Emasculation and Ennui of the Man-Child Charlie on Two and a Half Men
The opening scene finds the domesticated (shirt tucked in, hair parted) Alan in the kitchen engaged in the motherly duty of packing a picnic basket for a night at the Hollywood Bowl with a date to see Michael Bublé perform. Meanwhile, his brother Charlie, the sexual extrovert of the duo, donning his familiar shorts and floral print rayon shirt, signifying his laid-back style, is overtaken this morning with ennui and laments that he has no one with whom to hang out, having soured on Jake, Alan’s son, who spends the bulk of this episode in a minor subplot involving constant telephone contact with friends. Alan suggests Charlie widen his field of female company from which to choose and attempt to date what he terms “age appropriate” women; the suggestion visibly baffles Charlie. To illustrate this point, Charlie further explicates, “You need a woman whose head is for more than resting your ankles!” the awkward imagery being that of Charlie engaged in sexual congress with a female, in the missionary position, his partner’s legs bent to the point were her ankles are physically able rest atop his head. Alan spells this out further to mean “40-year-old women”, the suggestion of which bowls Charlie over and sets him off on a strange tangent wherein he articulates a deep-seated fear of older women’s oversized earlobes.
Now, Alan has left for the Bowl and Charlie goes out onto the balcony of their coastal Malibu home. Two seagulls fly over. Charlie attempts to engage them in dialogue. It is a wrenching scene– a clear indication of the depth of his desperation for some kind of connection to another living being. When the birds ignore him, he yells at them “Why don’t you fly over to the Hollywood Bowl and take a crap on my brother’s head?” a particularly revealing comment, intertwining a life long fraternal jealousy and a childlike fixation on excrement.
The next morning, Charlie is in the kitchen and Alan is just arriving home, hinting not so subtlety to Charlie that he engaged in sexual congress with his Hollywood Bowl date the previous night. He is gloating this conquest over Charlie, who apparently did not engage in sexual congress the previous night. Alan, however, true to his good nature, sets aside celebration of his conquest and makes an offering to Charlie: It seems Alan’s female friend has a female friend, whom might date Charlie. The catch: she’s 40. Charlie rejects the offer and again evokes his bizarre fear of older women’s extended earlobes.
We advance in time to that evening. Cut to the interior of Charlie’s bedroom. He dismounts from atop beautiful blonde Dee Dee. with a FCC-friendly suggestion of just-completed sexual congress. As he tries to engage Dee Dee in some light conversation, it becomes quite apparent that she has a functioning mental age of about 7 years old. Charlie is understandably frustrated at yet another failure to connect with another on a level besides the carnal, and our pathos for his plight arises in us. Upon this stark realization, Charlie sprints from his bedroom, down to Alan’s room, and, against his early protestations, asks him to set up the blind date with the “old chick.”
The next scene finds Alan and Charlie arriving at a restaurant to meet their two dates. Alan advises him, “Just be yourself. By yourself, I mean someone else entirely.” The studio audience finds this mildly amusing. Linda, Charlie’s blind date, is an attractive older Asian female, in stark contrast to his Caucasian blonde female conquest of the previous evening, her “exotic” ethnicity serving to underscore the sense of “other” as this blind date with a woman his own age is new territory for Charlie. Furthermore, she’s a judge and teaches law at UCLA. Charlie is visibly intimidated and immediately blows it: “I wasn’t expecting someone so… yummy!” He continues, “I was expecting you to be more… dry. But you’re not. You’re actually kind of… moist.” The studio audience finds this line particularly humorous, no doubt supplying for themselves a secondary meaning to the usage of “moist,” the suggestion that a transudation of fluid within (Linda’s) vaginal walls is presently occurring, suggesting sexual attraction to Charlie. Notably, this is Charlie’s observation, not Linda’s, and while seemingly a throwaway double entendre, also underscores his faulty perceptive faculties that err towards narcissism when engaging with women. Regardless, this would be hardly an appropriate topic for dinner conversation. A combination of overdubbed laughter and applause is audible.
Charlie realizes his Freudian slip and asks to start over with Linda. The scene continues following some commercial sponsor messages. Upon returning, further exposition reveals that Linda has kids, a fact of adulthood that further distances her from the man-child Charlie.
