Star Trek: Prodigy – Season 1 Episode 17
“Ghost in the Machine”
Star Trek: Prodigy traps the crew in a neverending Holodeck program where they are tasked with solving a mystery that may have no solution.
Holodeck malfunction episodes have been a mainstay of the franchise since the introduction of the technology in The Next Generation. There are many stories where characters are trapped in a fictional world that is trying to kill them due to an external force causing it to break in some fundamental way. Fans have endless discussions about the Holodeck and a common topic of conversation is why it hasn’t been banned considering it’s frequently life-threatening to its users. Prodigy‘s take on the Holodeck malfunction doesn’t focus on the risk to the lives of the crew but the fact of being trapped is very much central.
The episode opens with the crew running simulations of alternative ways to communicate with the Dauntless without exposing it to the weapon that will tear it apart. Unfortunately, the simulations all point to their attempts being misinterpreted and resulting in failure. Testing the possibilities and finding alternative communication methods is another example of this crew favouring unconventional thinking and making that work in their favour. Using the Holodeck to test scenarios before doing it for real is smart and quietly highlights the intelligence of the characters taking that step before actually attempting it. Holding back the fact that the encounter is simulated also allows for a tense opening even if the reveal is expected for many viewers.
Most of the episode takes place in the Holodeck but in a different simulation. The crew are led through a procession of scenarios that combine different programs to create a mystery that has no end intended to keep the crew distracted. Visually, this is a really fun episode with a wide variety of imagery to keep the viewer entertained. There’s a black-and-white noir-inspired sequence and a pirate ship sequence among others so the episode doesn’t sit still long enough for attention to drift but it also lacks strong focus on an idea to explore; something that this show typically does very well.
There are a number of threads dangled in front of the viewer that start to take them down particular paths but none of them go anywhere. The Holodeck draws on existing personal issues and folds them into the program. Once it becomes clear that Holo-Janeway is orchestrating the distraction it’s obvious why the characters are confronted with existing personal issues but the episode fails to deliver any significance to their inclusion. Jankom is faced with his inability to interact with other Tellarites and the anxiety he feels about what he considers to be a failed interaction with Doctor Noum hangs over him. In the Holodeck he gets to fight other Tellarites and feels more comfortable with how he performs. It’s satisfying to see him become more confident as a result of how he handles it and his contribution is definitely the strongest but there’s no real weight. It’s something that is raised as an issue and immediately resolved with no analysis in between.
Gwyn has to deal with a representation of her father but no actual confrontation takes place. In a way, it’s welcome as Gwyn being conflicted about both loving and hating her father at the same time is well-worn ground but including it in the episode makes no sense when nothing will be done with it. Everything is in service of keeping the crew distracted so it’s justified from that point of view but there’s no substance to Gwyn being faced with a representation of her father. That makes sense as most of what can be said about their relationship has already come up. Progression in that relationship won’t happen until they inevitably cross paths again.
In keeping with the Holodeck program targeting its content to the crew specifically, there is a challenge for Rok in the form of a monster that turns out to be hungry rather than monstrous. It’s an obvious reference to Rok being considered a monster when that’s not how she sees herself or how she wants to be seen by others. Her realisation that the creature wanted food is consistent with the idea of not making assumptions based on appearances or very little information; one of the longest-running values of the franchise. It’s a good moment but as with everything else, there is no larger point being made so it exists in isolation as a character beat among other unconnected character beats.
Zero’s realisation that the game never ends leads to the reveal that the episode has been building to. It turns out Holo-Janeway has been infected by the Living Construct and works against the crew after they definitively decide to escape Starfleet rather than return to them. Her programming forces her to work against the crew and return the Protostar to Starfleet. It’s a strong reveal that draws on events within the episode to justify itself while making sense when considering what Holo-Janeway’s purpose on the ship is. There’s more than a hint of betrayal in the air even though everyone understands the mechanics behind what has happened. Even Holo-Janeway seems to regret what she has done. It forces the crew into the path of the Dauntless and sets up the plot moving forward.
This episode had a lot of noteworthy individual moments but never quite comes together as having a coherent direction. It marks the first example of filler in this show. The idea was sound and could have contributed to some kind of overall message with some work but everything was so disconnected. It worked in the sense that the crew was being kept distracted while Holo-Janeway took the Protostar to the Dauntless but didn’t work in the sense that the characters were exactly the same at the end of the episode as they were in the beginning. Other than the final moments, this episode is disposable even if it was entertaining throughout.
A good episode that has fun with a prominent franchise mainstay episode format and delivers a strong ending. The crew running simulations of alternative ways to communicate with the Dauntless highlights their intelligence and holding back the reveal allows for a tense opening. Having the crew trapped in an endless Holodeck program designed to distract them while Holo-Janeway takes the Protostar to the Dauntless makes for a strong ending reveal but the simulation itself fails to deliver much of substance overall though the visual variety is excellent.. A number of threads are dangled in front of the viewer that start to take them down particular paths but none of them go anywhere. Jankom releasing his frustration around dealing with other Tellarites, Gwyn being confronted with her father and Rok empathising with a creature that many would consider to be a monster are reminders of things that came before but none of them progress. This episode had a lot of noteworthy individual moments but never quite comes together as having a coherent direction. It marks the first example of filler in this show. The characters were exactly the same at the end of the episode as they were in the beginning. Other than the final moments, this episode is disposable even if it was entertaining throughout.
- highlighting the intelligence of the characters by simulating their attempt to communicate with the Dauntless
- the visual variety in the Holodeck simulation
- individual character details that are interesting by themselves
- the end reveal
- the character details within the simulation reminding of what came before rather than developing anything
- dangling threads in front of the viewer that don’t go anywhere
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