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**SPOILER WARNING! Do not read any further if you have not seen this week's Star Trek: Prodigy. There be massive spoilers here!**
After Star Trek: Prodigy introduced audiences to Captain Janeway in hologram form, they decided to give fans the real thing.
Admiral Janeway (also voiced by Kate Mulgrew) returned in a surprising (and satisfying) end-credits scene in this week's mid-season finale, the excellent "A Moral Star, Part 2." She also brought with her a starship-sized Easter egg from an underrated Star Trek: Voyager episode, the Season 4 finale "Hope and Fear".
After defeating the Diviner (John Noble), Dal and his crew on the Protostar set a course for Starfleet. And they do so without realizing that their vessel harbors a deadly weapon — a parting gift from their enemy — one that is designed to eradicate any Starfleet vessel that it comes into contact with. Soon, a Trill officer aboard Janeway's ship detects a reading (for the third time) coming from the Protostar that warrants investigation. So Janeway orders her ship, the Dauntless II, according to Prodigy creators Dan and Kevin Hageman, to intercept and, hopefully, find her friend, the Protostar's former Captain, Chakotay (Robert Beltran). The Dauntless II and its bridge is identical to its predecessor, previously seen in "Hope and Fear." However, that vessel was a fake starship used by a vengeful alien (played by Twin Peaks' Ray Wise) to lure then-Captain Janeway, Seven of Nine, and the Voyager crew into a rendezvous with the Borg.
Aside from those satisfying and surprising callbacks to Voyager, what really makes "Moral Star, Part 2" so captivating is the dramatic complication that Janeway's return brings for our untested heroes. The twist here is that, even though all Dal and his pals want to do is get to Starfleet, they can never have contact with them or else some end times-level things will go down. Worse, Janeway has no idea what she's racing into, so it seems that for the back half of Prodigy's first season, the Protostar will be on the run, The Fugitive style, from one of Star Trek's greatest heroes.
The last time Admiral Janeway was on screen was 20 years ago, in live-action form, in 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis. The importance of her return was not lost on the Hagemans, who recently revealed to SYFY WIRE how they and the other writers of the show brought the iconic character back for another mission in the Final Frontier, how other key moments in the episode came to be, and why the aforementioned Fugitive-inspired complication is very intentional.
Who came up with the idea to end this episode with Admiral Janeway's return?
Dan Hageman: Janeway's return was always baked into the original [series] pitch.
Kevin Hageman: We can't go too much into what the next 10 episodes are gonna be, but we can say is: We love the movie The Fugitive. And when you look at that movie, you love Harrison Ford. He's unjustifiably screwed over and he's on the run. And you want him to clear his name. And then you love Tommy Lee Jones, who is just trying to do his job, right? He's not a bad guy, you love seeing both stories and the characters and what's going to happen when their stories catch up to each other. And so we wanted that dynamic with Janeway and our kids.
Dan: You'll find out more about [the Diviner's] weapon that has been set up, but if this weapon ever gets in contact with this Starfleet vessel...
Kevin: So our heroes are on the run.
Dan: They cannot get caught, so then it becomes a question and tension of: How do you escape Starfleet?
Kevin: And so once we got rid of the Diviner, we were like: "Who would make another great foil? Who would be a great adversary?" It's Janeway. She's hunting them down, but she doesn't know who is onboard that ship. To her, it's just this stolen Starfleet vessel.
Dan: She's just out there, trying to find Chakotay. She wants to help just like everybody else.
Someone who also wants to help is Zero. And you've been setting up how they can do that for most of the season, with them being a Medusa and, if you see their true form, you go mad. And of course, the payoff to that is the showdown with the Diviner.
Kevin: We spend a lot of time making sure each of our characters are really intriguing, lovable characters that all play a part [in the story].
Dan: And that scene, there's so many emotions behind that moment, too, for Zero. It's something that Zero is almost ashamed of, having to do this to the person who tormented them, but they don't want to hurt people. It's a mixed bag of so many emotions. And I think that that is why it is powerful; there is definitely a sacrifice to it.
Kevin: And not just with what Zero does, but with how that whole sequence plays out. Our kids don't just ride off squeaky clean. There's repercussions that happen.
Dan: Also, there's the fact that Gwyn is ultimately hurt by looking at the Delta [badge on Dal's uniform]. Which is heartbreaking, to briefly see the thing that could hurt her reflected in the symbol of the organization trying to help them.
Kevin: And I get teary eyed at the moment at the end, in Janeway's log, when you hear that after what happened, Zero has never left her side.
Going back to Janeway quick, she is aboard what looks like the Dauntless. Which we last saw in Voyager's "Hope and Fear." And, it's not really a starship, so... what's going on here? How is it back?
Kevin: I think it's the Dauntless II. This is an experimental ship that took the technology from the original Dauntless and created a Starfleet vessel out of it. With slipstream technology. Which [Admiral] Janeway would know all about.
That's a great beat, a nice Easter egg that no one was expecting. I also wasn't expecting the beat where, and it's my favorite scene in the episode, where these two Unwanted alien workers on the Diviner's planet, due to a language barrier, they don't even know their names. But with help from Dal's universal translator, they finally do and share some feelings they have. You don't get to usually see these kinds of great character beats on an animated series like this.
Dan: That's interesting that you're zoning in on that, because we thought there was just great comedy to be had there. Two people who work together, they don't even know each other's names, and there's a little romance there. These episodes are 22-and-a-half minutes long, you try to make the most of every moment, and we were like "Here are two workers, they find out each other's name, they have some things they would like to say."
Kevin: Like Dan was saying, [run] time is so precious. And you can't do moments like that often, because you don't have time for it. But for us, in the writer's room, we were just laughing so much about this beat and, it was funny, but it was also endearing, because it played to the reality and the world of the show. And we were like: "Let's keep this one. This is a nice moment."
Season 1 of Prodigy will return with 10 more episodes in late 2022.