Star Trek Re-Watch: “The Way to Eden”

The Way to Eden
Story by Michael Richards and Arthur Heinemann
Teleplay by Arthur Heinemann
Directed by David Alexander

Season 3, Episode 20
Production episode: 3×20
Original air date: February 21, 1969
Star date: 5832.3

Mission summary

The Enterprise is chasing a small re-used Tholian dart cruiser that’s heading for Romulan space. Despite repeated hails the cruiser will not turn back, and so Kirk engages a tractor beam to tow them to safety. They seem to really want to get to Romulan territory (must be the ale) because they struggle against the tractor beam. Soon their engines begin to overheat (we know this because it turns red, like an electric stovetop) and when it becomes obvious they’re going to explode, Kirk orders Scotty to beam aboard the crew of six to the Enterprise. He will regret this is fairly short order, as will we all.

In the transporter bay six space hippies, covered in floral body paint and flowing robes, materialize before us. They sit down on the transporter pads and refuse to move when Scotty tries to take them to the briefing room. Instead, they shriek like new age banshees, “No go! No go! No go!” Let’s just hope Nurse Chapel doesn’t have to play babysitter again.

Kirk arrives to dispense time-outs. He singles out Tongo Rad, a young man rocking a purple bald eagle look, as the reason they’re not all under arrest. Rad is the son of a Catullan ambassador and because negotiations between the Federation and Catullus* are tense, Kirk has been asked to be very delicate with respect to the petulant child-hippies. They respond by calling him “Herbert.” Spock offers to step in and try his hand at diplomacy. He unites his thumbs and forefingers to create a triangle and says: “One.” This gets the leader’s attention.

LEADER: We are One.
SPOCK: One is the beginning.
ADAM: Are you One, Herbert?
SPOCK: I am not Herbert.
ADAM: He is not Herbert. We reach.

Exactly! Wait, what? Spock asks them to explain their way of life for those of us at home.

SEVRIN: If you understand One, you know our purpose.
SPOCK: I would prefer that you state it.
SEVRIN: We turn our backs on confusion and seek the beginning.
SPOCK: What is your destination?
SEVRIN: The planet Eden.
KIRK: That planet it is a myth.
SEVRIN: And we protest against being harassed, pursued, attacked, seized and transported here against our wishes.
ADAM: Right, brother.
SEVRIN: We do not recognize Federation regulations nor the existence of hostilities. We recognize no authority save that within ourselves.

But isn’t zero the beginning? Well, that’s all fine and good, but Kirk orders the baby anarchists to get a check-up in sickbay anyway because they could have been exposed to intense levels of radiation when their ship exploded. (Also, it’s necessary for the Shyamalan-level “plot twist” to come.) The leader again requests that they be taken to Eden, but Kirk makes it clear that they will all be dispersed and sent back to their home planets as soon as the Enterprise make it back to a starbase. The hippies respond by screaming “Herbert! Herbert! Herbert! Herbert!”

Kirk and Spock return to the bridge, where Chekov confesses that he recognizes the voice of one of the hippies: Irina, a classmate (and old flame) of his at Starfleet Academy. Kirk grants Chekov permission to leave his post so he can find her. Kirk, meanwhile, is baffled by the whole organization. The leader, Sevrin, was once a great scientist and researcher; Tongo Rad is apparently adept at space studies; and Irina, of course, was distinguished enough to make it to the Academy. So what’s the deal?

SPOCK: 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.
KIRK: All do. The cave is deep in our memory.

I sit and ponder the cave all the time. In fact, I’m doing it right now.

Anyway, Kirk doesn’t grok why Spock seems to understand these people so well. Has he been harboring patchouli tendencies, too?

SPOCK: It is not sympathy so much as curiosity, Captain. A wish to understand. They regard themselves as aliens in their own worlds, a condition with which I am somewhat familiar.

Aw. Spock also explains that “Herbert! Herbert!” refers to a punctilious asshat official. Kirk, not wanting to seem square, says he’ll work on his attitude.

Meanwhile, those darn kids are jamming with their “music.” Adam seems to be the musician among them, and he rocks out with this tune:

Looking for the good land, going astray
Don’t cry, don’t cry
Oh, I can’t have honey, and I can’t have cream
Gonna live, not die. Gonna live, not die
Stand in the middle of it all one day
I’ll look at it shining all around me and say,
I’m here, I’m here, in the good land
In the new land. I’m here.

Sheer poetry.

