“Requiem for Methuselah”
Written by Jerome Bixby
Directed by Murray Golden
Season 3, Episode 19
Production episode 3×21
Original air date: Feb. 14, 1969
Recap: David Mack
The Enterprise is a plague ship: three of its crew have been killed and 23 others infected by Rigellian Fever. To fight the disease, McCoy needs a lot of
ritalin ryetalyn, the only known antidote. The ship’s sensors detect a rich deposit on Holberg 917G, an unexplored planet in the Omega system. With just four hours before the epidemic becomes irreversible, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to find and acquire the rare substance.
They’re on the planet all of ten seconds before Spock’s tricorder picks up a human life sign the ship’s sensors missed, and a gravity-defying stainless-steel gumball machine starts shooting at them. They try to shoot back, but their phasers have stopped working.
A white-haired, middle-aged man stops the trigger-happy robot from killing them. He introduces himself as Flint, then tells Jimmy and the boys to get lost. Kirk explains the problem. There’s no way the Enterprise can reach another planet in time. Kirk offers to buy the ryetalyn, or trade for it. Flint refuses, saying they have nothing he wants or needs. Kirk threatens to take the drug. Flint tells them to get off his
lawn planet, or else.
Kirk orders Scotty to aim the Enterprise’s phaser banks at his coordinates. If Flint kills the landing party, the Enterprise will kill Flint and his robot, then the remaining ship’s crew will take the ryetalyn. Flint seems unfazed; Spock urges the man not to risk all their lives on a “useless experiment,” and McCoy appeals to Flint’s mercy, describing the effects of Rigellian Fever as being like those of the bubonic plague, only worse.
The mention of the ancient Earth disease makes Flint wax nostalgic about rats in 1334 Constantinople, after which he relents and grants the landing party a two-hour reprieve. He invites them to chill at Casa Flint while his gumball machine, M4 (no relation to the M-5), collects the ryetalyn for them. Well, isn’t that nice? Maybe he’ll let Kirk sit in his favorite chair, too.
Back at Flint’s palace, Spock remarks the ship’s sensors failed to note Flint’s presence. Flint explains his planet is protected by screens that create the illusion of lifelessness, to deter the curious. He lives there alone except for M4, which serves as his butler, housekeeper, gardener, and guardian. (Damned robots—they’re taking all our jobs!) As McCoy comments on Flint’s amazing collection of rare books—which includes a Shakespeare First Folio, a Gutenberg Bible, some alien title we don’t care about—the landing party is unaware that they are being watched via hidden cameras (including one mysteriously equipped with a dolly) by a young blonde in another room.
After Flint steps away, McCoy wonders if they can trust him. Spock notes that, for the moment, it is logical to do so. Kirk adds that if Flint fails to come through, they’ll shoot him and go get their own ryetalyn. Then Spock, in a fabulous non-sequitur, observes that Flint’s is the most remarkable private art collection he has ever seen, and the most unique: most of its works are by Leonardo da Vinci; some are by Reginald Pollack, and others are by another alien we’ve never heard of but are supposed to think is significant.
Meanwhile, the blonde, Rayna, waxes ecstatic to Flint about the arrival of “other humans.” She’s keen to meet Spock, so they can talk about “subdimensional physics,” but Flint assures her Spock is a mental lightweight compared to either himself or her. She still wants to meet them; Flint discourages her:
FLINT: They are selfish. Brutal. A part of the human community which I rejected, and from which I’ve shielded you.
Still she begs to meet them before they leave. Flint balks, then he leans and tries to kiss her, but she stands frozen, innocently confused like a deer caught in headlights. He asks her if she’s been lonely. She answers a question with a question: “What is loneliness?” She’s not being philosophical, unfortunately. She really is this clueless. Then she begs Flint not to deny her this opportunity, which she finds “exciting.” That intrigues him: she has never made a demand of him before. He consents to her request.
Hm. An innocent, clueless, guileless, beautiful young blonde wants to meet James T. Kirk. Sure, why not? What could possibly go wrong?
Back in the living room, McCoy, Kirk, and Spock help themselves to Flint’s century-old Saurian brandy. Before they get a chance to raid his fridge or skinny dip in his pool, Spock stuns them by admitting he feels envy. Flint’s art collection includes paintings by Leonardo DaVinci that have never been catalogued or reproduced and that register as authentic in every detail save one: they are of “contemporary origin.” A man of Flint’s “wealth and taste” would not need to hang forgeries, Spock says. So, what gives?
That’s enough to persuade Kirk to order Scotty to run a full background check on the planet’s history, and to direct Spock to make a covert tricorder scan of Flint himself.
M4 floats into the room and drops a plastic sandwich bag full of violet crystals on the table. In addition to being Flint’s all-pupose domestic servant, it’s also a prompt and highly efficient drug dealer. The landing party is about to beam back up to the ship when Flint returns and insists they let M4 process their
crystal meth ryetalyn while they join him for dinner. Kirk refuses, so Flint trots out Rayna.
“Okay,” Kirk says, “we’ll stay for dinner. But my entire crew is dying of a hideous and excruciating plague, so we’ll probably have to skip dessert.”
Flint introduces Rayna to the Big E boys. She nods at McCoy, talks geeky to Spock, and makes eyes at Kirk. Then Flint explains Rayna’s parents were killed while in his employ, when she was only an infant, and that he has raised and educated her in isolation. McCoy flatters Rayna with all the subtlety of a bulldozer, prompting Flint to banish the good doctor to his lab with M4 to supervise the processing of the ryetalyn.
Next, Flint asks Kirk and Spock their preference: chess, billiards, or conversation? Kirk shoots a wolfish look at Rayna and asks, “Why not all three?” (I suspect that, in his imagination, Jimmy heard Rayna ask, “Coffee, tea, or me?”) Later, while Rayna teaches Kirk the fine points of billiards, Skipper Jimmy argues the fine points of etiquette and human nature with Flint.
The discussion is interrupted when Spock starts playing a piano in the next room, sight-reading from some sheet music he has found. Flint suggests that Kirk and Rayna dance while Spock plays a waltz. Kirk agrees, apparently giving no thought to what his superiors will think when they read of this in his log. (“As my crew lay dying in orbit, I waltzed with my hot blonde billiards instructor.”) While Kirk and Rayna dance, Flint observes with a wan smile.
McCoy returns from the lab with bad news: the ryetalyn processed by M4 was contaminated and therefore useless. Was this deliberate sabotage, a simple error, or possibly an omen that all the ryetalyn on the planet is contaminated? Kirk tells McCoy to go with Flint to get more ryetalyn, and this time keep him under close scrutiny.
Spock, meanwhile, makes a new observation of his own. The waltz he just played is by Johannes Brahms—written in Brahms’ own hand, which Spock recognizes, and yet, inexplicably, it is unknown. Kirk doesn’t seem to care; he goes to the lab to see if he can salvage the tainted antidote. (Me: “Hang on—medical science isn’t Jimmy’s strong suit. Why not send Spock to do that?” Dayton: “Forget it, he’s rolling.”)
Rayna enters Flint’s lab. Kirk asks why she’s there. In the lab is a door to a room that Rayna is forbidden to enter, the only thing that Flint has ever denied her, though she has no idea why. She says she visits the lab when she is troubled.
KIRK: Are you troubled now?
KIRK: By what? (beat) Are you happy here with Flint?
RAYNA: He’s the greatest, kindest, wisest man in the galaxy.
KIRK: Then why are you afraid? (he hugs her) Don’t be afraid.
He kisses her, and once again she looks confused. She supposedly has earned the equivalent of seventeen advanced degrees, but apparently none of them relate to basic anatomy, reproductive biology, or porn. Skipper Jimmy decides to go in for a second try at teaching Rayna about that last subject, but they are interrupted by M4, which apparently also functions as Rayna’s chaperone.
Kirk shoves Rayna away and makes a macho fast-draw of his phaser. Is he trying to get himself killed? Maybe he just forgot that it stopped working way back in the cold open. M4 ignores Rayna’s commands to stop, and it corners Kirk. Then the robot is vaporized by a phaser shot—it was so intent on Kirk that it failed to notice Spock sneaking up on it. Some guardian. Flint would’ve been better off with a pair of underfed Rottweilers.
Later, Flint apologizes for the “misunderstanding” with M4, which he says thought Kirk was “attacking” Rayna. Sure, because most forms of violent attack involve lip massages. Then, just to put the fear of God back into Kirk, Flint brings out his backup M4. It’s like a redshirt, except better, because you don’t have to care when it gets shot.
Flint and Kirk try to out-macho each other. When Flint asks Rayna if she thinks Kirk is brave or stupid, she looks torn, and all she can say is, “I’m glad he did not die.” Aw. How sweet. Flint assures Kirk that the new batch of ryetalyn is the good stuff and will be ready soon, so maybe Kirk and Spock could just sit quietly and not touch anything until then. He orders Rayna to leave with him; she hesitates but complies, looking mournfully back at Kirk as Flint takes her hand and tows her away.
Kirk tells Spock he doesn’t like the way Flint treats Rayna. Spock reminds him they’re just there to score some drugs, so stop worrying. Now Kirk gets it: Flint loves Rayna. But then why was he pushing her toward Kirk? Jimmy lets that question go, maybe because he figures the old man just likes to watch.
Kirk calls Scotty and asks, “How’s the crew?” Answer: “Dying.” Then he asks what the background check on the planet turned up. Uhura found nothing on Flint, but the planet was bought decades earlier by Mr. Brack, a wealthy Earth businessman and recluse. Still not satisfied, Kirk asks for a background check on Rayna Kapec. After he hangs up, Spock has news: his tricorder analysis of Flint shows the man is roughly 6,000 years old.
From another room, Flint and Rayna watch the surveillance video of Spock telling Kirk that Flint is probably spying on them. Busted, Flint turns off the video. No fun being a voyeur when the subject knows you’re watching. Rayna, meanwhile, starts to doubt Flint’s good intentions. He insists he has never lied to her and wishes no harm to Kirk. He asks what she felt when she was alone with him. She declines to answer until he gives the landing party the ryetalyn. He agrees and tells her to go say her farewells.
Scotty informs Kirk that the Federation has no record of Rayna’s existence, nor Flint’s. Kirk is now obsessed with uncovering the pair’s secrets, despite Spock’s advice that he stay focused on getting the ryetalyn to the Enterprise. (“You remember the Enterprise, right, Jim? That big white thing that flies through space? It has four hundred of your closest friends aboard? And they’re all dying? Is any of this ringing a bell?”)
As Spock and Kirk go to finish the mission, Rayna appears to say goodbye. Kirk sends Spock ahead to the lab so he can spend a few more moments sucking face with Rayna. Luckily for Kirk, this time she’s into it. Then she’s really into it.
In the lab, McCoy bitches to Spock that the M4 has absconded with their ryetalyn. He wants to go look for it, but Spock says Kirk told them to stay in the lab. Inexplicably, this time of all times, they follow orders.
Kirk tries to seduce Rayna into leaving with him. He offers her happiness and love and rainbows and puppy dogs and… okay, what the hell? Yeah, she’s cute and she likes the taste of a man’s tonsils, but it’s not as if this is Kirk’s first crush. So why is he telling her she loves him and not Flint? She’s lived her whole damn life with Flint, and she’s known Kirk all of two hours. Rayna does the sane thing: she runs away from this obsessive jerk.
Dejected, Kirk rejoins McCoy and Spock in the lab. Spock’s tricorder indicates the ryetalyn is in the locked room that Rayna is forbidden to enter. Since none of these guys is Rayna, in they go. They find the ryetalyn—in a room with a body on a slab, covered with a sheet, beside a sign labeled “Rayna 16.” Kirk, glutton for punishment, pulls back the sheet to find a bald Rayna-lookalike mannequin. Then he sees more slabs, more bodies under sheets, and more signs: Rayna 15, Rayna 14, Rayna 13…
KIRK (V.O.): Captain’s log, stardate 5843.8: We have accomplished our mission and have the ryetalyn ready to combat the epidemic aboard the Enterprise. But we have also discovered our benefactor’s secret. He has created the perfect woman. Her only flaw: she’s not human.
