Today Star Trek: Prodigy wrapped up its first ten-episode arc with the mid-season finale “A Moral Star, Part 2,” which paid off some mysteries while adding a few more. As we did after the show came back from hiatus, TrekMovie had a detailed (and one might say nerdy) discussion via email with co-executive producer Aaron J. Waltke to help sort it all out. The Emmy-winning writer goes deep on Star Trek lore and also gives us a glimpse into what is to come when the series returns later in 2022, and beyond.
Many elements of “A Moral Star” built on elements from season one. How much of the mid-season finale did the writers’ room have set up before scripting the previous eight episodes?
From the beginning, we’ve structured each season using a method we devised on Tales of Arcadia with Guillermo del Toro, which in some ways broke new ground in serialized long-form animated storytelling. Because that series had 52 episodes ordered sight unseen, we were able to be very meticulous with plot and character arcs, finding their endings and midpoints very early on and planning the episodes accordingly. It’s been a very similar process for Star Trek: Prodigy, given that we now have 40 episodes to play with.
For the midseason finale, we’d always planned to return to Tars Lamora. We knew that many truths with the Diviner would be revealed including the disastrous first contact with the Vau N’Akat, that the miners (and the Caitian child!) would be saved, and our crew would don the uniforms and would try their best to be Starfleet when no one else could be… but in their own clever “out-of-the-box” way, and that they would bring language to the miners as the very thing that set them free. We also knew we’d be setting up the back half of season one, including that big reveal in our end tag with a certain Vice Admiral on the hunt for Chakotay. So we were planning quite a bit of it from the start, and continued to build towards that throughout the season.
We learned a lot in episode ten, but just to be clear in case we missed anything, is sorting out the Diviner’s timeline and how he interacted with Chakotay supposed to still be a mystery?
The short answer is yes—you aren’t meant to know the whole story yet. There are some key pieces of information we have revealed, but also some we haven’t—and quite frankly it would’ve been too much to drop all of the exposition for the entire season in one episode, and wouldn’t have been nearly as impactful or satisfying as watching our heroes gradually discovering it themselves along with our audience. Of course, that doesn’t mean the brilliant Star Trek fandom won’t eventually deduce what exactly happened to Chakotay and the Protostar—but I would be genuinely impressed if they did, since we’re only halfway through our first season.
The analogy I like to think of is Deep Space Nine. There are mysteries planted in the first season critical to character growth and plot—Odo’s origins and Sisko’s full role as Emissary to the Prophets, for instance—that aren’t fully revealed until many episodes or even seasons down the line, and then those stories are expanded and explored in even later seasons that drive the rest of the series. Personally, I love DS9, and would love to recapture even a spark of that magic.
Our first week in the writers’ room, we spent a considerable amount of time developing the Diviner’s backstory with the Vau N’Akat, how the Protostar arrived where it did, the source of his hatred for the Federation and the role the Protostar played in that. As such, we wanted to parcel out that information in a way that was organic, rather than just overloading the viewer with all our lore at once and having nowhere to go afterwards.
We also wanted to be very cognizant that this is the story of our young crew first and foremost—the appearance of any legacy character has to become both meaningful for them and for our new and young audiences at home, rather than classic characters showing up and taking over the story completely. Luckily, we have two 20-episode seasons to plan out our story and explore, a luxury that few if any other Star Trek show has ever had.
Are you allowed to clarify a few things, like for example was it Chakotay and the USS Protostar that made first contact with Solum, and thusly why The Diviner is particularly obsessed with that ship?
We will definitely be answering some of those questions this season, so I won’t spoil anything coming. However, there are a few things we’ve revealed so far in this season that offer clues. Here’s what we know so far from the first ten episodes:
Chakotay was the captain of the Protostar, and they were sent to explore the Delta Quadrant with a hologram of Janeway. They flew through an anomaly. They were then was boarded by Drednok and The Diviner, who are from approximately fifty years in the future. They acquired the Protostar and made modifications to it with their own Solum coding, even going so far as to classify Holo-Janeway’s memories. The Diviner traveled back in time with a plan to use the Protostar, fly it to Starfleet “where it will be welcomed with open arms,” and then utilize a weapon that’s hidden aboard the ship to disrupt the Federation before they can make first contact with Solum so they “tear themselves apart.” However, this plan went awry—the Protostar was lost in the past, and The Diviner spent over seventeen years searching for it, until it was found on Tars Lamora. Now, The Diviner is growing desperate, and he feels they are running out of time.
