Prodigy’s “Starstruck” in Review
I was starstruck from an early age by Star Trek, through daily viewing TOS reruns after school. The show’s adventures and characters captured my imagination. This capacity of Star Trek to appeal to youngsters was commented on by Kate Mulgrew at the recently held NYC 2022 Comic-Con. Promoting Star Trek: Prodigy, she explained, “We are targeting the demographic that we have somehow missed all these years, that is most appreciative of the ideology of Star Trek, and that’s children. And it will begin a cross-generational conversation the likes of which we’ve never seen before in Star Trek, because the five-year-old is going to be asking her mother, ‘What’s going on?’ And the mother who watched Voyager will be asking her mother who watched Next Gen, who will be asking her mother who watched… Bill Shatner, I guess. And it will be passionate and innovative and new and very bloody exciting.”
That excitement grabbed me when – at the conclusion of the pilot two-part establishing story of Star Trek: Prodigy – the hologram Kathryn Janeway, voiced by Mulgrew, appeared to the teen fugitives Dal, Pog, Murf, Rok, and Zero, on the bridge of the USS Protostar. “Starstruck”, episode 3, opens with them interacting with Hologram Janeway, the first “human” in Prodigy – not exactly human, just a photonic projection of a human. Though Janeway is familiar to Voyager fans, she’s alien to the rag-tag crew.
The Tellarite Jankom Pog points out how strange Hologram Janeway looks with a smooth forehead. She throws an insulting quip back at Pog, who likes to talk about himself in the third person. He smiles in delight, as Tellarites enjoy contentious banter. Having never heard of the Federation, Rok asks the hologram, “What’s the Freder – Fred Erasion?”
This scene is emblematic of the two levels Prodigy must traverse in order to capture new and young viewers, while still dishing out solid Trek stories that respect canon and Roddenberry ideals. Kevin and Dan Hageman – brothers, executive producers, and co-creators of Star Trek: Prodigy – have created a two-lane highway headed in the same direction: cohesive Star Trek storytelling that appeals to both new and experienced viewers.
When Gywn declares herself the leader, Hologram Janeway doesn’t recognize that this first claim to captaincy is by a person tied to the captain’s chair. Dal confidently asserts that Gywn is delusional, sick with space fever, and that he is the captain. The guile, provenance, and division of this small crew doesn’t seem to be computed by Janeway, who mistakes the rogue teens as Starfleet cadets.
In a short holographic briefing, Hologram Janeway shares the core ideals of the Federation. Dal, neglecting her advice to steer toward Federation space, makes a rather random choice for the ship’s destination. However, Hologram Janeway has neither the wits nor the boldness of her model, the heavily decorated (and physically real) Kathryn Janeway, to oppose their destination and course.
Gwyn, aligned to those who enslaved the crew before, is dispatched to the brig. This reveals how unfamiliar the team is with the starship. A group effort is needed to find the room to imprison her. The wordless Murf is the only one who manages to decipher the meaning of the word “starboard.”
Gwyn’s incarceration turns the tables on the earlier situation at the Tars Lamora prison labor camp. Dal, still threatened by Gwyn and the world she represents, mentions this new power dynamic. He also mocks her father, the Diviner, but Gwyn is convinced that he will come to save her, an undertaking that the Diviner meanwhile begins furiously preparing for.
Jankom Pog has an enjoyable time with one of the Federation’s perks – free food – and devours his favorite dish. But when Rok, who has a tender heart but skin of stone, is offered use of the replicator to create any meal, she chooses to get the only food she has ever known: the slop of prison food.
Murf and Zero like the bunk bedroom, given sufficient personal space – an odd, but relatable reaction for a non-corporeal being. Perhaps the slime of Murf is not beneficial to the workings of Zero’s outer robot shell. Dal discovers the comfortable and more swanky captain’s quarters.
In the brig, Rok wonders aloud why Gwyn would support such an oppressive regime as her father’s. Gwyn, perhaps for the first time, calculates the pain and misery of the slaves on Tars Lamora. The despair and disappointment of such a pure child’s heart inside Rok shames Gwyn into realizing she was part of the exploitation.
The USS Protostar zooms into a sketchy situation – a gravitational danger area, easily diagnosed by Hologram Janeway. Zero sums up the situation: “A dying star! What a rare and exciting way to meet our doom!” Dal refuses to give up the illusion of control and dismisses both Hologram Janeway and her advice. Attempts to avoid the mighty gravity well divert power from the brig, allowing Gywn to escape. The computer helpfully informs her that a vehicle replicator can help her escape the ship. The antenna on my inner Trek encyclopedia believes this is the first time such technology is used in Trek canon.
Rok reluctantly takes on the task of subduing Gywn. Despite the fact Rok has enormous strength, Gwyn is a nimble opponent in one-on-one combat. As Rok is getting the upper hand, Gwyn alters the fighting conditions by disabling artificial gravity. Animation makes showing the weightlessness of space easy and effective.
Dal finally swallows his pride enough to take the experienced advice of Janeway, restoring artificial gravity. Rok subdues Gywn, and order is returned to the Protostar. Gwyn resumes her confinement in the brig and, using counterintuitive maneuvers, the crew manage to avoid the peril of the gravity trap.
Dal continues to annoy his comrades by taking credit for his correct leadership calls. Leaning into the team-building part of her programming, Hologram Janeway encourages them with a dose of historical musing about the bumpy beginnings of the United Federation of Planets.
However, back on Tars Lamora, the Diviner is determined to recover the Protostar. Off-screen, Drednok shares that they have tracked the ship’s location. The miner (and some minor) prisoners, including Gwyn’s previous sidekick – the young Caitian – witness the launch of the Diviner’s daunting, dark, and spiky REV-12 spacecraft. The vessel then disappears under its Chimerium Cloak, as the determined Diviner sets out to retrieve Gwyn.
It’s clear Dal will need help from Hologram Janeway. While the Protostar’s capture is being planned by Gwyn’s father, the viewer is already poised for the ride ahead. Writer Chad Quandt and director Alan Wan have steered the show successfully into an eventual showdown path with the gravitational pull of serious stakes spelled out. But there are likely several episodes ahead before that will happen. Prodigy has captured this viewer with high hopes. As Hologram Janeway reminds us, “We’ve only just begun.”
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.