“The Way to Eden” is a particularly maligned episode. With it’s comedic, shallow take on the hippies of the day, the episode comes off as square and out of touch. In reality it’s an incredibly smart screenplay with the hippies as a fatal flaw. Switch them out for a less cartoonish cult that’s more like the Manson Family or Jonestown and the episode would be undeniably brilliant.
First of all, it saw Superbugs coming. Our modern world is becoming plagued with illnesses of our own design. Not literally designed, of course, but products of our negligence and hubris. Antibiotic misuse has given rise to more and more resistant bacteria. The Covid-19 pandemic has been made worse and stronger by people either unable or unwilling to be vaccinated. Before the first vaccines have worn off a more contagious and elusive variant is now making more shots necessary.
Doctor Sevrin’s sythococcus novae is a disease that evolved from a hyper aseptic, sterilized environment. It was that 0.01% of bugs that survived every scrubbing and every prescription. It survived so well that even Star Trek’s super science can’t cure it.
Sevrin himself is a science denier. He refuses to acknowledge his infection and whenever someone asks him why he won’t isolate himself or even get tested he starts screaming about his “rights”. Sound familiar?
It’s also Star Trek’s strongest criticism of colonialism. Doctor Sevrin may be an elephant-eared alien, but at his core he’s a white man. And with all the white-manliness at his disposal he utters one of Star Trek’s greatest villain lines: “Only the primitives can cleanse me!”
Let’s dissect exactly how awesome that line is. It both elevates and insults the people Sevrin is hoping will help him. It assigns magical powers to a group he refers to as “primitive” and therefore inferior. He’s not saying “oh, these wonderful people of Eden. I hope they accept me and teach me their ways.” He degrades them so that he can exploit them and possibly rule over them. And he does it with just six brilliantly pointed, loaded words.
I use this line a lot because I live in America where the latest health trend is always some kind of foreign or indigenous tradition stripped of its cultural significance and pushed as something that will cure everything that ails you. Acupuncture, turmeric, yerba mate, yoga, etc, are all proclaimed super remedies that assign wisdom to ancient magic and are often used in lieu of actual medicine.
Calling a group of people “magical” is hardly complementary. In fact it’s usually used as an excuse for extermination, whether en mass in the case of Jewish people who can hypnotize and completely control society with little effort, or one at a time with Black teenagers that can wrestle guns from grown men and charge through a rain of bullets unscathed. Magic is only good if it can be stolen and exploited. In the hands of its original owners it’s considered dangerous.
And if there’s one thing you can be sure of when dealing with a white man degrading modern technology in favor of an obscure, magical alternative, it’s that he’ll market the shit out of it.
“Way to Eden” certainly does a better job with themes of colonial exploitation than The Next Generation film Insurrection, who’s story is a muddled mess of betrayal by the natives’ own exiled progeny. It casts the crew of the Enterprise as white saviors while also casting the exploited population as lily white.
“Way to Eden” does away with all that nonsense. Paradise doesn’t want the invaders and expels them itself with its acid grass and poison fruit. There may be a population on Eden, but we never see them. We never have to face a white washed culture or a brown one marred by ugly Hollywood stereotypes. All the jabs are aimed at the viewer. That’s our stupidity on screen, letting a crazy man talk us into ingesting something that will ultimately kill us. Every time we pick up a bottle of Kombucha to cure our cancer or diabetes we’re the hippies.
Great analysis! Thank you!
Brilliant analysis! I’ve always liked this episode.