Star Trek: Prodigy
Air date: 1/20/2022
Written by Nikhil S. Jayaram
Directed by Olga Ulanova & Sung Shin
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Time Amok" might be my kids' first real journey into the concept of sci-fi time travel, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban notwithstanding, so I had high hopes for this one taking the complicated ideas of time travel and putting them into a straightforward kid-friendly package.
Unfortunately, this outing feels like it made all the wrong compromises. It takes all the time-travel stuff and simply breaks the story into a bunch of different time zones (ranging from fast to very slow, kind of like in TNG's "Timescape," while the idea of trying to thwart the same inevitable outcome echoes "Cause and Effect"), with each character being trapped in a different zone where they must piece together a puzzle that will help them build a contraption that will allow them to escape the shattered time zones before the ship (in some cases imminently) explodes.
In the process, there is a surprising amount of needless and meaningless technobabble, while the rules around transmitting information between the different time zones seem contrived and not especially persuasive. My kids got the idea that they were all trapped in these different zones, but I feel like this was a major missed opportunity from a cause-and-effect standpoint with regard to how the past impacts the future. Why even use time travel if all you're going to do is put everyone in a (mostly) self-contained box?
On the plus side, there's the idea that all the young members of our makeshift crew must band together by passing information to each other to complete the puzzle. Meanwhile, Drednok finds a way to transmit data of himself onto the ship, where a copy of him is built by the ship's replicator and proves to be an obstacle in some of the timelines. Talk about your Trojan horses.
Rok proves to be the key here. She's trapped in the slowest-moving timeline. Once she has all the information she needs to create the piece of tech to unshatter time and prevent the explosion, she has to figure out how to do it, which takes her months in isolation where she learns and employs skills beyond anything she has ever attempted. It's the best idea in an episode that unfortunately overall does far too little with timelines to be a good time-travel story.
Previous episode: First Con-tact
Next episode: A Moral Star
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22 comments on this post
Thu, Jan 20, 2022, 6:24am (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 20, 2022, 7:24am (UTC -5)
I was really pleased with the unexpected focus on Rok-Tahk by the end of the episode. They gave her a coherent character arc, with the throwaway comment by her that she never asked to become security officer at the beginning, to realizing her actual role on the ship should be more...science officer I guess? I thought that was Zero's thing. But there's no reason why there has to be strict roles like on a real Starfleet vessel. The secondary focus of the episode on the concept of teamwork was also appropriate for a kids show. Anyone who didn't get feels at the group hug at the end is dead inside.
Thu, Jan 20, 2022, 11:20am (UTC -5)
If the show is willing to tell a story as complex as this one it isn't worried about dumbing itself down to appeal to children. If there's one thing I know about children (and, it's probably the only thing, haha) it's that they're generally smarter than adults give them credit for. They're also willing to spend endless amounts of time thinking about or talking about something that interests them that they don't fully understand.
Any Star Trek fan not watching this is missing out.
Thu, Jan 20, 2022, 3:31pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 20, 2022, 6:09pm (UTC -5)
As an adventure of the week with a tie-in to the greater arc, this is exactly what I think these episodes should be aiming for -- unless they are explicitly dealing with the main arc.
The one issue I have is I found it cloying and forced. The crew is to become more of a real crew and each person -- this time Rok -- overcomes a hurdle and finds a purpose. I know this is aimed at a younger audience but there was a fair bit of technobabble here ("warp matrix", "dilithium coupler" etc.) Also feel it's super-farfetched for Rok to re-establish Janeway and then build the damn warp matrix all while acting like a whiny little baby. Gwyn is telling her "you can do it." Maybe that's inspirational for kids? Now I recall Burnham encouraging Zora in the same way in "Stormy Weather"...
The other thing that is bothering me is Dal & co. are impersonating a Starfleet crew and Dal finally comes clean about it and Janeway can only ask if they stole the ship?? Maybe I'm missing something here but I know Janeway is just programmed to help whoever is running the ship but shouldn't she know better? I raised this issue as well in "Starstruck" but I think the writers are just waiving their hands on this one.
The episode starts out with a team-building exercise not working but then this time amok situation brings them together perfectly. The mechanics are the best part of the episode -- passing information from faster times to slower times. It's good Trek sci-fi.
2.5 stars for "Time Amok" -- nearly good enough for 3 stars and I think this is the probably the 2nd best PROD episode so far. I appreciate the writing and the ideas, but at times the fact that it is for a younger demographic can hamper things a bit for me.
