Okay, okay, I get it: Gene Roddenberry didn’t like hippies. And I knew that already thanks to the first season’s episode This Side of Paradise! However, The Way to Eden is even more explicit: none less than six characters seem to have come out of Hair (a movie which actually came out in 1979, ten years after the third season of Star Trek) and play the guitar and sing songs about rebellion and conformity. And in case you have any doubt, no, this doesn’t work particularly well in a science fiction series. The whole episode is practically an excuse to show what Roddenberry wanted to happen to the hippies of his time, that is to die horribly poisoned by the same nature that the hippies themselves said they loved.
The plot, let me be generous and define it a plot, is as follows: Kirk acts as a space policeman and intercepts the Aurora, a stolen spacecraft that is heading towards Romulan space. He captures the six thieves, three girls (Mary-Linda Rapelye, Deborah Downey, and Phyllis Douglas) and three guys (Skip Homeier, Victor Brandt, and the legendary Charles Napier whom I will always associate with John Landis’ masterpiece The Blues Brothers, 1980). Since one of them is the son of a powerful diplomat, Kirk is ordered to treat the six as guests, not as prisoners, so they go around the ship singing and trying to convince the crew to join them (also, one of the three girls apparently had a relationship with Pavel Chekov).
At the same time, the group leader is infected with a dangerous virus and Spock enjoys musical jam sessions with Charles Napier. Nothing makes sense in this episode. To make it short, the six hippies want to go to Eden and Spock declares the planet to be in the Romulan space. Once there, it’s revealed that the Garden of Eden is actually a very dangerous place: the sole touch of any of the plants is deadly, and some of the hippies die very quickly. And that’s the end of it. Confused? You should be.
The Way to Eden is terrible from start to finish. The six hippies are unbearable and even Kirk would like to throw them in the brig, but he cannot. Their actions are difficult to understand: what is the Eden they seek? Is it a planet called Eden? Or is it a generic heavenly planet? From some of the dialogues, the latter seems to be true, as McCoy warns that the virus of the hippie chief could endanger any indigenous people of the planet, but then the Eden to which they arrive is an uninhabited planet… And it’s also super poisonous! What sort of Eden is that?
Then, and I’m the first to admit that this is a minor detail, the six hippies arrive on the Enterprise with an emergency teleport just before the Aurora explodes. Where do they get the musical instruments from? And why is Spock sympathetic to them? He shouldn’t understand them at all! On the other hand, the hatred of Scott and Kirk towards them is understandable, and this seems to be the medium used by Roddenberry and Arthur Heinemann (the screenwriter) to convey what they think of the hippies.
There’s one thing I liked: the songs are not bad at all! Everything else left me baffled. Perhaps Star Trek was not the most appropriate product to make a commentary on the Sixties’ counterculture without even trying to write a science fiction story (as it was done in the aforementioned This Side of Paradise). This third season is ending in the worst way, I’m afraid… Ciao!
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