Star Trek: Prodigy – Season 1 Episode 11
Star Trek: Prodigy returns from an extended hiatus with the first encounter between the Protostar crew and the Federation as Gwyn works to restore her lost memories.
This website has never covered this show before but given that it’s currently my favourite of the contemporary Star Trek series and something I have a lot to say about it demanded coverage. My previous coverage can be found on the podcast “Rarely Going” on the We Made This Podcast network and will now be found on “We Are Starfleet” also on the We Made This Network.
Prodigy is consistently impressive. It’s aimed at a younger audience but handles its characterisation and plot in ways that are often more sophisticated than its live-action contemporaries. The first 10 episodes contained thoughtful character-driven storytelling and strong riffs on Star Trek concepts. As an ensemble, the characters gel brilliantly with a good mix of conflict and camaraderie. Kate Mulgrew as a training hologram modelled after Kathryn Janeway is the right use of nostalgia and the enduring mystery of the disappearance of the Protostar’s original crew that now involves the real Kathryn Janeway is engaging.
The last aired episode represented a turning point for the show with The Diviner (John Noble) defeated, his slaves freed and the motley crew of the Protostar united in common purpose. They resolved to find the Federation and become a part of it after coming to realise that it’s something that exists to unify people rather than be feared and avoided as some of them previously thought. The Janeway hologram guided them through various lessons that teach them Federation values and nudge them in the direction of being their best selves. All of the lessons support the central message that they are at their best when they work together and the development towards unflinching belief in that is organic.
This episode picks up some time after the events of the previous one with the lessons of teamwork and fellowship clearly understood by all of the characters and demonstrated in a sequence where they work to save a whale from poachers. One of the challenges is accomplishing this without breaching the Prime Directive -Starfleet’s number one rule warning against interfering in the natural development of other species- as Holo-Janeway vehemently reminds them. It’s an exciting sequence that efficiently catches the viewer up on the characters while effortlessly promoting Starfleet ideals. Immediately it’s clear that the crew have learned to work together and that they have internalised the lessons that have been imparted to them. There is a missed opportunity to debate what counts as interference but it doesn’t stand out as the urgency of the situation takes focus.
It turns out to be the latest in a line of self-imposed good deeds designed to ingratiate themselves with Starfleet when they eventually encounter representatives. The logic is that if they rack up enough good deeds then the fact that they stole the Protostar may not be the focus of the encounter. It’s a reasonable suggestion though oversimplifies what they did. A more accurate reading of the situation is that they liberated the Protostar and used it to end the tyrannical rule of a brutal slave owner before looking to return it to its rightful owners. Of course, there was the stated desire to take the ship and go as far away as possible initially but saying that they stole it is still too simplistic and an unfair assessment. Either way, they are doing good deeds albeit for karma points rather than the selfless desire to help others but this show is about growth and they are on the right track.
Their first encounter with Starfleet comes when they head to a communications outpost at the very edge of Federation space. It’s manned by a single Denobulan named Barnuss Frex (Eric Bauza). Immediately this stands out as odd for a variety of reasons. One is that it has been canonically established that Denobulans come from a heavily populated planet and thrive on companionship. They suffer greatly when isolated as seen in the Enterprise episode “Doctor’s Orders”. When left alone on the ship, Phlox hallucinated and quickly unravelled so seeing a Denobulan manning an outpost with no companionship and not suffering in a similar way was a surprise. Another thing that stands out is Barnuss Frex being the sole occupant of the outpost as it would seem to run counter to Starfleet’s ethos as taught to the Protostar crew. Holo-Janeway has been teaching them about teamwork and being at their best when working together so Barnuss Frex’ being assigned to a post by himself should invite questions from the queue around the accuracy of those lessons.
Barnuss Frex is spiteful and holds his superior in contempt in some ways. His assumption is that the Protostar is there to take him somewhere worse so it would be fair of the Protostar queue to start having doubts about Starfleet based on this example. It’s unnecessarily cruel to only have one person assigned to an entire outpost, not to mention unsafe, as there’s no backup if Barnuss Frex sustains an injury or falls ill. It’s a strange choice that only exists for a specific storytelling purpose without being logical by itself.
