Star Trek Prodigy (PRO) Season 1
Lost and FoundStarstruckDreamcatcherTerror FirmaKobayashiFirst Con-tactTime AmokA Moral Star I/IIAsylumLet Sleeping Borg LieAll the World's a StageCrossroadsMasqueradePreludesGhost in the MachineMindwalkSupernova I/II
Lost and Found
The young Dal R'El is an inmate of the Tars Lamora prison colony in the Delta Quadrant. He is the only one of his species and not able to communicate with other prisoners. When a mysterious creature known as "Fugitive Zero" sabotages the security measures and unfastens his manacles, Dal seizes the opportunity, runs away and hijacks a loader. But his escape ends when the Watchers turn off the power grid, making the loader fall to the ground. The Diviner, the ruler of the prison colony, allows his daughter Gwyn to interrogate Dal R'El, rather than turning the prisoner over to the robot Drednok who would torture him. Gwyn tells him that he would be free to leave if he could find Fugitive Zero. Dal is then partnered with a Brikar in the deep region of the mine where the fugitive was last spotted. After accidentally collapsing the cave they were working in, the two find a starship that was buried in the rocks. They proceed to the bridge where they activate the universal translator and can understand each other. The Brikar introduces herself as Rok-Tahk. Fugitive Zero joins them and reveals that he is actually a non-corporeal lifeform in a containment suit. In order to get the ship operational again and escape from the planet, Dal approaches the Tellarite engineer Jankom Pog. While Pog is working on the ship, Rok-Tahk allows a gelatinous lifeform named Murf to join the crew. When Zero senses that the Watchers are heading in their direction, Dal approaches them, in an effort to keep them away from the ship. He is arrested again, owing to his lacking success to find Zero. Dal manages to escape once more, but this time it is a ruse and he leads the Watchers straight to the ship, the USS Protostar, that they have been looking for at the Diviner's behest all along. The fugitives take Gwyn as a hostage. The ship falls down a cliff during the firefight, but the crew succeeds in starting the engines. On the hull, Dal is struggling to restore the shields, while Drednok is going after him. The shields are raised, and Drednok slips off the hull. Drednok then fires a cannon and seals the exit from the mine for the Protostar. No one of the crew knows how to activate the weapons, but then Murf covers a console and thereby fires the phasers, destroying the debris that blocks the flight path. The Protostar is in open space now. As the crew wonders what to do next, a hologram of Captain Janeway appears and offers her support.
Star Trek: Prodigy is the second animated version of modern Star Trek besides Lower Decks. But the two series couldn't be more different as the animation style, the setting, the general tone and ultimately the target audience are concerned. The expansion into new types of TV shows or new sub-genres of science fiction is considered beneficial for the franchise from a business viewpoint. That's fine with me because I don't think that an adventure series for teens set in the Star Trek Universe would harm its creative foundation. Yet, for such a series to be acceptable as a firm part of that universe, it should be recognizable as Star Trek, and it should heed its principles.
Regarding the look and feel of Prodigy, it unfortunately starts off much like it were an iteration of Star Wars, with gargantuan dimensions of the buildings, menacing robots, cute aliens, "trench runs" and the "hive" of the Diviner. Even the background music and the sound effects occasionally seem to be ripped from the other franchise.
With the exception of the Kazon, the few other canon connections in the episode are gratuitous. We have to remember that we're in the Delta Quadrant, and there has to be a very good explanation for Tellarites, Medusans, Lurians or Caitians running around, or for a Starfleet ship buried beneath the surface of a planet. The latter is the very premise of the show and will definitely make more sense at a later time. But overall, it feels like the pilot episode was supplemented with random Trek references, leaving it to Kathryn Janeway to assure through the fourth wall that this is indeed supposed to be a Trek show. And that it will live up to its ethos. I hope that Prodigy will keep that promise and will not waste Janeway as a token character.
It is fine with me if a new animated series comes with its own style. I wouldn't expect everything in Prodigy to look exactly like in the live action series or like in Lower Decks. Yet, after the release of the character art no one seriously guessed that Jankom Pog was supposed to be a Tellarite until we were told so. Even though we may come up with explanations why he looks the way he does, perhaps because of his young age, I think a character design is flawed if the species is not recognizable. I can put up with it, but given his look, he would better have been a Talaxian or a new species.
In spite of the issues with the premise and with some design decisions, "Lost and Found" is an enjoyable episode. As the story progressed, I managed to put aside my initial reservations. Although it features a lot of over-the-top action of the kind I wouldn't want to see too often on live action Trek, the writing is more mature than I would have expected. It draws on the characters, and especially Dal's and Gwyn's motivations are worked out very well. Dal is very talkative and too easy-going, considering that he is in a desperate situation, but I think I can accept that as a character trait in a comedy adventure. Gwyn's story, on the other hand, is a surprise because she joins the crew against her will. I also like that she remains somewhat ambivalent, basically loyal to her father but with compassion for his victims. I am glad that the actions and dialogues of the main characters are never childish (except perhaps the bit about the "pew-pew-pew button"), although it appropriately shows that they are young and inexperienced. While aimed primarily at teens, this series is clearly designed as an "all-age" product. Yet, I doubt that the scariness of the overall story and of some scenes would be suitable for younger children.
As much as I so far miss a specific Trek feel, the visuals of the series are outstanding. The animation is spot-on as the facial expressions are concerned. There is very much attention to details such as props or surface structures. And the planetary landscapes, as over-the-top as they may be, look spectacular. I only wish the producers had abstained from faux "cinematic effects" such as lens flares and the reduction of the resolution to 1920x800 instead of 1920x1080 pixels.
It is not yet clear how serialized Star Trek: Prodigy will be. While the premise is that the ragtag crew are on the run from the Diviner and that there will likely be ongoing internal conflicts as well, there is enough room for stories that are concerned with the exploration of a new planet every week. Whatever the future holds, I'm looking forward to more adventures on the USS Protostar.
- Jankom Pog does not look like a Tellarite and was commonly mistaken for a Talaxian prior to the revelation of his species. We may explain this as a liberty in the animation, and perhaps also with Pog being very young compared to the Tellarites we saw so far.
- There is no rationale for why there are so many Alpha Quadrant species (Tellarite, Medusan, Lurian, possibly Caitian) in the Delta Quadrant as if the Milky Way galaxy were a village. My impression is that it will still be explained how the Protostar ended up on the mining planet but that all the other crossovers will remain gratuitous.
- Why would the Diviner want to imprison orphaned kids from many different planets anyway, and pay a prize for these "Unwanted"? This too may be further elucidated, but right now it is more like a Disney-like emotional ploy like in "The Rescuers" or "101 Dalmatians".
- It doesn't make sense to use forced labor for tasks that could be much better automated, given the high level of technology available to the Diviner and the gigantic dimensions of the colony. Even though it is obviously a punishment, a treadmill with prisoners in spacesuits is absurd.
- It is one of the most persistent clichés of specifically the most recent Star Trek iterations that starships get buried in solid rock, are still fully powered after a long time and lift off again after a few small repairs.
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "Can the three of us get it out of here?" - "Three? A ship this size requires at least 20. Or, depending on the species, 37 appendages." - "That's way too many appendages to keep this quiet." (Dal and Zero)
- "Were you going to leave without me?" - "Uh, no?" - "Your chance of return was low. Our desire to leave remained high." - "I can be offended later." (Dal, Pog and Zero)
- "We just gotta fire the torpedoes." - "Do we have torpedoes?!" - "Then the pew-pew-pew button!" - "I don't see a pew-pew-pew button!" - "Just hit 'em all, until it goes 'pew pew'!" (Dal, Pog and Rok-Tahk)
- Remarkable species: According to behind-the-scenes information, Rok-Tahk is supposed to be a Brikar, a species that so far only appeared in non-canon Trek, specifically in the Starfleet Academy and New Frontier novel series. The look of the species was completely reimagined for Prodigy though.
- Remarkable ships:
- The Kazon shuttle is a new design, and fits very well into the Kazon ship lineage.
- The USS Protostar has graceful lines and looks just as we would expect from an advanced ship of its era. I am pleased about its reasonable size that defies the regrettable rule of modern Trek that everything has to be huge. I don't like the Abrams-style nacelles and the many gratuitous moving parts.
- Remarkable music: I like the orchestral title theme by Michael Giacchino. Like the Lower Decks theme, it brings back the vibe of the Golden Age of the 80's and 90's.
The Captain Janeway hologram explains to the young crew what the United Federation of Planets is and offers the "cadets" her help in the operation of the ship. But Dal, who declares that he is the captain, says that he wants to make his own decisions. As the ragtag crew familiarize themselves with the Protostar and Gwyn is locked up in the brig, the ship approaches a collapsing binary system and gets caught in its gravity well. Janeway again offers her support, but Dal deactivates the hologram. As the crew struggles to regain control of the ship, there is a power failure of the forcefield in the brig. Gwyn seeks a way off the ship, but all escape pods have been launched by Jankom Pog to save weight. She proceeds to the vehicle replicator to build a shuttle, where a fight with Rok-Tahk ensues. As the ship gets damaged by debris and is about to run into the star, Dal finally activates Janeway again. She tells the crew how to raise the shields again and how to blast the debris with phasers. Dal then orders a daring slingshot maneuver, which sets the Protostar free. Back in the Tars Lamora colony, the Diviner prepares his starship to pursue the fugitives and retrieve his daughter and the USS Prototstar.
The second episode of Star Trek: Prodigy is far less complex than the twice as long pilot with its many characters, places and plot twists. The story of "Starstruck" focuses on the crew's amazement about the technology of the USS Protostar and their inability to handle it, as well as particularly Dal's reluctance to accept help from Janeway. There is a good deal of action, but the threat to the ship in the gravity well of the binary stars is a standard situation we have seen many times before, and remains accordingly uninteresting. The Diviner appears in just two brief scenes, to establish that he pursues the Protostar.
"Starstruck" does a good job to explore the mindsets and the motivations of the other characters besides Gwyn and Dal. We learn quite a bit about Zero, Rok-Tahk and Jankom Pog. Zero acts much like Dal's mentor, repeatedly reads his mind and exposes his uncertainty. While the Medusan appears to be the only one in the crew who has a plan, they themselves are unsure about everything that requires action though. Roh-Tahk knows nothing else but captivity and doesn't have an idea what to do with her new freedom, which becomes most obvious when she orders Nutri-Goop, the prisoner food from the colony, although she could have anything else. Jankom Pog, on the other hand, is just excited about getting any food he desires for free, about working on the warp core or firing the phasers. But all of them have in common that they are overwhelmed by the new situation.
Dal is quick to declare that he is the captain of the USS Protostar, but clearly not because he is ready to take the responsibility. Rather than that, he is looking forward to the privilege of sitting in the captain's chair and sleeping in the captain's bed. In all fairness, he was the one that went to great lengths and took the biggest risks to escape from the prison colony. But commanding a ship is a whole new ballgame. As already mentioned, everyone among the young crew struggles with the new situation to some extent. Dal not only overplays his fear (according to Zero), he is also the last to acknowledge that they are in trouble and would need help. In a way, he is the most immature crew member, and he only keeps his position because no one else has the ambition to lead. I'm curious how this will be sorted out in future episodes.
On a note about Janeway, it seems fair that her character is more than just a hologram that pops up like Clippy of MS Office. There are several cues in the episode that she has second thoughts, and maybe even an agenda of her own. She obviously recognizes that the crew are no Starfleet cadets. I'm not sure how far her role will be taken, and how much involvement will be desirable.
Overall, "Starstruck" is the wrap-up that was probably needed after the exciting pilot. It comes with a perhaps too simple story but with a good deal of character interaction.
