Captain's Blog pt. 82: The Way to Eden

Earlier in this series, I wrote: "If Star Trek: The Motion Picture is the TOS finale that we never got, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier is the bloated mash-up of "Way to Eden," "By Any other Name" and "This Side of Paradise" that we really never needed."

We've covered the other two, so let's turn our attention to:

February 21, 1969
Like "Spock's Brain," there's an awful lot of missing the point with this episode. Here are just two examples: 

"I would've been a lot more patient with this one if it weren't for the songs. The action stops cold every time Napier picks up his whatever-the-hell-it-is and starts warbling. I think Sevrin's quest is foolishly naive, and the condescending emptiness of his followers is nearly intolerable, but at least those have something to do with a story. At least all the "Herbert" crap has a point. The singing is just the worst kind of padding, and it burns more than a few Edenic bushes ever could." - Zack Handlen, AV Club

Or David Mack's at Tor: "As for the hippies’ songs… oh, good lord. Some things are good. Some are so bad that they become hilariously good. The songs in this episode fall into neither of those categories; they are simply, unforgivably awful... I suppose we should be grateful that William Shatner didn’t sit in to do his spoken-word rendition of 'Rocket Man.'"

Talk about booking yourself a room on the Do Not Pass Go Do Not Collect $200 Express. Who wouldn't want Shatner to break into his rendition of "Rocket Man," at any time, in any place? That isn't even "crazy talk;" it's "call the authorities" talk.

The songs are awful? Wow, well-spotted. (In other feats of evaluative insight: water is the essence of wetness.) To these people, I say "Herbert! Herbert!" (and almost certainly urinate on their rugs.)

I mean, holy effing duh.
I'm not saying you should put them on playlists or anything, just that the awfulness of the songs is not a barrier to enjoyment of this episode; it is at least 2/3ds of what there is to enjoy. I mean, do people want a Space Hippies episode without these ridiculous songs? i.e. Oh, I could've taken it more seriously if only they had been singing "Masters of War?" To exclude "Stepping Into Eden" from the "so awful they're hilarious" category is a staggering failure of classification to me.

I should probably start off with this episode's Memorability factor, which is really the main thing it has going for it. Except it's not so much Memorability as it is Notoriety: (15)

Take this away from the episode and there's really nothing to it, which is why I started things off with these ridiculous objections. It'd be like removing Abraham Lincoln from "The Savage Curtain." Who in their right mind would do this? The episode is memorable because it's so bizarre and so freaking square. 'Nuff said. 

Script and Theme: (3 / 4) So, let's start with the script. With the exception of Dr. Sevrin's speech about "this... stuff you pump into the air" - a speech I love and, as with Peter Cook's tirade against God at the end of Bedazzled (the original, obviously - I tried to find a clip for you, but no luck; it's in the Quotes section of the imdb, should you care to have a look) find eeriely and depressingly prescient - the script kind of sucks.

Characters who have never before displayed rigid authoritarian intolerance are suddenly hateful. (Chekov is usually mentioned here, and rightly so, but Nurse Chapel, too, gets some lines that make her sound like the intake nurse at Camp X-Ray.) The sensibility of Trek seems turned on its ear to accommodate the plot, which is never a good idea. Dr. Sevrin's takeover of the ship / theft of the shuttlecraft is very convenient. The planet is freaking named Eden. So on and so on.

The theme itself is about as redundant to TOS as you can get. It's almost as if someone watched older episodes and decided what was missing from the other dozen cautionary tales of Paradise was subtlety. Sure we've done this before, one can picture Doug Cramer saying, but can we have a literal poison apple on a literal planet called Eden?

"His name... was Adam." (Holy moley. And the score for this scene, with the orchestrated "Ya-aay Brother" melody recalled is so amazingly ill considered i.e. awesome.)
Hippie stinkfoot.
"Plus," Cramer continues, "maybe something with hippies."
D.C. Fontana's original script was entitled "Joanna" and was about Dr. McCoy's adult daughter coming aboard the Enterprise. (The idea was resurrected for TAS, if you recall from way back in Captain's Blog pt. 3 or 4, as "The Survivor.") After seeing what direction the story was headed after substantial rewrites, she opted to use a pseudonym, which is why we see Kramer's name in the credits:

Arthur Heinemann wrote the teleplay for "Wink of an Eye," which we'll be getting to soon.
Two things that amuse the crap out of me (outside of Yaaaaaay Brother and all that:) 1) the fake hippie dialogue ("Wow, that's really now!") and 2) this guy on the bridge during the hippies' performance, which is, for some reason, piped all over the ship:

So, so awkward.
Before we move on: imagine replacing the space hippies with the Black Panthers. Now that would have been a cringeworthy, probably-equally-if-not-more-hilarious slice of 60s generation gap for the ages. I hope the IDW reboot series does this, if it continues re-imagining TOS.

I hope the same for "Charlie X."
Kirk and the Gang: (10) I was going to go with only 5, but I get such a kick out of Spock's bonding with the Space Hippies.

This gesture giving Adam permission to pick up his "axe" is great really now. They reach, man, they reach.
As is Spock's reaction to this bit of blaaaow-ed out enthusiasm.

No one really has all that much to do, but there are still some fun bits. It's always a pleasure to see the cast react to some broadcast of pain.

Some unintentionally funny subtext here with Sulu. You make it sound tempting... (but no.)
Visual Design: (2) In case this post hasn't been Space Hippified enough:

The Aurora. (Who cares.)
The original Eden.
And the digitally remastered one.
Internal Logistics: (.5) As with evaluating the musical merits of "Stepping Into Eden," I consider sussing out how well this reflects 23rd century mechanics and infrastructure somewhat misguided. But the big sticking point is Chekov.

