Star Trek: Prodigy – Season 1 Episode 18
Star Trek: Prodigy cracks the communication barrier with a well-timed body swap as the Dauntless closes in on the Protostar.
Body swaps are a common trope in science fiction and fantasy. Typically they’re used to give characters first-hand experience of an alternate perspective and open their mind in some way. In this case, Janeway knows who she’s dealing with on the Protostar but doesn’t actually know them so being in Dal’s body provides her with the perfect opportunity to get to know them through interaction. Meanwhile, Dal has the opportunity to see how Starfleet operates while in Janeway’s body.
The Dal in Janeway’s body aspect of the episode is where it’s at its weakest as characters are made to act counter to how they normally would in order to service the plot. This can be seen most prominently in Janeway’s crew taking far too long to realise something is wrong despite how obvious it is. Dal isn’t even slightly convincing as Janeway yet Tysess still turns command over to him and follows orders rather than questioning how radically out of character his commanding officer’s behaviour is. Eventually, the crew does twig that something’s not right but it takes far too long to do anything about it.
Dal’s inability to blend in is slightly out of character for him as he has always been characterised as a savvy if impulsive individual so this is a situation he should have been able to play along with for at least a short time. Kate Mulgrew’s portrayal of Dal is endlessly entertaining. She perfectly replicates Brett Gray’s speech pattern in how he performs Dal and it’s impressive how completely she throws herself into the obvious absurdity of the situation. It’s about as far from Janeway as could be and she fully commits which makes for excellent comedy as Dal stumbles around the Dauntless with no clue what to do. The animation supports this as Janeway’s body moves in a very unsteady way to establish that Dal is having trouble adjusting to an unfamiliar body. On a symbolic level, he is having trouble walking in her shoes which suggests that he isn’t quite ready to fully embrace Starfleet at this point.
As much as it’s out of character for him not to try to blend in, it’s also in character for him to behave this way. There is evidence of him failing to fully consider a situation before taking action so it’s reasonable to accept that his purely emotional reaction to finding himself in an unfamiliar body is consistent with who he is though it does discount how much he has learned and grown over the course of the prior episodes. All of this works on one level because it’s entertaining but it is more in service of the plot than consistent characterisation. Given how much he has grown, it would be perfectly in character for him to try to explain to Janeway’s crew what had happened, particularly after they realised something was wrong and it’s somewhat frustrating that this doesn’t happen.
The most meaningful scene on the Dauntless is the one Dal shares with the Diviner who thinks he’s Janeway. He talks about his mission and how nothing must stand in the way of it but admits to feeling conflicted because of the kindness he has experienced on the Dauntless. As a way to resolve that conflict, he sets Dal -or Janeway to him- free as a way of returning the favour. As he does this, he also talks about how important Gwyn is to him as a reminder that his affection for Gwyn is genuine even if he has a twisted way of showing it. This is likely setting up the Diviner’s doubts about his mission paying off in some way; possibly in a way that strays into redemptive territory for him. His scene with Dal in Janeway’s body is very deliberate and supports his gentler temperament during his time on the Dauntless.
Janeway in Dal’s body is much better because the characters are written as expected. Brett Gray delivers an admirable performance as Janeway with the speech pattern and attitude nicely emulated. This is an opportunity for Janeway to get to know the Protostar crew and she fully exploits it. She learns everything she can, quickly connects with them and pledges to do everything in her power to help them once the body swap is reversed. Unsurprisingly. she instantly takes command and the show has a built-in shortcut to get around the time it would otherwise take for the crew to trust her as they have already bonded with Holo-Janeway so are predisposed to trust the genuine article.
A lot of what occurs on the Protostar is mechanical in the sense that they come up with ideas on how to reverse the body swap and then act them out but it’s overflowing with excellent characterisation. The Protostar crew almost instantly figure out that a body swap has occurred which may be a way of highlighting how close the bond is among the crew and how well they know each other with the contrast being that Janeway’s current crew don’t know her well enough to realise immediately. It’s something that works better in theory than in practice because of how badly Dal failed at being Janeway.
Janeway leaving the Protostar crew to use their skills and ingenuity to solve the problem shows that she recognises their capabilities. This is proven when she sincerely tells Rok that she’s going to be a great science officer someday. It isn’t explicitly stated but some of the characters likely see this as an opportunity to prove themselves and there is no doubt in Janeway’s mind that they succeeded. Since their objective has been to find and join Starfleet, being validated by the template of the hologram that helped them along this journey is immensely important and it’s certainly appreciated by the crew.
The scene between Janeway and Holo-Janeway is excellent. Janeway using an anecdote from her past to prove her identity to the hologram and following that up by having the real Janeway visualised in the scene rather than Dal’s body was a nice touch. The restoration of Holo-Janeway’s corrupted files so that Janeway can be brought up to speed on the situation serves as a reminder of what has already been revealed but it’s new information for Janeway and an efficient summation of the key points. In prior episodes, Janeway lacked understanding which prevented her from fully assessing what she was dealing with but now she knows enough to start making informed decisions. The conversation featured the repeated statement “make something great out of this mess”. This amounts to the thesis of the show as the Protostar crew could be considered a mess due to their less-than-ideal origins and everything they’ve had to overcome but when brought together on the ship they have achieved greatness. They literally make something great out of the mess that is them. Janeway quickly relates to them because of how deeply her father’s words resonate with her. It’s yet another example of the storytelling ability of those who write this show that the root of the show could be summarised so effectively in such few words.