Thu, Jan 20, 2022, 8:43pm (UTC -5)
Like so many others, I enjoy your reviews immeasurably. Please consider short blurbs about Prodigy. It’s Trek at its finest in nearly two decades, and we’d love to hear your thoughts about this stunning show. We know you’re watching it! Thanks for considering 🖖
Thu, Jan 20, 2022, 8:46pm (UTC -5)
Thu, Jan 20, 2022, 9:33pm (UTC -5)
I have had tentative plans to review TAS for literally 15 years. The plans just have not materialized for one reason or another. Eventually they will, but I just don't know when. Currently airing Trek will take priority, although I have no idea yet how I will manage the next six months with everything that is coming. Something's gotta give.
Thu, Jan 20, 2022, 11:02pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Jan 21, 2022, 9:44am (UTC -5)
Excellent for fans
Jammer currently pulling out hair trying to keep up
Fri, Jan 21, 2022, 3:36pm (UTC -5)
Another thing I find really difficult to buy is that these kids are able to understand the physics and engineering required to maintain the starship, let alone *build their own components*. This is especially driven home in Rok's timeline where she tells us that she used her slowed-down timeline to teach herself "quantum science, computer engineering, and so much math" in order to build a Warp Matrix, not to mention also recovering Janeway's program and reinstalling it. Am I seriously meant to believe this? Maybe it's just the fact that I've studied these things myself at university and I know how complex they are that this situation feels so much more absurd to me. I would not expect an average civilian *adult* in the Trek universe to be able to be skilled at the required physics and engineering, let alone a child. Would you expect a child of our world (or even just a civilian adult with no training) to be able to work the engine of a ship on the ocean? Let alone *build a component* for it?! I guess this is just an unavoidable part of it being a kids show in the Star Trek universe... kids are our main characters, and we want them on a starship, so we have to suspend our disbelieve and pretend they can operate the starship. It's just so *jarring* to have Rok, who acts and speaks like a naive child most of the time, so just be like "so I just taught myself quantum science and build this component lol". Especially when earlier she was like "omg this is too overwhelming for me, I can't do this". That was a much more realistic reaction.
By the way, how *did* the whole crew actually work together and help? How did Dal's design of the Warp Matrix actually make it to Rok... wasn't it just shot out into space? Maybe it's the stupid time loop shenanigans confusing me. But as far as I understand it, Rok did all the work herself... she sent Janeway away because she was too overwhelmed, but then she got the courage to try and taught herself a bunch of physics and engineering and built the Warp Matrix and reinstalled Janeway... so how did the others' timelines actually contribute?
One last thing... so the evil robot guy made a copy of himself to be replicated on the Protostar. First of all, wow what bad security to allow anyone to be able to send a file to be replicated. Secondly, so if he had succeeded and got the ship back to the Diviner, then there would still be another evil robot guy back with him. So there would then be two of them. He didn't transport to the Protostar, he sent a file which built *another copy of himself* there, with all his memories and sentince. And which is now stranded in space. I feel the episode really didn't deal with the ethical and philosophical consequences of a sentient character casually making a duplicate of themselves.
Fri, Jan 21, 2022, 6:17pm (UTC -5)
season 1 episode 8
“Dot dot dot”
- Jankom Pog
* * * (out of 4 dots, cause the Star rating should definitely match the quote!)
This is the most classically Trek episode in 17 years, ever since Enterprise’ season 4 episode "Observer Effect”. After 17 years of experimentation - a few hits and many misses - there is something so radically fresh about just doing a basic Trekkian episode. And doing it well. Prodigy continues to impress!
As many have observed, this episode has nothing to do with the TOS classic Amok Time. No vulcans here. But there is a TOS episode that is similar, "Wink of an Eye”. There the alien race lives so fast, no one can see them. And for these aliens, everyone else is moving so slow, they seem to be frozen in time.
The TNG two-parter “Time’s Arrow” also deals with an alien species out of phase in time and therefore invisible.
The way "Wink of an Eye” approached the concept, there was something sexy about being out of synch in time, being invisible. That’s especially true when you have company. And the sexy alien woman in "Wink of an Eye” got herself a giant slice of Kirk pie to pass the time. Dot, dot dot.
Prodigy being a kids show, the writers explore the converse - how lonely it can be to be out of synch. Especially when no one is out of synch with you.
When Gwyn asks in her recorded video message,
“Hey Rok, how are you?”
Rok answers to herself,
“Time Amok” does a great job showing these kids as real people, with real feelings.
The episode is a meditation on the isolation and Zooming that has dominated so many lives, even of kids, these last two years. Or at least some kids. There are places all around the world where schools were just closed for a summer break, and were open for the year-and-a-half ever since. Then there are other places where schools are still mostly closed even today.
Seeing life - and time - go by at different paces, while you are all alone, and only get video of other faces… well, that was weird enough for adults. For kids the loneliness has left scars.
