Review: ‘Star Trek: Prodigy’ Learns Its Lesson In “First Con-tact”

“First Con-tact”

Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1, Episode 7 – Debuted Thursday, January 13, 2022
Written by Diandra Pendleton-Thompson
Directed by Steve Ahn & Sung Shin

SPOILER-FREE REVIEW

“First Con-tact” is a solid, simple cautionary tale that introduces some core elements of Star Trek mythology with a mix of mirth and melancholy.

WARNING: Spoilers below!

RECAP

“Nice to meet you?”

As Holo Janeway obsesses over the Chakotay recording revealed at the end of the previous episode, the crew remembers that they are kids by leaving messes around the ship and playing with a new “welcome distraction”… the transporter. When beaming dessert around the ship gets boring, Murf gets volunteered as a live test subject only to be sent to the wrong side of the bridge window. Good thing we just learned he is indestructible. A distress call shakes up the transporter tomfoolery but there is something off about the hooded figure talking about a ship full of threatened sick orphans. Turns out it was all a con, and one recognized immediately by Dal, who reveals to the gang they have discovered the captain that raised him… a Ferengi. That explains a lot.

On the Ferengi ship (oddly called “The Damsel”), Dal has an awkward yet touching reunion with DaiMon Nandi, who claims to have been searching for him for years. Nandi is impressed with Dal’s stolen Federation ship, which has her lobes twitching with opportunity, and when Dal spots an unused cloaking device, his inner Ferengi has him ready to deal. The pair hammers out a scheme involving the Protostar doing a “diplomatic exchange” of a useless Ferengi “spit pan” (gross) for a priceless crystal from an advanced civilization that has never met any aliens. Sounds like fun, right? Not so fast, says Holo-buzzkill Janeway, who starts talking about something called the “Prime Directive” and “disastrous consequences” and “altering the fate” of a civilization… blah, blah, blah… let’s go do a first contact! The hologram is left to her research, which reveals that back under Chakotay’s command, the Protostar was boarded by Dreadnok! But more on that big tidbit will have to be left for a future episode.

“This is not a good first impression”

After landing on the stunning desert planet in the Sheralyx system, it doesn’t take long for the kids to find themselves in a dangerous sandstorm generated by the locals, seen off in the distance. The indispensable Gwyn works out the alien harmonic communication and through some impressive tricorder teamwork, they respond in kind, ending the storm and revealing a newly built and remarkable sand embassy awaiting their arrival. Nice. As the gang debates alien technology and terminology, Nandi stays phaser-focused on her goal of getting some crystals. Soon enough they find themselves in a chamber full of them, and Gwyn quickly determines that each is essential to the technology of the Cymari (Rok’s suggested name for their new friends’ species). The aliens reveal themselves as dazzling, graceful creatures of light whose enchanting chorus even brings a tear to Pog’s jaded eye. Unfazed, Nandi forges ahead with her scheme just as Dal finally starts to have second thoughts, but it’s too late before the Ferengi nabs some crystals and sand hell breaks loose.

Realizing Dal lied about this being a diplomatic visit, the gang scrambles to stop Nandi, recovering all but one crystal. Dal catches up to the Ferengi, who drops the bomb: He wasn’t kidnapped, she sold him to the mine on Tars Lamora. Oh, and she just stole their chimerium, so her ship can cloak now. This was all a long con. After one last struggle, Nandi and her precious crystal fly off, leaving Dal to be beamed up from the growing desert chaos. But back on the ship, the chastened would-be captain reveals he was paying attention during their transporter play, as he tagged that last crystal with his com badge and uses that to beam it back to the aliens. So no fuss, no muss, right? Wrong again: Janeway is super pissed. Their little misadventure caused just the kind of damage she warned them about. “You broke the Prime Directive. You didn’t even go in with good intentions.” Dal and the crew have lost her trust. Oh and if that wasn’t bad enough, back on the Damsel, Nandi has found there is a bounty for the Protostar, and she is ready to cash in with The Diviner.

