The teenage years are tough, and the Enterprise crew understood that, which is why it was so heartwarming to see how openly they welcome Charlie aboard, and how sincerely they wanted to help him. In “Charlie X”, the crew is charged with the care of seventeen year old Charlie after he was found by the science vessel Antares. Marooned on the planet Thasus with only computer memory banks with which to interact, Charlie is immediately a sympathetic character, but even then…something seemed strange about him.
Overall, this episode alluded to the implications of extreme social isolation on childhood development. Humans are exceptionally social creatures, and while many of our conventions are learned and culture specific, others are subconsciously developed. For example, the brain’s ability to interpret sensory information and form new ideas is very dependent on it having a working language; yet, this language itself develops as a result of the young child’s social interaction. This is why children who fail to develop a language within an adequate time may suffer from learning impairment later on. So much of what we know and who we are as a person is the result of how we were socialized, so it is quite a miracle that Charlie grew to be as articulate as he is portrayed in this episode.
Suspending our disbelief enough to assume that three year old Charlie was able to socialize himself using only the memory banks of the crashed ship, what social impairments would he be expected to have, and does the episode portray them well? One would expect some struggles, such as when he was initially interrupting and fascinated with people. However, I thought his behavior was less believable when he smacked Yeomen Rand’s behind. Of course he would not have known not to do that, but it begs the question: where did he get the idea to do it in the first place? This sort of behavior is entirely cultural.
Perhaps I’m being too picky, because overall, the episode is still suspenseful. Charlie has the brain development of a child, but with a built in weapon. Manipulative and dangerous, he is only sorry when he knows there is no other option for him, which leads to the rapid and somewhat lazy wrap up: Charlie is being difficult and forcibly taking over the Enterprise, the crew is struggling to fight him, and then a magical space ghost suddenly appears to whisk him away forever! What a great solution for unruly children.
For more information on exactly how childhood social isolation specifically affects brain development, I found this interesting study: