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Star Trek: Prodigy boldly went this week where Marvel and the CW's DC shows have gone before, with an impressive crossover episode of sorts that is one of the most ambitious things Star Trek has ever done.
"Kobayashi," the newest episode of the hit Paramount + and Nickelodeon show, takes its name from the classic "no-win scenario" training exercise first introduced in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn and centers on Dal taking a holodeck version of the test to find out what kind of captain he is. He does so with the help of a dream team roster of various classic Trek characters: Deep Space Nine's Odo, The Next Generation's Dr. Crusher, and Star Trek: The Original Series vets Uhura, Scotty (who appears in his red movies uniform) and... Science Officer Mr. Spock. Gates McFadden reprises her iconic TNG character, while the others' dialogue is sourced from audio across various Trek episodes and movies. The crossover, albeit in holodeck form, takes place on the bridge of the Enterprise-D and it was a very challenging, and fun, episode to wrangle for writer and Prodigy executive producer (and Trek superfan) Aaron J. Waltke.
“I’m not gonna lie, it was probably one of the hardest writing experiences I’ve ever had," Waltke revealed in an interview with Polygon. "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 largely took it upon himself to hunt down the dialogue necessary for the drama to work by taking a deep dive into many episodes from multiple series in the franchise.
"I think I probably watched around 45 episodes top to bottom, and read about 90 Star Trek scripts top to bottom, to find the perfect lines," Waltke explained in an interview with ComicBook.com. So just how exactly did he pinpoint those lines of dialogue?
"I had all of the scripts, and I wound up creating a computer algorithm. I used a lot of Boolean searches, searching the scripts to see if I could find the right lines to fill in the blanks. Because there were a few key ones like, [Spock's line from TNG's 'Unification, Part II']: 'In your own way, you are as stubborn as another Captain of the Enterprise I once knew.' I knew I wanted to use that. And sometimes I would find a line, and then I would track it down in the episode, and it wouldn't sound right, or it would be the wrong delivery, so then I would have to take that out and plug it back in. It was quite an endeavor, to say the least."
As challenging as the episode was to execute, it also afforded the Prodigy writers one of the most geekiest work conversations ever: Coming up with the ideal bridge crew. At one point, the writers had at least eight potential candidates in mind (including Worf), but eventually technical needs and story demands narrowed that number down to four.
No matter which character they chose, Waltke felt it was essential that the characters speak in their original voices and the dialogue would be spliced together from previous Treks to bring this new episode to life.
"I was using these basic storytelling units of, 'Okay, here's a bunch of great lines from Odo that kind of sound like he's upset, and here's some great lines from Uhura where she is alerting people to go to battle stations," the writer explained to ComicBook.com. "And then it was a lot of shuffling around, but also catering a few specific lines to make it seem like they were really in the room talking to each other. It was a lot of finagling, but I think we finally got to a place where it works."
Since McFadden's character interacted more directly with Dal in the episode, the actress reprised her role, one she hasn't played since 2002's Star Trek: Nemesis. She even improvised a line that made it into the show: “The phenomenon of your stubbornness belongs in a medical textbook.”
As fan service-y as the episode may seem on the surface, the characters' inclusion in the events of "Kobayashi" service the deep thematics of both the episode's storyline and Dal's character arc.
"Something we realized very early on [is] that we wanted to use the Kobayashi Maru scenario as a functioning metaphor for how our characters, but in this particular scenario, Dal, how they react to a hopeless situation. But, specifically, Dal hanging onto this idea that he has to be in control in order to be a good captain. Not only a good captain, but a good leader or a good crewmate to his friends," Waltke told ComicBook.com. "Because I think Dal is so not used to being in a family, a found family or whatnot, that it's uncomfortable for him, and so he tends to act out a little bit. In our minds, the Kobayashi Maru was the perfect chance for Dal to finally just brass tacks, all the cards on the table, here's a computer simulation telling you that you aren't what you want to think you are as a captain."
To paraphrase the episode, "J.T. Kirk" would be proud of both Dal's and the show's solution.
Star Trek: Prodigy airs new episodes every Thursday on Paramount+.