Their little goovefest is interrupted when Chekov comes in looking for Irina. She knew he would be on the ship and was hoping he’d come look for her. They retreat to a corridor and Chekov grills her on her new approach to life. Irina claims she’s really happy, though, and even if Chekov has turned into a tool she still kind of likes him anyway. Chekov doesn’t much return the favor–he tells her to go back to her “friends.”

Once she leaves, he stumbles on a commotion in the hallway. The hippies are trying to save Sevrin, who they claim is being held prisoner by Doctor McCoy. It’s for good reason–it turns out Sevrin is a carrier for synthococcus novae, a horribly deadly superbug with a vaccine but no cure. Were Sevrin to take his (already immunized) Federation hippies to an inhabited Eden, his disease would wipe out all humanoid life on the planet. Sevrin claims this is news to him and wails about the infringement of his rights, but Kirk orders him put in isolation until McCoy can make sure the entire crew is immunized against the superbug.

Meanwhile, his groupies are gallivanting around the ship trying to get recruits. Sulu seems vaguely interested, and Scotty complains that they’re looking for allies in Engineering. To prevent a full-on mutiny Kirk dispatches Spock to talk to Sevrin and try to convince him to call his people off and let the crew alone. Spock confronts Sevrin about the disease, and Sevrin admits that he knew he was a carrier. When asked why he still insists on going to Eden, though, he says this:

Because this is poison to me. This stuff you breathe, this stuff you live in, the shields of artificial atmosphere that we have layered about every planet. The programs in those computers that run your ship and your lives for you, they bred what my body carries. That’s what your science have done to me. You’ve infected me. Only the primitives can cleanse me. I cannot purge myself until I am among them. Only their way of living is right. I must go to them.

Spock sympathizes to a degree, and agrees to help Sevrin and his followers find Eden if they’ll stop mucking about in ship politics looking for new recruits. Sevrin reluctantly agrees.

Spock reports back to Kirk that Sevrin is crazy. Not kooky-hippie crazy, but certifiably insane, including possibly Hannibal Lecter-level security. Nonetheless, a deal’s a deal(?!?!), so Spock hires Chekov to help him with the Eden-locating calculations from auxiliary control, and goes to his quarters to do his side of the work there. But there’s no peace among hippies, and Adam stops by for a quick chat. He sees the lyre that Spock has on the wall and tries it out. Adam becomes a fan (“it’s now, that’s real now. I reach that, brother. I really do.”) and asks Spock to play.

ADAM: Hey, how about a session, you and us? It would sound. That’s what I came for. I wanted to ask, you know, great white captain upstairs, but he don’t reach us. But would he shake on a session? I mean, we want to co-operate, like you ask, so I’m asking.
SPOCK: If I understand you correctly, I believe the answer might be yes.

Chekov, meanwhile, is busy plugging away at numbers in auxiliary control when Irina comes in.  She says she is there to apologize, and asks what Chekov’s up to. He helpfully explains the way that the computers work to navigate the ship and plot a course to Eden, and hands her their How to Hijack the Enterprise pamphlet prepared earlier in the season. She says she could never obey a computer, and all this talk of obeying and computers gets Chekov a little excited. The two kiss, made all the more awkward by Spock phoning in to the station asking Chekov with some irritation where the hell he went. (Makes you wonder what happens when people step away for bathroom breaks, huh?)

Later, the hippies congregate to discuss their potential new followers and Irina proudly explains that she knows now how to take over the ship. Way to go, Chekov. They agree to begin converting as many people as possible:

RAD: Can you suggest any special ways to swing them?
ADAM: Just be friendly. You know how to be friendly. Then they’ll be friendly.

Apparently “be friendly” means “subject the audience to more singing,” which he does, repeatedly and shamelessly, over the ship’s loudspeakers. Crewmembers all over start to groove to the music, distracting them. Spock himself heads down to join the jam session with his lyre. He and a wheel-playing girl pluck away as Adam sings. While everyone is entranced by the music, Rad sneaks out the side and heads up to where Sevrin is being held. The guard there, swaying to the music, doesn’t even notice as Rad slips behind him and does his own version of a nerve pinch to take out the guard. Rad releases the door that holds Sevrin in his cell.

