Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Original Series

"The Conscience of the King"

**1/2

Air date: 12/8/1966
Written by Barry Trivers
Directed by Gerd Oswald

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

When Kirk discovers that a stage actor named Anton Karidian (Arnold Moss) may really be the believed-dead "Kodos the Executioner," known for executing 4,000 innocent people in the midst of a social crisis, the captain launches a search for the truth. In hopes of learning more, he manipulates Karidian's daughter Lenore (Barbara Anderson) into coming aboard the Enterprise, and finds himself beginning to fall for her.

"The Conscience of the King" is like a stage play brought onto a starship, featuring the classic elements of a Shakespearean tragedy rolled into an episode of Trek. The storyline is accomplished through an ingenious device that is wondrous in the way it threatens to bring down the "fourth wall" separating audience and television production, forcing us to consider the connections between classic literature and now-classic popular culture. It's very creative in its use of archetypes, and Moss and Anderson throw themselves into their roles with the exuberance of, well, stage actors.

Unfortunately, this otherwise stellar episode is almost completely undermined by its inappropriate ending, in which a single line of dialog uttered by McCoy obliterates the tragic realization that played out just moments before. Are we supposed to believe that a woman who has murdered seven people will be set free just because she has suffered a great deal? And that she can be released from her tragic burden through some vague but apparent memory alteration? What kind of authority does Kirk have? And how in the world can you have a tragedy that tries to lighten the mood with a cheat ending?

Previous episode: The Menagerie
Next episode: Balance of Terror

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13 comments on this review

Destructor - Tue, Feb 16, 2010 - 5:29am (USA Central)
Just watched 'The Conscience of the King' and was very moved by it. Feel 2.5 stars is way too harsh just because of the ending (it had already been established in 'Dagger of the Mind' that the 23rd century has an altogether different criminal reformation system) when the rest of the episode is so thoughtful and measured. I'd give it 3, easily.
Cleanse - Tue, Oct 19, 2010 - 10:56pm (USA Central)
Re: "Conscience of the King". Watching it again, it seemed to me that McCoy was actually stating that Lenore was so crazy that she thought her father was alive - not that he had wiped her memory. Neither did the dialog to me imply that she would be released. It sounded more like she would receive medical treatment while in custody.

I don't think one ambiguous line deserves to knock down an otherwise great episode.
steamednotfried - Thu, Apr 28, 2011 - 5:15pm (USA Central)
Thank you for your condemnation of the ending of episode 13 - 'The Conscience of the King'. After a very enjoyable episode I was sickened by this ending. I looked on wikipedia and to my dismay found no mention of this. Thank god there are others who can see sense.
Paul - Tue, May 22, 2012 - 7:47pm (USA Central)
By the far the best thing about this episode was the use of "Double" Red Alert. Made me laugh out loud.
Strider - Thu, Jul 19, 2012 - 10:17am (USA Central)
I wonder why Riley got central, plot-relevant roles in two important episodes, but nothing after that.

Anyway, this was a good episode, and I like how when there are concerns about any one in the triad, the other two get together to help him (though it's sometimes in the form of opposition). I love seeing Spock bait and insult McCoy in one scene, then go to him for advice in the next. McCoy does the same thing with Spock--teases him about his logical mindset, then trusts heavily in Spock's intellect.

The relationship of both with the captain is good in this. McCoy defends the captain to Spock and Spock to the captain. Spock is all in Jim's face, and Jim is all, "Stay out of my personal business," but somehow Spock knows when to push, and as he usually does, Jim (after his initial emotional response) acknowledges that both men are right in their concern.

I also love that Spock considers Jim's attraction to the daughter as a motivating force for Jim, but then discards it. Spock knows all about Kirk and the ladies.

