Star Trek Re-Watch: “Requiem for Methuselah”

Requiem for Methuselah
Written by Jerome Bixby
Directed by Murray Golden

Season 3, Episode 19
Production episode: 3×21
Original air date: February 14, 1969
Star date: 5843.7

Mission summary

Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to planet Holberg 917G in search of pure ryetalyn, the only known cure for a deadly outbreak of Rigelian fever on Enterprise. If they can’t secure this maguffin and process it in four hours, McCoy says “the epidemic will be irreversible.” They certainly don’t have time to investigate the life form that Spock’s tricorder registers on the supposedly uninhabited planet, nor is it a convenient moment for a floating robot to wobble over and fire a blue laser beam in their general vicinity. But these things happen, so what are you going to do?

They try to defend themselves but their phasers don’t work so they run for it. Fortunately, the cute little robot is a crap shot, and it ceases its attack when a timely male voice commands, “Do not kill.” The bot’s owner appears, a gray-haired man in a super short tunic and a fabulous blue cape. He introduces himself as Flint and tells them to get off his lawn planet. He already knows all about them, but he’s gone all Walden Pond and doesn’t want any visitors, for any reason. Kirk first offers to buy or trade for the life-saving ryetalyn they need, but his begging falls on deaf ears. Finally, Kirk promises, “If necessary, we’ll take it.” Flint responds to his threat in kind: “I have the power to force you to leave or kill you where you stand.”

Kirk isn’t without his own resources. He calls Scotty on Enterprise and orders him to fire on their location if anything happens to them, turning the delicate negotiation into a game of chicken. Spock advises Flint to back off, and McCoy hits a nerve when he tells the old man that Rigelian fever is like bubonic plague, which sets Flint off on a bizarre history lesson:

Constantinople, summer 1334. It marched through the streets, the sewers. It left the city by ox cart, by sea, to kill half of Europe. The rats, rustling and squealing in the night as they, too, died. The rats.

Looks like someone’s been watching a lot of documentaries! Spock politely asks if he’s a history buff, and Flint confirms that’s the case. He relents and grants them a two-hour visit. He sends his ultimate robot M-4 to harvest the ryetalyn for them while he welcomes them into his grandiose matte painting.

Inside Flint’s palace, they find a lush drawing room filled with antiques. Their host tells them that his planet is shielded to make it seem uninhabited, presumably to deter door-to-door salesmen, while McCoy admires his books: a Shakespeare first folio, a Gutenberg Bible, and Taranullus’ Creation lithographs. Though Flint claims that he lives alone with M-4 (because what more does a bachelor need?), a woman in a shiny dress watches them on a flatpanel TV. When he excuses himself to check on her, she’s delighted at their unexpected visitors. She begs to meet them, but Flint refuses. He tries to kiss her, but she doesn’t respond, as if she isn’t even familiar with the concept of kissing.

FLINT: Rayna. Have you been lonely?
RAYNA: What is loneliness?
FLINT: It is thirst. It is a flower dying in the desert.
RAYNA: Flint, don’t take this opportunity away from me. It’s so exciting.
FLINT: Exciting? You have never made a demand of me before.
RAYNA: I’m sorry.
FLINT: Do not be sorry. It might be interesting.

While Flint flirts, McCoy gets into his liquor supply and starts doling out 100-year-old Saurian Brandy. Even Spock agrees to have a glass, mostly because he’s so stunned at Flint’s collection of rare stuff. He admits to almost feeling envy at the unknown Leonardo da Vinci paintings on the walls, which were painted fairly recently. Weird. Kirk’s learned a few things over the years though, and he reminds them this could all be an illusion. He asks Spock to scan Flint to make sure he’s human and orders Scotty to perform a full background check on the man and his planet. His work done, Kirk kicks back for a bit. “Let’s enjoy this brandy. It tastes real.”

M-4 bobs into the room and tosses a baggy of purple crystals at McCoy, who is eager to process it into an antitoxin. Flint returns and promises that his robot buddy will take care of all that in his own lab, under the doctor’s supervision, so that Kirk and Spock can hang out some more. To “make amends” for his previous behavior, he introduces his adopted daughter, Rayna Kapec. As far as Kirk’s concerned, all is forgiven once he looks at her. He even lets Flint backpeddle on his previous claim that there was no one else on the planet.

