Warp Factor Trek

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Star Trek: Prodigy’s first “captain’s log” voiceover opens this episode. Dal is trying the record log as a concession to Hologram Janeway. The hologram, still training who she naïvely assumes are Starfleet cadets, strongly suggests they explore an uncharted M-class planet. Knowing the Diviner is likely chasing them, Dal refuses, but Hologram Janeway threatens to report the crew for “noncompliance” if they don’t follow the exploration directive. Implying he doesn’t want any adult authority to be aware of their movements, Dal relents, as long as the visit will be quick. The prospect of their first away mission delights the others in the crew, who want a break and a change of scenery.

The ship journeys down to the planet’s surface rather than having the crew beam there. I’m reminded that transporter technology was created because 1960s special effects were limited by technology of that era and financial considerations. Due to the budget constraints of Star Trek: The Original Series, beaming a few people down was cheaper than creating images of a spacecraft landing. Of course, animation makes these production calculations unnecessary, and the initial planet intel shows that the planet doesn’t have any dangers such as sentient beings. So, the Protostar lands on the surface.

The Protostar just before it lands

Afterwards, Gywn gets extra shackles to prevent her escape. The away team delights in the gadgets provided for an away mission. Phasers and tricorders are issued, and another Star Trek “first” for the viewers: the first vocalized tricorder recognition of a fart. Zero humorously boasts about the benefits of being non-corporeal. The most exciting landing-party tech is the “Runaway”, a monster Jeep with four seats and snazzy features including hold-on-to-your-butts grab handles. This alludes to another grand Star Trek tradition: the baffling absence of seatbelts.

Dal, Rok, Pog, and Zero are on the away team, while Murf stays back to keep Hologram Janeway company. She imparts to them the key instructions to work together and help each other while on the planet, which is an eye-candy buffet of beautiful and unique scenery. The contrarian of the bunch, Pog wears an unnecessary space suit.

The Protostar crew venture outside the ship to view the planet’s environs

The Runaway gets a grand entrance by ramping down to the surface. Dal, forgetting Hologram Janeway’s advice about collaborating as a team, races off alone to explore the planet. The others, now vehicle-less, wander off to explore this intriguing place.

On the ship, Gwyn telepathically connects with her matter-morphing lance and escapes the shackles, the cell, and the security lockouts of the ship. She realizes her education was steeped in all things starship. Hologram Janeway tries to alert Dal, but he seems lost in the beauty of the planet and ignores her warnings. Gwyn takes the captain’s seat, re-programs Hologram Janeway to serve her, and communicates with Drednok to accelerate the Diviner’s pursuit.

Drednok receives a transmission from Gwyn,… and Zero discovers a maze

Zero finds an extensive topiary maze. Pog seems to discover a home of a sentient being, where he is drawn to the culinary smells of his homeworld – Tellarite stew. Rok discovers at least one inhabitant – a big-eyed, cute, hopping, purple, bunny-gremlin creature. The creature greets her without fear, and soon dozens are playfully jumping on her as she giggles, supine with the happy attention. Zero is intrigued by another discrepancy – finding the ship’s engine disconnected. The viewer has one other piece of information, the continual appearance of a twisty invasive vine in each character’s situation.

Soon, Dal sees his long-lost parents in the distance, and a new vine-planet Janeway. She explains that the planet can read minds and create reality-like illusions to trap visitors. The motive seems to be absorbing newly arrived lifeforms into its planetary ecosystem.

Dal encounters representations of Janeway and his parents

Overcoming Star Trek characters via a false but emotionally satisfying imaginary world is a common trope in Star Trek, perhaps its first big sci-fi idea. “The Cage”, the original pilot, features the inhabitants of Talos IV projecting false but compelling realities to control minds and starships. This alien world is reprised in TOS and Discovery. In “Shore Leave”, TOS shows the humor and danger of fantasy. In the Voyager episode “Persistence of Vision”, another alien, a Bothan, projects emotionally charged fantasy hallucinations to disable crew members into a catatonic state. Most recently, in the Lower Decks episode “Mining the Mind’s Mines”, fantasy projections are debilitating to the crew of the USS Cerritos.

Of course, the false seduction of one’s desires goes back to the sirens in Homer’s Odyssey. Resisting the seductive sirens’ song is the classical model of a leader’s determination to stay on task without veering from the essential.

The false Janeway confronts Dal

Dal escapes from the vine-y Janeway. Despite the obstacles, both he and Gywn are determined to save the Protostar, although for different reasons. The aggressive vines begin restricting the ship. Having figured out that his comrades are likely in trouble, Dal rescues his crew with the Runaway super-jeep.

Meanwhile, Gwyn walks on the planet to meet her father. When he lavishes praise on her, she momentarily basks in its satisfactory glow. But the too-good-to-be-true fatherly adoration turns creepy when the Diviner pretender belts out the call of the planet: “Stay!”

The fake Diviner voices his demand

Gwyn tries to escape on the Protostar, but the vines are invasive and too restrictive. Janeway insists that she abandon the ship. She realizes her replicated shuttlecraft, mostly finished, is her best option.

We learn that Gywn managed to safely rescue Murf, as they tumbled to the surface inside the shuttlecraft. All six are reunited, Gwyn having started working with the others. However, they are now stranded on the surface, their ship lost elsewhere on the planet.

Rating: 3.5/5

It is difficult to rate this episode, as it is the opening of a two-part story; the resolution will arrive in the next episode. But writer Lisa Schultz Boyd, with directors Steve In Chang Ahn and Sung Shin, set the table by taking a seemingly happy-go-lucky away mission to a scenic wonderland and transforming it into a near-hopeless dead end for our Prodigy characters.

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