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "Ugh, she's hideous! Why is her forehead so smooth?" - "You're no summer peach either, Tellarite." - "Ha ha ha ha! Jankom Pog likes her!" (Pog and Janeway)
- "Your course has led us into a binary system where the gravitational pull of an orbiting white dwarf is in its final moments of tearing apart a red giant." - "A dying star. What a rare and exciting way to meet our doom!" (Janeway and Zero)
- Remarkable scenes:
- Janeway explains the Federation with a holographic slide show.
- Roh-Tahk and Gwyn fight in the vehicle replicator, as the shuttle is being built around them.
- Remarkable technology: The USS Protostar has two warp cores, and some device in engineering that Pog and Zero can't identify yet. The ship also features a vehicle replicator that is capable of building a shuttle in a matter of minutes. I wonder if Voyager had such a replicator too. ;-)
- Remarkable ship: The holographic ship design lineage includes a Crossfield-class ship from Discovery.
The Janeway hologram teaches the crew the basic operations of the USS Protostar. When the ship approaches an unexplored Class-M planet in the Hirogen system, Dal just wants to pass by in order not to lose the head start. But Janeway insists that the "cadets" carry out an investigation, as Starfleet protocols would require. So the ship lands on the planet. Janeway introduces the crew to the runaway, a wheeled vehicle. Dal takes the runaway for a joy ride, leaving Rok-Tahk, Pog and Zero to explore the planet on their own. In the meantime Gwyn telepathically manipulates her weapon to break her out of the brig. She overrides the security protocols that have locked her out of all control functions and reboots the Janeway hologram to support her theft of the Protostar, leaving the away team behind. In the meantime, everyone who gets in contact with planet's plant life experiences illusions that are aimed at making them stay (and be devoured). Zero runs into a mysterious copy of the engine core that puzzles them. Pog follows a smell that reminds him of a Tellar sleeper ship. Rok-Tahk discovers cuddly animals to play with. Dal perceives two humanoid shapes that Janeway claims are his parents. Gwyn contacts her father, the Diviner, but when he appears in person on the planet she realizes that he is just an illusion and prepares to lift off. Dal recognizes the deception as well and uses the runaway to collect the away team, who are already entangled in plants without being aware of it. In the meantime the Protostar too is engulfed in vines. Gwyn sees no other chance but to escape from the ship with the unfinished shuttle from the vehicle replicator, taking Murf with her. The Protostar breaks free and crashes somewhere else on the planet...
Last week, in "Starstruck", the young crew got themselves into trouble because of their inexperience and because they just wouldn't listen to advice. We could easily see what went awry and why. In "Dreamcatcher", the circumstances are different and the motivations remain overall unfathomable.
I take it that Janeway knows that her crew is not composed of cadets because she blinked when she suggested that in "Starstruck". Yet, she sends the "cadets" on a dangerous away mission without any reasonable preparation. And even if she is mainly concerned about the ship, she endangers the Protostar by going down on the unexplored planet in the first place. If anything, it appears that her intention is to test the crew, rather than explore the planet according to Starfleet protocols. I doubt that Voyager thoroughly investigated every single Class-M world on the way back to the Alpha Quadrant. The crew, on the other hand, and particularly Dal, only comply with Janeway in order to keep up the story that they are obedient cadets. But I would have expected "Captain" Dal to argue with Janeway, who would perhaps have agreed to a change of plan, rather than swiftly carry out her orders. Actually, it seems no one really wants to go down on this planet, a bit like in the Abilene paradox.
The juvenile crew of the Protostar shouldn't be entrusted with phasers or with four-wheeled vehicles, much less with the task to explore a possibly dangerous planet. Fortunately, once the story has moved behind the point of making fun of the situation (and inappropriate fun in the case of the phaser), it all becomes more mature than I would have expected. And I appreciate that an almost classic Star Trek plot unfolds. Planets that are alive and connect with intruders, sometimes with the intention to digest them, are a common trope. But the experiences of the away team in the alien environment are told skillfully. "Dreamcatcher" also comes with beautiful imagery of the various landscapes on the planet.
It is a bit gratuitous how Gwyn, the Prodigy, escapes from her prison yet again, thanks to her telepathically controlled technology, and how she takes control of the ship with ease, thanks to her thorough hacking training. Well, there are limits to her powers that show when she can't break the ship free from the plants. It remains to be seen which role her many special abilities will play in future episodes.
Overall, "Dreamcatcher" is more serious than "Starstruck", comes with a more interesting and more visually appealing story and once again with quite some character development, but at the expense of overall credibility. I actually like how the episode ends with a cliffhanger because in the course of the plot it has become clear that more issues needs to be resolved than could be accomplished in a few minutes.
- So Jankom Pog apparently came to the Delta Quadrant on a Tellarite sleeper ship. That would explain his presence, but what about the at least three other Alpha Quadrant species in the series so far? A common explanation would be far more plausible than a chain of coincidences.
- Gwyn says that the carnivorous planet is in the Hirogen system. This doesn't make sense because for all we know the Hirogen are nomadic. If, however, they have a home system, it would be utterly implausible if the sensors found an uninhabited Class-M planet there, rather than the homeworld of the Hirogen or any other traces of their civilization. Realistically, the Protostar should have been welcomed by heavily armored patrol ships upon arrival in the system!
- Janeway has just taught the immature "cadets" the very basics of spaceflight. Starfleet regulations aside, it is a bad idea to let the totally inexperienced crew land the ship, and even worse to send them on an away mission on an unexplored planet.
- When Gwyn has freed herself from the brig and is going to steal the ship, Janeway can't reach Dal because he has disposed of his comm badge. She apparently doesn't even try to contact anyone else of the away team.
- The smell that Pog perceives is just illusory, so this is plausible with him wearing a spacesuit. But if the planet's spores are responsible for the illusion, how did they get through the spacesuit in the first place?
- Remarkable quote: "M-class? Ugh. Not for my crew. We all deserve A-class planets." (Dal)
- Remarkable fart joke: "Interesting. Mine [tricorder] has already detected a gas sample." - "Guilty." - "Ah, the joys of being non-corporeal." (Pog and Zero)
- Remarkably unfunny joke: I think that jokes about someone playing around with a loaded gun so it goes off don't belong in a show for kids, even if it is only a phaser on stun.
- Remarkable vehicle: The runaway is equipped with four seats, accelerated ion propulsion, a tritanium chassis and holo-steering.
- Note on the episode title: In the on-screen credits it is "Dream Catcher", and this is how the episode is currently listed at Memory Alpha too. All other sources, including Paramount+, refer to it as "Dreamcatcher".
Gwyn broke her leg when her shuttle crashed, but she can use her mind-controlled device as a cast. The Protostar landed safely ten kilometers away and is now being attacked by the planet. The away team has to proceed to that position on foot after the runaway has been swallowed. However, the topology of the planet keeps changing, making them run in circles. In the meantime, Janeway successfully frees the Protostar from the vines, using the photonic scrubbers. But she notices that one system that she can't shut down consumes a lot of precious power: the protostar confinement. The crew finds refuge from acid rain in the wreck of a Klingon Bird-of-Prey. They decide to follow the stars to find their way back to the Protostar. However, the Diviner's ship has already arrived. Drednok appears and orders Gwyn to step aside and leave the prisoners to him, but she refuses. He shoots at the cast around her fracture, leaving her unable to walk. Before Drednok can harm anyone else, he gets entangled in vines. The Diviner beams down, and although he could save his daughter, who is caught in plants, he proceeds to the Protostar. However, Dal and company are the first to arrive, whereas the Diviner falls for another illusion. The ship lifts off and Dal sets out to rescue Gwyn as well. Back in space, the Protostar is pursued by the Diviner's ship. But Gwyn has figured out how to activate the protostar drive, a propulsion system that allows the ship to outrun the pursuers.
"Terror Firma" concludes the story about the crew on the living planet. Almost everything that appeared as curious and playful last week turns out to be menacing or even deadly now, also because most of the episode takes place at night. Although they are still kidding around, everyone among the young crew is fully aware of the danger of being marooned on this world, and is courageous within their individual limits. It is also important to annotate that as much as she screwed up last week, as commendable are Janeway's actions this time.
There are several gratuitous deus ex machina twists in the story, the most incredible being the discovery of the Klingon BoP, as well as some scenes that are a tad too conspicuous, such as the Diviner's decision whether to save his daughter or secure the ship. Maybe the latter is something the youngest among the audience are supposed to grasp at any rate, while it is taken into account that they miss out on smaller plot details.
"Terror Firma" makes up for some of the problems with the story and the characters in "Dreamcatcher", but adds new issues on the way. It is a satisfactory but not a great episode.
As a sort of afterword for my reviews of Prodigy so far, I like the animation style and the story arc. But I also notice shortcomings relative to "adult" Trek. I am well aware that the series may not be designed for fans like me and may not hold up to the standards for story significance and story logic that I'm used to. Although I am generally willing to grant this format a bit more creative leeway, I may be harsh about aspects of Prodigy that are well-received elsewhere. Sorry, I just don't want to review this series, or any Trek series for that matter, looking through the eyes of a hypothetical different person, although I admit that watching it together with children would provide that different perspective.
- Continuity: All right, there is always a Klingon BoP when you need one, even in the Delta Quadrant.
- So the away team is confused that the terrain around them keeps terraforming, and the Protostar keeps changing position relative to these features. That also proves they can pinpoint the ship. So if they know where the ship is, why would they still have to use the stars as an additional reference?
- What happened to transporters? Does the Protostar even have one? Using the transporter would have been an option already in "Dreamcatcher", but in "Terror Firma" it becomes blatantly obvious that the issue should at least be addressed.
- Remarkable dialogue: "Since we found this planet first, do we get to name it? Can we call it Larry?" - "I thought we call it 'Let's Not Visit M-Class Planets Again'." - "Technically, it's not a planet but a sentient life form. Perhaps I can ask its name! [tries to communicate telepathically] No, it just wants to eat us." (Rok-Tahk, Dal, Zero)
- Remarkable technologies:
- The Protostar is equipped with photonic scrubbers, essentially small drones that clean the hull with what may be laser beams.
- The protostar drive is a classified technology that uses the energy output from a protostar to provide additional power for propulsion. Even the Janeway hologram wasn't aware of its existence. There is no really good reason why the whole aft end including the nacelles would have to morph in an extremely complex fashion, except that someone thought it would look cool.
While they are searching for Murf, Dal and Jankom discover the Protostar's holodeck. They browse through the programs and decide to run the Kobayashi Maru test. The two find themselves on the Enterprise-D, with Spock, Dr. Crusher, Uhura and Odo as their bridge crew. When Dal miserably fails to complete the mission to save the Kobayashi Maru in the Neutral Zone, this spurs his ambition. In the meantime, Gwyn wants to find out more about the origin and purpose of the ship, but Janeway says the information is classified. She hacks the code and surprisingly discovers that parts of it were written in her native language, although her people never had contact with Starfleet. Murf swallows photon grenades to Rok-Tahk's horror, but is fine when the grenades go off in the gelatinous body. On the holodeck, Dal dismisses Jankom Pog and replaces him with Scotty. He runs the simulation again and again until he manages to destroy the attacking Klingon vessels by ejecting and then phasering the warp core. When another Klingon ship appears to intercept his now defenseless ship, Dal wishes he could leave the bridge. He then gets beamed over together with Spock and disables the Klingon crew. Celebrating his victory, Dal puts up his feet on a console and accidentally fires a torpedo that destroys the Enterprise-D. On Spock's suggestion, he decides to listen to advice in the future. Asking about the purpose of the Kobayashi Maru program, he learns that it was designed as a no-win scenario. On the bridge of the Protostar, Gwyn has begun to visualize the decrypted information. It turns out that the ship was on a mission under the command of Captain Chakotay...
