This was the first Star Trek episode that creeped me out in a Ray Bradbury sort of way. The last two episodes have featured the crew beaming back and forth between the ship and a planet, so I had this feeling of being grounded. But the threat in Charlie X comes as they’re flying out in the void of space. Shivers.
An Unusual Passenger
Kirk and Spock meet with Captain Ramart and Tom Nellis from the Antares, a cargo ship that is passing by. We learn that the Antares crew found a teenage boy named Charlie Evans, the only survivor of a ship crash on the planet Thasus. Captain Ramart wants Kirk to drop Charlie off with his relatives on Colony 5. Charlie seems unusually smiley during this entire dialogue.
When the visiting party beams onto the Enterprise, they seem extremely tense. It seems that Captain Ramart and Tom Nellis just can’t wait to get rid of Charlie. Who knows, maybe they just don’t like kids with creepy and annoying smiles! But then the youth does this scary eye-roll-twitch thing, which is accompanied by spooky music (effects for special abilities could only go so far, I suppose). After the twitch, Captain Ramart and Tom begin to praise Charlie as a strong and courageous survivor, a boy who grew up alone on a planet since the age of three. It seems that Charlie can control other people’s behavior to an extent.
I am sure this ability will make him an irritating prat throughout the episode.
Charlie asks Kirk if he’ll be joining other humans like him aboard the Enterprise. Kirk smiles and says, yes, you’ll be with other humans. It’s odd to hear Charlie ask this—it’s like he’s questioning his species identity. I started to get antsy again—just what have they invited on board with them, out in the void of space? Eeeeeee.
A Blank Slate of Gender
Since Charlie grew up on Thasus without human contact, he doesn’t quite understand gender identity and presentation. The first person he meets is Yeoman Rand. He stares at her in amazement and asks, “Are you a girl?”
Kirk confirms that yes, Rand is a girl. I love imagining how the world might be if we were all ignorant of the gender binary. Kirk asks the Yeoman to escort Charlie to the medical bay. Watching this scene, it was pretty neat to imagine how we’d all approach gender expression if we didn’t have preconceived notions.
A Clean Bill of Health
Dr. McCoy is astonished that Charlie managed to raise himself in isolation for 14 years. Charlie explains that he ate vegetation on the Thasus once the food supplies ran out. Also, he learned how to speak English by listening to the crashed ship ‘s tapes. But McCoy’s skepticism makes us wonder: Who really raised Charlie? Why is he being so sketchy?
Charlie’s physical health is in top shape. McCoy declares him 100 percent physically sound, and Charlie seems surprised. I imagine that after 14 years on another planet, he might have a difficult time identifying as a human.
In fact, before he leaves McCoy’s office, Charlie asks him desperately, “Do you like me?” McCoy shrugs and responds, “Sure.” Charlie insists, in a very creepy way, that he’s trying to get everyone to like him because the Antares crew hated him. Hmmmmm. The creepiness factors increases!
Misogyny Aboard the Enterprise
Charlie rushes over to Yeoman Rand and presents her with a gift, caught in a massive teenage crush. But his behavior is not endearing or cute. It’s aggressive and quite terrifying. Rand tries to decline, but Charlie does his weird mind control stare until she agrees to meet with him. Then as she’s walking away, he spanks her ass! Whaaaat?
Rand is shocked, and starts to yell at Charlie. But she backs off as he gets upset, and instructs Charlie to, “Tell Captain Kirk or Dr. McCoy what you did, and they’ll explain it to you.”
I feel like this scene is problematic in a few ways. If you arrived on a starship with no concept of gender or human interaction, would you go around spanking people’s asses? I thought this random act of misogyny wasn’t believable behavior for someone new to these ideas.
Also, why couldn’t Rand stand up for herself and explain why ass spanking was inappropriate?
Answer: Because of the patriarchy.
Seduction in the Crew Lounge
Uhura flirts with Spock heavily in the lounge, singing “girls in space be wary” of this “alien love,” shooting looks at Spock as he plays a Vulcan lyre. He remains silent, maintaining his usual Spock mysteriousness.
Unfortunately, Charlie has to crash the party like that one guy you spent your entire first semester of college avoiding. He sits next to Rand and uses his mind-control whammy on Uhura. She begins to sing about how Charlie is saving his first embrace for Rand. Creeeeeepy.
Suddenly, he silences Uhura to get Rand’s full attention. And what does he do with it? Card magic tricks! Oh dear.
First, he changes the playing cards into these stalker-y, suggestive photos of Rand.
Then he zaps a card into Rand’s bra.
These are the worst magic tricks!
Father Figures and Thasian Lore
Kirk and Dr. McCoy discuss Charlie’s lack of human contact, arguing about who should be Charlie’s “father figure” on the Enterprise. Spock finds it curious that the boy grew up on Thasus alone. According to legend, a bodiless beings known as Thasians inhabited the planet, controlling objects with their minds. Hmm, for some reason, Charlie doesn’t seem sophisticated or mature enough to handle such powers!
Charlie rushes in, and he seems to gravitate toward Kirk for advice.
“I need to ask you something!” Charlie blurts out. He doesn’t know how to phrase the question about ass spanking, so he actually demonstrates on Captain Kirk. That’s right. Charlie spanks the captain’s ass. I just had to laugh.
Unfortunately, Kirk really doesn’t know how to advise Charlie. He bumbles out this travesty of a statement:
“There’s no right way to hit a woman. I mean, man-to-man, that’s one thing. But woman and man…well, it’s another thing?” Whaaaaat? I’m curious to know what Kirk’s take on man-to-man slapping is.
