At long last, a corner of the franchise aimed specifically at young people. And with Captain Janeway involved! It’s like they read my teenage diary!
(Please don’t read my teenage diary, there are so many Janeway/Chakotay feelings, it’s deeply embarrassing.)
I think it’s safe to say that, going right back to “The Cage”, Star Trek has struggled with beginnings. It would be nice to think it’s improving, but Discovery opened with a lot of exposition — which I loved, but I seemed to be in the minority — and Picard‘s premiere was a mess which foreshadowed the problems of its first season. Lower Decks is extremely good, but even “Second Contact” had a frenetic pace and shouty quality which was quickly scaled back.
“Lost and Found” … is good. Really good. It’s pacy, and tells its story with a minimum of exposition and only a tiny bit of drag. The ensemble comes together organically, with backstories largely implied at this point, trusting the audience to be intrigued enough to stick around for more.
In fact, “Lost and Found” is such a good opener that — let’s be honest here — it almost doesn’t feel like Star Trek. In fact, as I type (less than 24 hours since the episode dropped in the US), that’s what’s being howled across the wastelands of the internet.
“This isn’t proper Star Trek!” they cry, “this is some sort of Star Wars knock-off! This is Guardians of the Galaxy! This has colour and movement and style!”
But here’s the thing, right? Prodigy‘s mission is to appeal to new viewers — not just kids, but their parents, and anyone who is interested in Star Trek but finds 55 years of canon intimidating. Or who takes one look at ugly uniforms and beige rooms and goes, “Uh, that cannot possibly be fun.”
So yes, Prodigy opens with the visual language of science fiction franchises that those potential new Trekkies are probably familiar with. A little bit of Star Wars. A dash of the MCU. Technology that’s not what we’re used to.
But as the story unfolds — as Dal and Rok-Tahk find the USS Protostar and access the universal translator — the language of Star Trek creeps in. Not just because we’re in a familiar setting — the Protostar is reminiscent of Voyager in her shape, but the bridge looks like a blend of Discovery and the 2009 Enterprise — but because it’s a catalyst for the characters to start becoming a team.
I discussed this with Anika on our podcast just the other day — Prodigy is a series that’s setting out to teach viewers how to be Trekkies, just as its characters are going to learn how to be in Star Trek. But it would be disingenuous to pretend that audiences have no preconceived ideas about what space opera looks like, and Prodigy is using that baseline in a really clever way.
Having said that, yeah, Drednok really does look like General Grievous.
Importantly, I really like the characters
Which is to say, I love and adore Gwyn and would do anything to keep her safe.
Also there are some other people there.
I kid! …mostly. Gwyn is far and away my favourite — I love a character with a morally ambiguous side, and working as her father’s translator and slave procurer is definitely that. (I predict that the same people who think Garak is a soft smol bean will declare her Problematic and Unredeemable.) Everyone else seems like a solidly decent person so far, with the possible exception of …
Zero, who is mostly cool, but they were quite willing to leave without Dal, and I respect a bit of pragmatism.
Everyone else so far I like, but don’t yet love. Which isn’t a criticism! (I didn’t even love Kathryn Janeway at first sight!) Dal seems like he’ll be a fun lead, and although Lower Decks/fandom itself has soured me somewhat on Boys Who Think They Should Be Captain, I feel like he and Gwyn will be a good team. Aside from him having kidnapped her, but girl, your dad was using you to help enslave children. You gotta cut that guy off.
(Is Gwyn the new Zuko? Can I unilaterally declare her the new Zuko? I can? Okay, good.)
The bad guys seem very bad indeed
Like, okay, Drednok is Grievous 2.0 and somehow related to the chibi Reapers who guard the slave camp? His professional rival is a 17-year-old girl, he is strictly Tier 2 Villain.
John Noble Gwyn’s Dad Gwyn’s progenitor the Diviner is genuinely a bit scary, and also he has An Agenda. We don’t yet know what it is, save that it involves finding the Protostar and not letting Gwyn learn about the Federation, and also he and Gwyn might be the last of their species? (I’ve learned not to trust that sort of claim. I have seen Doctor Who…)
This is all very dark
You’ve got your slavery, specifically child slavery; you’ve got whatever it is the Diviner is cooking up. You’ve got Zero being used to torture people, and Gwyn being an interrogator-in-training. Prodigy has a lot of bright colours, but that’s all the better to highlight the shadows.
Is this too dark? For kids? No way! Avatar: the Last Airbender‘s third episode has the hero learning he’s the sole survivor of genocide while the antagonist fights Jason Isaacs almost to the death. She-Ra and the Princesses of Power is about the heroine realising she’s been a child soldier on the wrong side. Honestly, kids entertainment is often very dark — and yet still lighter than what kids will write themselves, given the chance.
Is this too dark for Star Trek? Uhhhh, look, yeah, maybe. Not because serious themes have no place here, it’s just that the franchise is historically a bit hit or miss in terms of actually knowing how to handle such stories.
But it’s too soon to say for sure! And frankly, Star Trek‘s history of piffing the consequences may suit a series for young viewers, giving them a safe space to experience dark stories without it being overwhelming. (I mean. It was for me.)
- Apparently Murf’s identity or species is a deep cut of some kind. I cannot wait to be the last to find out.
- I am one of the six people on the internet excited at the prospect of having more Kazon in my Star Trek, although their presentation here as slave owners was unpromising. But I hold out hope! I am eternally optimistic!
- Seska’s son with Cullah would be nine or ten years old by now. Just saying…
- Do I love Long Janeway yet? It’s really too soon to say, but it is terribly exciting to hear Kate Mulgrew’s voice again.
- We don’t know much about Gwyn’s species, but her armband/sword looks like the programmable matter seen in the 32nd century, which suggests they were (are?) quite advanced. Also it is very pretty. My condolences to the cosplayers who now have to reproduce it.
- Speaking of Gwyn — I pointed out above that the Watchers look a bit like Reapers, and doesn’t her … hair/head/thing also resemble the Asari just a bit? Guys, I love you, but please put down your consoles and take a break from Mass Effect. Just for a little while.
This is more than a promising start — it also stands alone as a solid and clever adventure, and I really enjoyed it. Thirty-seven appendages out of five.