Utopias and dystopias are often explored in science fiction, with speculative storytellers imagining vast possibilities of what the perfect world could look like. One could argue that the first ‘utopia’ story found in many Western cultures is that of the Garden of Eden. However, this legend is not concerned with the inner day to day workings within its paradise, only the reason why humans are no longer welcome in it. Willingly or through unfortunate deception, its inhabitants embraced evil and therefore became imperfect. The fallible human was born and paradise was lost. The current suffering of our broken and imperfect world compels us to seek out a new utopia… to grow our own garden in the spirit of innovation and progress. Perhaps we can build a heaven on earth if we were incentivised to be less selfish, if only our basic needs would always be guaranteed. When such grand ideas are applied in reality, selfish human nature tends to prevail. It seems we cannot have a utopia as long as we are imperfectly human. If so, which traits must be removed to make it happen?
Upon beaming down to the lush, tropical paradise of Gamma Trianguli VI, Kirk and crew proceed to investigate strange readings. When a nameless redshirt is killed instantly by a vicious flower, overall suspicions are raised. Several more deaths and a wounded Spock increase panic in the team, as they are unable to beam off the planet. It seems that the Garden of Eden has turned to Hell. After encountering a native, the team learns about a mysterious supernatural entity called Vaal, the source of the planet’s power. The tribal people living on the planet stay perfectly strong and disease free. Although these inhabitants are healthy and happy, they don’t grow or change, and they appear to be enslaved by Vaal. Although they are kept in a state of permanent childhood, they revel in the safety it affords. The offerings to Vaal required from the villagers seem a small price to pay for a disease free immortality secured within beautiful surroundings. There is no sex, but children aren’t necessary. Safety is guaranteed, but progress is completely stagnant. A world without war, strife, or interpersonal conflict necessitates the absence of growth, independent thought, or questioning of any kind. Kirk and his Starfleet ideals will not stand for this, as a life without human passion is no life at all. He works with the villagers to destroy Vaal, and thereby introduce them to what it means to be human.
Spock warns Kirk that he has essentially given the natives the apple from the Garden of Eden. Perhaps Kirk saw this as liberating, because it was unfair that the villagers weren’t allowed to choose their own life. For humanoids with potential to grow, a stagnant existence would be a cage. Did the original Adam and Eve feel so trapped? Is a mind which craves novelty merely a product of the environment which requires it? Perhaps the primordial pair experienced a different state of being, one in which they truly were at their happiest in the garden, but out of necessity they adapted to a broken world after they fell. Kirk didn’t consult with the tribe before offering them the apple, he just did what he assumed was best for them. The villagers had paradise and it was taken from them, relegating them to the messy and compromising road that is progress. Although their lives are now difficult, they will at least be able to reap the rewards of innovation. Just as Roy T. Bennett points out: change begins at the end of your comfort zone.