As Dal, Gwyn, and Janeway set course for a new set of adventures aboard the Protostar, the series invokes the past to brighten the kids’ futures.
Can you have Starfleet without Starfleet? That’s the essential question Star Trek: Prodigy asks in the back half of its first season. As the villainous Diviner (John Noble) told his daughter last time, the advanced vessel ferrying the series’ young heroes contains a weapon that could decimate the Federation. If that weren’t enough, the flesh-and-blood Vice Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) has reason to think whoever’s piloting the Protostar stole the ship and marooned her dear friend, Chakotay. So despite how badly the show’s main characters want to join Starfleet, there’s a plethora of reasons to stay far, far away for the time being.
And yet, even if they’re guided by a holographic version of Voyager’s captain rather than the genuine article, the teenage crew of the Protostar has internalized what really matters from Starfleet — its ideals. They want to do good throughout the galaxy. They aim to help whoever needs their assistance, and hopefully one another, too. They hope to rack up enough good deeds so that, when it’s safe to return to the fold, Starfleet’s bigwigs will recognize each starry-eyed kid as one of their own. As ready and worthy of being inducted into the organization despite their lack of formal training and, shall we say, complicated, path to get there.
That’s the best part of this batch of episodes from Star Trek: Prodigy. The young crew of the Protostar are all still finding their way. Dal (Brett Gray) is still wrestling with questions about his origins and identity and what both mean for his future. Gwyn (Ella Purnell) is still recovering her memory after the events of last season and reckoning with her father’s abuses. Zero (Angus Imrie) strives to make up for the harm their efforts to save Gwyn caused her and strains under the weight of the guilt. Rok-Tahk (Rylee Alazraqui) reaffirms her hope to become a scientist but wants to figure out which branch is the right fit for her talents. Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzoukas) struggles with his sense of self and what it means to be a Tellarite and an engineer. Even Murf (Dee Bradley Baker) is going through major changes over the first five episodes of this half-season.
Amid that uncertainty, what keeps the kid adventurers together are the moral and ethical principles of the Federation and their commitment to the cause they represent despite the distance. Stymied from formally enrolling in Starfleet for the time being, they aim to follow Hologram Janeway’s guidance anyway and uphold the values the service is founded on regardless. The abiding and inspiring message that runs through this block of episodes is that the substance of Starfleet, and by extension, Star Trek, is vastly more important than the form.
The abiding and inspiring message that runs through this block of episodes is that the substance of Starfleet, and by extension, Star Trek, is vastly more important than the form.
It works as a metaphor for Prodigy itself, a show that continues to have a different tone and feel from any other Star Trek program. The series signposts some of its morals and messages, channeling classic Trek stories and themes while packaging them in an age-appropriate way for a younger target audience. Those ideas, though, remain no less potent and are given particular force through young adults discovering the value of Starfleet’s core tenets on their own and choosing to put them into action with little more than noble aspirations and youthful good intentions at their disposal.
Nonetheless, for all that Prodigy scans as novel, given its all-ages focus and computer-animated look, this crop of episodes, in particular, goes in for some deep pulls from Star Trek history. Along with dueling Janeways and the search for Chakotay, the show incorporates less well-known but still key elements from Voyager. In one outing, the young crew of the Protostar cross paths with none other than the Borg. The series also finds a creative way to pay homage to The Original Series with an approach that pokes fun at the conventions of the 1960s show while still affirming the transcendent core of its stories. There are even some surprising cameos from classic characters of past eras that demonstrate how the franchise can take advantage of the animated medium to invoke its past in a way that resonates in the present.
Along the way, this half-season balances serialized elements with fairly standalone stories. The running threads of the kid heroes’ quest to join Starfleet and real-life Janeway’s hunt for the Protostar continue throughout. But there’s also room for planet-of-the-week style plots that make room for personal epiphanies and unique, single-serving setups.
Prodigy also continues with its twists and mystery boxes, providing big answers and even more surprises about the characters’ personal histories, the nature of their vessel, and how the Diviner’s species aims to take down Starfleet. Sometimes the teases and cryptic hints start to become too much. Still, this crop of episodes commendably uses its reveals and cameos to move the emotions and aspirations of the characters in this story here and now, rather than throwing out twists for twists’ sake or constantly stalling for time.
In that, Prodigy is never boring. Despite an art style that can seem uncanny or unsightly in places, the show nonetheless takes advantage of an animated setting with gusto. This set of episodes, in particular, brings back personalities and species that would be tricky or costly to realize again in live action and delivers scads of big set pieces that might be prohibitive to pull off in a photorealistic fashion. The freedom from the constraints of the real world allows the team responsible for the visuals to deliver inventive and exciting sequences as our heroes hop across the galaxy.
When they do, these daring kids hope to prove themselves worthy of the banner they proudly fly. Mistaken for thieves, mistrusted by those they cross paths with, and unwittingly carrying a secret weapon, the crew of the Protostar faces a great deal beyond their control that’s working against them.
Nevertheless, they have one thing very much in their favor — the guiding principles that have steered Starfleet for centuries, ones as meaningful to a ragtag group of teenagers trying to become their best selves as they are to the seasoned officers patrolling the galaxy. And as they complete their self-styled mission, those young heroes show the power of those ideals in any setting to spur a young crew to greatness and help the series that tells their story reach the same heights.
New episodes of Star Trek: Prodigy are beaming up to Paramount+ now.