Star Trek Prodigy is about alien rookies, who are introduced to the marvels of Federation science bit by bit, and new viewers on the other side of the TV screen with them. This week's featured technology is the holodeck, the most versatile plot device not only in Star Trek but arguably in the whole history of televised dramas. But the introduction of the holodeck in this series is not just an opportunity to draw on the resources of 55 years of Trek. It is also an obligation to get things right and not to waste a rich legacy in a dumb story.
"Kobayashi" gets a lot of things right as the look and the sound of classic Star Trek is concerned (sorry, no place for anything Discovery here!). To that end, the episode even uses the very voices of the original actors of the guest characters in the form of sound clips, even though some of it comes across as a bit incoherent, both in terms of quality and context. Especially Spock's lines to Dal on the Klingon bridge sound a bit like what they actually are: jumbled. On the other hand, this sequence of somewhat formulaic and unnatural catchphrases fits with the story in a way because this is not the real Spock who is speaking after all, but only a hologram that emulates what he could say in the situation, and how. I am not totally convinced whether piety in this case would prohibit someone else to voice a character clearly modeled after Leonard Nimoy (and not Ethan Peck). But I am fine with the decision.
The story about Dal in the Kobayashi Maru scenario is not as infantile as I was afraid it could be. Besides the correct look and sound, "Kobayashi" successfully prevents relaying a wrong message about Star Trek, such that it may be mainly about blowing up stuff. It includes a lesson for Dal that he gets taught by Spock, and ultimately by the consequences of his own mistakes. Just as in the previous episodes, there is some decent finger wagging as in an educational program. Coming back to the first paragraph of this review, Prodigy is somewhat educational by its very concept. But it is also evident it has to move beyond the stage where our young crew is learning the basics of starship operation and of the principles of the Federation.
The discovery of the secret of the USS Protostar and the mystery about what happened to Chakotay is a very good starting point for the crew to grow with their tasks, and for the series to explore more meaningful issues.
Overall, "Kobayashi" delves deeply into Star Trek lore, in a story that is mostly respectful and a lot of fun. A bit like DS9: "Trials and Tribble-ations", it is one of those fan service episodes as it can and should be produced only on rare occasions. Aside from Dal's adventure on the holodeck, the story comes with little progress regarding the bigger picture. But the appearance of Captain Chakotay makes up for this shortcoming eventually.
- Shown or listed holographic simulations: the "cone-and-disk game" (TNG: "The Game"), Andoria IV, Ceti Alpha V ("Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan"), Kal-if-fee (TOS: "Amok Time"), Count Dracula, a Jane Eyre novel (VOY: "Learning Curve"), Deadwood (TNG: "A Fistful of Datas"), Paxau (VOY: "Warlord"), Kobayashi Maru ("Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan").
- Dal gets assigned the following crew members: Spock ("Pointy Ears"), Dr. Crusher ("Big Red"), Uhura ("Earpiece") and Odo ("Jellyman"). After locking out Pog, Scotty ("Mustache") becomes Dal's new engineer. He doesn't want the "JT Kirk guy" because there can be only one captain. Several audio clips from episodes with the original voices were used for the guest characters, only Crusher's lines were newly recorded by Gates McFadden.
- Nitpicking: I doubt that a real training simulation would be programmed to allow an unrealistic twist such as beaming over to an enemy ship that almost definitely has its shields up.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "If you're going to poke around in my head, I'll need some coffee first." (Janeway)
- "Jankom lost count how many times you've failed. Just joking. It's 42." (Jankom Pog)
- "Wait. You didn't say you could super-pinch." (Dal)
- Remarkable music: In order to distract the Klingons, Dal plays "Thunderstruck" by AC/DC.
- Remarkable facts:
- On Stardate 43929.9, 17 years ago, the Diviner decided to procreate.
- Using the protostar drive, the ship made a jump of 4000 light-years.
- Dedication: "In memory of René Auberjonois, James Doohan and Leonard Nimoy, who inspired us to go boldly."
The young crew has just discovered the transporter and tested it on Murf, when the ship receives a distress call. The actual caller turns out to be a Ferengi named Nandi, the woman who raised Dal. Nandi proposes a deal to the crew. She would give them a Klingon cloaking device in exchange for their help to acquire remalite crystals from a planetary civilization that has not yet been contacted from outside their world. Janeway quotes the Prime Directive to Dal, but although he has doubts and he knows Nandi would cheat the inhabitants, he decides it would be just a diplomatic exchange. After the Protostar has landed on the planet, the away team gets caught in a sand storm. Gwyn figures out the harmonics of the storm and programs her tricorder to calm it down. A structure emerges from the sand, inside which the away team finds the crystals, which the inhabitants use to transform matter. Nandi offers a worthless Ferengi spit plate in exchange for a crystal. When the aliens refuse, she rips off the crystals, which destabilizes the building. While the rest of the away team hurry to put the crystals back in place, Nandi runs away with one of them. Dal pursues Nandi, while his friends return to the Protostar. Dal struggles with Nandi, who reveals that she didn't lose Dal because he was kidnapped but because she sold him. Nandi decloaks her ship, the "Damsel", and escapes with the crystal, as well as with the Protostar's supply of chimerium that she secretly beamed over. But thanks to the comm badge that Dal attached to the crystal, the crew can beam it back to the rightful owners. As Janeway is lecturing the crew about the Prime Directive, the angry Nandi decides to contact the Diviner to receive a reward for revealing the whereabouts of the Protostar.
Janeway's young "cadets" continue their discovery tour of the Protostar with the transporter, a technology that is routinely used on Federation starships but that was conspicuously absent from the series so far. From a real-world viewpoint it makes sense to save up the most awe-inspiring regular technology for later. After all, a phaser is just a blaster and the protostar drive is just a fast engine, whereas the transporter dissolves you and puts you back together somewhere else. The crew's amazement about beaming and being beamed works for me, although after "Dreamcatcher" it once again leaves a bitter taste how carelessly they fumble around with dangerous technology, without getting a proper warning from Janeway. Their test subject Murf only survives in open space because he is indestructible anyway.
Dal's back story is further explored in "First Con-tact", but unfortunately only in passing remarks, which is a missed opportunity. I would have wished for more profundity, considering how tragic and perhaps traumatizing his childhood probably was and how shocking it must be to learn he was sold to the Diviner. Rather than that, the focus is on the dumb story about the crystals, in which clichés about the Ferengi and about the crew's carelessness abound and in which Janeway's lecturing is quite formulaic.
Overall, "First Con-tact" is disappointing because it glosses over the emotional impact of the story with chaotic action and because it draws too much on clichés. It irks me that we meet species from the Alpha Quadrant all the time, which totally defies the series premise that it is set in the Delta Quadrant, far away from the Federation. On the bright side, I really enjoyed the animation of the desert planet.
- It is just a few years after Voyager's return from the totally unknown, yet Prodigy postulates that whole fleets from the Alpha Quadrant have been roaming the Delta Quadrant for decades: Medusans, Tellarites, Klingons, Ferengi, etc.
- The Ferengi D'Kora class is a capital ship and obviously designed to be operated by a crew, and not by a single person. It is also a ship that is meant to remain in space, and not to hover above a planetary surface. Why this continuing obsession with ships on the ground in modern Trek?
- Nandi is supposed to be a Ferengi female, yet she wears clothes and runs her own business. This complies with changes that Grand Nagus Zek brought about on Ferenginar, or Nandi's ancestors were dissenters who left the planet long ago, to explain how she got to the Delta Quadrant. Yet, she heeds Ferengi traditions, such as the Rules of Acquisition and the title of DaiMon.
- How could Nandi know of the remalite crystals that are hidden beneath the surface of the planet and guarded by its inhabitants, if they had not been in contact with anyone before?
- It was a stupid mistake in "Dreamcatcher" to land the ship on a possible hazardous planet and to explore it with the entire crew, a course of action that does not become more plausible by being repeated here.
- The inhabitants of the planet (tentatively called the Cymari after the technology of cymatics) don't seem to know about safety margins and about redundancy. If the absence or failure of a single crystal can cause their creations to collapse, I doubt that they are great builders.
- Remarkable quote: "Mmm, floor pie." (Jankom Pog, in a Simpsons reference)
- Remarkable memorabilia: Nandi has a Risian horga'hn and a Vulcan lirpa on her ship. The cloaking device looks like in DS9: "The Emperor's New Cloak".
- Remarkable nickname: Nandi calls Dal her "lobeling".
- Remarkable document: We can read much of the text of the Prime Directive that Janeway displays on the bridge.
- Remarkable fact: Chimerium is required to operate a cloaking device.
- Title card: The title card originally created for the episode reads "First Contact", although the episode name was to be "First Con-tact", with the hyphen creating a pun.
Stardate 607125.6: Janeway prepares a riddle for her "cadets" on the holodeck, to test their ability to work together to solve problems. They fail utterly. Nandi contacts the Diviner and reveals the location of the Protostar. Since it would take his ship, the Rev-12, months to get there, the Diviner says that there is an alternative way to make his presence known. The Protostar approaches a tachyon storm, upon which the protostar drive destabilizes. Jankom Pog rushes to engineering, but he is too late. A pulse of energy from the drive travels through the ship. This results in every one of the crew being on a different time level, depending on the distance to the engine core. Each of them is now on their own, together with a copy of the Janeway hologram. Moreover, a protostar drive core breach is imminent. Pog, who was closest to the engine core and whose time level is the fastest, has no chance. The ship explodes before he can fix the engine core. Talking to Janeway, who carries over the memory from Pog's time level, Zero thinks that a warp matrix between the protostar drive and the conventional warp drive could stabilize the system but can't finish the work either. Dal builds the warp matrix but doesn't find a fitting dilithium coupler. Gwyn tries to continue his work but is interrupted by a copy of Drednok that has secretly been built by the vehicle replicator. Janeway recognizes that Drednok was the one who already sabotaged the previous mission of the ship and deleted her memory. Her program gets erased by him. As the robot is in engineering to stop the warp core breach, Gwyn activates the mechanism of the protostar drive, which causes an explosive decompression. Drednok is blown out into space, but so is the warp matrix. Rok-Tahk was in a minimum of the time wave when the split occurred and has accordingly much time left, but she neither has the knowledge nor the self-confidence to build another warp matrix, with instructions provided by Gwyn after Janeway is gone. It takes Rok-Tahk a long time to acquire the proficiency to construct the device and to rebuild the Janeway program. Once the connection of the engines is established, the core breach is averted and the common timeline is restored.
With "Time Amok", Star Trek: Prodigy continues to playfully allude to classic Trek as the episode titles are concerned. And it just as well continues to pick up classic plots and show them in a new light, drawing on the inexperience of the crew.
It is not a secret that I have a soft spot for time travel stories and that I tend to rate them comparably high if they come with unprecedented twists, even if these don't hold up to my own scrutiny. "Time Amok" is not a totally new story, as it is overall reminiscent of VOY: "Shattered", with its characters isolated in different time frames. From the standpoint of the temporal phenomenon, on the other hand, "Time Amok" rather compares to TOS: "Wink of an Eye" and TNG: "Timescape", both of which were marked by time passing with different speeds. Moreover, Rok-Tahk fixes the ship in a similar fashion as Spock did in the TOS episode.
I may underestimate kids who are new to Trek, but I can imagine that the chaotic plot with the different time frames must be quite confusing. Even I can't tell who or what exactly travels in time and how. I needed quite some time to understand that the Protostar does not split up but that there are different time levels in the same physical environment. It is still open to interpretation what happens when Rok-Tahk activates the warp matix and the anomaly vanishes. And it remains a mystery how Jankom and Zero would remember how they died. With regard to explaining what is going on, I like Zero's visualization of the damped sine wave that shows how fast time passes for everyone on the ship.
