Terror Firma: On Making the Right Choice

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 realize that this episode aired last week and that both a new episode of Prodigy and of Discovery air today, but I’m alternating between the two shows, which means I’ll be a week behind in this space until something changes. I realize that delay puts me a bit behind the power curve, so I thank you for bearing with me. In addition, if you’re celebrating American Thanksgiving today, I hope it’s a good one.

Moving on to the review, “Terror Firma” continues in Prodigy’s tradition of not pulling punches, but it does represent a big jump in terms of character arcs. “Dream Catcher” left our intrepid heroes marooned on the Murder Planet after having faced their greatest desires, and “Terror Firma” picks right up where “Dream Catcher” left off both in terms of action and in terms of theme, specifically with respect to Gwyn and her place in the narrative. If “Dream Catcher” hinted that she would make the right choice when the chips are down, then “Terror Firma” confirms it. Dal, too, gets a moment to shine, and while I wish the other characters had more development, this episode still offers a satisfying conclusion to the story.

Plot Ahoy!

After being rescued from the crashed shuttle, Gwyn discovers that she broke her leg in the crash. As Dal begins to reprimand her, Hologram Janeway comms them to confirm that the Protostar landed successfully ten kilometers from their current location and suggests they hurry back aboard. Dal agrees and directs the crew to move out. Rok-tahk wants to know what will happen to Gwyn, but a very angry Dal says not to allow her to slow them down. Rok tries to help, but Gwyn rebuffs her and uses her weapon to form a support around the broken leg, enabling her to walk unassisted. Following the beacon activated by Hologram Janeway, the Protostar’s crew discovers that the Murder Planet has begun changing around them, forcing them to walk in circles. Dispirited, they make in a derelict Klingon ship in order to avoid the acid rain Murder Planet uses to digest its food.

Aboard the Protostar, Hologram Janeway sets herself to the task of protecting the ship only to find that the Murder Planet’s tendrils have begun interfering with the ship’s power systems. Janeway first uses some photonic scrubbers to kill the tendrils. Next she begins to monitor the ship’s power consumption, system by system. She discovers that a system named “Protostar Containment Field” uses a tremendous amount of power, so she tries to shut it down. However, she discovers that shutdown can only occur with command authorization that she doesn’t have. Momentarily stymied, she moves on to adjust the systems she can and continues hoping her crew makes it back to the ship.

In space, Dreadnok and the Diviner reach Murder Planet’s orbit based on the coordinates Gwyn provided them in “Dream Catcher.” Dreadnok scans the planet and discovers the Protostar, and they prepare to beam down to the planet. On the surface, Jankom, Rok, and Zero discuss what the planet showed them in their hallucinations. Dal declines to discuss his vision, but Zero reveals to everyone that he hoped to see his family but had no way of recognizing them. Dal leaves to go sit closer to what looks to be a ruined cargo bay.

As he sits there, playing with a mek’leth, Gwyn joins him. He informs her that he never said he missed his parents. Gwyn affirms, and Dal wryly observes that he’s taken to making up a name for his species when asked. Gwyn comments that he wants something no one can give him while she wants something she may never get. They watch the stars until Dal realizes that the stars don’t move. Gwyn grasps his thought, and they rush back to tell the others that no matter how the Murder Planet changes its surface, they can use the stars as fixed points by which to navigate.

After a supper of Klingon Ration Stew, everyone once again starts on their trek back to the Protostar. Dreadnok interrupts their journey, and though they believe him to be a hallucination at first, he shortly proves himself to be all-too-real. Gwyn tries to protect her friends by throwing herself bodily between Dreadnok and everyone else, but Dreadnok shoots her ad hoc cast, shattering it. Gwyn collapses, and Dal orders everyone to flee. They eventually hide, protected by Rok-tahk, and escape Dreadnok’s notice.

Meanwhile, Gwyn sees the Diviner who has joined everyone on Murder Planet’s surface. She pleads with him for aid as the tendrils begin to cover her. The Diviner looks between the Protostar and Gwyn, and he chooses to go after the Protostar, calling it salvation. He then discovers that what he saw was not the Protostar but rather one of Murder Planet’s hallucinations. Dal and his friends make it back to the ship, and they rescue Gwyn. Dal orders the Protostar into warp to escape the Murder Planet. Gwyn begins to process her father’s betrayal, and Dal tells her that they won’t let him hurt her any more. Just as he says this, they detect the Diviner’s ship. The Diviner used a tractor beam to bind his ship to the Protostar, and he hails Gwyn, asking her to surrender the ship.

