Friday, March 20, 2015

TOS Rewind #72: The Way to Eden

Groovy!  It's time for The Way to Eden.

Our swingin' podcast for this episode:

So let's get this out of the way now:  this is by no means the worst episode of the series. I may have placed the episode near the bottom when I was growing up (the honor for my least favorite during those years goes to this one) but today it seems to have slightly more to recommend it.

The outrageously campy outfits and songs are entertaining in of themselves which elevates the episode to at least the level of Spock's Brain. However, it's better than that, but first let's get the bad stuff out of the way.

Star Trek often made commentary on the issues of its time but it did this best when it was not quite so literal. By having the people portraying the youth counterculture be so much like real 1960s hippies (well, at least Hollywood's idea of them), it comes off as tone-deaf as a 1969 episode of Dragnet where the cops have to deal with LSD-using kids. 

The characters are dressed in super-groovy costumes and one of them even plays pseudo-folk music on his space-guitar. The whole thing is amusing, at least until the songs wear out their welcome, but extremely hard to take seriously. The flip side to this is the way the episode has most of the usual cast being so stiff and humorless. Kirk's "inflexibility" is a cheap way to garner sympathy for the seekers of Eden. This gets to a problem: the episode doesn't really want us to take the characters very seriously. Their leader, Dr. Sevrin, is morally compromised, if not actually insane and the others follow him without challenge. Only Irina, Chekov's love interest, seems to question him and does nothing even when it becomes obvious that he will kill to achieve his goals. The others are painted as childish, to the point of having one of the characters be the son of an important Federation official, and only interested in having a good time. Maybe you shouldn't put your idealistic dreams in the hands of a Nazi!

The saving grace of the script is the way life in the Federation is questioned. The characters are skeptical of modernity, as it appears to work in the 23rd Century. People seem to spend a lot of time in artificial environments and eat replicated food. It seems only fitting that some portion of the population might question or outright reject this life. The way this subject is approached is fairly weak but at least it's being brought up. This angle is helped by Spock voicing this point of view; he is apparently at least understanding if not sympathetic to this idea. Of course Spock is way too cool to be lumped in with the Squares like Kirk and Scotty. The plot point of having "Eden" being located within the Romulan Neutral Zone seems like an unnecessary story driver. Having the space hippies commandeer the Enterprise wasn't enough?

The acting is mostly fine, considering the way the characters are written but the songs are pretty bad and seem there partially to pad out the running time. This may be one of the only times where the syndication cuts of the series might actually improve the episode. The actor playing Irina has this horrible Russian accent that makes Natasha from the Bullwinkle cartoons seem authentic but I suspect she was directed to read her lines this way. Beyond being just stiff and uncool, Kirk and the others seem oddly ineffectual; Sevrin seems to gain control of the ship way too easily. Skip_Homeier, who plays Sevrin also played Melakon on the episode Patterns of Force, does well with what he's given to do. It's no surprise that he had a long career as a character actor. He manages to appear serious even with those bizarre ears.

Sometimes you just have to laugh and go with the flow, brothers and sisters.


Eric's turn:

I'm taaaaalkin 'bout... “The Way to Eden,” possibly the cheesiest episode of Star Trek ever produced. The closest contender, at least in original Trek, is “Spock's Brain,” but I find “The Way to Eden” to be more fun. Maybe it's the music...

Seriously, I see this episode as a follow-up to the first season's “This Side of Paradise,” where Kirk proposes that humans “...can't stroll to the music of the lute. We must march to the sound of drums.” In “The Way to Eden,” however, we see a group of people determined to defy that way of life. Unfortunately, the treatment of the “space hippies” is grossly uneven. They are portrayed as fatuous, even puerile, but under Dr. Sevrin, they manage to knock out the Enterprise crew and effect an escape from the ship. I suppose my gripe is the disparity between the hippies' trappings and their intent.

As is typical of third season episodes, the idea being explored is interesting, but the execution is lousy. Apparently, the producers were unaware of the nature of the 60s counter-culture. I wasn't there for it, but everything I've seen and heard leads me to believe the flower children didn't dress and wear tattoos that look like a 6-year old girl's pastel dream house. And their music, although kinda fun in a laughable way, bears no resemblance to the music of the counter-culture. At first, I thought the reason for these errors was contempt on the part of the producers, but after further pondering, I think it was more ignorance and a profound lack of creativity and imagination. They (Fred Freiberger and co.) simply thought that those kids would dig the crazy costumes and hair. Sigh...

Setting aside that egregious blunder, our intrepid, 23rd century flower children actually have an understandable, not unreasonable, goal: to free themselves from the complexity and artificiality of life in the highly technological Federation. And Spock understands this, he even supports it (with the caveat that they really shouldn't follow their resident nut job, Dr. Sevrin). In fact, the strongest validation of their purpose comes from Spock at the end of the episode when he tells Irina “I have no doubt but that you will find [Eden], or make it yourselves.”

Next time: “The Cloud Minders”

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