Star Trek: Prodigy Arrives at Mid-Season With Hope and Fear

So I legitimately thought that the tenth episode would be the season finale of Star Trek: Prodigy, especially since both Picard and Lower Decks have also had ten-episode seasons, and Strange New Worlds‘s seasons will also be ten episodes long.

And everything about the “A Moral Star” two-parter that aired last and this week feels like a season finale for Prodigy. But all of Paramount’s promo material says it’s the mid-season finale.

Whatever, any way you look at it, this first (half) season is shaping up beautifully, and I stand by my assertion in October of last year that Prodigy is the best of the new Trek series.

SPOILERS FOR THE FIRST TEN EPISODES OF STAR TREK: PRODIGY AHEAD!

The eight episodes that have aired since last we discussed Prodigy have done a lovely job of slowly providing revelations while also enabling the erstwhile unwanted to become a proper crew for the U.S.S. Protostar. Driven partly by fear of being caught by the Diviner, partly by a longing for the sanctuary that the Federation would provide, our heroes learn to work together and learn how the Protostar itself works.

The latter provides some fun bits, including watching the kids play with the transporter once they realize what it is in “First Con-Tact,” and also learning in “Terror Firma” that the second faster-than-light engine that I mistakenly thought was a slipstream drive is, instead, a completely different super-fast propulsion system, one that harnesses the energy of a protostar (hey, what a great name for a ship!). This explains why the ship is so far from the Federation, for starters. We also learn that her captain was Chakotay (with Robert Beltran returning to provide his voice)—but we still don’t know what happened to Captain Chakotay and his crew. All we know is that Drednok boarded the Protostar at some point, and then after that it was buried on Tars Lamora.

We do, at least, learn the Diviner’s mission in the two-part finale, and while the fan speculation that time travel is involved somehow has turned out to be accurate, it isn’t at all what I, at least, expected: The Diviner is from the future. First contact with the Federation resulted in a civil war that destroyed their homeworld, and the Diviner has traveled back in time to wipe out Starfleet before they can make that first contact, thus saving their world.

The Diviner specifically birthed Gwyn after he lost the Protostar because he feared that he might die before completing the mission and needed an heir—but he also didn’t share any of this with Gwyn until the tenth episode of the series. Gwyn goes from antagonistic toward Dal and the others—kept in the brig in “Starstruck,” and trying to steal the Protostar back in “Dream Catcher” and “Terror Firma”—to firmly being on their side, mostly because the Diviner chose retrieving the Protostar over her. But by keeping her from knowing the truth, the Diviner sowed the seeds of her betrayal, as Gwyn is not a bad person. She’s surprised to learn that the unwanted were slaves, not criminals, and she is utterly appalled by her father’s solution to their people’s genocide, which is to, basically, commit a different genocide.

Star Trek: Prodigy

Image: CBS

We also get some fun revelations about Dal, specifically who raised him: a Ferengi woman named Nandi, whom we meet in “First Con-Tact.” First of all, it gladdens my heart to see a story that is (apparently) eight years after Deep Space Nine ended that the reforms inspired by Ishka, implemented by Grand Nagus Zek, and continued by Grand Nagus Rom have stuck. Secondly, it just makes so much sense that the fast-talking, freewheeling Dal was raised by a Ferengi…

But that revelation comes with a price, as Dal learns that Nandi actually sold him to the Diviner. That comes right after “Kobayashi,” in which Dal played with the Kobayashi Maru scenario on the holodeck and was completely devastated by his inability to win the scenario, not realizing it’s designed to be no-win until after he’s lost it dozens and dozens of times.

The setup of the Maru scenario is nicely done, as well: participants can choose from anyone in history to crew their ship. The actual choices are more than a little self-indulgent, and is the only time in the series where nostalgia for old Trek supersedes Prodigy‘s remit of introducing new viewers. But it’s only one episode, and by using audio clips of Odo, Spock, Uhura, and Scotty, it serves to pay loving tribute to the ailing Nichelle Nichols, and the late Rene Auberjonois, Leonard Nimoy, and James Doohan—plus Gates McFadden came on to voice Crusher, making her the last of TNG’s “big seven” to reprise her role on another show.