"Time Amok" may be chaotic, but it works comparably well. After the failure to solve the simple fox, chicken and grain problem on the holodeck, the real crisis makes the crew work together, although they can't communicate with each other. Everyone (except perhaps for Murf) is aware of their responsibility and eventually Rok-Tahk surpasses herself by overcoming her fears. In several ways, this is the most adult adventure of Prodigy so far, and I hope it didn't deter the youngest viewers.
- The warp matrix and how it is being built looks a bit too much like 20th century combustion engine components that are welded together.
- How could the Diviner hack into the vehicle replicator of the Protostar, and across a distance of many weeks at warp no less? At least, it seems we will still get an explanation for him knowing Chakotay's access codes because Drednok evidently broke into the ship before.
- Remarkable quote: "Jankom distinctly remembers not being alive." (Jankom, after the reset)
- Remarkable holodeck program: Janeway creates the fox, chicken and grain problem for the crew to solve.
- Remarkable historical reference: Janeway mentions Apollo 13 when she tries to encourage Dal.
- Annotation: Producer Aaron J. Waltke explains that the stardate of the episode is off due to the proximity to the time anomaly.
A Moral Star I/II
The Diviner uses the remains of the Drednok replica to send an ultimatum. He demands the Protostar to be surrendered to him within one day, or he would make the miners pay the price. The ship has power for one jump with the protostar drive left, and it wouldn't be spacious enough to rescue all the "Unwanted". The alternative would be to contact Starfleet, but they may not arrive in time. The crew decides to surrender the ship to the Diviner, but not without preparing some surprises. When they arrive at Tars Lamora, the Diviner alters the terms and wants Gwyn to stay with him. Gwyn agrees, upon which the Diviner disables his robots, the watchers, unfastens the manacles of the Unwanted and embarks the Protostar with her. He overwrites Janeway with a new version that accepts his orders and destroys the power generator of the Rev-12. Artificial gravity fails on Tars Lamora, and the rest of the crew can barely avoid drifting away into open space. But they are prepared. Murf was hiding the protostar core in a replica of Zero's casing, while the true Zero had already beamed down with emergency thrusters. On the Protostar, the Diviner is enraged about the non-functional protostar drive and sets a course back to Tars Lamora. Meanwhile, the crew is working to get power back online, to collect the Unwanted and to fend off the watchers that the Diviner has reactivated. Rok-Tahk manages to repair the power generator and thereby restores gravity, while Dal modifies the manacles of the Unwanted to operate as translators, so they can coordinate their efforts for the first time. When Drednok beams down, they attack and destroy him. But the Diviner finds the coordinates of the protocore and beams it out. The Rev-12 sets out to pursue him. On the Protostar, Gwyn activates the original Janeway again, and they overwhelm the Diviner. While the crew on the Rev-12 is waiting for her to lower the shields, she agrees to her father's plea to let him show her on the holodeck what happened to her people - or rather what would happen because he came from a future in which their homeworld Solum would be in ruins. The Diviner claims this was the fault of the first contact with Starfleet, which triggered a civil war on Solum. He now seeks vengeance and has installed some sort of weapon on the Protostar that would make Starfleet ships attack each other. Dal finally manages to beam over, and he tries to protect Gwyn as Zero appears and takes revenge on the Diviner by exposing him to their true appearance. Gwyn sees a reflection of the radiation on Dal's communicator and is almost driven insane just as well. While the Protostar is on a course for Starfleet, Admiral Janeway on the USS Dauntless picks up a protostar drive signature and hopes to finally rescue the ship and its crew, including Captain Chakotay.
Star Trek: Prodigy continues to impress with exciting adventures that are part of the bigger picture, as Dal, Gwyn, Rok-Tahk, Jankom, Zero and Murf are growing with their tasks and are growing together as a crew. This, and the storyline of them being pursued by the Diviner while trying to find out the secrets of the USS Protostar, is accomplished quite elegantly in the series, without getting lost in sentimentality or other contrived sidetracking. I think that Star Trek: Discovery could learn a few things from Prodigy, which, in this regard, is more mature than the big-budget cutting-edge sci-fi show.
"A Moral Star I/II" is not perfect. But it is the so far best episode of the series because it tells a complex and compelling story without the need to rely on much over-the-top action. Rather than that, the thrill lies in how the characters act and how they react to plot developments. There are perhaps too many twists especially in the second part, but I think it is overall well-developed and would have worked in a live-action episode too. There is great intra-series continuity when Rok-Tahk profits from her engineering expertise (including technobabble) from last week's "Time Amok", and in other callbacks. I also like the sense of irony when the Unwanted are able to communicate with each other thanks to the manacles that kept them apart.
The Protostar crew is more Starfleet than ever before in the series, and definitely not only because of their uniforms. They have learned their moral lesson without the need for Janeway to frequently remind them of it. It is telling how they switch the hologram off while discussing how to proceed regarding the Diviner's ultimatum.
Yet, I have issues with two of them in "A Moral Star II". Gwyn as well as Zero fall out of line. Gwyn unnecessarily delays the takeover of the Protostar because she wants to give her father a final chance to explain himself, something he could well have done in a holding cell after having been captured. Zero, on the other hand, takes revenge on the Diviner by driving him insane, although mild violence, such as a phaser on stun, would have absolutely sufficed. Whatever exactly the Diviner did to him, especially Zero's course of action is totally uncalled-for and is glossed over for the sake of a happy ending.
We finally get an answer to the question why the Diviner hates the Federation so much and why he wants to get his hands on the USS Protostar so desperately. His motive is similar to that of previous villains such as Annorax from "Year of Hell", and the fate of his planet reminds me of the civilization in VOY: "Friendship One" that blamed Earth for causing a catastrophe. Knowing that his goal is nothing less than to avert the destruction of his homeworld may not excuse everything he did and still plans to do but it explains quite well how uncompromising he is.
Star Trek: Prodigy concludes the first half of its first season with a convincing double episode. It leaves the Diviner behind in agony, although my impression is that he will somehow return and continue to stir up trouble. And it foreshadows the things to come when it switches to Admiral Janeway on the USS Dauntless, who hopes to find not only the Protostar but also Chakotay.
- The fact that the Diviner came from the future offers new opportunities to explain why the Delta Quadrant is swarming with ships and species from the Alpha Quadrant. But I somehow doubt this will still happen.
- Admiral Janeway's USS Dauntless looks much like the ship from VOY: "Hope and Fear" on the outside and inside.
- We see a Tellarite on board the USS Dauntless, who has five fingers and otherwise looks different than Jankom Pog as well.
- The Dauntless, seriously? In VOY: "Hope and Fear", this ship was just a fake design created with particle synthesis by Arturis, and was not meant to be a replica of a real Starfleet ship. On the other hand, if we surmise Arturis may have had data about designs that were still on the drawing board at the time, it is plausible that we may encounter the actual Dauntless a couple of years later. I don't like the alternate explanation that Starfleet was inspired by the fake ship, even if it performed comparably well, because that would be silly. Also, I doubt that Voyager collected enough data for that.
- Why are the makers of modern Star Trek obsessed with uniforms and create a new style for every ship, every season, every occasion? Doesn't that defy the very purpose of a uniform?
- Remarkable quote: "The Diviner referred to Gwyn as his 'progeny.' An offspring. But that word says nothing about who she is, nor what she's capable of. In fact, you could look at any of these kids - I mean, crew - and dismiss them at first glance... Each of them has exceptional qualities that they've only just begun to discover. Each of them - a prodigy in the making." (Janeway)
- Remarkable facts:
- Solum, the home planet of the Vau N'Akat, will be destroyed in a civil war 50 years after first contact with Starfleet, according to the Diviner.
- The protostar drive core consists of an "exotic matter dilithium matrix".
- The stardate at the end of the second part is 61103.1, the first authentic one mentioned in the series.
- Remarkable title: "A Moral Star" is an anagram of Tars Lamora.
The crew of the Protostar is on an underwater mission to save an aquathawn, an endangered marine species, from hunters. Gwyn, who pilots the submarine, is unobservant for a moment because she has a vision of her father saying "it is a weapon", so they all end up in the mouth of the "whale". Janeway, however, manages to beam the aquathawn aboard, together with the submarine, and sets course for the relocation of the animal. The Protostar crew prepares for a visit of a Starfleet relay station to return the ship and ask for asylum. They are greeted by a lone Denobulan officer named Barniss Frex. The bioscanner doesn't recognize Gwyn, but when Dal walks through, an alert "Report to Starfleet Command" sounds. In the station's sickbay, Zero prepares a chamber for Gwyn to regain her lost memories. But as Frex transfers the collected data from the Protostar, the station goes haywire. Gwyn is locked in the chamber and can be freed in the nick of time. Things get worse as the phasers target the station itself. Frex takes the last escape pod and leaves the Protostar crew behind. They have no other choice but to take spacesuits and jump in the direction of the orbiting Protostar, with the help of quick calculations by Rok-Tahk. They narrowly miss the ship, but Janeway activates the tractor beam and pulls them in. Gwyn now remembers that her father constructed the ship to destroy the Federation. In the meantime, the real Janeway and her crew have arrived at Tars Lamora where they find the Diviner in stasis...
Prodigy is back after a very long mid-season break that effectively turns "Asylum" into the premiere of a new season. After the eventful and revealing two-parter "A Moral Star", we might have expected a rather calm episode to wrap up what has happened and to slowly consolidate the new situation. But "Asylum" is quite the opposite. Not only does it start with the action sequence of the "whale hunt", it then continues with nothing less than the crew's first official contact with Starfleet, which goes awry and becomes yet another over-the-top life-threatening situation, like there is one in almost every Prodigy episode so far. I'm not writing this in a disparaging sense but it is a quality that sets Prodigy apart from classic live-action Trek as well as from the other animated series, Lower Decks.
I like how the opening scene with the "whale" has many vibes of "Star Trek: The Voyage Home", and how it illustrates the crew's efforts to act in the spirit of Starfleet. When they actually encounter Starfleet in the form of a lonely lieutenant junior grade on a remote outpost, it could have been underwhelming. But for our heroes it is a moment of excitement, much like coming home after a long journey. For a while, "Asylum" feels like a new pilot episode that sets off the adventures of our young crew in Starfleet. But there is the threat of the Protostar being a weapon. My remark that almost every Prodigy story conjures up some sort of disaster wasn't meant as criticism of the very episode. In fact, I think that "Asylum" strikes a good balance between the joyful and the horrid aspects.
I am delighted that the "real" Janeway and Chakotay appear in this episode. I am confident that she will eventually find him and that he will be all right. But probably not after the Diviner has stirred up more trouble. The storyline of Prodigy remains captivating and unusually mature.
- Remarkable dialogues:
- "I'll have your hologram there to advise me." - "I told Starfleet that was the only way they'd get me back out there." (Chakotay and Janeway in the holographic flashback)
- "While I finish checking you in, please, make use of everything our fully automated comm station has to offer, and enjoy The Final Frontier." - "Why does he keep saying that?" (Frex and Zero)
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Oh, Brikar. I take it you wanna grow up and be a rock star." (Frex, to Rok-Tahk)
- "You know, on planet 'Earf', they call this cylindrical meat a hot dog. Food fit for a king." (Jankom Pog)
- Remarkable station: Relay Station CR-721 is a new design, but similar in its structure to the one from TNG: "Aquiel".
- Remarkable facts:
- Murf is a Mellanoid slime worm.
- The Protostar was christened with a bottle of Château Picard.
- For some reason, Barniss Frex wears a standard Starfleet Lt. JG rank pip plus a provisional one from Voyager.
- There are 196 branches of science, according to the computer on CR-721.
