Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Star Trek at 50: The Conscience of the King

Season 1
Episode 12: The Conscience of the King
Filmed: September 1966
First Air Date: December 8, 1966 (13th episode aired)

Karen: "The Conscience of the King" is an episode I happen to like that seems to not be very popular, and I can understand why. It is talky. There aren't any space battles, and not any real fist fights to speak of. But this story gives us a glimpse at Kirk's past, and also shows us how Kirk responds when faced with choices -about justice, and vengeance. This is also a story about the burden of guilt.

Karen: Kirk gives passage to a travelling band of actors, although he has suspicions that one of them, Anton Karidian,  is actually Kodos the Executioner, a man who ordered the deaths of 4,000 people on Tarsus IV some 20 years prior. Kirk is one of the few survivors of the incident, along with Lt. Kevin Riley, also among the Enterprise crew. While Kirk investigates  Karidian, he finds himself attracted to Karidian's daughter, Lenore, also part of the acting company.

Karen: This is a murder mystery -one of Kirk's old friends, another survivor, is killed early in the episode -and Kirk proceeds on his own with his investigation, until Spock confronts him regarding it. Kirk is not even sure at first that there is anything to it, until someone attempts to murder Riley. Once convinced, he relentlessly pursues his investigation, even using Lenore, although he had genuine affection for her. It isn't a good side of the Captain.

Karen: Karidian, played by Arnold Moss, is a hollow, haunted man. For a while, we are left to guess -is he or isn't he? Kirk eventually confronts him, and we know -yes, this is Kodos. But far from being a ruthless killer, this is a man who made a terrible decision as governor of a starving colony planet, resulting in the deaths of half the colony. He has changed his identity, gone into hiding, but his actions have destroyed him. It is only his daughter Lenore that keeps him going now. 

Karen: Lenore, played by Barbara Anderson, is certainly one of the more enchanting women the Captain has romanced. The brilliant Jerry Finnerman, director of photography, again sets a romantic mood on ship. Although there might be some eye-rolling at Lenore's remark to Kirk, "And this ship, all this power, surging,and throbbing, yet under control. Are you like that, Captain?"

Karen: This episode also sees the second (and last) appearance of Lieutenant Kevin Riley (Bruce Hyde), who we met in the episode "The Naked Time." There, a temporarily unhinged Riley drove everyone on the ship nuts by singing -badly - the song "I'll Take You Home Again Kathleen" over and over. Here, he is serenaded over the intercom by Uhura, who surprisingly is playing Spock's Vulcan harp. It's a nice chance for Nichelle Nichols to show off, and again, we get to see some of the crew in their off-duty hours.

Karen: This is also the last episode that Yeoman Rand would appear in. Returning to Marc Cushman's excellent sourcebook, These are the Voyages, Vol.1, there's a complicated picture of what happened to Rand and the actress who portrayed her, Grace Lee Whitney. On the surface, the problem appeared to be financial: Desilu wanted to cut costs, so they were looking at reducing the cast. Rand seemed like an obvious choice. Many were not happy with the character anyway, as she seemed to put a hamper on Kirk's romantic proclivities. But Whitney had stated that a studio executive had made sexual demands of her, which she refused, and she believed that was why she was let go. Like so many things, we may never know the whole truth. But for her final episode, she is barely noticeable in a scene on the bridge. 

Karen: I think there are a lot of effective moments in this episode, which I have to  credit to director Gerd Oswald. Oswald had fled Nazi Germany and came to Hollywood, where he was constantly in work. Before Star Trek, he had helmed 14 episodes of The Outer Limits, so he knew a thing or two about science fiction. The ending, when Kirk confronts father and daughter, is particularly thrilling. When Lenore grabs the phaser and there is a tight focus on her eyes, it appears as if there are tiny stars of light in them -again, I'm sure Finnerman had a hand in this -and her madness is palpable. I love the attention to detail that went into these first season episodes. They weren't just cranking out shows -they were making beautiful shows.


Edo Bosnar said...

No arguments from me about this one - it is indeed a fantastic episode. The story is very well-rendered, almost a think-piece, and pretty much the entire cast put in great performances. I also like the whodunnit aspect.
Interesting to know that Oswald fled from the Nazis, because it always seemed to me that Kodos/Karidian is an allusion to Nazi and other Axis war criminals who fled from Europe, assumed new identities and lived as "respectable citizens" in the Americas, Australia or elsewhere (and who may or may not have been haunted by their unsavory pasts). I know he didn't write the story, but now I can't help but think Oswald wanted to insert that notion into this episode.

J.A. Morris said...

This is an episode I've grown more fond of over the years. Last time my wife and I watched it, we giggled a bit over the poison being delivered via spray bottle. It sort of screamed "low budget." But when I was a kid, I thought it was powerful, since spray bottles were found in every household.

'The Conscience Of The King' was probably my first exposure to Shakespeare. Nice work from Arnold Moss in this episode.

Martinex1 said...

