“The Conscience of the King” – TOS 1X12

Kirk is on a colony planet, taking in a production of Macbeth with Doctor Thomas Leighton, who is convinced the lead actor, Anton Karidien, is a former brutal dictator called Kodos the Executioner.

Kirk says Kodos is dead, but if Leighton’s right, it would be a big deal because Kodos killed 4,000 people. Only nine survivors, including Leighton and Kirk, are eyewitnesses who could identify Kodos.

Leighton’s motive is personal: when he turns we see that he has a giant black bandage covering most of the right side of his head. Kodos has apparently done this to him, though what “this” is is not entirely clear. 

Doctor Thomas Leighton with a black bandage on the left side of his face

At a party for the troupe, Kirk meets Karidien’s daughter, Lenore, who is in a secret competition with Janice Rand for most awesome hairstyle. They flirt and Kirk invites her out for a walk. Just as she’s about to kiss him passionately in the moonlight, Kirk looks over and sees a dead body: Leighton. To give him a chance to investigate, he calls the troupe’s transport Captain and tells him not to come pick them up.

The next day Lenore, wearing a short, off-the-shoulder, fur babydoll dress and iridescent tights, beams up to see Kirk. She tells Kirk they’re stranded and asks for his help. In the background Spock is watching and being all eyebrow-raisey and judgey.

Lenore and Kirk on the bridge

Coyly, Lenore offers to make a deal: the troupe will put on a performance for the crew in exchange for a ride.

“You’ve got me backed into a corner. The men would never forgive me if I deprived them of your performance…and your presence,” Kirk replies.

Underlying assumptions: the crew = men in Kirk’s mind, the men on the ship are straight and naturally interested in looking at a beautiful woman, the women on the ship are straight and so naturally uninterested, and Lenore is totally cool with the inevitable ogling to come.

With Lenore gone to rally the troupe (har har), Kirk finds another Kodos eyewitness, Kevin Riley, is stationed on the Enterprise.

When Lenore gets back, Kirk takes her on a romantic tour of the Enterprise. She’s flirting big time, asking if he “ordered the soft lights especially for the occasion.”

I’ll pause to say at this point that I think it sucks nearly every woman on the show is into Kirk, but props to the writers for making Lenore someone who at least takes initiative…and is a master of romance novel-style innuendo:

“This ship…all this power surging, throbbing, yet under control. Are you like that, Captain?” she asks while caressing the bulkheads. He moves closer and she asks him to tell her about the women in his world:

“Has the machine changed them, made them just people instead of women?” she asks.

“Worlds may change, galaxies disintegrate, but a woman always remains a woman,” he replies.

This kind of sexy speculation on women’s innate woman-ness leads to a passionate embrace.

Lenore and Kirk kiss

Meanwhile Spock has started poking his pointy ears into Kirk’s business and he actually figures out more than Kirk has, because he hasn’t been out seducing the guy he’s investigating’s daughter.

Riley is down in Engineering, grumpy and bored. He calls the “rec room” and asks Uhura to play him a love song on her awesome Vulcan harp.

Uhura plays the Vulcan lyre

As she plays and sings an ethereal song (demonstrating mad singing skillz), Riley listens.

A mysterious hand with a 20th century spray bottle comes in to the frame and sprays something in Riley’s drink. As Uhura finishes the final notes, Riley drinks and begins to choke.

A gloved hand sprays something into a cup

With Riley unconscious in Sickbay, Spock confronts Kirk. They’re interrupted when Spock hears what sounds like the hum of a phaser about to overload and blow up the whole deck. Kirk finds and deactivates it, but the close call convinces him to confront Karidien.

Karidien won’t really answer Kirk’s questions but on Kirk’s way out Lenore comes in, having overheard the conversation.

“You talked of using tools. I was a tool, wasn’t I? A tool to use against my father,” she demands of Kirk. I am totally rooting for her at this point.

For some reason they don’t cancel the play. It’s only just begun when a barely-recovered Riley tries to kill Karidien in revenge for the death of Riley’s parents. Kirk catches Riley backstage and orders him back to sickbay.

At intermission, Karidien has an attack of conscience but Lenore tries to reassure him by saying Kirk and Riley will soon be dead…like the other survivors she killed to protect her father’s reputation.

Aw, crap. And I was just starting to like her.

Kirk comes back and Karidien starts to confess. Lenore has a total meltdown. She seizes a phaser and runs into the audience. As she pulls the trigger, Karidien leaps in front of Kirk and is killed.

Lenore Karidien holding a phaser

“Father! Father! O proud death/What feast is toward in thine eternal cell…etc.” she recites, sobbing and keening, then laughing hysterically as Kirk apprehends her.

What we learn in this episode:

  • Women must be women, somehow distinct from being “just people”
  • If one of Kirk’s love interests seems to have her shit together, she is probably secretly the villain
  • Spray bottle technology has already reached its peak

Bechdel-Wallace Test: Fail

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