Review: ‘Star Trek: Prodigy’ – “Asylum” is an Exciting Return with Heart

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Star Trek: Prodigy is back from its long hiatus with a brand new episode entitled “Asylum” that’s exciting, full of gorgeous animation, and gives us more of the characters we love. There are huge stakes as the group of wayward kids, including Dal (Brett Gray), Gwyn (Ella Purnell), Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzoukas), Rok-Tahk (Rylee Alazraqui), and Zero (Angus Imrie), must navigate their lives now that they think the Diviner (John Noble) has been defeated.

The compelling and masterful writing, coupled with stunning art and animation, makes for a show worth watching with the whole family. The voice acting is superb and hits all the right notes. The entire team behind Prodigy should be proud because this a show that delights. You can tell that it was crafted with the love and care of a generation-spanning franchise while still being original and presenting the interesting moral questions that are hallmarks of Star Trek.

[Note: There are spoilers ahead for Star Trek: Prodigy.]

Alien Whales and Denobulans

The episode opens on a hopeful note – the kids are on a good deed mission – one of many they’ve decided they must undertake to make up for stealing the USS Protostar. They’re saving an Aquathawn – an alien whale – from some underwater poachers on an ocean planet. The ocean planet’s inhabitants don’t appear to have space tech, and they’re just hunting the whale with spears. The kids are trying to be mindful of the prime directive and, in their quest to save the whale, end up being eaten. All is well, and the whale gets beamed on board their ship – another good deed in the books. It’s a sequence that will delight fans of The Original Series. You can’t have a space whale without thinking of Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home.

From there, the kid crew ends up on a communication relay to Federation space. It’s their first official contact with Starfleet and is a big moment for the ex-Unwanteds of Tars Lamora. Some of the kids find their species of origin through a bio scanner. Janko is a Tellarite – a “founding member” of the Federation and is endearingly proud of this fact. Rok-Tahk is a Brikar and Murf is a Mellanoid Slime Worm. And interestingly, we find out that Starfleet may know more about Dal. The young captain is scanned, and instead of information about his species on screen – a message flashes that instructs him to report to Starfleet Command.

All is not well on the Protostar

But there’s an undercurrent of dread to the meeting. In the mid-season finale of Prodigy (A Moral Star, Part 2), the Diviner is defeated and left alone with his Zero-inspired madness on Tars Lamora. But the virus he planted in the Protostar’s computers is alive and well. Gwyn doesn’t know this because she lost her memory after seeing Zero’s insanity-inspiring reflection in Dal’s com badge. She’s having flashbacks of her father’s creepy warning – “It’s a weapon” – but can’t make sense of them. Zero plans to help her recover her memories in the advanced sick bay on the relay, but things go awry.

When Barniss Frex (Eric Bauza) downloads the Protostar logs, he also downloads the mayhem-causing virus. Things quickly start to melt down, and the relay begins to destroy itself, as the Diviner intended. Gwyn is trapped in a biobed, and the CR-721 systems have gone haywire. She gets out, and now the team has to survive. They survive by working together in true Starfleet fashion – except for Frex, but we’ll talk about that later. Rok comes through with some great science calculations, although she later admits orbital mechanics might not be her thing. Gwyn gets her memories back after the kids escape into space. This means that she knows about the Diviner’s sabotage of the Protostar.

asylum-Star Trek Prodigy
Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) Star Trek: Prodigy (Paramount+)

But that’s not all. Admiral Janeway and her crew arrive – including Doctor Noum (Jason Alexander) to Tars Lamora in pursuit of Chakotay and the Protostar. They’ve beamed down, and instead of finding Chakotay – they see the Diviner, who has a faint life sign. Janeway and the team, unaware of the danger, are going to question the Diviner to find out what he knows about Chakotay. We fade to black, and the episode ends on that cliffhanger.

Chakotay’s holographic return

This episode is also interesting because we meet Chakotay… sort of. Since we discovered that he was the lost captain of the Protostar, fans have been wondering when and how we’ll meet the Robert Beltran voiced character. Since Voyager ended, there have been questions about his fate. Did he face any consequences for joining the Maquis when he returned to Starfleet? What about his personal life? In “Asylum,” we get Chakotay and some answers.

Vice Admiral Janeway is on the USS Dauntless as her crew – including Commander Tysess (Daveed Diggs) and Ensign Asencia (Jameela Jamil) is tracking the Protostar’s last location in the Delta Quadrant. She’s reminiscing about one of her final moments with Chakotay and has a holographic simulation teed up. This is how we first meet the now Captain Chakotay. Again, some very heartfelt dialogue underscores that Janeway’s approach to command is not all business. She’s personally invested in those she’s served with. Her desire to find Chakotay is both personal and professional.

Since Voyager ended, there’s been a lot of speculation about where the relationship between Chakotay and Janeway ended up, primarily because of the burgeoning relationship between Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) and Chakotay in Season 7 of Voyager. If you watched Star Trek: Picard, this didn’t carry through, and Chakotay isn’t mentioned as part of Seven’s life. “Asylum” and this holographic flashback answer that question – Janeway and Chakotay are close friends – but it also hints at more. I hope Prodigy explores their relationship, and we see some growth as the season progresses. 

