This is a new ongoing series entitled Stream Me Up where I will be reviewing all of the episodes of Star Trek starting with TOS and going on infinitum. I’ll be uploading a new review every Tuesday and Friday.
It’s hard to come down too hard one way or another on “Charlie X.” It works and doesn’t in almost equal measure.
“Charlie X” follows a seventeen-year-old boy named Charlie, who comes on board the Enterprise after docking with a vessel that picked him up from a desolate planet. Charlie has spent the last fourteen years (supposedly) by himself and doesn’t really know how to act around actual people.
Charlie is a mix between immaturity, toxic masculinity, and a pure distillation of id. He sees something, he wants it, and he’ll lash out if he isn’t allowed to have it. This is a note that the episode plays over and over again. It gets repetitive if you think about it too much but the escalation of the things he wants and what he’s willing to do if he doesn’t get it is rather well done.
A lot of this is centered around Janice Rand and his desire to have her in some undefined way. This works primarily because it’s fairly clear that Charlie isn’t even sure how he wants Rand. She is very likely the first woman he’s met since he’s become a teenager so it’s not hard to extrapolate a kind of confusion and bewilderment at the situation. I, too, would probably need a moment if the first woman I’d seen in fifteen years was Grace Lee Whitney.
(Let’s ignore, for the time being, that Rand is the subject of the show’s male gaze once again. If this happens too much more in future episodes I might need to have a harsher reaction to it but for now I’m willing to call it a relic of its time.)
There are two themes running throughout this episode. The first is that it’s your responsibility as the older generation to teach and course-correct the younger one if it goes off-board. The second is that sometimes there’s nothing you can do. You can try to save the troubled youth but it’s ultimately useless. Thematically, it’s a very dark episode that ends with Charlie essentially, at least within the parameters established, getting institutionalized.
To put it into real-world terms, he is an orphan who spent too much time within the foster care system and now is incapable on every level of existing among “normal” people. It’s a deeply cynical outlook that I hope isn’t what the writers are trying to say here, but, if not, it’s hard to see that they are trying to say anything.
“Where No Man Has Gone Before” suffers largely from coming directly off of “Charlie X.” The two episodes are a little bit too similar to one another, both having to do with someone aboard the Enterprise having god-like powers and wreaking havoc.
It’s ultimately not a bad episode. It makes conclusions about the corrupting force of power which feels weird in a prevalent age of superhero stories but it is an enjoyable episode nonetheless. A lot of the episode does rely upon how believable you really believe it to be that Mitchell would lose sight of his humanity almost immediately.
That doesn’t entirely work for me, mainly because we’re missing a lot of the progression with him. Granted, it does show Mitchell gradually gaining more and more of his powers but you never get a good sense of how he goes from Gary Mitchell to this kind of deity. The episode uses shortcuts of having another starship as proof of how he will inevitably turn out but that muddies the water if anything.
Having the other ship on record and knowing that someone there ended up very much like Mitchell makes this something where you will essentially become evil if this affects and that’s not terribly compelling.
A significant thing to consider with these early episodes of Star Trek is that Gene Roddenberry and CO are still figuring out the kinds of stories they’re wanting to tell with this series and, as such, they’re clearly not there yet. It’ll be interesting as this freshman season goes on to see how much of a stronger grasp is established and how quickly that occurs. Right now, as previously mentioned, the writers are relying on a certain type of plot — i.e. superpowered individual on the ship — and using that to navigate through figuring the show out.