The Great Star Trek Rewatch: The Conscience of the King

The Enterprise is diverted from its course to meet with Dr Thomas Leighton, a scientist claiming to have discovered a new synthetic food source. As it turns out, his report is a lie – he wanted to bring Kirk to his planet because he suspects that Anton Karidian, leader of a travelling theatre troupe, is actually Kodos the Executioner – a planetary governor who executed 4000 people twenty years ago. Both Kirk and Leighton were eyewitnesses to this event, and much as Kirk would like to believe that Kodos died twenty years ago, when Leighton is killed, he cannot help but pursue his suspicions.

As long as you don’t overanalyse it too much, this is one of the best episodes so far -another murder-mystery with a bit of a twist. Is Anton really Kodos? Is he now killing the last handful of people who ever saw his face? Was his monstrous act of killing 4000 people actually a utilitarian answer to preventing everyone on the colony from dying of starvation?

Characterisation

This episode is a great showcase for the Kirk-Spock-McCoy dynamic as more than just banter and one-liners. Kirk is committed to finding out the truth about Anton Karidian, but rather than explaining himself, he issues orders which, out of context, seem arbitrary. Spock is too smart and too good a first officer to let this pass unchallenged, and begins an incisive investigation that leads him to uncover exactly what must be going on. McCoy, meanwhile, starts off by attempting to allay Spock’s suspicions, but ultimately defends him in front of the captain, pointing out that Spock is, after all, doing exactly what a first officer is supposed to do.

Anton Karidian and his daughter Lenore are some of the best one-off characters we’ve had so far. Anton is the perfect actor, able to take on any role, yet clearly tortured by his horrific past, and keen to keep his daughter Lenore pure and unsullied. Lenore starts out as yet another love interest for Kirk, but ultimately reveals that her insane devotion to her father caused her to kill everyone who could identify him as Kodos. Even if both Kirk and Lenore were playing each other to some extent, their date gives Kirk the chance to shine more as the philosopher than the action hero, as he displays his more poetic and sensitive side. The Kirk we tend to remember is a brash man who usually got his shirt off, but rewatching the series re-establishes his other side – that of a thoughtful and resourceful man, perhaps even with a touch of poetry in his heart.

The episode also marks the return of Lieutenant Riley, last seen singing ‘I’ll Take You Home Again Kathleen’ in Engineering, but now key to the storyline – the fact that he saw Kodos execute his family putting him in danger as one of the last eyewitnesses of the massacre. We also get a Vulcan lute song from Uhura – maybe Spock has been teaching her how to play.

Now for the geeky part

Yes, it’s time to talk about all those little things that preoccupy people who spend too much of their time thinking about Star Trek.

  • As usual, letting civilian personnel roam all areas of the Enterprise unchallenged proves to be a bad idea, as it lets Lenore spray poison into Riley’s milk on the engineering deck.
  • Phasers seem as easy to overload as lasers, and incredibly dangerous, given that one could take out at least one deck of the ship. They are probably bad as a subtle murder weapon, however, as they emit an audible whine whilst overloading.
  • In The Menagerie, we saw that shuttlecraft are a thing that exist, even if they have terrible range and life support. Now Kirk points out that the Enterprise has its own shuttlecraft deck, something that would have been useful in The Enemy Within. Perhaps all the shuttlecraft were undergoing maintenance in that episode, and couldn’t be launched.
  • Even though McCoy knew Riley was confined to sickbay and highly likely to overhear him recording his log, he still says things that it would be unwise for Riley to hear. Of course Riley does overhear him, and immediately heads off to kill Kodos.
  • When Lenore is threatening Kirk, the play audience (all trained Starfleet officers) all cower behind her – not one of them things to sneak up behind her or stun her with a phaser blast. Maybe they were just terrified that any wrong move could lead to the death of their captain.
  • Leighton’s black satin coverings for his ruined face and eye are far more simplistic than one would assume the reconstructive surgery of the 23rd century would be.
  • McCoy claims that the Vulcans were conquered – presumably implying that they were brought into the Federation by force. As we know, this isn’t true – Vulcans and humans formed a peaceful alliance. Either McCoy doesn’t know his history, or he was trolling in an attempt to get a rise out of Spock.

Summary – The Conscience of the King: Nitpicks aplenty, but still a really enjoyable episode.

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