Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1, Episode 4 – Debuted Thursday, November 11, 2021
Written by Lisa Schultz Boyd
Directed by Steve Ahn, Sung Shin
Using a classic Star Trek setup, Prodigy reveals more about its characters in a visually stunning episode.
WARNING: Spoilers below!
“We should check it out”
After their inexperience almost got them all killed in last week’s outing, the “crew” of the USS Protostar settles in for some much-needed lessons in starship operations from Hologram Janeway. As they pick up some ship basics, Janeway informs them the ship has detected an uncharted and uninhabited planet. The Training Hologram wants the “cadets” to follow Starfleet protocol and explore it, but Dal needs some arm-twisting as he is paranoid The Diviner is hiding around every star cluster. Zero precariously lands the ship on a beautiful lush planet, and the awestruck kids are introduced to the wonders of the tricorder, the phaser, and “The Runaway,” the USS Protostar’s hot rod of an exploration buggy, complete with a list of technobabble features and practical “hold-on-to-your-butts grab handles.” And of course, Dal immediately speeds off little Jimmy Kirk-style, leaving the rest of the crew to go their own ways to explore this strange new world.
Unable to leave the ship, Hologram Janeway stays behind, with Murf to keep her company. Handcuffed in the brig, Gwyn reveals a new superpower, mentally communicating with her stowed away liquid-metal bracelet/sword, sending it through the ship to break her out of her cell. On the bridge, The Diviner’s progeny has an epiphany: the lessons he’s given her have all been to prepare her for this ship, which she is able to control with ease; she effortlessly reboots Janeway into compliance after the Hologram initially tries to stop her takeover. She immediately contacts Drednok on her father’s ship and gives up their location and she preps the USS Protostar for takeoff with no signs of remorse about abandoning the four kids on this alien world—but she seems to have taken a liking to Murf, because who can resist that blob’s charms?
“We have got to get off this planet pronto”
Out on the planet, each of the kids has their own character-revealing adventure. The always inquisitive Zero finds a hedge maze only to be shocked to discover the Protostar’s mysterious engine at its center. Rok-Tahk finds a whole bunch of cute little purple creatures that shower her with the purrs and affection she craves. And even though he took the precaution of wearing an environmental suit, the always hungry Jankom Pog is lured into a structure by the familiar smell of some Tellarite stew. As for Dal, his joyride is interrupted with the sight of two aliens who appear to be adults of his own species, after which Janeway suddenly pops in to talk about his yearning for knowledge about his parents (who he doesn’t remember) and implore him to stay forever. And here is where the creepy planet vines overplay their hand: Dal remembers Janeway can’t leave the ship, so after being questioned, this fake reveals themselves to be a “representative” who can keep them all safe. Not buying the act, Dal is forced to phaser his way out after the “weird lady” goes all vine monster on him. Gwyn has a similar encounter with what she quickly susses out to be a fake version of her father once he offers to give her a hug. Ouch.
As Gwyn’s efforts to leave are hampered by powerful vines ensnaring the ship, Dal springs into action, using his tricorder to lock onto each member of the team and take each out of their fantasy traps. Zero finds the whole experience “remarkable” as they offer up exposition on how the planet organism lures in prey by showing them fantasies to entrap them in its tendrils. To eat them. Ick. Rok-Tahk is heartbroken to learn the cuddly cuties were fakes: “Where did they go? They liked me.” As for Jankom, he owns eating dirt but is peeved he was the last to get picked up. As the crew speeds towards escape, the Protostar is getting torn apart by the planet/plant creature. Gwyn takes Janeway’s advice, abandoning the crashing ship via a shuttle only to quickly crash the shuttle. The chastened prisoner is revealed to still have a heart as she is discovered at the shuttle crash site huddling with Murf, who she saved at the last minute. Together they look to the horizon where the Protostar was last seen crashing, realizing they are now stranded in a cliffhanger.
After last week’s bottle show sorted out important logistics and parameters, Prodigy now sets off with some real exploration. “Dreamcatcher” was a classic Star Trek setup of an idyllic planet with hidden dangers. The story felt familiar, picking up elements of TOS’ “Shore Leave,” DS9’s “If Wishes Were Horses,” Voyager’s “Bliss,” and others; however, it never felt like a copy. The planet’s odd and dangerous organism was beautifully realized, and the fantasy traps were a clever way to reveal more about our characters and what motivates each of them.
And although she didn’t fall victim to the planet, we learned more about hologram Janeway too, including her limitation to the ship. More importantly, we can now see more hints of her unique personality and even elements of a maternal side, all beautifully played by Kate Mulgrew. There is even a subtle hint in her performance that indicates Hologram Janeway may know these kids are not really cadets.
With a planet-side story, Prodigy had plenty of ways to bring back some of the action that made the pilot so effective. There was still a good amount of humor in the episode, although it mostly fell to Jason Mantzoukas and his Jankom Pog, who is the true comic relief of the show. And for the first time, we got an element of horror, with the planet plant becoming the show’s first monster of the week, honoring another longstanding Star Trek tradition.
With all the exploring of the planet (and our characters) going on, there wasn’t a lot of time devoted to picking up on the lore and mysteries of the show. We did get a hint as to the origin of Jankom Pog with a mention of a Tellarite sleeper ship, indicating how he ended up in the Delta Quadrant. It’s possible this sleeper ship traveled for centuries, with a launch predating the Federation, which could explain why he doesn’t know anything about it.
