Star Trek Re-watch: “The Way to Eden”

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

Season 3, Episode 20
Production episode 3×20
Original air date: Feb. 21, 1969
Stardate 5832.3–5832.6

Recap: Dayton Ward

The Enterprise is chasing a Tholian a stolen spaceship, the Aurora. When Kirk hails the ship to talk to whoever’s aboard, the other vessel stomps on the gas and tries to make a getaway. Kirk orders the Enterprise to give chase and uses tractor beams to capture the renegade ship. The little ship tries to escape and its engines overheat till they’re about to explode. Naturally, Kirk orders the tractor beams cut, right? Um, no, and the ship blows up. Thankfully, Scotty was hanging out in the transporter room. (The dude has no life. Seriously.) He beams aboard the ship’s occupants and covers Kirk’s ass.

Six people are rescued from the Aurora—three men and three women—and they look like a cross between a renaissance fair musical troupe and Lady Gaga’s backup dancers. All of them are making some kind of hand gesture which could be a sign of peace, or an indication as to the size of any plot holes we’re about to encounter. Hard to say at this point.

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenOne of the men, Tongo Rad, is the son of an important ambassador, and Kirk’s been ordered to handle young Mister Rad with kid gloves because Daddy Rad’s involved with some pretty intense negotiations between the home planet and the Federation. When they start shouting and protesting, it’s loud enough for Kirk and Chekov to hear them through the intercom speaker, and Chekov realizes he may know one of the women.

Bwhuah-huh?

After Kirk fails to impress the group with his macho stance and voice of authority, Spock comes to the rescue, offering them their peace sign and talking to them in such a way that they actually respond to him in kind. Spock’s a closet hippie? Radical. Totally radical. Anyway, the guy in charge, “Dr. Sevrin,” tells Kirk that he and his group have blown off modern society with all its rules and regulations and technogadgets, and now seek the planet “Eden.” What? That’s a myth, right?

Hmm….

Spock lets us know that Dr. Sevrin was once a respected engineer, at least before his turbolift stopped going all the way to the bridge, if you know what I mean. He’s utterly, completely, ready-to-run-for-president or get-his-own-cable-news-show crazy. But wait! There’s more! Dr. McCoy has examined Sevrin and his followers, and it seems that Sevrin is a carrier for some kind of weird technobabble virus thingee which comes from living in the oh-so modern, antiseptic 23rd century. He’s immune, but he may have just infected the entire Enterprise crew. Thanks, dude!

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenMeanwhile, Chekov has discovered that one of the hippies, Irina Galliulin, is a friend of his who dropped out of the Academy. It seems she abandoned a promising career as a scientist in order to wait for the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, or whatever. There’s some of the expected “You left me!”“No, you left me!” stuff and whose mixtapes got left in whose car or dorm room, and all that jazz.

Spock, who apparently has a wild and groovy side he’s been keeping from the rest of us all these years, engages Sevrin and offers to help him locate Eden, and persuades ol’ cauliflower-ears to promise that he and his gang will behave while aboard the Enterprise. Anybody besides the doctor crossing his fingers behind his back while making that promise? Uh-huh. It’s hard to see whether Spock actually believes him, or if he’s playing him, even when he heads to the bridge to tell Kirk that the guy is completely off his nut.

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenOf course, we start to wonder about Spock at this point, too, as he’s beginning to forge connections with Sevrin’s followers in other ways. One of them, Adam, visits Spock in his quarters and sees Spock’s totally rad harp-like thingawhateveryoucallit. After letting the dude pluck at it for a second, Spock takes it back and shows the hippie upstart just how string music is made, yo. Adam is righteously impressed, and asks Spock to sit in on a jam session. Spock agrees.

What’s that? Ridiculous? Your eyes are rolling so fast in your head that you’re hoping they come up double diamonds? Hold that thought. We’re just getting started.

But wait! The hippies really are up to no good! Irina is visiting Chekov, ostensibly to hang out with him while he works in auxiliary control until they can go to Tubby’s Drive-In for some burgers and malteds. She’s actually coaxing info about the control room, and how it can take over for pretty much any system on the ship should the bridge or some other vital section be damaged or otherwise incapacitated. Wow. That’s interesting, and with absolutely no practical application by a group of usurpers or anything, right? Nah.

