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Star Trek – Requiem for Methuselah (Review)

This July and August, we’re celebrating the release of Star Trek Beyond by taking a look back at the third season of the original Star Trek. Check back every Monday, Wednesday and Friday for the latest update.

Requiem for Methuselah is a surprisingly quiet episode.

The basic premise of the episode suggests sound and fury. The crew of the Enterprise have been infected by a deadly illness. McCoy speculates that there are only four hours in which to save the crew. Desperately searching for a cure, Kirk leads an away team down to a planet rich in the necessary minerals. When a man claiming to be the planet’s sole inhabitant refuses to allow Kirk access to the mineral, there is a tense stand-off; Kirk threatens to have the Enterprise obliterate the man and take the compound by force.

"You know, falling in love with the surrogate daughter of the man who can save my ship might not be the best tactical move here. Particularly since I've known her all of two hours."

“You know, falling in love with the surrogate daughter of the man who can save my ship might not be the best tactical move here. Particularly since I’ve known her all of two hours.”

Despite this rather high-stakes set up, the rest of Requiem for Methuselah is rather low-key. Despite his initial hostility to the uninvited guests, the mysterious stranger invites Kirk and the away team to his home. The episode spares the audience the sight of crew members sick and dying, with Scotty and Uhura (and a “skeleton crew”) doing a respectable job of holding down the fort as the end approaches. Even when the first couple of attempts to manufacture a cure fall flat, McCoy and his colleagues remain professional and dignified through to the end.

In a way, this would seem to capture the tone of this stretch of the third season.

Our man Flint.

Our man Flint.

Much like The Lights of Zetar or All Our Yesterdays, there is a reflective and serene quality to Requiem for Methuselah. There is no raging against the dying of the light, although it is clear that the light is already dimming. There is a resignation to the episode, an acceptance of the fact that all men must die. Kirk’s stand-off with Flint at the start of the hour is tense, but that tension quickly dissipates. When the first attempt to manufacture a cure goes wrong, McCoy seems positively relaxed. “I guess we’ve got time to get in under the wire,” he reflects.

There is a sense of acceptance that runs through the episode, once Kirk works through his anger and bargaining phases with Flint at the start of the hour. When Kirk grows curious about the mysterious stranger on this mysterious planet, there is no sense of urgency. “Mister Scott, run a full computer check on Mister Flint and on this planet, Holberg 9017-G,” Kirk instrusts, wary of his host. However, there does not seem to be any urgency on that search request. “Stand by with your results. I’ll contact.”

"We're dyin' up here."

“We’re dyin’ up here.”

There is a resigned, morbid tone to all this. Requiem for Methuselah opens with the Enterprise crew suffering from “Rigellian fever”, while it closes with the death of one of the episode’s two guest stars and a terminal diagnosis for another. Kirk is thrown into a depression so deep that all Spock might do to help him endure is to help him forget the trauma that has just unfolded. There is a sense of inevitability to everything, as if the characters have accepted that whatever will be will be.

The tone seems appropriate. Requiem for Methuselah went into production in December 1968. By that stage, there was still technically a possibility that NBC might renew Star Trek for a fourth season. However, everybody involved in the production knew that it was highly unlikely. By the time filming had wrapped on Requiem for Methuselah, half of the season had been broadcast with no increase in viewers and no bump in public awareness. It would have taken a miracle to save the show from the infamous Friday night death slot, and it had not materialised.

That healthy green glow.

That healthy green glow.

As Robert Greenberger reports in Star Trek: The Complete Unauthorised History:

By Christmas 1968, it was clear NBC was not going to renew Star Trek for a fourth a fourth season. An unhappy cast, declining ratings, and Roddenberry’s absence sealed the show’s fate despite an enthusiastic fan following.

The Way to Eden guest star Deborah Downey reported as much in an interview with Starlog.

Sweet sixteen.

Sweet sixteen.

