Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “The Conscience of the King”

“The Conscience of the King”
Written by Barry Trivers
Directed by Gerd Oswald
Season 1, Episode 12
Production episode 6149-13
Original air date: December 8, 1966
Stardate: 2817.6

Captain’s log. We open with Kirk and an old friend of his named Dr. Thomas Leighton watching a production of Macbeth. Leighton insists that Anton Karidian, the leader of the theatre company, who’s playing the title role, is Kodos the Executioner. Leighton is so sure that he lied to Kirk, telling him he’d discovered a synthetic food that could end famine, diverting the Enterprise. Kirk is sure that Kodos is dead, but Leighton is convinced that Karidian is Kodos, and he’s going to prove it by inviting the theatre company to a cocktail reception at his house that night. Kirk, though, just goes back to the Enterprise.

Kirk looks up the records on Kodos, who was the governor of Tarsus IV twenty years earlier. He declared martial law and slew half the colony’s population. He then compares Kodos’s records to that of Karidian, only to find that there’s very little in the computer on the actor, and nothing prior to twenty years ago. He calls up pictures of them, and they look similar…

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

His hackles are raised enough that Kirk decides to beam down and attend the cocktail party. He arrives to find Leighton has gone to town to run an errand and also that Karidian refuses to attend parties. Kirk does get to meet and flirt with Karidian’s daughter Lenore, even going so far as to invite her for a walk outside.

Before they can smooch, however, Kirk finds Leighton’s body. He immediately calls the Astral Queen, the ship that is ferrying the acting company to Benecia for their next gig, and calls in a favor with the captain to strand the actors so he can take them.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

Sure enough, Lenore beams aboard and asks if Kirk will give them a lift to Benecia, as they’ve been stranded by the Astral Queen. Kirk demurs, but eventually “gives in” and agrees to transport them in exchange for a performance. He then checks the computer to see how many people can positively identify Kodos. Kirk is one, as is Leighton—another is Riley, whom Kirk immediately transfers to engineering, despite Spock’s reminder that he’ll consider it a demotion, though Kirk refuses to tell Spock why he’s doing it.

Kirk gives Lenore a tour of the ship, including the shuttle bay. They talk in the observation deck above the shuttle bay, where Lenore talks about the power of a ship, pulsing and throbbing under his control. (Subtle, she ain’t.) They finally get the smooch that was cut off by finding Leighton’s body.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

Spock, distressed by Kirk’s seemingly out-of-character behavior, goes to McCoy, but the doctor hasn’t noticed anything wrong. So Spock digs a little deeper, and discovers a commonality among Kirk, Riley, and Leighton: Tarsus IV. A fungus destroyed the food supply, leaving 8000 colonists with virtually no food. Kodos declared martial law, killing half the colony, before relief arrived. Kodos was killed, but his body was never positively identified.

There are only nine eyewitnesses who can positively identify Kodos, and to Spock’s chagrin—and McCoy’s when he shares it with him—seven of them are dead, with Leighton being the seventh. They all died when the Karidian acting company was near. The only ones still alive are Kirk and Riley.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

Riley is stuck in engineering on the night shift. He calls the rec room for some human connection, and gets Uhura to sing a song to him. As he listens to the song, a shadowy figure sneaks into the engine room and squirts something into his drink when he isn’t looking. Riley drinks it and collapses. He’s rushed to sickbay.

Spock and McCoy report to Kirk that Riley was poisoned, and Spock points out that Kirk could be next. Kirk resents Spock poking his nose into Kirk’s personal business, but his anger is short-lived, especially given that Spock is right to be concerned. But Kirk also has no real proof that Karidian is Kodos, and he won’t accuse someone of being that monster without ironclad evidence.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

And then he finds a phaser on overload in his quarters, which he barely finds and disposes of in time. He’s been targeted as well.

So he goes straight to Karidian’s quarters and confronts him. He gives him words to say, words that they have a recording of Kodos saying. Karidian speaks them without even looking, and he and Kirk verbally fence for several minutes. It’s clear that Karidian is Kodos, though he refuses to admit it directly.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

Lenore interrupts them, and tells her father to rest, and then she castigates Kirk, believing his flirting to just be a tool to get at her father. She says there’s no mercy in him, and Kirk counters that if Karidian is Kodos, Kirk’s shown him more mercy than he deserves for all the harm he did. When Lenore asks who he is to say what harm was done, Kirk quietly asks, “Who do I have to be?”

