Sunday, May 13, 2012

TOS - Charlie X

"Charlie X" - The Original Series Season 1, Episode 2

The USS Antares drops off Charlie Evans, who spent most of his life on an abandoned planet. Charlie somehow survived and now has obtained superpowers which he uses to punish those who offend him, just as an adolescent might.

Another interesting way Star Trek presents human problems in the future scope is by blowing our abilities out of proportion and presenting them as a method to exaggerate the human condition. "Charlie X" does exactly this, by giving an unprincipled youth the power over reality, and allowing the crew of the Enterprise to deal with his lashes of anger. This gives us some interesting insights to Kirk's attitude towards youth, as well as some reflections on the nature of adolescence.

One of the bigger problems with this episode is that a significant portion of the episode focuses on Charlie, a one-off character. This deprives us of the ability to learn more about the main characters, from whom we hear precious little. It is difficult with unestablished characters to give much of your screentime to a guest; similarly, the regular character we see with Charlie isn't Captain Kirk or the various bridge officers, but is Janice Rand, the Captain's yeoman. While Rand is an interesting supporting character from The Original Series, learning about her simply isn't helpful to the cause of expanding our investment in the series.

There's an interesting moment where two Enterprise crewmen share a locker room "slap on the ass" in front of Charlie, who then uses that gesture with Rand, much to her chagrin. Of course, Charlie doesn't have exposure to standard human norms, and has difficulty understanding why it's appropriate for two people to have physical contact when they are friends or intimate, but otherwise why it is inappropriate. He also doesn't get the innate sexual nature of the act. When he asks Kirk about it, Kirk explains that "There's no right way to hit a woman." I find this to be a very progressive comment for the 1960s, when spousal and partner abuse was far more prevalent than it is to day - and indeed, accepted within pop culture. Consider the oft-remarked threat from The Honeymooners for an example.

Charlie's use of his powers quickly ramp up, as he uses them to try to impress (giving Janice Rand a bottle of her favourite perfume), to perform revenge (causing a red-gi'd ensign to vanish into oblivion), and the downright nasty (stripping a woman of her face). He makes wild demands, ordering Kirk and the crew to run the ship to his desires. He fails, as a teenager would, to understand the complexity of human emotions.

Kirk continually tries to hand off responsibility for interacting with Charlie to others on the ship, showing his lack of comfort with children. McCoy insists that Charlie needs a firm father figure, which Kirk is loath to provide. This seems to show that Kirk is an independent agent, someone who would prefer to work alone rather than be tied back to things like family. Kirk only really takes a role in Charlie's life when his powers begin to threaten the Enterprise.

At it's core, "Charlie X" is a story about raising children, and what happens when a child is not well-raised, as Charlie wasn't. Charlie is poorly behaved and lacks appropriate social skills for a teenager of his age, acting instead like a petulant child. The crew tries to treat him like an adult but quickly finds that this fails; Kirk takes a firmer stand with him and has some success. However, in the end, the story is only rescued when the powerful alien species that gave Charlie his powers show up and take him away, recognizing that he is only a child who needs to be raised by those who can control his abilities. He begs Kirk to let him stay, but Kirk, recognizing that Charlie's powers have to be controlled, allows him to be taken.

In the end, the episode does an okay job of reminding us about our duties to raise children, and thus has a pretty good Star Trek factor rating, but the story is lacking and I always criticize deus ex machina endings. The characters suffer as well due to the fact that we are still very unfamiliar with the Enterprise's crew. Perhaps if this was shown later in the season it would have worked better, but I can't pretend to love this episode.

Characters: 4/10 - we learn a little about Kirk and Janice Rand, but most characters are ignored.
Story: 4/10 - the story wasn't bad up until the ending, but "random aliens save the day" is just not a great plot point.
Star Trek factor - 7/10 - the episode does act as a solid mirror for parenting and the need for it.

Overall: 5/10 - below average, this episode clocks in at a solid mediocre.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

TOS - The Man Trap

"The Man Trap" - The Original Series Season 1, Episode 1

(please note that full episode summaries are best found on Memory Alpha, and will be linked to in each headline)

Kirk, McCoy, and another crewman beam down to a planet staffed by an archaeologist married to McCoy's old girlfriend, only to find she's been supplanted by a creature that consumes salt. The creature, who can take human form, goes on to attack and murder several before being defeated.

