Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “Requiem for Methuselah”

“Requiem for Methuselah”
Written by Jerome Bixby
Directed by Murray Golden
Season 3, Episode 21
Production episode 60043-76
Original air date: February 14, 1969
Stardate: 5843.7

Captain’s log. The Enterprise is in the grips of an epidemic of Rigellian fever. Three crew members have died (they don’t get named, of course, so they’re not anybody important or anything…) and twenty-three more are ill. They’re in orbit of a small uninhabited planet that has tons of pure ryetalin, the only substance that can cure the fever (which makes you wonder why they don’t stock any on the ship…). Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to collect the ryetalin, but it turns out the uninhabited planet is not so uninhabited as all that. There’s an old human named Flint, who says this world is his retreat and that the landing party is trespassing. He refuses to allow them to collect ryetalin, and if they don’t leave, he’ll kill them. He’s got a big ol’ robot with a powerful ray beam (and very bad aim) at his disposal to back it up.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

McCoy tries to appeal to his sense of decency—which is good, as Kirk’s show of force by ordering Scotty to train phasers on their location does not impress Flint—and when the doctor analogizes the fever to the bubonic plague, Flint speaks of what the plague was like in Constantinople in 1334 (which was actually before the bubonic plague reached that region, but whatever, he’s old), and he finally gives in. He instructs his robot to collect the ryetalin and leads the landing party to his palace.

Flint reveals that he has screens that hide him from orbital detection. He also has an impressive collection of Earth artifacts, including a Gutenberg Bible and a Shakespeare First Folio, not to mention a ton of artwork.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

Their conversation is observed by a blonde from another room. This is Rayna Kapec, who desperately wishes to meet other humans, not to mention a Vulcan, about whom she’s heard quite a bit from Flint. At first, Flint refuses, viewing humans as brutal and selfish, but he gives in due to her desires.

Spock scans the Leonardo da Vinci paintings, which appear to be real—it’s Leonardo’s brushwork—but the canvases are contemporary, so they’re fakes. But none of them are da Vinci works that have been catalogued. Kirk has Scotty run a background check on the planet and on Flint and orders Spock to do a more detailed tricorder scan of Flint.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

This conversation occurs over hundred-year-old Saurian brandy, which all three drink happily without a care in the world. It’s almost like there isn’t an epidemic on their ship…

The robot brings the ryetalin, and Flint offers to process it in his lab, which he says can be done faster than it can on the Enterprise. Kirk declines Flint’s offer of dinner, right up until he introduces Rayna, at which point Kirk is willing to hang out for a while.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

McCoy goes off to supervise the processing of the ryetalin while Rayna shows Kirk how to play billiards and Kirk discusses humanity with Flint. Spock plays the piano and Kirk and Rayna dance. Rayna becomes more affectionate as the dance goes on. However, McCoy interrupts to reveal that the ryetalin has impurities that render it useless.

Flint and McCoy go off to supervise the robot’s gathering of more ryetalin—the speed with which the robot processes the drug means they still have time to get it right, though McCoy is worried that all the ryetalin on-planet will have the impurity—while Spock reveals that the waltz he just played is by Johannes Brahms. He played off of an original manuscript in Brahms’s handwriting. But he’s never heard of this particular piece before, and he knows all of Brahms’s work.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

Kirk decides to go to the lab to see if he can fix the ryetalin, leaving Spock behind to play the piano some more. (Why Kirk with his total lack of scientific skills does this instead of the science officer is left as an exercise for the viewer.) Rayna arrives in the lab and stares at a door that she reveals to Kirk she is forbidden from walking through. It is the only thing Flint has denied her. She comes to the lab when she’s troubled, and Kirk thinks it’s because she’s not happy living alone on this world with Flint. Kirk gives her a hug and a smooch.

The robot appears out of nowhere and breaks up their smooching, floating menacingly toward Kirk, and ignoring Rayna’s command to stop. However, Spock remembered that he’s the science guy and goes to the lab, showing up in the nick of time to phaser the robot into nothingness.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

Flint explains that the robot thought Kirk was attacking Rayna. Luckily, he has a spare. McCoy and the new robot go off to process the ryetalin, Flint and Rayna go off elsewhere, and Kirk stews over Flint’s treatment of Rayna, though Spock figures it’s the green-eyed monster.