Some truly golden Big 3 relationship moments in this one.
Peremensoe - Mon, Aug 20, 2012 - 2:58pm (USA Central)
Jammer and steamednotfried are imagining an ending that isn't there! McCoy says "she'll receive the best of care"--in context, it's clear this refers to a secure psychiatric facility. She was insane to begin her killing, and the death of her father precipitated a final psychotic break.
Brundledan - Fri, Apr 5, 2013 - 3:31pm (USA Central)
Agree with the assessment of others re: McCoy's lines at the end. It seemed fairly obvious to me that what was being said was that Lenore had snapped altogether (the twinkly-eyed extreme close-up of a few minutes earlier had made it quite clear she was crazy) and blocked out her father's death, and that the "care" she'd be receiving would be of the kind the Federation typically provides for the criminally insane, particularly those who have experienced complete mental breaks from reality. She'll be getting the best of care, all right, but it'll be from inside the walls of Elba II. Absolutely no statement or suggestion that she'll be released is made by McCoy, and I'm surprised Jammer heard that in the dialogue.

This is one of the very best episodes of "Star Trek". In terms of dramatic structure it's one of the most sophisticated episodes of the series; in fact it seems to be years ahead of its time, anticipating the character-based dramas of the '90s and afterward (most television of the '60s was more purely plot-driven). Gerd Oswald created a very pensive atmosphere with intimate and subtle camerawork that was rarely seen again on TOS. Joseph Mullendore's score mostly eschewed the musical "stingers" that ended TOS scenes or acts, further enhancing the atmosphere.

Ron Moore has said that "The Conscience of the King" is his favorite episode of TOS, and it's not hard to see why. Its themes of personal obsession, and dark characters willing to do morally ambiguous things, suggest much of what Moore would later do on DS9 and BSG.
Jammer - Fri, Apr 5, 2013 - 8:17pm (USA Central)
One of these days I may have to revisit this episode and see if the ending I saw was really there. I can't remember. I reviewed this episode in 1998, I think.
Moonie - Mon, Sep 16, 2013 - 4:20am (USA Central)
There was no doubt for me that Lenore would receive that "care" in a psychiatric facility.

I didn't enjoy this episode. Karidian wasn't a credible character for me. I didn't really feel that he felt any great guilt about what he did. Also not a fan of the dramatic over-acting.

However, what a classic piece of dialogue:
Lenore Karidian to Kirk: "And this ship. All this power, surging and throbbing, yet under control. Are you like that, Captain?" :))
Lorene - Wed, Sep 18, 2013 - 9:08am (USA Central)
I would never rate this episode equally with Balance of Terror. You give both 2.5 stars. Balance of Terror was one of my all time favorites and this episode was pretty awful. The petulant, childish Lenore drove me to distraction.
DutchStudent82 - Mon, Mar 3, 2014 - 4:17pm (USA Central)
Found it an enojoyable episode.
Though certain plotholes I found there as well, things I would have changed would I have written this.

*A fellow victem of a said crime has expressed clear suspicion.. and than not only trows a party to invite everybody inside the house (knowing that alone is way to risky), but also goes out on a walk ALONE during such a risky endevour. thats insane.
It would be more logically for this person to be PRESENT at that party, make sure he is never alone in a rome and have hired private security (I know I would have) to keep an eye out, as well as install recording devises in the whole place just to be sure.
-> he would still be dead, as that daughter would not have been suspicious and might as well have poisened him, but his dead would be more publicly seen.

*I know this series whas made in the '60s but still I keep hearing the word "DNA TEST" in my head. At te very least fingerprints (easely obtainable), bloodtype and dental data, would have been on record.
=> some medical excuse would have been need to made up to scan him.
(and given that people were dead at 7 locations where they went, I'd say a scan would be needed)

The captain just locates a person out of ways harm, without informing him? sorry not very logically. At least he should have placed guards near him. This would prevent any poisening of him. To allow for storyline, guards give us some privacy, a date and some poison lipstick may be used, or she "I'll bring him his meal, since he can't attent our play tonight".