Sevrin’s other followers are putting their various spells on other members of the crew, enlisting them to their cause, or just getting them distracted. How? By “being friendly.” They know how to be friendly, right?

Oh, and they’re singing, too. What’s that? You want to sing along? Well, let me hit you with some lyrics action:

Star Trek episode The Way to Eden

I’m talkin’ ’bout you.
I’m talkin’ ’bout me.
Long time back when the galaxy was new.
Man found out what he had to do.
He found he had to eat and he found he had to drink
And a long time later he found he had to think.
Uh-huh.

Stuff like this makes Gene Roddenberry’s lyrics for the original Star Trek theme seem like something Vanilla Ice might have written.

Bad example? Okay, but you get the idea.

And, just when you’re looking for something to jam into your ears to stanch the bleeding, Spock shows up, harp-like whatchamacallit in hand, and is all, “Dudes and dudettes, I dig your groovy notes. Can I hang and jam with you hep cats?”

You know what? “Homeboys in Outer Space Re-Watch” is sounding better by the nanonsecond.

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenSpockapalooza is broadcast all over the ship, doing a first-rate job of distracting people from their various duties. Why nobody thinks to shut off the intercom, I don’t know. Even Kirk is like, “Scotty, didn’t you get into trouble and have a bit of fun when you were younger?” The crew is so preoccupied by the happenin’ tunes, even Sevrin’s guard at the brig is busy thinking he can dance with the stars or whatever, and consequently never sees Tongo Rad before getting knocked out. It’s the same story in other areas of the ship. You know, places like—say it with me—auxiliary control. There, and despite their total rejection of computers and other modern technology, Sevrin and his gang are quickly able to assume control of the ship.

Don’t you just hate when that happens?

Sevrin redirects the ship’s course to Eden, which Spock has found. Off the Enterprise flies, over the Neutral Zone and through Romulan space, to grandm… never mind. Soon, sensors detect a habitable planet. It’s Sha Ka Ree Qui’Tu Vorta Vor Eden! Anticipating that Kirk will attempt to regain control of the ship before it reaches the planet, Sevrin starts working on a bit of engineering voodoo to incapacitate the crew, all while being serenaded by the singular, sultry stylings of Adam, your next American Idol!

Outside, Scotty uses a phaser to cut through the door to auxiliary control while Kirk and Spock watch. Inside, Sevrin activates his secret weapon: an ultrasonic signal designed to render everyone outside the room unconscious. People all over the ship fall victim to the signal, dropping like flies. They’re out cold, so—unlike me—they’re spared the next bout of singing being broadcast over the intercom.

With the Enterprise now in orbit over Eden, Kirk awakens, disables the signal, and quickly learns that a shuttlecraft is missing. Spock finds it on the planet, and reports that other than whoever’s aboard the shuttle, there doesn’t look to be any other life down there. Why Sevrin and company didn’t use the transporter, I have no idea.

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenWorried that the Romulans will show up at any minute and plant their flag and their boots in his buttcrack, Kirk beams down with Spock, McCoy and Chekov in the hopes of catching Sevrin and his groupies by surprise. They spread out, and Chekov wastes no time getting into trouble. He touches one of the local flowers, after which his hand erupts with burn blisters. McCoy runs a scan and determines that all of the nearby plant life is full of acid.

Some distance away, Spock finds Adam lying dead in the grass. There’s a partially-eaten apple lying near his hand. The fruit, like the plants, is deadly.

Wow. This planet sucks.

Kirk and company find the shuttlecraft nearby, and Kirk opens the door to see Sevrin and the others huddled inside, each suffering from burns and other wounds inflicted by the planet. Kirk tries to convince Sevrin to come back to the ship, but as he’s definitely some a few fries short of a Happy Meal, it comes as no surprise when he runs to a nearby tree, grabs one of its apples, and takes a big ol’ bite.

Seacrest Sevrin…out.

Arriving at a starbase back in Federation territory, the Enterprise drops off the surviving members of Sevrin’s merry little band. Before saying goodbye to Irina, Chekov tries to man up to Kirk and take his licks for being totally pwned by Irina, but Kirk lets him off easy. I guess he knows that there are still four more episodes left in the season, and nobody’s getting out early. Chekov, like the rest of us, will just have to hang on until the last bitter, ugly seconds of “Turnabout Intruder.”

On that, at least, we reach. Yay, brother.


