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Under-rated episodes: "The Way to Eden"

The Enterprise catches up with some space hippies, who have stolen a spaceship. Luckily for them, they include the son of the Catullan ambassador, and the Federation is in crucial negotiations with the Catullans, so they are treated with kid gloves. The hippies are led by Dr Sevrin, who is brilliant but insane. They are searching for "Eden", an idyllic planet. The others are familiar with this "Eden", though they regard it as a myth. Spock, who is sympathetic, agrees to help locate Eden if they will behave, and apparently Eden is located. The hippies are led by Dr Sevrin to take over the Enterprise and go down to Eden. Kirk et al. follow, and find that Eden is indeed incredibly beautiful. But it turns out to be deadly: everything is horribly acidic. One of the hippies, named Adam, has already died, from biting into an apple. Sevrin also dies. But at the end Spock encourages them not to give up their search: "I have no doubt but that you will find it, or make it yourselves."

Having hippies in the Utopian world of the Federation seems odd to some critics. But the society the real hippies were reacting against was not uncomfortable for many of them. Ennui for what seems over-perfect is a thing. In any case, this is a story about hippies, not about the Federation. The plot doesn't entirely make sense, and the sort of people who think that neat plot is the first essential naturally dismiss the episode for this. Those with more imagination, however, can find a number of interesting features in the episode.

Spock's sympathy for the hippies is a piece of characterization that at first seems surprising but in fact becomes convincing; and this forms one of the most interesting and memorable aspects. Spock remarks that "They regard themselves as aliens in their own worlds, a condition with which I am somewhat familiar." The episode as a whole is broadly sympathetic to the hippies' aspirations, while making Dr Sevrin a symbol of how it can be led astray. An allusion to Timothy Leary has been suggested—it turns out that on Eden, "even the grass is full of acid".[1]

Classically, TOS explores things with a triumvirate of Kirk, McCoy and Spock: Spock being the rational side and McCoy the emotional, and Kirk in the middle. In this episode however it's Kirk, Scotty, and Spock. Spock, as we have seen, can understand where the hippies are coming from. Scotty just sees them as undisciplined troublemakers. Kirk starts closer to Scotty but, partly influenced by Spock's explanations, he becomes more sympathetic, and at the end he expresses agreement with Spock's encouragement.

There is a subplot involving Chekhov and an old girlfriend, Irina, who was at Starfleet Academy with him before dropping out and is now one of the hippies. She complains that he was, and is, "so correct. And inside, the struggle not to be." Making Chekhov the representative of formality is as counter-intuitive as making Spock the hippy sympathizer. It doesn't work as well, but you can sort of see the point: we see him as youthful and free, and he actually has enough in common with her that they are drawn together, but from her point of view his "correct" side seems a problem. There are a couple of nice scences.

Another feature is the music. How can anyone not love Spock jamming with a girl playing a bicycle wheel? Adam's lyrics, sometimes supposedly impromptu, are memorable:
—"Gonna crack my knuckles and jump for joy: I got a clean bill of health from Doctor McCoy!"
or
—"Let's get together and have some fun—I don't know how to do it but it's got to be done!"


Footnotes

[1] OK, actually the line is "All this plant life is full of acid. Even the grass, Jim" but I'm sure that's what was intended, and people remember it like that. [Return]


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