Rayna ingratiates herself to Spock by speaking his language–not Vulcan, but sub-dimensional physics. There’s also a mutual attraction between her and Kirk, and McCoy starts to lay on his “Southern charm,” overdoing the compliments on her beauty just a tad. Flint sends him to play with M-4 in the lab while he entertains the others with games and friendly debate. Kirk immediately gets defensive about their defenses while Rayna shows him how to handle his, uh, billiard stick.

KIRK: You said something about savagery, Mr. Flint. When was the last time you visited Earth?
FLINT: You would tell me that it is no longer cruel. But it is, Captain. Look at your starship, bristling with weapons. Its mission to colonize, exploit, destroy, if necessary, to advance Federation causes.
KIRK: Our missions are peaceful, our weapons defensive. If we were barbarians, we would not have asked for ryetalyn. Indeed, your greeting, not ours, lacked a certain benevolence.
FLINT: The result of pressures which are not your concern.
KIRK: Yes, well, those pressures are everywhere in everyone, urging him to what you call savagery. The private hells, the inner needs and mysteries, the beast of instinct. As human beings, that is the way it is. To be human is to be complex. You can’t avoid a little ugliness from within and from without.

Spock plays a waltz and Kirk and Rayna dance while our man Flint watches creepily in the corner. Kirk’s putting the moves on her when McCoy bursts in with bad news: the ryetalyn wasn’t pure after all–it was cut with irrilium. Spock states that the impurity will “render the antitoxin inert and useless.” Flint takes McCoy and M-4 to find more ryetalyn and Spock tries to interest Kirk in his observation that the Brahms waltz he just played is totally new to him and was written in the composer’s own hand, which he happens to recognize. Kirk’s too preoccupied with concern that trusting Flint was a costly mistake, so he heads to the lab to see if the ryetalyn can be salvaged.

He has trouble focusing on his work when Rayna appears in the lab and stares at the door to a room Flint has forbidden her from entering. Kirk asks her if she’s happy living with Flint, rubs her shoulders seductively, embraces her awkwardly, and finally kisses her. She appears to be confused at the contact, and M-4 arrives with its virgin alarm flashing. Kirk shoves Rayna away just before Spock zaps M-4; the robot was unaware of his presence so it didn’t neutralize his phaser.

In the drawing room, Flint explains himself:

M-4 was programmed to defend this household and its members. No doubt I should have altered its instructions to allow for unauthorized but predictable actions on your part. It thought you were attacking Rayna. A misinterpretation.

Speak of the devil… M-4 drifts into the room as though nothing has happened. Or is this one M-5? Flint clearly understands the importance of backups. The old man takes Rayna away and Kirk bristles at the way he orders her about. Spock recommends the captain stop hitting on their host’s daughter, but Kirk insists that Flint is pushing them together even if he’s acting jealous. Mixed signals!

Scotty reports in to say that the Rigelian fever has spread to almost the entire crew. They also have the report on Flint and the planet: the man doesn’t exist, but Holberg 917G was purchased by a Mr. Brack, “a wealthy financier and recluse.” Spock adds a tantalizing detail: Flint is human, but the tricorder says he may be over 6000 years old. They soon discover that there’s no record of Rayna Kapec or her parents either.

They need the cure for the fever in a little over two hours or everyone on the ship will die, but it seems Flint may be delaying their progress on purpose. Kirk cares less about that when Rayna shows up to say good-bye. He sends Spock to the lab to check on the ryetalyn, while he asks Rayna to come with them. Flint watches Kirk kiss her on his TV–she’s finally getting the hang of it!

KIRK: Come with me. I offer you happiness.
RAYNA: I’ve known security here.
KIRK: Childhood must end. You love me, not Flint!

