Star Trek: Prodigy

"Ghost in the Machine"

1.5 stars

Air date: 12/8/2022
Written by Chad Quandt
Directed by Andrew Schmidt

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

After a hard day's work running bridge simulations on the holodeck where they try to engage the Dauntless without infecting them with the Super Virus Weapon, the kids settle down for some relaxing ice-cream social time. But when it's time to turn in for bed, strange things begin to happen, and our crew realizes they actually never left the holodeck. They're stuck there for unknown reasons, until they can solve the computer's puzzle by retrieving a mysterious skeleton key. The holodeck has become an escape room (which is not a bad high-concept pitch, to be honest).

After last week's brisk journey through a series of fairly substantive backstories, "Ghost in the Machine" is unfortunately a pretty clear example of the pandering kiddie side of this series, which serves up episodic action sequences that have nothing to do with anything (or even each other) and exist mainly to fill screen time and cater to the assumed short attention span of our YouTube/TikTok-addicted youth. (Get off my lawn.)

Hey look: A mysterious mansion where Zero must solve a mystery, Sherlock Holmes style! A motorcycle gang where Jankom has to get into a fight with a bunch of thugs! A 1940s nightclub in black-and-white, where Murf lip-syncs and Gwyn's father plays a nicer version of himself! A pirate ship with a giant sea monster generated from Rok's favorite cutesy creature! There's no focus or follow-through on anything before we're off to the next half-sketched idea.

The episode ultimately betrays itself as the true wheel-spinner it is by revealing that Hologram Janeway has held the crew in the holodeck as a delay tactic to keep the ship on its collision course with the Federation (just when the crew was mulling abandoning their Federation dreams). It turns out Holo-Janeway has been corrupted by the Diviner's programming, although apparently only to the degree required by this particular plot.

And, of course, the safeties are off! (Dun-dun-dun!) So ... why even bother disabling the safeties if the whole point of the program is to delay, not harm, its occupants? (We know none of the kids are actually going to be put in any real danger, anyway.) Or if you're actually trying to kill them, why go about it so inefficiently rather than turning the entire holodeck into a meat grinder? But forget about that. Why bother trying to entertain your prisoners — and give them a way out — if the real goal is to simply imprison them? And if you are really trying to detain them in this particularly convoluted manner, why give them clues that things are amiss? Why not just have them believe they are going about their day? This just doesn't make any sense given what it's ultimately revealed to be. (At the end of it all, the holodeck is a completely unnecessary tool for this particular job. Just lock them all up.)

Even granting the absurd premise, what's missing here is a clever through-line of any kind to make this more than a series of mindless action sequences. It starts as a mystery and ends up as vaporware. The Diviner's sabotage plot just keeps getting deeper and deeper — and more and more implausibly contrived. The things writers do to draw out and service a serialized story...

Previous episode: Preludes
Next episode: Mindwalk

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10 comments on this post

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Karl Zimmerman
Thu, Dec 8, 2022, 8:24am (UTC -6)
An okay, but ultimately creatively bankrupt episode. That this series is just a kids show is becoming more apparent with time, as until the final three minutes or so there's nothing here other than repackaging elements of the classic Berman Trek "holodeck episode" for kids. It's got everything, from the safeties being off, to the arch not coming, to elements from multiple simulations getting thrown together. The only thing which really makes it fresh is the kid-friendly patina pasted over top of it. There's not even anything resembling character focus or coherent character arcs here, only a few character moments. The banter is fun, but...that's about it.

The last few minutes somewhat salvage the episode, as the idea that holo-Janeway was always corrupted is an interesting one, and it helps bring the season arc forward a bit. Though it does bring up questions, like why her sleeper code hadn't activated earlier in the season. Still, at least it means this side quest actually had some greater meaning in the overall plot of the show.
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AMA
Thu, Dec 8, 2022, 9:37am (UTC -6)
This was, in my estimation, the poorest episode of the series to date.

Although I actually enjoy episodes centred on holodeck malfunctions, and admit the ending to this outing effectively upended the standard trope, I just found many of the scenes to be silly and uneventful. The arc of the season ultimately does move forward, but only ever so slightly, and, as previously intimated, in only a marginally interesting manner. A disappointing episode overall.