This episode is our first introduction to a standard The Original Series trope: the alien murderer of the week. Kirk and crew very often come up against a murderous non-humanoid who has some sort of defense system they have to penetrate, before defeating them. In this case, it causes a moral dilemma for McCoy, as the creature has taken the guise of his ex-girlfriend, though, admittedly, not a particularly strong dilemma.

The adventure is very quickly revealed to the audience, leading to little mystery surrounding this particular alien murderer. Instead, the suspense comes from us watching Kirk's efforts to grapple with what he is facing, and then the crew's attempt to locate the dangerous shapeshifter once it has come aboard the Enterprise. At one point, the creature replaces Bones and takes his place in a meeting where the senior staff discuss how they will best hunt down the alien, leading to the final murder of the episode and an attack on Spock. The tension of this storyline is very well written, and the episode is very enjoyable as a result.

We learn a lot about Kirk in this episode. He is brash, headstrong, and even a little rude. He doesn't like mysteries, and isn't opposed to using his power and strength to brute force through a situation. Kirk will tear down and destroy in order to fix if he feels he needs to, which gives him the sort of edge that the rough-and-tumble captain of the Enterprise requires. Kirk bullies the archaeologist, Dr. Crater, thoroughly, in places, going so far as to deny Dr. Crater his simple request of extra salt tablets. Things aren't right, and Kirk declares, "But it's a mystery. And I don't like mysteries. They give me a bellyache. And I've got a beauty right now."

Yet, at the end, Kirk is shown to have a softer side. Although he was adamant in the need to defeat the salt-sucking alien to protect his crew, and showed little remorse at the death of Dr. Crater, he did reminisce quietly at the end. Though in self-defense, the crew of the Enterprise had slain the last member of a sentient species. He confesses to Spock that he was remembering the plight of Earth's buffalo.

Similarly, McCoy is shown to be cautious, nostalgic, and very much in touch with his past. He pines, secretly, for his old love and an easier time. He is xenophobic to an extent, and the famous rivalry with Spock begins immediately. Spock, of course, is set up to be impassionate, reacting not-at-all when the death of an away team member is announced, to the chagrin of those on the bridge. He does not understand Uhura's attempts to make small talk, and he certainly does not appreciate the passion with which McCoy views his lost love. He uses logic in the most desperate of situations, striking the creature that has fooled McCoy, until he realizes that the object of his desire is not, in fact, real.

"The Man Trap" continues to deliver with introducing us to the bread-and-butter of what will be The Original Series, with the unfortunate death of four ensigns during the making of this episodes, all victims of the salt-sucking alien. Known as "redshirts" (though not all of the dead ensigns wear red uniforms in this episode), these expendable crewmen will continue to die over the course of the series, and are used to create tension within the episode. By the end of the series, I am sure it will seem almost ludicrous, but that's part of the charm of The Original Series. It doesn't take itself too seriously.

Overall, "The Man Trap" delivers a great introduction to The Original Series and lays out some very important points for our three main crew members. We're introduced to Uhura and Sulu, as well as Yeoman Janice Rand, but none of these three characters are heavily developed at this point. The series focuses on Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, the three men who will carry the series in most episodes, and we can assume the others will receive some development over time. The story is not a great human interest piece, but more of a sci-fi thriller, a style of episode that shouldn't be underestimated in its ability to provide enjoyment.

Characters: 8/10 - great character development for the introduction of three new characters.
Story: 7/10 - a good "alien murderer of the week" plot that is still fresh.
Star Trek factor: 5/10 - there is a moral dilemma, but one that is easily solved by the standards that will develop as the series continues.

Overall: 7/10 - a fine episode of The Original Series, but not one that leaps out as either a landmark episode or a giant piece of crap.

Friday, May 11, 2012

An Episode A Day

Welcome to An Episode A Day! This blog will hopefully eventually contain a review for each of Star Trek's 727 episodes sometime over the next two years. Keeping up with this task will surely be difficult, but I'll try to manage.

I hope people enjoy this project and play along with me!