“We put on a pretty poor show, didn’t we?” You said it, Jim! Requiem for Methuselah is another of those “significant” stories that really looks at the human condition and I am not sure if it’s a great analysis, or a terrible one. In some ways, it hits truly incredible highs, but then pitches them down to show some really awful lows. Because I’m an optimist, I’ll want to end on a high note, so we’ll look at the lows first.
Well, before that, the plot: the crew of the Enterprise are “in the grip of an epidemic”, struck by Rigellian fever and will all die if Jim doesn’t get Ryetalyn, a rare substance that can be found on Holberg 917-G. Upon arriving, Flint shows up and, after a brief show of power, decides to help the crew get the drug they need, while he plays voyeur with his step daughter, watching her fall for Kirk. Yeah, it’s a bit weird but this is Star Trek after all.
Rayna is a Star Trek fan herself, evidenced by her watching Trek on her big screen TV and as we will be taught through this episode, being a Trek fan is a bit like being a human being: it’s complex. For example, if the entire crew has this debilitating disease, why does no one seem to have symptoms? Isn’t it dangerous for Flint and Rayna to hang out with Kirk, who might be a carrier? And at the end of the episode, after we learn that Flint was 6000 years old, it’s the fact that he left Earth that starts him on a path to death. Why didn’t they use the very plot device available to them: Rigellian fever? He got sick but does not want the cure, preferring to die after the events of this story? “Earth’s complex fields” was a damned weak reason for the man to die.
Actually, the negatives are pretty severe so I think I need bullet points here. Let’s break it down per person.
- McCoy: honored to be among the first men Rayna has ever met says, “The most fortunate men everywhere.” Perhaps he meant to say “anywhere”? A minor quibble, I realize but a silly thing to say. By contrast…
- When Rayna is discovered to be an android and drops dead in front of everyone, our ships chief medical officer… checks for a pulse! (I wonder how many mannequins he pronounced dead due to lack of a pulse?)
- Maybe I can’t blame McCoy, but he wanted to supervise the production of the drug. For him, supervising entails being in a nearby room, looking at bottles.
- I do however blame McCoy for the soliloquy at the end about feeling worse for Spock for not knowing emotions. Again, McCoy is an HR nightmare considering he totally disrespects Vulcan culture. Good job seeking out strange new worlds. Nothing says acceptance like putting down everything that’s different, Bones.
- Spock: just a few episodes ago, Spock evaluated McCoy’s action of injecting him with a tranquilizer as “highly unethical” yet it doesn’t stop him raiding Jim Kirk’s sleeping mind to make him “forget”. Is that any more ethical than what McCoy did to save his friends?
- Rayna: “I come here when I’m troubled.” “What troubles you?” She looks at the door in the room. So… she comes to the place that troubles her when she’s troubled? Or is she there when she notices she is troubled? Is she ever troubled in other rooms?
- Flint is a little uncomfortable to watch as he sits in his chair watching his daughter/lover/charge/ward… whatever, kissing Kirk, complete with mobile camera angles. I also think the way he throws a punch is hilarious, revving it up from 10 paces away! But in fairness, this guy isn’t the worst of the episode. That distinction goes to…
- Captain James T. Kirk, and I’ll start off light: “You left us.” Jim tries to woo Rayna by saying that when she left the room, it got lonely. But it was he that just randomly stopped dancing with her and walked over to McCoy, then left the room. We never see her leave. Did he get confused? (Maybe a symptom of Rigellian fever?)
- When Jim is offered to play chess, converse, etc, the object of his “pleasure” becomes apparent. We did hear that to be human is also to “seek pleasure” and Jim soon finds himself alone in a room with Rayna. What pleasure were you planning, Jimmers?
- “I could bring her emotions alive!” Dude, you have way too high an opinion of yourself.
- “You love me! Not Flint!!” Again, Jim… let’s talk. Love is a complex emotion, like being a Trek fan, but you don’t fall in love with someone in under 4 hours. That’s called “having the hots for” her; being infatuated. Yes, she’s very pretty and her innocence must be alluring and I could imagine her being on his mind for a few days after this adventure. But love? The premise of the episode was that they had 4 hours to accomplish their task. He did not fall in love in four or fewer hours!
- And as if this litany isn’t bad enough, Jim’s worst line of the … series!… is “Her only flaw: she’s not human!” Why are you Captain, Jim? You are prejudiced against aliens when they are in the very charter of what your Federation stands for. Her only flaw was that, dead and bald, she looked like Peri in Doctor Who: Mindwarp. Barring that, I really didn’t see any flaw with her. Human or android, who cares? She was a beautiful, sentient being worthy of being loved (…after getting to know her for more than a handful of hours!)
So yes, a tough list of embarrassments but counter that with some of the high notes. Spock advises the two fighting dolts to be careful because he sees the problem coming for the young lady. He also advises Jim to focus on their immediate concern, the cure for the epidemic. Good advice. But more than any of that, look what happens when Jim sees that Rayna is able to choose, to decide for herself. Her android nature no longer matters to him (although I did wonder how much of what he says is there to convince himself!). He talks about the triumph of the human spirit, a spirit that wants freedom above all else. Because she chooses her humanity he accepts that she is human because being human is more than the blood in your veins. The joys of love made her human, as Spock says, and Jim revels in that moment. Humans are indeed complex beings and we make mistakes and we have highs and lows and sometimes we make fools of ourselves, but in the end, we are that mixed bag, for better or worse and this episode is a celebration of that humanity. That makes up for a lot!
