Star Trek: Prodigy – Season 1 Episode 16
Star Trek: Prodigy focuses on backstories as both crews prepare to make their next move.
Origin stories are a common thing in fiction. There is a perception that people are really interested in how a given character got started or what life events led them to their current circumstances. Prodigy has made the backgrounds of some of the characters an enduring mystery that needs to be solved and this episode explores whether the answers to those questions are important. I’ve mentioned in previous reviews that this show presents an idea to explore over the course of an episode and arrives at a position on it by the end. The thesis of this episode is whether it matters where the characters came from.
The catalyst for this is Dal struggling to process what he learned about his origin in the previous episode with the notion of being a failed experiment rattling around in his brain. He has a lot of time to think about it as the Protostar isn’t going anywhere anytime soon due to damage to the engines preventing them from using Protowarp so the crew are in repair mode with plenty of time to mull over recent events. This episode acts as a breather before what will likely be a fast-paced race to the finale.
Once the engines are repaired and the crew have to wait for the systems to reboot they decide to pass the time by telling stories. There’s a strong sense of camaraderie among the crew as they come together to help Dal realise that where he comes from is less important than where he is now and that he shouldn’t let the circumstances of his creation influence how he sees himself. The idea is that he had no control over how he was created but is able to control who he is in the present. Gwyn is ideally placed to relate to Dal on this as her creation is similar enough. She has made more progress on her personal journey towards self-acceptance than he has but she serves as an example of where he needs to get to.
Gwyn has fully embraced the support of the crew and feels a strong sense of belonging when around them. Dal has the same support system and Gwyn constantly encourages Dal to recognise what he has rather than fixate on things he can’t change. The act of repairing the ship represents something in the present that Dal has control over and should demand his attention over irrelevant details. It’s a strong metaphor that also neatly forces him to take the time to consider his current situation.
To explore the assertion that beginnings don’t define people, the crew all tell their origin stories. Zero’s is mostly a repeat of what is already known to reinforce the fact that they were used as a weapon when in captivity. It’s something they deeply regret but being that weapon doesn’t define them and it ended positively as they became part of this crew.
Rok’s conclusion is similar and her account of fighting in an arena so that onlookers could see a “monster” be defeated fits in nicely with her passionate resistance to being pigeonholed as nothing more than a source of physical strength. The flashback details people seeing her as a monster and being afraid of her which acted as a major blow to her self-esteem and further motivates her desire to become something other than how people initially see her. Another noteworthy detail is that she approaches telling her story with the same optimism she applies to anything else. Her decision to go against the norm of the act she was a part of resulted in her becoming a slave but it also eventually resulted in her being where she currently is so it was a bad time that led her to freedom and a crew that values her. When considering her life as a whole she has no regrets because of where she ended up. Her simple declaration of “it helps to talk about it” sums up the point of this exercise for all of them.
Jankom’s backstory is more comedically presented in keeping with his character but there’s a strong sense of tragedy to it. His accidental awakening left him alone on a ship in constant need of repairs. The repetition of “Jankom Pog can fix it” as the robot constantly fails to retain his name is an amusing touch but it’s also a statement that echoes Jankom’s search for meaning. In the case of the sleeper ship, the purpose he found was to fix it and protect the others. This culminates in him having to leave the ship because the act of repairing it used up too much oxygen for the entire crew to survive. It’s a sacrifice that won’t be recognised by those he saved because the robot still can’t retain his name. This highlights Jankom’s innate tendency towards selflessness and his devotion to using what he knows to keep those he cares about safe.
Even though the point of the crew telling their stories is to show Dal that the past doesn’t have to define the present there’s actually a lot of evidence to support the idea that the past has shaped who they are. Rok wants to be something more than what her appearance suggests, Zero wants to be a force for good and mitigate what they can’t avoid about their appearance and Jankom was shaped by his experience of fighting against a damaged ship to protect people. Dal’s past has also shaped who he is by giving him the skills and attitude needed to survive in unforgiving circumstances.
Being shaped by the past doesn’t mean that it has to completely influence the present. The examples provided by the episode aren’t entirely relevant to Dal’s situation as he is fixated on the facts of his creation; something he had no control whereas the others tell stories about events they directly participated in. As stated above, the most direct comparison to Dal is Gwyn who was created by the Diviner to fulfil a purpose that she has turned away from. It’s curious that the episode doesn’t explore that comparison though it’s easy to see why as that would isolate Gwyn and Dal to the exclusion of the other characters which is counter to the point that is being made. Ultimately, Dal comes to understand that how he was created doesn’t matter because he is loved and valued by the crew and should focus on that.
Examining the past also applies to the Diviner who has his memory jogged by the Vindicator -Ensign Ascencia’s true identity-. She reminds him what his mission is and explains why he should hate the Federation. The backstory is a complicated one but fully consistent with everything that has been stated before this point. Using a temporal anomaly as the basis for the Diviner and Vindicator’s desire for vengeance works really well though there is a lot of information to take in and it’s delivered very quickly.
