Following on last week’s Star Trek post, here’s a look at a couple more (in)famous S3 episodes, “The Way to Eden” and “The Cloud Minders.” Both tackle then-contemporary issues, both fall short, neither is good. They are however interesting.
“The Way to Eden” opens with the Enterprise pursuing a stolen spaceship. When they teleport the thieves aboard, they’re stunned to discover they’ve captured five space-hippies and their leader, Dr. Sevrin. They’re seeking a possibly mythical world called Eden which is still unspoiled and untamed. Spock, who identifies with their sense of not fitting in anywhere, agrees to help locate Eden. However he also concludes Sevrin is barking-dog insane. Sevrin is also infected with synthococcus novae, a disease spawned by the sterile, high-tech society humanity now lives in (this is not explained). The law requires he stay in that same society because on a primitive world they won’t have the tech to cure the disease if it spreads. Sevrin cannot, therefore, reach Eden.
The good doctor is not down with that. One of his people, Irina, is a former lover of Chekhov’s, so she worms out of him how to take over the Enterprise from the auxiliary control room. Distracting the crew with a concert, the hippies seize the ship and steer it to Spock’s location for Eden. They take a shuttlecraft down but oops, the world has its own serpent: the plant life is lethally acidic, the fruits toxic to humans. Sevrin and his chief disciple, Adam, die. Spock tells Irina to keep hunting for Eden.
I’m curious what someone my niece’s age (mid-twenties) would make of this. The visuals for someone my age scream futuristic hippies but would someone much younger pick up on that? Or would they simply look like weird alien outfits? But there’s no question it was a take on the hippy movement: they’re into movement, spout their own slang (“Herbert” for stuffy official types such as Kirk) and reject modern high-tech civilization. And they sing — the title comes from a couple of lines one Adam sings at one point (“Gonna crack my knuckles and jump for joy/Got a clean bill of health from Dr. McCoy.”).
This is the first episode to suggest the Federation has serious flaws. Spock explains the hippies are rejecting the carefully constructed societies on so many worlds, and the way even the atmosphere has to be scientifically layered and managed. They want Eden because they can live a free, natural lifestyle there. This is a reasonable motivation even without the novae disease, but it has no resemblance to anything we’ve seen of the Federation in the past three seasons. Nor does it seem like the galaxy has run out of planets so what’s so special about Eden?
And of course the real hippies were motivated by distaste for racism, capitalism and war; shifting to a more environmentalist stance avoids any pointed critique of society (but since the Federation’s supposed to have beaten those things, how could the show critique them?).
What the show is doing isn’t really condemning hippies as much as suggesting this group is misguided. It’s similar to the way old swashbucklers would give us evil monarchs and tyrants yet come out as supporting monarchy: all that’s really needed is for the right person to take the throne or to replace the evil vizier with a good one. Likewise the hippies’ quest is presented as good, it’s just that they were led astray by an evil leader.
A lot of reviews find Spock’s sympathy for Sevrin’s group implausible: how does a guy who values logic find merit in such an emotional group? But I can see him appreciating their critique of Federation society, though it’s unlikely he’d sympathize with their approach.
All that said, the episode is not good. However it is lively and memorable in a way much of S3 isn’t. For example, “The Cloud Minders.”Kirk and Spock arrive on Ardana, a supposedly utopian planet where the sky-city of Stratos is home to artists and philosophers. What the tourism brochures leave out is that they have a lower class, the Troglites, who labor in the zenite mines. Vanna (Charlene Polite), who was elevated to serve the ruling family in Stratos, has gone back to the mines to lead the Troglites in revolution. Kirk needs zenite to treat a devastating pandemic; due to the revolutionaries, none is forthcoming.
The Stratos dwellers refuse to negotiate: the Troglites are mental inferiors and violent brutes, so there’s no point in making concessions to subhumans. In David Gerrold’s original script, the Enterprise forces both sides to negotiate after a shuttlecraft crashes on the planet; in the finished version, which Gerrold hated, McCoy discovers byproducts of zenite mining really do make the Troglites stupid and violent. Kirk transports the governor of Stratos down to a mine to prove the effects only to wind up with the men going for each other’s throats as the gas takes hold. Fortunately Vanna, who seems more resistant, uses Kirk’s communicator to drag everyone to the Enterprise. Kirk agrees to provide the Troglites with protective equipment so they can regain normal intelligence. Vanna vows to pursue the goal of equality even more fervently, possibly with Federation negotiation.
As Gerrold complains, the zenite gas undercuts the episode’s themes: the underclass really is mentally inferior so the cloud city treating them as inferiors seems justified. He’s right, though that doesn’t absolve Stratos completely: their servants, free of the mines, show excellent intelligence but they apparently write Troglites such as Vanna off as outliers.
Another problem, typical of the third season, is that the stories get increasingly lax about characterization. “Amok Time” established that pon farr is something Vulcans can barely bring themselves to speak of, yet here Spock brings it up to Droxine (Diana Ewing, above) quite casually. He’s also close to flirting with her, which isn’t very Spockish either — and while pretty it’s not like she has much else to recommend her.
Vanna, however, is one of the series better female characters: she’s strong-minded, intelligent, dedicated to her cause, and neither falls for Kirk nor does he try to seduce her. It’s a pleasant novelty.
I’ll probably have a full S3 review next week.
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