Shortly thereafter, Sulu stops getting a response from his console. Something has taken over the ship! Damn dirty hippies! Sevrin pages Kirk to let him know that the doors to Auxiliary Control are sealed, and he’s heading to Eden whether they want him to or not. Kirk pleads with him not to enter Romulan space and risk intergalactic war, but Sevrin’s not really concerned about that. Spock tries to tell the others, especially Adam, that Sevrin has gone crazy. He tells them to check his medical file. But Adam doesn’t believe them, and sings instead:

Headin’ out to Eden
Yea, brother, headin’ out to Eden
No more trouble in my body or my mind
Gonna live like a king on whatever I find,
Eat all the fruit and throw away the rind
Yea, brother, yea.

You can totally see why a movement sprung up around this philosophy. No?

Sevrin starts messing with a circuitry panel, though, and explains that he’s going to use ultrasonic sound to knock out the crew, allowing him and his hippies to escape. But Irina seems to remember something from her academy days about that kind of sound: “it doesn’t stun, it destroys.” Rad seems a little nervous, too: “Brother Sevrin, it does destroy.” But the mushy-headed zealots are too easily swayed by Sevrin’s insistence that all will be fine once they reach Eden.

Kirk, Spock, and Scotty, meanwhile, are outside the door with a blowtorch making their way in. But they’re too late! Sevrin activates the ultrasonic wossname in every part of the ship other than the room they’re in. First Spock, then everyone else collapses in pain. The whole crew is out, but Kirk and Spock recover enough to turn off the sound. Soon Sulu has come to and informs them via communicator that Sevrin and his people have taken a shuttlecraft down to the surface of Eden.

Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and Chekov beam down to find the renegades. The planet is indeed beautiful, but when Chekov touches a flower he screams in pain. McCoy runs his tricorder over it and discovers some kind of corrosive acid coats everything on the planet! Their clothes will protect them for now, but they find that the half-naked hippies weren’t so lucky. Adam is sprawled on the ground, covered in sores, with a fruit in his hand. The apple was poisonous.

Adam ate the poisoned apple. (GET IT? Okay, see, in the Garden of Eden there was Adam and Eve. And then Adam ate an apple and fell from grace and was exiled from Eden. This is just like that. Maybe I should explain it again…)

They come across the shuttlecraft and inside find the rest of the hippies writhing in pain, their feet covered in blisters, unable to walk. One by one our heroes carry the poor fools out of the shuttle (because it’s so much safer on the acid planet…) and prepare to beam up. But Sevrin has gone mad. He swears he will not leave the planet, and climbs the nearest tree. Even though Kirk and McCoy tell him not to eat it, Sevrin takes a big bite from a hanging fruit, and he falls dead from the tree.

Back on the ship, the chastened kids head to the nearest starbase to be repatriated. Chekov apologizes to Kirk for his behavior and says goodbye to Irina. Spock, too, says his goodbyes.

SPOCK: Miss Galliulin. It is my sincere wish that you do not give up your search for Eden. I have no doubt but that you will find it, or make it yourselves.
IRINA: Thank you.
KIRK: We reach, Mister Spock.

* Yes, I know, it’s Catulla. Whatever. I think a Catullus planet would be way more awesome.

Analysis

The only way out is through…

There is not enough whiskey in the world for this episode. Maybe it was just me, but the introduction of the hippies gave me surreal flashbacks to The Muppet Babies–all the colorfully dressed, meddlesome children fantasizing a completely isolated, almost psychotically disconnected version of the world. This one probably should have been called “God, doesn’t it feel GREAT to punch a hippie?” Because I was just stunned by how awful Sevrin and his followers are. Sevrin is a complete maniac, a sociopath so obsessed with himself and his own illusions that he’s willing to murder the entire Enterprise crew for the chance to murder a whole planet of people he claims to idolize. He may as well twirl a long-haired hippie mustache. His followers are like children. They blindly follow his lead, refusing to even consider evidence contrary to their worldview; they believe that their own good vibes and attitudes will be enough to sustain them; and they recklessly jeopardize everything, including intergalactic peace, for a chance at their absurd dream. Talk about an indictment of the counterculture. They’re ineffective, effeminate idiots, tools to be manipulated by ambitious and dangerous men.

But it’s a morality play with some ridiculous assertions. For one, it totally sops to the moronic belief that hippie music is some kind of evil recruiting tool that makes good men go astray. The music distracts the crew into not doing their jobs, allowing the hippies to take over the ship with relative ease. It’s their key to domination, you see! I felt like the whole thing had been engineered to teach us A Lesson about Those Kids and Their Rock Music. I don’t think that Sevrin’s use of sound to disable the crew in the end is a coincidence, either. See what happens with that racket?!