McCoy confirms that Rayna is an android. “Created here, by my hand,” Flint says as he joins them. Confronted by the details Spock has observed in Flint’s home, their host confesses everything: he was born in Mesopotamia nearly six millennia earlier. A soldier, his heart was pierced in battle—but he did not die. He has lived, ageless, using hundreds of aliases: he was Methuselah, Solomon, Alexander, Merlin, Leonardo, and Brahms. He has known history’s greatest minds. But his has been a life of heartbreak:
FLINT: I have married a hundred times, captain. Selected, loved, cherished. Caressed a smoothness, inhaled a brief fragrance. Then age… death… the taste of dust.
Now he has used his vast fortune and boundless experience to create Rayna, his perfect companion, with whom to live out his days. He insists that Rayna is his property. Kirk asks if Rayna knows. Flint replies, “She will never know.”
Kirk has heard enough and decides to leave. Flint forbids it: they know his secret; now he can’t let them leave. Spock says, “We can remain silent.” Flint doesn’t buy it. Kirk hails the ship, but Flint uses a tiny handheld device to blink the Enterprise out of orbit and turn it into a three-foot-long toy mounted on a table. (Aw, crap, it’s “Catspaw” all over again.)
Flint says the ship’s crew is not dead, merely suspended. In a millennia or two, he will release them—and, with them, the landing party. He is being merciful, he explains, because they helped bring out Rayna’s emotions, so now he can finally have her the way he wants. Too bad for him his thousands of years of wisdom didn’t teach him to lock the door behind him, because Rayna hears the whole thing, and now she is pissed.
McCoy sums it up beautifully:
McCOY: All emotions are in play, Mister Flint. Harm us, she hates you.
At that moment, somewhere in the multiverse, a bully named Nelson says, “Ha-ha!”
Kirk demands the release of his ship and promises Flint’s secret will be kept. Flint puts the Enterprise back in orbit, and Kirk recounts everything they and we already know. Then he turns into a bad soap opera:
KIRK: I can’t love her. But I do love her.
Oh, brother. Go cry in your beer, Jimmy, but get the drugs to the ship first.
Then Kirk insists Rayna loves him, and Flint goes berserk. Spock points out how asinine this all is, but it’s too late, because an NBC network memo required at least one fistfight per episode during Star Trek’s third season. Flint and Kirk beat each other up until Rayna freaks out and tells them to shut up and let her choose her own destiny. She asserts her independence—then has a total meltdown and dies, because God forbid a woman should dare to think for herself.
Spock blames Kirk and Flint for forcing Rayna to choose:
SPOCK: The joys of love made her human. And the agonies of love destroyed her.
Whoa, man. That’s deep. But shouldn’t it have been McCoy who said that? No, never mind. The girl’s dead, so it’s time to move on.
Later, on the Enterprise, Kirk mopes in his quarters. Spock and McCoy drop by. The first officer says the epidemic is under control and the ship is on its way to its next mission. McCoy reports that Flint is dying, his immortality having been sacrificed when he departed Earth’s complex web of energy fields. McCoy also feels sorry for Spock because he’ll never know the great emotional roller-coaster ride of love.
KIRK: An old and lonely man … and a young and lonely man. We put on a pretty poor show, didn’t we? (beat) If only I could forget.
Jimmy really should be more careful what he asks for. After Kirk passes out at his desk, Spock crouches over him like a gargoyle, clamps a hand on Kirk’s face, and does some major Vulcan mind-mojo as he drones, “Forget.”
And on this total downer of an ending, we… FADE OUT.
The notion of an immortal who has lived as many of history’s great artists and thinkers is one that I found wonderfully compelling from the first time I saw this episode. Flint’s dialogue is fantastic, poetically capturing the worldview of a man who has seen millennia. He had so many great lines that it was hard to stop myself from quoting nearly all of them in the recap.
One thing that struck me while rewatching this episode is how many of these themes were revisited in Star Trek: The Next Generation. The notion of an android struggling to cope with emotions was integral to the character arc for Data, and the premise of a female android succumbing to a mental meltdown caused by extreme emotional trauma was the climax of the heartbreaking episode “The Offspring.” Flint’s insistence that Rayna—whom he had designed to be a sentient being—was his property raises the same ethical questions that underpin “The Measure of a Man.”
