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The Conscience of the King

Review

Series : The Original Series Rating : 4
Disc No : 1.3 Episode : 13
First Aired : 8 Dec 1966 Stardate : 2817.6
Director : James Goldstone Year : 2266
Writers : Robert Bloch Season : 1
Guest Cast :
Arnold Moss as Anton Karidian
Barbara Anderson as Lenore Karidian
Bruce Hyde as Kevin Thomas Riley
Eddie Paskey as Lieutenant Leslie
Frank Vince as (voice) Jon Daily
Karl Bruck as King Duncan
Marc Adams as Hamlet
Natalie Norwick as Martha Leighton
Troy David as Larry Matson
William Sargent as Doctor Thomas Leighton
Moral :
Sins : The sins of the past are sure to find you out
YATI : When McCoy offers Spock a drink he refuses, saying his ancestors where spared it's effects. McCoy claims that this is probably why they where conquered. However, we hear in "The Immunity Syndrome" that the Vulcans have never been conquered.
Great Moment : Arnold Moss does a wonderful job as Karidian, depicting the character's tortured weariness very well.
Body Count : Two
Factoid : This episode marks the beginning of Star Treks use of Shakespeare extracts, which will continue throughout TNG. The title is from Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2 : "The play's the thing wherein I'll catch the conscience of the King."

The overloading phaser incident calls for a "Double Red Alert", something never again mentioned.

This was the last episode Grace Lee Whitney filmed. She recalls that she went out and bought a bottle of wine afterwards, bringing it back and getting drunk in her dressing room. Unfortunately she would go on to struggle with drug and alcohol problems for years afterwards.

Riley was not originally scripted to be in this episode. But when the same actor was cast as a different character, the discrepancy was noticed and the script quickly rewritten to make it the same character, too.

Ronald D. Moore has said that this is his favourite episode of TOS. He named a ship in his Battlestar Galactica series the Astral Queen as a homage to the civilian ship mentioned in this one.

Quote : "The chain of command is often a noose." - McCoy to Spock

"And this ship. All this power. Surging and throbbing, yet under control. Are you like that, captain?" - Lenore to Kirk; Oh my!

McCoy : "Do you play God? Carry his head through the corridors in triumph? That won't bring back the dead, Jim."
Kirk : "No. But they may rest easier."

"Blood thins. The body fails. One is finally grateful for a failing memory." - Karidian to Kirk

Lenore : "You are like your ship. Powerful, and not human. There is no mercy in you."
Kirk : "If he is Kodos, then I've shown him more mercy than he deserves."

"We've armed man with tools. Striving for greatness continues." - Kirk to Kodos; in response to the latter's claim that modern life has dehumanized Mankind

Lenore : "All the ghosts are dead. I've buried them. There's no more blood on your hands!"
Kodos : "Oh my child, my child! You've left me nothing!"

Plotline

The Enterprise diverts off of its scheduled course to Planet Q, chasing a report of a new synthetic food which could be used to ease food shortages on Cygnia Minor. On arrival Kirk finds that Doctor Thomas Leighton has actually falsified the report in order to lure Kirk to the planet. He accuses a member of a travelling theatre group, Anton Karidian, of being the infamous Kodos the Executioner. Kodos was the governor of the Earth Colony Tarsus IV when a disaster struck it in 2246. With supplies due to run out before any relief arrived, Kodos executed 4000 of his own people in order to give the rest a chance of survival. The horrific plan backfired on him when the relief arrived early, making the deaths as unnecessary as they were unjustified. Leighton was a survivor of the incident, as was Kirk, and is obsessed by the idea that Karidian is Kodos. Though Kirk is unconvinced he agrees to take a look at Karidian and see if there is anything to it. He meets Lenore Karidian, the man's daughter, at a party and takes her for an evening walk. They stumble across Leighton's body, prompting Kirk to become more suspicious.

Kirk asks the Captain of the Astral Queen, the ship that had been transporting the Karidian group, to depart early without notifying them. Thus stranded, Lenore asks Kirk for assistance and he agrees to transport the group on the Enterprise. His research shows that Lieutenant Kevin Riley , a member of the Enterprise crew, is also a witness to the Tarsus massacre. Kirk orders him demoted to the engineering decks to keep him away from any danger, prompting curiosity on the part of the Enterprise officers. Spock discusses the incident with McCoy, and becomes suspicious as he does his own research in the records. He finds that of the nine people who might be able to identify Kodos, all but two are now dead. Even worse, all the deaths happened when the Karidian players were in the immediate vicinity.

As Riley sits a watch in engineering his drink is poisoned, and only quick medical intervention saves him. As he slowly recovers, Spock ponders that Kirk must surely be a target himself now. Whilst the First Officer is convinced that Karidian must be Kodos, Kirk remains uncertain. Whilst they talk, however, he hears a phaser building to an overload. They quickly search and locate the hidden weapon, just in time to dump it overboard before it explodes. Kirk goes to confront Karidian, challenging him directly on his identity. Kodos doesn't confirm it but doesn't quite deny it either. Kirk has him recite the speech Kodos made so that a voice analysis can be performed, but the analysis is not wholly conclusive.

In sickbay, Riley overhears McCoy mentioning the suspicion about Karidian's true identity. As the Karidian players begin a performance of Hamlet for the crew Riley arrives with a phaser. McCoy warns Kirk that he is gone, and the Captain catches and confronts Riley, convincing him to put the poser down. Karidian overhears them and the truth slowly emerges - he is Kodos, a fact his daughter was fully aware of. But it is she who has been murdering the witnesses, determined to keep her father's secret. Kodos is shattered by the news that the one good thing remaining in his life has produced yet more death, more blood on his hands. It becomes clear that Lenore is insane, as she rambles on about how she had to kill them and begins to recite Shakespeare to justify her actions. As security take them into custody Lenore snatches a phaser and fires at Kirk, the last witness. Kodos steps in the way of the shot and is killed. Being responsible for her father's death destroys Lenore, and she collapses completely into a fantasy world in which Kodos is still alive, performing to cheering crowds.

Analysis

I've found myself kind of growing into this episode over the years. I first started watching Trek as a teenager, and back then I hated this one. Boring! And what's with all that Shakespeare stuff! Even on into adulthood it never really grabbed me, but as I've hit middle age I find myself enjoying it a lot more. Karidian especially is a fascinating character. You can feel the way his actions haunt him, the way he is so very, very tired of living the lie that his life has become. And how it truly does destroy him to find that his daughter, the one good thing left in his life, has secretly carried that burden as well, and been slowly broken by it without his even noticing. Can you think of any greater burden to place on a person? As much as we might hate Kodos for what he was and what he did, we can't help but sympathise with him as well. And how do we think of a "bad guy" whose last act is to sacrifice his life to save one of his own victims? Truly this is an episode to twist your emotions.

Lenore also is hardly the stereotypical "bad guy". Yes, she's a cold blooded killer many times over. And yet, she's not so much evil as she is insane. How do you cope with life when your own father is known on every world as a horrific monster? When you can't admit that you even know that to anybody, including him? Little wonder that they became actors when their very lives were nothing but a performance, even to one another.

And Kirk has his moments, too. Is he interested in justice, or interested in revenge? He does some pretty iffy things himself here, putting the moves on Lenore to try and worm information out of her. She calls him on it, too, when she finds out. It's rare that we see Kirk really wrestling with his doubt like this, and Shatner plays it very well indeed.


Copyright Graham Kennedy Page views : 3,257 Last updated : 24 Nov 2014