What Prodigy’s future says about Star Trek’s future
The modern era of Star Trek may be dying down, but the Netflix-hosted season of this kids-oriented spinoff charts exciting new frontiers.
July 5, 2024

Star Trek: Prodigy’s season two premiere is all about the future. Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) preps a secret mission through a wormhole that would deposit her team fifty-two years into the future. Jerkass Jellico scuttles the operation for fear of polluting the timeline. Naturally, Dal (Brett Gray) and the gang accidentally set the wheels in motion anyway, with the promise of a time-hopping adventure. But first, they sit in awe of how a sacrifice from a hero of old made their future possible.

At the same time, their friend and ally, Gwyn (Ella Purnell), returns to a home planet she’s never been to. There, she aims to act now to forge peace and understanding, hoping to avert the civil war and ensuing self-destruction that arose in the grim future her father hails from. And, of course, the show’s aspiring teenage recruits are given to wonder what the future holds for each of them now that they’re no longer mere hopefuls and wannabes but legitimate cadets-in-training.

Despite noble attempts (and amusing gags) to explain the temporal mechanics of all of this, the logistics remain a bit wonky, as Star Trek time travel stories tend to be. But the import is clear:  the future is at stake, and in a way, so is the present. It’s up to our young heroes and their grown-up allies to save both.

That setup is apropos. Prodigy’s second season comes at a time when Star Trek’s own future seems murky, if not quite enmeshed in the dire threats of possible war and widespread destruction. The show’s parent company, Paramount, has gone from five Star Trek series in active production down to only one.

Star Trek: Picard course-corrected in its third and final season before bowing out. The studio canceled Star Trek: Discovery with just enough warning to add an epilogue to its season-turned-series finale. Despite remaining at a creative peak, Star Trek: Lower Decks has also been canceled, with the series’ forthcoming fifth season poised to be its last. That leaves Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, rife with its own creative successes, as the only extant series to be renewed for more episodes.

Star Trek: Prodigy Season 2 (Netflix/Paramount)
Star Trek: Prodigy Season 2 (Netflix/Paramount)

The phaser banks aren’t exactly empty, though. Despite being in development for ages, the promise remains of a Michelle Yeoh-led Section 31 film. A Starfleet Academy series, set in the same part of the timeline as Discovery, is also in the offing. There is still the constant hum of potential for more of Star Trek on the big screen, either with a new story or a follow-up to the Chris Pine-led films, albeit with little confidence that the hum will escalate into a melody. And the low rumble of demand for a “Star Trek: Legacy” series, following up on the conspicuous sequel hooks embedded in Star Trek: Picard’s final episode, remains steady in the fandom despite few public indications of interest from the powers that be.

If Paramount so desires, it has plenty of potential to relaunch or reload Star Trek into its next era. But the other side of the coin is that the streaming arms race has waned, if not ended entirely. After the boom period of companies racing to add content to distinguish their streaming services from the litany of competitors, we’re in a period of contraction and reevaluation across much of the television landscape. Considering the studio itself has flirted with a sale, and what new owners might want from the franchise of the final frontier remains to be seen, Star Trek’s real-life future mirrors that of the T.V. shows that have earned such an ardent fandom — full of possibilities but continually fraught.

Enter Prodigy itself. The all-ages series was canceled and booted from Paramount+ while production was in progress (and reportedly nearly finished) on its second season. Thanks partly to an outpouring of fan support, the series found a home on Netflix, a throwback to the days when the streaming pioneer made its name by saving promising shows rather than unceremoniously axing them. So, despite warping away from the mothership and encountering plenty of ionic storms and interstellar turbulence along the way, Prodigy’s second season has made its way to the fans after all.

That is a wonderful thing! The new season starts off strong. The mysteries at play build on the stories told in the show’s first season while launching plenty of new problems to solve and new adventures to launch into. The series once more carefully repackages the Star Trek vibe to make it accessible to younger newcomers, connecting the trademark interstellar escapades to relatable stories of kids feeling impatient in the classroom, wanting to hold onto the places where they fit in, and struggling with who they are and what they want. And there are familiar faces from Star Trek’s past to sate the cameo-hungry parents and other die-hards along for the ride.

The characters are primed to grow and change in compelling ways, as the kid protagonists are all dutifully given tracks within Starfleet. Some thrive, and others bristle. They naturally get involved in Janeway’s big secret mission and spark off more traditional recruits who see these Delta Quadrant refugees as troublemakers.

Star Trek: Prodigy Season 2 (Netflix/Paramount)
Star Trek: Prodigy Season 2 (Netflix/Paramount)

Gwyn, in particular, has the meatiest story of the bunch, reckoning with the responsibility of guiding her people into a better future, resolving the person she’s become under Starfleet’s aegis with her Vau N’Akat roots, and coming to understand who her father is now versus the monster he became. All of the ingredients are there, and like its young cadets, Prodigy is poised to reach its potential over its 20-episode second season.

That is a worthy task in and of itself. The shifting sands of media market trends and corporate deal-making are variable in the best of times. The best symbiosis between art and commerce comes when good art generates enough commerce for more good art. But it doesn’t always, or even often, work out that way. So much of modern television is subject to forces beyond the artists’, let alone the fans’, control. Falling in love with a series can feel like spinning a roulette wheel, waiting with baited breath to see whether the confluence of subscription revenue and brand equity and tax write-offs and cost-cutting balance out in favor of your favorite show.

The team behind Prodigy has done their part and then some. As the show launches into its second season, it remains true to Star Trek’s animating ethos while translating those ideals and values for the next generation. It positions worthy arcs and intriguing trajectories for the whole cast while introducing a few new (and old) players to heighten or help with the challenges. And in that, it contemplates what it means to try to do right by the sacrifices of the past and the promise and perils of the future simultaneously, in both literal and philosophical terms.

Where Prodigy goes from here, though, is anyone’s guess. With enough success and support, there’s no reason Netflix or someone else couldn’t produce some sort of continuation for the ambitious show. The notion of a Star Trek series being canceled, only for a groundswell of support to bring it back to the airwaves (or data streams) goes all the way back to 1968. With that hallowed predecessor in mind, the sky’s the limit.

Nonetheless, as the overall franchise enters what feels, in the present moment, like a new phase, it may take feats no less daring or impressive than Dal’s or Gwyn’s or Janeway’s to see another year added to Prodigy’s tour. If this second season is all there is, Prodigy will still have a mission and a track record to be proud of.

But if any show should have a place in the next phase of Star Trek—in a real-life period where what comes next across the globe seems as fraught and disconcerting as anything—maybe it ought to be the series focused on what the last generation can do for the next one and what it takes for everyone, young and old, to help save the future.

Star Trek: Prodigy Season 2 is currently streaming on Netflix.

Star Trek: Prodigy Season 2 Trailer: