Who better to write about them young kids and their cute counterculture than a fifty year old man? Veteran writer Albert Heinneman ("Wink of an Eye") takes Dorothy Fontana's story idea about McCoy's daughter coming aboard the Enterprise with her young friends and - eliminating the daughter - comes up with a ridiculous, campy laugh out loud space-hippie story featuring invented slang, idealistic clichs and full length musical performances.
A ship-based ensemble piece, the episode reinvents Chekov as a rigid rules man and Spock as a sympathetic hippie-friend while the young crewmembers play air guitar on the bridge and the older ones grouse about undisciplined minds. Meanwhile, future porn star Charles Napier guest stars as Adam, Skip Homeier wins the "worst prosthetic ears" award as Dr. Sevrin, and Mary-Linda Rapelye somehow comes up with a worse Russian accent than Walter Koenig as Irina. (None of these characters, of course, are as interesting as McCoy's mythical daughter, who never does appear on the show because producer Fred Freiberger felt that showing Enterprise crewmembers with adult children would make the crew seem too old).
Is "The Way to Eden" bad? You betcha. (The actual plot itself is a paint-by-numbers alien takeover). Does it feature dated music and ridiculous costumes? Absolutely. But you know what? It's also a lot of fun. What man doesn't enjoy the sly smile of blonde Deborah Downy, the flower child who out-sings her costars and knows how to work the wagon wheel? (Meanwhile, the women get to enjoy Adam, so everyone's a winner!) And hey, at least the leader trying to take over the Enterprise and take it to Eden isn't Spock's brother. Cause that would just be silly.
Truth be told, while Spock "speaking hippie" is a little over the top, he really is the perfect mediator for the Enterprise command team and the counterculture kids, being the product of two divergent worlds and a counterculture symbol in the popular culture. Leonard Nimoy seems to understand this, pouring his Vulcan heart into the episode's symbolism and its music. (He even gets to jam!)
Sadly, the ending is confined to the fake looking planet set when it really should have been shot on location, but they have to save something for Star Trek V, right?
In the end, the episode seems to say, "Hey, counter-culture kids! Your leaders are insane, and the paradise you're after will kill And that's probably Heinneman's sensible take on Timothy Leary and drugs. But there's really only one way to describe his episode:
The original hippie ship, which is just an old Tholian design with a couple of nacelles glued on, is replaced with a more impressive CGI ship similar to Harry Mudd's (which is a cute inside joke, since "Mudd's Woman" and this episode have the same beginning). After a better chase sequence with the new CGI Enterprise, the ship-based episode doesn't have much more of note until they reach "Eden" (yay, brother). Originally a reuse of the "Operation: Annihilate!" planet (which means Kirk has been to Eden about twenty times), the new version has a stunning Earth-like planet with two moons. And here's the cherry on top: when Kirk and company beam down, a new matte painting replaces a reuse of lake footage from "The Paradise Syndrome", helping sell planet stage set as bigger than it really is.
Did you know? Charles Napier (Adam) went on to a diverse career, starring in the sexploitation film Supervixen (1975), guest starring on TV shows The Dukes of Hazzard and Knight Rider, and landing parts in Rambo II (1985), Ernest Goes to Jail (1990), and The Silence of the Lambs (1991). In 1995, he returned to the world of Star Trek, guest starring as General Denning in the fourth season DS9 episode, "Little Green Men".