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L.I. Underhill is a media critic and historian specializing in pop culture, with a focus on science fiction (especially Star Trek) and video games. Their projects include a critical history of Star Trek told through the narrative of a war in time, a “heretical” history of The Legend of Zelda series and a literary postmodern reading of Jim Davis' Garfield.

4 Comments

  1. Adam Riggio
    November 15, 2013 @ 4:59 am

    Despite the critiques that you're right to mention, I've always considered this one of the "twenty or so good ones" of the original Star Trek, mainly because of precisely what you mention. If anything, I almost see a parody of the typical mainstream dismissal of hippie and youth culture. The Edenites' slang sounds silly, like everyone's attempts to adapt slang and swearing to sci-fi settings who isn't Joss Whedon or Ron Moore. And they look ridiculous, but so did a lot of hippies. The blanket dismissals of the Edenites from the conservative perspectives of Chekov and Kirk appear at first, yes. But Spock and Uhura's respect for them predominates the episode as the folk jams continue. Spock's own idealism takes the episode firmly from the socially conservative perspective. Yes, hippies were drawn from the middle class, but their goal was to reject the values that created the middle class and find another way beyond the capitalist rat race. I think that's why the conservative establishment of the 1960s was especially hostile to hippies: a generation of young people receiving the benefits of imperialism and the military-industrial complex weren't supposed to turn their backs on it. Hippies weren't just critics of mainstream conservatism; they were class traitors.

    I always considered "The Way to Eden" a tragedy of idealism that had been twisted by a charismatic leader who turned their dreams into a cult that resulted only in death. If anything, the character of Severin reminds me more of Charles Manson than any true utopian. And we should remember that Manson's success lay in seducing genuine idealists to his demented vision. I'm not sure how the chronology of the Manson Family intersects with the production of this episode, but when I look at it from 2013, Manson is what I see.

    The changes, or lack thereof, of the more conservative cast toward the Edenites at the end of the episode seems to reflect the way Manson tarnished the dreams of hippie culture. Chekov still cares for Irina, but sees his own dismissal of utopian thinking as vindicated by the revelation of Severin's being Charlie Manson. Kirk, perhaps because of his sympathies with Spock, can reflect on the tragedy a little. Spock understands the tragedy, and hopes that it can continue.

    For me, "The Way to Eden" is one of the most hopeful Star Trek episodes.

    Reply

  2. K. Jones
    November 15, 2013 @ 11:13 am

    It's not an episode I hate, despite its failings and some of the cheesiness. But before this post and some of the production order context, I didn't realize just how good this episode is as a companion piece to The Cloud Minders. Not only do they belong next to each other (even though Cloud is far better), they serve as some of the final relevant (and bittersweet) examples of the End of Star Trek.

    Plus, I thought it was a pretty fair ensemble piece that utilized all of the principle actors quite well – always a huge point bonus for me. And honestly, while the Enterprise crew has espoused militaristic ambitions and a lot of Roddenberry's space policeman behavior, they're still uniformed officers that came out of a dogmatic school – I felt like Scotty and Kirk's initial reactions toward the Children of Eden were realistic.

    I've liked the discussion of the Hippie movement occurring in the Middle Class though – as someone ensconced in the Art School community who came out of a uniquely poor situation, it's easy to relate back to some of the resentment that might have come from both the establishment, and the underprivileged.

    I've always liked episodes that serve as prophetic visions of the future though – as we find out (albeit in a pretty awful film) that Spock's views on brotherhood are intrinsically linked toward his sympathy for the 23rd Century "Eden Movement".

    Having found "Eden" pretty annoying when I was younger, I'm consistently surprised how much more watchable it is on repeat viewing, provided you maybe mute Adam's song.

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  3. Josh Marsfelder
    November 15, 2013 @ 1:22 pm

    It's certainly not unwatchably terrible: I fully expected it to be and was pleasantly surprised to find upon watching it that it wasn't. That said, I'm not sure exactly how effective it is either-I grant a lot of the points you both made, but I can't help feeling this falls unsatisfyingly short of what Star Trek is capable of, even recently. I think Adam's reading is bang-on, I'm just not convinced it's as clear or as fleshed out in the final product as it should have been. And, as usual, I would have liked to see what D.C. Fontana's original plan was.

    Perhaps Kirk and Scotty's reactions are realistic within the context of the Original Series' conflicted relationship with militarism and authority, but it still feels off to me coming at the tail end of the third season, and especially after "The Cloud Minders". For a show that has been trumpeting utopianism so much lately, and the notion that utopianism comes out of respect for everyone's chosen way of life, to have them so dismissive just rubs me the wrong way.

    It is, however, most certainly a quite effective microcosm of The End of Star Trek: Its ultimate balking at taking a stand is tragically fitting.

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  4. Daru
    January 24, 2014 @ 12:49 am

    I agree – that line from Spock you quote about the search for Eden is a stand out moment, for me one of the best of the series.

    Reply

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