Riley is well enough to be discharged, but Kirk wants him confined to sickbay. Riley overhears McCoy recording a medical log that voices Kirk’s suspicions that Karidian is Kodos.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

The Karidian company starts their performance of Hamlet (with Karidian playing Hamlet’s father’s ghost) just as McCoy discovers that Riley has checked himself out of sickbay—and security reports that the weapons locker has been broken into and a phaser is missing.

Kirk finds Riley backstage. Riley is sure that Karidian is Kodos, but Kirk talks him down.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

Karidian heard Riley’s voice, and he tells Lenore that he is haunted by a role he played long ago. Lenore, however, admits that she killed the seven witnesses and will kill the other two before the night is done. Karidian is devastated—it’s more blood on his hands. Lenore insists it’s to save her father, but the one thing he wanted was for her to be untouched by his past. Kirk summons a security guard to take both Karidians away, but Lenore grabs the guard’s phaser and runs onto the stage. She threatens Kirk, but Karidian jumps in front of the phaser beam. Lenore screams, and has a bit of a psychotic break upon realizing she’s killed her own father.

McCoy provides a medical report for Kirk, and asks him if he had feelings for Lenore. Kirk’s response is to order the ship ahead warp factor one.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Apparently, the only way to be sure that Karidian is Kodos is to compare his voice print to that of a recording they have of Kodos. Because apparently a blood sample or a fingerprint is too complicated?

Fascinating. Spock implies that Vulcans don’t drink alcohol, and McCoy retorts that that’s why they were conquered—a line that is at odds with what’s established about Vulcans in general (especially on Enterprise) and in “The Immunity Syndrome” in particular, when Spock explicitly states that Vulcan has not been conquered in its recorded history. (Then again, McCoy was drinking in the scene…)

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

I’m a doctor not an escalator. McCoy is initially dismissive of Spock’s concerns—though it might just be because he was drunk—but once Riley is poisoned, he starts to come around, though he keeps more of an open mind than Spock does. 

Hailing frequencies open. Uhura’s acceding to Riley’s request for a song probably saves the latter’s life, as they only know he’s been poisoned because the channel is open for them to hear him make chokey noises and can call sickbay. Riley probably would’ve died if he didn’t have the intercom open to the rec room.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

Go put on a red shirt. The guards are put on alert to search for Riley, but it’s Kirk who finds him. The guard Kirk summons to take the Karidians away manages to get his phaser taken from him. Competence!

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Kirk hits on Lenore the microsecond he lays eyes on her, and she flirts right back. It would probably be charming and romantic except for the part about how he was using her to get at her father and how she was plotting to murder him…

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

Channel open. “In the long history of medicine, no doctor has ever caught the first few minutes of a play.”

McCoy just before he discovers Riley is missing, at which point he misses a helluva lot more than the first few minutes.

Welcome aboard. Bruce Hyde makes his second and final appearance as Riley, following “The Naked Time,” and it’s also the final appearance of Grace Lee Whitney as Rand, at least on the TV series (she’ll next be seen in The Motion Picture). David Troy plays Matson, while recurring regulars DeForest Kelley and Nichelle Nichols appear as McCoy and Uhura, and regular extra Eddie Paskey gets a couple of lines of dialogue and a name: Mr. Leslie.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

Veteran character actor Arnold Moss and Barbara Anderson do superlative work as Karidian père et fille, while William Sargent and Natalie Norwick play the Leightons and Karl Bruck and Marc Adams play the other members of the Karidian company.

Trivial matters: Several works of tie-in fiction have dealt with the Tarsus IV massacre that Kirk and Riley witnessed as children, including the novels Final Frontier by Diane Carey and Avenger by William Shatner and Judith & Garfield Reeves-Stevens, and the short story “Though Hell Should Bar the Way” by Greg Cox in Enterprise Logs. Cox also recently wrote a sequel to this episode entitled Foul Deeds Will Rise. Your humble rewatcher also had Kirk be put in a decision to have to declare martial law in The Brave and the Bold Book 1, and his experiences on Tarsus IV made him that much more eager to do it right, as it were.

Kirk refers to the “Star Service,” another of the experimental early names for what was eventually referred to as Starfleet, including UESPA (United Earth Space Probe Agency) from “Charlie X.”

