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Star Trek – The Way to Eden (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Like any television, or any piece of popular culture, Star Trek is a product of its time.

That does not mean that the show speaks only to its time or that it has no relevance beyond that moment in time, but in means that the series is very much anchored in the zeitgeist of the late sixties. Sometimes that influence is obscured by advances in the intervening years, like the fascination with the novelty of transplant surgery that played out in the background of Spock’s Brain. Sometimes that tangible connection is more like ambient background noise than direct influence, as with the sense of apocalyptic dread that permeates the third season as a whole.

"You reach?"

“You reach?”

Sometimes, however, it is impossible to look upon Star Trek as anything other than a product of the late sixties. Let That Be Your Last Battlefield was undeniably a product of 1968, with its anxiety about civil strife and civil rights, its somewhat reductive metaphor for race relations and its general production aesthetic. However, that is nothing compared to The Way to Eden, which might be the most flamboyantly and stereotypically sixties episode of the entire original run.

The Way to Eden is the episode that opens with a bunch of space!hippies staging a sit-in in the Enterprise transporter room and escalates from there.

Trippy hippie shakedown.

Trippy hippie shakedown.

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Star Trek – And the Children Shall Lead (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Come mothers and fathers
Throughout the land
And don’t criticize
What you can’t understand
Your sons and your daughters
Are beyond your command
Your old road is rapidly agin’
Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand
For the times they are a-changin’.

– Bob Dylan, The Times, They Are A-Changin’, 1964

Either you Gorgan, or you be gone.

Either you Gorgan, or you be gone.

And the Children Shall Lead is a notoriously terrible episode of television.

It is also another reminder that the sixties are coming to an end, and (with them) Star Trek. For a so that is widely considered progressive and utopian, Star Trek often seemed to struggle with its perspective on the various social issues of the sixties. Fans might point to episodes like A Taste of Armageddon or Errand of Mercy as sweeping condemnations of the Vietnam and the Cold War, but they tend to gloss over the patriotic defence of United States foreign policy in episodes like A Private Little War or The Omega Glory.

"I regret to inform you, Captain, that the script is indeed 'that bad'."

“I regret to inform you, Captain, that the script is indeed ‘that bad’.”

Star Trek seemed very strongly divided on the countercultural movement. In many ways, Spock spoke to a generation of young people distanced from their parents and disenfranchised from the status quo, while the franchise imagined a bright future in which people of different colours and creeds worked together. On the other hand, the show was also quite anxious and condescending about the threat counterculture posed to the establishment, as demonstrated in episodes like Operation — Annihilate! or This Side of Paradise.

Although The Way to Eden tends to get treated as the third season’s definitive statement on the hippie movement, And the Children Shall Lead is a much more patronising and reactionary response. It is a fifty-minute public service message about the dangers that radical ideas pose to young minds and why those young minds should never dare to question their elders, who almost certainly know best.

A healthy green glow...

A healthy green glow…

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Non-Review Review: Inherent Vice

In many ways, Inherent Vice resembles its central character – former-hippie-turned-private-investigator Larry “Doc” Sportello.

Inherent Vice is prone to ramble and meander, stumbling across its central conspiracies as much by fate as by actual investigation. The logic is fuzzy, but the genius is clear. Navigating a complex web of seventies paranoia, it often seems as if Inherent Vice is playing a game of free association between its themes, stumbling upon some higher meta-physical plane where all the evils of the world (or, at least, Los Angeles) are connected by threads almost imperceptible.

Bad trip...

Bad trip…

Both Inherent Vice and Doc are hooked on their own particular drugs. Over the course of Inherent Vice, Doc makes it quite clear that heroine is just about the only dope he won’t take into his body. Inherent Vice itself is drawn the delightfully trippy far-out prose of Thomas Pynchon, with Paul Thomas Anderson’s script pausing intermittently to dump large quantities of existential musing on to the market. If Pynchon’s prose didn’t flow eloquently from actresses like Katherine Waterston and Jeannie Berlin, the audience might complain.

Running almost two-and-a-half hours, Inherent Vice is more than a little indulgent. Luckily, it is more than a little brilliant as well.

Lawyer up...

Lawyer up…

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Star Trek: Enterprise – Fusion (Review)

Next year, Star Trek is fifty years old. We have some special stuff planned for that, but – in the meantime – we’re reviewing all of Star Trek: Enterprise this year as something of a prequel to that anniversary. This January, we’re doing the first season. Check back daily for the latest review.

Fusion is a mess of an episode.

On the one hand, it feels like an attempt to develop that Vulcans as they’ve been portrayed on Star Trek: Enterprise. It’s a clear attempt to justify their behaviour and to suggest that there are reasons that Vulcans eschewed emotions. It also gives some focus and development to T’Pol, a character who has been given very little space to herself so far in this first season. It brings back the relaxed pacing of episodes like Breaking the Ice or Cold Front, soaking in the details rather than driving the plot.

Out, out brief candle...

Out, out brief candle…

On the other hand, there’s a disturbingly reactionary subtext to Fusion. It feels like an even more cynical and mean-spirited version of All the Children Shall Lead or The Way to Eden, a story about how people need to be wary of youthful and experimental subcultures. It’s disappointing that one of the first season’s big T’Pol episodes is basically a rape allegory. And the plot of the episode feels crammed into the last act to make up for the somewhat loose pacing.

Fusion is simply all over the place.

False idols...

False idols…

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