There is a funereal tone to the third season as a whole, in which space seems to be populated by ghosts. That Which Survives and The Lights of Zetar feature the last remnants of long-dead civilisations that have refused to let go. Kirk haunts the Enterprise in The Tholian Web. Kirk stumbles through an abandoned version of the Enterprise in The Mark of Gideon. The crew are forced to reenact the gunfight at the OK Corral against eerily emotionless long-dead antagonists in a weird half-formed ghost town in Spectre of the Gun.

There are other recurring suggestions of death and destruction across the third season. Asteroids hurdle towards inhabited worlds in The Paradise Syndrome and For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky. Death is welcomed to Gideon in The Mark of Gideon. Kirk leaves the Scalosians to die, abandoned at the end of Wink of an Eye. The Enterprise drops out of the galaxy in Is There in Truth No Beauty? and hurdles towards oblivion in Day of the Dove. Charon stands in ruins at the end of Let That Be Your Last Battlefield.

"I'll take this one and this one and this one..."

“I’ll take this one and this one and this one…”

These episodes all approach death in their own ways. It is a welcome relief in The Mark of Gideon. It is something to be resisted in The Tholian Web. It is a disaster averted in The Paradise Syndrome. It burns in the flame of hatred in Let That Be Your Last Battlefield. Oblivion provides a threat against which Kirk might rally in Day of the Dove. However, there is a resignation to Requiem for Methuselah, as the title implies. After all, it would not be a requiem if the death could be avoided.

Indeed, Requiem for Methuselah seems to acknowledge this funereal tone in its very premise. The basic plot of the episode owes a lot to The Tempest, the play often identified as Shakespeare’s last complete stage play. To be fair, this is not the first time that the third season has evoked The Tempest, with that classic play echoing through Is There in Truth No Beauty? It will also not be the last time that the franchise nods towards the Bard’s final completed play; Shadowplay on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine has shades of it, as does Oasis on Star Trek: Enterprise.

"Our revels now are ended, Kirk."

“Our revels now are ended, Kirk.”

As Nathan Schlueter outlines at the start of Prospero’s Second Sailing, the play has a very special place in the western literary canon:

Because no source for The Tempest has been discovered, and because it is probably the last complete play Shakespeare wrote, it is often regarded as Shakespeare’s magnum opus. The Tempest bears all the marks of one who has reached the height of dramatic genius.

While perhaps not as famous as Romeo & Juliet or Shakespeare’s big four tragedies, it is a work of monumental importance.

Tempest in a tea cup.

Tempest in a tea cup.

The positioning of the play as Shakespeare’s last completed work makes it an appropriate point of reference for this troubled third season. This is the end of the original literary body of Star Trek, but the work will live long beyond these three seasons and eighty episodes. It is undoubtedly ridiculous to like the influence and reach of Star Trek to that of Shakespeare, but there is a sense that these three seasons are only the beginning. There is much more to be drawn from these eighty odd episodes, enough to fuel at least five hundred more.

The similarities between the plot of Requiem for Methuselah and the plot of The Tempest are quite striking. In The Tempest, a shipwreck brings a crew to a remote island that they find to be inhabited by a mysterious sorcerer named Prospero, his daughter Miranda and their slave Caliban. Requiem for Methuselah abandons the shipwreck in favour of a plague threatening the Enterprise, but the parallels are apparent. Flint might not be a sorcerer, but he is a freak of nature who cannot necessarily be described in scientific terms.

Shakespeared, not stirred.

Shakespeared, not stirred.

McCoy insists that Flint has the gift of “instant tissue regeneration coupled with some perfect form of biological renewal.” However, there is nothing in nature that would suggest the human body is capable of such a thing. Indeed, the episode even steers clear of suggesting that the gift is entirely a result of Flint’s biology. Towards the end of the episode, McCoy confirms, “You see, Flint, in leaving Earth with all of its complex fields within which he was formed, sacrificed immortality.” Hm. “Complex fields” is hardly the most precise of scientific terms.

