Star Trek: Prodigy 1×17 Review: “Ghost in the Machine”

Star Trek Prodigy Ghost in the Machine
Photo: Nickelodeon/Paramount+ ©2022 VIACOM INTERNATIONAL. All Rights Reserved.

Star Trek: Prodigy‘s first season continues to deliver with every episode. “Ghost in the Machine” offers another traditional holodeck episode while at the same time revealing that maybe the enemy has been aboard the Protostar all along.

After the unbelievable cliffhanger at the end of last week’s episode, when “Ghost in the Machine” started, I was a little disappointed. I love a good holodeck-gone-haywire episode as much as the next girl, but I just couldn’t understand why they chose to have such an episode directly after “Preludes”. After all, that episode ended with real!Janeway being knocked out after the Diviner regained his memories.

But I was too hasty! Chad Quandt has given us an amazing episode that both called back to classic Trek and flipped the script again. After having seen the whole episode, I can see why they chose to stick this in where they did.

“Ghost in the Machine” takes place almost entirely on the holodeck. The crew of the Protostar has been running multiple simulations, trying to find a way out of the Neutral Zone without putting the Dauntless – and Starfleet as a whole – in danger. Unfortunately, all of their simulations end with them losing. In the end, they decide that maybe they shouldn’t go to Starfleet after all. 

Honestly, they keep changing their minds about whether or not to risk it. I guess they recognize that, no matter what they do, it isn’t going to end well. Given everything that’s happened, it’s likely they won’t be given the benefit of the doubt. Even though Janeway now knows that they’re a bunch of lost and traumatized kids, there’s simply no way for them to get close enough to relay the danger.

I love the scene where they all try to drown their sorrows in ice cream. It’s at once extremely relatable and yet another reminder that these are children. Although even I still believe that a big bowl of ice cream can solve all my problems.

Also, I just have to mention that Dal’s line, “Let the darkness take me,” when he went to bed was perhaps the funniest line this season. I feel like I’ll be saying that on a regular basis for the next month at least.

The crew quickly realizes that something is wrong. Gwyn sees what looks like a phantom walk past her door. Jankom and Rok come across one of her sparkly glitter blob pets. Then fog permeates the corridor, and they learn that they never left the holodeck. Everything since ending their last simulation has, in fact, just been another simulation. Even the ice cream. (I’m not going to lie, I got a kick out of their disappointment that the ice cream was fake.)

This was a very well-structured episode. “Ghost in the Machine” introduces the possibility of a sentient holodeck, coming up with a situation specifically designed to keep the kids occupied. They are first presented with a mystery to solve – something Zero apparently does a lot on their down time. I really liked this subtle nod to The Next Generation, which features an episode where Data and Geordi play a Sherlock Holmes simulation.

As they move through the mystery, it’s obvious that there is something wrong with the holodeck – you know, aside from the fact that they got trapped there without realizing. The simulation starts with Zero’s program, then moves to Jankom’s, then Murf’s, and finally Dal’s. In each program, they get a little closer to uncovering the problem while they chase after a skeleton key that doesn’t exist.

Murf’s program, by the way, is genuinely the highlight of the episode. Who knew that Murf liked to fantasize about being a lounge singer from the 1940s? But it was really cool how they managed to give each program its own atmosphere. Moving from Jankom’s dark, gritty street fighting program to Murf’s film noir scenario to Dal’s bright, colorful pirate simulation was nicely done.

In the end, Zero realizes that the mystery of the skeleton key is a ruse to keep them occupied. The only person with the ability to override the holodeck was, in fact, hologram!Janeway. The crew’s decision not to go to Starfleet triggered a subroutine in Janeway’s programming. She trapped the kids on the holodeck, manufactured a situation to get Dal’s command password, and moved the Protostar out of the Neutral Zone while they were otherwise engaged. But Janeway remembers none of this.

Hologram!Janeway has been such a staple for these kids, and the betrayal – unknowing as it was – stings. It seems that the subroutine, likely caused by the Living Construct, makes getting the Protostar to Starfleet Janeway’s primary purpose. This means that her encouraging the kids and extolling the virtues of Starfleet may have been a ruse so that they would do what “she” wanted. It’s possible that she doesn’t think they’re Starfleet material, that she was just saying what they needed to hear in order to accomplish her goal.

But it’s also possible that Janeway, a dedicated Starfleet Admiral (Captain, as a hologram), legitimately did think taking the ship to Starfleet was the best option. After all, it is a Starfleet ship that was lost. I’d wager that any Starfleet officer, upon discovering the ship, would immediately choose to return it. It’s possible that she does think that they would do well in Starfleet, that she has been encouraging them because she wants to give them a purpose. 

Sadly, there’s no way to tell when the subroutine truly became activated; if it only started when the crew decided not to go to Starfleet, then everything that happened before that was genuine Janeway. However, there’s also the possibility that the subroutine bled into Janeway’s programming and may have unconsciously affected her actions.

The ending shot of “Ghost in the Machine” shows the dire straits that the kids are in. The much larger Dauntless, looming outside the viewport as the crew realizes that they’ve potentially lost their last – and only – ally. As it’s been several days since real!Janeway was knocked unconscious, we have no way of knowing what’s going on aboard the Dauntless – or who is in charge.

Author: Jamie Sugah

Jamie has a BA in English with a focus in creative writing from The Ohio State University. She self-published her first novel, The Perils of Long Hair on a Windy Day, which is available through Amazon. She is currently an archivist and lives in New York City with her demon ninja vampire cat. She covers television, books, movies, anime, and conventions in the NYC area.

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