Prodigy‘s “Kobayashi” in Review
The Kobayashi Maru Starfleet training exercise, revealed in the film The Wrath of Khan, has been given a fresh perspective in modern Star Trek. While Lower Decks and Discovery each devote an episode to the “no-win-scenario,” in this article I’d like to examine Prodigy‘s depiction of the well-known simulation. It figures into the show’s sixth episode, released on 6 January 2022.
This episode starts with the Prodigy crew disoriented and amazed at their ship, the USS Protostar, having just undertaken a 4,000-light-year journey. The vessel’s mind-boggling speed has allowed them to escape from Gwyn’s father, the Diviner.
Dal is playing the simple cone-and-disc game from TNG’s “The Game” when Zero, Rok, and Jankom arrive to consult him. They’re eager to voyage to the Federation, but Dal refuses. He sees himself as their captain but is met with opposition from the others.
Murf, noted as missing, is meanwhile lost in an icy environment. Searching for Murf, Dal encounters Gwyn, who thanks him for having rescued her. However, Dal reveals to her that Hologram Janeway wouldn’t leave until they were all back aboard the Protostar.
Jankom and Dal discover Murf amidst the icy climate. Hologram Janeway flickers into the simulated world and identifies it as the holographic version of Andoria IV. She shares with Jankom and Dal that the holodeck can create thousands of simulations, of which she produces some samples: skydiving on Ceti Alpha V; the Vulcan Kal-if-fee arena, with “Amok Time” theme music; Count Dracula’s neighborhood; and a favorite of Janeway’s, first revealed on Star Trek: Voyager — 19th century Jane Eyre England.
The adventure Dal selects is the Kobayashi Maru. He’s excited to learn that great starship captains have all “played” this “game.” Janeway says the simulation will be far more challenging than his simple cone-and-disc game. Dal doesn’t realize that this might be the most difficult game ever, especially if winning is the goal. The program is set on a Galaxy-class starship, like the Enterprise-D from TNG, but Dal must select a crew. It’s an opportunity to build an all-star team!
Zero tries to tend to Gwyn’s leg injury but finds it has already healed. Assuming the traditional crew role of doctor and counselor combined, Zero seeks to heal her saddened and lonely soul. Gwyn wants to prove her value to the formerly enslaved kids but isn’t sure how. Her aptitude with language seems redundant on a ship with an active universal translator, but Zero assures her that she is vital to the crew because she can do more than translate — she can interpret. Together, they try to interpret her father’s motives.
The viewers then get some answers to Gwyn’s origin story. We learn that — seventeen years ago on her homeworld, Solum — the Diviner was becoming weaker daily but was obsessing over the Protostar. It turns out that, at his insistence, Gwyn was genetically created to eventually serve as his replacement.
Compiling his crew for the Kobayashi Maru simulation, Dal dismisses the “JT Kirk guy,” not needing another captain, but selects Communications Officer Uhura, Chief Medical Officer Beverly Crusher, Security Chief Odo, and Science Officer Spock to join the real Engineer Jankom Pog for an adventure. It doesn’t go well. Because Dal doesn’t heed his all-star crew’s advice, the crew at first goes full mutiny. And while his difficulties with the program come as no surprise to viewers realizing he’s playing the no-win scenario, Dal is embarrassed by his single-digit evaluation scores. Tenaciously, he prepares to try again.
While Gwyn and Zero are pondering questions about the Protostar, Hologram Janeway stumbles into an inability to express herself. This surprises Zero and Gwyn, but she assures them that she’s not damaged. Instead, Holo Janeway realizes that she has been restricted to withhold classified information.
Dal tries repeatedly to beat the Kobayashi Maru scenario. Jankom Pog’s needling stresses out the beleaguered Dal. Discarding Jankom’s advice to “listen” to his crew, Dal kicks him out and replaces him with a new engineer, Chief Montgomery Scott.
Rok-Tahk subsequently learns about another “power” of the mysterious Murf. Swallowing grenades results merely in flatulence and burps, indicating that Murf is seemingly indestructible.
While Dal is still in the holodeck, Gwyn leads the rest of their team to dig deep into the computer programming. She’s astonished that, for some reason, her native language is embedded in the code.
Dal’s attempts to beat the Kobayashi Maru pay off in a rock-music-resounding, Klingon-filled, neck-pinching bonanza — seemingly successful until his guard is lowered too soon. He does receive final wisdom from Spock.
Depleted of confidence, Dal finally learns that the game is designed to always defeat the player. He nonetheless realizes he improved during his multiple tries.
Thanks to her interpretive work unlocking answers about the Protostar, Gwyn becomes a little more certain that she belongs with this crew and can be helpful to them. After tinkering with a visual representation of data fragments, a pale image fragment emerges in shadowy holographic form. It shows Chakotay (voiced by Robert Beltran) in the captain’s chair, facing a mayday situation involving the ship being boarded. This glimpse demonstrates that another crew once served with Holo Janeway. What in the universe is going on?!
“This is gonna be fun!” With this line, Dal says what I was thinking. This episode was especially fun for the kid inside my aging fandom. It sprinkles in characters from all Star Trek pre-Discovery, with characters from TOS, TNG, DS9, and VOY all getting some screen time. Even though the Kobayashi Maru scenario shows up in Lower Decks and Discovery, Prodigy wins the new-Trek salute to this famous training exercise, by the careful work of writer Aaron Waltke’s research into legacy Trek scripts.
The big payoff for the viewer is the use of the original voices, carefully clipped and recontextualized by Aaron Waltke. He sorted through ninety transcripts to find lines he could re-purpose for this episode. Varying audio quality took me out of the scenes for a moment, as did my attempts to link the lines to their original shows and films (for example, much of the final advice that Leonard Nimoy‘s Spock gives to Dal was once dispensed to Kirk in the TOS installment “The Enemy Within”). Gates McFadden provided original voice work as the glue to make the deceased actors shine. Even Uhura’s lines were culled from past work. Nichelle Nichols‘ failing health kept her from providing new performance material, and she sadly passed away after this episode was crafted. This timing, regretfully, left her out of an “In Memorium” inscription at the end of the episode, which features the names of Leonard Nimoy, René Auberjonois, and James Doohan.
Another appealing factor for legacy-minded Trek fans is the various holographic environments depicted. Listed in the holodeck’s library are holo-visits to Deadwood, South Dakota (from TNG’s “A Fistful of Datas”) and the Paxau Resort (often represented in Star Trek: Voyager).
The revelation that Murf is apparently indestructible adds little to the episode. However, somehow, we all know it will pay off later.
Overall, this installment is fun and fulfilling, quite a tribute to legacy Trek. This new viewing generation is getting a great foothold with a tour of fantastic Star Trek stars.
Frank Kennedy writes and performs original material for thoughtful audiences including a once, sold out off-Broadway stage in the pre-pandemic days. He blends his skills as a storyteller and sleight-of-hand magician, telling poignant stories of fatherhood with sons living on the Autism Spectrum. Watching Star Trek almost daily with his Mom as a teen – during the post-cancelation syndicated-rerun days of The Original Series – he is proud that he was part of the fan enthusiasm that turned Trek into a continuum of shows and films, rather than a forgotten canceled show with poor ratings. Along with devouring new Trek content, he has filled his life with adventures to over sixty countries, boldly going and learning about cultures on the planet Earth.