Sunday, July 28, 2019

All the Ghosts Are Dead: Star Trek, episode 12, ''The Conscience of the King''

The sweet Lenore hath "gone before," with Hope, that flew beside,
Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride—
For her, the fair and debonair, that now so lowly lies,
the life upon her yellow hair but not within her eyes—
The life still there, upon her hair—the death upon her eyes.
—from "Lenore" by Edgar Allan Poe

Thinkest thou tonight's post be in danger of wild pretense?  Thou hast struck true.

We'll be attempting to catch "The Conscience of the King," a most pretentious episode.  Not, in many ways, a particularly good one.  But might there be more to the story than that, o weak and weary?

Before we go much further, let me state an essential fact: I don't think this episode works.  The plot didn't work particularly well in 1966; in 2019, it barely works at all.  That said, I watched the episode three times during the preparation for writing this post: the original version; the Remastered version; and the original version again for the purposes of note-taking and screencap harvesting.  Unexpectedly, I enjoyed each viewing more than the one before it, and by the time I'd finished taking my notes, I'd found myself rather haunted by the episode.  2139 words' of notes didst I take; that's considerably more than is typical for me in these TOS revisits, which typically involve me jotting down a few reminders for later expounding.  And sure, some of my "Conscience" notes were of the boy-howdy-this-sucks variety; but most were not, and I began to realize fairly early in the process that I was responding to ... what?  To something.  Beyond that, I was not immediately certain; but a response was being had, and that was more than I expected when I began working on this episode.
And I suppose that's the point of this post.  To grasp the coattails of whatever ghost is haunting me at any given moment; to haul that ghost into sight and compel it to account for itself.

I expect some of this is due to the mood I'm in lately.  I'm newly 45, and if it wasn't clear to me before, it's certainly clear now: if youth is sand in an hourglass, I can't have more than a handful of grains that are yet to slip into the bottom chamber.  Perhaps imagining even that few remain is a delusion.  There's no surprise in this, and yet ... somehow, don't we all secretly believe that someone is bound to come along and tip that hourglass over onto its side at the very last minute and keep those remaining few grains in place?  Even when we know better, I think we probably believe it.  I'm sure more such cringe-inducing observations shall be forthcoming as we plow through this episode; seems written in the stars for this one. 
[Speaking of which, sidebar time: I worked on this post off and on for the better part of two weeks, and during that time finally began watching It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia, a show I'd had on my radar for a while but finally got tipped over on by some excellent writeups at Dog Star Omnibus.  The third episode ends in somewhat unexpected fashion with this song, and I'll be goddamned if I didn't just about roll tears.  It's a tacky, awful, and cheesy song; but it's also mind-bogglingly touching and innately truthful.  Welcome to 45, motherfucker!] 
And a mindset like that might well lead one to accept certain elements of "The Conscience of the King," even if there IS an entire half-hour devoted to Lieutenant Kevin Riley delaying taking a drink of milk.

On another note, I'm almost always unable to avoid comparing whatever episode of Trek I just watched to whatever other episodes of Trek I've recently watched.  Recently, I've been making my way through the third season of Deep Space Nine, and that series is just not my cup of Earl Grey.  I know, I know; a lot of people love it.  A lot of people -- including at least one actual friend of mine -- hold that series up as the shining beacon of all Trekdom.  Insert the sound of me making a mouth-fart  noise here. 
Anyways, I recently suffered through the guest-starring-(Tom)-Riker episode "Defiant," and that episode blows.  (It was written by Ronald D. Moore, who, in a curious twist of fate, holds "The Conscience of the King" up as one of the all-time best TOS episodes.)  The next DS9 I saw after that was "Fascination," which takes some inspirational cues from A Midsummer Night's Dream.  Shakespeare all around us!  A better episode, but still not my cup of tea.  So maybe it's merely watching ANY original-series episode in comparison to those DS9s which has put me in a generous mood toward "The Conscience of the King"?  I don't know, man; I just don't know.

I do know that there are numerous deficiencies to be found within the episode.  If one is unable to overcome them to get to whatever meat lies closer to the bone of the episode, I find no fault in that.  That it's ended up working for me despite these problem areas likely says more about me than about the episode.

The largest problem with "The Conscience of the King," as I see it, is its reliance upon there being only eight or nine people who saw Kodos and can identify him.  This is off-the-charts iffy; even from a 1966 standpoint it strains credulity beyond the breaking point.  You're telling me a guy who was the revolutionary governor of an entire colony can only be identified by nine people?  You're selling that, and actually asking people to buy it?

