Random Thing #1

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This got cut from something else I was writing.  I'm putting it here because I'd rather put it somewhere than just delete it.


At first sight, Flint and Rayna in the Star Trek episode 'Requiem for Methuselah' look like a fairly standard sci-fi reiteration of Propsero and Miranda.  That’s been done a fair few times, of course.  Most famously in Forbidden Planet.  (The reiteration of Shakespeare is apt enough, given that Flint owns a copy of Shakespeare’s First Folio.  He never claims to have been Shakespeare, but probably would if prompted.)  Oddly though, the more ‘Requiem for Methuselah’ progresses, the more it looks like Othello rather than The Tempest.

Because ‘Requiem for Methuselah’ seems – rather astonishingly - to have a ‘double time’ scheme to it, very much like Othello.  The play is famous for having two apparently separate and irreconcilable chronologies mapped onto each other within it.  As many critics have observed, judging by the events we witness, there seems to be a space of about twenty-four hours between Othello and Desdemona’s marriage and Desdemona’s murder by Othello, and yet multiple other indications with the play – including flat statements by characters – imply that at least a week passes.   A casual reader or viewer is quite likely to imagine that the sojourn in Cyprus lasts several weeks before culminating in tragedy.  The two time schemes simply don’t match.  Apart from anything else, there simply isn’t enough time for Desdemona to have committed “the act of shame” with Cassio “a thousand times”, as Othello comes to believe.  But the play does work.  To quote A. C. Bradley:  “[Shakespeare] wanted the spectator to feel a passionate and vehement haste in the action; but he also wanted him to feel that the action was fairly probable.”

Something noticeably similar occurs in ‘Requiem for Methuselah’.  The episode has a strict time span imposed upon it, from the start, by the vicissitudes of what we might call the ‘A Plot’, the one about Kirk et al needing to get their hands on the (amusingly named) substance Ryetalyn, refine it so that it can be used to cure the Rigellian Fever and take said cure back to the Enterprise to save all the other regular characters.  The point is repeatedly made that time is of the essence.  Yet, despite the fact that they succeed in doing this, the episode feels like it takes much longer.  The episode manages to give the impression of massively compressing the events of, perhaps, several days.  First and foremost, Kirk falls for Rayna so heavily that it defies credibility that it could happen in the space of a few hours.  The episode really stresses this too, leaving Kirk devastated by Rayna’s death, so much so that Spock erases his memory of her at the end, to spare Kirk debilitating emotional pain.  In other ways too, Kirk, McCoy and Spock’s stay with Flint feels like a prolonged one.  There is time for everyone to relax and lounge around, playing the harpsichord or dancing.  Minerals and collected and refined – twice! – with Flint explicitly delaying the process.  This is what we might call the ‘B Plot’, the business with Flint trying to use Kirk to arouse Rayna’s emotions.  The requirements of Flint’s plan seem impossible to squeeze into a few hours.  He’s trying to foster a mutual attraction which will arouse latent emotions.  If Kirk really falls head over heels for Rayna, and manages to draw an emotional response from her despite her never having been capable of emotions before, all in a few hours, Flint really has been lucky in a way he could scarcely have foreseen.  This isn’t really a problem in plot terms because there is a huge sense, conveyed on screen, that we are watching the edited highlights of a very long stay.  A few days at the very least.  The episode successfully pulls off something like Othello’s ‘double time’ scheme.  It makes the viewer feel “a passionate and vehement haste in the action” while also making it seem “fairly probable.”

This monkeying around with time is quite appropriate in a story that concerns itself with an immortal man of colossal age who seems to have lived through every epoch in human history.  Flint himself is a temporal contradiction.  A man unimaginably older than he looks.  An immortal who stands outside of time.  Flint has lived a lifetime, but his lifetime encompasses the entirety of human history.  He is one man but has been many others.  His whole self is a ‘double time’ scheme.

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