Prodigy’s “All the World’s a Stage” in Review
In Star Trek: Prodigy’s most recent installment, the Protostar crew answer a distress call and discover a highly unusual alien civilization. The alien natives seem to have adopted a disjointed version of Starfleet and the members of a crew they encountered over a century ago. Instead of our customary review, here we offer a critical analysis of this unique episode.
In some ways, the logic of the episode doesn’t feel the tightest. At least, you have to give Aaron Waltke, writer of “All the World’s a Stage”, credit that he has figured out more than we see explained on-screen. The episode inspires a range of questions about its story logic. They might’ve been more overtly addressed with more runtime, but at least we can make reasonable guesses for some of the answers. In any case, it’s probably best not to get too distracted by them, but it is worth acknowledging their existence.
The episode beautifully blends the themes of Dal feeling like an imposter with the perseverance he has gained thanks to the inspiration he has received through learning about Starfleet. Much as the natives have, Dal has begun to idealize Starfleet and wants to be part of it, even if it means he’s effectively cosplaying as his way of living up to Starfleet ideals. Like one native says, “We know we’re not Star-Flight, but you don’t need a real ship to believe in what it stands for.”
This is what Star Trek is all about: an aspiration for us, the viewers. We watch as Starfleet officers often put their lives at risk in order to live up to their principles. This episode might remind you of Galaxy Quest, where the cast of the NSEA Protector become the crew of a real-life Protector. Obsessive fans manage to save the day thanks to their detailed knowledge of the show, and as a result, they all become real-life heroes, willing to take real-life risks to do good (“real life” in the context of the film, anyway).
Alternately, this episode might remind you of the TOS episode “A Piece of the Action”, or even a sequel to it that Michael Piller proposed in 1990, showing how the natives of Sigma Iotia II developed by basing their society on the 23rd-century Starfleet crew that visited them. This idea was proposed again, for Star Trek’s 30th anniversary (they went with “Trials and Tribble-ations” instead), and was ultimately used for Marvel Comics’ Star Trek Unlimited #10. Surprisingly, Aaron Waltke only learned of the concept after writing this installment but felt it validated the idea of the episode. In an interesting contrast, the execution of the concept in Star Trek Unlimited relied on the Iotians completely missing the point of Starfleet ideals, whereas this episode shows the potential if those ideals are kept at the forefront. After watching an episode of Star Trek, we can only hope that the positive messages resonate at least as much as the good characters, action and adventure, and memorable visuals.
At this point, you’re probably wondering if I’m ever going to mention the first thing that will resonate with many after watching this episode: its ties with other Star Trek series. And of course, I couldn’t neglect to mention that this episode features guest star Fred Tatasciore, Shaxs from Star Trek: Lower Decks, playing multiple characters. It’s also a massive tribute to Star Trek: The Original Series, in which the aliens, “the Enderprizians,” include “James’T”, “Sprok”, “Dr. Boons”, “Sool’U”, “Scott’Ee”, and “Huur’A” (some of whom I believe are only named in the end credits). The shuttlecraft Galileo shows up, having crash-landed on the planet and become known to the aliens as “The Gallows”. And “En Son”, their primary inspiration, is Ensign Garrovick from the 1967 episode “Obsession”.
I have avoided discussing these factors for a purpose. Many will walk away and see this as an episode that is nothing more than an homage to previous iterations of Star Trek (as they might’ve viewed Waltke’s previous episode, “Kobayashi”). Some might be bowled over by the nostalgia; others might be quick to criticize the show as relying on references to the point that it confuses what is ostensibly the target audience, a young generation who has barely or never seen previous Star Trek. Either way, it can be easy to become so focused on this aspect that one cannot see the forest for the trees.
What I’m hoping I’ve emphasized is this: the episode works. While I’m not capable of excising all knowledge of previous Star Trek from my brain while considering this episode, I don’t see that it would have been any harder to understand if the crashed shuttle had been from the Columbia in 2156 or the USS David Mack in 2340 rather than the USS Enterprise circa 2268 and if the aliens were imitating Captain J’Ones and W’Elshie.
It can be easy for us to recognize the easter eggs and callbacks and assume that’s all there is to an episode. But a good story is a good story. Years ago, I introduced a friend to Star Trek through “Trials and Tribble-ations”. It didn’t matter that he hadn’t really watched The Original Series, much less “The Trouble with Tribbles”. It mattered that it was entertaining and that it had heart.
“All the World’s a Stage” has a lot of heart. I don’t blame you if you find the callbacks distracting. In the last few years, there have been many Star Trek episodes that contain heavy-handed callbacks to Star Trek from 1966-2005. Sometimes it can contribute to feeling like the Star Trek universe is small. If you find the tributes enrich the episode, you’re not wrong either. If seeing Star Trek have a little fun with itself is what you like, that’s legitimate too.
For me? It’s a solid episode of Star Trek. It’s probably not one of the best of the best, but it’s one that I already look at with fondness. However it ages, it is an important chapter in the development of the Prodigy crew.
“Live logs and proper.” 🖖
Roger McCoy is pretty sure he was watching Star Trek before he was born! He has contributed to the Star Trek: Strange New Worlds anthology series from Simon & Schuster (not directly related to the TV series of the same name) as well as a couple of unofficial Doctor Who anthologies. He believes a Star Trek story does not have to be canon to be good and does not have to be good to be canon, but if a story is Star Trek then you have his attention. He can be found online on his laptop in the other room; come on over and say hi! He’s probably just looking at Star Trek news.