I suppose that if one were determined to do so, one could concoct a fanfic-type explanation.  For example: let's hypothesize that Kodos had plastic surgery to give himself a new face after committing his atrocities, and there were nine people -- including Kirk and Riley, somehow -- who saw him after he took the bandages off.  That'd be silly, but it would at least be an explanation.  Or how about this?  Kodos was a big fan of noted ancient-Earth filmmaker John Carpenter, and wore a Michael Myers mask during his entire term as governor, including during all the killing and whatnot.  But James T. Kirk, who thought the mask looked oddly familiar, ran up to the guy one day and ripped the mask off and took a photo real quick.  He then shared it with all of his Instagram followers, of which there were only eight.

A scenario CAN be concocted to explain Kodos's low recognizeability; not, so far as I can tell, a good one.  And this episode makes no effort to concoct one, be it good, bad, or indifferent.  Nope, the fact of Kodos's de facto unrecognizeability is simply a matter of plot convenience: the plot needs him to be able to travel the galaxy without being spotted, until it can permit someone to recognize him and get Kirk involved. Or, put another way, until this episode begins.

We are also asked to accept the idea that Lenore would somehow be privy to the information of who these nine witnesses were, AND that she would then locate them and book the Karidian Players nearby so as to be able to murder each of them, AND that she would get so incredibly lucky when she tracked down Leighton that one of her two other remaining victims would come to visit Leighton AND THAT HE WOULD UNWITTINGLY BRING THE SECOND OF THE TWO WITH HIM WITH HE DID SO.  I'm being asked to swallow all of that, eh?  At once?

Can't do it.  Nope, sure can't.  And since the premise upon which the entire episode is built is faulty, it critically wounds the entire episode.

The only way to make sense of this, I think, would be to assume that the filmmakers intended for audiences to mentally superimpose a sci-fi rationale for it.  In other words, the 1966 assumption of the filmmakers was that 1966 audiences would find themselves thinking, "Hey, wait a minute ... how would a guy notorious enough to be given the moniker Kodos The Executioner have only been seen face to face by nine people?  That doesn't make any sense!"  The assumption would be that those audiences would then in turn say to themselves, "Well, I guess that's how shit works in the future.  Boy, the future is going to be wild!" 
That's an awfully big set of assumptions.  Having posited them, I reject them; if that's what happened, then the people making those assumptions of their prospective audience were madmen.  The simpler answer seems likely to be the correct one: this is indeed just shoddy writing stemming from the desire to achieve specific effects in the storytelling.  And hey, so be it.  Television used to be -- and in some corners still is -- rife with that sort of thing, so much so that one simply accepted it or chose not to watch television.  I probably shouldn't blame the medium.  But I expect better from Star Trek, and can only shrug in response to any accusations of expecting too much.

Another question: what was Lenore's plan for eventually getting to Kirk and Riley?  She had no way of knowing Leighton would call them to come and visit.  So her current plan was merely to kill Leighton while she was on the strangely-named Planet Q, yes?  This would reduce her kill-list to only Kirk and Riley; but how would she go about getting onboard a starship to finish the job by killing the two of them?  It's very convenient to the plot for them to have just showed up practically on her doorstep, is what I'm saying; doesn't work even slightly.

Yet another question: why does Kirk have Riley (re)transferred to Engineering?  Is it to prevent Riley from potentially seeing -- and taking action against -- Kodos?  If so, is this for Riley's benefit, or for Kodos's?  Or is it to give Kirk himself more time to figure out his next move?  I'm not sure it makes any sense.  But I'm not sure it doesn't make sense, either.  So while this is a big question-mark for me, it's not one I feel sure I can label as a problem.  (Interestingly, this move on Kirk's part kind of puts me in the position of Spock, for whom many of the Captain's actions this episode are totally baffling.  I'm guessing that's not intentional, but I'm happy to accept coincidental positives as well as purposeful ones.)

While I'm complaining about things, might I complain briefly about how stupid the phaser-on-overload sequence is?  It's dumb, guys.  It's real dumb.  Granted, the ship doesn't seem to have a security chief yet, so maybe Lenore was able to just walk into a weapons storeroom and procure a phaser for herself; and then maybe she was able to walk right into Kirk's quarters and put it in the red-alert lightbox.  I guess all of those things live right on the cusp of plausibility.  But they're dumb, and they only play as dumb for me, so there you have it.