A waitress, another young blonde, passes and knows Charlie of course. “How come you never called me?” She seems genuinely upset. Apparently, Charlie has had an encounter with this woman but never phoned her following it. This brief exchange is not wasted on Linda; all indications are that Charlie is not winning her over. The scene ends on this discordant note.
We are now in the car as Charlie and Alan drive home after the date. They are reviewing over how the date went. They discuss a scene that we did not see on camera, a common sitcom tactic: Apparently, Charlie, having not progressed from his “moist” slip apparently proceeded to bring up the topic of pornography at the table and the strangely specific detail that he finds the bloopers on pornography DVDs to be a turn off. Clearly, Charlie is an active onanist and constantly seeks sexual release. While in the car, Alan gets a cell phone call; it’s his date; news comes that Linda didn’t like Charlie. His rejection is appropriate, given his behavior. He is dejected and yet we empathize with him, despite the fact he behaved like a cad. This conundrum is the essential contradiction of Charlie, the depraved, yet likeable figure.
It is now dark, both in Charlie’s mood and time of night. Charlie wakes up in the middle of the night; he is troubled that Linda didn’t like him. He begs Alan to set up another meeting. He cries out in genuine anguish, “I’m tired of having meaningless sex with hot pin heads!”
In the morning, Charlie is calling Linda; he gets her voice mail. This call takes place in the kitchen, alluding that perhaps Charlie is taking on the spurned female role in this couple, in an ironic reversal. His rotund wise cracking housekeeper is wiping down the kitchen and she pipes with humorous asides while Charlie is leaving his message, much to the studio audience’s delight. One notable line: “I never thought I’d see Charlie Harper on his knees. You know, figuratively.” The suggestion being that Charlie literally spends time on his knees, in sexual activity. Significantly, the conjured visual of Charlie “on his knees” more likely casts him in a submissive, homosexual fellacio scenario, rather than a heterosexual intercourse encounter, this fitting in with the emasculation that is taking place within his character as he pursues Linda. Lest the mood grow too somber, the housekeeper chimes in with, “Just because she’s smart and successful doesn’t mean she’s not damaged enough to go out with you.” Brilliant.
Not obtaining satisfaction, and in keeping with is compulsive, addictive behavior, Charlie leaves the house with the pure intent to get drunk. Time advances and in the very next scene, we find Charlie—in a remarkable display of the administrative efficiency of our court system and some plain good luck—in court—Linda’s courtroom—on a charge for public drunkenness.
Linda, despite being an educated judge, leaps to the unlikely conclusion that Charlie has orchestrated this trouble with the law by design, with an aim to be brought into her court. She is touched by this apparent gesture, while he plays that this was his plan all along. She calls him to the bench and finally yields to him, “Alright, one dinner” and the sex obsessed man-child Charlie is rewarded for his ill manners throughout the episode. Finally, on the way out of the courtroom, another young blonde female (the third of the episode), apparently being brought in on a charge for solicitation recognizes Charlie, presumably from a paid-for sexual encounter. Hence, while Linda has already been brought down in agreeing to the date, we are invited to laugh at her one final time on the way out.
The show ends not on the date with the female Asian judge, but regresses to recount Charlie’s stay in jail, centered around the anecdote–again bizarrely specific–regarding “giving your cellmate a baloney sandwich when he asks for it,” the implication being that if you withhold (food) from your presumably physically stronger cellmate, there will be negative repercussions, with a subtext, as with all prison-set jokes, of course the latent threat of homosexual anal rape. Crucially, the implication from the context of the anectdote is that Charlie did in fact learn this lesson “the hard way,” so to speak, being forced to copulate homosexually (presumably submissively) and thus ends this episode-long exploration sexual frustrations on a note that not only does not reinforce his (hetero)sexual prowess and ability to attract female mates, but in fact directly negates it . This conclusion, while seemingly downbeat, in fact underscores an alternate reading of the very title of this situational comedy, “Two and a Half Men.” For the titualar “Half Man” is not merely referring to Alan’s son, Jake, but in fact does references the very nature of Alan and Charlie themselves, both “Half Men,” both, incomplete, unresolved beings. We are left to wonder will they ever be fully formed men? We dutifully tune in next Monday at 9 pm to CBS to find out just that.