I mean, does anything really have to be done to Chekov to make us understand why he would not be totally supportive of the idea of his ex-girlfriend throwing in with Dr. Sevrin's gang? Isn't their absurdity self-evident without turning him into an angry jarhead?
And what is up with this endless zoom-in during his and Irina's big scene?
I can taste your fear on my tongue.
Guest: (4) Oddly enough, I find the guest performances in this episode to be a real hoot. Not just Charles Napier:

He's gonna liii-ive, not dii-ie. (He wishes. RIP, Charles Napier.)
"And what the hell would you do, Trautman? Pay blackmail money to ransom our own men and finance the war effort against our allies? You wanna bomb Hanoi? A couple of forgotten ghosts?"
Skip Homeier, another Outer Limits alum, plays Dr. Sevrin, the L. Ron / Charlie Manson of the bunch.
He also played Melakon in "Patterns of Force."
And Mary-Lynn Rapelye plays Irina. She runs a bed and breakfast in Maine these days. She returns in the Phase II episode "To Serve All My Days."
Title: (1) I never liked "The Way to Eden" as a title. Because it's not about the way to Eden, neither the planet nor the concept, nor is it ironic enough to really bedazzle. Plus it undermines the episode's real strength, which is its batshit insanity. Ergo, a better title: "The Ubiquitous Dr. Spacegrove." Or maybe even just "We Reach the Now."

Total Points Awarded: 39.5


  1. God help me, but I kind of like this episode. I even sorta like some of the songs. And the fact that "Star Trek" did an anti-hippie episode at all is just delightful. Which is not to say that I, personally, am anti-hippie, because I'm not. There's just something about Trek taking the non-obvious stance that appeals to me from time to time.

    Imagine how much it must have rankled Shatner that Nimoy AGAIN got the opportunity to make music on the show, while he was stuck with no musical moments whatsoever.

    1. Absolutely. (That probably accounts for The Transformed Man!)

      For the record / just to be clear, I am amused greatly by the soundtrack. My comments were directed at these folks who scowl at the songs or claim they're obstacles to enjoyment. I mean, there's no doubt they're silly songs and it's a silly episode, my point is only that it's immensely enjoyable, so to say "Oh, these songs are awful" is, to me, missing the point by a wide margin.

      In other news, I think I'm going to rename this blog "Bryan Talks to Bryant about The Original Series." Sheesh. Where did everybody go? Did they get furloughed? I feel like Beverly in "Remember Me."

      I can think of far worse company, of course - K'plagh.

    2. It's definitely true that merely pointing out that the songs are awful is, critically-speaking, the equivalent of insulting a fat person by calling them fat. Not incorrect, but awfully lazy and unimaginative.

      In this particular case, it also presupposes that viewers are supposed to like the songs. I don't think that's the case. I think we're SUPPOSED to think they suck, because we're supposed to be extremely dubious of this group of weirdos from the outset. In that sense, the songs serve the episode well.

      I do genuinely like the music, though, when it begins to turn dark and troubled. Most of the episode is spent looking down its nose at the hippies, but by the end there is a sort of acknowledgement that while these are misguided, foolish people, there is nevertheless something beautiful about what they are trying to do. It's a tragic quest; but it is, in some ways, a valid one. And so it is that the episode ends up being anti-hippie, but from a place of sympathy and understanding. I think it's a more interesting episode than it gets credit for being.

    3. I think it's definitely easy to get swept up in the craziness of it all and miss that this episode IS coming from a place of sympathy. Misunderstanding more than understanding, maybe, but certainly not with any bad intent. I like to see generations (here it's Cramer, Freiberger and the gang) trying to understand one another rather than just burning in effigy.

      It's also an interesting point that the viewer is meant to think the songs suck, to stack the deck so to speak against Dr. Sevrin's gang. I'm not sure I ever even considered that, but it's definitely worth considering. (I'm also delighted when I find new things to consider about these things after all these years. So, thanks!)

      Sevrin's speech about developing allergies and toxicity based on the artificial environments Starfleet has created is definitely something I have thought about a lot. Especially these days with all the genetically-modified-for-longer-shelf-life foods and what not.

  2. Way back in the mists of time, before the internet, I worked with a guy who would randomly bray out "HEEEEYYYY-EYYY BROTHER!" between rounds of TV trivia, where we'd shout questions from one end of the warehouse to the other ("WHO WAS MANNIX'S SECRETARY?" "GAIL FISHER!") It seems a million years ago now.

    Man, Charles Napier really committed to this role, didn't he? Thigh-high suede boots and a fright wig that made him look like Carrot Top bleached his hair. He didn't even have the excuse of being young and dumb - he was in his thirties! Just amazing.

    I watched this clip I link to here just to refresh my memory on the music, and literally laughed until tears were streaming. That girl who sang was also pretty hot, but wow, her Melanie-like helium-infused voice is something else.


    1. I wanna liiiiiiiiiive, not diiiiiie...

      It's from later in the episode than that clip, but Napier does a little head-nod accompanying one of the "Yay, brother, yaa-aay"s that slays me every time.

      And yeah, I agree - he went all-out for Adam.

    2. Man, that guy at 0.18 cracks me up so much.

    3. I tried to screencap Spock's nonchalant entrance around 1:32 a few different ways and just couldn't convey how funny I find it. I love Hippie Spock. I only wish he had his kolinahr haircut for it.

    4. Oh yeah, Spock's entrance is as funny as Trek gets with its main characters. It's the unintentional absurdity of it that kills me, especially because he's got his Vulcan lyre casually held under his arm. If only they'd had the (even more) inspired lunacy to have him dressed like a beatnik and attempted some kind of bridging between the Feds and hippies that way...