Wednesday, 21 September 2022

Prodigy: Preparing for Part 2

The reveals of Picard's third season trailer might have distracted you from the fact that Prodigy's first season (part two) is set for return this October. 

As I said a few months back, rather than individually go through every episode I wanted to be able to have a more educated overview and look back in sections. This, for Prodigy, seems like a good point to take stock.

My thoughts ahead of it airing offered very low expectations of the show. It was for kids, I even grumbled at the animation in the first episode and wasn't planning on giving it a great deal of my time.

How wrong was i. Because I went in without demanding greatness from the first frames and was aware that it wouldn't be as adult-orientated as Discovery or Picard likely made a big difference.

While Burnham's journey in the 32nd Century seems to have meandered a little, Prodigy has remained untainted. The wokeness and community servicing that Discovery in particular has gone to town on is nowhere to be seen. Now, I get that Star Trek should be discussing current issues and scripting allegories just as Gene Roddenberry himself did back in the 1960's but there are some that would say Discovery is trying too hard to accommodate.

Prodigy on the other hand isn't. This is a straight up action adventure that provides a gateway into the world of Star Trek for a younger generation. It still talks about teamwork, family and has a story and characters who are already developing but it's kept things simple and, ironically, quite down to Earth.

Assembling a crew of aliens is one thing but to actually show character advancement in what is, at the core, a kids show is brilliant. All of the leads feel as though they are on individual journeys with some more prominent than others. Dal and Gwyn do tend to take the lead as the "acting captain" and the daughter of their nemesis, The Diviner but Rok too has been provided with serious development albeit in one episode.

But let's not get too ahead. Prodigy's first season has been wholeheartedly (to this mid-point) a brilliant success. These first ten episodes have successfully introduced the cast, a new ship, told a mini story arc and still managed to step way for a few weeks with a great cliffhanger.

With a strong learning towards its new elements and only sprinkling in a minor amount of existing Trek lore, Prodigy has done well to avoid the franchise's own self-loving and aim to embrace a totally new audience. The basics of the show, the Federation and our new crew have been set over this initial run of episodes and the writers have done a magnificent job of avoiding in-jokes and keeping their stories open and accessible.

The ship is a very clear Starfleet design with the over-hull nacelles and a distinct primary/secondary hull shape that can be traced all the way back to its most original form in USS Enterprise NCC-1701. Yes, it's got some neat twists; lots of surface landings, a 3D vehicle printer, that extremely open glass-topped bridge, the Janeway hologram and the incredible protowarp drive - but it's still recognisably Starfleet and I goddamn want one.

The crew are oddly relatable. Dal might be the captain-elect (by himself) but he has to share that centre stage with the equally capable and more mature Gwyn. But Dal is the new viewer to Star Trek, excited, interested and wanting to know it all. He is the avenue into the franchise that the Nickleodeon audience should be following. Rok has come on in leaps and, well, leaps from background to essential. Zero's Medusan nature has been touched on and visualised in one of the larger callbacks to the history of the franchise (Is There in Truth No Beauty? TOS S3) although Murf remains a complete enigma however completely indestructible he/she/they are.

The only character to really have been left at the kerb a little is Tellarite Jankom Pog. He feels almost as neutered as the Maquis after Caretaker and the argumentative nature played on right from the first episode has been frittered way in weeks. Hopefully he won't be relegated to the Inspector Gadget of the team with his extendable arm as his only "thing".

Now (spoilers) I had expected the Diviner arc to last more than the first half of the season but it has meant that this line of storytelling hasn't overstayed its welcome. It felt right to go in the direction the show took this plot and it felt conclusive and also the end of the beginning. The mid-season two-parter returning the Protostar and its crew to the mining colony where we started out ensured that loose ends were tied up although we know that there have been hints at the ship's purpose and final mission through these ten episodes.

Nor at any point has Hologram Janeway felt intrusive. Kate Mulgrew's return has been a masterstroke. It has greatly benefitted the series and of all the returning characters we've seen across the recent shows, certainly Prodigy has nailed it both with this leading lady and the assembling of the crew for Dal's Kobayashi Maru sim.

For long term fans there is still a sense of familiarity through the reminders of Starfleet, the design of the ship both internally and externally and, of course, that cliffhanger which leaves no doubt that the universe is all coming together. Would I be surprised to see one of the Prodigy cast turn up in a live series at some point? Not in the slightest and with the hints of an upcoming Academy show it might be sooner rather than later.

I'm very much drawn towards Strange New Worlds and Lower Decks but in Prodigy there is the hidden gem of the current Star Trek catalogue and something that is wildly accessible by every generation with enough in there to draw in Voyager fans as well as a new, young generation who can then go on and discover the shows of the '90's.

Leaving the season on a cliffhanger and by introducing the real Janeway aboard a very real USS Dauntless, the show has dropped a massive bombshell and a sharp left at the same time. Where is Chakotay? Will the Dauntless catch the Protostar and what the hell is Murf?

Prodigy has a ton and a half of things to offer and is just heading in its own direction. Whether it's possible to dovetail it into one of the series occurring at the same time has yet to be seen yet it remains absolutely unique just as each other series has managed so far in this Kurtzman era.
Perhaps the stories haven't minded much depth with the plots fairly straight-forward but it has managed to keep the audience interest at all levels and you can bet the second half of the season will deliver just as much if not more.

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