The Conscience of the King (Star Trek: The Original Series) Review

I am so obviously not paid enough for this shit.

I am so obviously not paid enough for this shit.

Episode: The Conscience of the King – Season 1, Episode 13 (1966)

Director: Gerd Oswald

Writer: Barry Trivers

The Enterprise is diverted to Planet Q after receiving a message that Dr. Thomas Leighton (William Sargent) has discovered a new synthetic food source. Upon arriving, Kirk learns that the message was a ploy to bring him to the planet to determine if the leader of a troupe of Shakespearean actors, Anton Karidian (Arnold Moss), is actually the nefarious Kodos “The Executioner.” Like a Glee episode with more fabulous clothes — it’s time to throw your hands in the air and get meta!

Leighton and Kirk share a past: they are both survivors of the inhuman excesses of Kodos on Tarsus IV, and are two of the only three people left alive who can identify him. Soon enough, Dr. Leighton is murdered. Then an imperfect attempt is made on the third witness, none other than Lt. Kevin Thomas Riley. Riley! You remember him: he nearly destroyed the ship via Irish stereotype in “The Naked Time.” Watch him spill his poisoned milk into the engineering console and induce another uncontrolled matter/anti-matter intermix explosion.[1]

As Spock and McCoy cajole him toward action, Kirk is beset by uncharacteristic doubt. Yes, yes, the allusions to Hamlet are thick on the ground – but wasn’t it only two episodes ago that our fair captain was wagering his crew on a fantastic story about fictional super- alloys? You’d think he’d just punch his way out. But no, suddenly Kirk has to be sure before he condemns Karidian.

Needlessly complicating everything is Karidian’s daughter Lenore (Barbara Anderson). Kirk lays the game on thick with her to sniff-out her father’s past, but then we’re asked to believe that he develops real feelings. Maybe Kirk is playing his Hamlet a little too close to the script, driving the girl from shy Ophelia into phaser-wielding Lady MacBeth and back. Obviously, Lenore is the one liquidating witnesses to protect her father. After a recovered Riley bungles his vengeance attempt, it’s the wayward daughter who kills “accidentally” Karidian/Kodos.

The episode succeeds in depicting the conniving of Spock and McCoy: they bait each other like minor comic players, but finally drive Kirk to action. And yet, “The Conscience of the King” fails in depicting the authentic progress of human emotion.

I mean, in 1998 I was a bicycle mechanic and you can still smell the grease on me. We’re asked to believe that 15 years ago James T. Kirk had his entire family murdered by a tyrant on some far-flung colony, and somehow over 12 episodes this never comes up? He doesn’t spend every night crying into his Romulan Ale with fellow grieving colonist Riley?

Karidian and his daughter have that annoying habit you see in summer-stock players: always acting a role. Lenore’s character suffers from being a crazy-quilt personality sewed together out of loose ends and typical Trek misogyny. At least her father manages gravitas, though over-wrought. In escaping justice, he’s built a hall of mirrors and locked himself inside. Like Borges’ conception of Shakespeare himself, in enabling himself to become anyone, Karidian is doomed to be no one at all. Reciting the execution order that he still knows by heart, it is possible to believe that – like the usurper Claudius – Karidian longs for death.

Grief upon grief: this episode marks the last appearance of Grace Lee Whitney.[2]  Can you believe she was fired?  Alas poor Yeoman Rand, we knew you well.

[1] Even better: because he’s bored, he phones up to the lounge to have Uhura play him a love song. Because apparently they keep her handy for that. Real classy, Roddenberry.

[2] Happily, she reprises her role in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979).



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Filed under Childhood Memories, Star Trek Original Series

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