While I’m a noted hippie sympathizer, I think most of us would agree that the dialogue is so scathing, it goes way beyond the usual degree of disapproval. Kirk is shocked when Chekov tells him “one of those was in the academy” and they constantly discuss how primitive they are. Then Nurse Chapel (my dear Chapel!) calls them “animals” that belong in cages.  Their lines just drip with disdain. Watching Kirk and Scotty whine about those “undisciplined troublemakers” doesn’t even seem like a joke, it seems sad. The whole thing felt like it had been penned by a cranky, 90-year-old man, confused and scared by those meddling kids.

The worst part, though, is that the idea is a good one. I like that we get to see some discontent within the idyllic Federation, and their concerns–the oversterilization of life, the rigidity of recreation, the seeming tedium of such an ordered world–would have been legitimate in the mouths of anyone less ghastly and unsympathetic. Sevrin’s right, and prophetic–superbugs do exist, and they exist because of how effectively we can combat the regular bugs. But by god are these people ghastly and unsympathetic. And boring. And oh god, I actually have a note here around the third time Adam started singing that says “KILL IT WITH FIRE!!!” And let’s not even get into the bludgeon-y biblical metaphors at the end.

One tiny thing I loved: when Chekov is leading Irina through the hallways of the ship and speaking in whispered, anxious tones, there are lots of other people on the ship passing him by who turn to stare at this crazy person he’s talking to. Most realistic moment in the entire episode.

And I don’t think I noticed it until the rest of you pointed it out in the comments, but these third season episodes are introducing more and more egregious examples of Kirk-is-so-special-X-doesn’t-affect him. In this case, the sound, which is supposed to kill people? Only it knocks out the rest of the crew. Except him and Spock. Who are so special and you just can’t see it but they probably have violet eyes and sparkle in the sun.

I have to say, though: it’s not worse than “Plato’s Stepchildren.” At least it didn’t have torture porn?

Torie’s Rating: Warp core breach; escape pods deployed (on a scale of 1-6)

Eugene Myers: I’ve been dreading this day for nearly two years, since Torie and I started this re-watch.

When I first saw “The Way to Eden” as a teen, I thought it was the worst episode ever and vowed never to watch it again. A couple of years later, when the pain had finally faded, I decided to give it another try–surely it wasn’t as bad as I’d remembered. Damn you, selective memory! I found it just as awful as before, and once again I decided never to watch it again. And I blissfully stuck to that promise… until now.

I realized when I committed to re-watching the entire series that the endeavor would have to include “Eden,” but the notion seemed almost bearable when I was being paid to watch and analyze it. Once we began doing our reviews for The Viewscreen, I considered weaseling out of this episode, but that hardly seemed sporting. My one consolation was that Torie was going to have to write the summary and suffer along with me. Meager comfort.

So here we are. I’ve just seen “Eden” for the first time in perhaps seventeen years, and unsurprisingly, it’s still dreadful. I believe it’s the poster child for the third season, rife with weaknesses like sloppy reversed shots, cheap special effects (ships glow red when they’re about to explode!), truly outrageous wardrobes, a poor script, and heavy use of stock footage–including that ridiculous shot from “Spock’s Brain” of Majel Barret’s stunningly bad collapse in Sickbay. (Incidentally, that footage doesn’t even match her radically different, and dare I say hot, appearance in the rest of the episode.)

However, there were a few surprises mixed in with the excruciating segments that I literally winced through. First of all, I’d forgotten that this is one of the rare substitutions of Lt. Palmer for Uhura; I bet Nichelle Nichols was all too happy to sit this one out. I envy her. I had also forgotten that this is partly a Chekov story, fleshing out some of his background and establishing a relationship with a woman from Starfleet Academy, Irina. That almost made me care about it, a little bit. Unfortunately, Mary Linda Rapelye’s Russian accent was awful and I was far from impressed with her performance. For someone who supposedly went to the Academy, her character sure needs Chekov to explain a lot of basic things to her–unless that’s all an act. Then there’s Spock’s interactions with Adam…

I generally remembered Spock “jamming” with the space hippies, but when the scene came it wasn’t as cringeworthy as I anticipated. His solo was almost distinguished, really, especially in comparison to the bizarre musical numbers that plagued the rest of the episode at the drop of a hat. Music plays a very important role in “Eden,” which is as close to a musical as any episode in the franchise; this is the way in which Spock and Adam bond, and it’s striking that the hippies use sound itself to cripple the Enterprise crew and make good their escape.

