Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Star Trek--"The Conscience of the King"

Many fans dislike this episode because it features no elements of science fiction. I think they are being unfair. It is one of the best episodes of the season and series overall. It is one of the few times we see a Federation make the wrong moral decision without it being explained away by him being insane. Kodos killed the colonist believing he was saving as many people from starvation as he could. Even all these years later, he still stands by his decision. It is left up to the audience to decide whether he is correct. If only Trek had more instance where they left the audience to draw their own conclusion rather than preaching a gospel of Roddenberry morality.

I even forgive some of the contrivances, such as how odd it is for the two remaining witnesses, Kirk and Riley, to both be serving on the Enterprise there has been quite a bit of criticism leveled at the use of riley here, but I think it is perfect. Riley’s last appearance was a buffoon as he suffered from the intoxicating illness during “The Naked Time.” Encountering Kodos, the man who murdered his family, forces him to grow up and decide not to kill him in revenge. I suspect ifd you did not have the two images of Riley to contrast, the impact would have been lessened.

Compare the use of Riley with the other major attempt at creating dramatic tension which failed as far as I am concerned. It is kirk’s friend, Dr. Thomas Leighton, who calls to his attention the traveling actor Karidian might be Kodos in disguise. Leighton wears a Phantom of the Opera-type mask on the left side of his face, presumably to coveran injury Kodos gave him during the purge. It is never stated that was happened, however. It leaves me to wonder exactly how the colonists were killed. I figure it was a clinical, systematic move, but if Leighton was mutilated then, it had to be some sort of nihilistic mob killing where colony authorities were hacking people up for the sadistic pleasure of it. The episode would have been made better if the actual massacre method had been made clearer. As it is, it appears the writer did not have anything specific in mind.

I forgive all that, because the moral question is the real point of the episode. Was Kdos right to do what he did/ is the fact his daughter could insanely rationalize killing to protect his name evidence he was mad, too? For that matter, was kirk’s romancing her for the sole purpose of discovering Kardidian’s true identity a legitimate tactic? Bear in mind, this is all going on inside the supposedly perfect Federation where idealism and high minded morality is king.

I cannot help but place this episode in the context of history, as well. By the late ‘60’s, the Israelis had arrested, tried, and executed Adolf Eichmann, whom many considered one of the main architects of the Holocaust, and were actively hunting numerous other Nazis believed to be living in South America and elsewhere. There was still a definite sense that perpetrators of the human genocide of world War Ii were still out there, in hiding with help, and convinced their actions were justified. We are still finding out some of these monsters lived to a ripe old age in comfort even today. Witness the discovery of Albert ‘Dr. Death Heim, who died in Egypt in 1992 The news of his living safely there just broke in February, 64 years after the war ended. The allegory of ‘The Conscience of the King must have had a much greater impact then when someone like Kodos could have been exposed at any time.

For the continuity buffs amongst us, the biography of Hoshi sato in the ENT episodes, “In a Mirror Darkly, Part II” stated Hoshi and her family were among those killed by Kodos. Just an odd tidbit to throw in there.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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