Let Sleeping Borg Lie
Stardate 61284.3: On the holodeck, Gwyn reconstructs the moment her father told her that there is a weapon on the Protostar, designed to make Starfleet ships turn against each other. Underneath a modified floor panel on the bridge, the crew discovers the sub-deck with the forcefield-protected weapon. When they run into a disabled Borg cube, Janeway recommends to warp away immediately, but Gwyn thinks they could have a solution how to disable the weapon. So the crew sets out to find the vinculum on the Borg ship. But in order to access it, one of them has to connect to the Collective. Zero volunteers. They try to convince the Borg that the weapon, which they call the "Living Construct", would endanger them as well, but the Borg just attempt to assimilate him. In the meantime, the drones are awake again and chase and capture the rest of the away team. Zero appears and wants to assimilate them, but Gwyn convinces the Medusan not to harm their actual collective. Zero disables the Borg and frees their crewmates. Unfortunately the Borg didn't know a way either to disable the weapon. So there is no other choice for the Protostar but to avoid any contact with the Federation. In the meantime, the Dauntless with Admiral Janeway arrives at CR-721. And the Diviner in sickbay regains his powers...
It was a no-brainer that our young crew would run into the Borg on their "Star Trek's Greatest Hits" tour, especially since they are traveling the Delta Quadrant anyway. "Let Sleeping Borg Lie" is not a smash hit, however. The episode does a good job to advance the storyline, with the crew learning about the weapon aboard the Protostar and eventually coming to the realization that it can't be removed or shut down, not even with the help of the Collective. It also strengthens the character relationships, especially as Zero and Gwyn are concerned. Other than that, it feels like all kinds of Borg-related facts and clichés were squeezed into a 20-minute episode. This is done with laudable attention to canon, but it doesn't make for a great story.
It all starts with the Protostar running into a disabled Borg cube, which is a very contrived coincidence. Everything that happens on the Borg ship in the following is just as we would expect. I like how the sleeping Borg create a creepy atmosphere. But there is the certainty that the drones would wake up and would want to assimilate everyone, which doesn't become more interesting only because it catches the inexperienced crew by surprise. And speaking of being contrived, this episode shows the slowest assimilation of crew members ever, as well as the fastest de-assimilation. Overall, big themes were incorporated without having sufficient impact. This episode may be simply too short to more than scratch the surface of the Borg lore, but I think even within the given time there could have been more about it.
I also have a few problems with understanding the nature of the weapon and with the idea that the sleeping Borg could know a way how to disable it. This adds to my impression that the story was not meant to be much more than an excuse to visit a Borg cube.
Despite my criticism of the casual handling of the Borg theme I think that "Let Sleeping Borg Lie" is an entertaining episode with funny lines especially by Jankom Pog. I love the visuals of the Borg cube! And although they don't accomplish what they were hoping for, I think the events on the Borg cube give the team spirit on the Protostar a boost. Prodigy is so strong on character development that one or two live-action Trek series could take a leaf out of its book.
- The Borg are likely disabled by the very neurolytic pathogen that future Admiral Janeway used in VOY: "Endgame".
- A Borg vinculum previously appeared in VOY: "Infinite Regress", there described as the device that would link the Borg together.
- The odds for a Borg cube to suddenly appear exactly in an interstellar flight path are zero. So why would the Protostar not only not take evasive maneuvers but even head for the enemy ship and stop ahead of it? It would have a lot more sense if the crew had decided to change course after long-range sensors picking up the Borg.
- In "Asylum", the relay station began to destroy itself as soon as the logs from the Protostar had been transferred. This clearly points to the weapon being software. Why would the crew search for hardware in the first place? What more could the "Living Construct" aboard the Protostar accomplish, except perhaps to protect the software against rewriting? I doubt that the hardware would need to be replicated on every ship or station that is infected with the virus.
- When the Janeway hologram mentions the ability of the Borg to adapt, Gwyn muses that they may find a way to disable the weapon. This makes sense, considering that they learn like a neural network, through trial and error. In the following, however, the idea is to find and access the vinculum, as if the Borg had already found a solution by simply investigating the "Living Construct", which they could normally only accomplish by actually fighting it. What's more, the Borg are still asleep at the time.
- Since when can the Borg assimilate a non-corporeal entity like a Medusan? Zero's struggle with them is visualized impressively but doesn't give away what the Borg would use if nanoprobes don't work.
- Why is Admiral Janeway horrified by the idea that Chakotay could be in any way responsible for the destruction of CR-721? Sure, a distress call or recovered sensor logs could have revealed the presence of the Protostar and no further details, but it should have mentioned to that end.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "No way Jankom flies in a box!" (Jankom Pog)
- "Oh great. The Borg never assimilated a turbolift?" (Jankom Pog)
- "Let's go. I've had enough Borg for two lifetimes." (Janeway hologram)
- Remarkable facts:
- Medusans are Species 802.
- Like her future self in VOY: "Endgame", Admiral Janeway drinks tea now (from Bodum cups just like on the Enterprise-D).
All the World's a Stage
Stardate 61296.9: On the Dauntless, Admiral Janeway talks to the Diviner, who does not seem to remember anything, except that his daughter was taken from him. Janeway thinks that whoever did that also stole the Protostar and destroyed the relay station. On the Protostar, every attempt to get rid of the weapon has failed. The crew decides to avoid contact with Starfleet and follow a distress call from a Class-M planet instead. After they have beamed down, Gwyn, Pog, Zero and Dal are greeted by two locals in what appears to be imitated attire of Starfleet, which they call "Starflight". They lead the away team to a mock-up of the USS Enterprise NCC-1701, where their people, the "Enderprizians", re-enact the adventures of the classic ship's crew. Some of them are plagued by a disease they call the "gallows", and Dal gets infected as well. While Gwyn, Pog and Rok-Tahk approach the cave that appears to be the origin of the "gallows", Zero stays with Dal. In the cave, "gallows" turns out to be a corruption of "Galileo". The shuttle of that name is leaking plasma. With this information, Zero manages to synthesize an antidote. Dal and the Enderprizians are saved. As the away team is about to fall down a cliff together with the shuttle that they try to secure, a crew is needed to take the Protostar down and rescue them. Dal enlists the help of the Enderprizians, who are familiar with Starfleet controls, at least as these looked a hundred years ago. The away team can be beamed off the falling shuttle. It turns out that Ensign Garrovick crashed with the Galileo in the 2260's, tried to avert harm from the local population and was saved by them. Back on the Protostar, Rok-Tahk discovers that Murf is undergoing a metamorphosis.
After "Kobayashi" in the first half-season, Prodigy gets totally self-referential for a second time in "All the World's a Stage". The sets and other styles from TOS are omnipresent in this episode. Crew members of the original Enterprise get namedropped all the time. This could have become unbearable, but fortunately the referencing happens through the lens of the local population. Rather than giving an accurate (and accordingly boring) historical account, the "Enderprizians" re-enact the adventures of Captain Kirk and his crew without really knowing what they are doing. Rather than being professional, they act like fans - like the Thermians in "Galaxy Quest". The story is wonderful as a parody on classic episodes such as TOS: "A Piece of the Action" or TOS: "Pattern of Force", in which aliens based their whole societies on something created by humans. It also brings to mind VOY: "Live Fast and Prosper", in which con artists posed as Starfleet officers and didn't get the details quite right. What's more, the idea of turning the adventures of a Starfleet character into a stage play previously showed up in VOY: "Muse". Regarding the corrupted name along the lines of "V'ger", LOW: "Crisis Point 2: Paradoxus" unfortunately beat this episode to it. So "All the World's a Stage" is in very good company and brings back fond memories aside from the in-your-face references to the Enterprise sets and crew.
I also like how the fact that the "Enderprizians" just play Starfleet without really knowing it serves as an analogy for the Protostar crew's own situation, and how Dal recognizes and wryly comments on that.
Maybe a Prodigy review is not the right place for a comment (or rant?) on a phenomenon that concerns all modern-day Star Trek series. I am the last person on this planet who would want to go back to the time in which Discovery defied the canon. Yet, the more recent shows increasingly include references to legacy Trek, as a seal of approval but also as a vehicle to keep the fans engaged. In many reviews I read I get the impression that the quality of Lower Decks episodes should be measured in units of "classic Trek references per minute". In Strange New Worlds, according to fan discussions, it seems to matter most of all which (reimagined) legacy characters will show up. Regarding Picard, parts of the fanbase took it for granted that familiar ship names and old villains would reappear in season 3, and the trailer promises just that. I don't mean to say that the fans shouldn't get what they want, but isn't the recipe of endless circles of self-referencing exhausted by now, even if it happens in the form of a good story (like in "All the World's a Stage")? Shouldn't modern Star Trek finally emancipate itself?
As already mentioned, I really love the idea of the "Enderprizians" playing Starfleet. This is arguably funnier than their impersonation of the very crew from the original Enterprise, which is quite contrived. "James'T"'s overacting is hilarious, but in my view doesn't justify why it couldn't have been any other ship and any other crew.
As for the result of the virally announced Metamurphosis, I don't want to join the speculation game. We will probably know next week.
- Ensign Garrovick famously appeared in TOS: "Obsession".
- While everything else looks like it should or is close to the original from TOS, the nacelles of the "New Enderprize" curiously look like those of the Kelvin Timeline ship.
- Nitpicking: I take it that the Enderprizians just had contact with Garrovick, who crashed down with the shuttle, warned them of the leaking plasma and promised that one day Starfleet would come and remove that danger from their planet. He may have brought recordings with him and he may have told some stories, but that could hardly explain that the Enderprizians would recreate the Enterprise bridge they never saw and act like Enterprise officers they never met. Much less would they know which buttons to press on their console mock-ups. Sure, this is meant to be a tongue-in-cheek reference to stories from TOS: "A Piece of the Action" to "Galaxy Quest", and to fan films in general. But it would have made a lot more sense if these people had actually been to the Enterprise and had met Kirk and his crew.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "It's a Starflight landing party. They've finally arrived. I am James'T. This is Sool'U." (James'T)
- "These people are living a lie and don't even know it. Just like us." (Dal)
- "Live logs and proper." (various Enderprizians, while not holding the finger quite right)
- "This is Ensign Garrovick of the USS Enterprise. This'll be my final call to Starfleet. Hoping you'll come, though I've long given up that anyone'll hear it. Hope's a funny thing, isn't it? I tried to do my duty, salvaged what I could from the wreck, went to save the locals from the danger. Shields up. Before I fell to my injuries. But then, they welcomed me, healed me, gave me hope when I had none. In the end, they were the ones who saved me." (Garrovick's final log entry)
Stardate 61302.7: The USS Dauntless is going to pick up Barniss Frex, the survivor of the relay station. The Diviner tells Admiral Janeway and Ensign Asencia that he remembers his daughter's name - Gwyndala. Meanwhile, Dal and his crew have decided to stash the Protostar and contact Starfleet, to report that a dangerous weapon is aboard. After hiding the ship in snow, they head for the Denaxi Depot to find a ride. They run into freighter captain Okona, but the Xindi Insectoid security appears to arrest him for smuggling. In the interim, the Dauntless has arrived at the outpost as well. Gwyn encounters Asencia, but runs away after learning that her father is aboard the Starfleet vessel. Dal talks to Janeway, but hides after spotting Barniss Frex. The Denobulan describes the alleged saboteurs to Janeway, who orders the station's security to close all exits. The Protostar crew steal a hover vehicle but are pursued by the Xindi-Reptilians. Zero opens a cargo crate and spots Okona, who provides chlorine trifluoride fuel that gives the vehicle an extra boost to outrun the pursuers. They arrive at the Protostar and take off, with the Dauntless on their heels. Dal knows he can't answer Admiral Janeway's calls because that would activate the weapon. In the meantime, Murf, who has grown limbs, has hatched. He inadvertently launches a torpedo in the direction of the Dauntless. Janeway responds by firing on the Protostar, disabling the protostar drive. Against the advice of the Janeway hologram, Dal decides to enter the nearby Romulan Neutral Zone. As the Dauntless is at the edge of the zone, Romulan warbirds appear and warn the Starfleet ship not to proceed...
