Fan Collective Unimatrix 47: Star Trek Prodigy’s “Masquerade” Episode

Marie Brownhill
Game Industry News is running the best blog posts from people writing about the game industry. Articles here may originally appear on Marie's blog, Fan Collective Unimatrix 47.

HERE THERE BE SPOILERS

I have to confess, I wasn’t expecting where Prodigy decided to go with Dal R’El, but I think it works really well, given what Prodigy is all about, thematically speaking. Star Trek has long been a franchise characterized by found family, but Prodigy has made it a little more explicit. Zero finds his collective. Gwyn chooses her own family, and now, Dal must face that his crew is his family in a much more literal sense. Unlike Zero and Gwyn, who fundamentally know where their metaphorical roots lie, Dal must wrestle with a deeper question of how much does this genetic history make you who you are. Ultimately, Dal seems to accept that, quirky genetics aside, Dal’s relationships with those around him determine who he is. He is more than the sum of his parts, just as a starship crew bonds together into something new and different from an oddball collective of people.

Plot Ahoy!

I highly recommend that you look at the Memory Alpha summary for “Masquerade” as I’m only going to touch on the really big reveals here, but do pay attention to the spoiler warning. If you haven’t seen Prodigy’s fifteenth episode of season one titled “Masquerade,” you should do that first before finishing reading this column.

On an independent outpost in the Neutral Zone, our intrepid teens head down to find supplies, at Okona’s suggestion. Dal has been feeling a touch jealous of how easily Okona has merged with the crew, but Okona does have one thing to recommend him. His contact, Dr. Jago, might be able to discover what species Dal is. What she reveals, however, is about as far from anything Dal could have anticipated as it’s possible to get. She identifies him as a Human-Augment hybrid, spliced together from the genetic material of several species by disciples of one Arik Soong, who should be familiar to those who have watched Enterprise. She also offers Dal a few augmentations of her own.

While everyone else goes for supplies, Dal, of course, gets the augmentations, so he’s readier than expected when Romulan commandoes come hunting for the Protostar and her crew. However, while Dal provides a respite from pursuit, it’s Murf that ultimately saves the day with a rather stunning display of agility from an entity whose grasp on “shape” can only be described as loose. Zero and Rok restore Dal to his previous state, saving us all from the incredibly unfortunate beard gifted to him by his dormant genes.

Lest you think Admiral Janeway isn’t present, she monitors the Neutral Zone for Romulan activity and, believing the Protostar to be in danger of falling into Romulan hands, orders torpedoes fired to destroy the ship. Fortunately, at the very last minute, the Dauntless deduces that the kids are boarding the Protostar, so she orders the torpedoes detonated harmlessly elsewhere. However, the most interesting thing that happens aboard the Dauntless is that Ascencia turns out to be another Vau N’Kat who’d smuggled Drednok aboard the Dauntless in the form of a table.

Analysis

The Ascencia and Drednok reveal is going to be ripe for future plot developments, but I have very real questions about how Ascencia set herself up in Starfleet. Did she fake Academy records? How did a member of a species that had very little interaction with Starfleet manage to go so far undercover? How long has Ascencia been in Federation space? I have so many questions.

The really big issue here is learning that Dal was designed and created by folks interested in playing God and what this does to Dal. The revelation unmoors him a bit, as I think would anyone else, so it’s little wonder that he takes Jago up on her offer. She’s granting him a way to become more than just a “failed experiment,” and it’s just heartbreaking that he believes he needs to be fixed. Dal’s parentage, a bit like Gwyn’s, doesn’t determine his worth, his actions do. That’s the point Gwyn makes when she reminds him that even though Okona had an easy charm Dal so envied, this did not prevent him from abandoning the Protostar kids. Dal was the one stayed to help.

There’s an old adage that states you should believe someone when they show you who they are, and both Okona and Dal do just that. Okona doesn’t come off very well. Prodigy has spent a fair amount of time wrestling with what happens when the adults in a child’s life fail. We’ve seen Dal’s adoptive mother use him horrifically. Jago’s device rendered him unstable in just about every way it could. Okona abandoned them to the Tal Shiar. Gwyn’s father was borderline abusive and cruel. However, in the face of all of this betrayal, the kids continue to choose to be better. That choice is wholly unrelated to species or genetic makeup; it’s one that flows out of these kids. Gwyn’s reminder to Dal encompasses that entire idea. Dal stayed. Dal made a better choice; that’s who Dal is, genetics be damned.

There’s also certainly an element of found family here. Where these adults have behaved so terribly, the Protostar kids create a beautiful family that crosses age and species boundaries. Rather than giving up and adopting the model presented to them by these deeply problematic adults, Dal and his crew choose to continue to love. I cannot overstate how thrilled I am that Prodigy manages both to make that choice make sense but also provides this as a model for kids. Sure, this episode featured some pretty great action sequences, but the best thing about it is that it’s teaching kids that no matter what your background is, you can do better. Beyond introducing kids to one of the pivotal themes in Trek, Prodigy is offering its young viewers tools for becoming better humans.

Really, we could all stand to internalize that message.

Rating:

Four crates of chimerium

Stray Thoughts From the Couch

  1. Yes, it is THAT Arik Soong.
  2. I’m now very concerned about what Ascencia might have been putting in Admiral Janeway’s tea.
  3. I should be frustrated at Murf’s constant status as the MacGuffin, but honestly, he’s too adorable for me to maintain any level of any other emotion than joy when I see him. The legs are precious. I do have real questions about the gravity defying blob, though.
  4. This episode ends via Deus Ex Murf.
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