Star Trek: Requiem for Methuselah

"A very old and lonely man. And a young and lonely man. We put on a pretty poor show, didn't we?"

This episode has always been one of my favorites. But I never really thought about why it was a favorite until I had to review it. (Isn't reviewing fun?)

I think it's because I've always been fascinated by stories about immortality. There's something so tragic about this ancient, brilliant man who is so lonely that he creates an artificial companion for himself – and something quite creepy and incestuous about him raising that adopted daughter to eventually become his lover. James Daly did a good job as Flint, particularly with the weariness and emotional exhaustion he showed in the reveal scene. Despite the manipulative things he did, I couldn't help but feel for him.

Rayna was surprisingly sympathetic as well, a likable combination of baby and super genius. There was none of the woodenness and lack of empathy we saw in, say, Andrea in "What Are Little Girls Made Of," another episode about immortality by android. I particularly liked the very Bluebeard bit about Flint forbidding Rayna to enter the room that contained the earlier versions of herself. Flint may have had good intentions, but he considered Rayna his property. Even after learning what she was, Kirk most assuredly did not.

As I've mentioned before, I'm not a fan of Kirk's romantic follies, but this episode featured one of the best. (The only one I like better is Edith Keeler in "The City on the Edge of Forever.") The romance wasn't at Kirk's instigation; Flint threw Rayna at Kirk as an experiment to "wake her up," and then when it worked, Flint did everything he could to tear Kirk down in her eyes. Kirk was attracted to Rayna's brilliance, her goodness, her innocence, and he wasn't manipulating her to attain something – it felt genuine. Kirk loved Rayna as she was. Flint said that he wanted Rayna to be a real woman, to be free and autonomous, but then he was completely unable to accept the fact that if she had a choice, she might not choose him.

But what we take from this episode (what I took, anyway) was not Kirk's love for Rayna, but Spock's love for Kirk. Spock tried to keep Kirk from learning the truth about Rayna because he didn't want Kirk to get hurt. And of course, the final minute of the episode features (in my not so humble opinion) the strongest, most emotional scene between Kirk and Spock in the entire series, even though Kirk is unconscious at the time. After Kirk finally fell asleep at his desk, exhausted and in despair, McCoy practically taunted Spock with his lack of understanding of the meaning of love. After McCoy left, an expressionless Spock went to Kirk, leaned down to touch his face and said, "Forget."

What was Spock doing, and why? A little mind melding to help take Kirk's pain away, we think. Was it an appropriate thing for Spock to do? Probably not. But the love that Spock showed for Kirk in just that one small moment is mind-blowing, and it is particularly effective after McCoy treated Spock like an unfeeling robot. I've never seen it as romantic in the slash fanfic sense, but I absolutely get why so many did. It's a powerful moment, and I've always loved it. It was deliberately echoed in a key scene in the second Star Trek movie, and it had just as much resonance then as it does in this episode.

Ben P. Duck says...

If Shakespeare had a baby with Highlander while watching Forbidden Planet, then they would have had this episode. Fortunately for me, I love Shakespeare, Highlander, Forbidden Planet, and ill-conceived "if blank had a baby with blank" jokes, so I really enjoyed this episode. Essentially a gloss of The Tempest, it had a great guest star and a very interesting set-up with the Enterprise crew dying of a plague. Kirk, Spock and Bones wash up on Flint's shores in real need, and have to reason their way to success with a character who, as it turns out, is pretty reasonable (if self-involved). The similarities with Forbidden Planet are hard to miss with M4 an inadequate substitute for Robbie the Robot, who was no doubt too busy on Lost in Space to take the part. It's hard to go wrong with a pedigree like this one.

Of course, it also featured the sort of reminiscing speech about Flint's past in plague-ridden Constantinople that has since become the hallmark of all of us extremely long-lived characters, whether they are Spike, Duncan Macleod, or me. Oh, hadn't I mentioned that I am in fact over 7,000 years old? Really? I don't know how it slipped my mind until now. Well here are some of my favorite reminisces:

Miami 1985: Ahhh, pastel suits and the Deloreans, cocaine arrived in a boat from Columbia and spread through the streets, every name was an alias in case somebody squealed. I remember the lure of easy money, it had a very strong appeal.

Mesopotamia 3800 BC. The first cities rose, God-Kings ruled with an iron fist, so many people together for the first time, it pulsed with energy and the food was really, really terrible, I mean bad. The three first civilized inventions were irrigation, ziggurats and gruel. And the lack of plumbing, don't get me started.

Deadwood 1876. Wow, people cursed a lot.

Nobody said immortality was easy.

Back to Billie for bits and pieces:

— Stardate 5843.7. Holberg 917G, a small planet in the Omega system. Many of the Enterprise crew were fatally ill with Rygellian fever.

— Kirk told Flint he asked for the ryetalin, not demanded it. But in fact, he did demand it.

— It was strongly implied that Flint got smarter and more talented as he aged, since he initially died as a not-that-bright soldier. I wonder if the five thousand year old character Methos on Highlander benefited from this bit of characterization?


— M4 was channeling Nomad. Probably because they used part of Nomad for M4. The castle we saw was from "The Cage." Flint's house actually did seem luxurious, although the furnishings were recycled from earlier episodes.

— Spock played the piano. The lovely faux Brahms waltz was written specifically for this episode.

— We got yet another tiny model of the Enterprise, with Kirk's eyes peering into the viewscreen. I'm surprised they didn't recycle the little Enterprise encased in lucite.