 

ANALYSIS

Star Trek 101

“First Con-tact” is a solid half-hour of Star Trek entertainment that may best be summed up by my little nephew David describing it as “more of a learning episode.” The fairly straightforward story effectively introduced some important elements of Star Trek, but also taught an important lesson on trust via the proxy of Dal, who is still struggling to figure out how to be a captain. Stunning visuals and hypnotic alien sounds along with some fun gags helped all of those lessons go down. The visit with the fascinating Cymari was all too brief, but still one of Star Trek’s better introductions, really taking advantage of the animation format to create genuinely alien aliens. The classic Star Trek first contact scenario effectively revealed why the Prime Directive is Starfleet’s golden rule, with the kids learning that lesson the hard way.

The introduction of Nandi was a great opportunity to weave a bit of Star Trek lore through a classic race with some important backstory for Dal. For much of the season, one could have reasonably asked the selfish scheming character, “What’s wrong with you, were you raised by a Ferengi?” Veteran voice actress Grey Griffin (Grey DeLisle) relished the role designed from the outset to be duplicitous, and young nephew David immediately spotted her as bad news. Nandi exuded the stereotypical dark side of the Ferengi seen on Star Trek: The Next Generation; if this is going to be a recurring character, it would be nice to have a little more of the nuanced Ferengi seen in Deep Space Nine. And hopefully, we can find out more about how she ended up in the Delta Quadrant alone on a huge ship, and if wearing clothes is an act of defiance or a result of reforms introduced by Grand Naguses Zek and Rom.

After getting a lesson last week in how to care for his crew from Mr. Spock himself, Dal still has much to learn about being a captain. This week, Dal’s heart was in the right place, seeing a cloaking device as a great way to protect his crew from The Diviner, but every other decision he made showed he still doesn’t get the thing about trusting his crew. His arc to becoming a true captain still has a long way to go, which is good for a show only seven episodes into its first season. But “First Con-tact” still showed a lot of growth for this crew, who demonstrated expertise and teamwork approaching Starfleet-ready. And using some of the best tropes of the grifter genre with cons and double-crosses, Dal was revealed to have that ability to bluff, which we know is a key element to being a captain.

Space cadets?

Since the introduction of Holo Janeway at the outset of the series, there has been a conceit that the Emergency Training Hologram believed this group of alien kids who effectively stole the USS Protostar were actually cadets. This explained why she went along with their adventures and even misadventures. However, as things have progressed, that premise has worn a bit thin and this episode is the breaking point. It is hard to imagine how Janeway could still believe these kids are genuine Starfleet cadets.

Janeway was rightfully appalled by their actions violating the Prime Directive; this episode raises the recurring question of what exactly she can do about it. If she truly has control over the ship’s basic functions, would she not lock the kids out at this point and steer the ship towards the Federation, even if she can’t control the Protodrive? And with the reveal of Captain Chakotay and the original crew of the Protostar, Janeway may now see she has a more important objective: finding out what happened to them and possibly saving them. Spotting Dreadnok in that Chakotay recording may be a clue once she puts all the pieces together. Bottom line: This ship needs a real mission, and watching these kids blunder around the Delta Quadrant isn’t going to cut it anymore.

Final thoughts

“First Con-tact” was a strong episode, but some of the simplicity of the characterizations and lessons on display reminded us that at its core, Prodigy is a show for new, younger audiences. While that isn’t a bad thing for a series originally intended for Nickelodeon, at its best, Prodigy has been able to transcend some of these kid’s show tropes. That said, the effort was reinforced by exceptional visuals, haunting audio design, and some snappy fun dialogue as well, elevating it to be a solid piece of Trek entertainment for all audiences.

