Given that this article will run on the day celebrated as Thanksgiving in the United States, I wanted to write about Star Trek: Prodigy’s return in December on Netflix. As corny as it sounds, I really am thankful that we’ll get to see the Protostar’s crew continue their adventures. I’ve commented before that I think Prodigy offers really clever storytelling that makes the world of Star Trek accessible to all ages. More than that, though, Prodigy asks us to evaluate the Federation through the lens of what it could be, while forcing us to evaluate it as it is.
Over the years, much has been made of the Star Trek franchise’s utopian vision, and while different series installments have received criticism, some of it from me and my cohorts, the different series haven’t always been great about introspection regarding their own contributions to the franchise. Most recently, Star Trek: Lower Decks has been flirting with the concept of how the rest of the quadrant perceives the Federation, whether the government that Starfleet serves has the same moral high ground it seems to think it has. However, that reflection occurs in the context of an inside joke between the viewer and the show.
What Prodigy does is force the franchise to face the expectations of children who have spent the better part of a year listening to their holographic Janeway explaining the Federation in terms of the best parts of itself. They silently hold Starfleet to a standard that even Star Trek: Strange New Worlds fails to do. In SNW’s episode “Ad Astra Per Aspera,” we know that Starfleet’s treatment of Una is unjust, based on a prejudice that doesn’t have any merit current to the show. However, Earth and by extension Starfleet cling to their ancient fears, and they force the Illyrians to suffer for it. We see Neera craft an excellent strategy that enables Una to ask for asylum, which is brilliant, but everyone involved acknowledges that it’s a nod toward incremental change. Sure, SNW has to contend with decades of canon, but the episode becomes a great metaphor for the tradeoffs and setbacks real groups have experienced in their bids for recognition and equality.
Prodigy doesn’t do that. Instead, Prodigy forces Starfleet to stare into Dal’s purple eyes and tell him that his dream is an impossibility due to how his heritage terrifies the adults in the room. It’s very clear that Dal’s background is something outside of his control, inherent to him, and absolutely zero cause for terror. That, by the way, is the exact same position in which Una Chin-Riley found herself, but Prodigy forces Starfleet and the Federation to have the courage of their convictions and accept Dal, by looking beyond their historical prejudices. I’d posit that this difference has as much to do with Dal as it does with canon. It’s one thing to tell an adult no, but it’s an entirely different thing to visit an injustice of this magnitude on a child.
In that sense, Prodigy has a unique relationship with canon that we see absolutely nowhere else in the Star Trek franchise; Prodigy forces Starfleet to face its failures while also doing it from a place of love. Not even Lower Decks quite manages that. Prodigy, ostensibly for kids, is a show that teaches a set of incredibly valuable lessons here. First, it teaches that it’s possible to love something that can be problematic. Second, you can continue to love that problematic thing while insisting that it changes for the better. I can think of no better lesson to ponder on Thanksgiving than that, and I’m grateful that we’re going to see the talented team behind Prodigy continue to tackle these big questions.
Prodigy drops on Netflix with season one on Christmas Day, and I hope you all get a chance to watch it.