What better way to spend a cold Sunday night in March (that’s still the first of spring) than with the worst original series Star Trek episode of all time? Watching “The Way to Eden” was simultaneously life affirming and completely ridiculous, bordering on shameful. On with the review, which is mostly going to be a deconstruction of the dated outfits and soul depleting musical numbers.
The action opens on the bridge of the Enterprise, which is in hot pursuit of the stolen spaceship Aurora. Rather than surrender, the vessel speeds up to dangerous power draining levels; Kirk beams its passengers aboard just before the tiny model spaceship explodes. Lo and behold, the thieves are a bunch of flower children, who emerge from transport with their hands making little triangles, some future kind of peace sign, I guess. They’re wearing all sorts of fun scraps of clothing left over from other bad costumes—polyester genie pants, half-attached wigs, loincloths, capes with firm creases, fake flowers in their hair. One of the barefoot hippies, Tongo Rad, wears a giant purple clown wig with matching eyebrows, which is visibly falling off his head; apparently he’s the son of some ambassador, so Kirk is forced against his will to treat them all hospitably instead of tossing the no-good hippies in the brig. Oh, all the far-out space hippies have flower tattoos painted on their arms; painted is the wrong word, possibly they were drawn on with sidewalk chalk.
A career character actor, Charles Napier, plays Adam, who’s kind of the mascot of the crew. Their leader is Dr. Sevrin, played by another long-time character actor of the 20th century, Skip Homeier. (Napier also appeared in episodes of “The A-Team” and “Knight Rider”, Homeier started as a child actor). Adam is wearing green velveteen thigh-highs, a polyester cape attached to a skort via brass chain, and a curly sandy blonde wig (also poorly affixed to his head—I could see an air pocket where spirit gum was leaking out). He has an instrument of the future, a piece of lumber with three rubber bands stretched across—this junky crossbow sounds just like a real harp. As soon as Captain Kirk talks with his new passengers, they judge him to be a square; Adam says, “Oh Herbert, you are stiff.” Dr. Sevrin requests Kirk take them all to the mythical planet Eden, Kirk denies the planet exists, and the flower children heckle him out of the transporter room.
Back on the bridge, Kirk asks Spock for some backstory on the hippies, and the real propaganda comes out. Spock replies, “There are many who are uncomfortable with what we have created. It is almost a biological rebellion. A profound revulsion against the planned communities, the programming, the sterilized, artfully balanced atmosphere. They hunger for an Eden, where spring comes.” Kirk guffaws, says, “We all want that…but we don’t steal space cruisers and act like spoiled children!” This episode aired in February of 1969, when the flower power movement was just spreading to middle America. Some critics have compared Dr. Sevrin, the older scientist leading his young disciples to paradise, with Dr. Timothy Leary. Dr. Sevrin fails his medical exam (I think Kirk orders all the hippies to be checked for VD), and Kirk confines him to the brig. Sevrin is wearing a long cape that must have just come out of storage—it’s all creased up—and his giant fake cauliflower ears and shiny bald head make him look like the sea monkey father on the back of old comic books; remember the sea monkey family, waving hello?
While this is going on, there’s a side plot with Chekhov and one of the hippies, Irina, played by Mary Linda Rapelye. Supposedly they had a relationship back at Starfleet Academy (Kirk: “One of them went to Starfleet?” Chekhov: “She…dropped out, sir.”) The relationship is implausible: she’s a total babe (and clearly not Russian, her accent is worse than Natasha’s on Rocky & Bullwinkle), he’s a well-meaning stooge with a bowl haircut—those two would not have hooked up in college. Irina’s outfit is a floral genie affair with exposed belly; this little bit of skin is placed dead center in every boring scene to follow. It seems like they intentionally left the curlers in her hairdo, an impressive stack of rolls decorated with pastel plastic flowers. (Including the hairdo, Irina stands a full four inches taller than Chekhov—camera tricks are employed to even the score).
