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The Trek Nation - Requiem For Methuselah

Requiem For Methuselah

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at January 5, 2007 - 9:56 PM GMT

See Also: 'Requiem for Methuselah' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: With the entire crew facing death from Rigellian fever, Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to an uncharted planet to search for the antidote, ryetalin. They are started to be threatened by the robotic M-4 and then by a human who calls himself Flint and claims that he owns the planet. Wishing to make the Enterprise leave as quickly as possible, Flint has M-4 gather and process the ryetalin while he introduces the crewmen to his ward, Rayna. Kirk begins to fall in love with the girl while Spock studies Flint's remarkable collection of treasures from Earth, including unknown paintings by da Vinci and music by Brahms. Flint is jealous of Rayna's attraction to Kirk but he also encourages it, since she has never shown any interest in passion before. Eventually Flint admits that he is an immortal, born in ancient Mesopotamia and unable to die. He was da Vinci, Brahms and countless others, and Rayna is an android he created to be his eternal companion. But when he demands that Rayna choose between himself and Kirk, Rayna's newly awakened emotions cause her to cease to function, and she dies. McCoy discovers that Flint is dying because he left Earth's atmosphere, but the doctor is able to cure the Enterprise crew of Rigellian fever. He tells Spock he wishes he could cure Kirk's heartache, and Spock uses a Vulcan mind meld to make Kirk forget the pain of losing Rayna.


Analysis: "Requiem For Methuselah" has always been one of my very favorite episodes of Star Trek. It isn't one of the best - the romance between Kirk and Rayna seems contrived and rushed, Flint's temperamental switches in behavior don't make a lot of sense, and the screenplay only barely touches on the big, existential questions proposed by the episode, from who wants to live forever to whether it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Even so, there's so much emotional material packed into a fairly thin storyline that by the time it reaches its astonishing crescendo - Spock responding to McCoy's insistence that he knows nothing about love by erasing the pain of a doomed love affair from Kirk's memory - I'm always teary-eyed.

The ticking time bomb of the plague keeps the episode moving along nicely, yet it's always an abstract; Kirk, Spock and McCoy clearly aren't sick, and when we see them on the ship, Scotty and Uhura seem fine, too. It's certainly nothing like the horrors of the Bubonic Plague as described by Flint, who sounds as though he lived through it, one of the many clues that he is not merely a student of history but a time traveler of sorts. Yet Flint initially wants to force Kirk to leave without the means to cure the Enterprise crew, then demands to mine and process the necessary mineral himself, all to keep an eye on the men so he can be certain of keeping Rayna from them. It's only when Rayna expresses a strong interest in meeting them - particularly the Vulcan, since Flint has already taught her all he knows about physics - that he realizes the travelers may bring to life the one aspect of her humanity he has been unable to awaken.

Which makes one wonder: why did he introduce Rayna as his ward, very nearly his adopted daughter, if he hoped to make a lover out of her? Why continue to patronize a woman whose intellect and artistic sensitivity and free spirit are so valuable to him that he builds into her the capacity to equal or even exceed him? For a man who's come close to living forever, he still seems to understand little about what sparks romantic love or makes it last. Whereas even a cranky Kirk, worried about his ship and snappish with his crewmates, can take the time for sensuality, to dance with a woman as though she's his only care in the universe while leaving McCoy to fret about the antidote and Spock to gape at the Brahms manuscript that he may be the only person besides the composer ever to play.

Though his dilemma is essentially the same as Duncan McLeod's from Highlander - well, Duncan before he discovered that there were other Immortals - Flint is written as a Shakespearean tragic figure, whose language rises to the level of his pathos. Loneliness, he tells Rayna, is like thirst: "It is a flower dying in the desert." When his speeches and his behavior go over the top in the end, for, like Sylvia from "Catspaw", he can reduce the Enterprise to a miniature on a table, it doesn't seem so farfetched, nor out of character for a man who watched civilizations fall to consider this handful of lives a fair price for his privacy and happiness. Even Kirk can't bring himself to hate him, only to pity him, though there is something of a sense of competition over Rayna even as Kirk keeps insisting that she is free to choose her own destiny.

