Monday, March 16, 2015

TOS Rewind #72: "Requiem for Methuselah"

Well look what folks in 1969 got to watch on Valentine's Day:

Requiem for Methuselah (2/14/1969)

Our podcast discussion:

Those few who tuned in that night didn't exactly get a happy romance, though I suppose if you're home watching Star Trek on a Friday night Valentine's Day, then maybe the bummer of a love story works somehow; or doesn't work, but I'll get into that below.

I have to say that the premise of an immortal person who has lived throughout the ages, a witness to history, alone with himself, is an intriguing one. It's as if the people who came up with the Highlander films wanted to take this idea a step further, where the main character becomes almost a superhero. Instead of a bad-ass sword fighter, we get an old man who's been many of history's great figures and artists. That part gets a bit silly, "yeah, if there's any art you liked, it was probably done by me". The more credible, as far as it goes, idea is that of the immortal person who really is just the witness, not the subject. The character becomes slightly more plausible if he makes more of an attempt to not be noticed as the centuries go on. I also had to question how this guy would have such immense power. He is still a human being, right? He's not a Q or other omnipotent being. Flint may have lots of wealth (it's mentioned that the planet he's on was "purchased") and access to any of humanity's technology, but the things he's able to do seem way out of whack with anything anyone in the Federation can do. Also, at the end of the episode, McCoy says that Flint is going to age and die at a normal age, having left the Earth. Isn't it funny that Flint doesn't know this?

Having said all of this about Flint, I mostly liked the character. Part of the reason for this is the way that James Daley does the role; he really sells the "been there/seen that" business. Flint also seems to have gotten all the best dialogue lines of the episode. Sure, Flint's robot seems to be made from an old kitchen colander and spare parts from Nomad, but he sure has a lot of tricks up his sleeve, including a convincing android companion.

The romance angle of this episode is the real problem for me. I just don't buy the way that Kirk falls totally in love with Rayna within a few hours time. Maybe in a different story with different characters, this might be believable, but not with Kirk. There's also a somewhat creepy, underdeveloped father-daughter thing between Flint and Rayna. At first, we think she's been created to be a platonic companion or child figure. Sure, this sounds like the problematic relationship between Morbius and Altaira in Forbidden Planet, a film that Star Trek owes much to, but there is later on,  a definite romantic angle when it becomes clear that Flint, who eventually gets jealous,  wants Kirk to "show her the ropes," in a manner of speaking. Kirk can always be counted on to take care of this of course but it's unlike him to get emotionally attached, especially once it's been revealed that Rayna is an android. The final scene where Spock melds with Kirk to make him forget her is touching, mainly due to the affection the main characters have for each other, but rings hollow for me as Kirk's emotional state doesn't feel right.

Star Trek often explores ideas within its stories. There are two main concepts presented in this episode:  the nature of a man who does not age and artificial life. Either one of these ideas would have been more than enough material for a single episode but within this one, both are shortchanged, particularly when it comes to an android attempting to grapple with emotions. This issue was dealt with more effectively elsewhere in Trek; What Are Little Girls Made Of, for example and multiple Next Generation episodes.

The only comment I have about the remastering for this episode is that the imagery they used to depict Flint's castle seems way too over the top. It's nice to see something other than the reused painting from "The Cage", but this seems to have gone a bit far.



As I write this, I am still saddened by the loss of Leonard Nimoy on February 27th. Science fiction has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember, and that love affair began with Star Trek and its most vital element, Spock. He was the mirror that was held up to humanity, and he came to embody all that is best in Star Trek. As a literary character, Spock's only rival is, perhaps, the redoubtable Sherlock Holmes. And while Gene Roddenberry created Spock, Leonard Nimoy brought him so endearingly to life. For that, Mr. Nimoy has my undying gratitude. He was 83 when he passed, and in addition to acting, directing, and producing, he was also an accomplished poet and photographer. More importantly, by all accounts, he was a genuinely decent, loving person. Indeed, he lived long and prospered.

And appropriately, “Requiem for Methuselah” has an excellent example of why Spock is a great character. In our podcast for this episode, I was fairly harsh. Since then, however, I rewatched it a second time and found some themes I previously missed. Consequently, my opinion of it has improved. 

“Requiem for Methuselah” was written by noted science fiction author, the late Jerome Bixby, who also penned the classic episode “Mirror, Mirror” and the not-quite-so-classic, but still excellent, “By Any Other Name” and “Day of the Dove.” (As a side note, Bixby's last screenplay was for the 2007 film, “The Man From Earth,” which deals with themes and characters similar to those in “Requiem for Methuselah.” I highly recommend it.)

Initially, I found it rather ridiculous that Kirk could fall so deeply in love with Rayna in such a short time. After my second rewatching, though, it made more sense. Kirk and Flint are alike in many ways: they are both strong, authoritative, charismatic, masculine, and very lonely. And since Flint designed Rayna to be his perfect companion, it's not unreasonable that Kirk would quickly find her to be an ideal match as well.

More importantly, however, I found an interesting theme that is closely related to what Mary Shelley examined in her classic novel “Frankenstein.” Flint, like Shelley's Doctor Frankenstein, successfully creates human life in a laboratory using non-living material. Unlike Frankenstein, however, Flint's creation, Rayna, ultimately fails. And the way she fails is actually poignant; she can't live with the intensity of her newly awakened emotions for both Kirk and Flint. Interestingly, both Flint and Frankenstein ultimately suffer Rayna's fate, except where Rayna is guilty of nothing, their crime is hubris. It doesn't matter that one succeeded where the other failed.

Finally, in our podcast I was unduly harsh in my assessment of the closing scene where Spock, in an act of touching compassion, removes Rayna from Kirks memory in order to ease his friend's pain. This is actually a good example of what I noted in my opening comments: Leonard Nimoy's portrayal of Spock lends such a beautifully endearing quality to the character. I have a new appreciation for both.

Next time: “The Way to Eden”

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