I really don’t want to write about “Charlie X.” It’s not that it’s a terrible episode, although it’s certainly not a great one, but there is so much here that is just weird or fucked up, and it makes me look at this whole endeavor and see “Star Trek” for what it is.
Which, I guess was the whole point.
So, Charlie, the lone survivor of a transport crash is brought onto the Enterprise to make the journey to see his remaining family on Earth Colony V. He knows little of modern customs and is almost immediately smitten with Yeoman Rand.
Of course, Charlie quickly begins to reveal minor powers, but first we have to hear Uhura sing two of the most bizarre songs ever recorded onto network television. Nonetheless, Charlie acts really weird, Spock is suspicious, Rand is uncomfortable and Kirk acts like a father figure. It’s all so formulaic and this is only the third episode.
Things start getting weird all over the ship, with Charlie’s power manifesting in places that make absolutely no goddamn sense, namely when all the meatloaf turns into turkeys despite the fact that Kirk finds out about the meatloaf when Charlie is mostly off screen. Eventually we find out that Charlie’s power is directly tied to mostly adolescent bursts of emotion. He becomes frustrated and he lashes out, he is hurt and he lashes out, he is horny and he lashes out. It’s pretty standard and it’s a fair enough idea that has worked for multitudes of other works of fiction, namely episodes of “The X-Files,” tons of super-hero comics and to a lesser degree, “Ginger Snaps.”
The thing is though, it just doesn’t really work. Charlie’s powers never really get much of an explanation beyond the fact that he lived with the Thasians, and that he can control the whole ship. Its nuts. Ultimately, its another episode that boils down to a random person receiving unbelievable power and not having the maturity to deal with the responsibility that is required of his gift.
There are some interesting moments. Charlie and Spock playing chess is an intriguing moment, particularly when Charlie is frustrated and Shatner gives a suitably hammy heart to heart with Charlie that kind of works, but for the most part, the episode just isn’t a lot of fun.
Much like “The Man Trap,” “Charlie X” really comes together in the last few minutes, but unlike the previous episode, “Charlie X” utterly redeems itself in the last fifteen minutes or so. With Charlie in control of the Enterprise, Kirk is forced to try to make the teen surrender control, while he harasses and attacks Rand. There is a natural sense of danger to the proceedings and Charlie losing faith in Kirk when the captain attacks him is handled well.
Ultimately, this leads to the finale on the bridge, with an awkwardly staged wrestling match and an attempt to overload Charlie’s power. However, the Thasians arrive in their Space Glob and demand that Charlie return to them. Charlie is frantic, and wants to go to his family in the colony, and Kirk wants to take him there. The Thasian however proves to have more power and whisks Charlie back to a world where he will never know love or touch. It’s a dark ending, but one that is definitely suitable for the episode.
Once again, the main problem seems to be intent. “Charlie X” struggles with the idea of a teenager dealing with the changes of growing up and no longer being a child, but it’s not handled particularly well and the message is a little muddled by making said teenager all-powerful.
Like I said, other fiction has done this sort of story well. In the “X-Files” episode, “D.P.O.,” a teenager is gifted with the ability to call lighting from the sky and a variety of other electricity based powers. He struggles to make his teacher love him, and he wants to have everything, but he can’t handle it. He is captured and goes to jail. His powers are unique, but he can’t do anything and he is stopped by a couple of people with guns.
Arguably, this can’t happen in “Star Trek.” With a higher level of technology and more resources, the threat has to be bigger and the powers that are brought to bear have to be more formidable, but they don’t have to be utterly ridiculous.
If it weren’t for the ending, “Charlie X” would be a failure. Nothing in the episode is interesting enough or looked into enough to warrant anything more than a cursory watch, but the writers surprise again in creating an ending with emotional depth and an unexpected conclusion that shows the stakes of dealing with the unknown.
How the hell do you win a game of chess with an illogical move?
The sexual politics here are still pretty bad, but Rand has more power here than she did in “The Man Trap.” Also, no women are punched in the face.
The scene with Charlie turning one crewmember into an old woman and stealing the faces from other ones is a really neat effect.
I like how there’s no way Spock’s instrument could make that kind of sound. Also, Uhura’s song about Vulcan love and how Spock looks like the devil is a huge hit among the crew, because nothing beats making fun of how the superior officer looks.
Next Up: “The Naked Time” which will surely not be as dirty as I think it will be.