HERE THERE BE SPOILERS
While intellectually I knew that the backstories for Rok and Jankom Pog weren’t going to be full of sunshine and rainbows, Prodigy once again startled me with just how dark Rok’s story really was. Jankom’s was more existentially terrifying, but it was no less tragic. In the sixteenth episode of season one, Prodigy doesn’t shy away from the themes it wants to develop, which I knew, but I really wasn’t quite prepared for what “Preludes” had in store.
While the crew attempts to repair the proto-warp drive, Dal still struggles to cope with his status as an Augment Hybrid. Zero prods Rok to share her story so he won’t feel quite as a lone.
Rok doesn’t share how she came to be in a fighting pit, but apparently, she played the villain in an interstellar version of WWE, only where the coordinators apparently own their combatants. Apparently, due to her size and appearance, the coordinators cast Rok as the villain in the piece, but despite a language barrier, she and the entity playing the Hero developed a sort of friendship. However, being the villain began to wear her down, so one day, she changed up the story. She tried to be the Hero, and while she enjoyed a brief moment of joy, the coordinators then sold her to the Diviner.
We already knew that the Diviner had used Zero to punish misbehaving Unwanted, but what we didn’t realize was that the Kazon deliberately captured Zero as they floated through space to turn them over to the Diviner for precisely that purpose. We get to see Zero happily exploring with other Medusans only to be snatched away and placed in a crate, and it’s so much worse that way.
Jankom Pog dates from pre-Federation Tellar. Tellarites used orphans for their long-haul deep space missions, so Jankom Pog was in cryo-sleep until an accident aboard the ship prompted his tube to open. Instructed by a somewhat operational robot caretaker, Jankom had to perform emergency repairs aboard ship until the robot concluded there wasn’t enough oxygen left to sustain all of the lives aboard. Jankom concluded that he would have to leave to save the others, so he ejected himself out of the ship in an escape pod.
Ascencia recaps the Diviner’s history, and honestly, the Vau N’Kat don’t improve on a second re-telling. Ascencia continues to blame the Federation for their civilization’s collapse, but we do learn that Chakotay accidentally appeared over Solum after the Protostar came through a temporal anomaly. The Vau N’Kat captured the Protostar and its crew, imprisoning them, and putting the last remaining Living Construct aboard the ship. Chakotay and at least one other crew member escaped and sent the Protostar back through the temporal anomaly.
The Vau N’Kat formed The Order for the purpose of tracking down the Protostar in time, and the Diviner happened to arrive farther back in the past. He worried that he wouldn’t complete the mission, so he created Gwyndala and trained her to continue his work. Ascencia also went back in time, but she arrived only three years prior to the current date and was able to infiltrate Starfleet.
While not an origin story, we do see Janeway receive intelligence that the kids aboard the Protostar are fleeing a bounty and are called the Unwanted. She concludes that she needs to ask their guest about the Diviner, who initiated the bounty, but when she arrives in Ascencia’s quarters, she’s shocked to discover Ascencia in her Vau N’Kat appearance and Dreadnok 2.0 rather than what she expected. The Diviner uses Kirk Fu to knock her out, leaving her eventual fate in question.
Yes, yes, again, I knew I wasn’t going to hear about happy families for these kids, but what happens to Rok, Zero, and Jankom Pog is just awful. I’m honestly not certain what’s more heartbreaking, Rok’s initial cheerful acceptance of her fate or that when she seizes some agency, she has that stripped from her in the worst way possible. Worse, we never see the coordinators of this event; they’re just faceless overlords who send Rok to Tars Lamora like so much unwanted baggage. Zero’s story was obviously less of a surprise, but Jankom Pog comes out of nowhere to have a heart of gold underneath his Tellarite grumpiness. Like Rok, he, too, is unwanted; as an orphan, the Tellarites conclude that he will not be missed if they send him out into deep space never to return. Despite that, Jankom Pog, just as Rok did, cheerfully embraces his role, and when it comes time to choose between his own safety and that of everyone else aboard, he makes the awe-inspiringly generous choice to sacrifice himself. Y’all, I was not expecting Prodigy to make me cry when I sat down to watch this episode!
That said, the story continues to demonstrate just how these kids continue to choose good even when all of the adults who should be caring for them do not. They find their family in each other and their values in Hologram Janeway’s version of Starfleet, and they just do so, so much better than the adults around them. I love that the Prodigy team respects its viewers enough to give them these stories and simultaneously reminds them that like the crew of the Protostar, they, too, can choose better even where their role models aren’t so great. This is powerful storytelling in a twenty-ish minute episode, and I can’t wait to see more as we move into the season’s final episodes.
Four and a half crates of chimerium
Stray Thoughts From the Couch
- Even finding out that the Diviner was once fascinated by Starfleet doesn’t redeem him.
- I still have so many questions about Ascencia.
- Now we know why Jankom Pog refers to himself in the third person. We have no idea how long he was awake and dealing with a robot that insisted that he identify himself by name every time he spoke to it, so that would be a hard habit to break.
- Yes, the Kazon are wearing the visor from the Original Series episode “Is There in Truth No Beauty.”
- I still want to know more about what’s going on with Murf.