 

RANDOM THOUGHTS AND CANON CONNECTIONS

  • The episode opens with Dal giving a routine captain’s log, showing he is getting the hang of it, but he didn’t include a stardate.
  • The episode title “First Con-tact” is a play on the Federation’s “first contact” protocol, but emphasizes the “con” for the Ferengi con artist Nandi.
  • “First Contact” was also the title of an episode of The Next Generation and one of the TNG films.
  • The messy USS Protostar indicates they haven’t built any more cleaning bots since Gwyn sliced the last one in half in an earlier episode.
  • The gag of chasing pie around the ship and Pog’s line about “floor pie” was an homage to The Simpsons episode “Boy-Scoutz ‘n the Hood.”
  • Nandi’s initial con was sending out a distress call about a ship with orphans suffering from The Phage, the disease that impacted the Vidiians on Star Trek: Voyager, even though the Think Tank claimed to have cured it in 2375 (eight years prior).
  • Nandi’s ship, the Damsel, appears on the outside to be a Ferengi D’Kora-class Maurader; however, that is a very large ship with a crew of 450, which didn’t really match the interior we saw or lack of crew beyond Nandi and her cube robot. 
  • Nandi’s name could be a reference to the Star Trek Online Ferengi ship of the same name.
  • Nandi and Dal mentioned three previously revealed Ferengi Rules of Acquisition (1, 21, and 208).
  • Among the items seen on Nandi’s ship was a Risian Horga’hn. She also ate tube grubs, a favorite of Ferengis, and carried a Klingon disruptor pistol.
  • Nandi said she lost money playing Dabo, indicating the popular Ferengi game has made it into the Delta Quadrant.
  • The Klingon cloaking device was a match for the one seen in the Deep Space Nine episode “The Emperor’s New Cloak.”
  • Gwyn’s technobabble of “cymatic transmutation” (aka “acoustic terra-molding”) is based on the real acoustics phenomenon of cymatics.

More to come

Every Friday, the TrekMovie.com All Access Star Trek podcast covers the latest news in the Star Trek Universe. The podcast is available on Apple PodcastsSpotifyPocket CastsStitcher and is part of the TrekMovie Podcast Network.


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. 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.

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Still trying to wrap my head around the timeline here. Was there really enough time for a Ferengi woman to have been emancipated, risen to Damon, and raised Dal?

Why not?

Because 6 or 7 years or even less for all of the above seems tight? How old is Dal? How long was he a slave?

I am really starting to think that this series is heavily involved in time travel (even more than Kobayashi implied). I’m even wondering if Protostar is from the Kelvin Timeline.

Ugh. I doubt it, because the whole point of Prodigy is to give kids who know nothing about Star Trek an on-ramp to the essentials of Star Trek. The Kelvin timeline is fine for the movies, but it’s complicated to explain and unnecessary here.

The movies can keep the Kelvin timeline. The little cameo mention on Discovery last year was fine, but I hope that the TV shows stay away from it unless they’ve got a really good reason.

Well… the transporter effect looks kelvin

I can understand why one would think that given the design similarities we have seen. It’s best noticed so far in the brig and the transporter. I hope it is just a coincidence. Really would rather not be dealing with co-existing alternate realities.

Nah, then they should have used Quinto, Saldana, and Pegg’s likeness for the last ep.

I think there’s time, especially if you consider that Pel might not have been the only Ferengi female to disguise herself as a male to seek profit. Perhaps Nandi worked her way up the Ferengi ranks in drag, and then revealed her true self after Zek and Rom’s reforms. If we assume that she became a daimon soon after Rom took office (2375), that gives her 8 years to acquire, raise, and sell Dal (minus however long Dal was imprisoned in Tars Lamora).

Or, perhaps she became a daimon-in-drag before Rom became Nagus, and only then decided the time was ripe to come out of the closet… only to be abandoned by her crew, who were not willing to serve under a female. That might explain why she’s running a Marauder-class ship with a crew of two, so far away from established Ferengi trade routes.

Or stole it. That’s less cumbersome than having to explain being in drag for years as backstory. But I’m still a little dubious about how long they were together. Maybe she was a renegade when she was caring for him?

The snag in your logic is that you assume the female Ferengi is telling the truth in that she’s a DaiMon… Personally, I trust NOTHING she’s said.

True!

Sure, why not?