She runs away, so Kirk joins McCoy and Spock in the lab, where he learns that the ryetalyn has mysteriously disappeared along with the robot. Their tricorder scans lead them to Flint’s Forbidden Door, and Kirk and Spock argue about who gets to go in. Spock insists he go alone, but won’t say why. Finally they all enter and find more than the ryetalyn–the room is filled with tables that hold bodies covered in sheets, helpfully labeled Rayna 16, 15, 14, and so on. Kirk pulls back a sheet to uncover a bald copy of Rayna.

In his log, Kirk calls her “the perfect woman.” Except for the whole not being human thing. McCoy spells it out: “She’s an android.” These aren’t backups of the woman, they’re prototypes. Flint appears to deliver some overdue exposition.

FLINT: Created here by my hand. Here, the centuries of loneliness were to end.
SPOCK: Your collection of Leonardo da Vinci masterpieces, Mr. Flint, they appear to have been recently painted on contemporary canvas with contemporary materials. And on your piano, a waltz by Johannes Brahms, an unknown work in manuscript, written in modern ink. Yet absolutely authentic, as are your paintings.
FLINT: I am Brahms.
SPOCK: And da Vinci?
SPOCK: How many other names shall we call you?
FLINT: Solomon, Alexander, Lazarus, Methuselah, Merlin, Abramson. A hundred other names you do not know.

It isn’t important how or why, but as a Mesopotamian soldier in 3834 B.C., Flint was mortally injured in battle and learned he couldn’t die. Not only was he some of the greatest men Earth has ever known, he hobknobbed with the A-list of historical celebrities. Bodacious! Though he cannot fall in battle, love has pierced his heart more than any weapon–but his many wives keep dying on him, so he decided to build his own immortal beloved.

Spock suspected it all along of course, but he tells Kirk, “I had hoped I was wrong.” But now that Flint knows that they know, he won’t let them leave. Spock promises they won’t tell, but the old man doesn’t trust them. He pushes a button and turns Enterprise into a model on the table, promising to hold them in suspended animation for a couple thousand years. He only relents when Spock and McCoy point out that now that Rayna can love, she will never love him if he acts so cruelly.

Kirk says his lips are sealed and Flint returns Enterprise to orbit, presumably at its normal size. But the captain is still jealous, and miffed that he was used, claiming that he and Rayna still love each other. They fight for the woman over her protests. Spock cautions them that they should really stop, but it’s too late–her brain overloads and collapses. Spock explains,

She loved you, Captain. And you, too, Mr. Flint, as a mentor, even as a father. There was not enough time for her to adjust to the awful power and contradictions of her newfound emotions. She could not bear to hurt either of you. The joys of love made her human, and the agonies of love destroyed her.

Back on Enterprise, the plague is all taken care of but Kirk is depressed over Rayna. He rests his head on his desk, tells Spock he wishes he could forget her, then promptly falls asleep. McCoy pops in to report that Flint is dying because he left Earth, with its “complex fields” that somehow granted him immortality. The old man will live out a normal lifespan, which he plans to spend improving the human condition. After all, he did wonders for Kirk.

Before he leaves, the doctor takes a moment to insult Spock and his inability to love; the Vulcan is clearly missing out, even if love can make you miserable. Then he comments, “I do wish he could forget her.” Which gives Spock an idea! He initiates a mind meld with the sleeping Kirk and intones, “Forget.”


I do wish I could forget this episode. I almost had too, because I was deceived by the evocative title into falsely remembering this as one of the better ones. How could I have been so wrong?

To quote Spock, “I am close to experiencing an unaccustomed emotion.” Only in my case, it’s anger. I don’t mind the idea of an immortal living through the centuries and watching history unfold, even playing an active role in it, but it bothers me that “Flint” is supposed to be all these famous figures, a genius in so many different disciplines. Really? He was Solomon and Alexander? And they even threw Merlin in there for good measure? I find it insulting to all these great people, and insulting to viewers because we’re supposed to swallow it. They don’t even offer any plausible reason for his amazing regenerative abilities, attributing it to some handwavey Earth fields, which he apparently needs to survive. Wouldn’t these fields have changed significantly over the course of 6000 years? If Flint wants to live, couldn’t he just move back to Earth? Or is he just giving up now, ready to die without his precious Rayna? There’s also a bit of irony, I suppose–it would have sucked for Rayna if he’d ended up dying and leaving her alone on that planet, huh?