Scotty reports that the entire ship is now infected with the fever, and Uhura reports no record of any kind of Flint. The planet was purchased thirty years ago by a reclusive financier named Brack. Kirk has her do a search on Rayna, which also turns up empty. Spock hypothesizes that Flint is observing their every move, and we cut to Flint and Rayna observing their every move.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

Rayna comes to say goodbye to Kirk, but Kirk says he doesn’t want to say goodbye, and they smooch some more. Flint watches them kiss, then turns the monitor off. Kirk asks Rayna to come away with him, saying that she loves him and not Flint (love? seriously? you’ve known her for, like, fifteen minutes!). She runs away, frightened, and then Kirk is told by McCoy and Spock that the ryetalin has disappeared. They track it to the secret door that Rayna is forbidden to enter. They go inside and find the ryetalin—and also sixteen identical bodies, all labelled “Rayna.”

Flint arrives and reveals that he created Rayna for companionship. He also admits that he has, in the past, been Brahms, da Vinci, Solomon, Alexander, Lazarus (I’m assuming he means the guy from the Gospel According to John rather than the guy with the ever-changing beard), Methsuelah, Merlin, Abramson, and more. He was born Akharin, a soldier in Mesopotamia who was stabbed through the heart in battle but didn’t die. Over the millennia he has accrued wealth and intelligence, and now he lives alone, except for Rayna. He wanted a perfect woman, and so he created her. He won’t let Kirk love her, because she is literally his.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

He also can’t let them leave, as he must preserve his privacy. But he also is grateful to them, because Kirk’s flirtations have awakened emotions within her at last. Unfortunately, all emotions have awakened—including anger if Flint does harm to the landing party.

Kirk is pissed off, as Flint used Kirk to get Rayna to be emotional, and he fell in love with her. Flint then proves how superior he is to Akharin the Mesopotamian soldier by engaging in fisticuffs with Kirk.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

The fight lasts until Rayna bellows at them to stop. She refuses to be the cause of two people doing harm to each other, and she refuses to let Flint order her anymore. Kirk triumphantly crows that she has freedom of choice—

—and then she collapses after saying, “I… love…” She could not handle the conflicting emotions of two people she loved being in conflict, given that she’d only had emotions for four-and-a-half seconds, and so she went poof.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

Back on the ship, Spock reports that the epidemic is subsiding, and Kirk barely notices, moping as he is over Rayna, saying he wishes he could forget her. He falls asleep, and then McCoy walks in and gives his report to Spock, since Kirk is finally getting some sleep. He reveals that Flint is dying due to having left Earth, and that he wishes that Kirk could somehow forget Rayna.

Being a literal-minded cuss, Spock takes the advice of his two best friends, does a mind-meld with the sleeping Kirk, and says, “Forget…”

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Flint has the ability to screen his palace from scans, and to create a very good humanform android, has a spiffy keeno lab, and, oh yeah, can pull the Enterprise from orbit, shrink it to tabletop size, and put the entire crew in stasis. With all that, you’d think he’d be able to swing programming emotions, y’know?

Fascinating. Spock can play the piano. Who knew?

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

I’m a doctor not an escalator. When Rayna first shows up, it’s McCoy who flirts with her most aggressively at first, putting on the full southern-gentleman act, but once he goes off to do doctor things, Kirk takes over.

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura gets to do background checks on Flint, the planet, and Rayna.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty is in charge of the ship and does, basically, nothing except answer the phone when Kirk actually manages to remember that he’s in charge of a ship full of dying people. 

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Kirk and Rayna fall in love after playing billiards and dancing once. Sure.

Channel open. “You are the only other men I’ve ever seen.”

“The misfortune of men everywhere—and our privilege.”

Rayna being honest and McCoy with a much smoother approach to flirting than Kirk manages.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

Welcome aboard. James Daly—who is the father of actors Tim and Tyne Daly—plays Flint, while Louise Sorel—who previously played a love interest of a character played by William Shatner in an episode of Route 66—plays Rayna. Plus we have recurring regulars James Doohan and Nichelle Nichols.

Trivial matters: Flint appears in several stories that take place prior to this episode, including Federation by Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, The Eugenics Wars: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh by Greg Cox (when he encounters Gary Seven and Khan Singh), “The Immortality Blues” by Marc Carlson in Strange New Worlds 9, the Enterprise: Rise of the Federation novels Uncertain Logic and Live by the Code by Christopher L. Bennett, and the Star Trek/Legion of Super-Heroes crossover comic by Chris Roberson and Jeffrey & Philip Moy.

