Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Star Trek 50th Anniversary Blogging: "Requiem for Methuselah" (February 14, 1969)

Stardate: 5843.7

The Enterprise is afflicted with a “raging epidemic” of Rigellian Fever, a disease with effects similar to the Bubonic Plague. Three crewmen are already dead, and twenty three sick.

Dr. McCoy (DeForest Kelley) needs to create an anti-toxin using Ryetelan, a substance that must be mined on a planetary surface. Fortunately, a world is located that contains this needed substance. 

Upon beaming down to collect it, however, Captain Kirk (William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) and Dr. McCoy are attacked by a hovering robot, M4, which is controlled by a less-than-friendly stranger who claims to own the planet, Flint (James Daly).

After being warned to leave the planet, Kirk describes the effects of Rigellian Fever, and Flint allows the party to stay, assigning M4 the task of mining and refining the Ryetalan. 

Meanwhile, the landing party is welcome at his palatial home.  There, Spock is impressed by Flint’s collection of antique items (including a rare Shakespeare first folio, and an original waltz by Johannes Brahms).

Captain Kirk, however, is more intrigued by Flint’s beautiful and highly-intelligent young ward, Rayna (Louise Sorel). They develop romantic feelings for one another, which was Flint’s plan all along.

As is soon revealed, Flint is an immortal man, known in different times as Solomon, Merlin, Da Vinci, and Brahms -- and Rayna is an android he has constructed to be his mate through the ages.  Kirk was to be her teacher in matters of human emotions, and love. But Rayna cannot bear to hurt either Kirk, or Flint, and a tragedy occurs…

“Requiem for Methuselah” has shown up on more than one reader top 20 Star Trek lists, as I look at them in preparation for posting next week.  I appreciate that many fans and critics see value in it.

I find "Requiem for Methuselah" a mediocre episode of Star Trek (1966-1969), but one enlivened and even made bearable a beautiful, even poetic ending that brings into clarity, again, the friendship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Before the beautiful (and emotional ending), the episode depicts a thoroughly unbelievable love story for Kirk.

Kirk has fallen in love before on the series, notably in “City on the Edge of Forever,” and (while not quite himself), in “The Paradise Syndrome.” We can easily understand why he falls in love in both cases, and also how he remains the man that he is: a leader and a figure of duty.  In “City on the Edge of Forever,” Kirk gives up his love, Edith, because of his strong sense of duty. In “The Paradise Syndrome,” Kirk is restored to his senses after Miramanee is fatally injured, and must say goodbye to her too.

In neither case did Captain Kirk descend into self-pitying hysterics, or beg his would-be-lover to come back to the Enterprise with him.  Here, that’s exactly what he does. “Come with me. I offer you happiness,” Kirk says.

There must be no part of the Kirk we know who thinks this arrangement could possibly work. This is not The Next Generation era with families aboard Starfleet vessels. Rayna can't go with him, except as a passenger bound for a starbase or colony.  Is he contemplating resigning his command?

It’s a totally unbelievable, unrealistic moment for the character. As I said, we have seen Kirk in love, and he isn’t this guy. Kirk absolutely knows that as captain of the Enterprise, he cannot afford such a distraction as Rayna.  His words in “The Naked Time” made it clear that the only woman that he has time for, as captain, is named Enterprise. Kirk may be lonely, but he acts here in a contrived way suitable only for, well, a Valentine's Day episode of Star Trek (see: the episode's original air date).

Now he’s begging Rayna to come back to the Enterprise? So he can give up command (his first, best destiny?)  

It’s just not believable in the slightest. Kirk never begged Edith to come back with him. (And had she tried, she might have lived, let's face it. She was functionally dead in that timeline. In the 23rd century, she could have had a life, if the Guardian permitted it.)

Worse, William Shatner “acts” Kirk’s desperation and histrionics in a way strangely similar to his performances in “The Enterprise Incident” (when he is pretending to be mad), and “Turnabout Intruder” (when Kirk has been replaced by someone who is, genuinely, mad). Because of this choice, the captain doesn’t seem like the captain we know at all, but rather someone we can’t recognize as the man of duty and command.  This fellow is unrealistic, impractical, and self-pitying (“You used me! I can’t love her…but I do love her.”)

The impressive coda, which I noted above, attempts to repair some of the damage wrought by the episode, by Kirk’s notation that “we put on a pretty poor show.” But it’s not enough.

