Thursday, February 20, 2014

Requiem For Methuselah

Requiem For Methuselah was written by Jerome Bixby who contributed the impressive script threesome of Day Of The Dove, By Any Other Name, and Mirror, Mirror. It contains some of the finest individual lines in Star Trek. "A very old and lonely man. And a young and lonely man. We put on a pretty poor show, didn't we?" Kirk's line deserves to be quoted alongside Spock's, "I have killed my captain and my friend," from Amok Time. Even better, William Shatner responds to the obvious quality of the dialogue and turns in some of his best acting work for a long time. In fact this may be one of the best acted episodes of the series. Guest stars James Daly as Flint and Louise Sorel as Rayna, also turn in sterling work; we're a very long way from the arch performances of Spock's Brain. And Flint is an intriguing creation. An immortal man who began as "a soldier, a bully and a fool," and met the great minds of history, "Galileo, Socrates, Moses," and learned from them. He evolved from cruelty and barbarism and educated himself to become a succession of brilliant men; Leonardo, Brahms, Solomon, Alexander, and so on. He is almost the incarnation of Kirk's speech at the end of A Taste Of Armageddon. "The instinct can be fought. We're human beings with the blood of a million savage years on our hands, but we can stop it. We can admit that we're killers, but we're not going to kill today. That's all it takes. Knowing that we won't kill today." Flint is the soldier who learned not to kill.

So what's the problem? If
Requiem For Methuselah contains such great acting and a scintillating script then why does it drag? The most obvious flaw is that this is a love story for Kirk. Another one. There comes a point where no matter how beautifully you tell your love story it's simply going over the same old ground. How many times can Captain Kirk meet the love of his life and begin an affair which ends tragically? About three. There's an additional issue. To inject some urgency into the plot an arbitrary deadline has been added. The Enterprise is in the grip of an outbreak of Rigelian fever. McCoy has, "four hours to process [the ryetalyn cure], otherwise the epidemic will be irreversible." Unfortunately this results in the problem everyone notices with the story, in the space of less than four hours Kirk falls so deeply in love that at the end of the episode he seems barely able to function. Imagine The City On The Edge Of Forever rewritten so that Kirk and Spock arrive five hours before McCoy, and Kirk and Edith Keeler fall in love across a single afternoon. That's the story presented by Requiem For Methuselah. The script's justification for Kirk's abrupt fall for Rayna is that she is unusually captivating and beautiful and extraordinary. Except that all the women Kirk falls for(as opposed to the ones he more cynically seduces such as Kelinda in By Another Name) are unusually captivating and beautiful and extraordinary. Edith Keeler was. So was Miramanee from The Paradise Syndrome. Kirk has a definite type and his type is the woman who dies tragically around the 48 minute mark.

The plotting of
Requiem For Methuselah is spartan. In The City On The Edge Of Forever Kirk has a stark choice; save the future or save Edith Keeler. There is no similar conflict in Requiem For Methuselah. Kirk falls in love with a woman who dies. The end. The Rigelian fever outbreak is a device to get Kirk into the story and is then largely forgotten;
like the duplicate Earth in Miri,. There's no attempt to bring the romance and the disease story together and have, for example, Rayna die of Rigelian fever. The developing love story between Kirk and Rayna is the only significant story and it's simply too slender to support an episode all by itself. The City On The Edge Of Forever keeps several plots running simultaneously; the hunt for McCoy, restoring history to the right path, and Spock's attempt to learn the fate of Edith Keeler.

It's tempting to excuse the plot light nature of
Requiem For Methuselah by describing the episode as a character study of Flint. Unfortunately Flint simply isn't interesting enough as a character. Yes, he is an intriguing creation but in practical terms his background plays no part in the story beyond the moment when he tells Kirk, "I am Brahms." Flint is a character for a film or a book. We need to explore Flint's life, because the story of how he came to be the person living on this unnamed planet far from the rest of humanity is more interesting than Flint the person. Unfortunately that is a story Star Trek cannot tell. When Doctor Who created a similar, if more humorous, character in the alien Scaroth from the story City Of Death the Doctor was able to travel in time and explore Scaroth's life; on a BBC budget. We saw Scaroth in 1979 Paris, and the year 400 million BC (approx.), and 1505 Florence, and we saw hints of his life elsewhere as an Egyptian god. We get a sense of a life lived. More than that we get a sense of how frustrating it must be for Scaroth to live among these primitive creatures which were created as as result of the accident which destroyed Scaroth's race and made him immortal.

Metamorphosis has a similar problem. The story makes a big deal out of Kirk meeting Zefram Cochrane, the discoverer of the space warp, a man out of time who has been kept alive for 150 years by the mysterious alien Companion but Cochrane's background ceases to have any impact on the story the moment McCoy says, "that's impossible. Zefram Cochrane died a hundred and fifty years ago." Ultimately Zefram Cochrane could be any Joe Sixpack who crashed his shuttle. Likewise there's nothing about the character space occupied by Flint which specifically requires a 6000 year old man who was a succession of famous historical figures. Flint needs to be brilliant but he could still be any 23rd Century robotics genius who decided to drop out and live with his android girlfriend.

Lastly there's the final scene. Your mileage will vary but I find it creepy and wrong. Spock takes it upon himself to edit Kirk's memories and presumably dull the pain caused by the death of Rayna. What frustrates about this scene is that the mind meld is not necessary. Simply showing Kirk grieving is unusual enough to demonstrate the depth of his feeling for Rayna. It establishes that what Kirk has been through is more than just another space fling. The mind meld is there because someone on the production side wanted to show that Rayna meant more to Kirk than all those other space babes, but also wanted to explain why Kirk isn't still prostrated with grief at the start of next week's episode. It's a classic example of over-thinking a problem because simple implied passage of time between episodes will take care of the mourning period. If the audience wasn't bothered at the end of
The City On The Edge Of Forever or The Paradise Syndrome then they won't be bothered now. As it is, when Spock starts whispering "forget", I just wonder how many other times has he crept into Kirk's room and done this?

Enterprise crew deaths: Three Enterprise crew die off-screen because of Rigelian fever.
Running total: 56

1 comment:

  1. I've really been enjoying your analyses of TOS. You make some very interesting and astute observations. But I have to disagree with your comments regarding the mind meld at the end of this episode. This is not, IMHO, about Kirk at all, but about Spock. Just before he decided to perform the meld, McCoy makes his little diatribe about the joys and agonies of love, and then sort of throws it in Spock's face by reminding him how he will never experience these things because "the word love isn't written" into his book. Spock's meld with Kirk is a demonstration that, in fact, he DOES understand the agony of love Kirk is experiencing, and more importantly, because of his great affection for Kirk, he wants to help spare his friend from that awesome pain. I have always found that scene quite touching.

    Be well!