On December 21, 1992, Captain Edward Jellico (Ronny Cox) gave up command of the USS Enterprise, handing the proverbial space keys back to Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart). The tenure of Captain Jellico during “Chain of Command” Parts 1 and 2 was short but impactful. Now, 30 years later, Jellico is back in Star Trek canon via Prodigy, and sci-fi legend Ronny Cox thinks the legacy of his divisive character is stronger than ever.
In Prodigy, Cox has returned to the Trek fold after three decades to provide the voice of Jellico, now an Admiral and the superior to Admiral Janeway (Kate Mulgrew). In Prodigy, Jellico is asserting his renowned acerbic and no-nonsense command style, just as he did in The Next Generation back in the day.
“Jellico has always been a character that people love to hate on,” Cox tells Inverse. “I mean, either they think he's the greatest captain ever, or they really hate his command style. So it was flattering that [Paramount] wanted me to come back.”
In “Chain of Command,” Picard is sent on a covert mission, and the Enterprise temporarily gets a new Captain. Jellico insists on new duty rotations, bosses people around, messes with the decor of Picard’s ready room, and orders Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) to change into a more traditional Starfleet uniform, all of which makes him incredibly unpopular. It’s in his last order that Cox feels like Jellico had a positive impact.
“Marina [Sirtis] was anxious to get out of that outfit and into a uniform,” Cox says, referencing the catsuit-esque costume Deanna Troi wore before Seasons 6 and 7 of TNG. “So, I think that Jellico having her wear a [standard] uniform was at her request. Totally. Also, we took the fish out of the ready room. Patrick Stewart had always felt that we were doing a series about the dignity of all species. And all of a sudden we’ve got a captured fish in his ready room? What was that about?”
In Prodigy, Jellico is much the same as he was in TNG, though outside of actual Trek canon, the reputation of Cox’s character is much bigger than what’s actually seen on screen. Jellico was a punchline in Lower Decks Season 1 when Mariner (Tawny Newsome) worried about getting a substitute captain who would be “a babysitter Jellico type.” And for the faithful, Jellico is the subject of many memes that paint him as the kind of person who tells horrible pun-laden dad jokes to the crew of the Enterprise.
Cox says he is aware of the other life Jellico has online, and approves of it.
“Oh yeah, the bad puns!” Cox says gleefully. “I love that. That’s sort of in my wheelhouse of humor anyway. It’s fun to groan along with everyone else.”
From RoboCop to Total Recall, Cox has a knack for playing a certain kind of science fiction character. Not a villain, per se, but someone at odds with the protagonist. In Prodigy, he’s giving Janeway a headache, but Cox doesn’t think his characters are wrong, nor do they see themselves as bad people.
“I mean, Jellico did a lot of things that were right,” Cox says. “There are several people on the internet who say Jellico is maybe the best captain they ever had. And you know what? Maybe they’re right.”
Star Trek: Prodigy airs its Season 1 finale on December 29, 2022, on Paramount+.