If Flint is Prospero, then the other roles are easy to cast. Rayna is very clearly Miranda. Indeed, Requiem for Methuselah borrows some key dynamics for The Tempest; it is Rayna (like Miranda) who expresses the most concern for the Enterprise, while Flint (like Prospero) remains a sinister figure. Inevitably, Rayna and Kirk fall for one another like Miranda and Ferdinand; this leads to tension between Kirk and Flint, just as it does for Ferdinand and Prospero. Although Requiem for Methuselah has a more downbeat ending, Flint (like Prospero) works to atone for his sins.

Rayna terror.

Rayna terror.

The Tempest is an interesting play for Star Trek to evoke, for reasons beyond its place in the Shakespearean canon. The Tempest is a story fascinated by “strange new worlds”, written towards the peak of what would become known as “the Age of Exploration.” As Virginia M. and Alden T. Vaughan argue in their introduction to the play, it lends itself to the world of Star Trek:

A sense of newness, of wonder, of exciting discovery nonetheless pervades the play, transcending its restricted geography and paucity of action. Those limitations notwithstanding, the island to some degree epitomizes Europe’s age of discovery. Gonzalo’s amazement at Ferdinand and Miranda’s sudden appearance, as well as Miranda’s joyous surprise at a ‘brave new world’ with ‘such people in’t’ (5.1.183–4), echo the response of European explorers to exotic peoples, fauna and flora in a remote new world. While The Tempest is not primarily about America (despite many attempts to Americanize it reductively), the play’s wondrous discoveries link the drama thematically to the travellers’ tales that so delighted readers of Richard Hakluyt’s Principal Navigations and, a bit later, of Samuel Purchas’s Purchas his Pilgrimage and, later still, Purchas his Pilgrimes. Caliban’s/ Prospero’s island lies literally in the Mediterranean between Tunis and Naples, but its geographical location is less important than the fact that it is nameless, uncharted and largely unexplored. This enchanted island harbours two Milanese castaways (Prospero and Miranda), two remarkable natives (Caliban and Ariel) and assorted spirits unlike anything the Europeans (and we, the audience) have ever seen. Our sojourn on this enchanted island is akin to a trip to a distant planet, where we find a world dramatically unlike our own.

Indeed, the third season of Star Trek has hit upon this idea repeatedly. Star Trek is in many ways an extension of the ideals of the “Age of Exploration”, fused with the boundless optimism of John F. Kennedy’s “new frontier.” Although it would be Nicholas Meyer who eventually ran with the idea in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Gene Roddenberry had memorably pitched James Tiberius Kirk as “Hornblower in space.”

A work of art.

A work of art.

The third season seems quite consciously aware of this parallel. This is most obvious in episodes like The Tholian Web, which centred around a ghost ship and introduced stylish new space suits that were more consciously modeled on diving attire. Similarly, That Which Survives was in some ways a siren story, in which a beautiful apparition appears to lure men to their death. This is to say nothing of the pirate myths that inform And the Children Shall Lead or the first contact with a Native American wilderness in The Paradise Syndrome.

However, the “Age of Exploration” is by its nature highly problematic. After all, the mythology of the era surrounds the imperial expansion of European powers and the exploitation of indigenous populations. The exploration goes hand in hand with imperialism. Coupled with the show’s embrace of Kennedy-era American foreign policy, this makes certain core aspects of Star Trek highly problematic. Given its influences and interests, episodes like The Apple, A Private Little War and The Omega Glory become inevitable.

"... and that's my cue."

“… and that’s my cue.”

To be fair, the show has attempted to interrogate and explore this aspects of its own identity repeatedly over the course of the run, most notably in episodes like The Devil in the Dark, Errand of Mercy and even The Trouble with Tribbles. This conflict has come to the fore in the context of the third season, with Star Trek embracing the utopian themes at its core and grappling with the more uncomfortable aspects of its legacy. The Enterprise Incident is ambivalent about the realities of statecraft, the cost that it exacts from those treated as pawns.

