Charlie X is regarded by many to be a seminal episode of the original series. I have heard, on more than one occasion, friends state that this was their favourite episode. Upon viewing it again, I can certainly see why. The episode has a great mix of humour, suspense, and mystery, all woven around the awkwardly relatable title character who is suffering the pangs of teenage angst, hormonal urges, unconstrained omnipotence.
Most of us have been teenagers at one point, and some of us even remember our teenage years. Often fondly, through rose tinted glasses, putting aside the hardships and agony we endured in order to store up a few nostalgic memories. (Notice to teenagers: Don’t let anybody tell you it’s just a phase.)
Being a teenager sucks. And it’s amazing. There is so much that we experience for the first time, so much to learn about the world that we don’t understand, and so much that we understand implicitly in spite of the adult world telling us that we don’t. It is a point in our lives where we stop being shaped and start to choose how to shape our own idendity. We begin to choose what lesson we learn and who we learn them from. Teenagehood is complicated and painful, and this is something D.C. Fontana and Gene Roddenberry conveyed on a profound level.
Charlie Evans, severely lacking in strong parental figures in his life, quickly latches on to Kirk as a father figure and role model. And who can blame him. Kirk is a charasmatic leader who commands respect, and dishes it out in return with equal measures of humanity. Who wouldn’t want Kirk as a father? (Answer: People who want Jean Luc Picard as a father.)
The paternal dynamic is very apparent in that, even once Kirk disovers Charlie’s supernatural, and deadly, godlike powers, he still exherts the authority to tell Charlie to effectively go to his room, and Charlie complies. Giving any kind of directive to Charlie is a potentially lethal risk given his propencity for making people “go away”.
Charlie understands the lethality and danger of his power, but doesn’t yet understand the morality that should accompany it. Even TNG’s “Q”, who at times comes across as a sadist, understands that there are distinctions between right and wrong, and imposes himself a the arbiter of such. Charlie has not learned a moral code, but does attempt to learn acceptable behaviour by observing the interactions of the crew of the Enterprise.
One such interaction, between two male crew members, is a playful and likely platonic slap on the ass. Not having observed the months, or possibly years, or relationship building that brings the level of comfort where this kind of action would have previously been consented to, Charlie mistakenly assumes that this is acceptable behaviour under any circumstance. Upon the next time he sees Yeoman Rand, Charlie procedes to sexually assault her, and is surprised to discover than she doesn’t take well to having her hindquarters struck. Not wanting to take on the understandibly uncomfortable subject matter of educating Charlie as to why this is wrong, she directs him to talk to the Captain who informs him that “there’s no right way to hit a woman.”
It seems that Yeoman Rand’s primary function on the show is to receive unwanted attention and be upset by it. This is a recurring theme *cough* art imitates life. When Charlie becomes infatuated with her, unrequitedly, she lets him know in no uncertain terms that he is a boy and she is a woman and that he should direct his attention to someone closer to his own age. She even suggests Yeoman Tina Lawton. Charlie does indeed direct his attention towards her and demonstrates this by turning her into an iguana.
The end of this episode [SPOILERS] is tragic in that, while Charlie’s actions are reprehensible, he acts out of innocence, and demonstrates that he genuinely wants to learn and improve his behaviour. He is an exceptionally sympathetic character in that he is as much of a victim as those he’s wronged. It’s very easy to empathize with Charlie’s confusion, and his near pathological desire to fit in. It’s clear that Kirk sees the potential to mould him into a responsible adult, and teach him to reign in his powers. Kirk believes in his desire to be a member of society and willingness to adapt to his new, and befuddling, surroundings. Tragically, the Thasians who show up to retrieve Charlie and restore some of the damage he’s done (Deus Ex Machina) see it otherwise, and remove him. The episode leaves us with open questions about redemption and responsibility, and no clear indication, as Charlie pleads “I want to stay”, if justice is being served or denied.