Star Trek: The Way to Eden

"They hunger for an Eden where spring comes."

I love the original series. I really, truly do. Star Trek changed science fiction on television in a huge way, and gave us a string of classic episodes that have been often imitated but never duplicated, not to mention all of the spinoffs and movies. There's also no question that several episodes of the original series stank to high heaven. Boy howdy, is this one of them.

There are so many reasons why, too. The heavy-handed biblical allegory, with the un-subtle use of the planet Eden and the poisoned fruit, not to mention the guy named Adam. The absolutely awful costumes, wigs and tatts, crowned by the ludicrousness of Sevrin's ears that made it look like he had pink cookies glued to his head. The unbelievable plot device that these guys could easily take over the ship. Actually, the worse part was probably the hippies yelling "Herbert" and the ghastly original music. Dan had never seen this episode before and sat down to watch it with me. After the third time Adam burst into song, Dan moaned out loud, got up and left the room.

Was there anything good about this episode? Yes, I think there's something to like in every Star Trek episode, even the stinkers. For me, the best part was Spock's open-mindedness in the face of the massive prejudice and disdain that the rest of the Enterprise crew showed toward the hippies, although his jam session with them made me cringe. I liked the suggestion that not everyone in the Federation was a happy camper, that there was still social unrest. And the idea of a planet that looked like paradise but turned out to have vegetation made of acid was definitely memorable.

The psychopathic Sevrin who refused to be isolated even though he was the carrier of a fatal disease was once a university professor, and Chekov's former flame Irina went to Starfleet Academy. I'll admit that it was nice that the counterculture types were once Establishment. I guess it would have been odd for a series filmed in the late sixties not to do an episode about peace, love and the counterculture. I just wish it had been a better one.

Ben P. Duck says:

Ahhh, the dreaded space hippies episode. We all knew it was coming, but somehow that still didn't prepare us. Of all the aging cheese associated with this series, this is perhaps the most pungent. Let me say though, that aside from the folk songs and "herberting" down of anyone who disagreed with them, this episode actually had some interesting things going on.

This was the appearance of the Spock that we can Grok. He was tuned in and "got it" the way the rest of the crew (and especially Captain James T. Herbert) just didn't. When he joins in to jam with Adam, the whole scene may be absurd but Spock is too cool to care. He takes the hippies seriously and explores their ideas and goals in a way that no one would expect from an establishment figure, particularly one in a "military" organization like Starfleet. In some ways, it's this episode that, more so than any episode since "Amok Time," suggests how alone and alien Spock is in his relationships with his fellow crew members.

What ruins the whole thing is the damn hippies. Not their existence in the 23rd century, which is silly but not in itself a problem, it's how they are portrayed as a marvelous combination of stupid, misguided and even downright evil. I have complained before that Star Trek, for all its liberal sensibilities, is basically a program which believes in the establishment, and that's on full display here. For me, the episode brought to mind the Next Generation episode "Force of Nature," wherein we discover that warp drive is in fact destroying space itself. Like that episode, it suggested that there was a fundamental flaw in the world that had been created by the Federation. In this case, the problem is alienation of humans living in an entirely post-natural world and entirely dependent on increasingly complex technology. Also, like that episode, Star Trek walked away from the problem faster than Professor Sevrin heads for a earring sale at Claire's (or maybe faster than Kirk's toupee leaves in a hurricane, I got a million of them).

The imperfectability of the human condition is just not something that Trek has ever dealt with well, which frankly is a shame because the only out that left the writers was to make the hippies hopeless losers.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 5832.3. The stolen space cruiser Aurora with six hippie refugees aboard.


— Along with what may have been the worst costumes in the series (although I might still give my vote to the horse tails and fake fur in "Friday's Child"), the hippies were all wearing a pin that looked like a hard-boiled egg with the yolk resting at the bottom. They made egg shapes with their hands, too. Probably a nod to the peace sign.

— James Doohan is on record saying that this was the only episode in the series he didn't like. Is it the worst of the lot? Quite possibly.

Quotes:

Kirk: "One of... those... was in the Academy?"
Could you... insert... any more disdain into your voice?

Spock: "They regard themselves as aliens in their own worlds, a condition with which I am somewhat familiar."

Adam: "Gonna crack my knuckles and jump for joy. I got a clean bill of health from Doctor McCoy!"

I don't think I've ever had so much trouble writing a Star Trek review. One out of four hard-boiled eggs,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

7 comments:

Billie Doux said...

A little programming note: Ben P. Duck and I both had a lot to do this fall, and the last few Star Trek reviews had to wait. But they're now done, and all of them will go up before the new year.

Lee said...

Watching this episode as a 10 year old boy in 1970 I always thought there was something profound about this episode that I was missing as just a kid. Looking back on it now I realized that nope, I wasn't missing a think. This was a stinker, even worse than "Spock's Brain" which I always considered the worst!

Jerry Modene said...

OK, it's tidbit time - the original story, if not the first draft, came from the pen/typewriter of D.C. Fontana herself, although she wound up putting her pen name ("Michael Richards" on it).

And the Irina character was originally supposed to be Dr. McCoy's daughter Joanna; indeed, the working title of the episode was "Joanna".

Kirk was supposed to get into a, um, relationship with her too, which would have caused great consternation to the good Doctor. Unfortunately, Fred Freiberger, the 3rd season producer, felt that McCoy was too close to Kirk's age to have an adult daughter.

Skip Homeier (who played Sevrin) also played Melancon in the Nazi episode. He should have fired his agent for putting him into two of the worst TOS episodes of all.

I reach, brother. ;)

Jerry Modene said...

It's amusing, in hindsight, to compare books and notes too - back in the 1970's, when "Star Trek Lives" came out, Nimoy basically ruined what reputation Freiberger had, placing the blame for the third season woes squarely on ol' Fred's shoulders.

Twenty years later, Shatner's "Star Trek Memories" features an interview with Freiberger and Bill had some laudatory things to say about ol' Fred.

Then came the Justman/Solow "Inside Star Trek", which explains the disparity of opinions - Bill and Leonard were feuding, as was so often the case, over who the star of the show was. Freiberger eventually forced the issue by calling a meeting between the three of them and Roddenberry, and Gene was forced to state that Bill Shatner was the star of the show. Nimoy never forgave Freiberger for that, and that explains his comments in "Star Trek Lives".

tinkapuss said...

I genuinely didn't mind it. It is the only ep I am sure I have never seen before and I think it had plenty going for it (apart from the ears that looked like giant genital warts, the songs, the costumes, and the overtones of the Manson Family Meets The Brady Family Singers). I didn't even mind being hit over the head with biblical references and I adored Spock's open mind. What a champion!

Billie Doux said...

tinkapuss, I am so loving your comments. Genital warts. Lol.

Mr. Pibb64 said...

I enjoyed this episode, the jam session and music was cool. they worked with what they had in those days. I think that I watched the original episodes on TV, or first reruns on CBS. It was on 6PM sunday nights along with Lawrence Welk, 'world of Disney', and 'How Come?' kids science tv show.

cheers