Also dumb: Lenore's plan to kill Riley.  Let's come to grips with it.  She -- what? -- found out he'd been stationed in Engineering, so she went down there, sneaked in, found him with a glass of unconsumed milk, stopped what she was doing to go find a spray bottle full of milky-looking poison, then came back and waited for him to turn his back look enough for her to be able to sneak up on the glass and squirt the poison into it?   

That's what we're being asked to believe, more or less?  Granted, Lenore is crazy; so there's no need for her plots to make sense.  But this is so daft that it makes one quite confused as to how she wasn't noticed and apprehended before managing to kill even one victim.

Nah, all of that just sucks.  Like I said, if one were determined to make sense of it, one could get close enough, I suppose.  This is probably true of almost anything, though.  At what point must one admit that one is simply making shit up so as to give oneself permission to enjoy a thing?  Pretty quick with this episode, at least as the plotting goes.  Or so I see it.  As I see it, one simply cannot take this bullshit seriously.
Or can one?  If not, then why, as I rewatched the episode a second time and then a third time, did I find myself beginning to take it seriously?  Not on a plot level, but on a thematic level -- there, it began to stick with me.  As, indeed, it always had through the years; I've always thought fondly of this episode.  Never has been a favorite, but it always got a mental thumbs-up when it flitted through my mind.