Wow.

While “The Way to Eden” does not beat out “And the Children Shall Lead” as my most-hated original series episode, it’s definitely in the strike zone.

The kinds of stories that irritate me the most are those which use the formula that everyone has to act out of character in order for the plot to move forward. How many times does the Enterprise have to be taken over by ne’er-do-wells before somebody thinks to put locks on the doors leading to the important stuff? The music should’ve been turned off the instant Kirk or some other officer/department head sees that the music being piped over the intercom is having a detrimental effect on people’s attention spans. Instead, it’s allowed to keep playing, even though a guy is air drumming on the FRIKKIN’ BRIDGE. Yeah, because nothing important goes on there, like keeping the ship from flying into a planet or something.

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenSevrin’s character could have been interesting as a 23rd-century take on the hippies and other anti-establishment types making their presence and dissent known across America in the late 1960s. What if, rather than just looking for a sweet place to get groovy, he instead was a character who used his intellect and influence to spearhead some kind of real rebellion against the prim and proper Federation? That might have been something to see, but I can understand a television network’s reticence to tackle such a topic, given how raw and hot emotions were running during a very volatile period in our history.

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenDespite my general loathing of this episode, I can’t help but smile when I see a young Charles Napier doing his thing as Adam. Napier’s one of my favorite character actors, and you’ve seen him in all sorts of television shows and movies over the years. He even returned to Star Trek when he played the cigar-chomping General Rex Denning in the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “Little Green Men.” I tend to remember him as the conniving CIA bastard “Murdoch” from Rambo: First Blood, Part II. I also go easy on Deborah Downey, who played one of Sevrin’s followers. I spent most of a weekend manning a table at small convention sitting across from her, and she was a total sweetheart the whole time.

So, Charles Napier and Deborah Downey, we keep. The rest of it? You can flush it out the airlock.

Dayton’s Rating: Warp 1 (on a scale of 1 to 6)

 

Star Trek episode The Way to Eden

Analysis: David Mack

One certainly can’t fault this episode for excessive subtlety. The allegory of “Adam” lying dead on “Eden” after taking a bite of poisonous fruit has all the delicate nuance of a punch in the junk from a UFC champion.

Frequent contributor Dorothy C. Fontana co-wrote this episode, using her pseudonym, Michael Richards. I’m not surprised that Fontana wanted her name off this episode. If I’d had anything to do with the writing of this travesty, I’d have covered it up, too.

Nichelle Nichols also got to avoid being caught up in this train wreck. No explanation is given for Uhura’s absence from this episode, though the number of extras needed to fill out Sevrin’s band of space hippies, and the cost to have Walter Koenig on set for more days than usual, might have been contributing factors.

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenWalter Koenig delivers a good performance as young man with a broken heart, but not everything about the writing of Chekov is consistent with his past characterization. At first, this episode might have seemed like a lucky break for Koenig. It gave Chekov a fair amount of screen time, and it marked the first mention of Chekov’s given and middle names, Pavel Andreivich. Unfortunately, the character seems to have done a 180-degree turn from his old self. Happy-go-lucky Chekov here has turned into a regulations-quoting tight-ass. When one considers how loose and impetuous Chekov had been only a couple of months earlier during “Spectre of the Gun,” this sudden shift seems unmotivated.

The explanation, of course, is that the original version of the story was built around a relationship between Captain Kirk and Joanna McCoy—the young daughter of the Enterprise’s chief surgeon. After that idea was nixed, the story was retooled to give the romantic subplot to Chekov, but no one seems to have bothered rethinking the character dynamics while swapping out the names.

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenI found it impossible to have any sympathy for the space hippies’ leader, Dr. Sevrin, though I don’t think the writers ever intended him to be the least bit sympathetic. He knowingly risks infecting his own followers, the crew of the Enterprise, everyone else with whom he comes into contact, and possibly an entire paradaisical planet with the deadly virus he carries in his blood. Then, at the end, even after he realizes the planet to which he has led his people is a death trap, he chooses to die rather than admit he was wrong. And I still didn’t care. Mostly, I was happy that it meant no more dumb songs.

What I do find interesting is Spock’s justification of the hippies’ rebellion against Federation society:

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.

