Published Sep 28, 2023
Of Mudd and Men
The classic Star Trek villain Harry Mudd left his mark on the franchise for years to come.
By Blair Marnell
In Star Trek: The Original Series, Captain James T. Kirk and the crew of the Enterprise faced numerous threats over the course of three seasons. But their first recurring adversary on the show wasn’t a conqueror like Khan Noonien Singh or an all-powerful alien child like Trelane. Instead, it was Harry Mudd. Or Harcourt Fenton Mudd, if you prefer.
Mudd may not have been able to match Kirk’s physicality or Spock’s intellect, but he nearly brought the crew to its knees in two episodes of the original series, and in his singular appearance in Star Trek: The Animated Series. How could one seemingly unremarkable man cause so much harm? Because he was a human unlike the rest of his kind in the 23rd Century. While humanity had largely moved past the desire for wealth, Mudd embraced his baser instincts. Mudd’s gift for duplicity gave him power and it allowed him to become one of the galaxy’s most prominent con artists.
In the first season's “Mudd’s Women,” Mudd was already established as a criminal in Starfleet’s logs. That’s why he introduced himself as Leo Walsh when he finally met Kirk on the Enterprise. But first, Mudd led the Enterprise on a dangerous chase inside of an asteroid field that ultimately destroyed Mudd’s ship and nearly completely depowered the Enterprise.
Mudd’s illicit “cargo” was three unimaginably beautiful women — Eve, Magda, and Ruth. Mudd said that the women were bound for the settlement on Ophiucus III in order to get married. That may have been the truth, but Mudd conveniently neglected to mention that the trio had been augmented by illegal Venus drugs to become even more stunning. Their physical appearance mesmerized the men of the Enterprise, which led Mudd to say—
Men will always be men no matter where they are. You'll never take that out of them.
Harry Mudd, "Mudd's Women"
That line betrays Mudd’s fundamental misunderstanding of the Federation and its values. He truly believes that all men and women are like him, even if they don’t want to admit it. Mudd’s not entirely wrong either, as the three women were able to get almost anything they needed from the crew. Even the miners on Rigel XII turned their backs on the Enterprise’s hour of need in favor of a deal they made with Mudd. In exchange for Mudd’s freedom and badly needed lithium crystals for the Enterprise, the miners wanted to marry Mudd’s women.
Earlier in the episode, Eve apologized to Spock for Mudd’s conduct, saying, "He's so used to buying and selling people.” That implies that Mudd ran this scam several times before. During Mudd’s hearing, his previous infractions against the Federation were revealed to include smuggling, transport of stolen goods, and purchase of a space vessel with counterfeit currency. But those were far from his only crimes.
While Mudd couldn’t understand the morality that Starfleet strived to live up to, the Federation also failed to realize that Mudd could never become a productive citizen. His punishment for his crimes was psychiatric treatment, as if he could simply be treated for the diseases of greed and vice. Conversion therapy doesn’t work in any century, and it certainly didn’t work here.
Mudd returned in the second season episode, “I, Mudd,” having once again managed to get away from Federation custody. Shortly after his escape, Mudd returned to his con artist ways, and he nearly got himself killed when his ruse was discovered. He fled to an uncharted world ruled by androids, and he even renamed their world “Mudd” after himself.
However, the androids wouldn’t let Mudd leave because they wanted to learn more about humanity. As a measure of revenge against Kirk and his crew, Mudd arranged for the Enterprise to be forcibly brought to planet Mudd, and its crew imprisoned in luxury at the hands of the androids.
Mudd viewed this as a suitable punishment for Kirk, but he stopped short of seeking physical harm for anyone. Unfortunately for Mudd, he failed to realize that the androids had no intention of letting him leave either. The crew subsequently escaped, and Kirk “generously” allowed Mudd to remain behind with android copies of his wife Stella, whom he could no longer control.
Harry’s lone animated appearance came in “Mudd's Passion,” when the Enterprise caught up with Mudd during another one of his signature scams. This time, Mudd was peddling a love potion that ultimately wreaked havoc on the ship and its crew. There was a side effect of the short-acting love potion that Mudd had neglected to mention — it turned love to hate as it wore off. For his crimes, Mudd was once again sentenced to rehabilitation therapy, which only demonstrates that Starfleet didn’t know how to handle Mudd beyond simply incarcerating him.
Surprisingly, Mudd’s appearances in Star Trek: Discovery revealed even darker shades to his character. In "Choose Your Pain”, Mudd endured Klingon captivity by informing on his fellow prisoners and by encouraging them to be beaten if it meant sparing himself physical harm. That’s why Captain Gabriel Lorca and Ash Tyler left Mudd behind on the Klingon ship. Mudd proved that he couldn’t be trusted, and Lorca wasn’t very forgiving.
Mudd’s subsequent return in “Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad” was even more horrifying than his turns in the original and animated series. Thanks to a Klingon Time Crystal, Mudd is able to trap Discovery in a time loop in order to learn about the ship’s secrets before selling it to the Klingons. Mudd also took the opportunity to murder Captain Lorca on several of the time loops, as well as any members of the crew who got in his way. While the time loop was eventually broken with Lorca and the crew still alive, that doesn’t diminish what Mudd tried to do. He’s still a murderer, even if all of his victims survived.
It’s possible that the decision to classify the existence of Discovery in the Season 2 finale had the inadvertent effect of hiding Mudd’s track record. If the full extent of Mudd’s crimes had been known a decade later, then perhaps Kirk and his crew would have been more cautious around Mudd. His genial demeanor hid the monster within, which may also be why Mudd kept getting light sentences from Starfleet.
Star Trek - Mudd and Kirk Meet Again
In the 24th Century, the Ferengi displayed a level of greed that was on par with Mudd’s. But unlike Mudd, the Ferengi had the Rules of Acquisition to live by. Mudd had no code of his own, and no honor to live by. That’s because Mudd represents modern day greed and amorality. He is the dark reflection of humanity’s worst impulses. Mudd could be considered a throwback to mankind’s present. That’s why he proved to be a dangerous threat to both the Discovery and the Enterprise. Neither crew was fully prepared for a man who would do anything to get rich while staying ahead of the authorities one con at a time.