When Star Trek: Prodigy went on hiatus late last year, it left off by blasting our newly united kid crewmates aboard the Protostar quite literally, with a technological reveal that left our heads spinning with all sorts of questions. Apparently not quite done with spinning our heads, the show’s return has already dropped more major, delightful reveals.
“Kobayashi,” the sixth episode of Prodigy, is an important one for the crew, surprise reveals or otherwise. Both Ella Purnell’s Gwyn and Brett Gray’s Dal are faced with struggling to find their place aboard the Protostar—the former, still heartbroken about the betrayal of her father, the latter, frustrated that sitting in the captain’s chair isn’t always about forcing his friends to be subservient to his own desires. As the episode title implies (what is it with Star Trek this season and this infamous test?), they both face seemingly impossible challenges, and have to accept that not every outcome is going to be perfect, easy, or even particularly survivable. But as we said, it’s also an episode that sets the stage for Prodigy to tackle some pretty major dealings as the show moves ahead. Here’s the three biggest takeaways, and what they mean for the show right now...
The episode opens right where the series left off last year, with the Protostar powering down its secret, literally-protostar-powered experimental warp engine after discovering it and using it to flee the Diviner’s wrath. We’re not really told how long the ship was in flight, but the implication is that the trip was short. What we are told is where they ended up: thousand and thousands of light years away. The crew isn’t just not in the Delta Quadrant any more, they’re practically back on the Federation’s doorstep, all the way back in the Gamma Quadrant.
It’s fascinating for multiple reasons—not just that the Federation has, in the years since Voyager’s disaster stranded it for the best part of a decade, developed experimental engine technology to make sure that could never happen again—but it also raises an immediate question for pretty much all of the crew except Dal. The Federation is within contact distance, so why don’t they go and at the least talk to them, if not return the Protostar? Suddenly, Prodigy has gone from a series that was, like Voyager spiritually before it, cut off from contact with the familiar world of Starfleet, to being one that is within arms’ reach of it. Or, inversely, it could be literally anywhere, if the team can get the engine up and running again. Near-enough FTL travel at such massive distances could take us on adventures basically across Star Trek’s universe... which Dal would admittedly prefer for much of the episode, until he goes through some impromptu captain’s training.
After Rok-Tahk (Rylee Alazraqui), Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzoukas), and Zero (Angus Imrie) all tell Dal that they’ve decided they want to take the Protostar to the Federation, the young boy brushes them off—not just because he doesn’t want to get in trouble for technically hijacking an experimental Starfleet ship, but because he bristles at the thought of his crew being able to come to a unanimous decision without his command or input. Skulking off in a huff, he comes across the ship’s Holodeck for the first time, and finds himself intrigued by the Kobayashi Maru program—encouraged by Janeway to try it out, the boy eagerly leaps at a chance to prove himself.
Setting him up on the familiar bridge of the Enterprise-D, Dal’s decision to take the test alone (with Jankom along for the ride as an unwitting engineer) also means he gets to load it up with a team of holographic officers. Asking for the best, he gets a surprising celebration of Star Trek past: at tactical, he gets Deep Space Nine’s Odo. The conn? Uhura herself. Ship’s doctor? The Enterprise’s own Beverly Crusher. Engineering, when Dal eventually boots Jankom from the test? Scotty. And, of course, for science and second-in-command, Spock himself. For the most part, all are voiced by their respective actors from Star Trek history through a clever use of voice clips, with Gates McFadden the sole actor to return and voice new dialogue.
It’s delightful, and not just for the nostalgia—Dal being who he is and far from a trained Starfleet cadet, his approach to the no-win scenario (the nature of which he doesn’t learn until he’s done taking the test dozens and dozens and dozens of times) often leads to spectacular failure. Hell, even Odo tries to stage a mutiny from his command at some point, that’s how bad it goes! But it’s also surprisingly touching, with Leonard Nimoy’s Spock getting to bear the emotional weight of Dal’s eventual frustration at the test transforming to despair. As Dal bemoans that he lacks faith in himself and the experience to lead, Spock reminds him that regardless his crew is there to help him, if only he’ll listen.
That vital lesson learned, Dal heads to find his friends and apologize for shutting them down, only to find that during his holo-escapades with Starfleet’s finest they’ve been busy uncovering some previously classified information in the Protostar’s systems. With Gwyn’s help—because, curiously, said data was encrypted in her species’ language, despite the fact she and her father are seemingly the only two Vau N’Kat left in existence—the rest of the team uncover a trove of partially restored information, including a corrupted holorecording starring a shocking, but perhaps not too shocking star: another familiar face, Robert Beltran’s Captain Chakotay.
We knew that Beltran would be returning to Trek in the show already, and even already has his own crew cast and waiting. But what “Kobayashi” reveals—as a shock to us and Holo-Janeway, whose memory of what the ship’s mission was had been likewise classified and lost to her—is that that Chakotay and that crew were the former crew of the Protostar. The fragment of the message the kids recover hints that things maybe didn’t go well for them, as Chakotay sends out a distress message requesting aid, only to be told by the holographic Janeway of the past that the ship is being boarded. So now our young heroes have another decision ahead of them: do they go to the Federation to return the Protostar, or do they go to them and seek help to potentially save Chakotay and what’s left of the old crew?
Whatever happens, Prodigy has set the stage for quite a surprising run of episodes. With the potential to go so many places—familiar and new—and a proven capacity that it’s quite willing to tug on a lot of threads from across Star Trek’s long history while doing so, the show has left its slate wide open as to where it’ll take us. If “Kobayashi” is any proof though, wherever it is is going to be fun as hell.
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