Zero finally deduces why the ship’s name is Protostar. The ship uses an actual protostar as a third engine. The Diviner whispers to Gwyn that he knows she’ll make the right choice. She tells him that she will and engages the protostar, which sends them into a warp so fast that the Protostar can no longer be found on the Diviner’s maps.

Analysis

To everyone out there, I hope that no matter how dysfunctional your family might be, it’s not “my dad left me to die alone on an alien planet because he wanted a ship” bad. In fact, I think that sentence sums up my entire review. “Dream Catcher” showed us that Gwyn doesn’t believe that her father loves her, but “Terror Firma” confirms it. Gwyn looks her father in the eye and begs for his aid, without which she will not survive, and all he offers her is a brief, “I’m sorry,” before going after the ship. Then, the episode twist the knife just a little bit more by having it not even be the real Protostar. The Diviner discards his daughter for a dream that turns out to be a trap, and that’s a truly terrible metaphor for their entire relationship. In “Dream Catcher,” Gwyn realized that her father had groomed her to capture the Protostar for her entire life, but she still hoped on some level that she had value to him beyond simply being a tool. She comments to Dal that she “may” never get what she wants; on the wreck of the Klingon ship, she still can’t entirely give up that hope. However, the Diviner’s betrayal frees Gwyn from any remaining loyalty to her father, and she chooses instead the friends who have offered to become her family, even after she betrayed them.

I truly doubt that the Diviner’s story is really so simple because Prodigy has thus far excelled at creating a complex world for its characters to inhabit, but it’s still a deeply awful moment for Gwyn. All of the characters have suffered their own traumas, but there’s an intimacy to Gwyn’s experience lacking for everyone else. She alone of the Protostar’s crew not only experiences the deeply personal cruelty of parental rejection but must then reject that parent. I’d say that’s a lot for a kid’s show, but I don’t think it is. Prodigy has consistently eschewed simple, happy storytelling in favor of telling a story about dealing with trauma directly, and “Terror Firma” does not forsake that pattern. However, what Prodigy does offer, over and over, is hope.

In “Terror Firma” as with the series’ first episode, that hope takes the form of Dal who is working through his own problems. Having been alone his entire life, Dal understandably has deep trust issues, and Gwyn’s actions play directly into them. She does, after all, lead the Diviner and the horrifying Dreadnok right to them, but Gwyn also sacrifices herself to save them, time and again. Gwyn isn’t the only character asked in “Terror Firma” to make the right choice. Dal, too, must choose to save Gwyn and to forgive her, and he does, in a blinding display of generosity. Found families require a certain element of active choice; the finders must choose to accept each other as family. “Terror Firma” shows these characters doing exactly that, and it’s that bond that ultimately saves their lives on this disastrous first Away Mission. It’s also that bond that cements Prodigy’s place within the franchise.

Rating:

Four crates of chimerium

Stray Thoughts From the Couch

  1. I wish we’d seen more of the other characters in “Terror Firma;” the episode is very much the Gwyn and Dal show. Zero gets a solid moment to shine when the Medusan seems finally to begin developing a self-preservation instinct. Maybe there’s something about lacking a body that makes Zero worry about death less?
  2. Klingons in the Delta Quadrant is nothing new. Voyager encountered them in “Prophecy,” but I hope Murder Planet didn’t eat members of that group.
  3. I’m with Jankom Pog. Murder Planet is a good name.
  4. Did anyone else cheer when it looked like the Murder Planet was going to eat the Murderbot? Just me? Cool, cool.
  5. The Diviner’s animation while he was running looked not a little bit wonky, which is strange considering the overall quality of the animation for the show.
  6. I did like the bait and switch the episode tried to do with Dal and the Diviner. I also liked that hologram Janeway had a “What Would Real Janeway Do” moment. I need that on a shirt right now.
  7. Does anyone else wonder what happened to protowarp for Discovery’s timeline purposes? If Starfleet could harness protostars as a starship engine, wouldn’t that render dilithium-based warp engines obsolete? Hopefully, Prodigy will tell us what happened.
  8. Also, here’s a friendly reminder that as of 22 November 2021, Star Trek: First Contact is now 25 years old.
  9. If you’ve made it this far, let me plug the podcast on which I’ve been working. You can find Trekker’s Delight here. Give us a like and a subscribe if you feel so inclined.

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