Indeed, the third season is very much engaged with the legacy of imperialism and colonialism as it relates to the influences upon Star Trek. This was clear from the first episode of the season, Spectre of the Gun, which cast Kirk back from his new frontier to the old frontier to confront the brutal “might makes right” philosophy of the Old West. Whom Gods Destroy has Kirk confront his defective “prototype” in the person of Garth of Izar, suggesting that there is a danger and a temptation baked into the very foundation of Starfleet and the Federation.

"It is... it is green."

“It is… it is green.”

Requiem for Methuselah plays into this idea in its own way. Flint is in many ways the prototype of western civilisation. He can claim to have been almost every great man in the history of Europe; Methuselah, King Solomon, Alexander the Great, Lazarus, Merlin, Leonardo da Vinci, Johannes Brahms. There are suggestions that Flint rubbed shoulders with Moses, Jesus Christ and Galileo. He has a Gutenberg Bible and a Shakespeare first folio in his collection, with the audience invited to make their own inferences.

It seems fair to suggest that Flint has exerted incredible influence over the development of western civilisation. However, he is also presented as a deeply flawed individual. Tellingly, Flint describes his younger self as “a soldier, a bully, and a fool.” There is little indication that anything has changed, at least based upon his interactions with Kirk and Rayna over the course of the episode. He manipulates Kirk and bullies Rayna, eventually driving the latter to self-destruct after engaging the former in fisticuffs.

Elements undergoing change.

Elements undergoing change.

McCoy touches on that idea, expressing the utopian idealism that bubbles through third season episodes like The Empath and Day of the Dove. When Flint refuses to provide the necessary material to help McCoy manufacture a cure to the plague ravaging the Enterprise, McCoy appeals to the better angels of his nature. “You’ve known and created such beauty. You’ve watched your race evolve from cruelty and barbarism throughout your enormous life, and yet now you would do this to us?”

Indeed, despite contributing work that shaped and defined mankind, Flint seems to have a very low opinion of them. The utopian themes of the third season come into play during Flint’s conversations with Kirk. “You said something about savagery, Mister Flint,” Kirk reflects. “When was the last time you visited Earth?” Flint sees where the conversation is going, “You would tell me that it is no longer cruel. But it is, Captain. Look at your starship, bristling with weapons. Its mission to colonise, exploit, destroy, if necessary, to advance Federation causes.”

His home is his castle. No, really.

His home is his castle.
No, really.

This was a similar observation made by the Halkan Council at the start of Mirror, Mirror, another episode written by Jerome Bixby that interrogated the idea of the Federation as a utopian force in the galaxy. Flint’s inference is clear. Mankind has come far in the past few centuries, but the darker impulses are still there. Mankind is still capable of acts of horrific brutality. As A Taste of Armageddon suggested and Whom Gods Destroy confirmed, Kirk still pilots a space craft capable of devastating the surface of a planet.

In fact, the episode opens with Kirk making a number of very serious and very desperate threats to Flint, in the hopes of procuring the “ryetalyn.” The two men immediately engage in a tense stand-off, in which Kirk makes it absolutely clear that he is not above murdering Flint to get the precious mineral to save his crew. “Mister Flint,” Kirk goads, “if anything happens to us, four deaths and then my crew comes down and takes that ryetalyn.” it is ultimately Spock who deescalates the situation by appealing to common sense over machismo.

By what ryt is that rytallen?

“By what ryet is that your ryetalyn?”

Despite the fact that Flint and Kirk do settle down and come to their senses, Requiem for Methuselah still builds to a macho fight sequence between Kirk and Flint over Rayna. It certainly does not make a compelling argument for mankind’s evolution, with both one of the defining influences on western civilisation and one of its futuristic exemplars locked at each others’ throats. If Requiem for Methuselah is an adaptation of The Tempest, it is careful to deny both its version of Prospero and its version of Ferdinand their happy endings.

