Star Trek: Prodigy – Season 1 Episode 19
“Supernova, Part 1”
Star Trek: Prodigy delivers the beginning of the end when the Protostar crew have to find a way to stop Starfleet from tearing itself apart from within.
The first season of this show has been consistently and almost completely impressive. Its ongoing story has built itself naturally over the available episodes with each piece of the puzzle complimenting the others nicely. The skill employed in telling the continuing story and developing the characters in tandem with it organically brings us to what this episode has to offer.
One thing that immediately stands out is how efficiently the situation is summarised by the characters. This is delivered through cleverly disguised quickfire exposition that comes across as the characters trying to process how they got into their current predicament. The audience is reminded particularly of the Living Construct and Dal’s failure to blend in on the Dauntless resulting in Janeway being unable to help them due to her crew not trusting her and throwing her in the brig. In very little time, the audience is brought up to speed on the situation and how the characters feel about it; the latter being the most important aspect.
The first obstacle in the episode is a fleet of Starfleet ships all with the goal of lowering the Protostar’s shields so they can send a boarding party. Since they vastly outnumbered and outgunned, the only option is evasive action which proves to be a viable option for a while since the Protostar is a nimble ship that can weave in and out of the firing arcs of the other ships. It is only a temporary delay to the inevitable and the other ships quickly chip away at the Protostar’s shields but the evasive sequence is propulsive, thrilling and beautifully animated. It’s also a showcase of how cohesive and determined the crew are. They are united and fully committed to the common cause of making sure they don’t play a part in Starfleet tearing itself apart.
When the shields are close to failing, Gwyn decides that she is going to sacrifice herself for the good of the crew. It’s not clear what her plan is which is definitely a storytelling weakness but her willingness to give up her life in order to protect those she is closest to is fully justified by her development over the course of the season. Her decision is far from a surprise as she has been fully invested in her found family for a while now so this acts as a reinforcement rather than a revelation.
Dal following her creates an opportunity for him to learn about Starfleet’s ban on genetically engineered people joining. The anguish and disappointment are brilliantly animated and wonderfully supported by Brett Gray’s vocal performance. It’s a clear blow to him because the crew have been working towards the point where they can join Starfleet and that objective is now impossible for one of them. Dal takes it well despite his disappointment which signifies his growth as he would have reacted with far less maturity only a few episodes ago.
It’s upsetting but knowing the others can get in brings him comfort. Dal’s reaction is to offer himself as the sacrifice rather than Gwyn because he concludes that she has more to live for since she has a chance to get into Starfleet where he’s expendable because he doesn’t. It’s easy to see how he reached that conclusion but it’s also a flaw on his part as he has assigned most of his self-identity to getting into Starfleet. From his perspective, he has lost a chance to belong somewhere which makes his life less valuable so sacrificing himself is a chance for him to mean something. He isn’t considering how deeply losing him would affect the others. Gwyn has the same blind spot which makes their pairing in this moment a natural one. It’s also fitting because they had an existing connection before escaping in the Protostar, albeit an adversarial one so there’s a history between them that doesn’t exist between any other characters. Gwyn is the defacto first officer to Dal’s Captain and her feels naturally inclined to confide in her.
They share a kiss which turns out to be a misreading of signals on Dal’s part. It’s dismissed with awkwardness and Dal apologises for misinterpreting the situation. It doesn’t quite fit as it’s the first indication of an attraction going in any direction but it makes for a strong tension-defusing moment when Gwyn strongly reacts to Dal initiating it. Whether this heralds a romantic relationship developing between them in future or not is unknown but the moment itself was amusing and came at the right time.
As stated above, it wasn’t clear what the sacrifice would entail but circumstances get in the way when the shields go down and the crew have to react to the certainty of being boarded. This is where the plotting falls down slightly as being boarded by Starfleet officers shouldn’t be a problem for them since they can simply explain why they couldn’t answer their hails. The only way their behaviour makes sense if they know they will be boarded by the Vindicator but that’s information they don’t currently have. It doesn’t stand out as a problem as the pacing of the episode encourages the viewer to be swept up in what it presents but the quiet moment between Gwyn and Dal prior to the shields failing provides a beat to take stock of the events prior to that point.