— Rayna's silver dress was rather cool. So was her hair.

— This episode was written by Jerome Bixby. He also wrote the episodes "Mirror, Mirror," "By Any Other Name," and "Day of the Dove," all favorites of mine. He also wrote the famous and often ripped off short story, "It's a Good Life," about the all-powerful little boy sending people to the cornfield. Which I've mentioned before, but bears repeating.

Quotes:

Flint: "Rayna, have you been lonely?"
Rayna: "What is loneliness?"
Flint: "It is thirst. It is a flower dying in the desert."

Spock: "Thank you, Doctor, I will have a brandy."
McCoy: "Do you think the two of us can handle a drunk Vulcan?"

Spock: "I am close to experiencing an unaccustomed emotion."
McCoy: "I'll drink to that. What emotion?"
Spock: "Envy."

Flint: "I ... am Brahms."
Spock: "And Da Vinci."
Flint: "Yes."
Spock: "How many other names shall we call you?"

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. Can you understand?"
Spock: "You wanted a perfect, ultimate woman. As brilliant, as immortal as yourself. Your mate for all time."
Flint: "Designed by my heart. I could not love her more."

McCoy: (to Spock) "You see, I feel sorrier for you than I do for him because you'll never know the things that love can drive a man to. The ecstasies, the miseries, the broken rules, the desperate chances, the glorious failures, the glorious victories. All of these things you'll never know simply because the word love isn't written into your book."

"Requiem for Methuselah" is one of my favorite episodes, and definitely one of the best in season three. Four out of four waltzes,

Billie
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Billie Doux loves good television and spends way too much time writing about it.

2 comments:

tinkapuss said...

Beautiful episode; slow and cerebral, melancholic and revealing. Your review was a wonderful companion and really got me thinking.

I love the passion Spock felt for Da Vinci and Brahams and that he played the music! The mention of the Shakespeare Folios and the other books by McCoy was a nice touch as well. I really felt for Kirk; he did seem to be in love for the very first time and I couldn't see him whisking her off to his cabin for a quick one either, which, let's face it, is refreshing. It was touching and poignant. (And, anyway, I always hoped that Kirk would finally end up with Catherine Hicks' character in "The Voyage Home"... she had spunk and she did a great job playing Marilyn in "Marilyn: The Untold Story" - which is as good a reason as any ;) )

Lots of homoerotic overtones in this ep - not just the "Forget" line but Da Vinci and Alexander were both homosexual (or in Alexander The Great's case, at least practised it and was sexually fluid like many men of Ancient Greece, as was Shakespeare.) Interestingly enough, these men all lived in periods and places where homosexuality did not have the same stigma attached to it as it did by the 20th century; one would hope that by the 23rd century everyone would have simply moved on.

Another reason I really enjoyed this was I do not remember having seen it before - I know I have (around 1987) but it has been a lovely revelation to me.

Outsider65 said...

I didn't really like this episode at all. The whole crew dying, and Kirk too busy chasing tail to focus on his critical mission? He kissed a girl who seemed little more than a child, without first getting to know her more. She looks like she doesn't understand, so he does it more. Yuck. Flint had a pedophilic vibe with her when it as initially implied she was essentially his adopted daughter. Kirk making out with her is only slightly better, given his lack of relation, but still gross in that she comes off as not understanding at all, as a child. She's passive. Kirk acts like a buffoon, insisting that she come away with him, fighting with his host, who he needs the critical medicine from. He finds out she is a robot, not a real human, not alive, and he insists that she is, refusing to believe it. He still wants to take her away, even knowing that Flint created her specifically for himself to ease his loneliness, even knowing that he's always abandoned all his love interests in favor of his job and his one true love, the Enterprise. Has he completely forgotten his mission! He acts sadder about this perfect robot girl than when he witnessed the death of his wife Miramanee, or that of Edith Keeler, both women with whom he had some actual rapport with. His friends act like it's the end of the world, that he's never had a heartache before. He knew the robot for less than four hours. Even if she had been sentient, alive, and not just a simulation, even if his attraction had been somehow different than any he'd had before, his love different than any love he'd had before, it happened so fast, like he was drugged. His friends take his feelings at face value way too easily. Spock moving in to mindmeld with a sleeping Kirk, to wipe his memories without permission, was pretty weird. A creepy action on his part, after an episode full of creepy actions on Kirk's part. Why is this episode trying to convince us that Kirk's three hour love affair with a robot designed to be the perfect woman was more real than his three month marriage with Miramanee, or his three weeks with Edith Keeler? Why does Kirk feel used now, when he's literally impregnated aliens who kidnapped him and used him for that purpose but didn't feel violated, when he frequently uses romance and seduction to use people to fulfill his missions? And Spock saying he didn't tell him she was a robot because he didn't want to hurt him? You'd let your friend fall in love with a machine, be tricked like that, and say it's for his own good? What kind of logic is that? This whole episode feels off. Did the writers forget that it was previously established alcohol has no effect on Vulcans, were we supposed to take it as a retcon, or that Spock was lying when he previously said that, or were we to assume that Kirk and McCoy were idiots who didn't know, or that they were just joking? Why was Kirk throwing himself around like an idiot when such behavior could ruin his chances of getting the medicine his crew desperately needed? Why did neither Spock nor McCoy tell him his behavior was entirely inappropriate and out of line, that he could chase tail when his crew wasn't dying from the plague?