Star Trek: Prodigy might first and foremost be intended to be an onboarding for young newcomers to the franchise, but that doesn’t mean it’s unafraid to throw in some deep cut references for older fans who are watching. This week’s episode, “Kobayashi,” is certainly no exception — and how one of its most surprising moments came about was suitably incredibly fannish.
In an episode of major reveals, perhaps the most delightful in “Kobayashi” is when Dal, eager to prove himself to his friends that as the Protostar’s self-proclaimed captain they should listen to his every command, starts up the iconic Starfleet Academy test, the Kobayashi Maru, in the ship’s holodeck. Unlike the last time we actually saw the test take place in the main Trek timeline in Wrath of Khan, or when we actually last saw it in the first Kelvin timeline movie, Star Trek 2009, putting the test through the holodeck instead of with a “live” crew to support the candidate meant that Prodigy could go buck wild with its own nerdy draft of what Dal asks the computer for: a selection of the very best officers in Star Trek history.
What he gets is a veritable, fannish who’s who — the return of Scotty, Uhura, and Spock from the original series, and Deep Space Nine’s Odo, through edited voice clips from their respective shows, and The Next Generation’s Dr. Beverly Crusher, with Gates McFadden returning to the role for the first time in two decades. Who Dal then proceeds to get virtually killed over and over and over as he takes the infamous no-win scenario.
“I’m not gonna lie, it was probably one of the hardest writing experiences I’ve ever had,” episode writer Aaron J. Waltke told Polygon about assembling the Kobayashi Maru holo-crew. “Obviously rewarding, but there were cases where I thought I had finally found the perfect line and then I would go track down the audio and the [actor] was just too far away from the 1960s microphones that were recording, or they were rattling something.”
Waltke and the Prodigy team started hashing out just who would be part of Dal’s dream team — despite Dal having no idea who any of these Federation officers actually are, having lived his entire life in the Delta Quadrant — just like Star Trek fans have since there’s been multiple Star Trek shows to debate about: a fantasy draft of the ultimate bridge crew. Hell, even we’ve done that! Eventually though, the limitations of who could feasibly be brought back through archival recording (the fact that Dal needed to more directly interact with at least one officer lead to McFadden recording her new material) narrowed down the team’s cast choices. And even from there, cuts had to be made — a planned appearance by TNG and DS9 icon Worf, for example.
But aside from the nostalgia and hard work of finding the right lines of dialogue to lift and give new context to, for Waltke the scenes with the old characters had to work on an emotional level for Dal, as he begins to learn the rigors of command. “We specifically pivoted it in a way that there’s an irony there, so newer audiences can still be on the adventure with Dal. He’s with this dream team and has no idea who any of them are, but senses that they’re good at what they do,” Waltke said. “He thinks ‘aha,’ finally I have a crew that I can work with,’ only to find that the problem is with himself. So there’s a story there that works whether or not you understand any of the Star Trek references at all. But the fun was, if we’re gonna go there, why not pack as much stuff for the super-fans as we can? Let’s just make this the Trekkiest Trek that ever Trekked.”
Star Trek: Prodigy is streaming on Paramount+.