Okay, so… Dr. Sevrin and his nutjobs oppose a heavy-handed democractic-socialist government that forces individuals to give up certain self-destructive and counter-productive individual liberties for the greater good of the billions around them. I will let you, gentle reader, draw your own political analogies and conclusions.

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenWhat can one say about Sevrin’s motley band of disciples? First, costume designer William Ware Theiss has proved that he can drape a man in as little fabric as he’d dress a woman, and maybe a lot less—with terrifying results. Irina (Mary-Linda Rapelye) has all the grace of a mannequin with a preposterous accent. Adam (Charles Napier) breaks into song for no reason at all, and his every note sounds like an inspiration for the invention of auto-tuning. Mavig (Deborah Downey, pictured) seemed like a misplaced cruise ship activities director. Tongo Rad (Victor Brandt), son of the Catullan ambassador to the Federation, looks a lot like Riff Raff from The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

As for the hippies’ songs… oh, good lord. Some things are good. Some are so bad that they become hilariously good. The songs in this episode fall into neither of those categories; they are simply, unforgivably awful. Most of them are as cringe-inducing as anything inflicted on audiences by The Brady Bunch’s infamous musical numbers. And let’s be honest: adding Leonard Nimoy (of “The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins” fame) to the jam session did nothing to improve the situation. I suppose we should be grateful that William Shatner didn’t sit in to do his spoken-word rendition of “Rocket Man.”

Questions I asked when it was over: Why couldn’t the space hippies’ insipid songs have been performed in the inaudible, ultrasonic frequency that disabled the crew? (How convenient that it knocked out the crew without the use of costly visual effects—which no doubt was the entire reason for its usage and the establishing details about Sevrin’s background in acoustic sciences).

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenAs for Eden, how does a planet that we are told has no animal or sentient life end up with such nicely manicured lawns and well-trodden walking paths? Did it hire a Romulan gardener to stop by on alternate weekends? Are these dirt paths of divine origin? Inquiring minds want to know.

Why aren’t strategically vital areas of the ship locked and under guard? Why weren’t captured space-cruiser thieves summarily tossed in the brig as soon as they were taken into custody?

A few random observations: The model of the stolen space cruiser Aurora is a barely modified version of the Tholian weaver from “The Tholian Web.” This design was completely redone for the “remastered” versions, in which the old effects were replaced with new, state-of-the-art CGI shots.

Star Trek episode The Way to EdenOn the editing side, there’s a glaringly obvious flipped shot of Kirk watching one of the hippies tempting Sulu in an Enterprise corridor. You can clearly see that Kirk’s shirt insignia is on the wrong side, but the biggest clue is that the part in his hair has switched sides. It happens again twice at the end of the episode, as Sevrin runs from Kirk, Spock, and McCoy on the surface of Eden. If any of this column’s readers has an explanation for why the show’s editor or producers flipped these shots for no apparent reason, I’d love to hear it.

Overall, this episode feels like a mocking reaction to the counterculture movement that had been growing then in the United States. A combination of drug-culture enthusiasts and anti-military pacifists protesting the Vietnam War, hippies had for years been staging sit-ins, campus takeovers, marches, and other forms of civil disobedience, none of which endeared them to the establishment or the older members of the era’s comfortable middle-class. Six months after this episode aired, half a million hippies gathered on a farm in upstate New York for the grand-daddy of all concert festivals, Woodstock.

With regard to this episode’s influence on the franchise, though it roundly mocked the fashions and idealistic philosophies of the 1960s-era counterculture, those elements later figured prominently in Star Trek’s feature-film incarnations. In fact, the central plot of Star Trek V: The Final Frontier closely parallels that of “The Way to Eden.” Both involve the hijacking of the Enterprise by religious fanatics, to reach a supposedly mythical place, for quasi-mystical reasons. In both cases, Spock takes an unexpected stance as an apologist for the nutjob hijackers, and both tales end with the exposure of the fabled world and its divine secret as horrific, deadly shams. Oh, and both suck.

Time to put this DVD away and go pour myself another drink or three, to get the taste out of my mouth. Yay, brother.

David’s Rating: Dead stop, warp core ejected into space (on a scale of Warp 1 to 6)


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

Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.


Dayton Ward is talkin’ ’bout you. He’s talkin’ ’bout me. He’s lookin’ for the best way to connect to that Absolut I.V.

David Mack just wants Dayton to know, “We reach. Yay, brother.”

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