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Star Trek: Prodigy “Temporal Mechanics 101” and “Observer’s Paradox” Review: The Trouble with Time Travel

Star Trek: Prodigy "Temporal Mechanics 101" and "Observer's Paradox" Review: The Trouble with Time Travel
Credit: CBS Studios/Netflix

“Temporal Mechanics 101”

After the events of “Who Saves the Saviors,” our adolescent protagonists are trapped on a desolate Solum, one already ravaged by post-First Contact Civil War, and one devoid of Captain Chakotay and the Protostar. The timeline is in flux, as Chakotay was never supposed to leave with the Protostar, and Gwyn (Ella Purnell), on Solum herself but 52 years in the past, is in a state of temporal fluidity. Luckily, our protagonists on Solum and Voyager-A are shielded from temporal changes (for now) because of plot armor the Infinity’s temporal shielding… so at least they have that going for them.

Dal (Brett Gray),­ Maj’el (Michaela Dietz), Zero (Angus Imrie), and Jankom Pog (Jason Mantzoukas) stumble upon a bit of good fortune, however, as they receive a mysterious message from someone who wants them to find Gwyn. The coordinates in the message lead them to the same pit in which Gwyn, fresh from her failed battle with Asencia (Jameela Jamil), is trapped in the past; it’s not a matter of space that separates the cadre, but time. 

After consulting with Voyager-A via a communication channel sent through the wormhole, Dal finally refers to Temporal Mechanics 101 and its host, Dr. Erin MacDonald (voiced by real-life Star Trek science advisor Dr. Erin Macdonald), to stage a rescue for Gwyn. The quartet rig the Infinity to serve as a transport through time, powered by energy from the wormhole above Solum, and place the courier vessel within the pit itself. Even an army of encroaching Watchers isn’t enough to prevent a successful crossing from future Solum to current-day Solum, and sure enough, Gwyn is soon reunited with her friends. The reunion is especially touching for Dal, who’s nurturing emotions for Gwyn, and it’s clear those feelings are mutual.

Credit: Netflix

Gwyn had her own strange experiences while in the pit, besides the temporal flux her body was experiencing. Before being reunited with her friends, she, too, was engaged in some kind of conversation with a mysterious stranger. This entity told Gwyn to “stay present” and “you need to be together,” but of course didn’t specify who Gwyn should be with. That would be too easy.

“Why would someone out there believe we can help her when we are separated by decades? [Gasps] Unless the short distance between us isn’t space…

“But time. A fascinating proposal.”

– Zero and Maj’el.

Despite Jankom Pog’s engineering skill, the Infinity seems like she’s done for good, as there’s no way the beaten-down courier vessel is launching out of the pit – but the heroes’ mysterious benefactor has another surprise for them. Through what appears to be sheer magic, the Infinity springs to life, able to leave the pit and make its way back to the Voyager-A. All seems well now, except for Chakotay’s whereabouts and the fact that Gwyn is now permanently trapped between times, a condition eased by the Doctor’s (Robert Picardo) handy temporal stabilizer attached to Gwyn’s arm.

“Temporal Mechanics 101” introduces a mystery that will likely reverberate for at least a few episodes to come. There is clearly an extra-human entity with an eye on our protagonists, one who isn’t afraid to alter events to ensure certain peoples’ survival. By adjusting events at will, this entity is creating quite an uncertain timeline.

Just one question that springs forth from the events of “Temporal Mechanics 101”: how will current-day Solum, under Asencia’s guidance, prepare their defenses against offworlders? Such is something we hear Asencia direct the Solum elders to do as she watches Infinity escape, so what could that mean for our heroes when they run into Vau N’Akat again?

Gwyn particularly is the center of attention in this episode, as not only do her friends muster a risky rescue attempt, but, perhaps more importantly, she gets her first glimpse at what having a real father is like. Ilthuran (John Noble), who stays with Gwyn before she is rescued while she’s stuck in the sinkhole, learns in passing he was a complete monster in Gwyn’s time and promises to be a different person in this time. At the end of “Temporal Mechanics 101,” Gwyn and her father part ways, so we’re curious if the next time Gwyn sees her father it’ll be his evil self, or this innocent, curious, and trusting version. 

The last piece of mystery from this episode: Murf (Dee Bradley Baker) is seen talking with a mysterious stranger, likely the same one who conspired to bring the crew back together, and the stranger indicates someone is “coming for” him. The mystery deepens…

Credit: Netflix

Stray Thoughts:

  • Why wouldn’t Dal first ask the mysterious messenger “Who is this?” instead of limiting himself to the yes/no question “Did this message come from Voyager?” Dal’s frustratingly inept questioning ability just seems like a poor way to extend this mystery.

  • The instance of Lieutenant Worf jumping between quantum realities, as referenced by Maj’el in this episode, is seen in TNG’s “Parallels.”

  • Maj’el seems to take a liking (as far as Vulcans can) to Zero, and we already know they have one thing in common: their telepathic abilities. Might this be the beginning of a friendship or romance between the two characters?

“Observer’s Paradox”

While Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and her crew on the Voyager-A try to figure out how to rectify our protagonists’ actions after their trip through the wormhole, those same protagonists try to figure out who was their mysterious supporter. This is easier said than done, as Janeway has assigned the Doctor to babysitting duty, ensuring the kids don’t alter any more timelines or otherwise break shipboard rules.

