Good God if there is one Trek episode I can’t stand it’s The Way to Eden. I’ve no doubt that has to do with the time of my birth. I came into existence in 72, by which time the hippie movement had mostly faded. Not so much that my mom wouldn’t like to see me with long hair, but enough that I didn’t experience any of that cultural zeitgeist. They say children hit the “age of reason” at 7 which would have been 1979 for me, but to compound matters, I’m male, so I didn’t hit the age of reason until about 2009. Such is life. The point is, the time this episode is really speaking to is the Hippie generation and all that groovy singing and “we reach” stuff just feels so out of place on the Enterprise. Unlike a lot of other Trek ideas, this one doesn’t stand the test of time that well! But just because I don’t like it, doesn’t make it a bad episode. It, like so much of Star Trek, addresses very real aspects of our society: youth culture and counter culture, to name two. Like Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, the episode succeeds in painting a picture of these elements reasonably well.
Youth culture refers to the values and practices of youth which is very evident here. The “kids” are being lead by their father figure, Dr. Sevrin. They take his word at face value even though they know he’s lying. They steal a shuttle (think, car) to get around on their joy ride, regardless of thinking through long term consequences. Irina and Chekov further illustrate that with Irina wanting to retain the playful life of a child while Chekov explains that he’s grown up and has responsibilities. It’s debatable whether I should put Hippie culture into a “subculture” or “counterculture” but I think I lean more towards counter, simply because, at least as it’s depicted here, it’s designed to be opposite to what the society at large wants. It’s being different for the sake of rebelling against norms. (Flash back to the discussion about #48 in The Prisoner, Fallout!) This is made more evident by the child of the ambassador who, we could assume, rebelled against his father’s disciplined ways. One might say, that’s on brand. Later, Chekov submits himself for disciplinary action when he realizes he was not conducting himself as a proper Starfleet officer, again driving home the point about discipline and growing up.
Yet it should be noted that when Kirk is asked why young people have to be so undisciplined, Kirk comments that he was a bit unruly in his youth as well. (Wait until the Chris Pine movies to really see that!) Kirk understands that this behavior is a part of growing up; he sympathizes. While he is frustrated with the presence of a disruptive influence on his ship, he’s no Herbert! He really does get it and does understand the group. He proves to be a better captain than last episode might have lead us to believe by allowing Chekov to leave his post to both greet, and later to say goodbye to, Irina. He allows Spock to work on helping them find a planet and allows Chekov to leave his post to perform what is essentially a hobby. He’s under no obligation to help them! Ultimately, Kirk comes off like a good but disciplinary parent; he cares for the kids but still has to maintain order.
“He found he had to think…” The songs are tiresome but Adam’s line really sums up the trick to enjoying this episode: one can’t be caught up on the hippies’ search for Eden but rather one needs to think about the underlying things that are going on. There’s also the idea that technology infects us, which to some extent it does. “Almost a biological rebellion”, McCoy says, but I know people like this; people who see technology as a distraction, and there’s no denying that to an extent that’s true. This is especially true with children; they don’t have the discipline to pull themselves away or to know how to balance. Technology is there to make life easier for us, but if it takes away from the quality of life, that’s the opposite of its intended value. In the case of Dr. Sevrin, he has a disease exacerbated by technology so his only concern is for himself in the end, but that doesn’t detract from the idea that technology, like everything else, should be used in moderation. (I don’t think we needed another virus episode so soon after the last one, but Sevrin’s ailment plays little part in the events of the story!)
Irina may have the best message in the episode, but I think she miscommunicates it slightly. She tells Pavel to “give in to yourself, you’ll be happier.” I think the message really is, “accept yourself; you’ll be happier” because in accepting who you are, one can get on with actually being that to the best of one’s abilities. And that can make us all happy! I think Chekov already accepts himself. Maybe Irina accepts herself as well.
So the only real question left about this episode is: where was Uhura? Finally had a day to do laundry, I’m guessing! (Although, I don’t know if I’m justified but it bothered me a lot that she was missing during the episode where Kirk was called “the great white captain”! Just felt wrong…) ML
The view from across the pond:
This is a story about space hippies, and at first I didn’t like them. They throw around a lot of insults, mainly using the word “Herbert”. The observation, “oh, Herbert, you are stiff,” might well be factually correct when it comes to Kirk, a man who never fails to get excited when there’s an alien woman in the room, but these are childish, bullying tactics, ganging up on their target. Of course, the name “Herbert” in itself makes little sense as an insult, especially to somebody who is unaware of the clique’s in-joke about an official with that name, but bullying tactics do not require the insult to make sense to the insulted in order to hit home. When you say the same word over and over again it’s going to end up bothering the victim, however absurd that might be. That’s why I didn’t take to them straight away, but as the episode progressed I ended up liking them more and more. I think that’s the journey I was expected to take, as a viewer, and it’s the same journey the crew of the Enterprise take, despite their betrayal. The fact that the leader of the hippies is mentally ill goes a long way to ameliorating their betrayal, but even that is a complex picture.
Let’s take this one step at a time. When followers are taken in by a charismatic leader and led astray, we should have some sympathy for them, I think. At the very least, we should reserve most of our anger for the con artist, not the victim of a con. Complicating matters is Dr. Sevrin’s mental illness, so that leaves us with nobody to be angry with, unless we are being deeply unfair. And complicating matters further is the fact that they are right on some levels. The illness they have brought onto the Enterprise is a side-effect of the modern world they have rejected, and it’s hardly their fault that policies for dealing with visitors to the ship are patently ridiculous, with no procedures for checking them before they are allowed to mix with the crew. Chekov is able to take one of them away from the group to his own quarters, and then allow her to walk back on her own. So they have no effective security and their medical checks are the very definition of closing the stable door after the horse has bolted. They are also right about Eden, but for a cruel twist of fate. They believe it exists, and it does. That planet, when they force their way through the Neutral Zone to find it, is indeed beautiful and bountiful, until it turns out that the plants and fruit are all poisonous to them.
I’m not quite sure what we are supposed to take from all that, apart from the slightly clumsy biblical connotations (“his name was Adam”). It comes close to delivering a message about the fallacy of judging by appearances. The hippies thought that beauty and nature was their friend, but in fact it was more inimical to them than the sanitised air that bred their virus. I’m not sure that’s a great message, but it is a message. But there is definitely a very effective moral of the story delivered at the end, when Spock says he has “no doubt that you will find it or make it yourselves”. If we want Eden, we probably have to make it ourselves.
This being Classic Trek there are several problems: the aforementioned lack of security, which once again extends to somebody being able to wander onto the bridge near the end of the episode; Kirk behaving totally out of character by being somehow afraid to do what he feels is the right thing because one of the hippies is the son of an ambassador, despite previously disobeying a direct order from Starfleet when he wanted to; worst of all the absolutely revolting line from Christine Chapel, who sets herself up as a cheerleader for fascism with her remark, “I thought all the animals were kept in cages”. But I enjoyed this episode more than any I’ve seen for a very long time. I felt like it had something to say, even if the writers were perhaps a little fuzzy about exactly what they wanted to say, and it was a story told in a way that was incredibly fun to watch, complete with some great music. Charles Napier delivers some fine vocal performances, unfazed by having to wear that outrageous curly wig, and the blonde girl (I’m not sure if she was named) has a beautiful voice too. Their songs are far from being just padding, building up very cleverly to a point where they are able to distract the whole crew with music while they carry out their plan. And who can resist the sight of Spock enjoying a jamming session with some space hippies. I reach that, brother. I really reach it. This episode chimed. RP