For the reasons I listed when someone else asked “Why not?”

the ferengi society is pretty libetarian. shouldnt be that hard to pay for the daimon title…

I don’t think libertarian is the right word for their society. I don’t think capitalistic is the right word either. It feels like to goes even absurdly beyond capitalism.

Capitalocracy?

Does Daimon always have to be an official title? We’ve seen human characters calling themselves Captain even when they’re not in Starfleet. Maybe Nandi owns this ship, and considers herself the Daimon of the ship.

That makes the most sense, coupled with her getting the ship through unofficial means. That would explain her getting to that part of space as well.

Exactly. The Skipper from Gilligan’s Island was the small-c captain of the S.S. Minnow.

Today, on Earth, outside of formal military settings, a captain is a ‘licensed master mariner’ – certainly you would need that qualification to apply to captain large and medium-sized licensed cargo vessels. A sea captain is legally responsible for conduct, safety, adherence to maritime law, customs and border issues, possibly also accounting if there isn’t a purser on board, etc.

Generally the term skipper (from the Dutch schip, or ship) is the less formal term for someone acting as captain for smaller vessels, fishing boats or pleasure craft, like a hired skipper to pilot your yacht etc.

There’s no legal restriction against calling yourself captain, but you’d be a bit silly calling yourself the captain of your kayak.

Well, if DaiMon is just a title equivalent to ‘captain,’ in marine tradition WHOEVER is the owner of a boat, even a small personal craft, is the captain. Nandi doesn’t have to have served in any sort of fleet nor ‘risen’ through any rank system to buy her own ship.

We haven’t really had any canon on-screen explanations of how Ferengi star ventures are organized. From what little we’ve seen, and from what beta canon exists, there’s no organized Ferengi military, more a system of privateers that protect business interests or are chartered for private for-profit missions, some by the Grand Nagus and others by other individuals. It’s a lot like the colonial / trading expeditions of the 1500s-1600s.

They may all use a common set of starship designs on-screen, but that is probably more for the benefit of the viewer who needs easy colour-coding and distinct shapes to distinguish them. (silver saucers = federation, green swoopy triangles = klingon, green curvy birds = romulan, orange croissant-crab = ferengi, black cube = borg, etc.) There was nothing stopping a Ferengi from using any type of ship they wanted except for the simplicity of visuals and/or the expense of creating a new physical starship-model-of-the-week back in the 90s.

Nandi could easily have been a renegade Ferengi woman. Her ears looked very large, perhaps she was pretending to be a male, like Pel, to be able to make profit for a while.
She was also operating VERY far from the Ferengi Alliance, as Tars Lemora seems to be on the edge between the Beta and Delta Quadrants (i.e. the far side of the Romulan Star Empire).

I didn’t think this episode indicated that Dabo made it to the Delta Quadrant at all…nothing she said could be trusted. Might as well assume it was a lie.

I hope they have some real consequences for the prime directive violations that kids can learn some historical implications. Have the Cymari now be a reoccuring arc where they want to recover their “Gods” or become warlike beings thinking the whole universe is out to steal their crystals or something.
This was woefully lacking from ENT where they could have built a whole series around it (their used to be books about the whole Klingon Empire ending up unleashed on the galaxy because they captured a starfleet ship during first contact).

I agree. They should all be shot.

Ah, I don’t mind the Prime Directive violation. They are learning. They shouldn’t be perfect.
This isn’t a Starfleet crew and even some senior officers played fast and loose with the Prime Directive.
I prefer this over having a stuffy do no wrong always perfect Starfleet crew.
I just hope that they follow through with the consequences and make a story out of it. The whole fun in Trek is that one mistake could change a whole civilization, let’s see it!

Or they become even more isolationist.

The thing is, the Prime Directive wasn’t broken. These aren’t Starfleet officers. The Prime Directive is an oath all Starfleet personnel take.

Absolutely, they also aren’t Federation citizens. That’s part of the fun of these characters, they can learn by making mistakes that would land even UFP citizens in a correctional facility.
They have no rules, here they can totally change a whole civilization and no “law” to answer to.
Hopefully the writers allow some adventure / drama to come out of this to make the point as to why one however should NOT make those mistakes.