The attempt on kirk's life was WAY over the top.
Since when does 1 lousy phaser-pistol blow up a whole deck.
they don't in star-trek-enterprise, and they don't do in next generation. Not unless they were placed right next to some very important plasma pipeline or something.
It would have sufficed, to just blow up the captains room. No need to evacuate the whole deck.
Just have spock and kirk dive out the room and close the doors, while the thing explodes, wrekking kirk's room, but thats it.

The way Karidian speaks I agree with him.
There was only food for 4000, and there were 8000 people. I find his case to select the 4000 best options (an he picked the children and the smartests as option) and kill of the rest, so halve may life, compelling and correct.
Better halve lives, than all die, and indeed does kirk not makes this kind of decicions all the time?
And jail is to REHABILITATE, not to VENGENCE a crime. We don't lock up a murderder to have the dead sleep more easy, we lock him up to prevent future dead. If there is no such risk, we should not even put such a person 1 day in jail. If there is no change of the person doing the same crime ever again, a person should not go to jail what so ever.
In reverse even an innocent person that have not done a crime, but has a high profile change to doing one, should be locked up preventively, even though he/she did not do the deed yet.
=
Had there not been 7 people dead under suspicious
situations kirk SHOULD have forgotten the issue.
So after this scene kirk should focus on finding who did the 7 murders, not if he is who he is.

The ending was weak.. with her killing her father.
There were like 50 crew members in the audience watching at her back. one should have stunned her before she even got a change to shoot.
(leaving her alive and proving she did the murdering, and she will go to jail)
->
might use this scene to have her shot kill of that luitenant whats his name (the other witness) giving kirk the complete power to let Karidian go or not as the last witness.

giving a different endscene with kirk and Karidian drinking coffee and having a talk.
Where Karidian pleas to let her free, and takes the blame for what happend, willing to take her place in jail. Just tell them who I am, and let her "escape" nobody would care if the small fish escape did they?
Kirk repeating : can't she killed 7 people, and if she has the change she will kill more tomorrow, without remorse.
Karidian than saying well can you make sure we al least have a shared cell?
Kirk than asking, surely you don't want me to tell the goverment of .... who you are?
As far as I'm concerned you made a mistake but are no risk to society what so ever now, besides who will keep life acting alife, otherwise?
Kiridian saying than : I have been given her and a new life after my mistake, least I can do is give her the last years of my life after hers.
Kirk : I understand, i'll use my influence to make sure you will share the same prison.
Kiridian : one more thing, if it is not to much to ask..
Kirk : you'll say it!
Kiridian : can you make sure we get a prison with a theather stage?
Kirk : I'll try, but why, you can't be especting much audience?
Kiridian : I'll always have the other inmates, and the guards. But the real reason is : Acting has learned me to forget the past, and give back to the society I was forced to hurt so badly, I hope to learn my daughter this spirit too, and who know a few other inmates as well.
Kirk : Well as long as you make sure at least one seat is empty in case I wish to drop by.
Kiridian : I'll make sure of it.

(something like this would make a far better episode)
redshirt28 - Wed, Apr 2, 2014 - 12:44pm (USA Central)
Hadnt seen this ep in a long time so just reviewed it. Great story esp morality of konos? And what he did or felt he had to do. May have been a more compelling story to explore this further and leave out the lenore/hamlet overdrama.

a poster mentioned reilly in only 2 episodes then gone. Never noticed that before. Also these two eps showed reilly at an eng console ive not seen anytime else, while someone was singing over the intercom system. I wonder if these episodes were shot within the same week so they only had to pay reilly actor once? Seems chekov took his spot seas2 on.

anyone who has the dvd check out the part where lenore is exiting the bridge and the look yeoman rand gives her in passing. Classic.

2.5 star about right but I also wouldnt say as good as bal of terror.
redshirt28 - Wed, Apr 2, 2014 - 1:04pm (USA Central)
Dutch go back to the last act of the cage ep when nurse chapels big sis set a phaser pistol on overload. Pike even told the buttheads to beat feet cause that thing was going to take out everything around. Good continuity imo.

Btw you really believe a murderer should not spend one day in jail so long as they never do it again? Your 1st name isnt lenore is it? ;)

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