The first stage of Star Trek: Prodigy’s launch has come to a close, as the series makes way for the arrival of Discovery’s fourth season with a brief hiatus after just five episodes. But Prodigy’s debut has temporarily ended on quite the high, both in what it wants from its young heroes, and what it might want out of its wider universe.
While the premiere of Prodigy saw the young Dal (Brett Gray), Rok-Tahk (Rylee Alazraqui), Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzoukas), and Zero (Angus Imrie) flee their imprisonment in the mining facilities of Tars Lamora, the bulk of this first set of episodes has seen them trying to escape an altogether different world: an M-Class planet the kids discover while trying not to be sucked into stars and figuring out how not to kill themselves while piloting an experimental Starfleet cruiser they don’t know anything about. As far as a “Cadets First Away Mission” could possibly go, it’s a good indicator that Prodigy does indeed know what powers Star Trek, because things immediately go wrong the second the kids make planetfall. Dal races off alone, causing the group to immediately fracture; it turns out the planet is semi-sentient and is covered with hallucinogenic vines that feed on victims while showing them realities of their own desires; and Hologram Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) is left to look after the ship and its now very much alone—and eager to escape—captive, Gwyn (Ella Purnell).
It is, of course, a classic Star Trek story of strength in unity overcoming division. One by one we get to briefly interrogate what drives each of these young beings—Dal’s insecurity over his identity and his long-lost parents, Rok-Tahk’s desire to be part of a group and loved for who she is, Zero’s curiosity, Jankom’s... love of food and a desire to not be killed on a murder planet? Which, y’know, is fair, but not quite as emotive as the rest of the team. In confronting these desires and understanding that the salves they’re offered by this hostile world are nothing more than illusions, the teens come together in a way that makes them feel less like the rag-tag mob that escaped Tars Lamora and a little more like the Starfleet heroes Janeway wants them to be already.
It’s an arc that likewise applies to Gwyn, who has spent much of Prodigy so far as an unwilling participant—first the loyal agent to her sinister father the Diviner (John Noble), then captive bargaining chip of our heroes, and momentarily something of a free agent when she uses the mayhem of Murder Planet (name pending, but it’s a good one, as Jankom professes) to try and sieze the Protostar for her father and turn her unwilling allies in. It’s not long, however, until Gwyn has to learn the same lessons the rest of her Prodigy co-stars have, both forced to work with them to survive breaking free of a planet full of life-sucking vines and when she is confronted with the harsh lesson that her father prioritizes securing the Protostar for himself over her own safety. Abandoned by her family, Gwyn finds herself embraced by a new one, and at long last, our crew has become whole, and not eaten by deadly plants on their first away mission. Huzzah!
But a touching tale of found family is not all that Prodigy has had to offer up as it goes on break. The climax of today’s episode, “Terror Nova,” sees the Protostar crew, now fully united with Gwyn, escape the grip of the Diviner again by unlocking something quite surprising about the ship: it turns out that the Protostar is named as such because Starfleet Engineering literally put one in the heart of a spaceship, a secondary experimental engine on top of its warp drive. Acting as a boost even on warp speed, channeling the energy of a newborn star propels the Protostar not just beyond the grip of the Diviner, but to distances unknown.
Modern Star Trek does love itself a dangerous prototype engine, doesn’t it? It’s an interesting twist, for sure, and one that will no doubt have diehard Trek fans either complaining or celebrating that beyond-warp speeds didn’t turn any of Prodigy’s stars into primoradial lizards. But whatever Prodigy has planned with its game-changing engine, there’s something quite beautiful about a show with so many connections back to Star Trek: Voyager that one of its biggest twists is that Starfleet built a ship to help avoid what Janeway and her crew went through in the Delta Quadrant all those years ago... and then put a hologram of her on it just so she could see it in action, in some weird way.
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