Star Trek: TOS – S01E13 “The Conscience of the King”

“The Conscience of the King”

Season 1
Production Order #13
Airing Order #13
Directed by Gerd Oswald
Written by Barry Trivers

Welcome back to Star Trek: TOS reviews as we return from a two week break as we head back to the show approaching the midpoint of its 29-episode first season. Only one episode today (since I’d like to put this up before it is too late into the night and it takes at least a couple hours to watch and write up an episode) but the plan to do 2 a week hasn’t changed. The fact that this lets me do “The Menagerie” in one week without having to share with a third episode is just a minor bonus.

We open with the crew of the Enterprise watching a production of Macbeth (Hot potato, off his drawers, Pluck to make amends) as Kirk’s friend identifies the lead actor (Anton Karidian) of the touring company to be someone who he believes is Kodos the Executioner, former brutal governor who massacred much of his population under his belief in eugenics and a man believed to be dead for years. There’s a heavy Hitler parallel to say the least complete with the heavily Jewish inspired Spock on board.

It’s a jarring introduction to say the least and I had to start the episode over just to see if Netflix had pulled one of its tricks and skipped the first 50 seconds or whatever under the auspices of it being the “credits”, but nope it is just awkwardly framed since the opening narration that should be used to set it up, where it is established the Enterprise has journeyed to the creatively named Planet Q (seven stops away from Planet X) to acquire new synthetic food technology, comes afterwards and is more of form imposing of style. It robs the scene of any dramatic appeal despite the best efforts of the score to tell us otherwise.

Though pissed at the deception (understandably even if it is quickly proven this was the only way Kirk could be convinced to investigate), Kirk still gives his buddy the vague benefit of the doubt. Noted sleaze Kirk identifies a blond though and goes into action, hitting on Lenore who is revealed the daughter of Karidian and being quickly distracted from his investigation. That is until his friend is murdered which gets Kirk more suspicious than the photo resemblance, a suspicious lack of a past on Karidian, and the fact that Kirk should be able to identify Karidian on his own. Kirk does a pretty great acting job of his own by cancelling the travel plans of the touring company and then “reluctantly” giving them a ride to allow an opportunity to investigate them more thoroughly.

A lieutenant in communications is identified as being able to recognize Karidian and is secretly transferred to Engineering as Kirk plays things close to the vest refusing to tell the lieutenant or even Spock and McCoy why he is doing such things. On one hand I get that Kirk is playing the long con, but I’m still not sure exactly why he couldn’t at least confer in Spock and his efforts nearly get the innocent lieutenant killed as he is unwittingly used as bait. Kirk even continues to flirt with and kiss Karidian’s daughter despite the fact that it is clear he is using her to investigate her father.

Spock recognizes something suspicious about the whole thing but McCoy just chalks it up to Kirk thinking with his dick. Spock offers his own investigation of the matter to investigate the backstory of the connection between all these people which even gives him a rare team up with McCoy as they both recognize how obvious all the evidence is and question the way Kirk is risking the lives of his crew and himself. It’s a plotline that isn’t satisfactorily resolved even if it gets Kirk to recognize his failings. He’s an imperfect man and it’s a hard job, but at some point you have to start questioning his fitness for command.

Kirk finally confronts Karidian and the confrontation is fantastic. Karidian denies it at first but despite some great acting (not in hiding who he is but in injecting emotion) it’s quickly revealed who he truly is. What’s interesting about it though is the way Kodos plays his decision off as one that would have been viewed by history as a bold and great move by a leader if the supply ship hadn’t arrived early and made him look like an idiot. Both him and his daughter (who it becomes obvious is the real murderer when the lighting switches to noir styled and she indicates she knows her father’s reputation) play the reveal as a fault on Kirk for pressing and not just letting them live their lives.

It’s where the Hitler parallels give way to more of a comparison to the escaped Nazi war criminals who went into hiding after the war (hey guess what was also about 20 years before this episode came out which parallels the length of time Kodos is on the run?) and likewise it is hard to feel sympathy for the bastard even as he casts himself as a tragic figure. It’s impossible to separate the Nazi parallels from the character, regardless of if his decision to slaughter a large portion of his people to save the rest (paralleling Kirks decision to possibly sacrifice Reilly to root out a war criminal and making the “King” of the title an ambiguous one) was a sound one and it creates a rather uncomfortable situation that for the viewer.

On the one hand, I admire the show for doing so and creating a complex character but on the other, while I can’t blame them for events 50 years later, it’s hard being comfortable with the decision to make a Nazi analogue sympathetic in the “maybe what he did was right” manner when neo-Nazis helped elect a sympathetic president and yet there are so many claims about their rights to such abhorrent opinions. It’s an extratextual analysis and I think the episode would play better for those not familiar with the real life history of former Nazis hiding out in the Americas (not counting the ones the American government flat out hired), but that’s just not a something that could escape my head.

A recovered Reilly (the lieutenant whose family was murdered by Kodos) overhears who Karidian is suspected of being Kodos goes after him and while he anticlimactically talked down by Kirk (in quality of scene less in the fact that he was talked down) it doesn’t stop the daughter from revealing her guilt and attempting to kill Kirk. In true tragic, Shakespearean fashion (as if the performances of “Macbeth” and “Hamlet” didn’t make it clear enough) she accidently kills her father though the episode back pedals to let her live in happiness believing her father is alive instead of leaning into the Shakespeare parallels and forcing her to live with the guilt or kill herself. Still, it’s a great episode from beginning to end that finally tones back down Kirk and brings back the real moral dilemmas.

Grade: B+

Stray Observations
– Good lord is this some shitty CGI


– Yes, Kodos from The Simpsons is named after the Kodos here. Kang will show up in Season 3’s “Day of the Dove”
– Gold star for having lightyear used a unit of distance and not time
– Vulcans are unaffected by alcohol and it’s clear Spock dismisses it as well. Thank goodness we are back to Spock being the most relatable character.
– Uhura gets a showcase of her harp playing and singing that feels completely shoehorned in but it is a nice scene and it’s always nice to get some actual character moments for a crew that is frequently ignored for the big three.
– It does set a nice background to the well shot and tense scene as Reilly (one of the two living men able to recognize Kodos) enjoys Uhura’s playing and teases with drinking a cup that we have seen been poisoned.
– What I want to know is why after he basically admits to everything, they fucking let the troupe perform again. I get the argument over what to do with him but at the very least he deserves to be tried for his actions in attempting to murder Reilly and murdering Kirk’s doctor friend (and 6 others!) regardless of whether he did them or not.
– Minus the acting company (or heck maybe including it), I’m pretty sure this basic plot has been recycled in at least one procedural (daughter kills to protect war criminal father’s identity).
– I complimented Kirk’s plan earlier (at least in effectiveness if not morality) in using Reilly as bait, but if it wasn’t going to be enough evidence if they did kill him, why even bother. I’ll at least give the episode credit and say that Kirk did intend for this evidence to be enough and just couldn’t bring himself to admit that a mass murderer has not only been living for an extra 20 years but is so close he could easily get revenge.
– The title is a reference to Hamlet and is dropped in melodramatic fashion by the daughter after killing her father. In fact much of the play parallels Hamlet.

Next Up: On Monday we finally will start a new season of Doctor Who with the “The Tomb of the Cybermen” as I should be getting my DVD copy by then. Star Trek: TOSreturns on a Friday as I try to get back on track with “The Galileo Seven” and “Court Martial”.