Star Trek: Prodigy subverted an overused trope with Rok-Tahk
Star Trek: Prodigy is a coming-of-age story for a group of kids aboard a Starfleet ship. The show focuses on how these kids, who range from young children to late teens, adapt to life on a starship, with a crew of people vastly different from one another. One of these youngins is a Brikar named Rok-Tahk.
Rok-Tahk is a gentle soul, who looks imposing. She’s also just eight years old. When we meet her, she comes across as just your typical young girl, who happens to be eight feet tall and 900 lbs. Due to her size, the squad makes her the Chief of Security, a job she doesn’t really want.
After all, she just wants to play with cute and cuddly things. She might be big but she isn’t violent. Yet, due to her size and her lack of expertise elsewhere, she gets shoved into that role. That is until the Prodigy episode, Time Amok.
In the episode, the ship experiences a warp core breach, and the kids have to work together to fix it. The only problem is, every crew member is in their own pocket space, where they’re observing the events at different speeds, unable to interact with one another. For Jankom, he witnessed 10 minutes in a few seconds, for Rok-Tahk, it’s implied she witnessed the same 10 minutes over the span of years at least.
Through the holographic Kathryn Janeway, the crew relay messages to one another on how to fix the warp core, resulting in Rok-Tahk being the last one left to fix the issue, but she’s also the least knowledgeable on the subject matter. Something she knows all too well, and it results in her becoming overwhelmed.
Though with support from Janeway and the desire to help her friends, she starts studying, learning what she needs to know, and resolving the problem with the core. Due to her success, she saves her friends, finds a love for science, and starts planning for her future in the sciences.
Star Trek: Prodigy subverted the genius child trope in a perfect way
So very often in media, we get the trope of the genius youth who is just smarter than everyone else despite their age. It’s an unbelievable fiction that oftentimes hinders a character by making them unrelatable. In Black Panther, Shuri is supposed to be 16 and already capable of understanding complex sciences. In Wakanda Forever, we get Riri Williams, another teenage genius who also bolsters that trope. As does Peter Parker in the MCU, being just a high school student but being able to have scientific conversations with Tony Stark?
Do people like that exist? Sure, but is it such an everyday occurrence that characters should be built around a one-in-a-hundred-million possibility? No.
Most science fiction or superhero stories work because it’s an ordinary person getting thrust into an extraordinary situation. So when you see children doing things no children would believably do, people tune out and lose interest.
That’s why Prodigy’s handling Rok-Tahk makes perfect sense. She’s not some super-genius. She was just a kid who had no other alternative but to learn. It doesn’t come across like she’s gifted or lucked into her intelligence. She learned what she had to do because she wanted to save her friends. It took her a while too. She didn’t just read a book and become a scientific genius. Janeway makes an emphasis to stress that she was alone for a very long time, and that was all she did.
She merely took advantage of the time she had to learn something she had to know. It’s really a great message that anyone can learn anything if they put in the effort and time. And that’s what makes her arc so impressive.