“Time Amok” also continues Prodigy’s track record of great openings. Last week the kids were playing with a transporter. The week before that it was the holodeck. This week Janeway has the kids working on a classic team-building exercise. And wouldn't you guess it, teamwork is the name of the game here.
There are a few other small pieces that really elevate the episode. One, is the sprinkling of continuity. Our ongoing Diviner arc intersects with Dal’s foster ferengi mom as expected. But it was nice to see.
More importantly, the episode actually takes Time seriously! Since the USS Protostar has zipped so far away, the Diviner can’t catch up with them, at least not for many months.
@Jammer has commented a few times that modern Trek (and modern shows like Game of Thrones), don’t take the time to show travel across vast distances.
On Discovery this problem is epitomized by the spore drive. It makes the universe seem very small, and reduces the canvas to a tiny set of characters. I was so happy then, that in an episode called “Time Amok,” the Diviner can’t just zip over in the Wink of an Eye. Dot, dot, dot. The
Diviner’s solution was ingenious. Or is that evil genius?
The episode does a great job with Rok-Tahk. Kudos to whichever writer figured out it made sense for this rock-like alien to experience Geologic time. Geology, and rocks, exist on time-scales that boggle the mind - millions of years. They change very slowly.
How many years does it take for a stone in a stream to become smooth and beautiful? How long till a chunk of coal is pressed into a diamond?
Rok-Tahk is still in the rough. But her time away, while tough at first, really allowed her the space to come into her own.
When Gwyn sends Rok a do-it-yourself manual on how to build a warp matrix, Rok procrastinates for an eternity. Another key insight here is that kids avoid doing tasks not because they don’t like them, but rather, they don’t like them because they don’t know how to do them, and so they procrastinate. If you show kids how to do a thing, and then they do it a few times, their attitude towards that task changes dramatically! So too with Rok.
After an interminable length of time, Rok finally brings herself to at least try following Gwyn’s instructions. After countless tries, she eventually completes the do-it-yourself kit. But she doesn’t know where to put what she built!
Yet, that practical experience pays off in the end. Rok tries - hundreds of times - to pull a copy of the Janeway holo out of the buffer. Finally it works, and fortunately holo Janeway knows exactly where to put the warp matrix. Problem solved.
There have been many long-lived characters in scifi. But a long childhood recently got super popular with baby Yoda. Rok is no baby Yoda, but I suppose we wouldn’t want her to be.
Probably not surprising, the show this episode most reminds me of is a Doctor Who outing called “The Bing Bang.” There a girl is in a timeless box for 2,000 years. And a lone centurion stands guard and keeps her safe for two millennia,
As The Doctor says: 2,000 years alone. It would drive you mad.
Fri, Jan 21, 2022, 6:32pm (UTC -5)
"The temporal anomaly supposedly made each person travel through time at a different rate, but that would imply that everyone should still be on the same ship and able to see each other, just everyone moving through time at different speeds. Which is not what we got. Instead, it was as if each person got separated into their own parallel timeline where they can't see or interact with anyone else, and each of these timelines moves at its own speed."
This too was what I was distracted by. I was thinking of The Original Series' 'Wink of an Eye' or The Next Generation's 'Timescape,' where Kirk or Picard and company could still 'interact' with the rest of the crew. I just tried to set the issue aside and appreciate the broader story of teamwork that was attempting to be told.
Sat, Jan 22, 2022, 4:02am (UTC -5)
Sat, Jan 22, 2022, 11:05am (UTC -5)
Sat, Jan 22, 2022, 12:12pm (UTC -5)
Here a visual representation of how that would look like
Mon, Jan 24, 2022, 1:11pm (UTC -5)
Very good writing IMO.
Another enjoyable effort from Prodigy.
Excellent post Mal.
3.5 stars from me. A pretty damn good SCI-FI story in a 25 minute cartoon. Discovery should take note.
Tue, Jan 25, 2022, 6:02pm (UTC -5)
If it is for 7-12 year olds, as I believe is the intention, then the show is quite heavy on technobabble, adult speech (especially Janeway) and more adult themes. Even when the characters are likable and there is the concept on learning how to do teamwork, I don't think my kids, when they were 7-10 years old, would like this show very much.
If it is another show for Star Trek fans, then the show is great! I myself love this show, with all it's references to Star Trek canon and older shows. But somehow I think this was not the goal and I'm not supposed to be the targeted audience.
And a lot of the themes of Prodigy could also have been achieved on Lower Decks.
Really wondering what the age group is of the people who stream this show.
