By Michael Vraa
In re-watching the Classic third-season Star Trek episode, The Way to Eden, one is instantly reminded of the 60’s. Star Trek episodes don’t always scream 60’s. Something about the uniforms minimizes the instant recognition of the appropriate decade compared to watching an episode of The Monkees…same rough era, but a very different representation of the time. Star Trek was obviously designed to be from the future, and not from the now. But in The Way to Eden, it’s very obvious where the now lies. This episode could probably only be made when it was; in the heart of the 60’s.
The plot is actually a consistent one through Classic Trek. A band of villains decide to try to steal the Enterprise for their own purposes. How consistent is this plot device? Let That Be Your Last Battlefield, I Mudd, By Any Other Name, The Menagerie, Charlie X, And The Children Shall Lead, etc…This doesn’t even cover the movies when more hijackin’ bad-guys are waiting (my favorite is in Star Trek V where Shatner asks one of the most sensible lines in Star Trek history, “What does God need with a starship?”). In fact, Star Trek V actually features a madman taking over the Enterprise looking for…Eden.
The reason that The Way to Eden is so obviously a product of the 60’s is the hippie representing-led-by-a- Timothy Leary type group that is trying to steal the Enterprise to go to Eden (not a misprint—same goal, just different madmen taking over the Enterprise for different reasons). In this case, this group’s version of Eden is a planet that is a technology-free paradise. Finally, here, we get a chance to see a more standard science-fiction goal – escaping the clutches of an oppressive world consumed with technology. The hippies, led by Dr. Sevrin (who is actually a trained scientist and is clearly the brains/driving force behind the group) want to use the Enterprise to simply get to Romulan space where Eden awaits.
This theme is consistent in science fiction. Battlestar Galactica is one of the best representations of this fear (both versions, although the 2004 Edward James Olmos helmed update is leagues better than the original). Terminator is a more current realization of this fear, featuring time-travel (hard to accept with current tech) and an oppressive omnipresent power called Skynet (not so hard to accept with current tech). Popular music warns us, through the 80’s campiness of Styx’s Mr. Roboto. “The answer’s plain to see, too much technology…” Modern-day scientist/entrepreneur Elon Musk (doesn’t the beginning of this sentence all seem like science fiction?…right down to his name) warns of the impending ‘A.I.pocalypse.’ So this is a real science fiction trope: technology is bad and we need to get away from it before it kills us all. Even the Unabomber warned us in his whack-job way to avoid tech.
This fear of technology is actually well-predicted in The Way to Eden, even though it’s not the only Classic Trek episode to do this this. The Ultimate Computer had a similar theme, while also being a much more engaging episode, whereas The Way to Eden is rarely looked back on fondly.
How did The Way to Eden do such a bad job of it? Re-watching the episode, here are my list of things that I can live with, and the one that, as a writer, I cannot.
Story Flaws I Can Live With:
1.) ‘Herbert’: This is an insult tossed around by the Hippies to reference anyone who is an authority figure. “He’s not Herbert. We reach!”
2.) Hippie Music: Adam helps Dr. Sevrin as his second-in-command on this search for Eden. Among other skills, he plays a mean guitar-ish instrument and can write sweet 60’s-centric folksy songs (at one point, Spock even joins in with his strange looking Vulcan lyre). You want sample lyrics?
“Headin’ out to Eden
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”
3.) Costumes/Hair: They’re supposed to look like future space hippies. I can’t fault this.
4.) Lingo: I actually enjoyed some of the dialogue attempts at making these future space hippies sound like they were timelessly hip. Upon hearing Spock play some music, Adam reacted with, “Hey man! That really sounds!” Not sure why that didn’t take off.
5.) Spock agreeing with the hippies a little too much: Apart from jamming with the other musicians, Spock seems to somewhat agree with the goal of the group. “There is no insanity in what they seek.” I suppose I could understand the anti-technology stance, but chasing a planet named Eden into Romulan space? Pretty out of character for the Enterprise’s Chief Logic Officer.
Story Flaw I Can’t Live With:
Once the Enterprise reaches Eden, the Hippies steal a shuttlecraft, leaving the unconscious Starfleet crew behind thanks to Dr. Sevrin’s genius-level sonic device. Not long after that, a landing party beams down to find what looks like paradise, except that all the plants are so acidic that they burn on contact and kill if ingested.
Ultimately, they find Adam, lying dead on the planet called Eden next to an apple with a bite taken out of it. This is among the most blatantly obvious examples of symbolism in all of Classic Trek. Even the imagery isn’t enough it seems. Spock actually says, “His name was Adam.”
Ugh. This was just too much for me to endure.
I suppose Spock could have gone a step further. “You know, like in Genesis, with Eve…from the Bible.” All dots connected. No need for me the viewer to think independently at all.
Arguably, this episode was probably doomed for long-term viewing from the start. When they decided to go with a ‘hippies-in-space’ theme, it was effectively destined to feel instantly dated. There was a decent enough science fiction hook ready for service: technology is bad – let’s shed a life of technological addiction and find a Thoreau-inspired simple paradise. But then they tried to attempt a specific, targeted demographics appeal with this episode and try to draw in the younger set of the time. The episode is fun to watch as a time capsule, but that’s really it’s sole redeeming quality.
Michael Vraa is an attorney who runs a tenant hotline in Minnesota. He also writes frequently. His first novel, Celebrity Bounty, is available now.