The following contains minor spoilers for episode six of 'Star Trek: Prodigy.'
Star Trek: Discovery may have gone on an unexpected hiatus, but the new year does mean the return of its franchise stablemate Prodigy. When we last left the young crew of the USS Protostar, they had just left the Murder Planet and successfully fled the Diviner’s ship thanks to the activation of the ship’s secret experimental engine. Episode six, Kobayashi, picks up this thread, pushing the story… and possibly the timeline forward in some significant ways this week.
The title is a dead giveaway to one of the threads running through the episode, at least: “Kobayashi” is the name of the ship from the infamous “Kobayashi Maru” test (“Maru” means ship in Japanese). It’s basically a no-win scenario that cadets at Starfleet Academy are run through to test their readiness for command, except this time it’s self-proclaimed captain Dal in the big chair via a holodeck simulation.
That plot in itself is a fairly predictable set of circumstances, as Dal refuses to accept failure and tackles the holographic test again and again… and again. Aside from the absolute hilarity as Dal’s frustration mounts, it’s a pretty standard character study, designed to flesh out Dal and craft him more into the leader he wants to be.
There’s also some fan service here thanks to cameos from some favorite characters brought to life thanks to the wonders of CGI and well-chosen sound clips. As with Janeway, the show being animated keeps the older characters from having that creepy Rogue One Princess Leia look, but the audio samples could have used a lot more processing to have them match up. And why a show designed for newcomers needed this much fan service, I don’t know, but at least it’s not Rise of Skywalker bad.
The real progress in the episode occurs in the B-plot, where Gwyn is sulking after her father’s betrayal and she and Zero try to learn more about the protostar engine at the heart of their ship. Janeway has the files, except they’re classified and it’s up to Gwyn and Zero to try to open them up. And, though the initial reveal from them is a bit of a shocker (to be delved into next week), it’s the flashback sequence early in the episode that yielded the juiciest info for now.
We’re shown the Diviner 17 years earlier, in horrible health and already looking for the USS Protostar. He decides to create a “progeny,” in the hopes of continuing his race, even though it is against the rules. (Whose rules? That’s another unanswered question.) But the interesting reveal here is that the Diviner was already looking for the Protostar 17 years ago, suggesting that this series may not occupy the 2383 time frame we were given in press materials (though never mentioned on-screen).
Star Trek: Voyager returned from its Delta Quadrant trip in 2378, meaning that in order for a holographic recreation of Kathryn Janeway to exist (and the captain of the Protostar to be who it is) the earliest the Protostar could have disappeared is 2379. Even assuming the Protostar is built and launched in a year (which I doubt), Prodigy can’t take place any earlier than 2396, placing it firmly around the time of Picard, which is set in 2399. It’s possible that Prodigy is actually a few years later, however, making it the first Star Trek series set in the 25th century. Or the Protostar traveled through time, complicating things even further.
But assuming the time period is, in fact, the 25th century, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen the future of the Federation or Starfleet: Discovery is now set in the 32nd century, after all. But being much closer to the time period of earlier shows like The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine and, of course, Voyager makes Prodigy more of a direct continuation of that era. The inclusion of Janeway as a training hologram already gave us a peek as the vaunted status the Voyager crew holds after their Delta Quadrant sojourn, but now the advanced tech seen in episode three “Starstruck” suddenly makes a lot more sense knowing it might be a few years… or decades since Voyager.
With the exception of Picard, the live-action shows have largely stayed away from the immediate future of the TNG-DS9-Voyager era, choosing instead to retread the 23rd century or even jump forward nearly a thousand years. It’s certainly odd given the popularity of those shows, but in leaving it be Paramount+ has left a lot of room for Prodigy and Lower Decks to do something interesting there, experimenting with new genres while still appeasing hard-core fans. This may be the future we’ve been waiting to see on Star Trek.