And despite the deficiencies in the plot, I think -- somewhat to my surprise -- it is going to stay that way.  There is some interesting stuff going on here beneath the surface.  I'm intrigued, for example, by the running theme pertaining to the use of artifice as catharsis.  As cathartic redemption, even; if not actual redemption.  This is explored primarily through the character of Kodos, who, despite the atrocities he either committed or commissioned, is presented as a relatively sympathetic figure here.
Kodos is said to have taken actions that directly resulted in the deaths of some four thousand people.  These actions obviously haunt him twenty years later; he's gone into acting seemingly as a means of removing himself -- the real self -- from the universe, but in a way that will allow him to act out scenarios in which he can punish himself by proxy.  
I'm a little astonished that the episode didn't make him a snarling villain whom we would wish to see brought to swift and hasty justice.  Some might justifiably see that as a failing of the episode; certainly in 1966 this would have been an urge many audience members felt, considering that at that time there were former Nazis still scattered in hiding around the globe.  (This parallel was pointed out by the Mission Log podcast; I doubt they were the first to notice it, but I believe it was they who brought it to my attention.  I'm not sure it would have occurred to me otherwise.)  The parallel is certainly there, and the episode seems to come down somewhat more on the side of sympathy with Karidian than on the side of rage at Kodos.  Or if not sympathy for Karidian then on the side of wanting to be absolutely certain before diving deep into vengeful action.
I find this to be fascinating.  The episode seems to be arguing that even such a man as Kodos/Karidian may be a human being underneath everything; his flaws emerged from that humanity, as did his crimes, as did his seemingly sincere love for his daughter.  This is not a monster; this a man, and men are equally capable of monstrous actions AND of regretting them.  There is something haunting about that.  Any television show can make you hate Hitler; it takes a Star Trek to ask you to empathize with him as an old and broken man.  I find no fault with anyone who cannot make that leap.  It's a big ask.  
I myself feel increasingly old and broken by the day; regretful of my own past, but determined to see my present through to its end, whatever that turns out to be (hopefully in roughly the year 2074).  If I had the opportunity to run away and join some sort of circus and begin a new life for myself, would I take the opportunity to do so?  I just might, man; I just might.  I've never killed even one person, much less four thousand, so I guess my urge to do so is less pressing than that of Kodos; I hope it stays that way.
It's worth pointing out that we don't find out for sure whether Karidian's mournful nature stems from what he did as Kodos.  That's the implication, but it's equally possible that it comes less from regret for his days as a genocidal maniac and more from grief for having lost a wife.  We assume there was a wife to give birth to Lenore, don't we?  She's nowhere to be found, so I am in mild fanfic territory saying this: but I officially assume that a Mrs. Kodos DID exist, and that she died in childbirth, leaving Kodos Karidian to give a name to the product of their union.  He chose the name Lenore; I assume further that this was a knowing tip of the cap toward Poe, whose grief-filled poem of the same name helped to invest this daughter with a maddened sense of being a living ghost.
And Lenore has done her part to live up to her name in that regard.
More on her in a bit; let's next talk about Kirk himself.  If the episode is surprisingly soft-hearted and understanding toward the plight of Kodos/Karidian, it hardens itself via the tool of James Kirk.  Kirk is initially skeptical of Leighton's accusation, but once he accepts the idea he sets out to prove it.  Or does he?  Kirk's actions are maddeningly opaque during this episode.  What is going on in his mind at any given point in time?  We feel like we probably know at a few points; I'm not sure we do.  Spock -- and, to a lesser extent, McCoy -- seems entirely flummoxed by his captain the entire time, and this, to me, feels like the correct response.
In theory, this is a major flaw of the episode.  What's Kirk's intent?  Does he want to catch Kodos and get him to confess, so that he could then be arrested, tried, and punished?  Does he want to kill Kodos himself and eliminate the need for a trial?  Is his primary interest a romantic one in Lenore that then becomes complicated by his investigations?  Is he actually just conning her the entire time in a search for information about (and leverage against) her father?  Is he being guided by some haunted memory of his past involving Kodos and the genocide?
It could be all of that; it could be none of that.  We are not granted access to Kirk's thought process.  What we are left with in lieu of that is the performance of this guy:
And he is fucking GREAT in this episode.  Sure, maybe he's a wee bit artificial in the seduction scenes with Lenore, but even those moments can be argued into becoming virtues.  For example: if one interprets his actions to be an attempt to seduce Lenore for the purposes of gaining knowledge from her, then the artificiality of Shatner's performance becomes a reflection of the fact that this is a put-on.  If, on the other hand, Kirk is being genuine, then Shatner's performance could signal the idea that Lenore affects Kirk so deeply that it almost literally turns him into a different person when he is around her.  (There would be a nice sort of poetry to that idea, wouldn't there?)
Those scenes aside, though, Shatner walks through this episode feeling very much like a man who has seen a ghost and is not quite sure what to do about it beyond being shaken to the core of his being.
In other words, Shatner is playing Hamlet.  Not for the last time, either.  And this is where the manner in which the episode works upon me becomes clearer: in its evocation of sheer melancholy.  Hamlet, of course, is drenched in the stuff; so, too, is this episode.  Here, it is a vague and unknowable melancholy, but there's power in that; that's arguably what melancholy is.  That feeling that things are wrong, that things may always have been wrong, that things might always be wrong; but that things were also once good, and might be good again.  If none of that makes sense, well, that's melancholy for you; one need not understand it to feel it.
Kirk here is cast not merely in the role of Hamlet, but also (looking forward many years) in the role of V'Ger: he knows not what he needs ... he knows only that he needs.  In Kirk's case, perhaps he thinks that it might be a woman who would take that curse off of him; perhaps that's what's going on with Lenore here.  And we've seen such feeling from Kirk elsewhere already, even this early in the series; he all but screams it into the void during "The Naked Time," so great is his desire for Janice Rand.
Ah, yes.  Janice Rand.  We'll speak of her one final time.  Observe now as she walks onto this stage for the final time and then disappears forever:

(Okay, fine; she can be seen briefly later on in this scene's conclusion.  Don't ruin my pretense with facts!)
She appears and walks by Kirk, who does not notice her for even an instant.  He is busily focusing his attentions on a younger, more available woman who, perhaps not coincidentally, looks rather like his Yeoman.  Rand herself may as well be a ... well ... a ghost, wouldn't you say?  It's tempting to believe that something may have happened as a result of the events of "Miri," in which Rand divulged some of her feelings to Kirk.  What that theoretical thing that theoretically happened might be, I cannot say; but Rand's time onboard the Enterprise has grown short, and sometime between this episode and the next the sand in that particular hourglass runs out.
I don't for one second believe any of that is intentionally being conveyed in "The Conscience of the King," but I do think that it helps explain my own reactions to it.  And even if it's coincidental rather than purposeful, so what?  I think you can see it if you wish to; if the feeling for that plotline exists within you already, it's not much of a stretch to mentally overlay it upon this episode.  Doing so, one might concoct something like this: Kirk has been feeling intense romantic feelings for Janice for months, but knows that he can never act upon them.  This is made worse by knowing that Janice returns those feelings; this is a romantic tragedy walking on four legs throughout the corridors of a starship that is hurtling at immense velocity through the galaxy, skipping from one star to the next in a near-magical manner.  And yet, despite the nearly-magical events of their every day, there is an insufficient remaining supply of magic to allow the two of them to set aside their careers and do what comes as natural as anything.  With a fresh and painful reminder of this -- via the events of "Miri" -- bouncing around in his head, Kirk meets someone who in some ways could be a replica of Janice; not really, but if you squint a bit.  His heart leaps again at the chance to indulge this side of himself if only for a brief time; then he finds out she may well be the daughter of a genocidal tyrant.  He pursues her anyways, telling himself it is for information; knowing better, somehow.  The feeling emerges from him despite his efforts to keep it restrained; even if she is related to Kodos, he could be allowed to love her, if only on a short-term basis.  And so he does, only to find out that she is a madman, as was her father before her; such is the reward for love in the lonely universe of James Kirk.

