SPOILER WARNING: This article contains story details and plot points for Episode 17 of Star Trek: Prodigy "Ghost in the Machine."
Will the Protostar find a way to make contact with the Dauntless without setting off the Living Construct? That's what Star Trek: Prodigy's "Ghost in the Machine" asks as the episode opens with a tense firefight.
Rogue Romulan factions are closing in as the Protostar flees the Neutral Zone back into Federation space, right into the waiting hands of the U.S.S. Dauntless. Rok-Tahk tries to signal the Dauntless using phasers, explaining that the ship can't make contact, but the Dauntless perceives the act as a threat and opens fire. As torpedoes bear down on the Protostar, Dal calls for an end to the simulation. It was just a Holodeck program, but with very real consequences.
The crew is desperately trying to figure out a way to contact Starfleet, but they can't find any way out of this. Gwyn even goes so far as to suggest that maybe they’re doomed, and they should stop trying to reach Starfleet entirely. The crew throws themselves a very well-deserved pity party in the mess hall before heading back to their quarters to get some sleep. But just as they're all settling in, some strange anomalies starts happening.
Creatures from the Holodeck start appearing around them, prompting Zero to speculate that they never left the Holodeck after the earlier simulation. Hologram Janeway confirms that they're stuck on the Holodeck and controls aren't responding. Zero recognizes the current program running as they arrive at the Cellar Door Society. It will present them with a mystery and the crew has to solve it. Once they've done that, the Holodeck exit should appear.
The crew is reluctant to participate, but Zero encourages them all to work together to try and figure things out. They uncover "The Case of the Lost Skeleton Key." Just as they start working on the case, they hear engines revving. They walk outside and find a motorcycle gang. They're clearly in a different program now — Jankom's sim that he's been using to let off some steam. As Jankom engages in hand-to-hand combat with the motorcycle gang, he discovers that the safety protocols have been shut off. The crew can get hurt inside the Holodeck.
Holo-Janeway works outside the Holodeck to protect the crew and get those safeties back on. Her programming only allows her to access non-essential system; Dal gives her his command codes.
They manage to capture one member of the gang who has a skeleton key tattoo on his stomach that says “Key Club.” They realizes this is just another clue rather than the solution. The gang member disappears while the world turns black-and-white; the Key Club appears and they head inside.
Now within Murf's simulation, he shocks everyone by hitting the stage to perform a song as Mr. Murfy No Shoes. While Murf is putting on a show, the rest of the crew splits up to look for the key. Gwyn walks to the bar to order a Jumja tea; it turns out that her father's holo merged with the program. Though, The Diviner retains the personality of the barista allowing Gwyn to confide in him about the situation she’s in with her father.
Zero and Rok-Tahk realize that the further they delve into solving the mystery of the skeleton key, the more intertwined the different Holodeck programs are becoming. Zero theorizes that there's a motive at play; that's the only thing that explains why each crewmember's simulations are specifically affected. There are two cases at hand — the Case of the Skeleton Key and why the Holodeck has trapped them.
Rok-Tahk notices that the piano is out of tune and deduces that it's missing a key. Could that be the skeleton key they're looking for? Finding the key, she opens the piano revealing a portal they stumble into...
...and find themselves on a ship. But not a starship; this is a pirate ship on the seas — Dal's program where he helms a crew that respects him. As an ocean monster attacks the ship, the crew frantically searches for the key.
It turns out the monster is a sparkle sea-hugger from Rok-Tahk's program, and she manages to tame it by feeding the poor malnourished creature. That gets rid of the monster, but unfortunately, the ship is taking on water and it's going to sink. Murf finds yet another clue, but Zero realizes that the merged programs will never end.
They theorize that there is no actual skeleton key. Instead, it's a distraction from the real mystery — why they're trapped in the sim in the first place. Just as the ship sinks beneath the surface of the water, the program turns off and Holo-Janeway walks in. She's clearly the one responsible for this, but has no knowledge of it.
It turns out that when Gwyn suggested stopping their attempts to contact Starfleet, a secret subroutine took over Janeway's program to ensure the ship's core directive — make contact with Starfleet. As long as their goals were aligned, the subroutine remained dormant. But once the crew started thinking that maybe they shouldn't go back to Federation space, Janeway unknowingly created the Holodeck program to keep them distracted.
When Dal sent his command codes to the corrupted Holo-Janeway to override the lack of safety protocols, she used them to set course for Federation space. Red alert reveals the crew has exited the Neutral Zone and they're currently locked out of controls. Back in Federation space, the Dauntless looms over the Protostar and there's nothing they can do. One thing’s for sure, we’ll have an exciting confrontation next week!
Swapna Krishna (she/her) writes about space, technology, and pop culture at outlets such as Wired, NPR, Engadget, and more. You can find her on Twitter @skrishna.
Star Trek: Prodigy currently streams exclusively on Paramount+ in U.S., Latin America, Australia, South Korea, Italy and the U.K. and is coming soon to Paramount+ in Germany, Switzerland, Austria and France as well as to Nickelodeon international channels, which are available in 180 countries globally. In Canada, it airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave. Star Trek: Prodigy is distributed by Paramount Global Content Distribution.
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