Tuesday 22 August 2017

On the psychoanalysis of Harcourt Fenton Mudd

A thief, a swindler, a con man, a liar and a rogue
At least, he left that impression.
SPOILER ALERT for the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel The Light Fantastic (and probably also Immortal Coil and the Cold Equations trilogy and I'm sure there's more but those are the titles I remember in this series-ette).

... of course, I left.”

He broke jail.”

I borrowed transportation.”

He stole a spaceship.”

The patrol reacted in a hostile manner.”

They fired at him!”

They've got no respect for private property! They damaged the bloody spaceship!”

- ST:TOS: I, Mudd by Stephen Kandel

So I've nearly finished the latest (I think) in a loose series of TNG novels about Data and various other Star Trek artificial intelligences, Jeffrey Lang's The Light Fantastic. This one deals with the sentient hologram Professor Moriarty, long ago shoved into a free-roaming simulation of the galaxy towards the end of the TV series and left there evr since. Obviously, there wouldn't be much of a novel if that happy ending stayed happy so now he's pissed and has kidnapped someone close to Data (spoilers...) so Data will find him a real world body to inhabit.

The novel also features flashbacks to my favourite Original Series villain ever, Harcourt Fenton Mudd, that glorious rogue, and his fate after his last appearance in I, Mudd. Unfortunately, they don't stay flashbacks.

Not that I have any problem with the idea of Mudd interacting with later crews, in fact there's probably a lot of mileage to be had there. Its not even (particularly) a problem for me that this is yet another TOS-era character who has somehow contrived to live to the era following the Dominion War alongside, by my count, Jim Kirk, Spock, Bones, Uhuru, Chekov and Scotty. You know, I think at this point Sulu is the only person on that crew who had the decency to die in anything resembling a timely fashion.

Rather dents Picard's insistence that Spock's “cowboy diplomacy” belongs to a bygone age if everyone from that bygone age is still knocking around, is what I'm saying.

No, the problem is that Lang decides to try and delve into the psychology of Mudd. Lang's conclusion is that Mudd is a classic narcissist and his survival this long is down to spending a large fortune he acquires before the last of the flashbacks (sometime circa The Voyage Home) on life-extending technology because he can't bear to leave the universe without the privilege of having him in it.

I mean... Lang's not wrong, exactly, not in his basic conclusion. Its hard to say that Mudd isn't a narcissistic personality. Its just that the final flashback with Mudd in a bar, richer than he ever imagined, and running into Uhuru who greats him like an old friend felt like such a good ending, such a right ending. He has everything he ever wanted but he still feels the pull of wanting to cheat people (he desperately refers to meeting his banker as “a job” like he was robbing the guy, just to feel like himself for a moment) and maybe he'll fritter it all away and do one last job and maybe he learns to live with his happy ending and it was just such a nice note to leave him on.

Then he turns up in the 2380s at a hundred and god knows years old in a mech suit that's part wheelchair and part hospice bed trying to find a way to become immortal using salvaged AI bits.

Its sad. I don't even care if he gets a happy ending out of it, its just sad and as much as half the fun of a character like Harry Mudd is seeing them be constantly frustrated they aren't meant to make you feel sad.

Characters like Mudd are meant to be fun! There's no reason to bring psychology into it or realistic consequences. They're just there to be fun. Maybe its because I was practically raised on Robert Holmes' Doctor Who stories but I've always loved a good comedy rogue.

Harcourt Fenton Mudd. Thief -”

Come now.”

Swindler and con man...”


Liar and rogue.”

Did I leave you with that impression?”
    - also I, Mudd

I realise that if Mudd were a real person I wouldn't want him to get away with the things he does. Hell, even as a fictional person I rather enjoy the inevitable commeuppence that's an essential part of any story he appears in, but I also admit that he's there for me to enjoy. He's a note of absurb and adorable criminality in the ever so orderly and lawful world of Star Trek. There's so much to relish about the character, not least of which the highly distinctive voice given to him by actor Roger C. Carmel.

As much as Lang captures the voice and the essential psychology of Mudd, I wonder whether he felt the joy a character like that is meant to give a writer: the deliciously naughty glee at writing someone dishonest that you know the reader is going to root for anyway, just a little.

I can't root for this version of Mudd. I just can't. He's a bitter old man whose fits of anger are genuine rage instead of wounded pride, who takes no joy in his schemes because now they really are life or death instead of get rich quick shenanigans.

Still, at least Lang has finally written one of the dream scenes of Star Trek: Data meeting Vic Fontaine. 

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