Given all of that, I think it is safe to conclude that the Federation’s exploration efforts in the Delta Quadrant are nearing Solum and will attempt to make first contact soon, but the Protostar came to them later. The Protostar is viewed by The Diviner as the Vau N’Akat’s “salvation”—part of a plan to use the ship to prevent the Federation from ever reaching Solum, thus sparing his civilization from the promises of other worlds that tore them apart. Ideas can be viewed as dangerous things to a society that may or may not be ready for them. Hence, why he was reticent to go back to Solum before his mission was finished.
The introduction of the Starfleet uniforms in episode nine was a big deal, can you clarify what they are, and are they unique to the Protostar? And also why they weren’t wearing them at the end of episode ten?
They were provisional uniforms, similar to what we’ve seen some young crew or cadets wear in TNG and Lower Decks. That’s why they don’t have the division colors—they aren’t in Starfleet yet, and haven’t chosen their divisions. The uniforms Chakotay and (eventually) Holo-Janeway wear are specialized Protostar uniforms, as the Protostar is an experimental “test bed” ship, a specialized division in Starfleet. You can see they have command red stripes running down their shoulders and around their wrists. We’ve seen similar specialized “test pilot” uniforms in Voyager and elsewhere. As for why they weren’t wearing them at the end of the episode, I suppose you can consider their old clothes their “casual duty” attire, similar to Kirk’s green tunic or Picard’s cool jacket. They’ll still put on the “cadet” uniforms when appropriate. (We also have to give the cosplayers something to grasp onto!)
Speaking of timelines, Holo Janeway’s log established this episode takes place in early 2384, which puts the show pretty close to all of the flashback scenes to 2385 in Picard season one. With more elements of Starfleet being introduced on Prodigy, how are you coordinating to make sure the two shows mesh in tandem with Lower Decks that came before it?
The Prodigy team is definitely talking with the other series, especially Lower Decks and Picard, to ensure things align and we’re all telling a cohesive story—as we also carve out our own identities within that universe. Thankfully, Star Trek has already provided a lot of precedent for how different shows in the same era can do just that.
For instance, different uniforms and combadges have always co-existed in Starfleet – although it’s a common misconception to remember otherwise. In The Original Series, we saw different uniforms and insignias for different stations and ranks. In Discovery, there were specialized uniforms and variant combadges for Section 31. In The Next Generation, there were variant uniforms for different tasks, purposes, and divisions; on the Enterprise-D, they had black-rimmed combadges, white and gold combadges, and all-silver provisional badges that were worn side by side. Deep Space Nine took this a step further in its pilot “Emissary”, with new recruits like Jadzia Dax stepping onto DS9 wearing TNG uniforms, then changing into their DS9 duds when they begin serving on the space station; Sisko even encounters the old TNG uniform again when visiting Starfleet Command in the Season 4 episode “Homefront.” We see those TNG uniforms still in use alongside the grey First Contact uniforms as late as DS9 Season 6, “Tears of the Prophets.” Not to mention the different outfits occupying the same bridge in Star Trek Generations. Elsewhere, Voyager retained their original uniforms and didn’t replicate new ones—even after seeing everyone wearing grey First Contact-style outfits in the Alpha Quadrant.
In the year 2374, we have at least three “standard duty” uniforms from different shows being used at the same time in different parts of the galaxy—along with all kinds of specialized variations including “test pilot” suits, casual duty attire, Bajoran variant combadges used with standard Starfleet designs, etc. and Starfleet was fine with all of it. It was only during a few periods—most notably the TOS movies and the Dominion War—when much of this variation was scaled back and simplified. Before and after that, however, Starfleet uniforms were bursting with unique styles.