Again, none of that is in the episode; but nothing in the episode prevents one from feeling it, either, and so the fact that I do feel it brings me to another question -- what's the relationship between my feelings for this quasi-invented story and Kodos's feeling that if he simply wishes hard enough to be Anton Karidian, he can be?

For that matter, what about Spock?  This is a man who is pretending to have no feelings; does the fact that he does so with a dogged determination make it so?

Here's an argument which has always made me nervous: "perception is reality."  Put another way, "the truth is what you make of it."  These are provocative and timely ideas in the year of twenty-nineteen.  Just saying; it's a set of ideas that has been much on my mind of late.  We live in an era of deepfakes in which one might reasonably begin to worry that everything we do, everything we say, everything around us, everything we've ever been taught, is just one big, deep fake.  It is a worrying thought, because it means one might easily give oneself permission to simply disappear inside the fakery and never come back.  I am certain it's already happening.  I'm not certain it hasn't happened to ME.  And I'm horrified to say that I'm not certain that when the opportunity to do so in some meaningful way comes, I'll refuse to take it.  Earlier, when I said I might run away and join the circus, I didn't specify that it had to be an analog one, did I?  Much to my shame, I did not.  I'd like to think I can remember the face of James T. Kirk if this particular when-and-if arises; I aim to, it's just ... I can't be sure.

In such a world, who can say with certainty that a Karidian was truly once a Kodos?  Who is left to remember that Kodos ever even existed?

...for there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.
--Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2)

I could be bounded in a nutshell and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.  (--Hamlet, Act 2 Scene 2)
Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;

Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.

--Hamlet (Act 2, Scene 2)

And now, random notes:

