Stardate: 5832.3 (2269)
Original Air Date: February 21, 1969
Writer: Arthur Heinemann and Michael Richards
Director: David Alexander
“There are many who are uncomfortable with what we have created. It is almost a biological rebellion: a profound revulsion against the planned communities, the programming, the sterilized, artfully balanced atmospheres. They hunger for an Eden, where Spring comes.”
A stolen space cruiser called the “Aurora” is fleeing from the Enterprise. With six people aboard, the Aurora will soon explode due to over-heating, but Scotty manages to beam the survivors aboard moments before the ship is destroyed. The six beamed aboard are a colorful cohort of intergalactic hippies, including the son of the Catullan ambassador, Tongo Rad (Victor Brandt). The Enterprise has been instructed to handle this situation delicately so as not to interfere with crucial negotiations currently underway between the Federation and Catullans. The rest of the group consists of Irina Galliulin (Mary Linda Rapelye), a former Starfleet Academy dropout who once knew Chekov; Adam (Charles Napier), a musician; and two unnamed women. They are led by Dr. Sevrin (Skip Homeier), a brilliant research engineer in the fields of acoustics, communications, and electronics on Tiberon, who was dismissed from his post when he started this countercultural movement. Together, they form a small drum circle inside the transporter room, and refuse to speak with Kirk. They amusingly chide a “stiff” Kirk for being a “Herbert!”
Before the Aurora survivors can be led to sickbay for inspection of possible radiation contamination, Spock manages to communicate with them –he recognizes them as a cult-like band of new age spiritualists with a shared idea of the “one.” They claim to recognize no authority above themselves, and their intent is to return to a new “beginning” on the mythical planet of Eden. It becomes apparent they are part of a growing undercurrent of young people who are uncomfortable with the civilization brought about under the Federation.
Later, it is discovered that Dr. Sevrin carries a “nasty little bug” called the bacillus strain of the Synthococcus Novae which has evolved within the last few years resulting from the Federation’s aseptic, sterilized civilization. The Federation has immunized against it, but rejectors of civilization like Dr. Sevrin and his minions are susceptible to spreading the disease. Bones researches possible medical options while the hippies demand to be taken to the planet Eden, however, Kirk rejects their demands.
Surprising no one, the hippies then quickly take control of the Enterprise while their groovy music distracts the crew. They immediately breach the neutral zone and head into Romulan space, potentially violating the peace of the galaxy. Using ultrasonic frequency noises against the Enterprise crew, they guide the Enterprise to Eden, and escape in a shuttlecraft down to the surface. When the Enterprise crew manage to stop the ultrasonic frequencies, Kirk, Spock, and Chekov beam down to the surface (which bears striking resemblance to Yosemite) and they discover what seems to be a paradise filled with lush flora, but the plants are actually acidic and cause burning on the skin. Nearby, they find the dead body of Adam, and inside the shuttlecraft, all the hippies crouch in fear of this new place. However, rather than returning to the Enterprise for medical help, Dr. Sevrin decides to bite into some fruit from a nearby tree which instantly kills him (the eye-rolling Biblical metaphors continue to abound). Thus ends Dr. Sevrin’s experimental cult. Back aboard the Enterprise, Chekov and Irina –once classmates and lovers– bid farewell to each another as Spock encourages Irina to continue searching for Eden.
My Thoughts on “The Way to Eden”
“Jelly in the belly!” “Herbert!” “Yay brother!” “We reach!”
This is an altogether silly episode. “The Way to Eden” is not a particularly subtle commentary on the 1960s hippie/counterculture movement. In it, we find new age spiritualism, cult leaders, youth culture, anti-science, anti-technology, futuristic rock music, and general harbingers serve as foils to the Enterprise. How does this portrayal of burgeoning 1960s rebel culture jive with the show’s optimistic vision of the future? The episode offers an interesting contrast between the rigid militarism of the Enterprise and the freewheeling “flower power” bohemianism. Utopianism can be a dangerous idea, even if the Federation presents itself as a qualified utopia of sorts. Those who look with rose-colored glasses at a fabled Rousseauian “return to nature” are either mostly frivolous, vain simpletons who are painfully antiquarian in their love of escapism, or else they are starkly dangerous villains who threaten the livelihoods of many –such as people who might commandeer the ship of state, so to speak. There are always people who are unfortunately swindled by charismatic leaders like David Koresh, Charles Manson, or Jim Jones –like Adam, who becomes an unfortunate casualty in this conflict.
