Mark Watches ‘Star Trek’: S03E20 – The Way to Eden

In the twentieth episode of the third season of Star Trek, the crew takes on a group of music-loving space hippies, and while most of this is just as bad as it sounds, one thing saves it all: SPOCK. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.

Oh lord.

I wanted this to be so much better than it was. I don’t think this is the worst episode this season, and I think there were others that certainly qualified for this. There’s a lot of potential in “The Way to Eden,” and I don’t want to ignore that. However, this script has such a desperate need to take a compelling idea – people desperate to escape the seemingly repressive Federation and its culture – and portray it as silly and absurd. Which sucks because SPOCK AND HIS VALIDATION OF THIS BELIEF IS SO WONDERFUL AND ONE OF THE BEST THINGS THIS SHOW HAS EVER DONE.

It’s confusing, basically. Through Spock, we get a sympathetic lens. The people who follow Dr. Sevrin are seeking a refuge from a world where everything is ordered and artificial. And, thankfully, we later find out why Sevrin is so desperate to find Eden, this mythological planet free from Federation control: he is a carrier for a virus CREATED by this hyper-technological society. He has every reason to defy the Federation, and I was so impressed that this show had FINALLY given us a vehicle within this show where someone could criticize the Federation fairly. However, that’s also the problem within this script; without Spock’s influence on the story, this episode utterly destroys the group’s credibility, repeatedly and consistently. They’re portrayed as irritating and impulsive. They’re brilliant scientists and are familiar with the ship, yet they make decisions that ignore this awareness. They’re openly manipulative, despite that they’re trying to go somewhere to be peaceful. They’re constantly singing terrible songs that… okay, that’s more of a criticism of the production of “The Way to Eden” than the characterization itself.

But you know, that is just as important to discuss. It’s clear that either the inspiration or motivation for this is to comment on the flower power hippies of the sixties, and while I initially thought it was neat, it comes across as horribly condescending through the writing. Look, I really do think it’s important to try and understand this within the cultural context of when it was made! But in this case, I can’t even say, “Well, I understand why this was written back then,” because I imagine that if was pretty damn terrible back in 1969. Could you imagine being told that your interest in human rights and rock n’ roll meant you were impetuous, childish, prone to making trouble, and willing to put AN ENTIRE PLANET AT RISK OF DEATH? Or that you’d ignore fairly plain science in order to follow someone like Dr. Sevrin? Or that your interest in a world that isn’t dependent on technology or strict order would eventually end in your death or severe harm? Like, I find it incredibly telling that the two episodes this season that have dealt with real-world social ills (“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield” and racism, this episode and progressive politics) have both ended with unbelievably dire and grim conclusions. Why is that? Why is that people who are desperate to make their worlds better are given absolutely no world to return to?

The interactions between Chekov and Irina were mildly interesting. I always like it when the show tries to give us an idea of the main characters’ background, but even here, there’s not really any significant development. Chekov is still bitter and saddened by the fact that Irina chose… well, anything other than him. It’s not viewed critically within the narrative at all; sure, the two of them toyed with a romantic relationship, but it totally felt like Chekov was angry that Irina chose a different path in life instead of a romance with him. That’s… weird? Did he think that she’d follow him at the Academy and afterwards?

It’s Spock, though, that makes “The Way to Eden” memorable to me in a positive way. I don’t know that I’d ever describe Spock as an empathetic person, which is not to say that he’s incapable of behaving that way. It’s just that Spock’s nature complicates the issue so much that I think it’s a challenge worthy of more than just a paragraph or two in a review. He has done what he can to understand the world around him, even if it is in clinical or cold terms, but there is a shred of emotional resonance in his words to Kirk here that is just downright rare. When did we last hear him speak of his own dynamic within the Federation? Any references to being Vulcan are often trotted out as a way to make Spock a foil or to make a joke, but in “The Way to Eden,” the writers point to something else. Spock feels a kinship to the beliefs of these people because he knows what it is like to feel like an alien within his home. I find that to be a powerful statement, one that indicates that Spock is always aware of his place outside the norm within a larger organization. It doesn’t mean he dislikes his position, or that he feels as if the people around him are necessarily bigoted or mean or cruel. Just by nature of him being different – visibly so and because of his culture/behavior – he’s always going to feel out of place.

It is a powerful demonstration of something I’m quite familiar with, and I think it’s a great way to explain to other people what it feels like to go through something like this. Being non-white in America, or being queer, produces the same effect. Even amidst friends who I adore and trust, you cannot control this phenomenon when it happens. It’s a reality for me living within a paradigm that frequently uplifts or celebrates another reality over mine.

I JUST WISH THERE WASN’T SO MUCH SECOND-HAND EMBARRASSMENT GOING ON HERE. I tried, y’all, but oh my god. The music, the costumes, the language… it’s just way too awkward and uncomfortable to watch! Again, I don’t think this episode is worthless or without merit. It’s just… a mess. An enjoyable mess at times, but a mess nonetheless.

The video for “The Way to Eden” can be downloaded here for $0.99.

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About Mark Oshiro

Perpetually unprepared since '09.
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