  • The episode begins with a fake/staged murder that might, to first-time viewers (or even forgetful return viewers), seem to be a genuine murder.  This is a fake murder committed by a genuine murderer, however; and the horror on his face when he looks down to see the blood upon his hands may also be genuine.  This opening scene plays with the notion of artifice versus reality.  "Will all Neptune's ocean wash this blood clean from my hands?" cries Karidian/Kodos via Macbeth.  Here is a man who is sailing the ocean of stars, perhaps looking to wash quite a great deal of blood from his own hands; he is, perhaps, finding that even so large an ocean as that is too tiny for such a task.
  • Barbara Anderson is ... memorable ... as Lenore.  Lest that make me sound like a horny creep -- which, to be fair, I am -- let me state for the record that I don't necessarily find her to be attractive as Lenore.  She's got her moments, for sure; but mostly, I find her to be crazy-eyed and worrying, and so Lenore plays on-screen like what she is supposed to be, meaning the casting/performance are effective.  Anderson goes way over the top in her final scene (after healthy shoves in the back from both the screenplay and the direction, not to mention the editing), but even then she's memorable.  Up to that point, she's really rather good.  She won an Emmy for her role in Ironside in 1968, and would be nominated again in both 1969 and 1970.  According to Wikipedia she retired from full-time acting after that series ended, and accepted only occasional episodic work and movie-of-the-week roles.  (One of the latter: 1973's Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, in which she played the best friend of another Trek guest, Kim Darby.)
  • "So ... Lady Macbeth!  Interesting."  Is it just me, or is Captain Kirk completely shite at flirting?
  • Should we assign any particular significance to the fact that Kodos named his daughter Lenore?  The name is arguably most prominent as it appears in the works of Edgar Allan Poe.  There's the poem titled "Lenore," of course, but there's also the Lenore who is mentioned by the narrator of "The Raven."  Both poems may be referring to the same character/person; it's unclear.  What is clear is that in both cases, Lenore is a lost and lamented figure, a young woman whose parting has left the mourner who survives her in a state of abject despair.  From this, I will make a wild assumption: Kodos's wife must have died in childbirth, leaving the literate and mournful (and pretentiously self-aware) Kodos/Karidian with the task of naming his newborn daughter.  If so, this makes Lenore Karidian a literal echo of the past; an echo of a reality of which Kodos has been deprived by cruel fate.  If she is one type of echo of an unfortunate past, she may as well also serve as another: as a reminder of the Tarsus IV days.  Perhaps sensing this on her own, she seems to step willingly into the role; she to some extent assumes the guilt and the mantle of The Executioner, turning herself into an agent who, in defense of her father, begins silencing those who could speak out against him.  There are interesting ideas at work here.  Things happen in too convenient and illogical a manner in the screenplay for them to be satisfactorily developed; but there are interesting grace notes, including the very use of the name "Lenore."
  • "Mr. Spock," says McCoy, "the man on top walks a lonely street."  Is there any scenario in which a parallel could be drawn between Kirk and Kodos using this aphorism?  The screenplay seems to open the door on the possibility of Kodos having committed his crimes only reluctantly, and out of a genuine sense that he was doing the right thing.  This is a worrying line of thought, but I cannot deny that there is a certain amount of logic to it, at least potentially.  We never want to think such things; we never want to believe that someone capable of atrocities genuinely believes that they are doing the right thing.  But in at least some cases, that is almost certainly the truth.  I don't know about you, but that makes me nervous.  Along similar lines, could Kodos's actions be rendered permissible on the grounds of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few?  Boy, I hope not.
  • "My father's race was spared the dubious benefits of alcohol," says Spock  "Oh?" answers McCoy.  "Now I know why they were conquered."  Wait, what?  Conquered by whom?  (Let's assume McCoy was drunk and making no sense.)
  • "Now, come on; have a drink," McCoy says after reminding Spock that the Captain can make transfers as he sees fit.  "No, thank you," Spock replies; Nimoy invests the reply with a sort of weary genuineness that seems to take McCoy/Kelley aback, albeit in a positive manner.  It's a GREAT little tiny moment.  The Spock/McCoy scenes in general are wonderful in this episode.
  • "All this power at your command... decisions you have to make..."  Is it possible that Lenore is considering that her father once had such power?  That she's considering the means to which he put that power to use?  That she's attracted to the potential Kirk would have to exercise such power in a similar but even more destructive manner?
  • I wonder, given the arguments that come from both Karidian and Lenore (who has likely learned it from her father), whether Kodos's revolution was somehow anti-technological in its philosophies.  It's not made explicit in the episode, but it seems a logical enough assumption to make; or if not, it's an interpretation that is certainly possible.
