Since the first season of Star Trek: Discovery, the mischievous Harry Mudd has been played by the hilariously clever Rainn Wilson, and in “The Escape Artist” — the final installment of Short Treks before the new season — Wilson not only returns to the character, but he directs the episode, too. Penned by Mike McMahan (who will helm the upcoming animated comedy Trek series Lower Decks), “The Escape Artist” has the comedic flair of the old Harry Mudd Trek episodes from the ‘60s, and connects directly to the plotline of the episode “I, Mudd” in a huge way. Additionally, the episode's twist ending will change the way fans think about all of Mudd’s previous appearances to date.
To help sort out what’s going on with the big twist and what’s in store for Mudd in the future, SYFY WIRE caught up with Wilson and asked the biggest question we didn’t know we had until viewing "The Escape Artist": Who is the real Harry Mudd?
**SPOILER WARNING: This story contains spoilers for Short Treks "The Escape Artist."**
After 15 minutes of the audience trying to figure out how Mudd gets himself out of various forms of alien imprisonment, it turns out... he doesn’t. Instead, Mudd is purposefully letting android duplicates of himself get captured for huge bounties, then takes the money from a safe distance. But the sight of a gaggle of android duplicate Harry Mudds in the final scenes of the episode might make fans wonder: Have we ever seen the real Harry Mudd? Is it possible that every single Mudd — including the one in the original series — was an android duplicate?
According to Wilson: No.
“I think in a Black Mirror episode, sure, that twist would be possible," he told SYFY WIRE. “But no. I think we’ve been seeing the real Harry Mudd throughout. We certainly see him at the end of this episode. But I think it would be fun to have future episodes where you don’t know if you’re seeing Mudd or a duplicate Mudd running around the universe. That would be really interesting."
In the original 1967 Star Trek episode “I, Mudd,” the mustachioed con man Harry Mudd (portrayed by the late Roger C. Carmel) employs an army of android duplicates to deliver on his devious schemes: stealing the starship Enterprise and marooning the entire crew. In “The Escape Artist,” we learn that Mudd has had access to android duplicates for a long time. This new detail, combined with the fact that we see one of the Mudd androids wearing his gold-braided Sgt. Pepper’s-esque shoulder pads from the original series, certainly suggests that this Mudd is perhaps a little closer to the comedic version of the character from those old episodes than the Mudd we met in Discovery Season 1.
But Wilson is reticent in thinking of Mudd as comic relief for Star Trek.
“Listen, it’s all on a scale,” he says. “Mudd has to be both very comedic and villainous. He gets a little dark and he gets a little silly. He just needs to be on that dial. Even in the original Star Trek episodes, Mudd might have been comedic in his presentation, but what he was actually doing — sex slavery, drugs, trying to get the Enterprise crew stuck on a planet with androids — it’s pretty dark. This was a little more comedic, but it’s always in that balance.”
Directing the episode also proved an interesting challenge for Wilson, as he knew that on some level the entire story rested on an unexpected twist ending. The key for him was to make sure the episode had decent re-watchability and isn’t just a punchline.
“You watch the episode the first time, and then there’s a twist. Holy cow!” he says. “But then you go back and watch it a second time, and you have to make sure that it still adds up. Does it still make sense? Does it still feel whole, of a piece? That was very challenging. But super fun and exciting, too. The script from Mike McMahan was excellent.”
Now that future Harry Mudd appearances could be tinged with a bit of Blade Runner-ish intrigue, Trek fans are doubtlessly wondering if Wilson is back as Mudd in the upcoming new season of Star Trek: Discovery. (He’s certainly not in any of the trailers.) So, what’s the deal with Mudd or any replicant android Mudds showing up in Season 2?
“I can’t really say,” Wilson said cryptically. “I’ll just say that I really love doing the show. And I hope to be back in the future.”
For now, fans of Star Trek: Discovery and Rainn Wilson will have to accept that as an answer. Assuming, of course, we were talking to the real Rainn Wilson the whole time and not one of his android duplicates.
Short Treks “The Escape Artist” is streaming now on CBS All Access. Star Trek: Discovery Season 2 debuts on Jan. 17.