Of course, The Tempest has arguably always been a part of the identity and history of Star Trek. The play has arguably been baked into the premise of the show from the outset, as befits one of the truly great works of art tackling the themes of exploration and development. The Tempest was a major influence on the classic science-fiction film Forbidden Planet, released in 1956. Forbidden Planet was a major influence on Gene Roddenberry when he first conceived of Star Trek.

"Don't worry, I've got experience dealing with dangerous robots."

“Don’t worry, I’ve got experience dealing with dangerous robots.”

The parallels between Requiem for Methuselah and Forbidden Planet were more pronounced in Jerome Bixby’s original draft, as Allan Asherman noted in The Star Trek Compendium:

The story outline for this episode contained some touches that are reminiscent of the classic science fiction film Forbidden Planet … Flint’s home was of futuristic design, guarded by Flint’s all-purpose robot. In one scene, Kirk and McCoy attempted to sneak into Flint’s home to look around: when Flint’s robot discovered them, Reena stopped it from attacking them. As Kirk embraced Reena, Dr. McCoy guarded the doorway. Finally, Kirk fought a monster that was actually an illusion thrown around Flint’s robot.

It feels somewhat appropriate for all of these influences to come together at this point in the run. The Tempest represents the end of Star Trek, while Forbidden Planet stands at its beginning.

Painting a pretty picture.

Painting a pretty picture.

Of course, there are a number of very serious problems with the episode. The most obvious is the character of Rayna herself. Over the course of Requiem for Methuselah, Kirk comes to discover that Rayna is an android created by Flint to serve as his companion. Although Kirk falls in love with Rayna and defends her right to choose her own destiny, nobody seems to find anything particularly creepy and an old man building a woman from spare parts for the purposes of keeping himself company.

In some respects, it is a very creepy literalisation of the themes that ran through Elaan of Troyius. While that early episode was about essentially remaking a woman so that she might meet the social obligations imposed upon her by male characters, Requiem for Methuselah skips the subtext and jumps right for the text. Requiem for Methuselah is about a man building his perfect woman, even before the delving into the really creepy incest vibes generated by the fact that Methuselah seems to be Rayna’s father figure and want to be her lover.

"It's a Deltan!"

“It’s a Deltan!”

To be fair, Requiem for Methuselah does recognise that Rayna should have a choice in these matters. However, she spends most of the episode being bullied and manipulated by both Flint and Kirk. Flint is quite overt, but Kirk is creepily pushy. “I’ve known security here,” Rayna advises him. Kirk responds by insisting, “Childhood must end. You love me, not Flint.” That’s quite an awkward way to talk to a woman who hasn’t seen another man in years, particularly one he met only an hour or so earlier.

Repeatedly over the course of the episode, Flint and Kirk reduce Rayna to an object to be won. She is curiously inert in these discussions. “You cannot love an android, Captain,” Flint insists. “I love her. She is my handiwork, my property. She is what I desire.” Kirk responds, “You brought me here to learn this? Does she know?” Of course, Flint is hardly the healthiest of individuals, but Requiem for Methuselah invests itself in the emotional perspective of Kirk and Flint more than that of Rayna herself.

Love bot.

Love bot.

Indeed, all the characters seem to talk around Rayna at the climax of the episode. “Captain, your primitive impulses will not alter the circumstances,” Spock tries to inform Kirk. Kirk will hear none of it. “Stay out of this,” Kirk responds. “We’re fighting over a woman.” Far from challenging his commanding officer’s machismo, Spock instead dehumanises Rayna even further. “No, you’re not, for she is not.” The implication is that the confrontation between Flint and Kirk would be more justifiable if Rayna were “real.”

