>“The Way to Eden”
In the run of any television series there are the fondly remembered episodes and then there are the infamous episodes. “The Way to Eden” definitely falls into the category of the infamous ones.
All of the Star Trek series are products of their era, so the fact that there’s an episode from the late 60’s featuring space hippies isn’t really all that much of a surprise. After all, we did get yuppies thawed out in the future during Next Generation‘s first season. In both cases, the results are less than thrilling.
The Enterprise is pursuing a stolen space cruiser that is headed toward Romulan space. On board is the son of an ambassador to the Federation who has asked that his son and his companions not be harmed. Apparently, the relations between the Federation and this group are at delicate stage and Kirk is ordered not to rock the boat.
When the ship is destroyed trying to escape from the tractor beam, Kirk has the six members of the party beam on-board. Among them is Dr. Sevrin and Irina Galliulin, an old acquaintance of Chekov’s from the Academy who dropped out to join Sevrin’s group. The group rejects the technology of the Federation and wants to go back to a simpler life. They believe they can find the planet of Eden where life will be tranquil and they can get back to a better way of living. Unfortunately, Sevrin isn’t allowed to travel there since the Federation’s technology has created a new disease and he’s a carrier. He can’t catch it, but he’s a walking Typhoid Mary.
Sevrin isn’t happy, nor is the group pleased that Kirk is taking them back to a starbase. Spock is better able to communicate with the group that Kirk, who is constantly mocked for being too rigid in his thinking and for his devotion to Starfleet and orders. The group pretends to go along while they infiltrate the crew, finding out enough to take over the ship. During a jam session that’s broadcast throughout the ship, Sevrin is freed and the group takes over the ship from auxiliary control. Thanks to Spock making a promise to use the Enterprise’s star charts to help them find Eden, they are able to plot a course for the planet.
Just to add tension, it’s inside Romulan space. Anyway, Sevrin and his group hijack the ship by using high frequency sound to debilitate the crew. They turn if off long enough to steal a shuttlecraft and head down. Kirk is able to switch the sound off and get the ship back. They beam down to find Eden looks pretty but ain’t such a paradise. Turns out the plants and soil have a high acid content that burns to the touch and is deadly if consumed. Two members of the group are killed trying to eat the fruit, including Sevrin. The other four and the crew head back to Federation space and all is well.
In case you’re wondering, yes it is every bit as tedious as it sounds. There are some potentially interesting ideas buried in here, but you’ve got to look really hard to find them. The concept of a virus creating by the technological perfection of the Federation is intriguing but it’s really just something for this episode to muster up some conflict and tension. It’s one of those plots that could have been developed a bit more or explored in a future Trek, but as far as I recall, it never really is. (It may be that many producers of modern Trek, like me, try to deny this episode even exists).
The story also is a glaring one of the lack of continuity from episode to episode for classic Trek. Earlier this season, we are told the Federation has developed a cure for mental illness. And yet here, Sevrin is diagnosed as insane and no one thinks to try the cure on him or offer it to him. (Yes, McCoy could assume that given how Sevrin reacts to anything offered by the Federation that it would be rejected out of hand, I guess….)
It’s also an episode that takes long breaks to break out into jams by Sevrin’s crew. It even becomes a bit harder to swallow when Spock joins them for a jam session.
Speaking of Spock, it’s been well documented that Leonard Nimoy was very unhappy with the turns Spock took in season three. I discussed it earlier in “Whom Gods Destroy” and it’s on display to a lesser extent here. It’s not hard to see how Spock could agree with the ideals spouted by Sevrin and that he would be the one to be a liaison between Kirk and this crew. But the jam session is just incredibly out of character. Also, the way the Enterprise crew seems to fall under the spell of Sevrin’s crew is a bit quick. It’s almost sad that so many other better adversaries or threats failed to wrest control of the ship from Kirk and yet this group is able to do it–and do it fairly easily.
The story also inserts tidbits to drive up the tension for no good reason. I’ve discussed the disease Sevrin suffers from but the whole Romulan space thing seems just thrown in for no good reason. Given that the Enterprise is in Romulan space for several hours, it’s hard to believe not one ship shows up. (Remember that earlier this season, the Enterprise is in Romulan space for a lot less time and is quickly surrounded by three ships). Were they just taking that day off?
They say that every episode is someone’s favorite, though you’d be hard pressed to find many–or any–Trek fans that embrace “The Way to Eden.” Watching it, I wondered if I’d ever meet someone who would declare this their favorite episode–or even in their top ten. I’m doubtful.
It’s one of the more regrettable episodes of the entire franchise. At this point, I think the cast and crew knew the show was doomed to no fourth season and it appears like the show is coasting on fumes.