Why is Kirk so devastated over Rayna's "death" - if it can even be called that, for since she is made not born, for all we know, Flint could have downloaded her memories into the next model? He wasn't so shattered by the loss of Edith Keeler or Miramanee or Nona. He tells Spock and McCoy that he identifies with Flint, "A very old and lonely man, and a young and lonely man...we put on a pretty poor show, didn't we?" Certainly he feels guilty for having forced Rayna into a choice she literally could not make, but Flint was equally responsible - or more so, since he was the one so insistent upon stirring her passions, then attempting to redirect them.

Yet what's so remarkable about the ending is that the powerful, emotional storyline surrounding Flint and Rayna is overtaken by a much more familiar one. Spock is surprisingly emotional all episode, admitting to feeling envy at the rarities in Flint's collection and lamenting that while the joys of love made Rayna human, the agonies of love destroyed her...was it the fear of something similar happening to him that led him to attempt the disciplines of Kolinahr, years later? While he stands studying the sleeping Kirk, McCoy comes in to report that Flint is dying and then makes an extraordinary speech, telling Spock that he feels sorrier for Spock than he does for Flint, "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, because the word 'love' isn't written in your book." He leaves the room, and Spock places a hand on Kirk's head and whispers, "Forget."

What, precisely, is Spock telling Kirk to forget? Surely not the entire encounter with Flint, for that is already a matter of Starfleet record, since the Enterprise has been accessing data about the man and his planet to determine their right to mine Ryetalin. It's unlikely that Spock would have erased all memory of Rayna from Kirk's consciousness since she played such a significant role in the events on the planet. Would Spock have made Kirk forget that he loved her? Or only the pain of having lost her? Is this so different than what Spock's half-brother does, in the canonically questionable and much-maligned Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, when he frees others from the pain that cripples them...an offer to which Kirk responds that he would rather keep his pain, since it's part of what makes him who he is? Does Spock in fact tell Kirk to forget not Rayna at all, specifically, but Kirk's sense of loneliness and isolation? It taps right into the fear Kirk expresses in The Final Frontier that he will die alone.

But as Spock tells Kirk in that film, he was never at risk for that, because he was never truly alone (a confession which inspires Kirk to reach out to embrace Spock, only to have Spock raise an eyebrow and gently remind him, "Not in front of the Klingons"). In fact, Kirk is rarely alone; he has Spock and McCoy to rely on even when his ship and career and romantic love have failed him. And the same is true for Spock, who brought his closest friends to the Vulcan wedding never before shared with outworlders and cared more for their safety than his future bride. McCoy's telling Spock that the word love isn't in his book is ludicrous; Spock may never fall victim to the sort of romantic passion that leaves Kirk aching over a woman he barely knows, like Rayna or Lenore Karidian, but he knows all about love. He shows it in that "Forget," whatever precisely he might have been instructing Kirk to release.

And yes, for any other old-timers out there who like me read Star Trek Lives! in their formative preadolescent years, I borrowed that idea from Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak and Joan Winston, and it has shaped my viewing of this episode - and the original Star Trek, plus all its sequels - ever after. In the years since, I have read academic studies and psychological analyses, books on the philosophy of Star Trek and religion in Star Trek, but none ever made as much of an impact on me as that first book by fans for other fans. It was the volume where I discovered the existence of fan fiction, conventions and the wider network of the world of fandom, and when I pulled it out to find the exact quote about "Requiem For Methuselah" for this review (on a page that I had dog-eared more than 25 years ago, and my son laughed at me when I showed him this), I remembered that reading this book was the moment when it hit me that Spock had always, obviously, visibly, profoundly had emotions, no matter how much press he got for logic.

Here, because I can't find it anywhere else online and it deserves to be linkable, is what Lichtenberg, Marshak and Winston said about "Requiem For Methuselah" and the relationship between Kirk and Spock:

They...learned to trust each other with an absolute, bedrock certainty based on each one's knowledge of the other's integrity and profound feeling. They called that feeling friendship - even Spock did. They called it being brothers. Kirk would have been willing to call it a very special kind of love.

But it was Spock who did, however silently, actually call it love. One of the most moving scenes in all of Star Trek is the final one from 'Requiem for Methuselah'...McCoy, for once genuinely and totally failing to understand Spock, lectures him on the meaning of love, which he says that Spock will never know...and leaves. Silently Spock crosses to bend over the sleeping Kirk, touching him to establish the Vulcan mind-meld. Aloud he says only, 'Forget. Forget.' But the word is love.

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Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.