I like the underlying idea of "Crossroads" that the attempt to hide the Protostar from Starfleet has just the opposite effect and that our heroes' encounters with Janeway and her crew are a run of misfortune. Yet, I am not so happy with how this was developed into a story. There are too many unlikely coincidences that first lead someone from the Protostar to meet a Starfleet officer, only for communication to fail for petty reasons. It starts with Rok-Tahk. She runs around and does not even recognize the Andorian in Starfleet uniform who is passing by. Perhaps Pog has better luck? He encounters the Tellarite doctor of the Dauntless, but instead of establishing contact the two start arguing (which I think is unbecoming of Dr. Noum as a Starfleet officer). And Gwyn? Well, her reaction to run away after learning that her father is aboard a Starfleet ship is perhaps understandable. But Dal must get it right. No, although he should have had the guts not to follow his instinct and should have trusted in the judgment of the real Janeway just like he would listen to the hologram. It is formulaic and contrived how all these encounters go wrong only because no one talks about what is important to them.
Other than that, the episode has a fast pace and comes with a good deal of action, which makes up to some extent for the farcical part of the Protostar crew not speaking to Starfleet when they have the chance.
The outpost design and the ground vehicles are great, although it is all rather reminiscent of Star Wars. Despite my complaints about the series being bad at galactic cartography, I appreciate the return of the Xindi-Reptilians. And although I doubt we would encounter Okona's old freighter so far out in space, his scenes are among the funnier ones of the episode. I admit I broke out in laughter when his head popped out from that cargo crate. The scene in which Murf accidentally fires the photon torpedo, on the other hand, is rather cringe than fun.
Something I noticed is that Kate Mulgrew as the "real" Admiral Janeway speaks with more gravitas and sounds more stilted than her hologram. This is likely done on purpose, perhaps to create the impression of the admiral being older and more senior.
"Crossroads" feels like an episode whose being pivotal was narrowly but successfully averted with several plot contrivances. Put simply, the show must go on. The episode ends with a cliffhanger that feels hackneyed but that opens up interesting story opportunities in familiar regions of space. But it is also possible that the ships will return to the Delta Quadrant soon, as distances don't seem to matter in this series.
- Okona famously appeared in TNG: "The Outrageous Okona" and also in a cameo in LOW: "An Embarrassment of Dooplers".
- Okona still has the Erstwhile in "Crossroads" (although we may have to wonder how the ship could travel so far at Warp 4 and although it looks a lot smaller here). We can see the landing gear of a vessel of this type for the first time.
- We last saw the Xindi in season 3 of Enterprise.
- The Dauntless is pure fan service and doesn't make sense in-universe. We may argue that Starfleet indeed worked on a quantum slipstream drive and in VOY: "Hope and Fear" Arturis just pretended it was already finished. But the fact that the real Dauntless is a lot bigger than his fake (which was about the same size as the Protostar) casts doubt on the theory that he may have built it according to existing plans.
- Prodigy sucked at galactic geography from the start. Although the series is set in the depths of the Delta Quadrant, we encounter species from the Alpha Quadrant all the time. It is a stretch that Tellarites, Medusans, Brikar, Caitians, Ferengi, Klingons, Xindi-Reptilians, Orions and a couple more are roaming the Delta Quadrant, especially since it is only a few years after Voyager's return and many are established to have been in the region for a long time. We may only exempt the Protostar and the Dauntless with their advanced drive technologies, which might allow these ships to cross the distance between Tars Lamora and the Romulan Neutral Zone in a couple of weeks. It makes some sense to meet familiar aliens at the Denaxi Depot, which may be located close to the Beta Quadrant. Paradoxically, however, the only familiar indigenous Delta Quadrant species (besides the Borg) we ever see are the Kazon. Despite their low technology and slow ships, they appear on both extreme ends of the journey (Tars Lamora and Denaxi Depot). Actually, if it were not for the Kazon, we could even pretend the whole series takes place near the Romulan Empire and thereby solve most of the issues with intragalactic distances.
- After the warbirds have stopped just ahead of the Dauntless, the Romulan Commander says: "You are close to entering the Neutral Zone. That would be an act of war." In other words, the Romulans themselves have already crossed the whole zone and thereby committed an act of war!
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Whether you're gone for three days or three years, with my systems shut down, it'll go by in a nanosecond." (Janeway hologram)
- "Let's burn some ions!" (Dal)
Stardate not given: After escaping the Dauntless by entering the Neutral Zone, the Protostar docks at the non-aligned science station Noble Isle for repairs. Before Dal, Gwyn, Rok-Tahk and Murf take the elevator down to the surface together with Okona, Admiral Janeway warns them that the promise of cutting-edge science at Noble Isle implies that it is unregulated. As they arrive, Dr. Jago, a genetic scientist, already awaits them because Okona was to supply her with substances that are banned in the Federation (which he misplaced, of course). Dal draws her attention. After a DNA analysis she tells him that he is the result of a genetic experiment, essentially human but augmented with genes of 26 other species based on the research of Dr. Arik Soong. Dal is sad to learn that his life started in a Petri dish. Jago proposes to supply him with a dermal implant to activate the dormant genes in his body. After initially declining, he returns to undergo the procedure. In the meantime, the Romulans have arrived and have overwhelmed the crew still aboard the Protostar. But they need the captain's access codes to take over the ship. When they surround the away team on the surface, Dal's new abilities kick in, and he and his friends can escape. Okona, on the other hand, prefers to grasp the opportunity and abandon them. As they are in the elevator up to the ship, the Romulans attack again. Now it is Murf who saves his friends, whereas Dal bemoans his decision to get genetically improved. Asencia has been listening to Romulan communications on Janeway's orders. Given the imminent capture of the Protostar by the Romulans, the Admiral sees no other choice but to fire microtorpedoes to destroy the ship. She issues the order to abort in the nick of time, after learning that the crew of the Protostar has escaped their pursuers. Zero and Rok-Tahk successfully remove the implant and return Dal to normal. Meanwhile on the Dauntless, Asencia activates Drednok, who was hidden aboard, and reveals her true identity to the Diviner: She is from Solum and too was sent to the past to save their people.
The arguably best part of this episode is the revelation of Dal's origin, at least as his genetic composition is concerned, and his immediate reaction. Dal is not an exotic alien with a heritage he would be proud of, but "an unremarkable humanoid specimen, mostly likely homo sapiens" for the most part. What's more, he was most likely created in a Petri dish and does not have real parents. Rok-Tahk tries to comfort him that it is cool to be unique, but Dal wants to belong to a family, something that, at least in this moment, he doesn't see in his friends. His decision to have Dr. Jago activate the dormant genes is an act of defiance. He learns that he was never supposed to be normal, and he swiftly decides to go the whole way and become whatever his creator had in mind, who according to Dr. Jago did "sloppy work". In the end, he learns that the better Dal is not the one with all kinds of improvements but the one who accepts himself and is valued by his friends. This part of "Masquerade" resonates with me. And although his being mostly human adds to the plausibility problem of the series that all kinds of Alpha Quadrant species ended up on Tars Lamora deep in the Delta Quadrant and although many Trek fans are tired of the notorious Soong family being responsible for just everything, it makes sense in the context of the series.
The revelation about Dal and its consequences are handled better than in "First Con-tact", the clearly weakest episode of the series so far. Still, I would have appreciated if his being genetically modified had not been used as an excuse for him to become some sort of Hulk. Actually, after Dal rejoined his friends I suspected for some time that Dal was more confident and more empathic because of a placebo effect. I imagined that Dr. Jago deliberately hadn't implanted a functional device or that she was a charlatan anyway. I would have liked such a resolution better than Dal actually becoming a superhero - even more so as essentially the same happens with Murf later in the same episode!
I am also a bit disappointed that "Masquerade" is not at all as "science-y" as Rok-Tahk makes us expect in the beginning. Sure, this is a kids' show. But after a great start as our friends enter the lab, the science in this episode becomes quite immature compared to the once shown in "Time Amok", for instance.
Overall, "Masquerade" has a lot in common with last week's "Crossroads". Both episodes give the storyline a boost, beginning with a wholly new situation for the crew and ending with a cliffhanger. After a very promising start, both are rather uninteresting and repetitive in the way the young heroes stumble through the adventure. Both feature chase scenes in a beautifully crafted if somewhat generic sci-fi environment. And in both episodes, the humor relies too much on awkward misunderstandings. (It is funny how Jago approaches the "specimen" and everyone thinks she means Murf. It is cringey when the Romulans mistake Okona for the captain, but then listen to Dal's protests.) Finally, even though I know it is an unpopular opinion, I have to say that the new Murf is a constant nuisance.
- Is Noble Isle located in the Neutral Zone? It seems so because Dal says they are hiding in the Neutral Zone and the Dauntless still waits outside, even as the Protostar has been located. Last week, we learned that the Romulans enter the Neutral Zone as they like without Starfleet even protesting, which happens once again in "Masquerade". And the Romulans would apparently allow everyone in, unless the ship has an NCC number?
- The Janeway hologram tells Dal: "There's a reason Starfleet has laws about scientific experimentation. If it's too good to be true, it probably is." It's the first time that it occurred to me, but the proverb makes no sense. If anything, it should be "...it probably isn't [true]".
- Dr. Arik Soong is technically not "a geneticist who defected from the Federation." He was imprisoned and escaped a couple of years before the Federation existed, as seen in ENT: "Borderland", "Cold Station 12" and "The Augments". The defection may refer to a time still later in his life.
- I know it is done for dramatic license, but Janeway gives the order to abort as the microtorpedoes are already in visual range.
- The series will have a hard time to explain to me how Asencia aka the female Vau N'Akat could infiltrate Starfleet, hide Drednok and, as an ensign, gain Admiral Janeway's full trust - only to miss out on a few excellent chances to get hold of the Protostar. But I don't even have to go back to previous episodes for her actions to make no sense. In fact, still in "Masquerade" Janeway orders Asencia to listen to Romulan channels, which would have been a perfect opportunity to come up with a deception. But her unwisely truthful report on the Romulans trying to take over the ship only leads the admiral to the decision to destroy it.
- Remarkable quote: "It appears they began with a sample of an unremarkable humanoid specimen, mostly likely homo sapiens." (Jago, about Dal)
- Remarkable weapons: The Romulan commander holds a double-barreled weapon that was previously seen on Star Trek Picard. The massive rifle type carried by the other Romulans also appeared on PIC.
- Remarkable appearance: Ronny Cox gets it done as Admiral Jellico.
Stardate not given: As the crew are repairing the Protostar's propulsion systems to be able to leave the Neutral Zone, Dal is depressed that he is just a failed genetic experiment. Gwyn notes that she is not better off, with a father who hunts her. But they wonder about the backstories of the other crew members. Rok-Tahk says she was "The Monster", an attraction in staged fights against "The Hero". One day, she didn't like being tossed around any longer and turned the tables. But the fans didn't want to see the monster win, and so she was handed over to the Kazon. Zero was on a Medusan ship and was exploring a planet, when they were separated from the rest of the landing party, ran into a trap set up by the Kazon and were sold to the Diviner. Jankom Pog was a on an old sleeper ship on a deep-space mission. He woke up prematurely and had to fix the damaged ship. After finishing the seemingly endless repairs, the robot supervising the ship refused to put him to sleep again, so he ejected himself in an escape pod. Unfortunately the Kazon came along and picked him up. On the Dauntless, the female Vau N'Akat aka Asencia identifies herself as the Vindicator. She successfully refreshes the Diviner's memory about their mission. Many years into the future, a Starfleet vessel arrives at their home planet Solum. The inhabitants are so divided over this new contact that a civil war destroys their civilization. When the Protostar arrives from a wormhole still a few decades later, having traveled forward in time, they capture the ship, equip it with the last remaining construct and intend to go back in time to destroy the Federation before first contact can take place. But Chakotay manages to launch the ship into the wormhole without a crew. The Vau N'Akat follow with a hundred ships, each with just one crew member and one Drednok, in the hope of finding the Protostar somewhere and some time in the past. Few of them survive the passage as the wormhole collapses. Admiral Janeway is still not aware of Asencia's true identity. But she notices the similarity between Gwyn and her guest and suspects that he may be the ominous Diviner that put a bounty on her. When she enters Asencia's quarters, the Diviner knocks her unconscious.
