In which a whole planet takes one look at these kids and decides it wants them to be happy and safe and never leave, and really, who can blame it?
This is the first episode of Prodigy to air since I returned to the office, so instead of watching it at my desk over breakfast like a civilised person, I had to watch it on my phone, on the train.
(“Liz, you could wait–” No. I’m gonna stop you there. No I couldn’t.)
Having gone through Introduction to Starships with Janeway, the kids have their very first away mission, which naturally goes terribly wrong.
This is a pretty familiar storyline to anyone who has seen Star Trek, but that’s not the target audience here. I definitely had a moment of, “come on, get to the bit where I don’t know what’s going to happen next!” but not only am I an adult, I am an adult who has definitely watched too much Star Trek for her own good.
Anyway, at twenty minutes an episode, these stories don’t exactly drag. Kids ensnared in appealing visions designed to distract them and keep them on the planet: check. One single kid (Dal, of course) proves harder to ensnare and is able to break away: check.
Along this plot thread, I was most intrigued by what we learned about these characters along the way. Rok-Tahk doesn’t dream of home or parents, but cute little animals who will love her and play with her. Zero is intrigued by mysteries: a maze with the Protostar’s engine at the centre. Jankom is sucked in with food from home — “home” in this case being a Tellarite sleeper ship. (An interesting hint to his origins — maybe the reason he’s never heard of the Federation is that his family left their homeworld before it was even founded.)
And Dal wants parents, but can’t quite imagine them. Instead, he gets Janeway, whom he has accepted as a mentor, and Kate Mulgrew gets her first Big Performance, reminding us how great she is as a voice actor.
(Seriously, go play the Dragon Age trilogy. She’s only in it for a fraction of each game, yet steals the show every time.)
Meanwhile, Gwyn resists the siren call of the redemption arc
I did not expect Gwyn’s face turn to take so long. Based on all the promos, I assumed she would very quickly integrate with the team, and she and Dal would have a bickering flirtation which would no doubt trigger years of Tumblr drama.
At this point, Prodigy has taken longer to integrate Gwyn than Voyager did with the Maquis. And hooooooo boy, with her determination to be reunited with her father and present him with the gift of the Protostar, my initial assessment that she is girl!Zuko isn’t that far off the mark.
…actually, given that the Diviner hasn’t physically abused her, only messed with her head and her moral code, I wonder if maybe she’s actually Azula 2.0. Back in AtLA fandom, I was criticised for believing that Azula was redeemable, even though it’s perfectly obvious that no fourteen-year-old is beyond redemption —
Anyway, I continue to be Team Gwyn but also Team Gwyn Making Better Choices. So: hanging out with Janeway is good, I like that. Restoring Janeway’s factory settings and stealing the Protostar: bad. Saving Murf when she bails out: good, and also a reminder that she’s not a monster.
Recognising the planet’s illusions when her “father” offers her approval and a hug: heartbreaking. And kudos to the animation team for making it clear that Gwyn (Gwyndara! She has a full name!) desperately wants that support from her father, even as she knows it isn’t real.
Meanwhile, it may have been a mistake to base the emergency training hologram on Janeway…
Based on how she says, “If you’re cadets,” I firmly believe that — at least prior to being rebooted by Gwyn — Long Janeway knows that these kids are civilians (and children), and is going along with them for her own reasons. Curiosity, probably — look at the way she steers them towards the first interesting planet she spots.
I mean, this is the person who, in her human incarnation, stopped at very interesting anomaly she came across on her trip through the delta quadrant. I suspect we’re going to learn that the Protostar/Long Janeway (I’m still not sure I distinguish the two) are desperately curious about the universe, and also about the kids who have found themselves in her care.
(Also, while she may be programmed to appear adult, and with the skills and knowledge to be the voice of reason, she’s, what, a week old at this point? Just as the Doctor makes more sense when you remembered he was younger than Kes, it’s worth keeping in mind that Long Janeway is actually the youngest person on the Protostar.)
Just throwing out my theory for what’ll happen next week
Paramount has heard the plaintiff cries of the humble Star Trek blogger/podcaster, and will be putting Prodigy on hiatus after next week, so it will only have one episode overlapping with Discovery. (Fret not! It will return in January 2022, and has already been renewed for a second season! Also the first season will have twenty episodes, spread over two years, which I assume has something to do with lead times for animation.)
So here’s how I expect it will go:
Gwyn and the others will reluctantly team up to rescue the Protostar from the planet/tendrils/thingos, dealing with their issues along the way.
But just as they’re free, and have formed an alliance, the Diviner will turn up to capture them — and that will be the cliffhanger. Cue two to three months of Discourse about how Gwyn is an awful person who does not deserve a redemption arc.
Also they’ll figure out that the planet’s intentions were not harmful, it just wanted to learn. This is Star Trek 101, after all.
(Season 1.2 will see Gwyn learn that the Diviner cares less for her than the Protostar, leading her to rescue the others; this time, they will escape as a team. Hopefully with that Caitian kitten along for the ride. DON’T THINK I’VE FORGOTTEN.)
- I say this with the greatest of respect, but Janeway’s holographic ass is a work of art. Hold onto your butt handles indeed.
- Jankom Pog brings the fart jokes, because that’s what the kids are into. (Hey, I laughed.)
- The Protostar’s tricorders and phasers are swish. The tricorders look a little like iPhones, which is nifty. (Naturally, A Certain Type of Trekkie is very, very cross that this science fiction franchise would include technological advances that don’t look like they were designed in 1992.)
Having said that, I would love to know when this is set, because it seems a full generation ahead of Voyager or even Lower Decks. We know that Robert Beltran is playing Captain Chakotay, but who knows how old the character will be when he turns up? This could be early 25th century — the holographic displays are reminiscent of Star Trek: Picard, but the tricorders look half a generation more advanced. (Of course, Starfleet probably gets the newest gadgets, so this could be the 2390s like Picard. In fact, that seems highly likely, I’m gonna go with that assumption until told otherwise.)
- I typed all that out like a CHUMP and then thought to ask TrekCore, who pointed me to the behind-the-scenes stuff telling us that this is set in 2383, five years after Voyager’s return to the alpha quadrant. ANYWAY…
Plotwise, this is the first episode where I really felt like the story wasn’t for me, but it was well-executed, and I loved the character beats. I, too, would like to keep these children safely with me forever. Five Tellarite stews out of five.