by Jeff Bond
Third season Star Trek has always been regarded as the weakest year of the series, and most of the show’s legendary worst episodes played out between September 1968 and the show’s cancellation in the spring of 1969. But there were signs late in the season that the show might have been getting back its space legs. Episodes like “Requiem for Methuselah,” “The Cloud Minders” and “All Our Yesterdays” were more thoughtful and better-executed than adjacent stinkers like “The Lights of Zetar,” “That Which Survives” and “Mark of Gideon.”
“Requiem for Methuselah” ranks as one of the year’s better efforts. Writer Jerome Bixby not only wrote what’s regarded as one of the best episodes of the series (“Mirror, Mirror,” which for a time was chosen for use by the Smithsonian Institute to represent the series as a whole), but his work ranged from the classic Twilight Zone episode “It’s A Good Life” to sci fi films from Fantastic Voyage to It! The Terror from Beyond Space. Bixby clearly understood how to construct a good science fiction yarn and “Requiem” has a startling concept at its core. When Kirk, Spock and McCoy beam down to a small planet to find the Ryetalin necessary to cure a plague aboard the Enterprise, they encounter a powerful man named Flint (James Daly), who seems to live alone in a palatial estate on the planet. After initially threatening the Enterprise officers, Flint invites them to stay while he has his efficient but dangerous robot M-4 collect the ryetalin.
It turns out Flint does not live alone—he has a beautiful “ward” named Rayna who Kirk finds himself immediately attracted to. Flint’s relationship with Rayna also seems strangely emotionally charged, but the real mystery, as Spock begins to discover, is Flint himself—a man whose priceless collection of art, music and literature includes undiscovered works by Leonardo Da Vinci and Johannes Brahms that seem to have been recently completed.
To make a long story short, Rayna is found to be an android, and as Flint admits, “I am Brahms.” To me this is one of classic Trek’s great moments. Some have criticized Bixby’s concept as selling the human race short by implying that every great man in history was really just one genetic mutant, but as Flint says, he also knew the greatest minds in history—from Socrates to Moses. Daly brings a nice, arrogant world-weariness to his role, and his hairdo and Bill Theiss’ costume suggests a continuity from the ancient to the futuristic. The subplot involving Rayna plays out very much like the storyline to the sci fi classic Forbidden Planet (itself inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest”) with Flint allowing his “daughter” just enough contact with men from Earth to arouse her emotions, and finally engaging Kirk in an Oedipal conflict for Rayna’s love.
It’s the touchy-feely aspects of the story’s romance that provides “Requiem” with both its weakest moments and, ironically, one of Trek’s greatest. This is another example of Kirk falling altogether too quickly for a woman, no matter how appealing Louise Sorel’s Rayna may be. You can put it down to Kirk’s stress over the plague on the Enterprise I suppose but to have him so utterly distracted by this woman during a few hours in which he and his landing party are desperately trying to save the lives of the Enterprise crew seems not only out of character but downright weak. The episode is by necessity talky, and the romance and conflict with Flint pays off with one of the more ridiculous and poorly staged fight scenes in the show’s history.
Shatner’s over-the-top “She’s human!” speech as Rayna stops the combat to announce her discovery of free choice is actually cut out of the episode, but in any case the dramatic wrap-up of this part of the conflict is indifferently staged. The real gem is the show’s denouement with an exhausted Kirk ruminating bitterly on what’s happened—and here we see what might just be the worst syndication cut in this entire package. As McCoy enters to find Spock standing over the sleeping Kirk he makes one of Trek’s greatest speeches, telling Spock he feels more sorry for the Vulcan than for Kirk because Spock will never know the agonies and delights of love—and when he leaves Spock proves the doctor utterly wrong by erasing Kirk’s memory in an obvious and deeply moving expression of affection for his Captain.
However, in this syndicated cut, McCoy never even enters the scene. Thanks, syndication! You’ll have to wait for the third season DVD to see the entire remastered episode whole, but “Requiem” still stands up for the most part as one of the gems of the third season, particularly as Spock pieces together the puzzle of Flint’s identity.
“Requiem for Methuselah” like many of the recent third season episodes finished by CBS-D gets some impressive added touches. The most striking is a new house for Flint, another expansive matte painting by the CBS-D team that replaces the old reuse of the Albert Whitlock painting from “The Cage.” Flint’s new house is a sprawling mix of architectural styles that includes Roman arches and what looks like an observatory, and the effects team adds the sight of Flint and the Enterprise landing party walking along a bridge toward the mansion, which adds not only life but dramatic momentum to the previously static shot. There’s a touch of Vegas to Flint’s surroundings in its new guise and it’s tough to reconcile the sprawling compound with the modest interiors, but it’s still a nice addition. Flint’s planet is rendered with magenta skies to match the matte painting and live action exterior sets, but the only other new effect occurs when Flint demonstrates his fantastic abilities by snatching the Enterprise from orbit and reducing it to a 33” table top miniature (coincidentally the same size as the early study model for the starship, which gets a rare cameo appearance here). Instead of the abrupt disappearance of the ship from orbit as seen in the original episode, CBS-D adds a shimmering effect that ties in to the optical effect that wipes over the miniature when it appears and disappears on the table in Flint’s laboratory. Flint’s planet also gets two moons—just like the Eden planet in “Way to Eden,” although this time we get to see the Enterprise pulling away from the planet and its two satellites in perspective.
Remastered vs. Original
Seasons One and Two discounted at Amazon
The Season Two box set is now available at Amazon for pre-order, discounted to $63.99 (Amazon has a low price guarantee that if they drop the price before ship date of August 5th you will get that lower price). The Season One DVD / HD DVD combo disk is available now for $114.95 (retail is $194.99).