With the most G-rated form of fan service, Star Trek: Prodigy Season 1 Episode 6 managed to innovate with nostalgia in as grand a Trek-style as could be imagined.
The Kobayashi Maru, in case you've forgotten, is the ultimate in command-track tests for Starfleet cadets. According to Memory Alpha, "it is primarily used to assess a cadet's discipline, character and command capabilities when facing an impossible situation."
I can't imagine that any cadet approached this test from Dal's perspective at any point in Starfleet Academy history.
But, as we are repeatedly reminded, Dal is not and never has been a Starfleet cadet.
Part of his desire to be captain is to have the nicest quarters and the center seat on the bridge.
Dal: So, you all want to go, even if your captain is completely against it?
Pog: Uh, uh, uh. Self-appointed captain.
I suspect the other part is his insecurity that he doesn't know how to do anything useful on a starship. He figures that giving orders to people who do or are willing to try is easier than admitting he's just walking, talking dead weight.
To be fair, he has demonstrated some glimmers of captain-like qualities. Still, the minute he checked in with his simulation crew to see if any of them personally knew anyone aboard the Kobayashi Maru to gauge if they should rescue them, any Starfleet creds went down the holo-flusher.
And that crew! Who else audibly CHEERED when the all-stars of the Star Trek franchise appeared?
(And before anyone starts, let's not quibble about why you'd need a medical officer on the bridge or why the comms and security officer are sitting at the helms positions.)
While much of Prodigy has been about engaging new viewers who may have no previous Trek experience, Dal's bridge crew is a "Best of..." montage of the different series, obviously created for the benefit of long-time fans.
What's most impressive is how they use actual sound clips of Crusher, Uhura, Odo, Spock, and Scotty to create the simulation dialogue on Dal's bridge.
That is especially true of Dal's scenes with Spock. Selecting the appropriate lines spoken by Leonard Nimoy and weaving them into the script was a wonderful tribute to the iconic science officer.
Another quality Dal demonstrates in spades here is his tenacity and perseverance. In less euphemistic terms, he's incredibly stubborn.
Dal's refusal to give up despite repeated and catastrophic failures numbering in the hundreds is an elegant companion to Boimler's refusal to accept a score of less than perfect on Star Trek: Lower Decks Season 2 Episode 8.
Honestly, I'd give some good gold-pressed latinum for a crossover scene with Boimler and Dal.
Admittedly, the differences between the perpetual ensign and the Tars Lamora survivor are vast, but it's fascinating how they overlap on some key points.
I’ve blown up so many times, I see now the only way out is CHAOS.Dal
One, they both have a level of neuroses that really should preclude any chance at captaining a ship. Ever. Two, they both do better in a group. Three, they both talk a LOT.
Still, the fact Dal gets so close to winning the no-win scenario speaks to what is possible when one doesn't realize failure is not only an option; it's an inevitability.
Another tantalizing call-back here is the holographic replay of the ship's capture Rok-Tahk accidentally activates.
Chant it with me: "CHA-KO-TAY! CHA-KO-TAY!" (Seriously, I'm pretty sure NO ONE expected Robert Beltran to return to Trek, but there you go: You never know.)
Reuniting Chakotay and Janeway is a nice touch and very much in keeping with the nostalgia card played with the holodeck simulation crew.
As much as I enjoyed the familiar faces, I'll admit that it was a little jarring to the rhythm of the show as I'd come to know it. I'd like Prodigy to push forward with its initial spirit of wholly-new adventures and innovation rather than relying much more on the franchise's lineage.
While Dal is seeking validation for his position as captain, Gwyn despairs at even knowing how she fits into the crew.
Her role is a difficult one to parse. Until the Protostar took her away from Tars Lamora, she'd always known what she was meant to be and do. As The Diviner's sole progeny, she was his de facto heir.
On the Protostar, her genetics no longer matter. She is forced to form relationships. Like Dal, she harbors a lot of insecurity about her abilities despite training in many highly useful fields for flying a starship.
Gwyn: Why would you need someone who speaks a few languages on a ship that can translate all of them?
Zero: Ah. But language is more than translation. It is interpretation.
Zero's analytical and unfiltered perspective on her abilities is insightful, making them the best crewmember to reach out to her on this dilemma.
Zero recognizes that, while knowledge is power, language is access. And, as it turns out, only someone with a working knowledge of the Vau N'Akat language can decrypt the Protostar's database.
Meanwhile, The Diviner is hedging his bets by producing a spare progeny with Drednok's assistance.
I'm feeling a real need to better understand the Vau N'Akat at this point.
What happened to the rest of the species? Procreation by cloning must have become the only viable option when The Diviner was the lone surviving member.
There is no barrier we cannot overcome, for we are Vau N’Akat.Gwyn
Does that mean that Vau N'Akat cannot produce offspring with other species? Or is it just The Diviner is unwilling to allow the Vau N'Akat lineage to become mixed with another species?
Mind you, I can't see The Diviner as much of a catch to any prospective mate. Especially with Drednok as his wingman, err, wingbot?
Or does the Vau N'Akat backstory have something to do with Dal's mysterious heritage? Could his species and the Vau N'Akat have had a symbiotic-gone-wrong relationship at some time like the Kelpians and Ba'ul on Star Trek: Discovery?
It may explain Drednok's especial dislike of Dal.
Drednok: Prisoner Dal Ar-El. What species are you?
Dal: Wow. Getting personal, borderline inappropriate.
It's not an exaggeration to describe this quarter-season return as a success. It retains the joy and freshness of the premiere arc while drawing more connections to Trek's historical canon and characters.
What did you think of Dal's foray into Starfleet assessments?
What will the crew discover about the Prodigy's past?
Is Murf truly indestructible?
Beam your best and craziest predictions down into the comments!
Diana Keng is a staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow her on Twitter.