Then there are all the ethical implications, most of which are glossed over. After Kirk tells the Halkans that the Federation would never just take their dilithium crystals in “Mirror, Mirror” (also written by Jerome Bixby), it was startling that he considers taking the ryetalyn against Flint’s wishes. Granted, their situation was life-threatening, and you don’t have any of those pesky politics with one private landowner, but once you cross that line, it’s hard not to seem like a hypocrite. On another note, I’m not even sure what ryetalyn is. Some kind of ore? A psychostimulant to treat ADD and depression?

Spock’s decision to wipe Kirk’s memory at the end is most distressing of all. A spoken desire to forget is hardly giving carte blanche to make it happen, and I doubt Kirk would have actually agreed if Spock had offered. The captain probably even knows that it’s possible, but he doesn’t ask. Even if he’s just forgetting Rayna, or his feelings for her, it seems like an incredibly personal violation–and as we know from Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Kirk needs his pain. Besides, the imposed amnesia probably won’t even stick unless Spock also alters his official and personal logs, which is another major problem. I’ll admit, this is probably just a personal trigger, but I really hate stories in which one character decides that another is better off without certain memories and intentionally submerges or erases them. Don’t mess with another person’s brain. Despite good intentions, this isn’t a choice anyone should be able to make for someone else, when so much of our identities are determined by our experiences, good and bad.

It seems to me that Spock sacrifices being a good officer for being a good friend. He sees how Kirk is affected by Rayna and offers relationship advice, even withholds information (or suspicions) from the captain from the desire to spare his feelings. Perhaps he’s starstruck to be in Flint’s presence, but it just isn’t very Vulcan. His concern is also touching, notably when he tries to stop the captain from entering the Rayna Room, but if Kirk’s attraction to Rayna is interfering with negotiations for the drug they need, he should be much more forceful. Not that it would have done any good; through the whole episode, Spock makes sage suggestions to both Kirk and Flint, but the two men completely ignore him. This is much less in character for Kirk, as is the captain’s rapid obsession with Rayna and the extreme depression that follows.

I know that this was the Valentine’s Day episode of Star Trek, but their love for each other just didn’t seem believable or justified. Fine, Rayna has never seen a young man before, so perhaps Kirk is irresistable to her…except that she isn’t human, and she doesn’t have feelings, at least not at first. Instead, I think she’s starved for company and the stimulation of new perspectives and people. Kirk calls her the perfect woman, but why? Is it because she’s so much more beautiful and smart than anyone else? Is it because he’s lonely, as he suggests at the end of the episode? She should only be perfect for Flint–because he designed the woman he wants, because she’s immortal. No, Kirk has been involved with better women for better reasons than simple plot necessity.

Finally, why does Flint go to so much trouble to lead Kirk to the Rayna models? He may just want Kirk to give her up, but when Spock subsequently makes his observations, he doesn’t even try to make up an excuse. In fact, like Tony Stark in Iron Man, he voluntarily confesses “I am Brahms” without much provocation. If he really wanted to be left alone, he could have just given them the ryetalyn and sent them on their merry way. He’s been watching them this whole time, so he knows how close Spock is to discovering the truth, but he does nothing to stop or mislead him. Again, blinded by love, no doubt–the same love which Spock claims destroyed Rayna. That’s poetic, but perhaps she simply couldn’t deal with the fact that she isn’t really alive, her whole past is a lie, and her “father” is in love with her, hmmm?

This is the worst kind of episode–a stupid plot that appears to be much smarter and deeper than it is, as fake as Flint’s androids. And Spock’s entirely illogical, immoral action pretty much kills it for me.

Eugene’s Rating: Full Stop (on a scale of 1-6)

Torie Atkinson: If you could live forever, would you want to? With all the stimuli you could conjure, with centuries of knowledge and generations of experience, would there be any joy left in the world? And if there weren’t, could you make joy?