I think part of the issue is that Hologram Janeway seems to think that they are Cadets and, thus, she views that they are subject to Starfleet Directives.

I really do wonder if there will be repercussions for their actions or if Starfleet will take action when they eventually find the Protostar.

I just hope there isn’t a cop out answer that they ‘are’ the Protostar’s cadet crew and had their memories wiped.

This show is wonderful. Just sublime. Deliciously distilled Trek. I’m over the moon… in a standard orbit… eagerly waiting to see what next pops up on my viewscreen from this creative team. Give them the keys to the live action franchise.

Agreed. In my opinion, Prodigy is the best of all the new Star Trek shows currently in production. I love it.

Another agreement. This show is easily the best of the Secret Hideout Treks. And it’s not even close.

Isn’t the ship now in the Gamma Quadrant? I thought that’s where they ended in the previous episode.

It wasn’t entirely clear whether they actually reached the Gamma quadrant or were just near the border of the Gamma and Delta quadrants but still on the Delta side.

Once again, I liked the episode. Really felt for Dal’s naivety. Hope he learned something from all that.

Not entirely free of criticism… Didn’t like the appearance of yet another alpha quadrant species on the show. Unless that becomes a real plot point I think they are going too far with that. They opted for the gamma quadrant. Then they should own that. Also, not really a fan of the female Ferengi running her own con games with no explanation as to why. I thought they never wore clothes? Seems unlikely this Ferengi was there after whatever new customs Rom may have dished out. Regardless, it was a questionable choice just to get another known Trek species in. I think it was a mistake. The same point could have been made with a Gamma quad alien or a newly made up one. Perhaps of the same species as Dal.

Also, I noticed the transporters look a lot like the KU transporters. This show does seem to be taking design cues from the KU.

Also I find myself wondering why I am able to care so much about this group and so very little about nearly every character on Star Trek Discovery. There seems to be some sort of intangible element Prodigy was able to tap into that completely eludes the Star Trek Discovery people. Either the Prodigy people are just way better at their craft of the Star Trek Discovery people are really bad at theirs.

Or Prodigy is just more to your personal tastes than Discovery.

Or, going with what is statistically more probable considering my personal tastes (which I’m much more in tune with than you are). It’s very likely it’s the people behind Star Trek Discovery being worse at their jobs than the people behind Prodigy.

I would have to agree, and the Discovery people have been proving your point for the last 4 years.

Could it be that after the Dominion War ended travel through the wormhole on both sides became more frequent? And wouldn’t it be plausible that an opportunistic Ferengi, who is effectively on the run in the Alpha Quadrant, would try to mine this new available quadrant for profit? I don’t see anything unlikely with that, and as a recurring character I imagine those details will be fleshed out more as we go on.

In terms of Disc I wholeheartedly agree. The writers are not good at creating both an engaging, consistent story alongside portraying multi-faceted and believable characters who are evolving. They just cannot do it. It’s been four seasons of constant doomsday events and what has anyone really learned? And what does it say about our future and humanity? I’m not sure at all looking back, it seems confusing and unclear. That’s my problem with the show anyhow. At this point I’m kinda siding with the DMA. I wouldn’t want to be involved in anything to do with the 32nd century by it’s overly sentimental and small-feeling, often xenophobic but yet token woke depiction.

I think Dal on Prodigy has had more believable and impactful growth as a character in 7 episodes than anyone on the Discovery crew has had in 4 seasons. Heck they’ve even managed to create a gibbering farting blob with more charisma than anyone can dream to muster on the Discovery.

Very glad to have Prodigy and excited to see it continue and tell good stories.

Thanks for reminding me that the Gamma quad was where the DS9 wormhole went. I guess that’s plausible. It’s just something I’m not a huge fan of, I guess. It feels to me more like a way to use existing Trek aliens rather than come up with new locals. Regardless… Prodigy is doing a good job so let’s just go with that.

