Star Trek: Prodigy – Season 1 Episode 15

Nov 24, 2022 | Posted by in TV
Prodigy

“Masquerade”

Star Trek: Prodigy takes the crew into the Neutral Zone as Dal has a major identity crisis following a bombshell about his origins.

The previous episode was seismic as it brought the two plots together and made Janeway an urgent presence for the Protostar crew. This changes the focus of the show in a very real way as now the crew are actively engaged in a game of cat and mouse with Janeway and her crew. Sneaking into the Neutral Zone has bought them some time as the Dauntless can’t follow without risking starting a war but it’s at best a temporary refuge. It’s only a matter of time before Janeway outwits them but every minute that the crew run from her perpetuates a misunderstanding that likely could be easily resolved. Not to mention the threat the Diviner represents should he remember everything.

Prodigy

Turning on the charm

This episode features the crew licking their wounds and looking for a way to repair the Protostar’s engines so they can run very fast in the opposite direction of the Dauntless. Okana leads them to an outpost that specialises in being discrete and may allow them to source the parts they need. Okana is very quickly a hit with the crew which causes Dal to feel jealous and worry about whether Okana will replace him as Captain; a role he feels massively insecure about despite his outward confidence. Part of Dal’s jealousy is motivated by an observation that Okana seems to have a full sense of who he is and is incredibly confident as a result. In contrast, Dal doesn’t even know where he comes from and conflates a large part of his identity with learning that.

One important lesson he has to learn is that his origins really have nothing to do with who he is as he can define himself in other ways. His jealousy of Okana on the basis of his having confidence in his own sense of self sets up Dal’s arc relating to self-confidence and identity. It’s an ongoing struggle for him and to see his sense of self constantly challenged so that he has to confront it directly is fascinating.

He has the opportunity to take a shortcut when Doctor Jago (Amy Hill) offers him the chance to have his recessive genes activated so that he can live up to his full potential. This comes after he is informed that he is a genetically engineered lifeform containing DNA from many different species. This immediately furthers his fragile grasp on his own identity as learning that his origins are in experimentation rather than natural birth makes him feel fake. He self-identifies as a failed experiment and is unable to accept that his origins don’t matter because of the shock of the bombshell dropped on him.

Prodigy

Janeway doesn’t like to take orders

Gwyn wastes no time in telling him that they don’t see him in that way but it falls on deaf ears because Dal isn’t ready to hear it. His arc over the episode is clearly laid out and follows a predictable path but it’s also a lesson that Dal needs to learn so the predictability is expected and works to the episode’s advantage as the conclusion is something everyone except Dal can see.

Dal’s decision to have his genes manipulated is unquestionably the wrong one and the episode details this by his being punished for his error in judgement. There is a brief honeymoon period where it seems to be advantageous but that bubble quickly bursts when he starts mutating uncontrollably. It externalises the existential crisis of not knowing who he is through radical physical changes that prevent him from recognising his own body. His physical changes add palpable urgency to him learning the lesson and embracing who he was before the manipulation.

The episode wants to frame Dal as the anti-Okana in a fundamental way. His fear of being replaced by Okana who appears to be more charming, skilled, knowledgeable and experienced comes up early on and pays off when Okana abandons the crew in order to save himself while Dal sticks with them. Dal’s loyalty to the others was never in any doubt and they show no hesitation in supporting him even when he has made a very foolish choice. Okana only knows how to look out for himself or how to make himself look better as evidenced by him recounting the events of “The Outrageous Okana” to make himself out to be altruistic but it’s also identified that he tells the story in a way that makes him look good. He’s a conman and the crew is ultimately too smart to fall for his con. The illusion is completely shattered when he leaves as soon as danger is encountered. That shows the sort of person he is and Dal is supposed to be the counter to that. It isn’t something the episode makes prominent enough which is unfortunate as it was a strong idea that could have given way to a compelling character study. It would also have been difficult to fit in with the comedic mutation hijinks which worked well enough as an obstacle for Dal and the others to overcome.

