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The Enterprise is pursuing a stolen spacecraft. When the ship puts tractor beams on it, the small stolen spacecraft keeps trying to flee, and overheats its engines. Scotty beams the occupants out just before the spacecraft explodes. On board are six "hippies", including the son of a Federation ambassador; because of his presence, Kirk has been ordered to treat the group with care.
The six people are dressed in what someone in the costume department must have thought was futuristic-looking hippy clothing, and they are barefoot and tattooed. Their leader is Dr. Sevrin, a former scientist who specialized in acoustics and electrical engineering. They protest at being taken off their ship against their will: they were looking for the planet Eden. They reject modern technology and are searching for a "simpler" way of life. The hippies are stubborn and loud, and immediately rub Kirk the wrong way. Spock, however, has heard of their movement and is interested in learning about it, so he is able to communicate with them.
Kirk has orders to take the group to a starbase, and in the meantime he orders them each to have a physical examination - of course, they protest against this. McCoy verifies that each of them is in excellent health, but that Sevrin is a carrier of the Synthecoccus Novae virus. The Federation has a vaccine against this virus, but if Sevrin were to visit a primitive planet (as presumably Eden would be), he would infect any inhabitants. The virus has developed relatively recently, reportedly as a result of modern technology. The fact that Sevrin is a carrier of it turns him even more against modern technology. McCoy orders Sevrin put into isolation until he can be sure all crewmen have been immunized properly.
One of the hippies, Irina, is a former Starfleet Academy student and lover of Chekov's. He visits her, and can't believe that she is a member of this group. They seem to have had a painful breakup, and Chekov still hasn't gotten over her. He chides her for the behavior of her friends, and she complains about how "proper" he always is. Proper? Well, he does seem like it in this episode, but we've seen him looking for any chance for an interlude with a girlfriend (season 2's "The Apple") and ready to start a fight with a roomful of Klingons over the Enterprise's honor (season 2's "The Trouble with Tribbles"). Chekov's actions are a little odd in this episode, but then again, old relationships in new situations can sometimes make people act strangely.
The hippies begin making a nuisance of themselves in general, plus they begin trying to recruit crewmen into their group. Kirk is annoyed, and orders Spock to ask Sevrin to get them to cooperate. Sevrin is not in a mood to be at all cooperative, but Spock promises that in return he will use the Enterprise's resources to search for Eden. Sevrin goes off on a rant against society, and Spock realizes he's made a promise to an insane man. Nevertheless, Sevrin promises to speak to his followers. What we will realize soon is that he doesn't just ask them to cooperate, but that they have developed a plan to get to Eden.
Part of the plan is to learn more about the operation of the ship. Chekov has been in auxiliary control assisting Spock's search for Eden. Irina visits him, ostensibly to patch up their relationship a bit, but we can see her carefully pump him for information on controlling the ship from auxiliary control. Other members of the group report back with their findings from crewmen.
One of the young men in the group, Adam, asks Spock if it would be permissible for the hippies to have a casual concert for the group - we've seen already that they tend to break into song at any moment. Adam even asks Spock to join them, after seeing Spock's Vulcan instrument. The concert is enthusiastically enjoyed by the crew, and it is even sent over ship's intercom to those on duty. While the crew is distracted, one of the hippies breaks Sevrin out of isolation (at least he was actually under guard!), and then they all barricade themselves in auxiliary control.
Sevrin takes control of the ship, and puts them on course for Eden. It's not clear how he knows the destination, since we did not learn that Spock had finished his search. Perhaps Sevrin already had a destination in mind? Besides the fact that Sevrin has taken over, their destination is in Romulan space, so they are in great danger. Somehow their ETA for Eden is only a few hours. There is in fact a planet at their destination.
Kirk has Scotty begin to cut through the bulkhead into auxiliary control with a phaser, but it's slow work and Sevrin is one step ahead of them. Sevrin rigs an ultrasonic sound to be broadcast throughout the ship (except auxiliary control); he claims it will only render the crew unconscious, but we have signs that it could kill them. The sound will pause only long enough for them to get to the hangar deck and steal a shuttlecraft. Thus Kirk, Spock, and Scotty are knocked out outside auxiliary control - it's a nice touch that Spock hears the "sound" distinctly before the others do.
During the pause in the sound for the flight of the hippies, Kirk and Spock wake up enough to stop the ultrasonic from starting again. They (and McCoy and Chekov) beam down to the planet to find Sevrin's group. The planet does appear to be a paradise, with lush, beautiful vegetation, although no animal life. However, the "Eden" is literally poison, with burning acid in the plants and deadly poison in the fruits.
They find Adam dead, after taking a bite out of a fruit. The rest of the group members are huddled inside their spacecraft (nicely named the Galileo II, since the first one was lost in season 1) with horribly burned feet from the acid in the grass. They are ready to accept the crewmen's help - except for Sevrin. In a fit, Sevrin runs away, climbs a tree, and quickly bites into a fruit despite the warnings of everyone else. He falls over dead.