Jeffrey Lang’s novel Immortal Coil established that Flint fooled McCoy into thinking he was dying, and he lived on, taking on the identity Emil Vaslovik (the name of the creator of Questor in Gene Roddenberry’s The Questor Tapes). Flint appears extensively in that novel, as well as David Mack’s Cold Equations trilogy.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

Rayna’s full name—Rayna Kapec—is a play on Karel Čapek, the author who coined the term “robot” in his play R.U.R.

This is the last of Jerome Bixby’s four scripts for the original series. His final work before his death in 1998 was The Man from Earth, which also dealt with the subject of immortality. It’s also the only episode directed by Murray Golden, who also directed a half-dozen episodes of Batman.

In the Voyager episode “Concerning Flight,” Janeway references the fact that Kirk claimed to have met Leonardo da Vinci (who is also one of Janeway’s heroes).

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

To boldly go. “We put on a very poor show, didn’t we?” I’m of two minds about the ending of this episode. On the one hand, Spock just altering Kirk’s memories without his consent is, to say the least, appalling. It’s a horrid violation, a despicable act, for all that it comes from a place of love (the very love McCoy had just accused him of not being able to feel), as he simply wishes to stop his friend’s pain. But it’s a horrible, horrible thing to do.

On the other hand, I kinda wish Spock had turned, reached through the screen, and given me the same treatment so I wouldn’t have to remember this abomination.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

As with seemingly every third-season episode, there’s a good idea lurking here under the nonsense. (In fact, one could argue it’s the same idea as The Tempest, though Shakespeare, this ain’t…) The trials and tribulations of living as an immortal has been story fodder for centuries, from Mary Shelley’s “The Mortal Immortal” to the various bits of the Highlander franchise, and Flint’s story is one that is compelling, at least at first. I particularly like that what gets him to change his mind about refusing the Enterprise to stay is his memory of the bubonic plague ravaging Europe in the 14th century (even if he gets the date wrong).

Sadly, that aspect is undermined by Flint being so many important figures (including several from myth and fiction whose historicity is in significant doubt…). I must confess to having absolutely no patience with stories that propose that one person actually accomplished a lot of humanity’s great works. It’s lazy storytelling, it’s insulting to the human race (I have the same issue with stories that have many bad guys in history really being demonic entities of some kind, mind you), and it’s just irritating.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

On top of that, the love story that’s supposed to be the heart of the episode is just totally unconvincing. Part of the problem is Louise Sorel seems have a permanent freaked-out expression on her face, but the main problem is that I was never once convinced that she and Kirk were in love with each other. There just wasn’t time. It’s even less convincing than the McCoy-Natira relationship, the previous Trek gold-standard for going from zero to married in thirty seconds.

Not helping matters is the total lack of urgency with regard to the crew suffering on the Enterprise. Three people are dead, and if three of them had been characters we’ve actually met in prior episodes, you’d have to think that Kirk would actually remember to occasionally give a damn, but it’s been made clear that being a regular is the only way for Kirk to care about your demise for very long. Still, it’s frustrating that Spock has to keep reminding him about the ship of four hundred dying people he’s responsible for while he’s busy mooning over his android sweetie.

Star Trek, original series, season 3, Requiem for Methuselah

Kirk’s feelings for Rayna are written as if this is one of the great loves of his life, so tragic a loss that Spock commits an awful mental violation to keep him from having to suffer. But after three years, we’ve seen Kirk with other loves he’s lost—Edith Keeler, Miramanee, Ruth—and the emotions are far more convincing in the other cases than they are here. I just don’t buy the intensity of Kirk’s feelings for Rayna, not for a second. And without that, the whole episode falls to pieces.

 

Warp factor rating: 3

Next week:The Savage Curtain

Keith R.A. DeCandido is probably not an android. He would like to thank Rachel Wolf for pointing out the similarities between this episode and The Tempest.

88 Comments

Subscribe to this thread

Post a Comment

All comments must meet the community standards outlined in Tor.com's Moderation Policy or be subject to moderation. Thank you for keeping the discussion, and our community, civil and respectful.

Hate the CAPTCHA? Tor.com members can edit comments, skip the preview, and never have to prove they're not robots. Join now!