Heck they’ve even managed to create a gibbering farting blob with more charisma than anyone can dream to muster on the Discovery.”

LOL. Truth. Although to be fair, her most recent appearance not withstanding, Reno has been a bit of fresh air on that show. Beyond that…. Very little.

Although I enjoyed this episode, I feel that Holo-Janeway should have stopped them making first contact with this civilization. Although they had some advanced construction techniques, they are clearly still pre-warp

I imagine she could have and I sorta expected it. But, and I hate to be “that guy” but it may be that the hologram is programmed to guide rather than order. At least that is how it has been operating so far…

That said, I would think that since they are using Star Fleet equipment even though they are not Star Fleet there is enough Star Fleet stuff around them to strongly suggest they are. In that instance, the Janeway hologram might have been able stop them from violating General Order #1.

I’m thinking that the hologram’s ability to provide security lock-outs is non-functional.

The Ferengi was able to transport the chimerium off the Protostar, and said there was no security protection at all.

I’m not sure if Janeway has the ability to order the crew around. She’s a training program not a ECH.

It’s just a hologram, not someone with authority.

Maybe they learned from the Borg and V’ger that organic life shouldn’t be ordered around by programming?

Holograms are tools, like tricorders or salt shaker medical instruments. Star Trek has long tried to convince viewers that holodeck programs can attain sentience and should thus have life, but that’s absurd. They’re programs. They follow programming. I have enjoyed Moriarty, Minuet, the EMH, and holo-Janeway–very much, in fact. But I have never bought into the idea that they’re alive. In the end, they’re tools. So the idea of giving authority to a hologram just seems nonsensical to me. It’s like me granting authority to my smart TV to decide what I will or won’t watch today.

I view the EMH the same way. That he was essentially a hollo-version of his creator, Dr. Zimmerman. Zimmerman was certainly a living being but the hologram of him certainly isn’t, no matter how fun a character he turned into.

And I feel the same way about Data. Data is a tool. A walking talking version of the ship’s computer. Little more than that. At best you could say it’s a learning computer. But anything more than that is like naming and growing attached to your car.

Data and the Doctor are both sentient beings. They’re just powered by artificial computers instead of biological ones.

No, they really aren’t. Data is exactly what he was programmed. As is the EMH. I have never seen in any episode anything to convince me they were anything more than elaborate tools.

I honestly never considered that any fans would fall on the antagonists’ side of the debates in Measure of a Man and Author, Author. Huh!

Well, if one removes any emotion one might feel for Data, the argument made by Riker is easily the more compelling one. It’s logical and reasonable. Picard’s plea is based entirely on emotion. Not reason. Honestly that episode, while it tackled a controversial subject decently, in the end came to an illogical conclusion.

Fully disagree. Data makes his own decisions and fully aware of himself. That’s the entire discussion of how we define life. YOu can disagree with it, but as far as Data is concerned, he’s no different than anyone else.

I would argue that he is aware of himself because he is programmed to be. Not because of any kind of organic sentience. Also Data doesn’t breathe, he doesn’t eat, he doesn’t reproduce. And he can be turned off and back on. This is not some sort of elaborate “sleep” mode. He can be “killed” and “brought back to life” at the flip of a switch. He does not exhibit any of the definitions that would qualify it as a life form. Even a fish, which I doubt is self aware, one can argue better as a life form than Data. Sorry but Data is VERY different from everyone else.

If your Smart TV were actually capable of forming an opinion on TV shows, we might need to rethink how we treat it.

If it did form opinions they would not be organically generated ones. They would be opinions formed as a result of the programming its creators wrote for it. It would not be true inspiration.

Is DaiMon Nandi running that whole ship by herself? Because it sure seemed that way, and that’s just not possible as that ship is supposed to be roughly equivalent to a Galaxy Class…

Clearly, it is not impossible since she’s doing it. To paraphrase Inigo Montoya, I do not think that word means what you think it means. :)

:-p

Why are you two recent episodes missing from Paramount+ in Australia?