We already learned a lot about Gwyn and Dal, albeit only bit by bit, whereas it was a mystery so far how the other crew members (all of whom are Alpha Quadrant species) ended up on Tars Lamora. "Preludes" is an all-in-one backstory episode that satisfies our curiosity in this regard. What's more, it also explains how the Vau N'Akat got their hands on the USS Protostar and how they eventually lost control of the ship. I appreciate very much how Prodigy slows down after five action-loaded episodes in a row. "Preludes" is not among the most exciting episodes of the series, but it is the most revealing and perhaps the most rewarding so far. Maybe this is all a bit formulaic in the way everyone has a heartbreaking origin story and feels compelled to tell it. But I really like how it all comes together, despite a few new plausibility issues.
Not all of the various origin stories are equally compelling. The way it is shown, it is rather whimsical than tragic how "The Monster" Rok-Tahk and "Jankom Pog can fix it" try to escape from their miserable lives and eventually end up as prisoners. Although this is an animated kids' show that strives to maintain a level of comedy despite all hardships, perhaps it could have been a chance to remain serious for more than just a moment. The slapstick scenes in both stories are only mildly funny anyway. Zero's backstory works better for me, although or just because they are a non-corporeal lifeform that wouldn't talk in their natural form. No one in this recount speaks a word, and still we get the whole tragedy of Zero being ripped away from the fellow Medusans.
In a way, we could say the same about what the Vindicator aka Asencia tells us about the destruction of Solum in the future and her lonely mission. But I am skeptical because of the gaps in her story and the stylized visualization. It insinuates that she unjustly blames Starfleet for a disaster that may have just been caused by the hybris of her own people. While the revelations about Rok-Tahk, Jankom Pog and Zero are apparently concluded for now, the part about the Vindicator and the Diviner likely still bears many surprises, both in the present and in the future (which is their past).
"Preludes" is an unusual Prodigy episode that successfully demonstrates that the series does not need to show action scenes every week (although there is some action in the flashbacks). I'm not totally happy with how some of the backstories are told, but overall quite content for getting many of the lingering questions answered. Also, despite the focus on the past (or on the future, in case of the Vau N'Akat), the episode does a lot in terms of keeping the storyline interesting. So Chakotay is stranded in the future? Oh my...
- For Jankom Pog it makes sense to end up in the Delta Quadrant while on an old (22nd century) sleeper ship. In Zero's case the geography question "How did a Medusan end up in the Delta Quadrant?" is explicitly posed, and it seems they too were on a long-term mission on an obviously outdated ship. This leaves the issue with Rok-Tahk, who performed as "The Monster" in an unspecified place where (like a few times before in the series) Kazon meet Klingons, humans, Caitians and Bolians. Well, perhaps rather than Rok-Tahk, the Kazon are the problem. We know that they are a species with low tech and slow ships, and yet they appear everywhere in the Delta Quadrant, as traders or as slavers who capture new "orphans" for the Diviner.
- Bearing the above in mind, it makes sense for the Medusan ship to be as old as it looks. But for some reason, big ships in recent Trek series are always capable of hovering and landing, which doesn't make sense, especially if they are from the 23rd century.
- The Prometheus class that makes first contact with Solum is further proof of the phenomenon because it hovers above the surface (which may be an inaccuracy in the very stylized recount though). It is also upside down.
- As the Vindicator says "Until decades later, the sky tore open and hope returned", we see another Prometheus-class ship above the planet (upside down yet again), and not the Protostar that the Diviner mentions three seconds later to have appeared from the wormhole. The look of the ship seems too specific to be another inaccuracy we may ignore.
- Hairy Bolian alert!
- Remarkable dialogue: "But tell me, why did she betray us?" - "She met a boy." (Vindicator and Diviner)
- Remarkable music: Janeway listens to Frédéric Chopin's Prelude No. 4 in E minor, Op. 28, which is fitting regarding the title and the topic of the episode. The same piece was played in TNG: "The Masterpiece Society".
- Remarkable ships:
- A Prometheus-class ship appears in the sky to establish first contact with Solum.
- Jankom Pog's ship is an old Tellarite design from the 22nd century as seen on Enterprise (that previously appeared as an Arkonian ship and as a Xindi-Arboreal ship).
- The Medusan ship looks like the exact design that was created for TOS-R: "Is There in Truth No Beauty?"
Ghost in the Machine
Stardate not given: The crew of the Protostar runs simulations on how to escape from the Neutral Zone without getting in contact with Starfleet. But each time the outcome is that the Living Construct aboard the ship successfully activates. Gwyn expresses doubts about the goal to join Starfleet. Jankom Pog successfully comforts his crewmates by replicating lots of ice cream. As Dal is taking a rest, a holographic creature from Rok-Tahk's "Delta Heart Magical Veterinarian" program appears in the corridor. In fact, the crew is still on the holodeck, and voice commands are deactivated. They proceed to a lighthouse, which belongs to Zero's "Cellar Door Society" program, where they receive the task to search for the "skeleton key". Zero says that usually after solving the case the arch appears automatically. After leaving the room, they find themselves in a street where they face a Tellarite biker gang (all with the face of Dr. Noum from the Dauntless) that was created by Pog. Also, the safety protocols are turned off. Dal contacts Janeway and gives her his command codes to turn them on again. One of the Tellarites has a tattoo of a key with the word "Keyclub", which brings them to an old night club scenario that was surprisingly created by Murf. Gwyn is shocked to see that the bartender is modeled after her father. Rok-Tahk notices that the piano is missing a key, upon which the crew arrive in Dal's pirate scenario. A sea monster attacking the ship turns out to be another creature from Rok-Tahk's program and can be pacified with food. Zero now doubts that there is actually a key. They think the crew has been trapped in an endless scenario, where each clue just leads to the next one. This can't be a malfunction, but someone must have specifically set it up. They refuse to play on and find themselves in the empty holodeck. Janeway appears and says she is sorry. After Gwyn said they shouldn't join Starfleet, the Living Construct used a hidden security protocol to manipulate Janeway, to keep the crew busy, get the command codes and head for the Dauntless...
The stakes are high at this point of the series, as the crew of the Protostar prepares to escape from the Neutral Zone while avoiding contact with Starfleet at any rate. I really like how (after their failed simulated attempt #86) they manage to forget their sorrows for a moment with big bowls of ice cream and thereby strengthen their friendship. It doesn't feel like the right time for a filler episode about a standard situation such as a hologram malfunction that would distract even more from the actual mission. Yet, Prodigy pulls off a fun story that further fleshes out the characters of our young crew, that makes more sense than a couple of similar scenarios in live-action Trek and that still turns out to be a part of the bigger picture in the end. "Ghost in the Machine" leaves me content, but overall it could have been more interesting.
I think the episode lacks an arc of suspense. Only the very beginning and the very end are exciting, whereas everything in between is a bit like paint by numbers, like a walkthrough video of a whimsical adventure game, as the crew are following one clue to find another. As I mentioned, this episode strongly involves the characters with their different mindsets and particular skills, but is also a bit predictable in this regard. Well, with the obvious exception of Murf, whose hobby to sing (or lipsync) in an old Earth night club is so absurd that I don't want to care about it.
Considering that Admiral Janeway was knocked unconscious by the Diviner last week, it is disappointing that "Ghost in the Machine" takes a break from switching to the Dauntless. This week's cliffhanger is that the Protostar faces the Dauntless (again), so I hope that it will pay off next week that we don't know yet what has happened to Admiral Janeway in the meantime.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "This does make me feel a lot better, but what sort of lunatic would whip cream?" (Gwyn)
- "So what dorky task do we have to do? Return an overdue library book?" (Dal, in the "Cellar Door Society" program)
- "If we don't find that key pronto, we're gonna be hugged to death." (Pog, about the "sparkle sea-hugger")
- Remarkable technology: This may be the first time that the "treadmill" effect as explained in the TNGTM is explicitly mentioned in an episode. Gwyn wonders: "If we're all stuck in one room, how is Zero all the way over there?" Rok-Tahk says: "Motion floor tracking, visual horizon manipulation. A holodeck tricks the mind to create any scenario."
Stardate not given: The Dauntless crew notices the sudden appearance of the Protostar, but no one can contact Admiral Janeway. She is unconscious, while the Vindicator resumes her role as the Starfleet officer Asencia and returns to the bridge. The Protostar goes to warp again, upon which Commander Tysees gives the order to follow and to merge the warp fields, so there would be no escape. When the Dauntless begins to fire, Dal attempts to form a telepathic link with Admiral Janeway, with the help of Zero. The unexpected effect is that the two switch bodies. Dal wakes up as "Admiral Janeway" on the Dauntless. He struggles to play the role and raises suspicion among the crew. Janeway, on the other hand, finds herself in Dal's body on the Protostar. She learns the reason why the crew runs away and never answers her hails. There is no way she could disable the Living Construct, but she manages to restore the hologram that was modeled after her. Zero muses that the phaser beam created a direct link between Dal and Janeway, which led to the body switch. In order to create a similar situation, they suggest a spacewalk so Dal and Janeway can touch each other again. By means of charades, the crew of the Protostar communicate this plan to Dal, who is watching them from a window on the Dauntless. Dr. Noum has Janeway aka Dal fastened to a biobed in sickbay, but the Diviner releases him, saying that he owes her his life but that he would still pursue his plan. In the warp bubble between the two ships, Dal-Janeway and Janeway-Dal try to touch each other, with Murf serving as a "bungee cord". But the distance is too great. Janeway in Dal's body takes a phaser and fires, thereby creating the required connection and reverting the change. As the Protostar arrives in Federation territory and is welcomed by a whole fleet, Admiral Janeway wakes up in her body, but she is in the brig of her ship...
I think it is a good idea for the story of Admiral Janeway on the Dauntless to be resumed at a time just after we last saw her in "Preludes", even though this means that the chronological order of events is a bit jumbled now. Yet, the fact that "Mindwalk" takes place immediately after "Preludes" makes "Ghost in the Machine" look even more like a filler episode.
Stories about body/gender switching have to be considered a tightrope walk. Earlier this year, "Spock Amok" was on the verge of becoming unintentionally funny. Although I didn't end up loving it, the SNW episode managed to stay in balance because of the great performances and also because the jokes were not played out to the fullest possible extent. The story of "Mindwalk", on the other hand, does not shy away from being slapstick. And I have to concede that the initial silliness (especially of Dal being just awkward in Janeway's body) makes way for a story that we still can take seriously.
Although it is overdone at the beginning, I admit I had to pause and laugh a couple of times when Dal in Janeway's body behaved like a jerk. Vice versa, the real Janeway with Dal's appearance acts with dignity as always. I bet that Kate Mulgrew and Brett Gray had a lot of fun playing one another's parts. I also think that the animation does a great job switching the two characters. A slight complaint, however, is that Dal with Janeway's mind suddenly looks like Janeway when talking to the hologram modeled after her. If the creators of the series are so eager to bring the two together face to face, there could have been better ways than just "cheating" like that.
