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The Trek Nation - The Way To Eden

The Way To Eden

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 12, 2007 - 5:19 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Way to Eden' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: The Enterprise is sent to pursue the vessel Aurora, which has been stolen by a group of fanatical idealists who are searching for the mythical paradise planet Eden. Because one member of the group, Tongorad, is the son of a Federation ambassador, Kirk is under orders to treat the cult respectfully. But Dr. McCoy soon discovers that the group's leader - onetime renowned scientist Dr. Sevrin - is the carrier of a deadly antibiotic-resistant bacteria that requires everyone around him to receive regular inoculations. Kirk orders Sevrin to be taken into custody. Meanwhile Spock tries to understand the values and motives of the other group members, promising to help them discover the location of Eden. The group uses a musical performance as distraction to take over the ship and free Sevrin, diverting it to Eden, which lies inside Romulan space. But the planet is deadly; all its vegetation produces poisonous acids. Sevrin eats one of the fruits and dies rather than being taken back into custody. The rest meekly return to the Enterprise, where Spock expresses the hope that they will continue their quest for paradise.


Analysis: I was ready for "The Way To Eden" to be the worst original series episode of all, the most dated, the most ridiculous; I remembered the faux hippie clothing and terrible music from viewings long ago in my childhood, I remembered that the woman playing Chekov's love interest had a phonier Russian accent than Chekov himself, I remembered the inane oversimplification of the spiritualist movements of the 1960s and what stuffy jerks most of the Enterprise crewmembers looked like anyway when they complained about Sevrin's followers. I didn't remember that the bacteria infecting Sevrin had been developed by human technology, nor that everyone in Sevrin's group knew he planned to kill the Enterprise crewmembers and didn't argue with him.

"The Way To Eden" is certainly not Star Trek's finest moment, but it's a much more interesting episode than I did remember, in part because its very flaws raise questions worth exploring. It seems as if the writers had little sense of what was really driving the youth movements of the 1960s: they threw together hippie clothes, folk music, peacenik ideology, Aquarian Age spirituality and cult mentality as if these things were inevitably linked, rather than all being rebellious byproducts of the larger culture from which they emerged. There's no real effort to engage the contradiction between Starfleet's mission of exploration and its military structure, no real dilemma among any of the crewmembers about whether the Federation's path is really in the best interests of its members; even the rebel son of a Federation ambassador, Tongorad, is a passive follower of the charismatic Sevrin rather than a man expressing his own perspective. And the women in the group seem to exist largely to sing soprano and provide sexual distraction.

That said, the episode seems much less dated than I would have expected, in part simply because it does such a poor job representing the specific historical movements it seems designed to criticize. These aren't actual followers of Timothy Leary's philosophy and they have almost nothing to do with the anti-war youth movement to which the episode briefly alludes when one of the group members tells Sulu that he's too young to be wearing a uniform and following orders. They're a cult more akin to the Unification Church in the 1960s than a widespread social phenomenon, led by a charismatic leader whose ultimate plans are perceived by outsiders as totalitarian and self-serving. When Spock determines that Sevrin is insane, it's not clear how he can know that by medical standards; he seems rather to be using the term in a sociological sense, because Sevrin refuses to accept the reality of his condition and would rather risk the deaths of all his followers than the requirements for containing his condition. He blames the society that bred the deadly bacteria he carries for his fate. He may be unreasonable but he is not unreasoning.

Why are these people following Sevrin? For Adam, Tongorad and the two pretty singing women, it seems largely to be about spreading a message of unity; Adam in particular keeps saying that he is trying to reach other people, using music to spread his message of togetherness ("Someone ought to take a step/One way or other/Let's say good-bye/Or let's say 'brother'"). He seems sincere if naïve, and even Spock responds, agreeing to play in a "session" with the seekers, explaining to Kirk that he identifies with their feeling that they do not belong even on their own planets. As out of character as it may be for Spock to express this sentiment aloud, it makes a sort of sense, particularly watching this episode in tandem with "Requiem for Methuselah" when Spock seems deeply engaged with the question of how emotional and spiritual sensibilities impact pure logic. Unfortunately Spock and Adam are both written as rather blind so far as Sevrin is concerned - neither takes the threat he represents seriously enough - and I'm not clear why Spock doesn't try harder to show Sevrin's followers that what their leader wants is not at all the same paradise they seek.

The issue of Eden is something of a mess that the episode doesn't address any more than Star Trek V: The Final Frontier addresses the question of whether the "God" Kirk meets at the center of the galaxy is just a mind-reading opportunistic super-being or the same opportunistic super-being that inspired the religions he cites. Spock agrees to help search for the planet Eden, but it's not clear whether he means the Eden where Adam and Eve ate an apple and were cast out of God's presence or whether he simply means an idyllic planet where people can live in natural bliss. What does Spock mark on the chart that Sevrin follows?

It's interesting to see Chekov finally get a bit of dimension so late in the series, trying to balance his responsibilities as a Starfleet officer with an instinctive attraction to a wild girl who probably reminds him of the hot-headed tendencies we've seen him struggle to repress before. Here is someone who used to be a scientist like himself - someone he used to date - who is now free to act on her impulses and doesn't seem to be suffering greatly for it, which makes him act far more judgmental and conservative than one would expect from him. He's a Herbert, just as Kirk is a Herbert (though when the whole group chants the name at once, it sounds like they're saying "pervert," which adds some unintended humor to the scenes). The hippies are definitely on to something, not only with Spock. They recognize that Chekov is stifling his free-spirited side, that Sulu rarely has the opportunity to indulge his love for botany...that, as Spock explains, many people are not entirely comfortable with the planned communities and artificially balanced atmospheres of Federation worlds -- the sterile breeding grounds of the indestructible infection that has poisoned Sevrin in body and mind.

"The Way To Eden" is weakly written and doesn't follow through on any of its more interesting premises, but it isn't thoughtless and in an interesting way it now serves as commentary on the Trekkie phenomenon itself. Space hippie Adam just wants Spock and "Herbert" to grok him, to borrow the phrase from Heinlein -- to understand why mass commercial culture simply isn't satisfying for everyone privileged to live in it, to see why wearing what others would label silly costumes and attending what others would call pointless gatherings of like-minded people would hold such appeal. I can't make a case for this being a good episode, but it's much more than the sum of its mediocre parts


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.