Saturday, September 10, 2022

Star Trek Week: "Requiem for Methuselah"

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.

1 comment:

  1. Like "Is There In Truth No Beauty" this one grew on me as I got older. Flint is a great character; James Daley makes us believe him when he says who he was and who he has known. His final line on the subject when dialoguing with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, is touching....

    "[I have known] Galileo, Socrates, Moses. I have married a hundred times, Captain. Selected, loved, cherished. Caressed a smoothness, inhaled a brief fragrance. Then age, death, the taste of dust. Do you understand?"

    Trivia: I agree with you, John, when you state that the Enterprise Reduction moment is goofy, it is neat to see the three-foot "study model" of the Enterprise (which was used to guide the model builders on the construction of the eleven-footer).

    "Requiem" went a day over schedule and was completed over budget: $183,667 (instead of the third season's expected "studio mandated" episode-to-episode cost of $178,362). This is not atypical in that a show's "series budget" is flexible from one episode to another; go over on one, and try to come under on another... as long as the season's final cost is on par with the financial controllers' number. With this series it was seemingly best left a dream, certainly in Star Trek's third year.


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