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Monday, July 26, 2010
Retro TV Round-Up: Star Trek
Requiem for Methuselah
One of the cliches of the classic series was Kirk's reputation as a ladies man. It certainly seemed like the intrepid captain had a different, beautiful woman in every port of call and was willing to kiss any attractive female--alien or otherwise--in the immediate vicinity. And while Kirk did have his various flings in seasons one and two, it doesn't quite feel as prevalent as it does here in season three. And they're romantic liasons that don't end well--even for Captain Kirk.

Two of them die as a direct result of being romantically involved with Kirk. In "The Paradise Syndrome," Miramanee dies after getting stoned by her tribe and here Rayna dies when the emotions Kirk awakens in her cause her android mind to overload and she self destructs.

When I first started watching Star Trek, I felt like I saw bits and pieces of this episode a lot. And that led to my getting rapidly tired of it, wishing I could instead see "Space Seed" or the one with the war fought by computers (as I thought of it at the time). It seems like the station I was watching loved this episode and played it in heavy rotation. Or maybe it was just me. Either way, the episode had some odds stacked against it when it came to making it into my cycle to re-watch. It's not one I avoided because I didn't care for it, but I avoided it because I felt like I'd seen it a lot.

It was also a particular favorite of a buddy of mine in high school. His mom had allowed him to tape a couple of episodes off the air, one of which was "Methuselah." So he was always commenting on it, saying how great it was and how cool it was that he could watch it whenever he wanted.

It's also an episode where you can see some of the props used in it at the Smithsonian's Air and Space Museum. The smaller model of the Enterprise that Flint shrinks to torment Kirk is on display there, if I recall correctly.

As I approached it this time, I tried to set all of that aside and approach the episode fresh.

The Enterprise has an outbreak of Rigellian fever and heads to a seemingly deserted planet to gather Ritalin, which can cure the plague and save the crew. There's only a limited amount of time to gather, process and administer the antidote and save the crew. Beaming down, Kirk, Spock and McCoy meet a man named Flint and his robot M4. Flint reveals he lives on the planet and, at first, tells them to go elsewhere. Kirk stands up to him and Flint backs down when he finds out what the crew needs.

While M4 gathers the Ritalin, Flint entertains the trio at his home. In his private collection are undiscovered works by DaVinci, Brahms and a Gutenberg Bible. Also living with him is his ward Rayna, whose parents died when their ship crashed on the planet. Kirk is, of course, immediately smitten.

M4 returns and processes the Ritalin, which contains an impurity. Flint sends it out after more and continues to entertain the trio with Kirk wooing Rayna. Flint is clearly in love with Rayna, but an early scene between the two shows them kissing but she doesn't respond. Kirk eventually busts his move and after two kisses, Rayna is returning the kiss.

M4 returns with more Ritalin, processes it and it passes the test. Flint then hides it inside a room that he has forbidden Rayna to enter. She tells Kirk at one point that she feels strange about what could be inside. The landing party goes in and finds other Raynas. Turns out Flint is immortal and after living hundreds of lives, marrying and then having to slip away before they find out his secret, has headed off into space to create the perfect immortal mate. That mate would be Rayna. And while she's his intellectual equal, her emotions haven't come on-line...at least that is until Kirk awakens them.

Flint suddenly decides he can't let them leave or else risk revealing who he is and his secret. But then when Rayna enter the room (why they leave the door open is beyond me), he and Kirk fight it out over her. Rayna is confused by her new found emotions and can't reconcile the love she has for Flint as a father figure and her new found romantic love for Kirk. She overloads and dies. Flint allows them to leave, taking the cure with them and Kirk promises secrecy.

Back on the ship, everyone is cured except Kirk can't forget Rayna. Spock performs a mind-meld to make Kirk forget.

"Methuselah" is a lot stronger than I recall it being even if it is riddled with plot holes you could drive a bus through. One of the problems is the time scale. The episode makes a big deal about there being four or so hours before the point of no return for the crew. And yet, at times, there isn't an urgency to the finding and processing of the Ritalin. In fact, the landing party beams down 4 kilometers from the Ritalin. It seems to me that if it's so urgent, they'd want to beam in closer. Unless the Ritalin does something to the transporter signal. It's one of those things that you easily solve with a line or two of dialogue.

The time frame in which events unfold also works both for and against the episode in terms of Rayna. It works for it in the ending in which her mind implodes from the new emotions. It doesn't quite work for it when she and Kirk are quickly falling in love in the course of about two hours. At least "Elaan of Troius" had the excuse of the tears of the Dohlman to explain Kirk's quick fall. Here Kirk has to be constantly reminded by Spock to keep his eyes on the prize (aka the Ritalin). Which considering how often in previous stories Kirk's devotion to duty takes priority over his relationships and his love of the ship helped him get over Elaan, the whole falling for Rayna seems to happen too quickly and blinds him a bit too much.

And while the "Forget" moment is one of the strongest reflections of the friendship of Kirk and Spock, it does raise some other questions. How much did Spock erase? And, if so, do he and McCoy have to walk on egg shells if Kirk brings it up in the future? I recall one of the tie-in novels scratched the surface of this a bit when Flint comes back on board, but it's an issue that could have used a lot more exploration.

All of that aside, it's still a solid middle of the pack episode. Unlike a lot of third season episodes, it has a fully formed arc to the story (all time frame considerations aside) and it's almost ironic that the way in which Kirk has defeated numerous computers in previous episodes (present it with a seemingly unsolvable dilemma, watch the computer fry itself trying to find an answer) comes back to bite him here. Watching it for the first time in a while, I'm sorry I neglected it.

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posted by Michael Hickerson at 7/26/2010 12:01:00 AM | |
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