Things are learned by the Protostar crew as well but not all of them are positive. Janeway delivers the bad news that Dal’s origin means that he won’t be allowed into Starfleet due to the Federation’s ban on genetic engineering. She sounds regretful when telling them and the silent reactions of the characters are heartbreaking to witness. Whether this will be overruled somehow at the end of the season remains to be seen but, for now, it seems that everyone except Dal will be eligible to join Starfleet which creates a problem for the tightly-knit family unit that has formed among these characters.
The resolution of the body swap plot is satisfying. Dal and Janeway reaching out for each other between the two ships while at warp is impressive visually and appropriately high stakes. Foreshadowing the switch happening when the Dauntless hit the Protostar with phasers and then paying it off by Janeway creating a link between them with a hand phaser was impressive storytelling and the tension created when Dal is pulled back by a tractor beam just before they make contact was excellent. The sequence was a strong example of what can be achieved with animation that would be far more difficult to do convincingly in live action. It gives Prodigy a unique flavour and the show has done all the necessary work to ensure audience investment in what is presented to them.
There are other impressive flourishes to be found in the episode that are entirely character driven. Janeway using charades to communicate with Dal and Dal fully understanding what is expected of him was a great example of unconventional communication made possible by the uncommon proximity to the Dauntless. The Vindicator manipulated Tysess into calling for reinforcements was impressively subtle and quietly ups the stakes when combined with knowledge of what the living construct is designed to do. It sets up the ending efficiently and ensures it isn’t out of place.
A particularly impressive moment in the episode was the flat dismissal of the meaningless technobabble solution. Star Trek -particularly Voyager and Enterprise– has been guilty of resolving plots in ways that are dramatically meaningless. A character proposes a solution that consists of something like rerouting power from one system to another or reconfiguring the main deflector dish, the commanding officer agrees, someone else presses a few buttons and the problem is resolved. It’s dramatically flat and a relic of Star Trek storytelling that should remain in the past. Rok suggesting a technobabble solution that is immediately dismissed because Jankom Pog has no idea to do what she’s talking about is the perfect rejection of this storytelling crutch in favour of something character-driven. As much as Prodigy has reverence for the Star Trek franchise it also identifies things that need to be improved.
The ending sets the stage for the two-part finale effectively. As mentioned above, it was neatly foreshadowed earlier in the episode as was the Protostar’s destination so it isn’t out of sorts with the story being told. By this point, the threat that the Living Construct represents is well established which means that the image of a fleet of Starfleet ships inspires dread. The Protostar is exactly the opposite of where it should be in its current state and the stakes are now at their highest.
A strong episode that uses a familiar storytelling concept to further the plot in an engaging and entirely character-driven way while raising the stakes organically and efficiently. The episode is at its weakest in the Dal in Janeway’s body scenes because characters are made to act counter to how they normally would in order to service the plot. Janeway’s crew take too long to realise something is wrong despite how obvious it is. Dal’s inability to blend in is slightly out of character for him as he has always been characterised as a savvy if impulsive individual so this is a situation he should have been able to play along with for at least a short time. Kate Mulgrew’s performance as Dal is excellent and helps carry these scenes. The most meaningful scene on the Dauntless is the one Dal shares with the Diviner. He confesses that he feels conflicted about his mission because of the kindness he has experienced. When freeing Dal, he talks about how important Gwyn is to him which sets up a potential redemptive journey for him. Janeway in Dal’s body is much better because the characters are written as expected. Brett Gray’s performance as Janeway is excellent. This is an opportunity for Janeway to get to know the Protostar crew and she exploits it, pledging to do everything she can to help them. Janeway leaving the Protostar crew to use their skills and ingenuity to solve the problem shows that she recognises their capabilities. The scene between Janeway and Holo-Janeway is excellent and perfectly delivers the thesis of the show through their interaction. It’s yet another example of the storytelling ability of those who write this show that the root of the show could be summarised so effectively in such few words. The resolution of the body swap plot is satisfying and impressively foreshadowed. Other impressive flourishes exist within the episode such as the use of charades to communicate and the Vindicator subtly manipulating Tysess to call for reinforcements. Flatly dismissing a technobabble solution in favour of a character-driven one was an excellent touch as well. The ending sets the stage for the two-part finale effectively.
- Kate Mulgrew’s performance as Dal
- Brett Gray’s performance as Janeway
- Janeway exploiting the opportunity to get to know the Protostar crew
- the built-in shortcut allowing the Protostar crew to trust Janeway
- the Janeway/Holo-Janeway scene
- summarising the thesis of the show in very few words
- the Diviner’s expressing that he’s conflicted about his mission
- using charades to communicate
- the satisfying and nicely foreshadowed resolution to the body swap plot
- flatly dismissing the technobabble solution in favour of something character-driven
- an effective ending
- characters made to act counter to how they normally would to service the plot where Dal in Janeway’s body is concerned
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