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

The original draft has a Lieutenant Robert Daiken as the other survivor of Tarsus IV, and James Blish’s adaptation in Star Trek 1 doesn’t reflect the change that was made to Riley when Bruce Hyde was cast.

Grace Lee Whitney knew she was fired when she filmed her glorified cameo on the bridge, which would be her last appearance on the series.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

Uhura sings “Beyond Antares” to Riley, a song whose lyrics were written by producer Gene L. Coon, with music by the show’s music consultant Wilbur Hatch. Though she was seen only accompanied by the Vulcan lyre, in truth she was backed by piano (Marl Young), guitar (Laurindo Almeida), and harp (Catherine Gotthoffer). Uhura will be seen to sing the song again, a cappella, in “The Changeling.”

Leighton’s face covering is similar to one used in “The Duplicate Man,” an episode of The Outer Limits that was also directed by Gerd Oswald.

The opening scene is Act II, scene 1 from Macbeth when Macbeth (played by Karidian) murders King Duncan and then meets with Lady Macbeth (played by Lenore). Although in Shakespeare’s play, that murder is offstage, while we see the murder in this particular production.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

To boldly go. “The play is over—it’s been over for twenty years.” The modern viewer has to do a lot of brain-turning-off when watching this episode. It’s the super-duper 23rd century, where they can go faster than light and travel to distant stars and terraform worlds—but the only way to identify someone is by eyewitnesses and an unreliable voice comparison. And a body “burned beyond recognition” is impossible to identify. We’re only five decades removed from when Star Trek was filmed, and all of that sounds hilariously primitive.

But then, it’s the conundrum of watching Star Trek, since, if you take away the transporter and the warp drive, a Manhattan office building is about a billion times more technologically advanced than the Enterprise. Most of the time, it’s easy to suspend that disbelief, but this episode has aged really badly because that lack of prescience of the march of technology and science is integral to the plot.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

However, assuming it doesn’t cut off the air supply to your disbelief, this is a helluvan episode. The script is wise to keep Karidian off camera for the first half, aside from briefly seeing him in the title role of Macbeth. Instead, we only get reminisces of Kodos, first emotional ones from Leighton and Kirk, then a more dispassionate summary from Spock discussing it with McCoy, and then two attempted murders on characters we know and like. (Rewriting Daiken as Riley was a masterstroke, as Riley came across as a very likeable character in “The Naked Time” thanks to Bruce Hyde’s relaxed charm, and using him makes his being poisoned and going after Karidian far more effective.)

By the time Kirk confronts Karidian, we have a very good idea of who and what Kodos is, thus making that confrontation far more powerful. Arnold Moss does amazing work here, because after all that buildup, we’re expecting a villain, and instead we get an old man who wants to put the past behind him, who is desperate to lose himself in other roles in order to forget the biggest role he ever played: butcher.

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

This is one of William Shatner’s finest hours, as he beautifully plays Kirk’s emotional journey. When Leighton first mentions the possibility, he’s dismissive. Kodos is dead, and Kirk had put that trauma behind him—but the seed Leighton planted has grown, and eventually he returns to the party, using his charisma to try to get in with Karidian’s daughter. As the episode progresses he becomes at once more sure that Leighton’s right and less sure that he can do anything about it. Even his irrefutable proof—the voiceprint, which isn’t a 100% match—isn’t enough for him to condemn someone as much as Kodos would have to be condemned.

As good as Moss and Shatner are, though, the bravura performance here is by Barbara Anderson, who convincingly plays Lenore as the charming actor, the ambassador for the theatre company, the potential love interest for the captain, the delusional murderer of seven people, and the batshit crazy nutjob who has a psychotic break after accidentally murdering the very father she was trying to save. All while wearing a different outfit and having a different hairstyle in every scene she’s in…

Star Trek: The Original Series, The Conscience of the King

Still, you just kinda wish they’d compared DNA, y’know?


Warp factor rating: 7 

Next week:The Galileo Seven

Keith R.A. DeCandido‘s short story collection Without a License is now on sale from Dark Quest Books. It includes nine stories from throughout his twenty-plus years of writing, plus brand-new tales in the Dragon Precinct and Cassie Zukav milieus. You can order the trade paperback from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or directly from the author; the eBook edition will be on sale soon.


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