Prodigy’s “Ghost in the Machine” in Review
Have you been awaiting the “stuck in the holodeck” episode? If so, your week has come! The good news is that this long-standing Trek trope has something fresh to offer up in Prodigy. Let’s dive in.
As the episode opens, Dal and the crew simulate an attempt to communicate with the Dauntless using morse code via weapons fire. This clever idea is a little too clever for their own good, and this becomes the latest in a string of failed simulated attempts.
In a nice character scene, the kids — being kids — bond over ridiculous quantities of ice cream in an attempt to drown their sorrows. Jankom mentions Dr. Noum, the Tellarite doctor from the Dauntless who got under his skin with a comment about his height. When they go their separate ways for the night, strange things start happening. Zero concludes that they never left the holodeck after the simulation.
Although the computer won’t respond to commands, Hologram Janeway confirms that they are in the holodeck. She tries to get to the bottom of the problem.
The kids enter the headquarters of the “Cellar Door Society”, part of a program that Zero regularly enjoys. They suppose that completing the story may cause the program to end, so they solve their first clue and begin looking for a lost skeleton key.
Stepping outside the headquarters, they find themselves in an alley, facing down a gang of Tellarite toughs from Jankom’s street-fighting simulation. Each of them suspiciously resembles Dr. Noum. A brutal fight ensues. When Jankom loses a tooth, he and his friends realize that the safety protocols have been disabled. Janeway tries to re-enable the safeties, but even with Dal’s command code, she’s unable to protect his group. They take out the gang and chase down the sole remaining member. A tattoo of a key on his chest mentions a key club, and this revelation turns the simulation to black-and-white as the Key Club appears.
The noir-ish Key Club seems to be from a simulation that Murf frequents. He immediately grabs a hat, jumps on stage, and starts dancing and singing — or at least convincingly lip-syncing. Multiple familiar elements are present: more Dr. Noums frequent the club; Gwyn encounters the visage of the Diviner as the bartender; and Rok finds another veterinary patient. When Rok wonders why the computer is only merging elements from programs that the crew has been recently using, Zero wonders if it might have a motive for doing so. Gwyn bares her soul to the bartender, but another fight breaks out. Rok realizes that the piano is missing a key. Along with Murf, they flee from the club by jumping through a portal in the piano.
The kids then land on a pirate ship. The seafaring crew acknowledges Dal as their captain — it turns out he’s been using the holodeck for more than just the Kobayashi Maru. They search for the key until another veterinary patient appears in the form of a giant sea monster, which tries to hug them to death. Rok decides the creature is malnourished, and a cannon-full of food satisfies it enough to retreat. However, the ship is damaged and sinking.
Murf finds a compass that points to Rok’s veterinary hospital, but Zero realizes the game is designed to never end — there is no skeleton key. The entire simulation is a ruse to keep them too preoccupied to escape.
As the simulation ends, Zero explains that Hologram Janeway was behind the whole thing. Zero believes she contains a secret subroutine designed to activate if the ship’s core mission to go to Starfleet was ever disrupted. The Janeway hologram is ignorant of this, but the ship’s recordings bear out the theory, as does their new location. They’re out of the Romulan Neutral Zone, nose-to-nose with the Dauntless, and locked out of the controls. Hologram Janeway can only say she’s sorry.
Once again, I’m impressed at how Prodigy develops an ensemble piece despite the meager twenty-four-minute episode runtime. Animation, done well, moves quickly and allows for dense storytelling. And this show certainly moves quickly, allowing the series to balance a variety of cast members — often with intersecting plots — and still feel satisfying.
Last time, there were flashbacks to the backstories of Rok, Zero, the Diviner, and Jankom in a breezy twenty-four minutes. This time, while there aren’t any significant B-plots, we get to explore the holodeck hobbies of Zero, Jankom, Rok, Dal, and even Murf in the same runtime, exploring facets of them that we might never have otherwise seen.
Rok’s caring nature, portrayed in the glimpses of her veterinary simulation, isn’t necessarily a surprise, nor is Dal’s desire to have a crew that unquestioningly obeys his orders. But Zero’s love for a mystery series about a secret society? I didn’t expect that, and yet it fits the character perfectly. Jankom taking out his anger by beating up a holodeck full of Dr. Noums? The violence is surprising but adds to his character. And Murf as a Sinatra-esque singer in a nightclub? Well, we all saw that one coming, I’m sure — they can’t all be shocking reveals!
Seriously, though, bravo to the Prodigy writing staff. The show consistently does an excellent job of letting the cast shine — with the general exception of Jimmi Simpson’s Drednok — and between the character-bonding and insights into the crew, this episode continues the trend of letting the characters carry the show.
Furthermore, Prodigy continues to subtly explain the workings of the holodeck to the audience, as Gwyn and Rok discuss how Zero appears to be beyond the boundaries of the room. Also, this episode seems to reveal additional modifications made while the ship was in the future, moving the overarching plot forward and placing the crew right back into the confrontation that’s been driving the second half of the season. Although we have less than half an hour, it feels like we’re getting a full hour’s worth of episode — a claim some actual hour-long live-action shows can’t always make.
My compliments to the writers of Prodigy’s first season for producing consistently strong material. Seventeen episodes down; three to go.
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.