Is this a good episode? I would say no. No, because it ruined any chance of an encounter with any of the Great Masters in future episodes. Picard can’t go back to meet Da Vinci or Brahms or Galileo or Merlin… because it’s all Flint. It’s not a good episode because it spends far too much time making the entire crew look like fools, Kirk most of all. And it really makes one wonder why an introvert like Flint would create an extroverted android like Rayna! But it does examine the human spirit and the human condition in all its glory and its ugliness, and for that, it is significant! ML
The view from across the pond:
“Ship’s sensors indicated this planet was uninhabited.” It isn’t, just the same as every other time the ship’s sensors indicate that. Now that we are limping towards the end of Classic Trek, it’s starting to feel like the ideas have run out. It’s all very formulaic: an “uninhabited” planet with somebody living on it, an illness with a cure that can only be found in one place, Kirk kissing the only female life to be found for light years. That last one is really, really starting to get on my nerves.
Kirk has to be just about the creepiest hero I’ve ever seen in a television show. The second he sees Rayna the look on his face says “aha, a woman! Perhaps I might stay for dinner after all!” Before long he’s basically forcing himself on her, kissing and hugging a woman who has no concept of any of that stuff. I don’t blame the little flying robot for wanting to attack him. Poor Rayna just stands there not knowing what’s going on, while Kirk presses his lips onto her face. It’s revolting to watch, and I’m sick of seeing Kirk kiss a different woman each week and then spout some rubbish about being in love with somebody he’s just met. What is he, 13? Grow up, creep.
The twist in the tale can be seen a mile off: she’s a robot. Yawn. Flint has “created the perfect woman. Her only flaw: she’s not human.” What a typically xenophobic view, exactly what I have come to expect from Star Trek. Not being human is only a “flaw” if you’re equating the human race of the future with the USA, and not being an American is a flaw, but that’s what Trek does all the time. Just look how McCoy can’t resist having a go at Spock at the end of the episode, because he’s not the same as him, after which Spock proves perfectly well that he understands the situation with his final act of compassion for his friend.
But this has always been a series that peddles the nasty idea that there’s something inherently special and superior about the human race, especially a fine specimen of manhood like James T. Kirk. Just what is Flint’s game in this episode? Kirk has the answer to that question:
“You knew I could bring her emotions alive.”
So let’s get our heads around that idea. Not only is Kirk such a superior being that he can awaken emotions in a robot that has hitherto failed to demonstrate that ability, but the awakening of those emotions is so overwhelming that she falls to the floor and dies, unable to reconcile the concept of two men loving her for different reasons and the possibility that she might have to choose. Kirk is just too manly. She can’t go on living. Not only that, but Flint was immediately able to assess that Kirk would be able to awaken Rayna’s emotions, at first glance. There’s the beefcake to do the job, he thought. What female could fail to experience a stirring in her loins at the sight of his middle-aged spread, even a robotic woman?
There is another idea added into the mix, which explains why Flint wants to build himself an immortal mate: he’s immortal too, or certainly very long-lived. This information is revealed in a way that made me laugh out loud:
“I am Brahms.”
Yeah, right, pal, and I’m the Queen of Sheba. Flint reels off a whole list of historical figures he claims to be, including Alexander and Da Vinci, which is the latest iteration in Star Trek‘s strange obsession with taking the achievements of the human race away from humans and assigning them to super-beings or aliens. For such a xenophobic series, it’s odd to see that idea peddled here once again, but maybe xenophobia carries with it a degree of self-loathing. Either way, this is not a happy series at this point. RP
I’m not sure if I’ve seen this particular episode, and have probably missed quite a few of the original Star Trek series, but do you think the series as a whole was xenophobic?
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Oh, massively, yes. Star Trek was almost exactly the opposite of the series that it gets credit for, in almost every respect. That progressive, wonderful show starts with TNG.
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Hard to argue with Roger having just rewatched the series. See, if you watch it as I did all my life, with an open mind that just takes in the ideas, it’s good. But if you watch it and pay attention with a bit more of a focused lens, you really start to see its ugly truth. Don’t misunderstand: I love this show. It’s always been a very deep part of my personality, but that doesn’t make it good. It’s like when a woman walks in a room and the camera goes all soft-focus – that’s how you watch the show when you’re not analyzing it and that’s fine. Looks lovely. But pay attention and you suddenly sharpen the focus and you realize that lovely woman is actually a Salt Vampire. Sure, I still accept her, but I may not want her poster hanging on my wall when company comes over… ML
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When meeting famous people from history with a sci-fi twist, which sci-fi show does it better: Star Trek or Doctor Who? In reflection of how personally depressing I found this Trek episode to be, it makes me appreciate how Doctor Who can do it significantly better. To see Flint’s reveal suddenly degenerate into another fight of the week for Kirk, and one of the most primitive fights, really put me off. The reveals for Flint and Rayna were still good, with strong acting by both James Daly and Louise Sorel. As for the ending, with Kirk needing Spock’s mind meld on this occasion to forget an unhappy love story, it may seem rather unusual. But the final dialogue between Spock and McCoy on the blessings that Spock may seem deprived of is most unfair. Spock does know love even if he just shows it in his own way. McCoy’s prejudices towards the Vulcan heart are most wearisome at this point.
Thank you for your reviews.
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To answer your question: Doctor Who, and by a huge margin of success 🙂
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Especially for Orson Welles, Vincent Van Gogh, Agatha Christie and Rosa Parks.
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I dislike this episode for the same reason I dislike “Metamorphosis.” If you create a story where the MacGuffin is bigger than your main plot, then you have failed abysmally. In this case, the “MacGuffin” that is constructed, namely the fact that the entire crew of the Enterprise is dying from some terrible disease is FAR more interesting as a premise than what this episode is about and meanwhile we see Kirk totally shirking his responsibilities as a Starship Captain because he’s getting horny for Rayna. That is just terrible writing.
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