Star Trek TOS: Tough Love for the Egghead

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Star Trek — The Original Series

Season 1, Episode 3

Charlie X

Captain Kirk tackled fatherhood with a whiny but formidable 17-year-old named Charlie Evans. His social graces were awful, wholly nonexistent as Evans raised himself for 14 years. 

He slapped the buttocks of women, generally begged for attention, and terrorized those that laughed “at him.” All in a day’s work for a teenage boy, evidently. Kirk taught him to respect women, fight as a matter of self-defense, and to lighten up.

None of it worked.

Charlie was a total tyrant, unredeemable even for a child’s standards. Kirk, like any decent father, extended him a long leash to figure it out and find a pathway to normalcy. At every turn, though, Charlie was bratty and headstrong — irking every crew member in his orbit. 

The adolescent crossed the line when he began causing folks to vanish, turn into reptiles, and lose their faces. Charlie also comically exerted mind control over Spock, an almighty no-no for the science officer of Enterprise.

So, discipline must be doled out. Kirk contemplated “taking him on,” presumably via fisticuffs, but the boy was too powerful for that, thwarting a counteroffensive by Kirk. 

Meanwhile, the viewer somehow remains sympathetic to this lost soul — probably because he’s an eggheaded kid. Like Kirk lamented the near-extinct buffalo in The Man Trap, he wrestled with a resolution for Charlie. Find a way to give him a Trekkian spanking or learn to coexist?

The teen’s tyranny was too vast for conventional maturity — parents of teens can attest — so tough love was effectuated. Kirk probably should have sniffed out the tomfoolery when the two men dropping Charlie off at the start of the episode — Captain Ramart and Tom Nellis — swiftly bailed before having a drink with the crew and watching “entertainment tapes” as Kirk hospitably offered. Nope. Ramart and Nellis plopped him on Enterprise and vamoosed. 

If Star Trek has any parables on foster care, Charlie X is it.

Kirk — almost singlehandedly — tried to be a father figure to Charlie, yet the list of crimes was too dire and too weird. The foster-care parallel culminated when a green apparition, a Thasian, appeared to claim Charlie. The no-brainer solution was to kick Charlie off the ship, ending his bizarre reign of terror.

But in a progressive tactic of negotiation, Kirk tried to hang onto Charlie as his own reclamation project. The green ghost disagreed, stating the Charlie will either wreck others — or force others to wreck him.

Once again wrought with sorrow, Kirk sat idly as Charlie was beamed out of Enterprise back to the Thasian vessel. 

No Western-like fight climaxed the episode, just as easily could have transpired in The Man Trap. Instead, Kirk — against his personal wishes — allowed the comeuppance to unfold while he subtly grieved the outcome. Kirk intermixed tough love with empathy for the poor kid, to no avail. 

Themes: Parenthood, Quest for Reclamation

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).