I liked this episode quite a bit also. Here is my newbie rundown:

1) For me the best scene, and one of the best in my watching experience so far, was when Spock confronts Kirk about what he is doing and what he suspects and whether it affects the crew. I love the interchange and particularly when McCoy snaps, "it's his job Jim!" I think one of the most fascinating things about this show is the business politics, squabbles, and workplace tension. The line between friendship and responsibility is well drawn.
2) Kirk keeping his investigation private and the discussions around justice vs vengeance are intriguing. This mirrors ongoing discussions here regarding heroism and altruism vs vigilantism. I think that theme is actually an important one worthy of exploration.
3) I really liked that the staging of the plays was so retro. Even though it is hundreds of years in the future, the thought that art and Shakespearean theatre would persist seemed right. It just struck me as well thought out.
4) I like Star Trek the best when it has good character development and true sci-fi elements. This one traded in the futurism for mystery and I liked it also.
5) I never saw that observation area before. I'm always trying to figure out where things are on the ship and just cannot.
6). I like how the officers are always signing some clipboard manifest. I like to think they are initialing for some mundane purchase requisition...yes, yes, yes more paper cups for the galley! It is just a little nuance in the display and action that again harkens to everyday duties that I really like
7) I like Riley in his appearances thus far. Kind of a goofy character but difference is good.
8) As Edo mentioned, the post WWII commentary was important.

I give it 8 phasers out of 10. Slight deduction for the limited eyewitness thing. That didn't make sense to me.

Garett said...

For me, this is one of the lesser episodes. I do like Riley, and wish we had seen more of him on the series. Uhura singing an original Trek song while Riley gets poisoned is a good scene.

It's hard to get into Kirk's romance with Lenore when she seems to be a troubled individual. Makes sense for her character though, growing up with a lying mass murderer for a father.

Overall I found this one on the dull side, but I haven't seen it in years, so maybe like J.A. I'll find it's better now. When I think of Trek murder episodes, Wolf in the Fold jumps out as a great one.

Pat Henry said...

Kirk as Hamlet. We get an interesting insight into his character, but he is notably reticent and slow to act—a characteristic we've not seen before and one that's at odds with other characterizations of Kirk, ready to make life-&-death decisions with imperfect information, the essence of command.

I like the fact that the horrific crime of Kodos/Karidian proceeds not from evil, but from a calculation to do less harm. Granted, he gets to judge who is harmed, which makes it horrific. But it's a weighing of "least harm" Spock would understand and a calculation Kirk—in other circumstances—might also have to perform.

Edo Bosnar said...

Oh, yeah, almost forgot to mention: I love Uhura's song. (And I have to say, there's something wrong with a world in which she only recorded two albums of music, one in the '60s and one in the early '90s, while Shatner and Nimoy released multiple albums between them...)

david_b said...

Edo, good point on albums... but somehow, the golden vocal styling of Bill Shatner on 'Mr Tamborine Man' and 'Lucy' definitely take us to farther reaches of surrealness than Nichol could ever muster..

(Perhaps the world indeed has yet to recover..? Jury's out on that one..).

Perhaps a more subtle episode, agreed with Garett it's more a mature story, delivered with calm direction and pacing. I felt the beginning was a bit wonky with Kirk in the audience with Leighton, then when we later see the face-patch, somehow the musical cue wasn't satisfying enough with that 'visual discovery'.

As for the ending, it didn't really deliver enough satisfaction for me for investing the last 48 minutes.., perhaps it's due to how Lenore's climatic scene was executed, I don't know. I guess I somehow expected more. Perhaps the Lenore character didn't register or unfold sufficiently during the pace of the story to really have her pain resonate at the conclusion.., I'd have to watch it again.

All in all, Reilly will be missed. Well, at least until Pavel Chekov comes on board, that is.

Kirk said...

What was the default setting on the security guards phasers? Kill or Stun? If it was Kill, why didn't Kodos disintegrate? I loved ST but that kind of stuff bugged me as a kid.

Anonymous said...

One of my favorite episodes - well written, directed and acted. Seeing crew members attending the play was one of those nice bits that gave added depth to the series in the early episodes. Too bad Riley did not go on to be a regular, he was a good character who added a light touch to the usually serious proceedings of the first season.

Anonymous said...

Yeah, this is a great episode (though Lenore chews the scenery a bit). Shatner always seemed to do well in the Shakespearean episodes, being classically-trained himself. The expression on his face as Riley keeps singing is priceless! Too bad this was it for Riley (and Rand, though she did return for some of the movies).

Mike Wilson

pfgavigan said...


Strangely enough, my first exposure to this episode was via the James Blish adaptation of it for the print collection. This gave me a somewhat skewed idea about the episode because Blish was usually working from early drafts of the episodes and, reportedly, never saw the show. Although that last bit could be an internet rumor.

Kirk's last line in the original was of Lenora possibly walking in her sleep, a reference to Macbeth.

Bit of trivia, Riley was only going to be a background character in this one until the actor who originally had the speaking lines remembered that his background had all ready been filled in during an earlier episode enough to conflict with this story. He, honorably, reported this and the roles were switched around to resolve the issue. This I read in an interview years ago in Starlog with Bruce Hyde. How accurate it is I can't say.



Karen said...

PF, during the first season, Blish frequently received early drafts of scripts and Roddenberry and the rest of the staff were just incensed when the first novelizations came out, as the stories did not match up with the filmed shows. At that point they insisted that they see everything going out to Blish to make sure he got the actual shooting script. Considering that changes were often made to the scripts during filming, this made sense.

Martinex, I also liked how Spock had to confront Kirk. You really felt that Spock, in his role as first officer, was looking out for the ship. There were many times especially during the first season when scenes featured Spock in this way - emphasizing how he essentially managed operations on the Enterprise. As time went on, this seemed to occur far less frequently.

And I'm not sure where the observation lounge is. I'd have to pull out my blueprints. I thought it might be over the hangar deck, but maybe it was in the primary hull. I don't recall them ever using that set again.

Anonymous said...

The observation deck is where they stored the phaser rifles! ;)

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