  • "World may change; galaxies disintegrate; but a woman always remains a woman," says Kirk.  To say the least, we've got an old-timey mindset on our hands here.  I assume the 1966 intent was for this scene to play as romantic, especially on a first-time viewing.  If so, Kirk's words are meant to carry a certain amount of wistful weight; we are expected to respond to them as though they have validity, albeit of a metaphorical variety.  It's more difficult (though not impossible) to see the scene that way in 2019.  This type of thinking leads to men treating women as though they are a different species altogether; that way lies danger.  Yet does not romance in some way depend upon a certain degree of otherness serving as the basis for attraction?  I'm no expert in these matters, but it seems to me as if romance always comes down to the desire to answer a question that may well be unanswerable.  With that in mind, does this scene of this episode transgress in any way?  It feels to me like that's a no; in which case, doesn't this metaphor of woman being -- to man -- a mystery greater than that of the stars suddenly become valid again?  Wouldn't it imply that man, to woman, is just as great a mystery?  If so, does this scene all of a sudden begin to actually work?  Nah, not really; unless you assume that the forced and artificial feel of it is due to both Kirk and Lenore trying to manipulate the other.  Maybe then.
  • Lenore is stated to be nineteen; Kirk is, at minimum, thirty.  Does this matter?  Johnny Law says nope, and that's good enough for me.  Anyways, I couldn't land a 19-year-old AS a 19-year-old, so I can't help thinking that if I suddenly found myself a handsome and vigorous man of thirty, and ... you know what?  Not gonna complete that line of thinking.  2019 says to not to.
  • "Caesar of the stars, and Cleopatra to worship him."  Is this a quotation, perhaps in bastardized form?  I'm too lazy to research it.
  • "His history begins almost to the day where Kodos disappeared."  "And you think Jim suspects he's Kodos?"  "He'd better."  Nimoy is great here.  Throughout, but here especially.
  • I'm not sure how I feel about Uhura's song.  Nichelle Nichols sings it beautifully; I think maybe I think she is great and the song itself is shit.  Decent lyrics, though: "I'll be back though it takes forever; forever is just a dayForever is just another journey, tomorrow a stop along the way."  Something of the melancholy nature of the episode is being expressed here; these are lonely people trying desperately not to be lonely.  In such moments, the immensity of space is hinted at; though things happen every week, the show does also occasionally hint toward the notion that existence is primarily a whole bunch of nothing with tiny specks of something scattered throughout it.
  • "You should be told the difference between empiricism and stubbornness, Doctor," says Spock when McCoy insists Riley's poisoning could be an accident.  Spock is on goddamn fire this episode.
  • "Even in this corner of the galaxy, Captain, two plus two equals four.  Almost certainly, an attempt will be made to kill you.  Why do you invite death?"  Spock is on goddamn fire this episode.  Yeah, I know I just said that one bulletpoint ago.  That's how true it is!
  • "Logic is not enough; I've got to feel my way ... make absolutely sure."  Great stuff in this scene, including McCoy's response: "What if you decide he is Kodos?  What then?  Do you play God, carry his head through the corridors in triumph?  That won't bring back the dead, Jim."
  • "You're an actor now.  What were you twenty years ago?" Kirk asks Karidian.  "Younger, Captain," he answers.  "Much younger."
  • I assume McCoy is drunk when he loudly dictates his medical log within earshot of Riley.  Either that or the screenwriter was drunk when he made McCoy do it.  Lots of rum-dumbery in this ep.
  • "We're dealing with a man's life.  No machine can make that decision," says Kirk upon looking at the voice-analysis printouts.  (Printouts!)  There's an anti-technological subtheme running through this episode that, for me, never comes together. 
  • "But you're safe now, father; I've saved you.  Now, no one can touch you; not even Captain Kirk.  See Caesar come?  He's awed by your greatness, your shining brightness.  Bright as a blade before it is stained with blood." Lenore again.  Is this "bright as a blade" idea a quotation?  It feels like it must be, but I can't find any evidence of it, despite having engaged in woefully cursory research on the matter.
  • Speaking of quotations, I should talk briefly about the use of "the conscience of the king" as the episode's title.  This comes from Hamlet, obviously ("the play's the thing wherein we'll catch the conscience of the king); a troupe of players is used to provoke the king into kind of revealing that he murdered Hamlet's father.  The idea being that art can be seen as an expression of deeper truth.  Fiction, after all, is the truth inside the lie; or so it has been said.  I'd argue that the episode's title refers less to the notion that a play will be used to coerce an admission of some sort out of Karidian than to the notion that artifice -- or a lie, if you prefer -- can be used both to enhance a truth and/or to obscure it. 
  • And the "king" of the episode's title can be said to be either Karidian (who is more of an analogue to Claudius, the king in Hamlet whose conscience is being caught) or Kirk himself (whose command makes him a king of sorts in Lenore's eyes, and whose conscience is very much central to the plot of this episode).
  • "Don't you see?  All the ghosts are dead!  I've buried them!  There's no more blood on your hands."  Lenore, yet again.  Boy, she sure does go nuts at the end.  The idea she seems to be expressing is that if the memory of a thing is exterminated, then in essence the fact of the thing having ever happened at all is also exterminated.  In Lenore's view, truth can be removed from existence via a careful pruning of the hedges, as it were.  What a terrifying idea.
  • "They weren't innocent!  They were dangerous!  I would have killed a world to save him!"  More words of horror from Lenore. Speaking of which, it would probably be worthwhile to examine her final lines of dialogue and parse their origins and the ways in which her mixture of them reveals her state of mind.  I leave it for someone more dedicated than me: perhaps even YOU, Future Bryant!
We've tarried long and perhaps to no fruitful end here; let's away to a few comparison shots between the original episode and the Remastered version with its digital effects. 


