Warp Factor Trek

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Stardate 61302.7: Following the lesson they learned in “All the World’s a Stage” about how much can be accomplished without a ship, Dal and crew leave the Protostar to contact Starfleet without exposing them to the weapon. The ship being buried in an avalanche might remind you of the USS Voyager crashing into the snow in Star Trek: Voyager’s 100th episode, “Timeless”. That episode aired almost exactly twenty-four years before this one. The same visual might also remind you of the way the Protostar was hidden in the beginning of this series.

Like Luke Skywalker and Obi-Wan, the kids approach a haven for smugglers but immediately run into a handsome pilot with a ship: legendary rogue and occasional DJ Thadiun Okona, played by legendary rogue and occasional Rocketeer Billy Campbell. Okona first appeared in The Next Generation’s “The Outrageous Okona” and recently cameoed in the Lower Decks episode “An Embarrassment Of Dooplers”, where he premiered his new eye patch. Okona offers his ship (the Erstwhile, from his TNG appearance), but he’s seized by Xindi-Reptiilian security officers who accuse him of possessing contraband.

Okona faces his Xindi-Reptilian accusers

Vice Admiral Janeway has followed Barniss Frex, the Denobulan from “Asylum”, to the planet, though he’s ignoring hails. Jankom encounters Dr. Noum, but before he can explain why they’re looking for Starfleet, the Tellarites engage in their species’ well-known penchant for arguing. Their interaction is entertaining and feels important to Jankom’s development. Noum leaves Jankom with his pride wounded.

When a Klingon threatens Gwyn, Ensign Asencia intervenes. Gwyn – realizing that she’s been recognized by the ensign and that the Diviner is aboard the Dauntless – panics and hurriedly leaves.

Gwyn hides from Asencia

Dal meets Admiral Janeway but is so nervous he gets tongue-tied. She quickly befriends him and recognizes his desire to enlist in Starfleet. But when Frex is brought to Janeway and identifies the kids as the ones who destroyed his relay station, Dal runs away.

After Dal explains to his crew what has transpired, they try to escape from both the Starfleet and Xindi-Reptilian personnel in a stolen skiff, where Okona has been hiding. He helps them flee back to the Protostar. The ship launches but comes nose-to-nose with the Dauntless, which follows them into warp. They’re forced to ignore Janeway’s hails for fear of triggering the weapon. Murf hatches into a humanoid form vaguely reminiscent of a Pikmin. He accidentally fires a torpedo at the admiral’s ship. The Dauntless disables the Protostar near the Romulan Neutral Zone, into which the Protostar attempts to escape. The Romulans warn the Dauntless that entering the Neutral Zone would be an act of war.

The Romulan commander, Kaseth, confronts the Dauntless bridge crew

This is a tricky episode to consider because it is connective tissue in a larger ongoing story arc. Things happen, but there’s no beginning, middle, and end, either on a plot level or on a character level…

…which isn’t necessarily a bad thing; serialized shows often thrive on these types of episodes. “Dream Catcher”, from earlier this season, existed much the same way, best viewed as a pair with the episode that followed, “Terror Firma”. (Coincidentally, the writing of “Dreamcatcher” was credited solely to Lisa Schultz Boyd, who wrote this episode.)

The Prodigy two-parter “Dream Catcher” and “Terror Firma”

It’s certainly possible to view such an episode on its own merits. “The Best of Both Worlds” (part 1) expertly built tension while establishing a character arc for Riker that involved conflict with Shelby. “Improbable Cause” was filled with crackling character interaction between Garak and Odo, and it ended on a shocking reveal.

This episode, though, ends a little limply. The threat of the Romulans feels like it comes out of nowhere. It’s not immediately clear why the Romulans seem to be pursuing the Dauntless but not the Protostar.  The cliffhanger presents more of a threat to Admiral Janeway’s crew than to the protagonists of the show.

Members of the Dauntless crew, along with the Diviner, encounter the Romulans

The episode also raises some questions. I try not to nitpick galactic navigation much, since Star Trek has never been terribly consistent about it. However, this tale is set at or near the edge of current Federation space, not far from the Delta Quadrant, and Okona was somehow able to limp here at speeds even slower than the warp-five-capable Enterprise could manage. And Kazon appear, even though they’re based seventy light-years from Earth. Is it impossible to reconcile all this to a reasonable extent? Probably not, but it can be distracting to long-time fans.

I don’t want to give the impression that I ended this episode disliking or nitpicking it. It was satisfying to see the two ships finally cross paths. The initial interactions between the two crews were well-handled, and the factors that prevented information from flowing freely felt believable. Putting the kids in cold-weather gear was a clever way of having them not be visibly in uniform.

Jankom Pog in cold-weather gear

Pog makes an interesting, albeit tongue-in-cheek, comment: “Tellarite royalty can’t travel on anything short of warp five.” Pog has previously been established as arriving in the Delta Quadrant on a sleeper ship, and he was unfamiliar with the Federation. This all seems to be hinting toward a conclusion: Pog had been asleep since before the forming of the Federation, when a warp-five ship was a novelty. That said, while we could treat this as an unfolding mystery, the truth is that this has already been effectively confirmed by series creator Dan Hageman and writer/executive producer Aaron Waltke, both of whom have stated that Pog is around 200 years old.

And while Okona’s appearance isn’t a surprise if you saw the clip from Star Trek Day, it’s nice to see the coordination between the showrunners paying off. Lower Decks altered Okona’s look after learning about the changes to his appearance that had been requested by Billy Campbell for Prodigy.

Rating: 3/5

This wasn’t the most amazing episode of the show, but it was a solid installment, and I imagine it will hold up well in the larger context of the ongoing story. While I’m not on the edge of my seat, I’m certainly looking forward to seeing where the show will go next.

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