Prodigy

Don’t mess with your genes

An interesting external perspective of the Federation is provided using the example of genetic engineering. Genetic manipulation has always been something the Federation has no tolerance for and there are a number of stories across the franchise that deal with the Federation being less than comfortable with the notion. This episode poses the question of whether it’s necessary to place limitations on science or if the Federation is inhibiting progress unfairly. Dal is a product of illegal genetic engineering so it may follow that he’s unwelcome in the Federation due to the circumstances of his creation. He wouldn’t be the first character to be discriminated against for this reason so it creates an added complication for when the crew inevitably interact more meaningfully with the Federation. Some of the best stories the franchise the Federation’s principles and highlight that there are alternative viewpoints that may be valid.

In keeping with the structure of this show, the external view of the Federation forms the basis of a lesson for the crew to learn. Dal learns that he shouldn’t have tried to cheat by evolving himself without getting there naturally and Rok-Tahk summarises what she has learned through her excellent science log. “Science rules and science needs rules” is a perfect summary of what she has learned and the knowledge is earned through what they experienced. What those rules are and how they come about isn’t detailed but there’s an understanding of the raw power that science represents and how that can be misused. The log also acts as a summary that efficiently wraps up the episode with Rok’s delivery being enthusiastic, sincere and informative. Her declaration “our perfections make us who we are” is a celebration of the individuality that each of the characters bring to the mix and an affirmation that none of them needs to be fixed.

This episode has excellent action. The Romulan pursuers were genuinely formidable and the elevator sequence was wonderfully put together. There is a danger that Murf could become a crutch the show will learn on but this is the first example of him having what they need to survive so it isn’t a problem at this point. Adding to the tension were the torpedoes fired by the Dauntless closing in on the Protostar. Janeway taking personal responsibility for what might end up being an act of war by pressing the button herself was a nice touch. She has never been a character to shy away from taking ownership of her decisions and it played into the narrative naturally. Her innate compassion is also showcased in her conversation with Admiral Jellico (Ronnie Cox) who forbids her from entering the Neutral Zone no matter her reasoning.

The end reveal that Ensign Ascencia is genetically altered and from the future was a compelling payoff to what was hinted at in the previous episode. The Diviner may be creating the destruction that he has come back in time to avenge or he is facilitating a massive change to the timeline that he knows it. Either way, having a backup plan in the form of Acencia opens up a wide range of possibilities and adds greater intrigue to this element of the show.

Prodigy

Yeah science!


Verdict

A strong episode that elegantly portrays a crisis of identity for Dal while exploring the big question of regulating science. Okana being an instant hit with the crew causes Dal to feel jealous and he worries about being replaced as Captain. Captain; a role he feels massively insecure about despite his outward confidence. Part of Dal’s jealousy is motivated by an observation that Okana seems to have a full sense of who he is and is incredibly confident as a result. In contrast, Dal doesn’t even know where he comes from and conflates a large part of his identity with learning that. His arc is predictable but also necessary and feeds nicely into the narrative of the episode. Accepting the opportunity for a shortcut furthers his fragile grasp on his own identity as learning that his origins are in experimentation rather than natural birth makes him feel like a failed experiment and is unable to accept that his origins don’t matter because of the shock of the bombshell dropped on him. He is punished for his error in judgement in comedic ways which gets in the way of the hinted-at idea that Dal is the anti-Okana. The external perspective of the Federation and the coverage of the debate over whether it’s right for the Federation to place limitations on science is intriguing and summarised perfectly in Rok-Tahk’s excellent science log. This episode boasts great action. The Romulan pursuers were formidable and the elevator sequence was wonderfully put together. Adding tension with the torpedoes launched by Janeway was a nice touch. The end reveal opens up a wide range of possibilities and adds greater intrigue to this element of the show.

Overall
  • 8.5/10
    Masquerade - 8.5/10
8.5/10

Summary

Kneel Before…

  • Dal’s predictable and necessary arc
  • approaching his self-confidence issues in a fresh way
  • challenging his sense of self through revealing his origins
  • his lesson coming organically
  • framing Dal as the anti-Okana
  • the external perspective on the Federation and exploring the question of scientific regulation
  • excellent action
  • Janeway taking responsibility for her decision by pressing the button that launches the torpedoes
  • Rok-Tahk’s excellent summarising log entry
  • a compelling end reveal

 

Rise Against…

  • the idea of Dal being the anti-Okana not coming across as strongly as it should

 

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8.5/10 (6 votes)

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