As for the 2380s, we are in a bold new era for Starfleet. In the relative peace that followed the events of Nemesis, the Federation has once again relaxed its policy about uniforms and combadges. We’ve already seen this in Lower Decks—on various away missions, visits from Tom Paris, and the USS Titan, the Cerritos has its own distinct look and combadge alongside the older 2370s model, which remains in continued use among sections of Starfleet at least until 2386, but that doesn’t preclude new prototypes. In Prodigy’s time of 2384, Starfleet is undergoing a transitional phase—a time of optimism, outward expansion, and exploration, venturing faster and further than they’ve gone before. They’re testing new technology, seeking new horizons. This aligns with the backstory seen in Picard; the Federation was spreading far and wide, and their resources were thin—hence the need for the A500s and why that loss of manpower was so devastating, even after Picard came up with an alternative plan for the evacuation.
In Picard, we only see a few brief minutes of flashback in 2385— interiors on Utopia Planitia, a courtyard on Earth, and planetside on Vashti. When Star Trek: Prodigy catches up to mid-2385, rest assured, we will begin to see the Picard uniform from “The End is the Beginning” start to appear in our show alongside other variant uniforms. In 2384, the Picard-style uniform absolutely exists, used by Admiral Picard and Starfleet divisions assigned to the Beta Quadrant where he and Raffi are involved in the Romulan evacuation negotiation efforts. Over time, we’ll see it roll out more widely elsewhere in Starfleet.
The Federation is a very big place, and in Prodigy we’re just beginning to catch glimpses of what the rest of Starfleet is doing during the mid-2380s. We’ve already seen a few examples: namely, experimenting with new tech and trying out new combadges and uniforms aboard The Protostar and with Vice Admiral Janeway’s crew.
Seeing Admiral Janeway at the end was a big surprise, but perhaps an even bigger surprise was her ship, which appeared to be a close match for the fake USS Dauntless from Voyager’s “Hope and Fear.” Can you tell us anything about this ship? And just to be sure, the Andorian and Tellarite seen on the bridge were Commander Tysess (Daveed Diggs) and Doctor Noum (Jason Alexander)?
That’s correct – that was Commander Tysess and Dr. Noum, who were announced last year!
As for the ship Janeway was captaining (or admiraling?), that was indeed a Starfleet recreation of the fake (but fully functional) USS Dauntless. You’ll notice it is not the original Dauntless, as the exterior hull has more of a tritanium finish, the nacelles are a tad different, and the registry suggests it was made after Voyager’s return. If you recall, the crew of Voyager had ample time to study the alien ship version of the Dauntless that was created by Arturis—they took detailed scans of its entire ship schematics. So detailed, in fact, that Voyager was able to later construct a (mostly) functioning quantum slipstream drive from their logs using the limited resources they had in the Delta Quadrant—shaving 10,000 lightyears off their journey.
It’s now been several years since Voyager returned to Earth from the Delta Quadrant, loaded stem to stern with data they’ve collected on game-changing faster-than-light technology — quantum slipstream, Borg transwarp, coaxial warp drive, the list goes on. Starfleet has had years to study it and begin to perfect and implement these designs. This new Dauntless is among the fruits of that labor. It only makes sense that if Janeway were to mount a rescue mission back into the Delta Quadrant, she’d take something fast. This Dauntless is also equipped with standard warp technology, as Janeway mentions in the closing scene. We know from Voyager and Discovery Season 3 that quantum slipstream isn’t easily scalable to be used fleet-wide due to the rarity of benamite—synthesizing it takes years—but the tech still exists in the 31st century, even after the Burn. For a single ship, though, having a version of limited slipstream as an option doesn’t hurt.
As for Janeway’s combadge—as many Trek fans know, there was a standard “future” uniform shown in TNG, DS9, and Voyager being used by Starfleet by at least 2390 through 2400s whenever they flashed forward to a possible future. The last time the combadge was seen, it was on an older future version of Janeway from 2404, who time traveled back into our “present” prime timeline 2378 in the Voyager series finale, “Endgame.” However, the combadge isn’t seen anywhere in Picard in 2399—instead, they have a combadge that looks suspiciously similar to it, like it evolved from the former. Clearly, the timeline changed when Voyager returned to Earth 14 years early with all of that FTL tech… not to mention the anachronistic “future tech” left behind from 2404 in 2378 that included a certain “advanced” future combadge. That wasn’t forgotten about—and it seems Starfleet’s development was sped up somewhat as a result, and took some inspiration from it.