Scotty didn’t act like Scotty during his love affair in “The Lights of Zetar, and Kirk doesn’t really act like Kirk in “Requiem for Methuselah.”  

When Spock gets his turn at a love story in the third season, in “All Our Yesterdays,” at least there is a reason that he acts out of character (he is thrust to the distant past, and sympathetically acts like the Vulcans of that time period; as a barbarian).

This re-watch has proven to me that Star Trek in the third season is much stronger than many fans, writers, and historians have suggested. However, I will say that the preponderance of romantic stories (ostensibly to draw in female viewers) does not serve the series particularly well. I would pick “Requiem for Methuselah” as the worst of the bunch because the writing (and acting) is so out-of-character for Kirk. 

Other aspects of the episode are confusing too.

I understand why McCoy should oversee the refining of the Ryetalan on the planet, but certainly he isn’t needed to mine it? A team of crew-people should have beam down with the tools necessary. All they need to find the substance is a tricorder, right?  But then, when McCoy is actually needed, he doesn’t oversee the refining of the Ryetalan, and precious time is lost.

Also, I must confess that I find the scene in which Flint shrinks the Enterprise to the size of an AMT model kit (!) and Kirk looks in through the view screen to see the crew frozen, hopelessly campy by today’s standards.  With a few notable exceptions, Star Trek generally avoids this type of silliness.

Lastly, what exactly is Flint's plan? To have Kirk awaken Rayna's emotions and then take over, in his stead?  This is an immortal man who must be well-acquainted with human nature. He should have taken an alternate strategy.  Flint should have let Kirk and Rayna have a fling, and then let Kirk leave the planet, as he would have, in short order. He could then comfort Rayna, and eventually present himself as alternative.

In 6,000 years Flint has never learned a lick of patience?

Beyond these issues, however, I must clearly acknowledge the impact or influence this episode has had on film and television. The concept of an android who feels strong emotions, and then short-circuits, is a veritable trope of the format at this point. 

We have seen it on Space: 1999 (1975-1977) in “One Moment of Humanity,” in The Fantastic Journey (1977) in “Beyond the Mountain” and, quite touchingly, in Star Trek: The Next Generation’s (1987-1994) “The Offspring.” 

That’s only one arena where “Requiem for Methuselah” has been an inspiration. The story of a lonely immortal, marching through history in isolation is, frankly, the very bread and butter of the Highlander franchise, both on film and in television.

But my highest praise for the episode involves the coda.

First, I will acknowledge that I find it absolutely impossible to believe that Kirk spirals into a depression over Rayna, given that he did no such thing over Edith Keeler or Miramanee. I wonder, did Spock need to make him forget them too?

However, given the script, I believe that the final scene is an excellent one. Kirk falls asleep in his quarters, while Bones and Spock stand at his door. McCoy then speaks with Spock about the utter irrationality of love. He discusses the things "love can drive a man to do.”  He then says he is sorrier for Spock than he is for Kirk, because while Kirk may feel pain, Spock will never understand love.

Then, after McCoy leaves, Spock proves that he absolutely understands the nature of love. 

He walks to his friend in pain, and conducts a mind-meld, telling Kirk to “forget.”  This is, simply, an act of love, a beautiful act from a man who professes not to understand human emotion. Spock sees his friend in pain, and he takes away that pain.

The set-up of the episode and the performance of the love story are inelegant at best, but the last five minutes of “Requiem for Methuselah” find Star Trek at its finest, showcasing the unique chemistry of the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triangle.

Next week is my Star Trek anniversary celebration! 

Please make sure to send me a list of your top-twenty Star Trek episodes (with explanation for your choices!) at Muirbusiness@yahoo.com as soon as possible.  I'll post them all week long!


  1. Sheri1:19 PM

    Yes, "Requiem" is one of those nagging episodes that keeps Star Trek fans hopping back and forth over the ditch marked Like/Dislike for ages!

    There are thoughtful ideas here about the dark side of immortality, and the dangers of trying to manipulate others who have independent will so unintended consequences will result. But it all gets lost in a sea of contradictions and poorly thought-out plot elements. So viewers have to adjust their "head canon" to make it work. You're right about the Kirk/Rayna romance angle: Kirk isn't himself and therefore the whole thing isn't believable, so my brain chooses to attribute his intense feelings for Rayna as a reaction to Flint's manipulating his competitive drive. You're right that Flint should be more adroit with millennia of experience, so my brain chooses to explain Flint's behavior as a consequence of the unexpectedly intense fear that he's losing control of his creation once she experiences feelings for Kirk. Neither Kirk nor Flint behaves in his normal fashion once the romance is jump-started, and neither of them sees it until it's too late. My brain has to explain McCoy's sticking around because he notices what's going on and thinks he might need to step in.