Hopefully, it’ll be used as the basis for a more detailed examination in the coming episodes but the idea of 100 Vau N’Akat being sent through an unstable anomaly in the hopes of arriving at the same time the Protostar exits on the other side has a lot of storytelling potential. The Diviner states that he arrived twenty years too early and worried about whether he’d survive long enough to complete the mission which explains why he artificially lengthened his life and created Gwyn to carry on in his stead. It was easier for the Vindicator as she was only three years early which gave her enough time to embed herself in Starfleet and be assigned to Janeway’s mission to search for the Protostar. It’s mentioned that they were the same age when embarking on this mission and that it was considered to be a one-way trip taking them away from everything they value and everything they’re fighting for so their mission is one of personal sacrifice for a greater good.
The Vindicator clears up why Starfleet and the Federation are considered the enemy. The Vau N’Akat blame them for not taking sides in the civil war that tore their people apart. It’s a brief yet compelling challenge to the Prime Directive as those aware of the refusal to help when adhering to that rule won’t value it in the same way. The Vau N’Akat’s perspective is that the Federation stood by and did nothing while a people were torn apart by fighting themselves. It’s easy to see how that could anger those begging for intervention when none comes. The Prime Directive is a rule that has received lots of attention in the franchise, particularly in more recent iterations but a proper examination and analysis of it still hasn’t taken place.
Typically, it’s treated as an unbreakable doctrine rather than a rule created by people that doesn’t apply in all instances. Not enough is known about the plight of the Vau N’Akat to analyse this properly as the only perspective on the situation comes from the Vindicator but it wouldn’t be the first time that Starfleet refused to step in because of the Prime Directive where arguably they should have. Subsequent episodes may provide the Starfleet perspective on what has been described here but it currently seems to be a complex situation that has given birth to hatred due to Starfleet’s inaction. Understanding is currently required and there isn’t enough information for that to be possible. It’s also notable that the Diviner may be changing his mind on Starfleet due to his lack of memory opening his mind to a different perspective on them. All he has experienced is kindness which runs counter to the account he receives from the Vindicator so he may be heading towards a new understanding made possible by the loss of personal baggage.
Requiring understanding feeds into Janeway’s contribution to this episode. She has no idea who she’s dealing with and has no way of understanding why they’re behaving the way that they are. Janeway is the one to pose the question of who she’s dealing with and the episode answers it in a broad sense through delving into the backstories of the characters but also in a personal sense for Janeway when she receives information on who is aboard the Protostar. This marks the beginning of her putting the puzzle together and now that she knows more about them she is more sympathetic. The extended game of cat and mouse between the Dauntless and the Protostar has remained compelling because each episode offers something different and progresses the plot in natural directions.
A strong episode that celebrates the camaraderie at play aboard the Protostar as Dal processes his origins by being presented with evidence that the past is less important than the present. Cycling through the origin stories of the other characters to help Dal process what he has learned is an interesting device that provides fascinating insight into how the others got to where they currently are. The stories all perfectly fit the characters as presented and feed into the thesis of their ending up together on the ship being more important than any negative events that ultimately led them to this point. It isn’t as strong a notion as it should be as the characters are all clearly shaped by their pasts and the episode misses the obvious similarities between Dal and Gwyn’s origins though it’s easy to see why that wasn’t addressed as it would exclude the other characters. The Diviner also examines the past after having his memory jogged by the Vindicator. Their backstory entails a lot of information being thrown at the audience over a short period of time which may be daunting. It is also made clear why Starfleet and the Federation are hated by the Vau N’Akat with more information required to analyse the complex situation properly. Questions are answered in ways that are consistent with what has been previously revealed and the motivations of the antagonists make sense. The possibility of the Diviner changing his perspective on Starfleet without the personal baggage is also intriguing. Janeway gaining greater understanding of who she’s dealing with on the Protostar furthers the cat and mouse game organically and marks the beginning of her putting the puzzle together. Each episode offers something different and progresses the plot in natural directions.
- the camaraderie aboard the Protostar
- using the backstories of the other characters to highlight the importance of the present
- the backstories perfectly fitting the characters
- the Vindicator’s explanation of her backstory being consistent with what was previously revealed
- Janeway gaining greater understanding of who is aboard the Protostar
- moving the cat and mouse game forward in compelling ways
- a lot of information delivered quickly from the Vindicator
- the backstories not quite supporting the idea of the present being more important than the past
- not capitalising on the similarities in Gwyn and Dal’s origin stories
What did you think? Select your rating in the “User Review” box below
User Review( votes)
We’d love to know your thoughts on this and anything else you might want to talk about. You can find us on Facebook and Twitter or just leave a comment in the comment section below. You’ll need an account for Disqus but it’s easy to set up. Don’t forget to share your rating in the “User Review” box
If you want to chat to me directly then I’m on Twitter as well.