Now where the hell was I with this “review”? Irina is successfully seducing Chekhov, attempting to get information about the Enterprise from him; another flower girl tries to seduce Sulu—luckily, Kirk steps in and shames his pilot into chastity. After Adam’s physical (about which he scats: “Gonna crack my knuckles and jump for joy, got a clean bill of health from Dr. McCoy!”), he approaches Mr. Spock and asks if they can have “a session.” Spock agrees, Adam says “That’s real now!”, and the next scene is an excruciating love-in. This brick of stinky cheese that called itself a scene was so bad I muted it halfway through, taking copious notes to maintain. Adam croons off-key while strumming his stick and rubber bands, “I’m talkin’ ‘bout you, I’m talkin’ ‘bout me, long time back when the galaxy was new, man knew what he had to do…” and on an on, a tuneless song that the crew of the Enterprise attempts to groove to (one out of three extras bops their head, the others stand around staring into space).
Adam is accompanied by a female hippie (Deborah Downey) who’s dressed like an All-American cheerleader: red, white, and blue little shirt and skirt, side ponytail with a ribbon, shiny blonde hair. An American cheerleader gone bad. For the next song, Spock plays the Vulcan harp while Miss Oklahoma plucks at a bicycle wheel with red, white, and blue spokes. The hippies’ master plan is to get the crew so tuned in that they forget what they’re doing and leave the Enterprise ripe for hostile takeover. I can’t believe I just wrote that sentence, but it’s a crucial plot point.
Chekhov and Irina have another patched-together scene, where she gathers more intelligence and he gathers tightness in the pants (Chekhov is searching for Eden, at Spock’s request—he made a deal with Dr. Sevrin, in an earlier bit that was notable only for its two sets of fake ears). Predictably, the scene ends with the two actors smashing their faces together. Kissing on the set of Star Trek seems highly dangerous; in episode after episode, a male officer (usually Kirk) closes his eyes and rams his lips at a being from another world. I wonder if this blind face fighting ever resulted in a nosebleed.
The session’s good vibes are so powerful that Sevrin’s guard is reduced to snapping his fingers and mooning about with his eyes closed, so the purple clown wig guy is able to free their leader. It’s worth noting that when this episode aired, white America had not learned how to dance yet. Multiply that squareness with boxy Star Fleet uniforms, crew cuts, and poofy up-dos, and you can see why I barely made it through the love-in.
Up on the bridge, a few officers are tapping their feet to the hip tunes, but Kirk and Scottie are not impressed. Scottie, representing the establishment, whines, “I don’t know why a young mind has to be undisciplined! They’re troublemakers!” (A few episodes before this one, Scottie got tanked on bourbon down on an old west planet, then defended his right to be drunk on the job with vigor). The troublemakers manage to take over auxiliary control and fly the Enterprise to Eden.
Over the intercom, Spock reveals to the hippies that their guru is actually insane (and carrying some nasty disease), according to medical records he looked up. But the hippies ignore this warning, even knocking out the crew of the Enterprise with sonic blasts to make their escape. When the sound frequency hits Captain Kirk, he freezes, falls to the floor, and writhes around, legs extended; this reminded me of a fire safety drill we had to do in elementary school:“Stop, Drop, and Roll.”
Kirk, Spock, Chekhov, and Bones beam down to Eden, which has a rather impressive set: real rose bushes, dirt paths, fake trees, and a water feature. Ironically, Eden is completely toxic; devoid of human and animal life, its plants and soil are acidic. When the away team finds the hippies, their bare feet are burned. Adam lies dead and splayed at the foot of a tree, with a bloody poison fruit falling out of his hand. Just to make sure we get it, Spock says, “His name…was Adam.”
The hippie ladies and Tongo Rad (which would be a good name for a pet hamster) agree to return to the Enterprise, but crazy Dr. Sevrin takes off running. He climbs up the same fruit tree, grabs a poison pear and manically takes a bite, then acrobatically falls down dead on a patch of Astroturf. His death passes without comment, and, as in many Star Trek scripts, to avoid any boring closure on the planet the director cuts back to the Enterprise and rolls the theme music. Kirk dumps the surviving hippies at a nearby starbase, presumably to be picked up by their parents and grounded for a month.
There, I did it, I reviewed the crappiest Star Trek episode of all time. Was “The Way to Eden” inside the bounds of respectable production values? No, it was…pretty far out.