mud, as Q did for Picard.
    Shame they botched him so badly in DSC: That is definitely a crew that needs a good application of insult comedy.

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