    And then there's that wonderful coda, in which McCoy explains humanity to Spock in a truly poetic way. Touble is, it seems grafted onto a really ridiculous romance, so we automatically think Spock's "forget" would have been better used to help his friend deal with the loss of Edith Keeler, or Miramanee and his unborn child, or his brother and sister-in-law on Deneva, or . . . . So I've always had to imagine that Spock is trying to help Kirk forget not just his feelings for Rayna but the entire damn episode--forget we were ever here, forget the entire thing, the whole thing never happened! That's the only way I can make that work in my head.

    Too many episodes in the third season make us do that: imagine the episode as it should have been written so we can dismiss the stupid and poorly executed elements in favor of the remaining beautiful, intriguing, and watchable elements. Darn it.

    By the way, there's a sizeable amount of fan fiction that follows up on the unintended consequences of Spock's trying to help Kirk by stealing this memory, which comes back to haunt all involved in some unfortunate ways.

  2. John,

    I must admit that I was prepared for the worst. You've been singling out "Requiem for Methuselah" for the past several weeks as one of the lesser efforts of the Third Season, but I have to say, you are fair in your assessments and your comments have validity. I'm glad of this, because, when I was compiling my list of top 20 Star Trek episodes, I wrote down all of my favorite ones, 25 in all, and "Requiem" was on it. It didn't make the cut, but I appreciate it no less.

    In fact, I watched the episode again, before reading your review, so it would be fresh in my mind, and something occurred to me that I'd never thought of during this viewing. Nobody reading this has to agree with me, but it is strongly implied that Kirk is, himself, suffering from the early stages of Rigellian Fever! At one point, Scotty tells us that "everyone's got it," and it is known that they will all succumb if the Ryetalan isn't processed in time. Kirk is responsible for all of those lives, driven to desperation, and acting out of sorts, as if he himself is feverish. Into this scenario waltzes (literally) a stunning woman, and...well, love itself has been described as a fever.

    I may be overreaching, but I'm also basing this conclusion on a concurrent pitch of Jerome Bixby's to Star Trek named "Skal," in which an alien race gives Kirk an illness, which causes him to act out of character. In fact, the final coda for "Requiem" was originally written in the pitch for "Skal," with Spock helping Kirk to forget. This information is included in the third volume of Marc Cushman's "These Are the Voyages," and his assessment of "Requiem" is excellent, and well worth reading.

    With regards to that coda, Thank Heavens for dvd's and blu rays. When Star Trek was remastered and re-syndicated with brand new effects, one of the unfortunate aspects of the "new" reruns was the tendency to snip and edit sections, both small and large, from the episodes. "Requiem" suffered horribly, and I would literally get enraged, because McCoy's entire entrance, speech to Spock, and exit were eliminated from the syndicated episode! They literally cut out the heart of the entire episode, just to put in a commercial for hair tonic or some other junk.

    Lastly, let us not forget that "Requiem for Methuselah" has what I consider to be the best Fade to Black in Star Trek history: When Kirk is introduced to Rayna, and the camera fixates on his interested gaze - cut to commercial! Every Star Trek fan in the world knew what Kirk was thinking...and what was coming next!


  3. "Requiem" has an almost dreamlike quality that I like. James Daly is perfect as Flint. His line about being immortal, with his list of names from the past, is terrific and "believable".

    By the way, that's the Enterprise 3-footer we see sitting on the table, not an AMT kit.

    Good and fair review, John.

  4. One of the 3rd season shows that ranks near the bottom of my list. Kirk is not Kirk. With 4 hours to save the crew, he spends the entire show making puppy eyes at Rayna. Ridiculous. The last season turned Shatner into some kind of Cosmic Casanova, making time with five women--correction: 4 women and an android-- in five shows (Wink of An Eye, Mark of Gideon, etc.) McCoy shows his utterly cruel, sadistic side, needling Spock at the end about love. The worst, most idiotic moment of the entire series is when Flint turns the Enterprise into a collectible. There's a Land of The Giants moment when we see Shatner's face in the main screen. If Flint could do something of that magnitude, he could surely cure his loss of immortality. The fight between Flint and Kirk is amateurishly blocked and filmed. The funniest ever write-up of this episode is by Fedor8 at IMDB.