The following contains minor spoilers for episode ten of 'Star Trek: Prodigy.'
One thing that’s become increasingly common among genre shows is the idea of the “mid-season finale,” where a program goes on hiatus for a bit, but not before shaking things up for the rest of the year. Even children’s shows like Star Trek: Prodigy can’t escape from this phenomenon, as the Paramount+ cartoon takes a break (again) after a huge two-parter with big changes for the characters and central conflict.
The first season has so far been a long chase between the escaped prisoners aboard the USS Protostar and their former captor, the Diviner. Last week’s cliffhanger forced the crew to surrender their ship to the Diviner in exchange for the lives of their fellow prisoners from the prison colony Tars Lamora, leaving them stranded on the Diviner’s sabotaged ship, the REV-12. But it turned out that our erstwhile teens had a plan to take their ship back, and this week’s installment sees that plan come to fruition. It’s an enjoyable, though largely unsurprising, adventure.
Where the show upends things is when it comes to our villain, whose mission is finally revealed to his daughter Gwyn and thus, the audience. And yes, it involves time travel. Most interesting of all is that the Diviner’s storyline is backburnered if not completely scuttled now, with the Protostar crew instead focused on getting to the Federation. And it was intended that way all along — these episodes were written over two years ago, before the pandemic started. In fact, showrunners Kevin and Dan Hageman revealed this week in an interview with Engadget that they just wrote episodes 39 and 40. That would be the end of season two, which was only announced back in November.
The long lead time is due to the lengthy animation process, though it also has the knock-on effect of making the show unresponsive to fan concerns, which is exactly how the Hagemans prefer it. The lengthy production time keeps them beholden to the writer’s room and not a vocal online minority, a phenomenon that has derailed other franchises (most notably Star Wars). For the Hagemans, their most important audience is kids, but not in a way that talks down to children. The decision to set the series so far from explored Federation space is part of keeping it accessible to newcomers, while also freeing it from any constraints imposed by any of the concurrently running Trek programs on Paramount+ like Picard.
But even as it remains kid friendly, the Hagemans told Engadget that they want to create the kind of moments that “[stick] to your bones,” like seeing “ET dead on the table.” They want the show to have an impact, and this week’s scene with Zero is hopefully one of those.
Another inspiration for this season of Prodigy comes from a less sci-fi, more action-oriented source: the 1993 film The Fugitive. Not so much in the idea that we’ll see a lot of train explosions, but more in the sense that there’s no real villain in the central conflict. The plot arc will involve Starfleet trying to get the Protostar back, and the kids having to keep it away due to what happened in this week’s episode. It’s just two well-meaning groups with different goals, something I’ve personally noticed in a lot of media lately and a premise that the Hagemans believe it’s important for kids to see.
It’s also important to them to see the kids grow and adapt to their situation, especially as they’re being tasked with situations that even Starfleet-trained officers would struggle with: “You see kids dealing with a lot of emotions; a lot of things are coming at them, and there’s times when you feel crippled, and that’s something you see in adolescence.” We’ve already seen some significant character growth for Rok-Tahk, and the Hagemans promise that the characters will age for whatever number of seasons the show gets. And even Murf gets a plot arc, one that “is not about what Murf is … more like where does Murf go; what does Murf become?”
Murf fans only have to wait for the next 10 episodes, at least. The rest of the season will see the crew finding out what the Diviner did to their ship, and how it puts the Federation out of reach. I’ve previously noted how the series showcases its technology by focusing on the have-nots, something on display this week as the prisoners of Tars Lamora finally get access to the universal translator tech that so impressed the Protostar crew early on. And, while the ship has seemed a bit overpowered compared to the other 24th century tech we’ve seen in other shows, the Hagemans promise it will still be limited in some ways, and the ship won’t be “zapping around at their will.” 2383 technology may have proved life-changing for Prodigy’s crew, but going forward the program can now showcase how it can also be fun.