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Effin Hippies

I watched the original series Star Trek episode The Way to Eden and I have to say... hrmmmm

Sometimes you just want to watch the weird stuff. A while ago I blogged about wanting to write weird shit and gave Space:1999 as an example. Well it does not come weird than this episode of Star Trek's original series, The Way To Eden.

In many ways, The Way to Eden is not in line with a Star Trek episode, though I guess TOS's Let This Be Your Last Battlefield might be a close relative.

The Way to Eden differs from what had come before and what would come after in its focus on the NPCs or as non-gamers might call them, guest stars. Everyone else has kind of their own bit, except Chekov who gets some character development (more on that later). Uhura is not even in the show and Elizabeth Rogers (Lt. Palmer) is back at communications. As an episode, I think it largely fails. D.C. Fontana wrote the original script but according to stuff written by other people, so much was changed she used her pseudonym or Michael Richards instead. Most people laugh about and up until last night, so did I. Its portrayal of counter-culture is clumsy. The Enterprise crew getting 'down' to Freedom Rock (essentially) is just weird and awkward. Sulu gets recruited but then ends up with nothing much else to do.

So why did my mind change? Well, because like a lot of Trek, and the TOS especially, there is good science fiction in there. (Of course there is, Dorothy Fontana wrote the original script - if by nothing else than osmosis its gonna have some chops.) You just have to wade through the bullshit to find it. Really, it felt like so much of this episode was mailed in, giving it more than a star would be generous. But here we are.

First, the villain, Dr. Sevrin puts on a good show. Dude is a sociopath for sure and he carries a disease caused by the utopian society the Federation has created. Remember, TOS is set during a real frontier time for the Federation and Enterprise deals in Cowboy Diplomacy(TM) most of the time. But there are hints here and there that the utopia is not quite perfect. Sevrin's commentary/dialogue with Spock is trying to say something, even if Sevrin is a self-serving demagogue. And with Spock as this episode's main-character, I think you are able parse out the message to some degree. And the disease itself, well if this had been written for TNG twenty years later, there is no way we would have escaped the disease-as-metaphor for AIDS.

Second, we have Spock as the main character. Kirk is largely the point guard (Basketball analogy) or setup man for this episode, handing off to Spock who quite literally "reaches" the hippies in their own dialect. He plays music with the hippies and manages to straddle duty and desire to help. By this point in the series Kirk trusts Spock with about anything, so there is no jump in logic here. I suspect Nimoy was more supportive of hippies in general than Shatner (or Doohan) might have been. But in the end we see Spock encouraging the surviving hippies (spoilers) to keep on looking for Eden.

Finally, we come to Chekov. I do not think Walter Koenig has a ton of range from what I have seen. Chekov is a beloved character, though I think Bester from Babylon 5 is better. Yet there is a scene in this episode that is as good as it can get for character building. It is maybe the best scene in the episode, where Chekov walks down a corridor on the Enterprise and has a conversation with an old flame far better than any Kirk has. The writing is not great but I think all involved manage to do a helluva job. And although the enmity between Shatner and Koenig is legendary, Kirk is really tender towards Chekov, almost like a mentor in this episode. Another scene between them might have been good as would one between Spock and Chekov (or Sulu and Chekov). who is considered, at least in the novels, more of Chekov's mentor than Kirk. I will also point out that, to my memory, Sulu never gets a moment like this. Something to chew on.

Look, I am not saying its good, but underneath is good science fiction. More than a few of the bits are clumsy and a more deft hand at the wheel (sorry David Alexander) might have resulted in a real classic episode. I suggest checking it out especially if you are a counter-culture fan.

Last thing: There are plenty of black NPCS, but the main black character is missing from this episode. And women in the episode don't get a fuck ton of agency. Again, its not perfect.


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