Harcourt Fenton Mudd is an “intergalactic pimp” whom we first meet trafficking mail order brides and later see creating an android of his ex-wife just so he can keep her locked up. Yet Mudd, often described as a “loveable rogue,” is considered a fan favorite and was the only non-Enterprise crew character to recur on TOS. Join us as our crew takes an in-depth look at the three Mudd-centric episodes (“Mudd’s Women”, “I, Mudd” and TAS’ “Mudd’s Passion”).
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Hosts: Jarrah, Andi, Sue and Grace
Notes and References:
- TV Tropes article on the Loveable Rogue trope
- Stephen Kandel on creating the character of Mudd (under the Background section of the “Harcourt Mudd” article at Memory Alpha).
- “My Lunch with Harry Mudd” – StarTrek.com interview with Roger C. Carmel
I know this is an old episode, but I just wanted to add my two cents. I’ve never seen any of the episodes with Mudd in them, as I’ve only watched a few of the TOS and TAS episodes. However, as a child of 9 I poured through all the James Blish novella as well as those of the TAS. In reading all three of the Mudd episodes, I remember disliking him in every one of them. He was an obnoxious, loud mouthed, greed fueled jackass. I’d count all three of the episodes at the bottom of my list.
I’ve just started following this podcast, and find it very informative and insightful. Though I always felt that Mudd came across as a bit “off,” I hadn’t yet figured out that it was because he’s, to one degree or another, brokering lady-flesh every time he appears. I’m a tad chagrined I hadn’t realized that glaringly obvious thing before.
However, there’s a bit of context to “Mudd’s Women” not mentioned. Back in the sixties, Westerns were still prevalent in mainstream media, and a fairly common Wild West trope was the wife-seller. Basically, some scalliwag trekking to a far-flung wilderness community of male-dominated trappers or miners, with several women in tow to sell off marrying rights to, exactly like Mudd does. There’s some historical precedent for this actually happening, with the women on offer ranging from the merely unwanted homeless to bloody fugitives slipping away from their crimes back East. Of course, it was all a barely legitimized prostitution, but by the time the narrative cycled up through books and movies to the living room TV screen, it was heavily sanitized into love-lorn women, afflicted by circumstance, looking to find a true spouse on the rugged frontier. So the average Trek viewer would have seen the set-up for this sort story before, and brought a lot of internalized assumptions to this episode (some of which would be challenged).
Soo, Harry Mudd.
Now, normally I would just say: That was a great episode, you did a wonderful job with this discussion and your arguments are completly valid. From todays perspective, I can only imagine that this episodes were kind of funny and successful in their time but today, they are only “important” as a part of star trek, because they give a great opportunity for discussion.
BUT in the last bit you said, that anybody who loved mudd should try to explain this to you. I’d like to take that as a challange to myself, as kind of an thought-experiment to take over the position of somebody who loves harry mudd and to gather every thought I could think of to argue, that he is actually a great character to have. So please note, that anything following does not represent my personal own opinion.
The reason to love harry mudd:
When it comes to harry mudd, you are making one very basic mistake by looking at him through the lookingglass of our society and reality. That is important when you try to discuss the episode, but not his character, that exists within the universe of star trek, wich does have a completly different environment for him. One could argue, the problematic nature of relationships between men and women do not apply to his reality, in wich such things should be overcome for a long time. There are other species in the ST universe, that treat a third sex like it is non existant, slavery and selling women as wifes is mostly common in other cultures of the Star Trek universe, like in the orion syndicate. Not to speak of countless pre-warp civilizations that starfleet encountered and decided not to intervene, no matter how many billions and billions of women are treated there in the most horrible manner.
The most important rule for humans in the star trek universe is to not intervene in other cultures, as you could say by the prime directive. that teaches us one thing: it is most important to accept, that the federation can not be held responsible of making the whole universe following their own idea of morality and ethics. Their own moral does not apply to every situation and will never function as the ideal for the rest of the universe.
harry mudd does nothing but represent that conflict in the most drastic possible way. The way he behaves may be gross and untasteful by our current standarts, but it is completly within the range of what is acceptable for the federation. Mudd shows this, shows how he uses his freedom as a human being to live his life the way he wants to, what is nothing but expressing himself in the manner that he thinks is appropiate. Therefore he shows, that it is not always the stupid alien civilization with its different culture, that does things that are not “okay” by our standarts. Humans make the same mistakes and that is the price the federation has to take to keep their own system running. a system of coexistance with people even if there is no way to accept what they are doing.
Harry mudd grosses out modern people sometimes and still forces them to accept this. That is a main reason I love him: He is a human and the thing he does, as gross as it is, is still enough “normal” and present in our own reality, that it touches us.
By our standarts, that is important and needs to be talked about.
But, and that is where I come back to what I said first, these are our standarts. You have to realize, that the federation later on will be at peace with the klingons, and wants peace with the romulans. Those are both species with a vast empire. You know how many different species the federation encounters on their small first territory during TOS. Do you think there were less of those minor species on klingon or romulan territory? Both of these species have commited horrible, unspoken war crimes that cause probably billions to die. Those actions are without doubt unquestioned and completly accepted by their people, nobody even ever bothers holding them responsible for this.
