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I, Mudd

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at February 10, 2006 - 10:17 PM GMT

See Also: 'I, Mudd' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Dr. McCoy thinks that there is something strange about that new Crewman Norman, with what proves to be good reason: Norman hijacks the Enterprise and takes it to a planet where Harry Mudd has declared himself ruler. He discovered androids created by a dead race, seeking purpose, and put them to work fulfilling his needs. But the androids wanted more humans to study in order to understand Mudd, and now they want to take over the galaxy, protecting humans from their own violent and greedy impulses. Taking Kirk's crew prisoner along with Mudd, the androids offer them their heart's desires to coax them to stay willingly, but Kirk leads his people in an elaborate scheme to overload their captors' circuits and disable them. To punish Mudd for his crimes, Kirk leaves him on the planet to be supervised by the terraforming androids, who intend to put a stop to his drinking, debauchery and laziness.

Analysis: Given how much I loathe "Mudd's Women", it always surprises me how much I adore "I, Mudd", which doesn't exactly make feminist strides but redeems itself by never for a moment taking itself seriously. McCoy starts off declaring that Norman can't be trusted because he never smiles, and that becomes a theme of the episode...logic is all well and good, but even Spock knows when it's time to let his ridiculous side out. The episode begins with an action sequence as Norman single-handedly takes over the ship - one gets the impression that Kirk and crew aren't trying very hard to find the fused junctions and regain control, being curious about what the hijacking is all about - and from the time they beam down to the world of Mudd the First, it's nonstop hilarity until the end.

Most of what works about this episode isn't science fiction. The setup involving the androids is very similar to that of "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" with the old one and his long-dead makers creating a second generation of androids for humanoid use. The body they promise Uhura sounds a lot like the one Roger Korby transferred his consciousness to, yet instead of reacting with fear and revulsion from the similarities, she feigns excitement so convincingly that the androids believe she has sabotaged an escape attempt. (Not very bright, these androids, for all their logic.) Far more time is devoted to Mudd's explanation of the attractive female models than of the actual workings of the androids; it seems never to occur to anyone to sabotage one the old-fashioned way, having six crewmembers grab it and attack it with lab equipment. And then, insanely enough, Kirk turns all the androids back on at the end, just to create a custom prison for Mudd; it's a hilarious tag in which multiples of the shrewish android based on Mudd's wife come marching in, but one has to wonder whether even without Norman the extremely long-lived, technologically brilliant androids might not find their way off the planet and "perfect" human society just the way they had planned.

What's brilliant here is the crew interaction and dialogue. While Mudd goes from being a comical adversary (I love watching him tower over Kirk) to a reluctant ally, while the crew resists temptations like endless beauty (Uhura), sex (Chekov), research labs (McCoy) and logical companions (Spock), Kirk calls up his loathing of superior beings and sets out to destroy this latest threat. It's amusing that superficially they talk so much like Spock about the illogic of human behavior, but these androids are far more childlike, which makes the Alices' sweet, nave explanation that they are programmed to do everything human females can do seem particularly perverse. Of the many episodes where the crew performs silly routines ("I'm Tweedledum, he's Tweedledee", etc.), this is by far the most pleasant to watch; there's no element of humiliation and the actors are playing along gleefully, particularly Doohan's Scotty, who follows up his character's "death" by Nomad a few weeks ago with a fiction.

The androids' response to questions outside their purview, "We are not programmed to respond in that area," is a staple of dozens of serious robot stories and parodies alike; Kirk's needling use of it to Norman when the android begs for assistance is one of my favorite moments of the entire series. So is Mudd's explanation of the alleged misunderstandings which Kirk correctly interprets as crimes. Then there's the exchange where Chekov announces that they're in a lot of trouble, Kirk is annoyed because this is not helpful, McCoy agrees with Chekov, Kirk says, "Spock, if you tell me we're in a lot of trouble..." and Spock says, "We are." This is the same Spock who later announces to two of the Alices, whom he has wooed with physics talk, "I love you...however, I hate you." And "Logic is a little tweeting bird chirping in a meadow!"

This is an episode with no dead ensigns, no space chases, no bizarre-looking aliens, only the most superficial threat...it's almost a Star Trek parody, and yet between the verbal banter, waltzing Uhura, "explosion" and fake phaser noises, it's impossible not to enjoy. And if it gets on your nerves, you can always hit the "off" button and shout, "SHUT UP, STELLA!"

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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