I was intrigued with Spock’s interest in Sevrin’s beliefs and their pursuit of paradise, as well as his ability to relate to the hippies because, like them, he’s caught between two worlds, an alien even among his own people. Not only does he appreciate their situation, but he sees value in their beliefs; I found the ending touching when he encourages Irina to continue searching for Eden–or make their own. The thoughtfulness behind this character motivation and Leonard Nimoy’s nuanced performance aren’t enough to salvage this experience for me, but it adds some welcome depth that I wasn’t expecting.

I was also interested in the idea of science and technology as a kind of infection: modern advancements leading to new and deadly afflictions. This may have spoken to a genuine fear in the Sixties of too much progress too quickly, but it seems especially relevant today, with fears of the negative effects of cell phones, X-ray scanners, telephone wires, nuclear reactors, chemicals in plastics, and so on. There are new ailments developing regularly as direct and indirect results of our modern technological society: eye strain from staring at video screens all day long, carpal tunnel from typing, sprained thumbs from constant texting, diminished attention spans, cancers, obesity, etc. The idea of abandoning all technology isn’t foreign to some contemporary cultures–as extreme a reaction to progress as that might seem–and it’s especially interesting whenever it’s explored in Star Trek, which generally celebrates the future and humanity’s strides in technology and medicine. (Notably, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine revisits this idea with mixed results in its creatively titled episode “Paradise.”) I also like the idea that a paradise can turn out to be a curse, perhaps a little too overtly in this case, where the “Eden”- of-the-week turns out to foster acidic flora. Because that makes sense.

When viewed with humorous tolerance, “Eden” is somewhat watchable, but it’s so consciously and ineffectually moralizing about hippy counterculture while taking a confusing stance on it (Should we make fun of them or should we admire their convictions?) that it’s simply a disaster. It’s uncomfortable when crewmembers like Nurse Chapel, who is usually sensitive and accepting, idly refer to them as “animals.”

Ultimately, this episode is riddled with classic Star Trek problems: an idealization of paradise, a crew that is incapable of defending the ship from being taken over by people who learn how to do so via their own library files in about ten minutes, inept plotting, laughable costumes, and trying too hard to make a statement without a clear moral. In a better season, in better hands with an actual budget, it may have succeeded, but instead it fails spectacularly. It’s impossible for anyone to take this seriously as either a drama or morality play, and it isn’t even campy enough to be entertaining.

This time I mean it: I’m never going to watch “The Way to Eden” again. Really. Not even if you paid me to do it!*

_________________
*But if you’re offering, let me check my bank account before you hold me to that.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp Core Breach

Best Line: ADAM: Gonna crack my knuckles and jump for joy/ I got a clean bill of health from Doctor McCoy!

Syndication Edits: None

Trivia: D.C. Fontana wrote the first draft of this one, but the script was so savaged she asked her name to be removed and used the pseudonym “Michael Richards,” as she did in “That Which Survives.” Irina Galliunan was originally conceived as Dr. McCoy’s daughter, Joanna McCoy (the episode was titled “Joanna”). She was going to be Kirk’s, not Chekov’s, romantic interest. This version was scrapped. Plans to recycle the idea of her character for the fourth season died with the show’s cancellation.

Charles Napier, who plays Adam, wrote some of the songs he sings himself. I’m shocked he admits that publicly. This was his first guest appearance on television and he says he got the role by jumping up on a table at his audition and singing “The House of the Rising Sun.”

This is the first time we get Chekov’s full name: Pavel Andreievich Chekov.

James Doohan claimed this is the only episode of the original series he did not like. We hope, for all our sakes, he was being polite.

“Herbert!” is considered a possible reference to either former U.S. President Herbert Hoover (whose worst sin, let’s face it, wasn’t a straight-arrow demeanor) or Herbert S. Solow, the previous production executive (the current one being the person who suggested the analogy’s inclusion in the first place).

Other notes: Skip Homeier, who played Sevrin, appeared previously as Melakon in “Patterns of Force.”

Charles Napier pops up later in the DS9 episode “Little Green Men.” I, however, know him as Duke Phillips, Jay’s overbearing and hilarious boss in The Critic.


Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 19 – “Requiem for Methuselah.”

 

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 21 – “The Cloud Minders.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

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About Torie Atkinson & Eugene Myers

TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former Tor.com blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books. EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young adult fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is available now from Pyr.