The calm doesn’t last long as the Vindicator comes aboard the Protostar with Drednok to facilitate infecting the fleet with the Living Construct. It makes for an exciting set piece and it allows Gwyn to play to one of her strengths by engaging in combat with the heirloom. She is outclassed by the more experienced Vindicator but the Diviner proves once and for all that he loves his daughter by coming to her aid. It’s a stretch to call this redemption for the Diviner but it can be definitively said that his time on the Dauntless prompted him to reconsider his hatred of Starfleet and opened his mind to a gentler approach. His decision to defend Gwyn was more about protecting his daughter than saving Starfleet which is a believable motivator when considering everything the Diviner has done over the season. It has always been evident that he cares about Gwyn and that manifested in a brutal upbringing because he wanted to ensure that she could take care of herself. He also tried to teach her to hate as he does which is undeniably bad parenting but he certainly raised her as best he could and does right by her in his final moments.
It’s impressive how complex this relationship is and how conflicted Gwyn constantly is over how she feels about her father. She is devastated when he dies in her arms and recognises the sacrifice he made for her but that doesn’t mean she forgives him for the way he raised her. She cares about him while condemning both his treatment of her and the fact that he enslaved people from different species. These things aren’t mutually exclusive and it makes for a complicated grieving process where she feels a profound sense of loss combined with relief because the Diviner can no longer harm others.
The Vindicator amounts to an underwhelming villain overall. She comes into the season too late to make a strong impact so ends up being a moustache-twirling villain with no nuance because that’s what is required to propel the story forward. Her origins are sympathetic and her motivation is understandable but the show fails to do anything meaningful with her after the truth was revealed. For the purposes of this episode, she is relegated to being worse than the Diviner which enhances his sacrifice but she’s far from an interesting villain which is disappointing given the overall quality of the writing on this show. She will almost certainly be back based on her escape after accomplishing her goal.
Gwyn ends up using what he taught her in a positive way which extends the metaphor of her being the good thing that comes from bad origins. Her affinity with languages allows her to bridge the language barrier created by the loss of the Universal Translator. Instead of using language against other species as she was taught, she is able to use it to bring them together, a point that Gwyn herself makes. On one hand, it’s on the nose to openly state this but it’s also worth remembering the target audience of this show who might not fully understand the point being made even if it seems self-evident to older viewers.
Her speech to the Klingon Captain was excellent and overlaying the Klingon language with English to highlight that she’s speaking Klingon while indicating that her words are being translated for the benefit of the audience was a strong touch. Ella Purnell’s delivery of the powerfully written words was captivating and delivered the thesis of this show in an elegant way. The heft and sincerity in Ella Purnell’s performance show how firmly Gwyn believes in what she’s saying and how valuable her time on the Protostar has been in coming to this conclusion.
The words prove meaningful to those who hear them as non-Starfleet ships start flooding in to lend a hand in whatever way they can. It highlights the influence of the Federation and how even those who don’t fully endorse the organisation can’t deny that having it around is better than not. The implication is that every ship that arrives has benefited from its existence in some way and are taking the opportunity to pay it forward. It’s a powerful display of the spirit of cooperation; one of the franchise’s core values while giving the crew a practical display of those in action.
It also comes across in other ways such as when Janeway convinces the security officer to let her out of the brig by asking her to consider what she knows about her commanding officer. As luck would have it, she was one of the telepathic children that Janeway helped escape an oppressive regime in the Voyager episode “Counterpoint”. This feeds into Gwyn’s words about Starfleet being welcoming and something that everyone can belong to. It also says a lot about Janeway and the influence she had on those she helped as Voyager made the journey home. Years later a wayward child was inspired to join Starfleet because of Janeway’s practical example of what the organisation represents and she is also personally grateful to Janeway for giving her the chance to make her own choices. The idea of a wayward child ending up in Starfleet also connects to the Protostar crew who are also inspired by Janeway however indirectly.
Unfortunately, the hope doesn’t last long as more Starfleet ships warp in and are immediately infected. Starfleet ships automatically send out a distress call when in danger and the crews of that ship won’t know what they’re dealing with so fall into the trap and pass on the signal to more ships to create a domino effect that will consume every ship and station in the Federation. This episode is masterful at managing stakes with an excellent balance of victories and defeats culminating in this seemingly hopeless ending punctuated by the realisation that there’s no way to stop the signal. The moment is allowed to linger as the audience is made to marinate in hopelessness as the situation seems unresolvable. It makes for a strong cliffhanger leading into the season finale.