Everyone returns to the ship, and they go back to the starbase that was their original destination. Irina and Chekov say their goodbyes, and Spock urges Irina to keep searching for Eden.
I was not looking forward to this episode, since a lot of people really detest it, and my own memories of it weren't fond. However, it really is not that bad and makes some good points. But I can see how the singing and the "futuristic hippy" slang could really rub someone the wrong way. There are also some smaller issues that don't feel right. Let me discuss some details.
The idea of a "back to nature" group is certainly not new - it seems like every generation has its version. These people want a "simpler" life that somehow seems idyllic, peaceful, and unhurried. Even people that don't want to get "back to nature" often feel like new technology is making the pace of life faster and making interactions between people more impersonal. To some extent, I can see where this feeling comes from. I found it appropriate that Spock was interested in their movement, since even though he himself is surrounded by the most advanced technology, he believes in IDIC and sees the hippies' movement as another way of life.
However, these types of people don't really seem to understand what it would really mean to get rid of modern technology. Sure, they might want to get rid of cell phones and computers, but would they really want to give up modern medical technology? What about modern agriculture and food processing? They might say yes, but if they really followed through with that and realized how a minor injury could get infected and kill them, or a case of pneumonia could be life threatening, or the inability to refrigerate your food means that you could get food poisoning easily, I don't think they would be so eager.
We see that the hippies in the episode are just these kinds of idealistic dreamers - after all, they are searching for Eden and ready to go there right now, but they don't have any kinds of supplies or equipment. They seem to believe they'll just be able to wander the planet and pick fruit from the trees. I suppose if there was truly an Eden in the Biblical sense, then maybe that would be possible, but if you're looking to build an "Eden" in the sense of a simple society, then they are in trouble. (I suppose the hippies might have had supplies on their stolen spaceship, which exploded, but we have no indication of that.)
This raises another issue. Are the hippies looking for Eden in a metaphorical sense, or in a Biblical sense? By metaphorically, I mean are they searching for a lush, prolific planet that they can colonize and build their own society? This seems to be Spock's interpretation of it, and the general feel from the episode. However, a Biblical Eden is something else altogether. (It's even an interesting idea to think that in the future, some religions might have moved their belief in Eden's location to be off-world.) A Biblical planet Eden would presumably be perfect and able to sustain them. The fact that the hippies seem to believe that Eden has a specific location in the galaxy implies that there is only one Eden, and that would be the Biblical Eden. This issue is not resolved by the episode.
One part of this episode that I think was right on the money was the idea of new viruses and diseases evolving. The description of Sevrin's virus being the result of technology is a bit over-the-top, but even today we have problems with bacteria and viruses adapting to our medicines and evolving new ways of attacking us. For example, many types of bacteria are no longer effectively treated by antibiotics. This is a serious issue that is becoming more important, but I think it was a relatively new idea when this episode originally aired.
Another issue that I thought of that isn't addressed at all is the cult-like nature of Sevrin's group. Chekov can't believe that Irina became a part of it. Well, she might have just been interested in the idea originally, but now she has been brainwashed by the cult. We see lots of signs of the cult: the exclusive slang language, the group singing to foster feelings of inclusion, the group civil disobedience, and the persuasive manner of Sevrin. When Irina protests that the ultrasonic sound will kill the crew, Sevrin easily persuades her that his alterations means it won't. She is smart and educated, and his explanation is flimsy - she wouldn't have believed him if she hadn't wanted to. On a bigger scale, Sevrin persuades them to mislead and injure specific crewmembers as the means to reaching their goal, despite their profession of peacefulness. I think this is an aspect of the episode that is a missed opportunity.
Well, those are some of the big issues that I thought were interesting. They did make this episode worth something. But there were smaller items that just felt wrong. First, although I was not completely turned off by the slang, it was pretty silly and annoying. And I really have no desire to watch the hippies ridicule Kirk. Next, as I said above, Chekov seemed out of character. In addition, it seemed a little unbelievable that the hippies could actually take control of the ship, with their general careless attitudes. There is some support for this with the facts that Irina was formerly in the Academy and one of the others had a scientific background.
Once they have control of the ship, it's hard to believe they could get to "Eden" in just a few hours, especially when they have to go all the way out of Federation space. Was the ship really just hanging around that close to the Federation border? When Kirk eventually heads to the planet, he orders Scotty to try to make the Romulans understand, if they show up. This is laughable, when the entire crew knows that the Romulans shoot first and ask questions later, as they all spoke up about in season 2's "The Deadly Years" when Commodore Stocker took command. Fortunately there's nothing to worry about, since they are there for hours without Romulan contact, another unbelievable point.
In summary, this episode was not nearly at the low level of "And the Children Shall Lead" from earlier this season or "The Omega Glory" from season 2, it was pretty bad. It had potential, but the overall "hippy" premise really killed it.