Redeeming Barniss Frex

Barniss Frex is a Denobulan and has been alone on the Federation communications relay CR-721 for what sounds like a very long time. His mannerisms are a cross between Phil Brickma (Daniel Stern) from Rookie of the Year and Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Reginald Barclay (Dwight Schultz). I immediately liked him. Bauza does a phenomenal job with the character. Frex is the first Denobulan we’ve seen in Starfleet since  Star Trek: Enterprise’s Dr. Phlox (John Billingsley.)

Frex is a little bit off – which makes sense when you consider his isolation. He is the sole inhabitant of his relay, and he’s not used to getting visitors without warning. The Protostar’s appearance is quite surprising to him. Nevertheless, he welcomes them to the relay, and essentially Starfleet, with open arms and bio scanners.

However, a character change at the end of the episode was frustrating because I liked him so much. And the about-face doesn’t quite fit the Starfleet ethos. Frex’s relay is falling apart because of The Diviner’s virus and the kids, so his anger is understandable on some level. But come on – they’re kids, and they appear to be as confused and in as much distress as he is that the relay is attacking itself. They’re not criminal masterminds. The final image of him closing the doors to the escape pod and declaring that he doesn’t have room for saboteurs is not one fitting of a Starfleet officer.

I also wonder if this moment was designed to give the kids pause about their decision to go forth and do “good deeds” and join Starfleet. If that’s the case, the turn makes more sense. Frex is really their first encounter with the Federation besides the Janeway training hologram. It goes swimmingly at first when they get their DNA scans, but his abandonment might make them think twice about Starfleet’s worth.

Is Starfleet as great as it seems when one of its officers abandons them at the first sign of danger? And when you consider that the Diviner came back in time to destroy the Federation because of what happened to Solum post-first-contract, that’s even more fuel for the anti-Starfleet fire. This could set up a potentially interesting conflict within the Prodigy crew as we progress through the season. Particularly as, at the end of the episode, Gwyn has regained her memories and knows that by continuing with their plan to reunite the Protostar with Starfleet, they’ll bring about the Federation’s destruction.

I hope we see the Redemption of Barniss Frex in a future episode. 

Star Trek: Prodigy has a great deal to offer Trek fans

The writing is stellar. Star Trek: Prodigy evokes a feeling of home for Trek fans while still being original and accessible to those new to the universe. Prodigy’s writing is exciting and full of heart. The characters are richly layered and designed – everyone has a backstory, seamlessly woven into the show’s stories. The worldbuilding is masterful and immersive. 

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Star Trek: Prodigy (Paramount+)

The Star Trek of the latter years is no stranger to beautiful cinematography and productions. The animation, art, and everything that makes up Star Trek: Prodigy takes these beautiful concepts and elevates them. If you can watch this show on a larger screen, you’ll want to because it’s so pretty. It feels grand and is the best kind of sci-fi spectacle. If pictures from NASA weren’t inspiring enough, look at the gorgeous work on Prodigy. It’s incredible. I had to pause this episode multiple times and take it all in.

The voice cast of Prodigy is wildly talented and entertaining. It’s anchored to Trek history with Kate Mulgrew’s voice as both Vice Admiral Janeway and the training hologram Janeway. Brett Gray shines as Dal, bringing a moving performance that strengthens the character. And Ella Purnell makes you feel her distress, particularly as Gwyn remembers what happened with her father. 

Perfect for young audiences

It can be challenging to figure out the right age to introduce kids to specific shows or movies because of the themes, the imagery, and the language. If you’ve tried to figure out the parts of a Marvel movie to fast forward so your young one can see things without being scarred, then you know the struggle.

Star Trek: Prodigy is appropriate as a family show. There are some intense action sequences and moments of peril, but they’re not overdone or remotely gory. Prodigy also carries on the excellent themes of the adult Star Treks and presents them in a way that makes sense to young minds. It has morality and philosophical choices for a younger set without being too overwhelming.

And again, the animation and art are so gorgeous. Prodigy conveys this sense of wonder that’s hard to capture in words. It’s perfect for kids and adults alike.

Star Trek: Prodigy is top notch Trek

In my younger years, I thought I was living in peak Trek. Star Trek: Voyager and Deep Space 9 were on at the same time, and if you were lucky, you could catch Star Trek: The Next Generation reruns. I would sit with a black-and-white version of Michael Okuda’s Star Trek Encyclopedia, happily following along.

Those will always be memories full of warmth and nostalgia for me, but it’s clear that we are in peak Trek right now. I had the chance to go to NYCC and attend Paramount+’s Star Trek Universe Panel. Hearing Alex Kurtzman and co describe their vision and the care put into the development of the new batch of shows was inspiring and left me with the impression that the franchise was in good hands. And as we see more and more of that vision come to life through creative partners like The Hageman Brothers and Aaron Waltke, this is even more apparent. Prodigy is right at home amongst these titans of lore.

Star Trek: Prodigy is available to watch on Paramount+. It’s worth checking out. If you’ve already watched the latest episode and want to share your thoughts, come and join the conversation with us on Discord or Twitter. You can find us @MyCosmicCircus, and we have lots of Romulan Ale or prune juice if that’s your thing.

Star Trek: Prodigy NYCC 2022 – Round Table interview with Jameela Jamil

Star trek prodigy jameela jamil nycc

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