Will this ship be playing a big part in the second half of season one?
As has been hinted elsewhere in Trek lore, the original Voyager was taken apart and studied upon its return to earth and it’s destined to be turned into a floating museum. In the meantime, Admiral Janeway has a new fast little ship to command.
The first ten episodes revealed a good amount of Gwyn’s family backstory and even some for Dal. Will you be exploring the same for the other kids in season one, or beyond?
Without giving any spoilers, we will be delving a little more into the rest of the crew’s backgrounds. As we’ve seen already with Dal, Zero and others, the Unwanted weren’t born on Tars Lamora, but brought there by bounties issued from The Diviner. Sometimes when forging a found family, you can’t help but look to the past.
Will we be getting more clues as the series progresses on why there are Alpha Quadrant species trickling into in the Delta Quadrant?
As I suggested in our previous interview, Tars Lamora is in the Delta Quadrant near the Beta Quadrant border. That answers much of it. But believe it or not, the biggest clues exist in other shows!
Voyager has at least a dozen episodes featuring Alpha Quadrant species that have arrived in the Delta Quadrant. Aside from wormholes, sleeper ships and Caretakers, we also have the many breakthroughs in FTL tech that Voyager shared with the Federation and the Alpha Quadrant upon returning to Earth—especially regarding Borg transwarp, which seem to be more accessible for outsiders after the neurolytic pathogen incapacitated the Borg Unicomplex in “Endgame”. This is reflected in Picard, when La Sirena uses a transwarp as a shortcut in “Et in Arcadia Ego, Part 1”—and by the time of Discovery S3, transwarp is regularly used by civilian couriers like Booker as a shortcut across the quadrants. It seems there has been something of a “space race” into the Delta Quadrant after Janeway and her crew came back.
Specifically in Tars Lamora, it’s safe to say that the Diviner had a bounty and predilection for using Alpha Quadrant species in his mining efforts—given his vendetta against the Federation, it’s not hard to understand why. That single Kazon we saw doing some bounty hunting in the pilot obviously strayed far from his origins—vbut it’s established canon in Voyager that Borg transwarp conduits extend from Kazon territory down into the Beta and Alpha Quadrants, among the many other possibilities like graviton catapults and Vaadwaur underspace.
Was leaving the Caitian Kitty with a badge a hint we haven’t seen the last of her and the Rev-12? And does the kitty have a name?
The Caitian child was a room favorite. She now has her own ship and crew! As for future adventures, you’ll have to wait and see.
In addition to nods to Star Trek like “Year of Hell,” Episode 10 has some moments that evoke other franchises, like crazy Diviner and Gollum from Lord of the Rings, or the window shot of Gwyn, Dal and Zero and the end of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, Drednok’s fading eye and The Terminator. Are these touches born in the writers’ room, or more with Ben Hibon and other directors and artists?
It’s a combined effort of sorts, between the writers and the artists. First and foremost, we try to stay true to Star Trek. But when you are telling any story, inevitably other touchstones of science fiction and fantasy and classic tales will trickle into your brain and provide a little bit of inspiration. There are a number of other Trek series that do the same thing—Voyager’s Hirogen were a nod to Predator, Rura Penthe was taken directly from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and Harry Mudd’s Annabelle androids were named after the lead Bond lady from Dr. No. Quite frankly, it can be fun to drop homages here or there if it enhances the story you’re telling without distracting from it. We did the same thing in Tales of Arcadia, and audiences seemed to enjoy seeing those little references as much as we did.
Paramount+ recently announced that the second half of season one will debut later in 2022. With the show already taking a hiatus, is it possible we could get all remaining ten episodes in 2022?
I don’t know if we have an official release date yet, but we are definitely getting more episodes later this year. Stay tuned for more updates!
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.