On to the next one, where the story may finally reach a turning point.
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Jammer
Thu, Dec 8, 2022, 4:28pm (UTC -6)
Review now posted.
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Rachel
Thu, Dec 8, 2022, 6:48pm (UTC -6)
I kept getting stuck on wondering why so many of their fantasy simulations revolved around the culture and history of Earth, a planet they've never been to or even talked about that we've seen. They've heard about the concept of the Federation overall, but it's a big leap from that to 1940s nightclubs, pirate ships, Holmesian mysteries, etc. In retrospect, that should have been a clue as to how little thought went into the plot.
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Rahul
Thu, Dec 8, 2022, 8:31pm (UTC -6)
This was pure filler material for the kids -- and that's a problem for this kind of serialized story telling: some episodes just don't move the plot forward sufficiently, or at all, and kill any momentum. Real downer coming after the promise of "Preludes" which tied up some loose ends for the overall motivation of the story. Thought that could be a launching pad to some good storytelling.

What's not clear to me is how Janeway's program was tampered with. And if the goal is to ensure the Protostar encounters the Federation, why not have her just lock the controls of the ship to follow a course to the Federation -- kind of like how Spock set the Enterprise on a course to Talos IV in "The Menagerie, Part I".

As for the various holo-adventures -- just entirely forgettable kiddie filler material. But one thing that's emerging is Zero being the one to figure things out too perfectly. I suppose we get a little more insight into what the characters like to do in their spare time in the holodeck, but this is all fairly consistent with what we think these characters ought to be like -- so there's nothing really noteworthy.

0.5 stars for "Ghost in the Machine" -- definitely a turkey and the worst PROD episode to date. It just makes too little sense, plenty of stupidity, and the kind of episode that really makes me wonder why I'm watching this show. But all the classic Treks (aside from TAS) had their 0.5-star outings, so if PROD S1 can finish with the kind of form it showed in the first part of the season, this turd will be forgotten.
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Top Hat
Fri, Dec 9, 2022, 8:04am (UTC -6)
Lucky thing none of them was running a sex program. Although Jankom's program may well have been, depending on how Tellarite arousal works.
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The Chronek
Fri, Dec 9, 2022, 10:53pm (UTC -6)
Yeah, I try to find anything in Trek to enjoy, but I have to agree with Jammer's rating on this one. It's a stinker. The work-together trope feels forced, and the holodeck programs didn't seem to have any kind of connection.

The only reason I can think of as to why the crew enjoys so many Earth-based holodeck programs is maybe they're trying to see what's so great about Earth, which is where the Federation capitol is. They didn't come from such a great background, and here's this ship, all its tech and a hologram Janeway. Maybe it's a bit of unwitting hero worship.

Hope next week's episode is better.
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Adolfo Franco
Sun, Dec 11, 2022, 3:57pm (UTC -6)
Of course this show is for kids! What were you expecting? I didn't like the Disney Star Wars cosmetics at first, but that is irrelevant. The show seems to be promising entry point for young viewers. The plot goes in circles at times, ok. But it is entertaining enough to keep my attention. The kid in me likes it. I was a kid in the 70s. I loved TOS, but maybe the Animated Series was more my thing LOL. That is why I love when I see a Catian in Lower Decks and in Prodigy.
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Yanks
Mon, Dec 12, 2022, 3:27pm (UTC -6)
@ Jammer

"The Diviner's sabotage plot just keeps getting deeper and deeper — and more and more implausibly contrived."

Couldn't have put it better myself.

So how did The Diviner reprogram holo-Janeway? Some explanation would have been nice.

The least enjoyable episode of Prodigy yet I'm afraid.

I agree with 1.5 stars.

Here's hoping they turn this thing around.
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Mal
Fri, Dec 16, 2022, 5:54pm (UTC -6)
@AMA said, "This was, in my estimation, the poorest episode of the series to date."

Amen. I thought there was some law against any more holodeck malfunction episodes? But evidently I only hallucinated that we live in a just society. In short, I have a dream.

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