As for immortality and the character’s multiple lifetimes’ worth of amassed wealth, it’s hard to imagine this episode wasn’t at least a partial inspiration for the 1986 feature film Highlander. Even the description of the immortal Connor MacLeod’s discovery of his nature is nearly identical to that of Flint’s origin.
Although the kind of super-science wielded by Flint strikes me as slightly ridiculous, and the revelation of his newfound mortality seems sort of unnecessary, this episode’s greatest flaw, in my opinion, is the absurdity of Kirk falling so desperately in love so quickly, and then not having his feelings for Rayna change at all even after he discovers her nature as an android. The writer, Jerome Bixby, chalks it up within the story to Kirk’s loneliness, which was a recurring theme on the show, but here it felt arbitrary and implausible.
That being said, despite the many criticisms one could level at this episode, I think it’s one of the third season’s better entries, and one that I continue to enjoy immensely.
David’s Rating: Warp 4 (on a scale of 1 to 6)
Analysis: Dayton Ward
I’ll admit up front to having a soft spot for this episode, due in large part to the fact that I’ve always been a fan of “person out of time” stories. Rip Van Winkle or Buck Rogers, Connor MacLeod or the Wandering Jew, I’ve always been fascinated by such characters, who have witnessed firsthand the preceding generations and who now act as a sort of “window into history.” Mr. Flint is obviously a forerunner to the immortals of the Highlander films and television series, or even Casca, the Eternal Mercenary, from the series of Barry Sadler novels.
This story is certainly one that invites a follow-up, though of course that never happens. Like so many other stories and concepts introduced during Star Trek’s third season, “Requiem for Methuselah” suffers from the same plague affecting most of the year’s other episodes: unrealized potential.
When watching an episode like this one, I’m reminded of something I read in Inside Star Trek: The Real Story. Written by Herbert F. Solow and Robert H. Justman, there is a passage by Justman in one chapter detailing the production of Star Trek’s third season which summarizes, in my mind at least, the key problem with the show’s final year:
JUSTMAN: I despaired about the show’s loss of quality. By the time episodes were filmed, whatever excitement existed in the original stories and scripts had been diluted by a rewriting process that was no longer overseen by Gene Roddenberry; it was strictly budget-driven. There were no highs and no lows—just a boring in-between. My never-ending battle to cut costs without compromising quality had failed. The Star Trek I knew, and was proud to be a part of, was no more.
Justman, in his role as co-producer, seemed content to shoulder the blame for many of the problems the show faced during that last season, but it’s easy to see that he’d been set up to fight a losing battle from the beginning. A reduced per-episode budget, an unpopular time slot, and a studio and network who were doing their level best to get through the last year without losing any more money than absolutely necessary all conspired against Star Trek’s cast and production crew to all but ensure that the show’s third year would be its last.
Despite all of that, unexpected gems still shone through the veil of mediocrity in which the series had found itself enshrouded. While “Requiem for Methuselah” is hardly representative of Star Trek’s finest hours, it largely succeeds at telling a compelling story and leaves us with thought-provoking questions not only for the characters but for ourselves, as well.
Another comment from Justman recounted within the pages of Inside Star Trek is the observation that, with the budget cuts necessitating fewer action sequences, they were producing the equivalent of radio programs, as the actors spend most of the time just standing around talking. Yes, this installment is heavy on the talk, but at least it’s interesting stuff, with big ideas: an immortal man in search of the perfect companion; what happens when an artificial intelligence gains sentience; how far might a man go, and what lines he may or may not cross, in the name of love? In actuality, “Requiem for Methuselah” comes off more as a stage play, which actually makes a kind of sense, given that Flint is a tragic figure in the finest Shakespearean tradition. It probably doesn’t hurt that guest actors James Daly and Louise Sorel, to say nothing of William Shatner himself, all spent considerable time on the stage before moving to television.
Realizing the episode’s main conceit—the existence of a man who has lived for thousands of years under numerous identities, including several notable figures from human history—rests on the shoulders of guest actor James Daly, and he carries off the role with aplomb. In scenes where Flint is recalling some memory of the distant past such as the bubonic plague in the fourteenth century, Daly’s naturally weathered features and the world-weary quality he brings to the character’s “recollections” help to easily sell the notion of a millennia-old man.
