The Conscience of the King
Yyyyuuuucckkk!! I suppose opinions may differ depending on some people's tastes,
but I have a very difficult time finding anything in this episode that I truly like.
It's not science fiction. It's not action-adventure. There's a mystery which
is solved in the first 8 minutes, after which everyone sits on the answer
waiting for the surprise of the final 4 minutes, so if it's trying to be a thriller,
it's not actually all that thrilling. Its most exciting scene is the phaser
overload sequence, and even that is short and not all that great.
Perhaps where it fails worst is in the philosophical department - it becomes
a cesspool of crime, blame, and Shakespearean vengeance. Where's the
much-touted Star Trek optimism in this one? This episode utterly fails to
deliver all the good things we should expect from Star Trek, and instead feels
as though it's escaped from a medieval insane asylum.
Indeed, everything about this episode makes it feel exceedingly old-fashioned,
and out-of-date. Even the backstory makes one wonder how a future society
of 8000 people would allow the kind of dictatorial leadership that Kodos
reportedly had, because one has to wonder why his subordinates wouldn't have
been appalled enough and free enough to rebel against him.
We open with another atrocity portrayed in a Shakespeare play,
and then we watch Kirk follow his friend Dr. Leighton into a mindset of
accusation and desire for vengeance, which I consider to be the philosophical
opposite of bettering oneself and the rest of Mankind.
Kirk uses the ship's computer for research. Okay, yeah, big deal. He's caught up
with the 20th century. I'm still expecting him to act as though he's in the 23rd.
But then, out of the blue, Kirk leaps into the ickiest romance he will ever
have on the show. Lenore appears manipulative to the point of it turning creepy,
and at "19" years old the age difference between her and Kirk is very uncomfortable.
Indeed, this episode marks a bit of a turning point for the fortunes of Kirk's
romances. This is the first time in the series that he makes an effort for romance
while in his right mind and where there might be something more
to it than escaping the clutches of some antagonist.
And from this point on in the series, not one of his romantic interests will make
an appearance beyond her first episode. Yeoman Rand, who is the only potential
romantic interest for Kirk that does recur, appears here in what would be her
last episode on the series, and doesn't even get any lines today. Even our resident
infamous extra, Mr. Leslie, gets more to say in this one as he takes over
Sulu's usual post at the helm for the episode. The look that Rand
gives Lenore as she comes out of the turbolift onto the bridge is worth a good
chuckle, and then that's it for Rand until the movies and the special Voyager episode.
The trade off from Rand to the insignificant one-offs really wasn't worth it,
and Kirk's romantic aspirations would never again be worthy of the audience's
long-term emotional investment.
Joseph Mullendore's score is a mixed bag as well. Some of the cues are
quite all right, and I particularly like a lot of the ones that got tracked into
"Balance of Terror", for example.
But I was never very impressed
with Lenore's Theme, and most of the cues that incorporate it, or continue
in the same style. Having a prominent string section in a high register,
going all weepy, dates this music terribly as the 1940's idea of romance
and drama, and actually takes us further away from the new adventurous sound
that Trek was pioneering.
Compounding the dated sound of music is another of Uhura's unpleasant vocal
songs, which halts the story and is definitely not the style of entertainment
I tuned in for. Ick.
The one chance for worthiness that this story seems to have grabbed a hold of
temporarily in the middle sections centers on the growth of Kirk's attitude.
He is clearly going dark, and acting strange. Will he be able to let go of blame,
let go of the past, find some measure of forgiveness, and finally appear
to be living in the 23rd century, instead of the 16th? He seems to be getting
some quality prompting from Spock and McCoy....
But these questions are not pursued, and the story's ending is a total cop-out
on these issues, as other people's actions eventually move forward faster and
have an impact that makes any decision on Kirk's part moot. I think the whole
"Can Kirk forgive" angle in this story, which includes his incredible reluctance
to move forward with any actions against the man Karidian who might be innocent,
could work much more powerfully if there were no current murders... if he were
about to spring this old accusation upon him out of the blue with no provocation.
That's something worth questioning and debating. But with the occurrence of
all these new murders related to eye-witnesses who could identify Kodos, I think
Kirk is out of character to not go after Karidian with the same ferocity with which
he went after the salt-vampire in
episode 6: "The Man Trap". For the moment,
Karidian is the prime suspect. They need to be grilling him about his whereabouts
at the time of each murder.
Instead, the episode spends its time and energy on identifying Kodos,
which is really a moot point after the first 8 minutes or so,
instead of staying in the present moment to actually investigate the current
murders. The guests at the cocktail party should all be detained for questioning,
and perhaps whatever is learned from that should occupy screen time instead.
We do have an appearance here by Lt. Kevin Riley, where he
too fails to appear capable of thinking things through as a 23rd century Human.
I don't think the story even begins to entertain the thought that he wants
to arrest Kodos - instead it's vigilante vengeance. We should expect better
from the crew of the Federation's flagship. In fact, it's a bit surprising
that Riley's still on the ship at all, after he nearly destroyed the entire ship
via his misbehaviour in engineering. Has he been demoted at least? Well,
here we learn that he's been a supposedly hard-working good officer, and
only now does Kirk decide to demote him... to engineering. Ay caramba!
They shouldn't let him anywhere near that place, and neither should he be allowed
to take any food in with him. Yet there he is, at the very same console from which
he previously endangered the entire ship... and now he's spilled milk all over it.
How soon before we crash?
Well, this story seems determined to pay homage to Shakespeare both by putting on
several of his plays, and by having its off-stage characters emulate bygone eras
in their actions and motivations, going so far as quoting some of Shakespeare's
lines when talking about themselves. It's no surprise for William Shatner
to appear at home in this style, considering his theatrical background in
Ontario and Quebec, and both he and the actor playing Karidian do manage
powerful performances in their scene together. But it's my contention that
the power of Shakespeare's material is chiefly style over substance, and even the style
is becoming so outdated 500 years on that it needs copious notes and translations
to make real sense. But for substance, the philosophies in Shakespeare's plays,
where the actions speak louder than all the poetic words combined,
and protagonists are as morbid, backstabbing, violent, and as doomed as the
antagonists... those philosophies aren't going to be of much help bettering
Mankind today, let alone in the 23rd century. Better to get your head out of the
1500's, and seek the abundance of more worthy, more loving material that exists today.
And the final bit of action in this episode is one of the sorriest pieces of
cinema ever. Madness prevails, while we are treated to some of the sappiest,
most uncharismatic wailing and whining ever. I'm not sure any actor could
salvage the rubbish being asked for on the page, but it was beyond the actress
We can take a warning from this episode.
The father Karidian has reaped what he has sown: He fed his daughter
Lenore on little else but Shakespeare's plays, and taught her to regurgitate them
on cue. Little wonder that there is little else in her head when she's stressed
in the real world and has to find solutions to real problems. Will the rest of us
learn to study more enlightened works of literature, and have better solutions
primed in our minds when stress puts us to the test? Best way to do that might
be to watch the other 28 episodes of the season on our next loop through the series
while skipping this one.
So, yeah. There it is. This one so easily falls to the very bottom
of my rankings for the first season. It is very, very sub-par for my
expectations of what Star Trek should, and most often does, aspire to be,
and it has remained for a long time the season one story I enjoy the least.
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