To be fair, Rayna does eventually engage with what is happening, and take a proactive role. “I cannot be the cause of this,” she states. “I will not be the cause of this. Please stop. Stop! I choose where I want to go, what I want to do. I choose. I choose.” And, to their credit, both Kirk and Flint seem to accept this idea at face value. “This is no test of power,” Kirk states. “Rayna belongs to herself and she claims the human right of choice to be as she wills, to do as she wills, to think as she wills.” Flint agrees, “That’s what I’ve worked for.”

Flint likes to watch.

Flint likes to watch.

However, far from empowering Rayna, the freedom to choose ultimately overwhelms her. Rayna has a breakdown immediately after asserting her freedom to choose. The episode does not seem to mourn her, instead investing her pain from a second-hand vantage point. Rayna’s death is not treated as a tragedy of itself, but a tragedy in how it affects Kirk and Flint. “A very old and lonely man,” Kirk summarises. “And a young and lonely man. We put on a pretty poor show, didn’t we?” Indeed, the episode ends on Spock helping Kirk to forget, acknowledging his pain.

Requiem for Methuselah essentially boils down to the story of a woman whose brain explodes when she is asked to choose between her surrogate father and her would-be lover. To be fair, that is reductive, but Requiem for Methuselah needs to be put in the context of the wider third season. It is a third season that portrays its female authority figures as easily overwhelmed by attraction in The Enterprise Incident or For the World is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky or treats its love interests as disposable as in The Paradise Syndrome or The Lights of Zetar.

"Oh... high definition!"

“Oh… high definition!”

That said, there is something just a little bit subversive about the love affair featured in Requiem for Methuselah. One of the most frequently critiqued aspects of the episode is how quickly Kirk falls head-over-heels in love with Rayna. After all, he only knew her for a few hours. It seems ridiculous to think that those few hours could drive Kirk to a complete emotional and psychological breakdown after he had endured the death of Edith Keeler in The City on the Edge of Forever and the loss of Miramanee in The Paradise Syndrome with much less fuss.

Veteran Star Trek reviewer Jamehl Epsicokhan “couldn’t quite understand how Kirk was so taken with Rayna so quickly.” Michelle Erica Green described the romance as “contrived and rushed.” David Mack complained of Rayna’s characterisation, “She’s lived her whole damn life with Flint, and she’s known Kirk all of two hours.” Zack Handlen found Kirk’s behaviour remarkably out of character given that he had “known this girl less than four hours.” In short, Kirk’s infatuation with Rayna is a very striking piece of characterisation.

"She's deactivated, Jim."

“She’s deactivated, Jim.”

However, there is also something interesting going on beneath this plot contrivance. As David Greven argues in Gender and Sexuality in Star Trek, there is something of a reversal taking place in how Requiem for Methuselah approaches the romance between Kirk and Rayna:

Fans may complain about the rapidity with which Kirk falls in love here, but this episode makes only slightly more obvious the process whereby people generally fall in love on original Trek. Interestingly, however, it is almost always the women who fall in love; usually, Kirk’s fall is not into love but into desire.  … These notably intelligent and accomplished women plunge headlong into desire; it’s an inversion of the screwball comedy, in which rational, intellectual men are unmanned by the presence of a singular, overpowering woman. In falling madly and instantaneously in love with Rayna, Kirk assumes a feminised role – a vulnerable, wracked submission to unmanning Love, the figure whom the Latin poet Petrarch in his Laura poems described as a masculine, martial figure who overpowers and dominates the male subject.

There are any number of examples from across the run of the original Star Trek. Marla McGivers in Space Seed or Helen Noel from Dagger of the Mind or the Romulan Commander from The Enterprise Incident. Kirk just finds himself in their position. In a way, it is more subversive than Turnabout Intruder.

Spock remains the galaxy's best wing man.

Spock remains the galaxy’s best wing man.