“Requiem for Methuselah” was brilliant in its exploration of immortality and its obsession with the loneliness that must surely follow. When Flint first meets Kirk and Kirk asks for the ryetalyn, Flint tells him, “You have nothing I want.” He has everything: genius, hindsight, creativity and all the time in the world. Yet he’s perhaps the saddest man we’ve ever met. He takes no pleasure in his pursuits. His paradise is as much a prison, cutting him off not just from life’s sorrows and regrets but from its joys. He feels these things acutely, and James Daly does an amazing job bringing a huge spectrum of emotion and anguish to the surface. Here is a man whose loneliness and exile has so twisted him that he must manufacture joy. He creates the Raynas to be all things to him and fill all roles. Her task is impossible. She must be a child for him to care for, a woman for him to love, and an intellectual peer to inspire and challenge him. But who could ever really make him happy? It’s the great science fiction parable: immortality can make you a hero of the ages and yet without death, without a timetable, there’s nothing but joyless tedium to mark each passing day.

The way that Flint manipulates the “woman” he claims to love for his own satisfaction was perversely compelling. It’s sick, what he does. Flint knows he can never unlock in this woman the kind of passion he desires. Passion feeds on passion–it needs to be ignited by a lust for life he lost long ago. So he uses Kirk: young, bold, courageous. Kirk’s exciting. And he’s the key. The way that Flint watches them–watches them dance, watches them through his flatscreen TV, watches them playing pool–it’s practically depraved. He’s a monster, setting them up for heartbreak so he can jump in as a rebound and claim her devotion. His need for her is a selfish one, too: he doesn’t want her love freely. He wants desperate loneliness to drive her to latch onto him and in her misery mirror his own pathetic state. Twisted.

And yet his true reflection is in Kirk, not Rayna. Kirk acknowledges Flint’s view of the world: “The private hells, the inner needs and mysteries, the beast of instinct. As human beings, that is the way it is. To be human is to be complex. You can’t avoid a little ugliness from within and from without.” By the end, all that’s left is “A very old and lonely man. And a young and lonely man.” They are so similar, the two of them–men who should feel as if they have everything, men who have accomplished so much. They have people with whom to share pursuits–and yet no one to share their sorrows.

Sorrow, love, envy, fear–emotion is really the heart of this episode, and again I was so impressed by both the performances and the nuance. Shatner manages to run the gamut from charming to despondent. His anguish in the end is palpable and heartbreaking. And yet they never try and make him weak for it. Emotion here is strength. Its presence is what makes Rayna human, and its cold absence makes Flint so inhuman. It’s perhaps best expressed by Spock, of all people. In Flint’s palace he admits to a degree of envy, for the first time. But the most touching moment is the final scene, when he makes Kirk forget Rayna. McCoy says he wishes Kirk could forget, but I don’t think he really means that. It’s an expression we toss around all the time. In reality, though, we need our pain to appreciate our joy. It’s something Spock would never understand, and yet his compassion for his friend means he cannot let him suffer. He thinks he’s doing the right thing. (The scene is even more touching when you remember in Star Trek II that he does something similar to McCoy, only telling him instead to “Remember.” That one word contains his entire being.) I was reminded of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind–to lose the bad memories, the pain, the heartache, means losing the good ones as well.

It’s not a perfect episode, of course, and I’m sure in an earlier season all the plot holes, awkward dialogue, and melodrama would have been ironed out in the next few drafts. Flint’s starring role in Western Civilization’s Greatest Hits is a cheap shortcut, and Kirk’s sudden uncontrollable passion is a little hard to swallow. But I’d be nitpicking: thematically, this episode shared much with the best of Trek: loneliness, self-determination, emotion, and yes, love. It’s a flower, dying in the desert of season 3.

Torie’s Rating: Warp 5

Best Line: McCoy: “At her age, I rather enjoyed errors with no noticeable damage, but I must admit you’re the farthest thing from a bookworm I’ve ever seen.”

