If you’ve been feeling bereft of interplanetary adventure and a little lost without access to a teleporter and universal translator, you’re not alone.
Star Trek: Prodigy wrapped its first season on December 29 with Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1 Episode 20, and after traveling the galaxy with the intrepid crew of the USS Protostar for 14 months, its absence is palpable.
Happily, TV Fanatic had the opportunity to talk with creators Dan and Kevin Hageman and discuss those incredible final few episodes of the season and everything the future holds for Dal, Gwyn, Rok, Zero, Pog, Murf, and Vice Admiral Janeway.
Meeting over Zoom, the Hagemans are enthusiastic about being able to talk about everything, including the finale.
First, though, we ask about Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1 Episode 18, “Mindwalk,” wherein Dal (Brett Gray) and Vice Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) swap bodies.
Gray and Mulgrew had to stretch their voice-acting muscles as Gray had to take on the tone and cadence of the more experienced and traditional Janeway. At the same time, Mulgrew shifted gears to portray Dal’s frenetic and always-nearly-panicking antics.
Dan emphasizes how novel an experience it was and how the fan reaction has been incredibly positive.
“We just saw Kate this morning, and we were telling her how much people have been enjoying the performance.
“It was so fun because we recorded them separately. Kate was listening to how Brett would deliver the line and vice versa. But they both had so much fun doing the episode.
“I can’t think of a role where Kate actually … y’know, Kate’s so buttoned-up, you never see her let loose.”
Kevin is just as inspired by the experience. “It was magical in the recording studio. When I was first hearing Kate – she was listening to Brett and reading these lines. I was like, ‘Oh my god.’
“It’s really tricky. This is not a feature film. This is a TV show. We have a small budget. We have a tight timeline.
“Not only are they wonderful performances, but our animators were able to get such little nuances with what they did with their faces and mannerisms. It was just wonderful how the team came together.”
Narratively, the adventure’s purpose is to bridge the communication gap between the Protostar and the Dauntless, but it still caused the writers considerable anxiety.
Kevin worried about whether it was the right approach to take. “I was so scared from Day One when we’re in the writers’ room, and I’m like, ‘Are we actually going to do a body-switching episode on Star Trek?’
“It’s kind of a low-hanging fruit concept.”
Dan adds, “[It’s an] animation trope, too, because it’s a cost-saver.”
Kevin agrees, “It’s cheap. Yeah, it’s a cost-effective concept for an episode, but as we dive deeper into it, we’re like, ‘Wait a minute, this could be dramatic and funny, everything all at once.'”
In an elegant bookend to the two-parter premiere (Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1 Episode 1 and Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1 Episode 2, collectively “Lost and Found”), the finale was also two parts, only aired separately. Did they ever consider airing them together?
(Aside: One of the delights in interviewing brothers who also work together is that they sometimes complete a thought together.)
Dan admits, “I think we always thought we would…” [Kevin injects, “but we’re not”] Dan concludes, “…[because we’re] dealing with network schedules.”
Kevin takes up the point, “It is like a double-decker episode. 19 is so action-oriented. It’s the climax. And then Episode 20 is a long denouement. It’s a giant epilogue, almost, except for the sacrifice at the beginning.
“We just realized an Act 3 to a season in one episode is too much, just like our pilot. You can’t get them finding the ship and then off Tars Lamora in twenty-two minutes.
“It would’ve been way too fast. Already, it’s fast enough, right? And so, taking that time, we also wanted to space it out.”
Dan recognizes that the break between the two parts is a painful cliffhanger. “For the frontline fans who are watching it week-by-week, I feel bad. It’s built to be binged. I want to thank all the people who are watching it and watching it late at night.
Kevin adds, “Our hope is at the end of Season 1 that it’s a really satisfying ending, and they’ve gone through such a transformation that some people might want to watch it from the beginning and say, ‘Wow! Look at how far they’ve come!'”
At the height of the action on Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1 Episode 19, the Vau N’Akat’s living construct weapon has infected the Federation fleet, causing the ships to turn their weapons on each other, inflicting significant damage on ships and the crews on board.
Did the writers ever question whether this would be too much carnage for the target younger audience to handle?
Kevin considers the question carefully before answering. “No, I think it’s how we handled it. Honestly, in my mind, no one died. You don’t see a ship die and its crew’s gone. They’re being beamed off. We tried to do it in a way that was PG.”
Dan expands on the thought process. “I don’t think we ever pull punches going, ‘Well, this is going to be too emotional for a child.’
“Y’know, when we grew up, we grew up on E.T. We grew up on Iron Giant. To me, it’s the emotional stuff that gets you to emote and evokes all these feelings. That’s, to me, the best entertainment. The stuff that feels like you’re truly connected to.”