There is something quite charming about the relaxed pace of Requiem for Methuselah, even allowing for the dissonance that this casual tone sets with the high-stakes premise. Once Flint and Kirk have stopped threatening to kill one another, the episode turns into something approaching a gothic mystery. Flint invites the leading trio back to his mansion, and the three characters begin to slowly peel back the mystery of who or what Flint actually is, while pausing to appreciate fine art, do some flirting and enjoy some brandy.

It feels like a respite, a break from the chaos of the rest of the season. Even allowing for the revelation that Flint is not who he claims to be, and the fate of Rayna, there is something very casual about everything in Requiem for Methuselah. McCoy watches a robot work in a super-advanced laboratory. Spock gets to appreciate fine art, much of which has never been seen by anybody other than Flint or Rayna. Kirk makes time for billiards with his host and his host’s young ward.

"Well, he certainly keeps things tidy."

“Well, he certainly keeps clutter at a minimum.”

This does not gel with the idea that the Enterprise is in mortal peril, just like it is hard to reconcile Kirk’s instant infatuation with Rayna with his characterisation to this point. At the same time, it is this strange tonal choice that make Requiem for Methuselah so striking. In some ways, Requiem for Methuselah seems almost like the show making peace with its inevitable (and inescapable) cancellation. There is a weird dignity in its morbidity, and acceptance of the idea that death is a part of life and nothing lives forever. Not even Flint.

Indeed, towards the climax of the episode, Flint threatens the Enterprise. However, Flint does not threaten the Enterprise with death and destruction. He threatens it with eternal life. “I have seen a hundred billion fall,” boasts Flint. “I know death better than any man. I have tossed enemies into his grasp. And I know mercy. Your crew is not dead, but suspended.” They would live forever. Just frozen, unmoving. Kirk is horrified. “Worse than dead!” he responds, and perhaps he is right.

"You know, I really should get in the habit of asking before messing with my crewmates' heads."

“You know, I really should get in the habit of asking before messing with my crewmates’ heads.”

Requiem for Methuselah seems to be an episode about accepting death, whether it comes for android or immortal or even a classic sixties television show.

8 Responses

  1. You may feel compelled to watch this episode again. Do not make that mistake.

    Instead, someone online has helpfully scanned a copy of the immortal parody of this episode, “Requiem for a Hack”: http://bigmamag.livejournal.com/250692.html?thread=2297412

  2. Another interesting review!

    I have the same “Kirk falls in love in less than four hours” problem with this episode that everyone else has, but my main complaint about it is bigger than that. The idea that there has been ONE immortal man who has been many of the most influential figures in Earth’s history is a fascinating science fictional idea, one that could have explored the differences between the Great Man view of history and the Zeitgeist view of history or at least provided a window on human development across time. But what do they do with this fascinating person? They have him get into a fistfight with Kirk over an android. *facepalm*

    Okay, I know the network wanted fistfights frequently, to provide “action.” But watching Leonardo da Vinci and the best captain in Starfleet punching each other out is just ludicrous. This is the Kirk who told the Emininarians “We’re not going to kill TODAY”? This is the Kirk who could try to talk Rojan into being a friend instead of a conqueror in the middle of a fistfight with him in “By Any Other Name,” even after he’d turned Kirk’s entire crew into dodecahedrons? This is the Kirk who didn’t shoot back in “Specter of the Gun”?

    I do love the “I choose! I choose!” and “NO ONE can order me” moments, though. Given how young women were treated in Hollywood during the 60’s, I continue to be amazed at how such people as Joanne Linville, Diana Muldaur, and in this episode, Louise Sorel, managed to portray strong women (or, in Rayna’s case, women beginning to claim their strength).

    I thought it was interesting that one of the people Flint claimed to have been was Merlin. The others are historical figures, but Merlin … exploring that could have been an episode all by itself.