An excellent episode that masterfully manages stakes, never loses sight of the strong characterisation or messaging and is constantly exciting. The opening moments of the episode efficiently and meaningfully summarise the situation through cleverly disguised quickfire exposition. Following this, the evasive sequence is propulsive, thrilling and beautifully animated. It’s also a showcase of how cohesive and determined the crew are. Gwyn’s attempted sacrifice is a confusing addition as it isn’t clear what that entails but her decision flows naturally from her development over the course of the season. It also provides an opportunity for a strong interaction between her and Dal where he learns about Starfleet’s ban on genetically engineered individuals. His reaction is a mature one where he offers to sacrifice himself so that those who can get into Starfleet have the chance to find a place to belong. Dal’s thinking is flawed as he sees himself as expendable and has assigned most of his self-identity to getting into Starfleet. He isn’t considering how deeply losing him would affect the others. Gwyn has the same blind spot which makes their pairing in this moment a natural one. Their kiss as a result of misreading signals on Dal’s part doesn’t quite fit as it’s the first indication of an attraction going in any direction but it makes for a strong tension-defusing moment. The Vindicator beaming aboard the Protostar results in an exciting set piece and a meaningful sacrifice from the Diviner who proves once and for all that he cares about Gwyn. It doesn’t redeem him but is consistent with his worldview being changed as a result of his time on the Dauntless. His sacrifice and Gwyn’s reaction to it is an excellent showcase of the complexity of this relationship. The Vindicator ends up being an underwhelming villain with no nuance which is disappointing given the quality of the writing on this show. Gwyn’s affinity with languages ends up being instrumental in starting to solve the problem as she’s the only available translator. Instead of using language against other species as she was taught, she is able to use it to bring them together, therefore, extending the metaphor of good things coming from bad origins. Her speech to the Klingon captain is beautifully written and powerfully delivered by Ella Purnell. The speech delivers the thesis of the show in an elegant way and makes the point clearly. It results in non-Starfleet ships warping in to help which highlights the influence of the Federation. The implication is that every ship that arrives has benefited from its existence in some way and are taking the opportunity to pay it forward. It’s a powerful display of the spirit of cooperation; one of the franchise’s core values while giving the crew a practical display of those in action. It also comes across through the security officer freeing Janeway because she remembers when Janeway helped her escape an oppressive regime when she was a child. This says a lot about Starfleet and Janeway herself. Unfortunately, the hope doesn’t last long as more Starfleet ships warp in and are immediately infected. This episode is masterful at managing stakes with an excellent balance of victories and defeats culminating in this seemingly hopeless ending punctuated by the realisation that there’s no way to stop the signal. The moment is allowed to linger as the audience is made to marinate in hopelessness as the situation seems unresolvable. It makes for a strong cliffhanger leading into the season finale.
- efficiently summarising the situation in the opening moments
- the excellent evasive sequence
- Gwyn’s willingness to sacrifice herself flowing naturally from her development over the season
- Gwyn and Dal’s familiarity with one another making their conversation more meaningful
- Dal’s mature reaction to the truth highlighting his growth
- the kiss as a tension-defusing moment
- the exciting set piece when the Vindicator boards the Protostar
- the Diviner’s meaningful sacrifice
- Gwyn’s reaction to the Diviner’s death showcasing the complexity of their relationship
- Gwyn’s affinity for languages being instrumental in trying to solve the problem
- extending the metaphor of good things coming from bad origins through Gwyn using languages to bring people together
- Gwyn’s beautifully written and performed speech to the Klingon captain
- the non-Starfleet ships coming to help showing the influence of the Federation
- extending this through the security officer freeing Janeway because she was helped as a child
- masterfully managing stakes with an excellent balance of victories and defeats culminating in this seemingly hopeless ending
- the lack of clarity around what Gwyn’s sacrifice would actually involve
- the confusing aversion to being boarded when that would solve the communication problem
- the vindicator amounting to an underwhelming villain
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