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.

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