Janeway’s threat to contact Starfleet if Dal didn’t comply with the standard protocol was curious. Was this a bluff? If not, then it opens up the question as to why hasn’t she already contacted Starfleet, who probably want to know the fate of the Protostar. It was also a bit surprising that Janeway casually mentioned the planet was in the Hirogen system, with no mention of the very dangerous Hirogen hunters. Sure, they were nomadic when encountered by the USS Voyager, but that’s no guarantee their home system is a safe place for these kids’ first away mission.
Prodigy also continues to nicely take a step-by-step approach to introduce the lore, jargon, and technology of Starfleet and Star Trek. This week we learned about M-Class planets, with a fun joke from Dal about only wanting “A-class” planets. This episode also introduced the show’s unique take on the Starfleet tricorder and phaser, again using the humor of Jankom shooting himself to help with the introduction. It’s smart for a show aimed at new viewers to take the time to immerse itself into all of these elements of Trek; longtime fans may take them for granted, but can actually be a bit much if thrown at newbies all at once.
But perhaps the biggest to Star Trek lesson on display here is that of teamwork, or specifically a lack thereof. Things started to go bad for this group once they all decided to go their own way. Not until they are truly working together towards a common and shared goal can these characters be worthy of being called a crew. As this is a surprise two-parter episode, we can only assume this bit of character growth has been left for part two.
The kids get it
The shared viewing experience with TrekMovie’s resident kid commentators (niece Ani and nephew David) continues to be illuminating. Both continue to really like the show and are starting to also get a good handle on the characters. Ani saw this episode as a sort of new beginning, describing it as the “start to the journey that they’re having.”
Both saw some progress for Dal, who came under criticism in the previous episode. Ani acknowledged that Dal was being selfish when he took the car, but he was never mean to others characters (like in the previous episode). And he got points for going to rescue everyone from their fantasies. Ani still has hope for Gwyn’s redemption, pointing to how she saved Murf. She also sympathizes, saying, “It’s kind of sad thinking that her dad would never give her a hug… so I kind of felt bad.” Murf continues to be a big hit with the kids, with David assessing that Murf is smarter than he appears, saying, “He can talk, but he just can’t talk like them.” Both are also forming Murf theories, including Ani’s prediction at some point that they’ll find a planet with “a female Murf” and they will get married!
The duo demonstrated how kids today are sophisticated consumers of content, quickly working out the planet’s twist, with the older Ani picking up on it as soon as Rok-Tahk found all those little cute pets, noting that “everyone was getting what they wanted.” Young David also showed a good understanding of tech when he wondered how Jankom could smell the stew from inside a spacesuit, although he agreed with my theory the planet could create smell illusions too. As for if the darker moments were scary—like evil plant Janeway and even more evil plant Diviner—jaded David was definitive: “No, I’ve seen scarier.” Neither had any issues with ending on a cliffhanger, but they were not happy to learn there is going to be a hiatus after episode five.
“Dreamcatcher” is a fun, spooky, revealing adventure story painted onto the breathtaking canvas of this show’s stunning CG animation. Even though it was a cliffhanger, it still felt like a complete story. With next week’s episode being a midway point for the first 10-episode arc of season one (leading to a hiatus until January) we can expect things to ramp up, hopefully with some resolutions. Can’t wait.
RANDOM THOUGHTS AND CANON CONNECTIONS
- The onscreen title is “Dream Catcher,” however it is listed as “Dreamcatcher” on Paramount+ and in all publicity materials. The showrunners also refer to it as “Dreamcatcher.”
- A dreamcatcher is a charm from some Native American cultures, hung in children’s rooms to capture bad dreams. A holographic version of Chakotay gave Seven of Nine a dreamcatcher in the Voyager episode “Human Error.”
- The episode starts with classic Captain’s Log, with Dal giving the stardate as “I don’t know.”
- Even though Janeway is training them like cadets, she hasn’t insisted (or even suggested) they wear Starfleet Academy uniforms—another hint she knows they aren’t really cadets?
- Jankom Pog accidentally fired a photon torpedo by leaning on a console, so maybe Janeway should add a layer of protection. Haven’t we seen people like Riker frequently lean on consoles without activating them?
- While we saw the USS Voyager land, the Protostar appears to be the first main ship for a series that was purpose-built to land.
- We have yet to see any use or even mention of transporters on the Protostar, likely another piece of Trek tech to introduce in a future episode.
- It was theorized the illusions were created via breathing in spores (like “This Side of Paradise”), but how then did Jankom Pog get infected as he was wearing the environment suit?
- The planet emitted thoron radiation, which has been known to interfere with sensors and was also present in DS9 “If Wishes Were Horses,” offering a clue to the danger.
- The USS Protostar has (or at least had) an autonomous robot that looked a little bit like an Exocomp, but did not appear to be sentient; at least we hope so, as Gwyn sliced it in half before offering it up as food to Murf.
- Gwyn’s full name is Gwyndala.
- The shuttle Gwyn uses is the same one she had the ship build her in the previous episode, and it included the damage done by Rok-Tahk when she broke out of it.
- Even though The Diviner is obsessed with the USS Protostar, Janeway said she had no record of The Diviner.
More to come
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New episodes of Prodigy premiere on Thursdays on Paramount+ in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. It is available on Paramount+ in Latin American, the Nordic Countries, and Australia. Amazon Prime Video internationally on Fridays. It will debut in 2022 in parts of Europe with the launch of the Paramouint+ Sky partnership.
Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.