The Interrupted Warning
Kirk is summoned to the bridge because Uhura has picked up a garbled transmission. Charlie tags along, and they hear Captain Ramart’s hurried voice come through over the speaker. But he is cut off right before he can warn them about something urgent.
Spock is horrified to discover that the Antares has been vaporized. It is now just a sprinkling of debris out in space. SO CREEPY.
Impulsive Teen Rage
Kirk and Spock start up a game of three-dimensional chess, and they debate whether Charlie knows what happened to the Antares. They believe he has some kind of knowledge about its destruction.
Charlie decides to challenge Spock to a match. Spock quickly points out Charlie’s errors, and the kid throws a silent temper tantrum. After Spock leaves the room, Charlie melts his opponent’s pieces with his mind.
Things start to go downhill really fast. Kirk takes Charlie to the gym, perhaps to have some “fatherly bonding” time with the youth.
Charlie falls during a wrestling match with someone else in the gym, and he flies into a rage. Remember what happened with those chess pieces? Uh oh. Charlie’s so angry, he vaporizes the guy with his mind. Jeez, talk about a sore loser!
Kirk now understands the threat Charlie poses to the USS Enterprise. He tries to have Charlie apprehended, but the boy makes all of the phaser weapons disappear from the ship. Touché.
The Captain tries to exert control over the unruly youth, but Charlie scoffs at him. Growing up is no big deal. Charlie brags about how he’s so powerful, and the adults can’t do anything. Oh Charlie, stop being such a little shit.
Control of the USS Enterprise
Kirk realizes that they can’t go to Colony 5 with Charlie on board. He’s too dangerous. The crew tries to change their coordinates, but Charlie forces the ship and crew to bend to his will. He forces Spock to speak in poetic outbursts, and the Vulcan yells out lines of William Blake in pain. I found this scene to be quite unnerving, since Spock is always so reserved and controlled.
Kirk tries to exercise some parental control over Charlie, but it’s too late. The kid is power trippin. He rushes away to find Yeoman Rand and ask for her love. She rebukes him, so what does Charlie do? He vaporizes her!
The Thasian Parents Arrive
Charlie goes on a rampage, hurting crew members left and right on the Enterprise. He begins to torture Captain Kirk, but then the crew intercepts another message. Remember that ancient Thasian legend that Spock mentioned? Turns out that bodiless species is real, and they raised little brat Charlie! A Thasian fades into view, and apologizes for Charlie’s behavior.
The Thasians set things back to normal on the Enterprise, reversing the damage Charlie has done. Yeoman Rand is returned to the ship.
And Charlie’s punishment? He’s doomed to become a Thasian. Charlie is horrified and he cries out, “They can’t feel! They don’t love!” Well Charlie, maybe you should have thought of that before you decided to control everyone and make them disappear and be a terrifying intergalactic manchild!
The crew watches as Charlie disappears to join the bodiless Thasians out in the darkness of space.
Growing up, I had never watched a Star Trek episode all the way through. My family members weren’t huge sci-fi fans, and they’d flip the channel whenever Star Trek came on. Now I am embarking on an epic nerd rite of passage, chronicling my reactions to every episode of Star Trek: The Original Series (TOS). I guess you could say I’m a Star Trek N00b.
I recently started watching Star Trek also and couldn’t be more thrilled that Autostraddle is recapping it! This episode was so bizarre.
I honestly do not remember Charlie slapping Kirk’s ass, which makes me sad, because that sounds hilarious! Also I always felt Yeoman Rand was sexualized more than any other crew member on the ship. Bleh. :(
And Spock being forced to “emote” always seems extremely funny and extremely wrong all at once. Poor guy. *pats his shiny head*
Whoa, Autostraddle is recapping Star Trek TOS?? SWEET.
“I’m curious to know what Kirk’s take on man-to-man slapping is.”
Well, as you are going to find out over the course of this series, Kirk is quite in favour of a little “rough & tumble” with other males (especially with a certain First Officer who is very dear to him).
This exploration into pure id has always unsettled me and reminded me why we really do need to be reasonably socialized. I watched it just the other night in preparation for your recap and want to point out one thing: Charlie did the slapping thing because he’d just seen one (male) crewman slap another (male) crewman after successfully repairing something in a Jefferies tube, so the act with Rand wasn’t random, it was emulative. Also, you typed “Data” when I think you meant to type “Spock”! You beamed into the next generation for a second there.
Yeoman Rand was never a good fit in the show. She was overused while being underdeveloped, and seemed mostly to just be there to provide some eye candy for both Kirk and male viewers. She’ll be gone soon, because Grace Lee Whitney had a serious problem with alcohol, got fired, ended up on Skid Row (quite literally), then eventually recovered and showed up in small parts in a couple of the movies.
I’m wondering if you’re liking the show; your recaps tell us what happens, but not so much about what your own feelings are about what you’re watching. These early episodes are a bit hit-and-miss and it takes a while for the show to find its feet, but once Gene Coons shows up and the writing gets sharper and funnier, you’ll see the most iconic episodes of the entire three seasons, the ones we love to go back to again and again.
Hah! Thank you for pointing that name error out! Before writing this recap, I actually had just visited the EMP Museum in Seattle. They’ve got Data’s uniform on display, and I think he must have been floating around in my subconscious. Weird!
I’m definitely enjoying it so far, even with the rocky characters, plot holes, and special effects. Based on the encouragement I’ve heard from fans in the past, I do expect things to get tighter, and for characters to become my new fan favs!