Syndication Edits: Kirk requests a background check on Flint and the planet, then enjoys some brandy; following a commercial break, Flint and Rayna approach Kirk, Spock, and McCoy; McCoy asks Rayna what else she’s interested in and she tells him everything; Kirk talks about how complex humanity is; Spock sits at the piano to play the Brahms waltz; much of Kirk and Rayna dancing and McCoy in the lab checking the ryetalyn; Kirk goes to Flint’s lab; Rayna telling Kirk that Flint has denied her access to one room, including the dialogue from her first “I don’t know” to the second; after a commercial, M4 looms toward Kirk and Rayne and the captain shoves her to safety; after a commercial, Flint and Rayna talk about why M4 attacked Kirk; some reaction shots after Spock recommends Kirk focus on getting the ryetalyn.

Trivia: The story outline contained some significant differences from the aired episode, including: Kirk and McCoy sneak into Flint’s home and Rayna stops M4 from attacking them, Dr. McCoy takes lookout while Kirk hugs Rayna, Kirk combats an illusory monster that is actually M4, they discover a drying Michelangelo painting at Flint’s, the man is 8,000 years old and once was Beethoven, and Spock erases Kirk’s memory from the bridge while the captain is in his quarters.

The exterior of Flint’s palace is a modified reuse of the Rigel VII matte painting from “The Cage,” ironic considering the crew is afflicted with Rigelian fever. Elements of M4 originated with the similar robot Nomad from “The Changeling.”

In a counterpoint to Spock’s use of a Vulcan mind-meld to make Kirk forget, in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, he transfers his katra to Dr. McCoy with the simple word, “Remember.”

This episode has two links to Star Trek: Voyager: in “Death Wish,” Q peers into a Christmas-ornament-sized Voyager through the viewscreen as Kirk does here with the shrunken Enterprise; and in “Concerning Flight,” Captain Janeway comments that Kirk claimed that he met Leonardo da Vinci.

Other notes: In the Bible, Methuselah is recorded as the oldest man who ever lived, to the ripe old age of 969. A “requiem” is a Roman Catholic mass for the dead.

Rayna’s surname “Kapec” was an homage to Karel Capek, the Czechoslovakian author who coined the word “robot” in 1921 in his play R.U.R.

The Season 3 DVD release incorrectly spells Rayna’s name as “Reena” in the end credits. The spelling was corrected for the remastered DVD release, with a different, slightly less whimsical end card of Spock playing tridimensional chess.

Stage actress Louise Sorel (Rayna) had genre credits on Rod Serling’s Night Gallery in the episodes “Pickman’s Model” and “The Dead Man” (which also starred Jeff Corey from the upcoming episode “The Cloud Minders”).

The Brahms waltz that Spock plays was composed for this episode by Ivan Ditmars.

Story elements from this episode were echoed in Bixby’s last screenplay, for the film The Man from Earth (2007).

Though Al Francis is credited as director of photography, the cameraman was actually John Finger.

Flint appears in a number of Star Trek tie-in novels, including Federation by Judith and Garfield Reeves-Stevens (as Micah Brack), The Cry of the Onlies by Judy Klass (which also follows after “Miri”), The Eugenics Wars, Volume One: The Rise and Fall of Khan Noonien Singh by Greg Cox (as Wilson Evergeen), Immortal Coin by Jeffrey Lang (as Emil Vaslovik), and in Strange New Worlds 9 in “The Immortality Blues” by Marc Carlson (as Lewis Bixby and Jerome Drexel).

Previous episode: Season 3, Episode 18 – “The Lights of Zetar.”

Next episode: Season 3, Episode 20 – “The Way to Eden.” US residents can watch it for free at the CBS website.

About Eugene Myers & Torie Atkinson

EUGENE MYERS has published short fiction in a variety of print and online zines as E.C. Myers. He is a graduate of the Clarion West Writers Workshop and a member of the writing group Altered Fluid. When he isn’t watching Star Trek, he reads and writes young fiction. His first novel, Fair Coin, is forthcoming from Pyr. TORIE ATKINSON is a NYC-based law student (with a focus on civil rights and economic justice), proofreader, sometime lighting designer, and former blog editor/moderator. She watches too many movies and plays too many games but never, ever reads enough books.