Although the body swap is handled better than I anticipated, I think that "Mindwalk" is just an average episode. It is mindless fun, although there could have been more to it. It focuses on Dal and Janeway without being as revealing as it could have been. The only lasting effect is that Janeway now knows why the kids wouldn't want to contact her. But even this new information doesn't change a lot. In fact, "Mindwalk" ends with essentially the same situation that it began with: The Protostar runs into Starfleet ships, with the Living Construct about to destroy them all, while Janeway is incapacitated. What's more, seeing a superhero spacewalk every few episodes in modern Trek is becoming tiresome. Also, in this case it sort of defies the title of the episode.
- What happened to sensors? It looks like the presence of the Protostar is only detected on the Dauntless because Dr. Noum spots the ship from his window. Someone else may have picked the other ship on the sensors, but Commander Tysees only calls Janeway and goes to red alert when Noum appears on the bridge.
- If no one was aware the Protostar was approaching, why was the Dauntless motionless in open space in the first place?
- Why does the Protostar go to warp again, just after the Living Construct has taken the ship to the immediate vicinity of the Dauntless? Why does the ship suddenly incorporate an intelligence (in addition to the more or less incapacitated Janeway hologram) that would try to resist the Living Construct and act without being ordered so?
- We could see two ships merge their warp fields and a spacedive from one to the other in ENT: "Divergence".
- This is the first explicit mention of Janeway (and Paris) being salamanders, as it infamously happened in VOY: "Threshold".
- The fact that Starfleet wouldn't allow augments to join was first addressed in DS9: "Dr. Bashir, I Presume?" and lately in SNW: "Ghosts of Illyria".
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Hello, Starfleet person." (Dal, in Janeway's body)
- "You, antennas, you're in charge." (Dal, in Janeway's body, to Commander Tysees)
- "Uh, Jankom is pretty sure those are the only letters Dal learned." (Pog, about Dal's morse signal)
- Remarkable starships: The fleet that welcomes the Protostar consists of familiar classes such as Sovereign, Akira, Centaur type and Defiant.
Stardate not given: While the crew of the Protostar is struggling to regain control of the ship, Asencia aka the Vindicator, with the backing of Admiral Jellico, opens fire. Her intention is to break through the shields and beam over, to ensure that the Protostar opens a channel and the Living Construct gets activated. Rather than repairing the protostar drive, the priority for the young crew now is to boost the shields. On the Dauntless, Admiral Janeway convinces a member or her crew, a Brenari refugee whom she once rescued from the Devore, to release her from the brig. But she is too late. The Diviner, the Vindicator and the Drednok have already beamed over. While the Drednok disables the crew one by one, the other two proceed to the bridge. The Vindicator, however, locks up the Diviner in the weapons room because she suspects he is not ready to complete the mission. A fight with Gwyn ensues. As the Diviner escapes from his prison, the Vindicator kills him and activates the weapon. The ships of the fleet begin to fire at each other. The Vindicator escapes, encased in the Drednok. There is no way of stopping the ongoing destruction of Starfleet. But it could be slowed down, if ships without a Starfleet signature came to take the fire. As the universal translator is offline, it is up to language talent Gwyn to call allies for help. After a while, a Klingon Bird-of-Prey and other alien ships arrive - but also backup from Starfleet. There is only one way to end the annihilation: The Protostar must be destroyed. It would be possible to detonate the engine core, but that would destroy the whole star system. Rok-Tahk suggests to spread the explosion by simultaneously activating the protostar drive. The crew could replicate a shuttle and escape, but one person would have to stay aboard to detonate the core. The Janeway hologram volunteers, and promises to create a backup of herself. When she hands over a isolinear chip to Dal, she doesn't tell him that the memory capacity was insufficient. Dal, Gwyn, Rok-Tahk, Jankom, Zero and Murf leave the ship in the shuttle, while Janeway blows up the ship according to plan. Without the Living Construct controlling the Starfleet ships, the fighting stops. Admiral Janeway returns to Earth without being able to find the Protostar crew. At Starfleet Headquarters, an officer replays a message that was sent by Chakotay 52 years in the future and that arrived through a wormhole created by the Protostar when it exploded. Then news breaks of the arrival of the Protostar crew on Earth. Janeway successfully defends them against the charges, and they are accepted into Starfleet Academy - except for Gwyn, who is going to search for her homeworld. Janeway chooses to personally supervise the cadets and reveals a new Protostar-class ship to them.
The stakes are as high as never before in the series, as the Protostar runs into a large number of Starfleet ships, and just opening a comm channel could trigger the mutual destruction of the whole fleet. The two Vau N'Akat are only a push of a button away from achieving what they have been preparing for many years. They beam over to the Protostar to complete their mission. Whereas the Vindicator is totally determined to do whatever is necessary in her view, we can't be so sure about the Diviner. Ever since he was picked up by the Dauntless, we were given the impression that he may have become (or may always have been) a decent person on the inside. This so far culminated when he released Admiral Janeway in "Mindwalk" because she was kind to him. It remains unanswered whether the Diviner would have carried out his mission, had he been on his own. In any case, he wouldn't hurt Gwyndala, which the Vindicator correctly anticipates. The showdown between the three on the bridge is reminiscent of what happened on the Death Star in "Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi" in many ways, but the déjà-vu doesn't lower the emotional impact when the Diviner dies in Gwyn's arms.
We may have expected the activation of the weapon to be averted in some fashion, for the sake of a conciliatory ending. But the story does not shy away from moving up to this ultimate escalation level. The mutual destruction of the ships all around the Protostar is gruesome, and the crew of the Protostar is accordingly shocked and is about to despair. Kudos to the writers and actors for mastering this change of mood!
I have only two minor points of criticism about the first part. Firstly, it is repetitive that Janeway is once again freed by a person who is indebted to her. It is also disappointing that no one of her higher-ranking officers would trust the admiral. Secondly, the failure of the universal translator, which was meant to create total confusion as well as being a symbol of a disunited Starfleet, remains only a side note in the story, and the issue is resolved too quickly.
The second part begins with the Protostar crew debating if and how to destroy their ship in order to stop the mutual annihilation of Starfleet, and how to save themselves and the Janeway hologram. We may argue that the crew wastes precious time to discuss and prepare especially the latter, while thousands of people are dying all around them. Still, the sacrifice of the Janeway hologram doesn't leave me cold. And I think Rok-Tahk's idea to detonate the protostar core spread across space is really clever.
Until the weapon is finally destroyed, dozens of starships are lost and probably thousands of people have died. This is a disaster for Starfleet like Wolf 359. Also, many non-aligned races suffer losses while trying to save Starfleet, for which they may expect some sort of compensation or concessions. The story unfortunately ignores these facts. And it starts as soon as the ships stop firing at each other, and Admiral Janeway's very first thought is to find her young friends, rather than rescuing survivors from destroyed ships. Likewise, one month later on Earth, everything is back to normal, and Starfleet's main concern seems to be how to deal with the Protostar crew, rather than to rebuild the fleet. I don't mean to say that the story should have been more about Starfleet and less about Dal and his friends. But I think it is inappropriately sugarcoated. The happy ending of the season would have worked a lot better, had the losses of Starfleet been one or better two orders of magnitude smaller.
Summarizing, after an outstanding first part the second part is only average. Aside from my complaint about glossing over the disaster, the story isn't quite as exciting any more. The creatives essentially shot their bolt in the first part. All that is left to do for their characters is to carry out the plan to destroy the ship, followed by a perhaps unnecessarily long and verbose aftermath. Overall, the finale is not quite the best episode of the season in my view.
What is left to annotate is that this series boldly moves on and embraces changes, with Gwyn leaving for her homeworld, Zero getting a shiny new casing and the Janeway hologram essentially being replaced by the real Janeway. When Prodigy was announced with the words "a group of lawless teens discover a derelict Starfleet ship", I was concerned that they would just have wacky weekly adventures, without there being a real development. I am glad that my worries were unwarranted and that Prodigy may even be the most consequential new Trek show. In any case, it has become my second favorite of the bunch, behind Lower Decks.
- The telepathic Brenari refugees appeared in VOY: "Counterpoint".
- "Interspatial flexure" is technobabble that Torat used to describe what "laymen" would call a wormhole, also in VOY: "Counterpoint".
- One shuttle that rescues the Protostar crew has the registry NCC-74656-A.
- One of the cadets at the Academy is an Enderprizian from PRO: "All the World's a Stage". I only wonder why Starfleet wouldn't have give them a real uniform without those coarse seams.
- In a real space battle, the ships wouldn't be so close together, and the other vessels wouldn't miss the Protostar all the time. But this is traditional artistic license.
- Considering that everyone could see through the transparent bridge dome what was going on, Starfleet could have done, well, something to help Gwyn.
- So far the impression was created that the Living Construct was a piece of hardware needed to distribute the actual weapon, a computer virus. But now it seems that the Living Construct is in control all of the time, and ironically from a ship that itself is not under control any more.
- I doubt that the deflector and all lights on a starship have a "red" setting. In the case of the warp plasma, this is even physically impossible. Evil ships with red lighting are a thing in 2022 anyway. It started with the "Confederation" vessels in Picard and continued with the Texas class in Lower Decks. But in those cases the red lights were plausible.
- Janeway says Gwyn speaks "Standard" (the third mention of this obscure and implausible concept in recent Trek series).
- We should not take the names of the Starfleet ships in the battle at face value. It seems that all ships of a class have the same name and registry.
- Jankom Pog speaks of a "50 million mile" radius of destruction when the protocore blows up, rather than using kilometers.
- Just seconds after the "Insufficent memory" message appears on the screen, Dal enters and Janeway hands him the isolinear chip. There would have been no time for her to record the message that the crew later replays from the chip. On the other hand, since Janeway is just software, who says it would need to be recorded as actual audio in real time?
- Why doesn't the Protostar have a shuttle ready for launch, or escape pods? Why is it necessary to waste time to specify and build the shuttle with the vehicle replicator?
- Why isn't it possible to launch the shuttle in a controlled fashion and keep the shuttlebay under pressure, with a forcefield that according to DIS and SNW is common as soon as in the mid-23rd century?
- San Francisco and Starfleet Headquarters/Academy looks still different than in the various previous iterations of the late 24th century. Only the bizarre solar panels on the Golden Gate bridge are once again present.
- So the Protostar's explosion created a wormhole with much the same space-time coordinates as the one that originally made the ship travel to the future? This is a totally incredible coincidence, considering the huge number of variables involved. It may make some more sense only if variables were dominant that could be the same, for instance if the first wormhole had been created by the Protostar as well (rather than having an external origin).
- It is very hard to believe that the shuttle from the Protostar, which must be equipped with a normal warp drive, would arrive on Earth after a month without being detected by anyone and without making contact with anyone and that it would crash into the water right in front of Starfleet Headquarters. I know, this is supposed to be a homage to "Star Trek IV", but it makes no sense here.
- It is no big deal that the new Protostar is being built on the ground, after all the ship is small and is built for landing. But it is a stretch that this happens in the immediate vicinity of Starfleet Academy.
- Nitpick revision: Perhaps the Living Construct is smarter than I thought, by not trying to infect just the Dauntless but rather create a situation where multiple Starfleet ships would face each other.
- Remarkable quotes:
- "Jankom's not just an engineer. He's a miracle worker." (Jankom Pog)
- "But you're not just a hologram to us! You've got memories, a personality. You're our friend!" (Rok-Tahk)
- His name is Dal R'El. Is he genetically engineered? Yes. Was he enhanced in every way? Look at him. Of course not. But his heart is bigger than any in this room. I should know." (Admiral Janeway)
- Remarkable starships: There are several alien ship types, such as a Klingon Bird-of-Prey (with some detail changes), a Vulcan Sh'Ran type from Star Trek Enterprise, a Xhosa-type freighter, a Gorn ship from TOS-R: "Arena", a Ferengi D'Kora, even a Breen ship(!).
- Remarkable fact: Janeway says that Dal contains the DNA of 26 Federation member worlds, which in her view is the best example of what the alliance represents.