Fri, Feb 11, 2022, 9:48pm (UTC -5)
Prodigy's penchant for playful twists on classic Trek titles continues apace, as does holo Janeway's faith in her crew. Despite her disappointment in their breaking of the Prime Directive, she continues her lessons with them, by using the holodeck to make real the classic riddle of transporting the fox, chicken, and grain across a river. But given how slippery animals can be, especially when there's stuff they ravenously covet, it makes for a slapsticky mess.
Dal's issues have evolved from being self-centered to be self-critical, as he's disappointed in himself for letting his crew down in the exercise. He lets Janeway know that they're not really cadets, but just some kids who stole a ship. Frankly, I think this is a welcome dispensing of a layer that was never necessary in the show in the first place. Who cares that they're not Starfleet? Janeway certainly doesn't. She cares for them as if they were her own, just as her real-life counterpart did for Neelix, Kes, Seven, Naomi, and the Borg children.
As Dal goes off to sulk in his quarters with some video games, the ship drifts into a tachyon storm. And given what Trek fans know about tachyons, we know we're in for some time-travel shenanigans. To quote both Janeway and O'Brien "I hate temporal mechanics." This anomaly harkens back to classic VOY, when the show would often get criticized for having too many anomaly of the week episodes. The actual anomaly in play has elements of Wink of an Eye, Blink of an Eye, Timescape, Cause and Effect, Visionary, Magic to Make the Sanest Man Go Mad, and maybe a bit of Time Squared, and We'll Always Have Paris. Basically, a short window of time spells doom, but the crew have an opportunity to fix things.
Timescape and the "of and Eye" episodes might be the closest on one level, since those were episodes were about people experiencing time at different rates.
Zero explains it to Janeway using a graphic of a sine wave, which given Rok-Tahk's rate of time suggests it's nowhere near to scale. Basically, everyone in the crew is experiencing time at a different rate, based their proximity to the protostar drive, and where that proximity plots on a sine wave. If someone is on a crest, time moves faster, if they're on a valley, time moves slowly. One thing I was wondering, was that unlike Timescape or Wink of an Eye, we never see anyone interacting with seemingly frozen versions of other crew.
The lesson of the holodeck, that teamwork was paramount to solving the riddle, comes into play, when Jankom identifies the problem, Zero designs a warp matrix to repair the protostar drive, Dal builds it, Gwyn finds a missing dilithium coupler...and the Diviner hacks into the Protostar's computer to hijack the vehicle replicator.
Using Nandi's information from last week, he realizes that it would take months to get to the Protostar (say the amount of time between this batch of episodes and the next 10?), so when he hacks into the Protostar, he sends over a copy of Drednok. I guess Drednok is kind of as indestructible as, say, Weyoun, in that they could just keep cloning him, as long as the data's around.
Doing this causes a few problems for the Protostar crew. First, Drednok erases holo Janeway. Then, Dal had an idea to use the vehicle replicator to create parts for the machine, but it was in-use. The fact that Drednok was there meant that he could find the missing part, restore the ship, and capture it for the Diviner.
Gwyn decides to airlock Drednok, but that means losing both the dilithium coupler and the entire warp matrix as well as the Drednok clone. I think we're seeing a flaw in Gwyn at this stage in her development, that for all the talk of Dal being the maverick, Gwyn tends to catastrophize her situation to the point of taking extreme measures that backfire.
With all hope seemingly lost, Gwyn records a log for Rok, who is experiencing time the slowest. Rok will need to build another warp matrix and find a dilithium coupler.
Earlier in the episode, Rok deactivated Janeway herself, since the whole situation was really scary, especially if it depended on her. So, she recused herself from solving the problem. But once she was made the only one who could save the day, she applied herself to learn so much engineering that she rebuilt the warp matrix and restored Janeway, using a latent pattern found in the memory buffer.
But the real consequences of this are that she spent so much time alone. As I said, Zero's model for how each crew experiences time was definitely not to scale. Janeway could only bring herself to describe it as "too long." Given it took hundreds of tries just to restore Janeway (she was the only one Rok could ask where to put the warp matrix), how many meals had been consumed, and how she now had a nightly routine of saying goodnight to the ghosts of her friends, it sounds like a trauma that will be explored in further episodes.
The more immediate cliffhanger was the fact that the replicated Drednok's head remains aboard the ship...
Sat, Mar 12, 2022, 1:02pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Apr 8, 2022, 2:30am (UTC -5)
Fri, May 20, 2022, 3:44pm (UTC -5)
I can't say I am certain about what happened in either the A plot or the B plot, and there's Drednok creeping about in another plot line as well, to further complicate the already complex. It's quite a tragic episode as well, if one thinks too deeply about it, which I would rather not.
I'm just glad Hologram Janeway wasn't really deleted.
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