One idea I found particularly striking in this episode is the futuristic disease which evolves as a result of the Federation’s aseptic civilization. Reliant upon technology, space travel, and immunization, who knows what diseases might emerge from such a human condition? Thus far in Star Trek, we have mainly seen external diseases a la “The Naked Time” which threaten the whole project, but what if there are other diseases brought about by the very way humans live inside the Federation? Perhaps all utopias conceal these risks within them.
At any rate, with echoes of earlier TOS episodes, Spock breaks out the ol’ Vulcan Harp and plays a few smile-inducing musical numbers along with the hippies. These scenes elicited audible laughter from me. How and why did Spock earn the trust and admiration of the hippies? In doing so, he has once again saved the Enterprise from certain destruction, even it is somewhat ludicrous. I found this episode to be good fun in the vein of “Spectre of the Gun” or “Bread and Circuses,” –while not the absolute worst of TOS, it comes nowhere close to the top 30 or 40 episodes in my book.
The original teleplay/treatment for this episode was written by the great D.C. Fontana. She initially entitled the story “Joanna” and it was about Dr. McCoy’s daughter who was to fall in love involved with Captain Kirk. It contained significant background information for Dr. McCoy, including an unsuccessful marriage which was incorporated in the Kelvin Timeline films. However, this teleplay was significantly revised by Arthur Heinemann and Joanna’s character was changed to Irina, and Chekov was made her counterpart. Fontana’s script was so heavily rewritten that she asked for her name to be removed from the credits and replaced with her pseudonym “Michael Richards,” which she had also used for the episode “That Which Survives.”
Director David Alexander (1914-1983) directed two episodes of Star Trek: “Plato’s Stepchildren” and “The Way to Eden.” He also directed a variety of episodes for popular television shows like My Favorite Martian, Get Smart, The Brady Bunch, and The Munsters.
Star Trek Trivia:
- This episode regularly ranks among the worst in the series.
- Background music for Uhura’s song in the Season 1 classic “Charlie X” is reused in this episode.
- Footage from “Spock’s Brain is also reused in this episode.
- Production executive Douglas S. Cramer reportedly pushed for the inclusion of the pejorative term “Herbert” being used by the hippies. It may have been a dig at his predecessor Herbert Solow, or perhaps even a jab at President Herbert Hoover.
- Skip Homeier also starred in the Season 2 episode “Patterns of Force” as Melakon (i.e. the Nazi episode).
- Charles Napier, or “Adam,” co-wrote two of the songs he sings in this episode: “Headin’ Out to Eden” and “Looking For A New Land.” He later appeared in a DS9 episode decades later.
- Chekov’s full name is mentioned in this episode: “Pavel Andreievich Chekov.”
- Per James Doohan, this was the only TOS episode he did not like in the series.
Of all the episodes that seriously clash with Star Trek’s supposed optimism for the future, The Way To Eden is certainly among the most conflicting. Dr. Sevrin’s tragedy is especially upsetting. To be banished from the beauties of nature by such a disease should quite understandably drive anyone insane. I quite agreed with the decision to change the Joanna story into the Irina story. Because it probably spared Kirk from what probably would have been the most needless of his philandering habits. It was in my view Walter Koenig’s best story as Chekov. At least until he could finally find all the personal fulfillment as Chekov that he was in record for via the YouTube series Renegades. It can be astonishing to learn how a beloved show wasn’t as satisfying for all its stars as we might have thought. Thank you for your review and trivia.
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