WARNING: This article contains spoilers for this week’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery, “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” which premiered Sunday on CBS All Access.
A beloved figure from Star Trek: The Original Series, con artist Harry Mudd was a bit of a trickster, complicating the lives of the Enterprise crew with his schemes — transporting women to be the wives of miners, establishing himself as ruler of a planet of androids — but never rising above the level of lovable rogue to become a true villain. However, Star Trek: Discovery has changed that, transforming Harcourt Fenton Mudd into a genuine threat without sacrificing the flamboyance and character flaws that made him so appealing in the first place.
Set a decade before the five-year mission of James T. Kirk and his crew, Discovery introduced Rainn Wilson (The Office) as Mudd in its fifth episode, “Choose Your Pain,” where he was a prisoner aboard a Klingon vessel, unashamed to betray his cellmates to their captors to ease his own treatment. “Don’t judge,” he tells Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs), who’s incredulous that Mudd would out other prisoners for beatings rather than suffer them himself. “You’re gonna wanna stick with me: I’m a survivor, just like you.”
He’s right, too; he is a survivor. Left behind when Lorca and Ash Tyler (Shazad Latif) mounted an escape, Mudd miraculously returned in this week’s episode, with one eye on vengeance and the other on the USS Discovery.
Unlike the Harry Mudd played on TOS by Roger C. Carmel, with his handlebar mustache and jaunty hat, Wilson’s version has a sinister edge. He’s still a liar and a cheat, on the run from creditors and his not-so-beloved Stella, and, sure, he’s still on the lookout for a quick buck. But this younger, bearded mug is willing to go far greater lengths to get what he wants — including committing mass murder, again and again.
With “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad,” the show fell back on the franchise-favorite trope of time travel as Mudd sneaks aboard Discovery by hiding his ship within a gormagander — an endangered “space whale,” not a Pokemon — that the Starfleet vessel is required by law to transfer to a xenologic facility. Once the creature is beamed into one of the cargo bays, Mudd marches out of its mouth, opens fire and begins to learn all he can about the Federation’s secret weapon, so he can take control of it and then sell it to the Klingons.
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