Harry Mudd shows that HE and his behaviour is offensive to us today and we find it gross that starfleet and the federation accept his kind and his behaviour within their lines. Kirk does punish him, but for other reasons and not in an official manner.
He is a reminder of how our standarts do only apply, when we are personally offended by something. If it comes to things that are not as present to us are just so unrealistic for us, like the death of millions, we are far more quicker to accept it as part of the sci fi world and don’t question it.
Harry mudd is the example to show, that the federation in star trek has learned to not make that difference anymore. They have accepted that there are things that are “political incorrect”, that are gross, that are violating people in a horrible way, but that it cannot be changed all for the better. So they give the freedom on a small scale to prevent themselves from totally falling apart, wich results in people like harry mudd having a chance to live their life in their gross and for us horrible way.
I love him, because he is provocative, because he is offensive and because he is not written in a way that is meant to be that way, but in a way that only works this way decades later.
Reasons to love Harry mudd ended.
Okay, now, at first I thought, I could go the commedy way with him and let him be funny but then I thought, to get on the more aggressive line would be more effective, using harry mudd as the start to question the whole federation-moral system at once by simply putting this discussion to a different level. It didn’t quite work out, but at least now I can feel as if I have fullfilled my duty to try to answer the question you asked in a podcast. Well, I answered not so much why people love harry mudd, but more why somebody could think that it is important to still have him as a major role in TOS.
Great episode discussing an apparently “beloved” character that I’ve also always disliked. Although I have to admit that I still really enjoy the episode “I, Mudd” for its goofy humor.
Your comments about how the advanced level of the androids in this episode doesn’t really track with the state of android technology in the rest of Trek reminded me of the TNG book “The Light Fantastic” by Jeffrey Lang, which ties together a lot of these apparent disparities into an interesting “android history” and features one of the Alice robots from “I Mudd” as a major character (as well as Mudd himself, though he’s only a small part of the story). Might be an interesting selection for a future book club episode of your show, because it’s primarily about Data’s daughter Lal. It does tie in with the TNG book continuity from after the show’s end but could probably be read standalone. Anyways, whether or not it’s something you’d discuss, it’s a book I really liked and wanted to recommend.
Hi there; I grew up watching ST reruns in the 1970s, so I watched the original series when I was in the 8-10 age range; at that age, Harry Mudd was hilarious, though I think I was laughing in part because he looked goofy to my child self AND I was 100% oblivious to the darker implications of the character, being, well, 8-10 years old in the 70s.
The Sixties and Seventies were also the era of the Heroic Pimp in fiction, which I think probably contributed to his popularity at the time.
Today, I’m a lot more aware of the problems of the original but I can’t help but love it because it burrowed into my brain when I was little.
Hi crew-members! I just found your podcast last week (when I did Chariots of Fire played in my head) and I binged through many them on a drive to go camping this weekend. I love what you do! So much of what I think and feel when watching one of my favorite shows gets discussed here, and other perspectives that I had never thought of as well. I nearly lost my sh** when you discussed Edward Said and Orientalism (I studied history in college/grad school with a focus on gender/sexuality and one of my favorite papers was about sexuality and masculinity during colonization of the British Empire.. but I digress!).
This was a great episode. It was horrible/fascinating to hear some of the background info on the creation of the concept and character and I enjoyed much of the discussion. I did, however, have a thought. I noticed that when discussing the TAS episode, you refer to the drug as a rape drug and you refer to Chapel has having been “tricked” and having been “desperate” and “overwhelmed” with her love for Spock, but never that what she did violated him. I hated this episode for many reasons, one being that it seemed out of character for Chapel (arguably – one could also argue that she is never developed enough in TOS for us to know what is typical behavior for her), one being the recurrence of Mudd, and one being that she violated Spock and it is not treated as a violation (not that a cartoon show for kids would really go into that). This got me thinking that as people – even we as feminists can be guilty of this – we have a double standard when looking at sexual violation. There is a great episode of South Park about the double standard of how statutory rape/student-teacher relationships are treated. *Please note that I am well-aware of the overwhelming gendered imbalance of sexual assault victims and that any sexual assault, regardless of who the perpetrator/victim is, carries a gendered nature of power/masculinity. But I do believe that had Christine been a man and Spock been a woman, the conversation might have been different.
I’ve always felt similar about “This Side of Paradise”. While I like a lot of the issues raised in that episode and the exploration of Spock’s character, it is hard for me to enjoy it as a whole because I always have the uncomfortable feeling of “Yikes, Spock just got roofied”. Of course, one could argue that Leila doesn’t really do it, and it was the spores trying to procure more hosts, as when Spock gets spored he immediately tries to get the captain and others “to join” (immediately after some much-needed nookie). However, the look on Leila’s face when she is talking to Sandoval and says “He will stay” is soooooo creepy. If the genders had been changed, it would have been presented/received in a far more predatorial way, but to me it came across as so anyway.
When I think about how these two episodes would have looked had the sexes been swapped, it looks something like the episode in the 6th season of Buffy where the three nerds use the neural dampener to make Warran’s ex-girlfriend their willing sex slave. Yet these incidences are presented, and received by the audience, in a highly different way.