Prodigy’s “Masquerade” in Review
While the Protostar crew is hiding in the Neutral Zone, Dal has become jealous of Okona and the attention he’s receiving. They’re searching for a starport to make repairs. Okona suggests Noble Isle, where he’d planned to go before he lost his cargo in “Crossroads”.
Admiral Jellico denies Vice Admiral Janeway’s request to enter the Neutral Zone to retrieve the Protostar. He orders her to destroy the ship if the Romulans attempt to steal it. This might seem like a contradiction at first, but to quote Admiral Marcus from Star Trek Into Darkness: “You park on the edge of the Neutral Zone, you lock onto [the target], you fire.” This is roughly what Janeway prepares to do.
Known for “cutting edge” science, Noble Isle is only accessible via space elevator. Hologram Janeway warns that “cutting edge” means unregulated, and that if something seems too good to be true, it probably is.
Dal, Gwyn, Zero, and Okona (along with Murf, carried in a ball) meet Dr. Jago, who is fascinated with Dal. She identifies him as a genetically-engineered human augment hybrid, based on the work of Dr. Arik Soong’s protégés. Dal’s base homo sapien DNA is blended with the most recessive traits of twenty-six other species. They include Vulcan, Klingon, Romulan, Ferengi, Bajoran, Cardassian, a Dominion species, proto-Organian, and… a Maquis species, according to the logo!
This news gives Dal an identity crisis: he views himself as a failed experiment. Gwyn tries to reassure him, but Jago says she can bring out the best in him by giving him an epigenetic dermal implant that will activate his dormant genes and “fix” him. Dal remembers Janeway’s advice and walks away… at first, but he quickly changes his mind and requests the procedure.
Okona describes an outrageous mission to help two young lovers — evoking his introduction in The Next Generation. Dal seemingly reads his mind, realizing that Okona only helped because he knew the story would impress others. Dal seems more intelligent and perceptive, or at least starts speaking with sesquipedalian loquaciousness.
When the Romulans show up looking for the captain, Okona abandons the kids. Rok says she knew he was too good to be true. Dal boosts his now-obvious implant and single-handedly dispatches the Romulans, as visible traits of assorted species bubble to the surface.
The kids take the elevator back to the ship, but the Romulans attack as Dal continues to mutate. Rok tells Gwyn to drop her heirloom just before a lightning strike, which takes out some of the Romulans. The metamorphosized Murf is released from the ball where he’s been held throughout the mission. He handily eliminates the Romulans; it looks like he’s the new security officer!
To destroy the Protostar so the Romulans cannot take it, Vice Admiral Janeway fires torpedoes into the Neutral Zone. When she realizes the Romulans have failed to commandeer the vessel, however, she narrowly aborts.
Dal says he didn’t want to be a mistake, and he wanted Gwyn to look at him like she looked at Okona. Gwyn emphasizes that Dal is better than Okona; Okona left them, Dal didn’t.
Rok voices her first science log, where she recaps Jankom’s repair of the nacelles and the removal of Dal’s implant. Rok’s lesson from the mission: “Science rules and science needs rules, and it’s our imperfections that make us who we are.”
In a shocking twist, Asencia activates Drednok, who has been masquerading as a table. Asencia triggers an implant on the back of her neck that resembles Dal’s recently removed implant and transforms into a Vau N’Akat — it turns out the Diviner isn’t the only one who was sent back to find the ship.
Prodigy isn’t subtle about its morals here, but it doesn’t need to be. Rok spells out the morals in rather obvious fashion. This follows a Star Trek tradition going back to The Original Series, and it’s particularly appropriate for a show aimed primarily at children. (Though I do often wonder how many of Prodigy’s regular viewers are children and how many are eager adult fans like myself.)
The moral of “just be who you are” is a tad cliché, but “it’s our imperfections that make us who we are” is an interesting variation on it. In fifteen half-hour installments, Dal has gone from arrogant and overconfident to humbled and desiring the approval of friends who were strangers or even enemies when the series started. He worries that he’s not good enough, but Gwyn reassures him that the good in him outweighs whatever he perceives as his shortcomings. Some might balk at considering one’s genetic makeup an “imperfection,” but the show is clearly well-meaning in its message and is looking to build up, not tear down.
The dangers of irresponsible experimentation balanced against the possible benefits has been discussed in Star Trek many times, including Enterprise‘s “Augments” trilogy (“Borderland”, “Cold Station 12”, and “The Augments”) that introduced us to Arik Soong as played by Brent Spiner (not to be confused with Altan Soong or Adam Soong, who were also played by Spiner). It’s certainly a valuable lesson, though perhaps one that kids aren’t likely to directly encounter while they’re young. The broader principle that “if something seems too good to be true, it probably is” and not taking the easy way out could apply to anything from working hard in school to protection from ‘stranger danger.’ Those values can serve anyone well throughout their lives.
Prodigy also continues to expose kids to science and science-fiction concepts. We’ve seen space elevators and orbital dives in “Rise” (Voyager), “The Least Dangerous Game” (Lower Decks), Star Trek (2009), and a deleted opening from Star Trek Generations where Kirk wears a suit resembling the Romulans’ from this episode. The concepts are well-used here. We also see Jellico from TNG’s “Chain of Command”, though I suspect the youngest viewers aren’t ready for that two-parter quite yet.
Rok’s idea about letting the Romulans attract the lightning is clever. Despite the popular myth, metal does not attract lightning, but it’s said that pointy objects can. So, Rok’s suggestion for Gwyn to retract the heirloom seems correct, even if using it to take out the Romulans was a bit of a long shot.
All in all, this episode was dense, fun, and had a good amount of depth. Whereas the previous episode felt like mainly setup, here we see some of it beginning to pay off. Dal’s genetic engineering, which was well established in “Asylum”, also introduces a new wrinkle — if Starfleet reaction to Julian Bashir’s genetic engineering in “Doctor Bashir, I Presume” is any indication, Dal might not receive a warm welcome from Starfleet. The shock ending is an effective cap on an already-strong episode. I’m looking forward to where the next five episodes will take the Protostar and Dauntless crews.
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.