And here we are with the first reference to Shakespeare within Star Trek, which is so important in basically all the incarnations of the brand. For example, think about that masterpiece of Star Trek VI: The undiscovered country and about the various occasions in The next generation in which we say Shakespearean interpretations by Data, Picard and even Q. But let’s talk about The conscience of the king which is, by the way, a great episode!
The USS Enterprise heads to planet Q on the call of Dr. Thomas Leighton (William Sargent), an old acquaintance of Captain Kirk, who has more old acquaintances scattered around the Galaxy than hair on his head. Leighton immediately informs Kirk that he has summoned him because he’s convinced that Anton Karidian (Arnold Moss), currently on the planet with his theater company during an interplanetary tour, is actually Kodos, the former governor of the colony of Tarsus IV who years ago killed 4 thousand people in cold blood just when both Leighton and Kirk were there. The handsome captain is not at all convinced by this hypothesis, as the body of Kodos was found charred when the authorities realized what he did, but above all the Captain is distracted by the blond daughter of Anton, Lenore Karidian (Barbara Anderson), with whom it’s quickly love at first sight. But just as the two are walking hand in hand they find Leighton’s body lying a few steps away from his house during the reception party he organized to get closer to Karidian.
What to do? Kirk decides to investigate the incident but without using any official channel. To keep his business secret, he doesn’t hesitate to treat both Spock and McCoy very rudely, but the two stubbornly manage to understand what’s going on. In fact, it’s clear that Karidian is actually Kodos! Furthermore, only nine of those surviving the Tarsus IV massacre had seen Kodos’ face, and, of these nine, seven (including Leighton) died recently and the last two are both aboard the USS Enterprise. One of course is Kirk and the other is Lieutenant Kevin Riley (Bruce Hyde). Meanwhile, Kirk manages to get the entire theater company on board his ship and sends Riley to the engine room for no reason whatsoever. He could have protected him a little better, wasn’t he? At this point it’s clear that the working hypothesis is that Karidian is killing one by one the last witnesses of his massacre! But no, Kirk seems lost between thoughts kept for himself and Lenore’s courtship.
In any case, after a murder attempt against Riley using some strong poison (one of the many Shakespearean elements of the episode, which is nothing but a Shakespearean tragedy set in the world of Star Trek), Kirk decides to confront Karidian and there are no doubts: he’s Kodos. But the final struggle between the two won’t be free of surprises… in other words, there’s a plot twist that I actually understood at the tenth minute (not because I’m a genius, it’s really clear from the beginning), but that’s ok.
Which are the good things of The conscience of the king? There are many. There are also bad things, but just a few. Let’s start with the latter: the predictable twist is one of them. And the acting of Arnold Moss is very exaggerated: I understand that he’s very theatrical when he plays characters in Macbeth or Othello, but he is also very theatrical when he plays Anton Karidian outside the stage: as mentioned, the episode is Shakespearean, but I think that Moss went over the line! And the love scenes between Kirk and Lenore are very sugary, it’s really funny to watch them in 2019 with the woman playing the part of the lady who wants her prince to be charming and powerful.
But there are also several well-done things: Spock and McCoy continue to grow both as characters and as in their friendship. The plot of the episode is compelling and it’s fun to follow the investigation to understand what happened to Kodos and what’s the logical thread relating the twenty-years-old massacre to the recent death of Leighton and the attempted murder of Riley. The dialogues taken directly from Shakespeare work inside a story deliberately over the top and with crazy characters that would actually work in a tragedy by the same English author (the motivations of Karidian/Kodos revealed during the finale don’t make much sense to our XX century ears). And the music, very classic, is perfect to accompany the action scenes as well as the most romantic ones.
Finally, I think this is one of the episodes with more rhythm so far in the first season of Star Trek. It has no dead moments, each scene serves the story doesn’t slow down the action nor the development of the plot. Even the song sang by Uhura here does not have a mere filling value (as in Charlie X), but it’s the perfect soundtrack for the mysterious murder attempt aboard the ship! The conscience of the king deserves to be seen! Ciao!
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