The mystery of Flint’s true identity/identities is revealed slowly, starting very early in the episode and with small yet vital clues given to us as Spock begins to fit together pieces of a puzzle he does not at first realize is before him. When he recognizes Johannes Brahms’ handwriting on a piece of modern parchment, or the artwork of Leonardo da Vinci on a piece of canvas that cannot possibly be centuries old, we come to realize that Flint’s house is not just an eclectic assortment of furnishings and antiquities brought together by a simple collector, and they’re much more than the sort of trappings by which an impersonator carries out an elaborate deception. Instead, they’re legitimate mementos of the various personas behind which the ageless Flint was forced to hide as history unfolded around him.
When we discover the truth about Rayna and the purpose for which Flint created her, we’re torn. Should we sympathize with him for the unbearable loneliness he’s endured over the centuries, as he was forced to watch lovers grow old and die before his eternal eyes? Do we consider him selfish, that he would go to such great lengths to create such a marvelous feat of artificial intelligence—to the point that it achieves self-awareness and the capacity for self-determination—only to learn that she’s to be little more than his companion for however long he’s fated to live? Is he callous, driven by jealousy over Kirk’s obvious attraction to Rayna, and yet manipulating them both in order to draw out Rayna’s nascent emotions, which in turn he’ll then attempt to refocus on himself?
Louise Sorel does a commendable job with the material she’s given, affecting a childlike innocence for Rayna as well as providing subtle hints through word and action that the young woman is not what she at first appears to be. Later, during Rayna’s “awakening,” Sorel is able to convey confusion and even fear in the face of the emotions she’s supposed to be unable to confront, only threatening once or twice to go over the top with her performance. William Shatner, on the other hand, gives us a couple of those patented Kirkian moments, particularly when he’s imploring Rayna to run away with him and challenging Flint to fight for Rayna’s affections.
Some aspects of the storyline don’t really gel. We’re told there’s a plague ravaging the Enterprise crew, but we never see any sign of it, neither among the landing party nor anyone on the bridge. Though Kirk pays lip service to being on a time table, that doesn’t stop him from playing billiards with Rayna or dancing with her (all under Flint’s watchful eye), or Spock from eyeballing and fingering all the cool stuff that fills Flint’s house. A shot or two of patients in sickbay, or perhaps in other areas of the ship once sickbay has reached capacity, might have helped sell the immediacy of the problem and why the antidote is so badly needed. Of course, that would have required money for extras and scene setups that director Murray Golden likely didn’t have.
As it is, sharp-eyed viewers will recognize several props and set pieces littering Flint’s house, such as control panels from “Whom Gods Destroy” and furnishings from “Catspaw.” The matte painting used to depict the exterior of Flint’s home is originally from the first Star Trek pilot, “The Cage,” where it represented the fortress on Rigel VII in which Captain Pike defends Vina from the Kayhlar.
The climax comes off somewhat forced, not so much with Rayna being overcome by emotion and being unable to choose between Kirk and Flint, but in Kirk’s reaction to her “death.” As others have pointed out, he didn’t seem this upset over Miramanee’s death earlier in the season (“The Paradise Syndrome”) or even after watching Edith Keeler die in “The City on the Edge of Forever.” Was he really able to fall so completely in love with Rayna in so short a time, or is the love he felt for her simply tinged by guilt over the role he played in her death?
And not for nothing, but you have to wonder if “Requiem for Methuselah” is one of the episodes to which Harve Bennett paid particular attention when screening the original series in search of inspiration while helping to develop the storyline for what would become Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Spock’s mind-meld with Kirk at the end of the episode, in which he utters the single word, “Forget,” is reminiscent of the meld Spock will share with McCoy at the end of the second film, in which he instructs the doctor, “Remember.” I wonder if Bennett might have jotted down some notes from this episode while thinking there were ideas worth revisiting here.
Hey, compared to what’s coming next week, this one’s a classic.
Dayton’s Rating: Warp 4.5 (on a scale of 1 to 6)
Check the Star Trek Re-Watch Index for a complete list of posts in this series.
David Mack has been kicking around since at least 1969, getting drunk, pretending to work once in a while, and then doing it all over again.
Dayton Ward also has a secret identity. He was the unknown stuntman who made Eastwood look so fine.