The son of a Catullan diplomat, Tongo Rad (Victor Brandt), is one of the young troublemakers on board, and Captain Kirk (William Shatner) is ordered to treat Rad’s party as guests, despite their law-breaking.
This is a highly unfortunate development because Sevrin’s cult is in search of the mythical natural world Eden, where it wants to start over, away from the synthetic, artificial worlds of the Federation. Among Sevrin’s followers are Adam (Charles Napier) and Irina Galliulin (Mary Linda Rapelye), both of whom will die if Sevrin is allowed to exist in that environment in his condition.
All of those complaints have much more to do with the particular audience than the flaws of this particular tale. It's easy to mock. It's more difficult to examine, truthfully, what is being explored in this drama.
What if you long for a simple, non-technological life? Sure, you could colonize a world like Omicron Ceti III?
But what if you don’t even want to fit into a traditional work structure at all? Or work as a farmer?
What if you just want to check out, quit working, and just be one with nature?
What if you are one of those who “hunger for an Eden…where spring comes?”
I would submit that this question is really what “The Way to Eden” is about. Youth is about rebellion, and about turning against the establishment, to one degree or another. Sadly, some young people hitch themselves to madmen like Manson in that act of rebellion, even while possessing a desire for peace and love. Yes, their naivete is exploited badly.
It is sad that in both real life, and in Star Trek, such dreams are stolen by madmen with their own insane agendas.
What remains so remarkable is that “The Way to Eden” aired before the hippie dream ended, and thus saw clearly -- in 1969 -- the danger inherent in some of the counter-culture’s leadership. “The Way to Eden” is actually the opposite of dated. It is prophetic, predicting that the counter-culture movement would end discredited, and maligned because of men like Sevrin.
Spock sees validity in the “cause,” rather than standing in judgment of the youngsters, and that seems like a clever choice on the part of the episode writer. Spock is a counter-culture figure in his own way because he has substituted his own “alien” way for the establishment way. He's a pacifist, a scientist, a vegetarian, and caustic, at times, about humanity.
At the episode’s end, Kirk tells Spock that he “reaches.” This means that he understands why Spock feels the Eden movement is worthwhile. Again, Kirk is the equivalent of a naval officer of the future, a military man, in a sense.
If even he can understand the “hippies,” then what they seek is not pie-in-the-sky, or worthless. It's human.
If even Kirk can loosen up and admit that he “reaches,” then it seems Chekov would be a bit more receptive.
Consider that it is not knowledge, in this case, that caused the innocent to eat a poisoned apple. Rather the “acid” apple that Adam ate came from his placing trust in the wrong person; the wrong leader.
Again, consider the void in leadership in the late-1960’s and late 1970’s. In the months preceding “The Way to Eden,” America lost both MLK and RFK in separate assassinations. Those in search of a new Camelot or Eden turned to darker, less stable sources of inspiration. Just weeks after “The Way to Eden” aired, the Manson Family killed Sharon Tate.
The story - about a noble quest perverted into something insane by a mad leader -- is actually the story of what my friend Johnny Byrne called “the wake up after the hippie dream.” The summer of love gave way, finally, to a season of madness and violence, at least for some. “The Way to Eden” seems to see this possibility in a clear-eyed and prophetic way.
The mechanics are familiar: outsiders hijack the Enterprise for a quest not of the crew's design. But the ideas underlying the familiar story tell us a lot about our world as Star Trek came to an end.