Murf holds the key to uncovering the identity of the kids’ mysterious benefactor, attributable to the alien’s secretive interactions with an unknown entity. (Why this entity chooses to communicate with only Murf is an intriguing question.) But there’s a major barrier: no one can understand the Mellanoid. Not even the universal translator can decipher the grunts, gurgles, and squeaks spoken by the gelatinous entity. Trying to break the communication barrier, Murf uses material from the Voyager-A’s mess hall to illustrate a symbol that Gwyn recognizes as one she saw in the pit when she heard the mysterious entity.

Getting rid of the Doctor is the first step toward pursuing this mystery, which Zero does fairly easily by asking the Doctor about his latest holo-novel, Love in the Time of Holograms; who wouldn’t want to read about duplicate holographic characters in a love hexagon?

Dal and Gwyn further the team’s progress by discovering the symbol Murf made in the mess hall is similar to a petroglyph used by descendants of the Ometepe Rubber Tree and Nicarao people in one particular ex-Federation colony. Hardcore Voyager fans will see where this is going: Chakotay was a former resident of this colony, and therefore Murf’s symbol is undoubtedly but inexplicably linked to the missing captain. But the problem remains: how to talk to Murf?

Rok-Tahk (voiced by Rylee Alazraqui), who is reluctant to assist in her friends’ illicit endeavors except for the concern that Gwyn might cease to exist if Chakotay and the Protostar aren’t located, discovers that Murf might have the capability to communicate underwater, similarly to how whales communicate using frequencies that can only be understood in aquatic environments. Furthermore, the ship’s resident whale, Gillian (Bonnie Gordon), may be able to understand Murf in a way the universal translator cannot.

Credit: Netflix

Murf, who evolves into a streamlined aquatic animal once he’s in water, provides some key information for his friends: the words “Find Me” and a string of numbers. Gwyn realizes she needs to enter the numbers in her temporal armband, the thing that is keeping her tethered to this reality. She changes her numbers and gets a dazzling, psychedelic view of the galaxy, along with the message “find me before they do.” She realizes the symbol Murf provided in the mess hall is a map, and she knows where to find Chakotay – but that’ll have to wait for the next episode.

“Am I a fool to hope, Doctor, that he’s still out there alive, safe?”

“Perhaps this was our only door to Chakotay. But hope is never a foolish thing. I’ve found whenever a door closes, a window may open.”

– Janeway and the Doctor upon the wormhole closing.

Janeway is facing some dilemmas of her own in this episode. Based on the modifications made to the Infinity which thus allowed the kids to return to the Voyager-A, she’s the first to theorize Chakotay may be the entity that has provided a guiding hand in recent events; she thinks this because the entity first spoke to Voyager just after the kids went through the wormhole. Janeway then gets disturbing orders from Admiral Edward Jellico (Ronnie Cox, who is reprising his character from The Next Generation and Prodigy), who orders her to destroy the wormhole, lest more temporal tomfoolery take place – Chakotay’s safe rescue be damned.

Janeway follows through on these orders to her credit, which took us by surprise; we thought her passion to find her former first officer would have trumped Starfleet’s orders. As the wormhole collapses, her mind flashes back to the Protostar’s inaugural launch and how Chakotay gave her the petroglyph as a token of his safe return.

Stray Thoughts:

  • The hero ship from Star Trek: Lower Decks gets a shoutout when the Doctor says of Dal and his friends, “I haven’t seen a crew this dysfunctional since the Cerritos.”

  • The whale seen in this episode is named Gillian, which is likely a cheeky reference to the character Gillian Taylor, the assistant director of the Cetacean Institute in Star Trek: The Voyage Home, as played by Catherine Hicks.

  • The mementos in Janeway’s ready room include a model spider, which is undoubtedly a reference to the character she played in Tom Paris’ holo-novel Captain Proton, Arachnia, Queen of the Spider People.

In “Temporal Mechanics 101” and “Observer’s Paradox,” both episodes of Star Trek: Prodigy explore the intricate dynamics of time travel and the consequences of altering timelines. We appreciated how these episodes shared themes including exploring temporal anomalies, the mysterious influence of external entities on the protagonists’ fates, and the ethical dilemmas surrounding tampering with historical events. Perhaps more consequentially for young audiences, these episodes highlighted themes of friendship, sacrifice, and bonds that transcend space and time. Prodigy consistently delivers a rich narrative that serves an outsized role in this supposedly aimed-at-kids TV show.

The Star Trek: Prodigy voice cast includes Kate Mulgrew (Hologram Kathryn Janeway), Brett Gray (Dal), Ella Purnell (Gwyn), Rylee Alazraqui (Rok-Tahk), Angus Imrie (Zero), Jason Mantzoukas (Jankom Pog), Dee Bradley Baker (Murf), John Noble (The Diviner) and Jimmi Simpson (Drednok) in addition to recurring voice cast members: Robert Beltran (Captain Chakotay), Robert Picardo (The Doctor), Jason Alexander (Doctor Noum), Daveed Diggs (Commander Tysess), Jameela Jamil (Ensign Asencia), Ronny Cox (Admiral Jellico) and Michaela Dietz (Maj’el). 

Stay tuned to for all the latest news on Star Trek: Prodigy, Star Trek: Starfleet Academy, Star Trek: Discovery, Star Trek: Strange New Worlds, Star Trek: Lower Decks, and more.

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Written By

Kyle Hadyniak has been a lifelong Star Trek fan, and isn't ashamed to admit that Star Trek V: The Final Frontier and Star Trek: Nemesis are his favorite Star Trek movies. You can follow Kyle on Twitter @khady93.

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