Sunday, February 7, 2010

The Original Series, Season 1: The Conscience of the King

The Original Series, Season One
"The Conscience of the King"
Airdate: December 8, 1966
13 or 80 produced
13 of 80 aired
Click here to watch on


Captain Kirk thinks he found the infamous Kodos the Executioner living under an assumed identity as an actor in a traveling troupe. Twenty years ago, Kodos seized control of the colony on Tarsus IV. The colony was facing a food crisis threatening its 8,000 residents. Using his own version of eugenics, he selected 4,000 colonists to die so that the other 4,000 might live. When Federation forces eventually retook the colony, they found only a corpse burned beyond recognition. Only 9 of the surviving members of the colony saw Kodos, and they are being killed one by one. The two remaining eye witnesses to the massacre are one of the Enterprise's engineers...and her captain.
You'd think by the 23rd century we'd have an effective spot remover...


Kevin: This is a pretty good story. It's not the most science fiction story of them all, but it's still an interesting one that presents plenty of moral wrangling and angst for the crew. This episode obviously recalls modern incidents of alleged Nazis living in the west, found sometimes decades after World War II. Kirk has two basic questions that drive the episode. First, how certain does he have to be that this actor is in fact Kodos before he can act? Second, what will he do once he is sure? His Federation training and ethics say that revenge is wrong, but what appropriate response could there to be to what Kodos has done? I think the issue is explored well overall using Spock and McCoy for foils to Kirk, a tactic the writers return to repeatedly, and when I say that this time, it's a compliment. Spock and McCoy are two opposites of a spectrum with Kirk taking what he needs from both to succeed.

Matthew: The other interesting aspect of the setup is again the utilitarian question, which has so animated some of these early episodes. Is Kodos really that bad, for having saved thousands of lives by the deaths of thousands of others?

I agree that there is not a whole lot of science fiction here. A colony could have been on earth just as well as in the stars. About the only science fiction question is one of whether computers can identify people after the passage of time.

Kevin: My only problem with the plot is that neither of these questions does Kirk actually end up having to answer. Kodos admits his identity, even if his admission came in iambic pentameter, and even if he didn't, Lenore's actions are their own confirmation. Lenore then kills her father in an attempt to kill Kirk. I think it would have raised a pretty good episode to a pretty great episode if we were left unsure if Karidian was Kodos or if Kirk was forced to either let the man he knew to be Kodos go free or kill him. It was a great set up, but it let Kirk off the hook.

Matthew: I agree that the resolution wasn't as satisfying as it might have been. But the episode also got something else done - it gave Kirk a backstory. Now, the story would be rather nebulous for a long time, perhaps forever in terms of canon. But simply suggesting that the superhero of our tale has a real life, real motivations, potential fears and weaknesses, goes a long way towards making him real to us.

Kevin: One thread I found more effective than I thought I would was Kirk's manipulation of Lenore to get to Karidian. I think both Kirk and Lenore played the scenes well and Kirk was appropriately conflicted about using her.

Matthew: The thing I love about the early Kirk is his willingness to manipulate people in order to get at the truth, to ensure the success of a mission, to save lives. It is in a smaller way the same play on the utilitarian questions. The ends do justify the means, at least some time, for Kirk. The question of his character is where the line is drawn. The place he sets the line defines him as a captain, above and against other captains portrayed in the series.


Kevin: I'm going to get the meta-acting right out of the way now, and say I find it both comforting and sad that dime-a-dozen overwrought Shakespeare productions are still the theatrical norm in the future. Beyond some scenery-within-the-scenery chewing of the MacBeth production, the acting her was pretty good. Lenore has pretty good chemistry with Kirk and it makes those early scenes really effective. Kodos, in or out of character, is not the best actor, but he does at least a passable job of giving Kodos some depth.

Matthew: I liked Arnold Ross as Kodos/Karidian. He has a rich, sonorous voice, and cuts an imposing figure. These qualities can go a long way in a Shakespearean performance. Acting didn't always rely on the Stanislavsky method - stage presence used to rule the day. Ross has it.

Kevin: It was nice to see Kevin Riley one more time. It was nice to give another layer to a secondary character. It's a shame he quit acting; I think he would have made a good addition to the cast. Plus he was cute. Can't discount that.