He does admit it’s quite the rollercoaster ride of emotions, though. “It’s a big build. I remember watching 19, and I do feel like there were a lot of ups and downs. Maybe there could’ve been one less.
“It feels like they keep doing new things. The Diviner’s going to sacrifice himself. Yay, that’s going to work. No, it’s not. Gwyn’s going to speak to everybody. Okay, that’s gonna work. No, it’s not. Murf is going to fight. Murf’s going to do it! He’s going to do it! Nope. No, he’s not.
“It comes down to they had to destroy the ship. They have to run the gamut of things they’ve tried to do, and it wasn’t enough.”
Kevin provides insight into how they built the action of the finale. “We worked backward. We mapped out 20 before we did 19.
“We wanted to make sure we gave the time for the sacrifice and for realizing what’s happened and having them react to it, and having the denouement back at Starfleet. There’s so much to hit in 20, so we worked our way backward.”
For the crew of the Protostar, the finale is the dawning of a new phase of their journey.
Dan points out, as writers, they work towards a destination. “We always knew at the end of the story Admiral Janeway would be there for them. She would be the new mentor for them. This was a growth moment.
“This was a moment where they are unable to grow as characters anymore under Hologram Janeway. They’ve now graduated, so the mentor has to go. It’s a classic trope. It’s like Gandalf to Gandalf White.”
Of course, this does nothing to lessen the feeling of loss in knowing the Hologram Janeway they’ve come to know and love is gone.
Dan reveals there was a scene they held back.
“There was a cut scene. There was a moment that was cut when they see the new Protostar. They see there’s a new Hologram Janeway, but she has no memory of them. And that was kind of harsh.
“It was nice to see another Hologram Janeway, but … so maybe that was too much. We packed in as much as we could, and I don’t think we had the time.”
There was no way for me to leave. Over the course of my time with you, I’ve grown. Literally. My program has become too large, too rich and complex for some tiny little chip. It just wasn’t possible to remove me from the computer in time.
Hologram Janeway’s sacrifice is necessitated by everything she had learned from interacting with the crew and how much she, as a program, had grown.
“It’s almost like her heart is too big. There’s something beautiful about that. We knew that we had to figure out a way that Janeway was going to go down with the ship, but how? And I think that’s when it’s nice to have Trek fans in your writers’ room to go, ‘Oh, her memory base is too big.'”
What does Star Trek: Prodigy Season 2 hold in store for impatient fans? What can they share?
Kevin points out there are divergent paths in the future.
“At the end of 20, there are two really large questions that are two engines that we’ve set up to take off.
“One is Gwyn’s story and then also our kids and Chakotay with the message from fifty-two years in the future. So those are two really big interesting questions we’re going to start diving deep into.”
In developing a series that encompasses so much exploration and character development while also including incredibly faithful Trek canon, can we expect more episodic adventures?
Kevin articulates the line they walk as creators. “It’s a tough balance that we’re always trying to find. Sometimes, when you’re writing a season, there’s just a lot of story that’s naturally there that you can’t ignore, that you have to deal with.
“So we’re trying to address our story but constantly looking for places where we can have that fun concept idea or the Borg episode or this or that and how does this story keep moving forward, but how do we make sure we have fun?
Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1 Episode 16, “Preludes,” is a stand-out script in the first season where the crew on the Protostar (and the Vau N’akat on the Dauntless) share their backstories in an anthology of flashback narratives.
Dan shares that it was their most ambitious script. “That was the episode we were most nervous about. We thought that was the one… I’m not sure if we really nailed it because originally, the inspiration was to have different animation styles in every story, like Fantasia.
“There was going to be no dialogue in every story… Well, the Diviner’s backstory would’ve had dialogue in it.”
Kevin admits they had to settle on something short of their original goal. “That was our dream. But it’s just too hard to do on a TV show’s time and budget. So we’re really happy and proud of where it ended.”
With Season 2 already in production — although not fast enough for fans — the Hagemans remind us that it’s a show that needs the support of viewers and fans to create buzz and keep the show active in the collective consciousness.
Kevin reminds us, “We’re still a very new, young show on a very new, young streamer platform, and so we’re really hoping that we’re getting the viewers so that our show can continue.
“I hope that by the end of this season, Season 1, people might want to watch it again. Now that you’ve known this journey that they’ve been on. They’re just going to have to be patient.
“We’re doing Season 2 right now, and it’s looking gorgeous. A few outside people have seen it, and they are equally happy with Season 2 as they were with Season 1.”
Dan sets the mission mandate. “Spread the word about Season 1. Let’s get a big fan base so that when Season 2 drops, we’re all there together.”
All twenty episodes of Star Trek: Prodigy are available to stream on Paramount+. Go fast! Then go again!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.