Besides which, that plotline itself serves to further Dal’s very compelling arc. At first he gets everything he wants—to be free of Tars Lamora, to have a fancy-shmancy ship where he gets to be the boss—only to discover that being captain isn’t just about power, it’s about responsibility. That responsibility nearly crushes him, to the point that when the Protostar hits a tachyon storm that splits the vessel into different time tracks in “Time Amok,” Dal doesn’t even notice because he’s too busy sulking in his cabin.

While the Diviner’s plan is a pretty bog-standard use of time travel (Trek has dipped into the go-into-the-past-to-change-things well before, e.g., “Trials and Tribble-ations,” “Timeless,” “Relativity,” “Endgame,” First Contact), the use of temporal mechanics in “Time Amok” is magnificent. The story itself is reminiscent of a Farscape episode, “Through the Looking Glass,” with the ship fractured into sections that can’t speak to each other, but one character can move among them. The latter is the Janeway hologram, and the sections of the ship are all moving through time at different rates, from Jankom going very quickly (to the point where he barely has time to diagnose what’s wrong with the ship before it explodes) to Rok moving so slowly she has time to teach herself warp-field theory, mechanical engineering, and computer science. It provides a wonderful method of teaching the kids teamwork, even though they’re completely separated during all of it.

Star Trek: Prodigy

Image: CBS

I love every episode of the show so far, but “Time Amok” is a personal favorite for several reasons. One is the aforementioned nifty new take on time travel. Another is a clever use of the fox-chicken-corn riddle (I especially like that they don’t provide the solution to same, forcing the kids watching it to figure it out for themselves). Dal’s part in the story is to cobble together the part necessary with existing material on board, as the industrial replicator isn’t available—it’s right out of Apollo 13 (in fact, Janeway cites that particular crisis in Earth’s early space-travel days when instructing Dal). Any callback to that magnificent moment in both history and cinema is a winner in my book.

And I just adore the climax. Rok has been told that she has to construct the same part that Dal built. Dal had to piece it together because the replicator was being used to re-create Drednok. But by the time the slow-time Rok gets the assignment, Drednok has been blown out an airlock—along with Dal’s part. Now, though, Rok has access to the replicator so she can make it, and she also learns computers so she can restore the Janeway hologram (Drednok had deactivated it) because nobody told her what to do with the part once she made it. (Oops.)

Best of all is that Rok still has that knowledge. In “A Moral Star, Part 2,” they need to restart the engines on the Diviner’s ship (the Diviner himself having acquired the Protostar), and Jankom is completely bumfuzzled—but Rok has a brilliant technobabble solution at her fingertips.

“A Moral Star” is a fantastic climax to the half-season. The kids all put cadet uniforms on to symbolize their coming together, and immediately go and do the most Starfleet thing ever: they return to Tars Lamora, engage in a daring plan involving subterfuge and trickery with a very low chance of success, solely so they can rescue the rest of the unwanted from the Diviner’s clutches and also defeat him once and for all.

(Interestingly, while they do wear the cadet uniforms for their confrontation with the Diviner, once the bad guy is defeated, they go back to their civilian clothes. Which is only appropriate—they aren’t really Starfleet cadets, but the uniforms helped symbolize their unity to the Diviner, showing their erstwhile jailer how far they’ve come since being out from under his thumb.)

Parts of the plan work beautifully, others not so much, but my favorite bit was when the universal translators in the Protostar combadges enable the unwanted to all communicate with each other for the first time.

