Many Star Trek episodes are a product of their time and plagued by the zeitgeist of the 60’s. Perhaps one of the most infamous examples of this problem is “The Way to Eden”.
You know it’s going to be bad when the episode description has the words “space hippies” in it. The hippies are led by Dr. Severin, a rebellious scientist who has stolen a starship in order to violate the Romulan Neutral Zone. The hippies are in search of the “Eden planet”, which they believe is the Garden of Eden itself. (Spoiler alert: it’s not. At all.)
The hippies are the most annoying part of the story. They have no respect for the Federation’s authority, especially Kirk. They constantly call those they disrespect “Herbert” (the futuristic hippie slang is probably what annoyed me the most. To quote Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction: “English, mother *bleep*, do you speak it?!”) and spend the entire episode being obnoxiously defiant. The musician of the group, Adam, is the worst. The only one of the crew who can reach them at all is Spock.
This is also the only episode to actually give Chekov any kind of spotlight. But even that isn’t a saving grace because this isn’t the Chekov we’re used to. This is character derailment rather than development. Gone is his amiable humor, and instead we have someone who is the exact opposite of the Chekov we know. In fact, at times he seems more like Dr. McCoy. (The original script actually was meant to expand Bones’s character, not Chekov’s.) He knows one of the hippies, who was once a student at Starfleet Academy that he was friends with. However, time has changed and dulled their relationship. She now sees him as she sees everyone else, as squares who don’t get her jibe.
The hippies soon manage to take over the ship and make it to the Eden planet. However, in a cruel twist of fate, they discover it is anything but the paradise they imagine. Thorns and poisonous plants have overgrown the surface. The air is toxic. This Eden rejects humanity and in the end, Dr. Severin dies. And there was much rejoicing.
Why is this episode so bad? Well here’s the part that hurts so much: DC Fontana wrote it. Yes, the same Fontana who is often considered the show’s best writer. It’s actually not her fault. The script got so many rewrites that it became a mess, so much so that she no longer wanted anything to do with it and used what Internet reviewer SF Debris calls “an I-hate-this pseudonym”, Michael Richards. This is why Fontana left the show during the final season.
Next time, back to the good episodes, where I discuss one of the few gems from the final season–“Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.”