    I think it’s interesting that it’s SPOCK who explains love to both Kirk and Flint at the end of the show, and it’s Spock who first tells Flint that if he harms the Enterprise men, it will have an effect on Rayna’s feelings for Flint. Spock shows quite a lot of understanding of emotions in this episode, and the Vulcan approach to emotions must look extra good to him, after the show that Kirk and Flint put on…

    A lot of fan fiction has gotten a lot of mileage out of Spock’s being goaded into melding with Kirk by McCoy’s telling him that he’s incapable of love. 🙂 (Personally, I prefer fan fiction that reads like episodes over those that make the characters have sexual or romantic relationships with one another, though I’m evidently in the minority there. I mean, I’m very fond of sex, personally, but anybody can have sex, whereas only the crew of a starship gets to explore new planets, respond to a variety of different emergencies, and participate in high-level diplomacy. People would rather watch the characters kiss each other? Really? I’ve been studying humans all my life and still don’t really understand them.)

    One of the people in the fan fiction community said that although she loves TOS, she thinks that what she loves isn’t so much the TOS that’s on the SCREEN as it is the TOS that’s in her HEAD. In her head is the TOS that didn’t have to include fistfights in most episodes to please the network, that didn’t include sexism because it was pervasive in the 60’s, that didn’t have all of the limitations that the real world imposes on things. The TOS in her head is the Platonic ideal of TOS, the one it was trying to be, was struggling to be, was supposed to be, and THAT is the TOS she loves. I thought that was a very insightful idea she had, and I think it may well be the TOS that most of us love.

    • To be fair, this is the season building to “Kirk punches out Genghis Khan and pseudo-Hitler.”

      The Merlin reference is quite interesting. I mean, you could concoct some half-assed Arthur C. Clarke law nonsense about “sufficiently advanced technology”, but I think it fits with the recurring theme in the third season that the Star Trek universe is not as rational as we would like to believe that it is. This is the season that features Wink of An Eye, in which Kirk is abducted by the fair folk, and which tells a (vaguely rational) ghost story in The Tholian Web. Among others.

      That weirdness and irrationality is something that kinda goes away after this, barring the occasional episode like Where No One Has Gone Before in the first season of TNG.

  3. Very interesting review.

    I know this weird but I always dislike the ‘Julius Beethoven da Vinci’ trope as TVTropes calls it – the one where an immortal turns out to have been any number of famous real people throughout their lives. It seems strangely… unfair to the real people if that makes sense. Distasteful even. A biopic might or might not be fair to a historical figure but they don’t usually claim that figure was an expendable mask worn by a bored eternal being, a mere sham used to indulge in his or her hobbies.

    (I also get very defensive about the related whole ‘Shakespeare was really written by [glamorous, usually aristocratic candidate of the month.’)

    Like I said I get it’s a weird peeve to have, but it always limits my enjoyment of stories like these.

    • You’re right, I think.

      It is something that also bugs me about the whole “ancient astronauts” trope. It diminishes actual human accomplishments. (And typically of non-western civilisations, which is likely not a coincidence.) This is, ironically, something I tend to agree with Gene Roddenberry on. Of course, Roddenberry doesn’t seem to agree with himself, as the concept is baked into a good half-a-dozen Star Trek episodes. Including his own Return to Tomorrow.

  4. This episode really captured my imagination and was the first show to surprise me with the trope of the immortal man surfacing throughout history. I immediately thought of this episode when I saw Highlander the first time.

    People complain about Kirk acting out of character and it’s true; but that’s what you get when the episodes are written by a variety of authors; all manner of inconsistencies.

    Spock was great in this one as he slowly unravels the mystery and Kirk brushes him off: “Later!” Kirk just doesn’t get it.

    Ritalin is a mood drug used to treat ADHD these days; I wonder if they named it for the substance in this episode.

    • Yep, those inconsistencies are particularly obvious in this third season, where you have a showrunner both less familiar and less concerned with the integrity of this fictional world.

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