I liked Lenore's early scenes, and most of her breakdown was pretty good. I found the excessive Shakespeare quotes a little...well...excessive. And Tom Leighton's wife was clearly some producer's wife hired to read cue cards. Eesh.

Matthew: Overall, the acting was very good throughout. Nichelle Nichols turns in another fine singing performance with "Beyond Antares." I found most everyone believable, even the wife. She acted like someone who doesn't act. Works for me.

Production Values

Kevin: The staged sets seems hokey, but that may work inside the episode. I thought that Leighton's mask was a little too Phantom of the Opera for its own good, but I did like they only left it implied that Kodos was responsible. I thought it make it creepier and belied Kodos' own protested belief he was acting for the common good. I liked the observation deck. It was nice to see a window on the Enterprise.

Matthew: Double Red Alert! There's nothing to really fault in this show, since there were almost no special effects. About the only aspects worthy of note were the house on the planet (which looked fine, in a nice 60s sort of way) and the observation deck, in which Kirk and Lenore share a scene. I wonder if they struck that set, because it would have been nice to see more often (I'm not sure, it may have made one more appearance in "The Mark of Gideon").

Kevin: Also, I don't know if this more properly goes in production or acting, but we are treated to another performance by Uhura, and I really liked this scene a lot. Nichelle Nichols has a beautiful voice and knows how to strike the right emotional chord. The part I like the most was Kevin Riley leaning back in his chair with his hands folded behind his head, looking up, but not anywhere in particular, and listening to Uhura's voice waft over the intercom. The visual and the song evoked this image of listening to the wireless in the 1920s or 30s. It was a sweet scene (up to the murder attempt with a spray bottle) and I love the juxtaposition of such an old scene in a future setting.


Kevin: Overall, this was a very good episode. It's an interesting premise that was well acted and staged. The only thing that keeps it from a five was that the episode spent all this time exploring this conflict and then didn't make him resolve, instead letting the plot solve it for him. Still, that's a relatively small quibble in an otherwise solid outing. It a gets an enthusiastic 4.

Matthew: I've got to go with a 3. It doesn't have a tremendously strong sci-fi premise. It could have been done on almost any other series. It functions as a good entertainment. It might be an above average episode of another show. But it's average Trek to me. This gives us a combined total of 7. I think that's a fair rating.


  1. In rewatching this, I've spotted an inconsistency. The plot hinges on Kodos killing the remaining eyewitnesses, who "are the only ones who saw him with their own eyes." But the ship's computer has a file photo of him, and he was governor of course. I don't know why it didn't occur to me before.

    1. Matthew--isn't it the case that the photos shown (and this was well in advance of facial recognition software) are of these men twenty years apart? Can any two photographs taken that far apart identify someone with certainty?

      I thought the Big Harumpf came as a result of the following: It's clear Kirk himself cannot identify Karidian as Kodos with certainty, so why kill him? And wouldn't the threat to Riley cease to exist once Riley meets Kodos? If he's not certain, that's presumably enough for Karidian (or Lenore) to believe Karidian to believe the uncertain men pose no threat. And if Riley does identify Karidian as Kodos, take him into custody, put Riley into protective custody, problem solved.

      I wanted to mention also that Barbara Anderson's remarkable performance as Lenore is a close thing. I was surprised the director, Gerd Oswald, let her go as far as she did in portraying a madwoman. I think it works, but it's dangerously close to comic at the end. The enunciation of " awe of your greatness" is something else, indeed.

      ---Blair Schirmer

  2. "I think it would have raised a pretty good episode to a pretty great episode if we were left unsure if Karidian was Kodos or if Kirk was forced to either let the man he knew to be Kodos go free or kill him. It was a great set up, but it let Kirk off the hook."

    This is too common in Star Trek, and wildly, painfully common in episodic television, where having recurring characters doing anything committal apparently violates the unwritten Writers Handbook.

    I just watched Mark of Gideon (and just before that, CotK), and that very promising episode peters out largely because Kirk doesn't have to do anything. The plot resolves everything for him, including his sexual relationship with Odona, and we're left with the least inspiring goodbye ever filmed.

    To writers (and producers): Let your characters do stuff. Even nasty stuff! We'll generally forgive them, and you'll have much, much better stories as a result.

    --Blair Schirmer