Now, technically my favourite alien is Quill (and her species in general), but I’ve written so much about her already. And doing her for favourite character and Charlie for favourite alien is fitting because it’s Charlie’s “alienness” that I find so fascinating.
This will be part Charlie and part to do with the Rhodia in general because it’s impossible to understand him without understanding his culture.
Charlie Smith. My boy. A source of never-ending frustration and inciter of very complex feelings. Where do I even start?
(His funny little moments of not understanding human culture are funny, but not particularly significant on the level I want to go into here, so I’ll acknowledge here that I love them, and leave it at that.)
I think I’m going to start with his core trait, which is his good heart and intentions, and his genuine belief that he is always working in the best interest of the people around him. We’ve seen how kind he is from the beginning, when he refuses to sacrifice April even though it could mean killing Corakinus.
Now, kindness/goodness on this level on its own is nothing to be sniffed at, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking either.
The key is in his belief. He’s so completely sure of his own goodness (which does exist, certainly, Mr “I Don’t Like Knives” and “I Would Hesitate From Killing a Friend” and “You Are Lonely”). And, of the goodness of his own people, even though his people normalised slavery of another and “lesser” species as part of their justice system.
I tend to think that Charlie had a very rose tinted idea of what Rhodia was like. That his parents fed him all that “civilised” bs so that he would never stop and wonder things like “wait, but if it’s so civilised, why do we never use the arn on our people?” and other such things.
Because what’s one thing we know? Prejudice isn’t something we’re born with - it’s taught. And we know that Charlie indeed carries a racial prejudice in him against the Quill.
“You are heartless, like all Quill.”
This line confirms what had already been very strongly implied: that Charlie doesn’t see Quill as people on the same level that he does other Rhodia and humans. We know this because Charlie is so kind to everyone he meets, and cares about the people close to him so much that he never even thinks bad thoughts about them, ever.
But not Quill.
Quill can be in front of him, in tears, openly grieving, openly devastated, and he calls her heartless for wanting to get revenge for her people, the people she did everything for. He is stone. He doesn’t feel for her at all, just as he ignores the word ‘slavery’ every time that she says it, because he just doesn’t believe for even a second that she could be right and he/his people could be wrong.
In the end, given how caring he is to literally every other person around him, you can only conclude that he just doesn’t quite see her as a person in the same way he does everyone else.
I mentioned how he is intent on saving April, but remember what he says to Quill later in the episode in regards to getting April’s heart back - “Sacrifice yourself if you have to!” He’d sacrifice Quill over a human he barely knows in a heartbeat.
It’s hard to know whether it’s a prejudice he’s aware of or not, but I tend to lean towards him not really being aware of it because of his belief in himself. To him, the Quill being a violent, more primitive, and lesser people is just a fact. He never wanted them wiped out, he wouldn’t have wanted to see them hurt, he would have simply never seen anything wrong with turning the ones who broke serious laws into slaves “servants”.
Next there’s the matter of that oh so fascinating Rhodian mentality of “a wish is the same as an action”.
Consider his line: “I would have tried to be a fair leader!”
This, as I saw someone point out, is really interesting when you consider the Rhodian mentality of a wish being the same as an action. Because Charlie wanted to be a fair leader, as far as he is concerned, he would have been and is one.
Again, it all comes back to the possibility of not believing that he can be wrong, of Rhodia apparently having no room in their philosophy for personal error. They don’t make moral mistakes, because their wishes are the same as their actions.
Except, you know, that’s not how it works. The Quill knew that, and no wonder they wanted a revolution if the Rhodia were (perhaps unintentionally/accidentally) taking all of their resources but claiming innocence because it was never their intention.
But now consider all the stuff from episode six as well. Charlie, based on his own belief system considers himself:
A fair leader
A person who is righteous and good
A mass murderer/committer of genocide
A possible hero
By the time the latter part becomes an action as opposed to a wish, we don’t see him feel guilty for it, because he’s been carrying the guilt with him the entire time.
We only see his devastation at failing to bring his people back.
He had been so sure he would be a fair leader, he believed he could save his people which means he had to have thought he would.
In other words, holy shit, what an awful shock for him in those final moments of the season.
Think about it. He hasn’t just lost his people, he’s lost his most fundamental belief, that wishing and intention is the same as an action - because he believed he could save his people, that if he intended to he would, and he was wrong. For the first time in this life, he is forced to confront the fact that he isn’t always right. That his people aren’t always right - perhaps that they never were.
I really, really wish we could have gotten more of a look at how he acts immediately after this. Assuming we get a season 2, imagine how much of a change we’ll see?
If I were to guess, I’d say that he’ll be a lot less confident in himself, he’ll be grieving and he’ll be uncertain of almost every aspect of his life. (I can only hope Matteusz will be around to help him with this, but it’s hard to know where their relationship sits at this point.) For the first time, we’re going to see Charlie when he is aware of the fact that he can do and has done wrong.
I can’t wait.
I also think, and hope, that we’ll see an immediate shift in how he treats Quill. That he’ll consider that maybe it was slavery, and listen if she tells him about how she got the arn out, and why she risked it (because her life as a slave, without being able to fight which is the foundation of her culture and identity, was so unbearable, and maybe if he listens he’ll actually understand why). That they can begin to move forward, sharing their loss, finally on equal ground and working through their differences.
I just… I need more of this boy.
A morally grey slave-master being portrayed as a sympathetic main character? Who is in pretty much all other respects a lovely person, one of the most openly kind and well-meaning characters in this show? Who also ends up committing genocide? And to top it off, is a gay alien prince?
When I say he’s the character that fascinates me the most, I mean it. I’ve never been so torn between wanting to fiercely hug a character and wanting to slap them around the face, depending on the episode and scene. But that’s why I love him. It’s because I know how good he is capable of being that I get frustrated when he acts like a dick. I’m SO keen to see him grow and do the learning he so desperately needs to.
So yeah, Charlie Smith, what a guy. What a complex, lovely, utterly frustrating boy. I love him.
Thanks to Patrick Ness, for giving us such a fascinating character!