Final victory is achieved in two ways, both of which are very Star Trek. The first is philosophical: people from disparate backgrounds working together in a common cause. That has always been the heart of Trek, whether from the simple act of portraying a future that portrays a Federation that sees people from different planets (not to mention all the different people on this planet) working together, or as we see it in Prodigy with the unwanted rising up to take down Drednok. And in the end, the unwanted are able to use the Diviner’s ship to get themselves back to their respective homes.

Star Trek: Prodigy

Image: CBS

The second is a more specific callback to the original series’ “Is There in Truth No Beauty?” that introduced the Medusans. Zero, like Kollos in that 1968 episode, has to remain in some form of containment, because seeing their true form will drive most sentient beings mad. It happened to Spock in that episode, and it happens to the Diviner here—and, unfortunately, thanks to the reflective nature of the combadges, happens to a lesser degree to Gwyn as well, as she catches a bit of Zero’s reflection in Dal’s badge.

Unfortunately, Gwyn’s tangential exposure to Zero’s true form results in short-term memory loss, so she no longer recalls much of her final confrontations with her father before Dal and the gang rode to her rescue. While this was an unfortunate contrivance, it also took the show in a direction I did not expect, but very much approve of.

The Diviner’s plan is to infect Starfleet’s computers with a virus that will destroy all Starfleet vessels. As soon as the Protostar comes into contact with another Starfleet vessel, the die will be cast, as it were. My assumption when that was revealed was that our heroes would then be forced to not go to the Federation, thus keeping the crew’s status quo intact and enabling them to put off being in Federation space for a while until they got rid of the weapon.

But they didn’t do that, and, for all that Gwyn’s amnesia is a little cheesy, it also means they aren’t contriving to keep the status quo, either. Instead, the Protostar is on its way to Federation space, none of them knowing that they’re a Trojan Horse for the Diviner…

And the ship they’re likely to encounter? The U.S.S. Dauntless, under the command of Admiral Kathryn Janeway, which has detected all three uses of the proto-drive and finally believe that they’ve found the missing Protostar. The admiral’s exact words as the Dauntless sets off at maximum warp toward the Protostar are, “I’m coming, Chakotay.”

We get plenty of closure here. The Diviner is defeated, left alone on Tars Lamora with his madness, now the only unwanted left. His prisoners are free. The crew has come together beautifully, growing as people and as potential Starfleet officers.

But there are still mysteries to be solved, like what happened to Chakotay and his crew, and what will happen if and when Protostar and Dauntless come into contact? And there’s enough distance between the two vessels that there’s opportunities for lots of adventures before they do meet.

Star Trek: Prodigy

Image: CBS

This has been a delightful series, one that makes strong and sensible use of the Trek milieu and also introduces lots of interesting new elements. After the strong beginning, we’ve gotten a nifty strange-new-world story with the “murder planet” in “Dream Catcher” and “Terror Firma,” significant character development of Dal and Gwyn in “Kobayashi,” a diplomatic mission done in by Ferengi treachery in “First Con-Tact,” a clever temporal mechanics story in “Time Amok,” and a simply superlative action-packed finale in “A Moral Star.”

Paramount+ has yet to announce when the back half of the season will air. Right now, the schedule is set from this point through to the summer with the rest of Discovery season four and all of season two of Picard and the debut season of Strange New Worlds, and there’s more Lower Decks coming, too.

Let’s hope we don’t have to wait too long…

Keith R.A. DeCandido has rewatched the original Star Trek (live-action and animated), The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine, and Voyager for this site, and is in the midst of rewatching Enterprise. He has also reviewed every episode of Secret Hideout’s live-action offerings, as well as Lower Decks here, and is very much looking forward to the rest of Discovery‘s fourth season starting next week. He’s written a metric buttload of Star Trek fiction over the years from the 1999 TNG comic book Perchance to Dream to the 2005 political novel Articles of the Federation to the 2014 reference book The Klingon Art of War to the 2022 Star Trek Adventures role-playing game module Incident at Kraav III.

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