Charlie X – First aired on September 15, 1966
Teenagers….. it’s fortunate that I haven’t been one for a few years. Now, I can laugh at them without making fun of myself. Then again, I will probably feel the same way about 20 year-olds when I hit my 30’s. Of course, laughing at teenagers is what got the Enterprise crew into so much trouble this time around, so maybe we ought to be more careful with who we laugh at.
It is hard to not feel sorry for Charlie, his family was killed in the crash that left him stranded all alone on a backwater planet. He had absolutely no human contact until the crew of the Antares rescued him. Thanks to this he definitely wins the “Most Awkward Boy of the 23rd Century” award. Essentially, I think that what we get with Charlie is a look at a teenager without a filter. Since he was never told what was right from wrong, Charlie is constantly acting on impulse and desire. The twist is that this particular uninhibited teenager has acquired near Q like powers.
Perhaps due to having a B.S. in Psychology, I cannot help but analyze young Charlie and conclude that part of his problem is that he is in a very egocentric state of mind. Developmental Psychology tells us that, as adolescents, most of us go through a phase where have a Personal Fable and an Imaginary Audience. During our teenage years, we assume that we are the center of attention and that others are constantly watching us and judging us. The normal human reaction to this is to stress out over anything and everything about us that could possibly be a source of embarrassment. Eventually these feelings die out and we look back at how silly we were to think that our entire high school would care that we had a giant pimple on our face or that we didn’t dress cool enough. Unfortunately for Charlie, his imaginary audience was a little more real than the average teen, and his personal fable was under some serious attack.
Once the captain of the Antares manages to unload Charlie on to Captain Kirk’s shoulders, we immediately start seeing some odd things happen. Charlie, once he figures out the Yeoman is a girl (he had never seen one before of course), is immediately smitten. So of course he does what any infatuated teenager would do, he tries to impress her. He stumbles upon a group of people in a rec room of sorts, and, wouldn’t you know, Yeoman Rand is there. Sadly for Charlie, he is overshadowed by the performance put on by the dynamic duo of Spock and Uhura. They sure do like to spend a lot of time together…
Their odd little song somehow manages to overshadow Charlie’s attempts to get the Yeoman’s attention, so of course he does what any teenager with supernatural powers would do, he makes Uhura lose her voice and silences Spock’s instrument.
Charlie does a few other crazy things before the crew starts to realize that something is wrong. However, I don’t think that anything he did was malicious. As I mentioned before, Charlie’s Imaginary Audience was quite real. Since he was the newest person on board and had such an interesting story behind how he got there, literally everyone was watching him and analyzing him. This obviously made him feel extremely self-conscious and I believe it prompted a lot of his actions. Probably the worst thing he did was cause the destruction of the Antares when their captain tried to warn Kirk about Charlie. But like I said before, I don’t think this was out of cruelty or ill will. At the point where this happens, Charlie is fed up with being the odd man out, he is tired of constantly being told he did something wrong and is obsessed with getting people to like him. He thinks that if the captain tells Kirk his thoughts about Charlie that it will seriously change how Kirk views him. He also does not completely understand the value of life yet, and therefore I do not think that he is completely aware of how horrible it is to do something of this nature.
I think that Kirk’s opinion of him is one of the few things that actually matters to Charlie. McCoy tells Kirk multiple times that Charlie sees him as a kid of father figure, and it is this father figure status that enables Kirk to hold some small amount of influence over Charlie. At first Kirk struggles with it, as evidenced by the super awkward scene where he tries to have a talk with Charlie about why he shouldn’t slap a woman’s rear end. Later on, after Charlie has a meltdown with some chess pieces (quite literally), and after Kirk begins to suspect that Charlie is responsible for the destruction of the Antares, Kirk decides that he should offer a little anger management / father figure bonding time.
This leads us to one of the more recognizable scenes from this episode. I am sure Shatner loved it because it is basically the perfect excuse for him to go flaunting his bare chest around while in his fancy tight red space exercise pants. He decides to teach Charlie how to wrestle, and I’ll let the scene explain how that goes.
At this point, with his secret out, Charlie takes over the Enterprise for fear that Kirk will try to bring him back to the planet he came from. Kirk loses any semblance of the slight control he had over Charlie, and Charlie, now doing anything he wants, causes all sorts of havoc on the ship, turning girls into iguanas, stealing people’s faces, making people super old, and even closes in on his precious Yeoman Rand. Eventually, Kirk comes up with a plan to stop Charlie, but we never really get to see if it would have worked. At the climax of their confrontation, the Thasians show up. The Thasians of course are the mythical non-corporeal alien species that inhabited the world where Charlie had lived out his youth.
What I don’t really like about this is that the Thasians showing up means that there is not a true resolution to the conflict between Charlie and the Enterprise crew. The Thasians do not give him a choice and take him back to their world where he can no longer hurt anybody. Kirk puts up a decent argument that they can work with Charlie to get him naturalized to society, but the Thasians wont hear it. The scene is actually quite sad, and I think it is the point where we feel the most sympathetic towards Charlie. He pleads with the Enterprise crew, telling them that the Thasians can’t touch, and that they can’t feel things like humans do. It is at this point that the totality of Charlie’s existence is felt. It must have been horrible for him to grow up with only the ghastly Thasians to keep him company. No one was there that he could connect to physically, or that he could look up to as a role model. When he was suddenly immersed in a crew of 430 people he was clearly overwhelmed, and when you couple that with his teenage paranoia it is no wonder that he struggled so much.
So in the end we are left with Kirk lost in thought as one of our last images in this episode. I think there are probably two things going through Kirk’s mind here. The first thought is probably a consideration of what it must have been like for a teenage boy who is kept from human contact and then suddenly thrust into the midst of this huge ship. I think Kirk realizes that they should have been more aware of how Charlie was handling everything. I see him reminiscing about his own teenage days and perhaps finding similarities between himself and Charlie. It seems to me that since Charlie had absolutely no filter with what he said and did, that there could have been a repulsion felt by Kirk and other crew members. It would have been very easy to fall into the mindset of, “I was never like this as a kid, so this Charlie guy is obviously a weirdo and I want nothing to do with him”. They probably just wanted to unload him on the next authority as quickly as possible. It is only after the dramatic forced removal of Charlie that Kirk and the others are able to look back on everything that happened and see that Charlie was simply a normal teen who had his emotions blown out of proportion due to his previous seclusion, and who had his actions cause severe problems due to his enhanced powers. Charlie did not wish for any of these things, they were forced upon him by fate and now he is stuck with having to manage them. The second item I believe that Kirk was mulling over was how he failed at being a role model for Charlie. If Kirk had just taken some time to invest in helping Charlie adjust to his new surroundings, there is no telling how much that could have helped. While Kirk was thinking about his own teenage years, I think it is more than possible that he would have considered his own role models he had growing up, people who mentored him, who taught him what it meant to be a man and how he should behave. I think he realized that Charlie’s failings were in fact repercussions of Kirk’s own failings, and that he actually betrayed his own duty of protecting his ship and crew when he pointedly ignored the responsibility that was laid before him. I can see that thought sticking in Kirk’s mind and getting him in quite a mental funk.
Well, you have heard my thoughts, now let me know what you think! Was this simply a case of absolute power corrupting absolutely? Was it right for the Thasians to force Charlie to leave his people and come with them? Was Kirk right in not trying to be a role model and friend that Charlie could count on?