Encountering Starfleet proves to be positive for Dal (Brett Gray) as he learns that they know what species he belongs to though an answer eludes him for now as the information is classified so he will have to find someone with the authority to access the information. It’s enough for him to know that there is an answer and he looks forward to finding out more about where he came from. He has had a clear journey towards considering Starfleet and the Federation to be a worthwhile thing to be a part of and the promise of answers as to his origins organically furthers his desire to be part of it. There will likely be things that challenge his faith in them but for now, he’s encouraged by what he has learned.
Dal’s reaction feeds into the loose theme of taking a leap of faith that the episode explores. It becomes literal by the end when the crew put their faith in Rok-Tahk’s (Rylee Alazraqui) calculations to save their life but where Dal is concerned it becomes relevant in him putting his faith in Starfleet and the Federation.
The leap of faith somewhat comes into play in Gwyn (Ella Purnell) and Zero’s (Angus Imrie) interactions. Gwyn is putting her faith in Zero to help her through the recovery of her lost memories. She doesn’t resent or blame them in any way for what has happened to her because she understands it wasn’t Zero’s fault but she is haunted by out-of-context harmful flashbacks that mention a weapon so she feels the need to recover that information in case what she has forgotten poses a danger to her friends. By the end of the episode, she declares that she remembers everything so the show won’t be lingering on the amnesia for longer than is welcome though it perhaps comes too soon and risks robbing the lack of information of tension.
Rok-Tahk has the opportunity to consider her future when she learns that there are a large number of scientific disciplines she could specialise in to the point that the variety overwhelms her with excitement. Her arc has been built around choosing a path for herself outside of what people expect from her and after learning she has an affinity for science she decides to pursue it. Her attempt to calculate the right point to jump off the exploding outpost to hit the Protostar makes for an impressively urgent moment in the midst of a visually excellent sequence. Her failure to calculate the right jumping-off point is a clear indication that she has potential but a lot to learn. She admits that it may not be her best area so her search for purpose continues but the fact that it’s such a near miss shows how capable she is. Her arc is an inspiring one as it sends a message that people can do whatever they want if they apply themselves properly.
The real Janeway’s search for Chakotay and the Protostar leads her to Tars Lamora and she finds the Diviner. She lacks context as to what happened but sees that the Diviner is alive so hopes that he can provide answers. This aspect of the show is an interesting one as Janeway is witnessing the aftermath of the crew’s actions and trying to piece things together using only what she finds. Having her come face-to-face with the Diviner is a compelling prospect and it’ll be interesting to see how he frames the events.
While waiting for a solid lead, Janeway reviews a holographic recording of christening the Protostar. Her conversation with Chakotay is brief but their natural chemistry shines through. It’s a nice moment that reminds fans of the strong connection between these characters while establishing how close they were to those unfamiliar with Voyager. Janeway’s personal interest in this mission adds considerable heft to it and framing her as an antagonist of sorts to the Protostar crew since she is set up to assume the worst of them without the necessary knowledge she needs to come to a different conclusion is an excellent choice. Kate Mulgrew doesn’t miss a beat in her return to the role and the subplot the right amount of attention in the context of the episode.
A strong episode that furthers ongoing stories organically, develops the characters in interesting ways and provides a variety of visual excellence. The episode catches the viewer up on the characters really efficiently and delivers an excellent opening sequence that takes full advantage of the potential that animation brings. The crew’s encounter with the Starfleet outpost represents a step forward for Dal and Rok-Tak who both find comfort or excitement in what the Federation has to offer. Barnus Frex being the sole occupant stands out as running counter to what the crew have been taught but the episode fails to address it which also stands out. The resolution of Gwyn’s memory loss comes too quickly though it remains to be seen what comes next. Janeway’s search for the Protostar is briefly featured but intriguing with a strong scene that quickly establishes how close the Janeway/Chakotay connection is. The lack of context to her findings and the conclusions she draws as a result make for a compelling antagonistic story and the subplot receives the right amount of attention in the context of the episode.
- the excellent opening sequence
- efficiently catching the viewer up on the crew’s current status
- practical examples of the Protostar crew internalising Federation values
- Dal taking comfort in knowing the Federation can provide answers about his people
- Rok-Tahk’s excitement when seeing the wide range of options in the sciences
- her miscalculation showing that she has potential but a long way to go
- the Janeway/Chakotay scene quickly establishing how close their connection is
- the lack of questions around Barnus Frex being the only one assigned to the outpost
- the quick resolution of Gwyn’s memory loss
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