original -- I love the look of Planet Q here


Remastered -- this digital version of Planet Q is lame


Remastered -- the effects look a bit better in motion, but only a bit.


Remastered -- I like the addition of a starfield outside the windows in this scene


Let's now move into the behind-the-scenes section, beginning with:

The chapter on this episode has a lot of great stuff in it.  At the risk of giving away all of Cushman's goods, here comes a report:

  • As is usually the case, Cushman goes into great detail as regards the early drafts of the story/screenplay.  This one began with writer Barry Trivers, a Hollywood vet who'd worked in both features and television.  His first treatment of "The Conscience of the King" gave the backstory of Kodos's depredations having occurred on Earth itself.  Kirk witnessed the slaughter, which included a provincial Governor who turned out to be Kirk's father.  Kodos was an invader who attempted to conquer the planet, and very nearly succeeded.  Gene Roddenberry, needless to say, vetoed every bit of that.
  • The revised outline that followed this found Trivers moving the action to an Earth colony on an alien planet, but still had Kirk Sr. get killed.  Roddenberry again blocked this shot.
  • I learned that the saying I've been misunderstanding to be "Fire in the hole!" my entire life is actually "Fire in the hold!" and is a naval thing.  This legit blew my mind.
  • We apparently know from memos that Bob Justman early on began questioning whether there was any actual need for Rand to appear in the episode.  Remember, having her there would have cost money; so this is a reasonable thing for a producer to ask.  Roddenberry disagreed that she was unimportant to the story; he went in the opposite direction, actually, insisting that she was under-utilized.
  • The observation-deck scene as Trivers wrote it was greatly expanded from what we saw in the final episode: Rand comes in, needing something signed in her Yeoman capacity, and interrupts the romance between Kirk and Lenore.  Roddenberry suggested that to this could be added an earlier scene in which Rand throws side-eye at Lenore when she sees her on the bridge.
  • Trivers was later commissioned to develop a second episode, which would have been called "Portrait in Black and White" and which sounds absolutely wild.  You occasionally see this cited as being an early version of "Let That Be Your Last Battlefield," but there seems to be no truth to this.  To the extent truth exists, I mean.  Ugh.
  • The lyrics to "Beyond Antares" were written by Gene Coon; the music by Wilbur Hatch.
  • Speaking of Coon, he is the guy who brought this episode into the home-stretch, contributing the final drafts.  One of his changes: he changed a "Lt. Daiken" to Lt. Riley, so as to be able to use Bruce Hyde.  He also reduced the role Janice Rand had in the episode with every revision.
  • The episode's director, Gerd Oswald, was a German who fled his country and the Nazis just before World War II began.  So presumably, the Kodos/Karidian story held great significance to him.
  • The version of the observation-deck scene that Rand appeared in was intended to be filmed, but the day's shoot ran over and they were unable to get to that scene.  The next day, things were already running behind, so an on-the-spot decision was made to shorten the scene by eliminating Rand/Whitney's involvement.  I suspect the James Blish version of the story will include the scene as it was intended originally, so we'll defer a full discussion of the differences to the Blishful Thinking portion of the post.
  • Barbara Anderson had a massive fever blister break out on her upper lip during production of the episode.  They hid it with makeup as best they could and also engaged in some creative cinematography to help out.  You can totally still see it, though; I thought it was a mole or something!
  • I quote Cushman now, on the subject of filming day 4: "Grace Lee Whtiney had been scheduled, with Janice Rand appearing among the audience in the ship's theater.  Her 10:30 a.m. makeup call was cancelled the day before when the revised script pages arrived.  There was no reason to remove Rand from this scene.  No money was saved; Whitney was paid a flat rate.  It was beginning to appear that her character was deliberately being removed from the episode -- and the series."  We know more about this via Whitney's account of her rape by "The Executive," whoever that was.  Cushman clearly doesn't want to engage in much speculation regarding this incident; but he's also clearly determined to point out that Rand/Whitney were sandbagged for no good reason, at least as it pertains to this episode.  He's not wrong.
  • The dress that Anderson wore during the scene in the transporter room and the subsequent one on the bridge was literally pinned on.  Anderson was literally unable to sit down while wearing it, and was worried that it might simply fall off at any time.  If I may interject editorially here, allow me to say that the results were smashing.
  • There was supposed to be a scene in which Karidian was "wandering the corridors late at night, haunted by his dreams"; then, "waking, he overhears McCoy and Spock talking about him."  The schedule overrun resulted in Arnold Moss being unavailable to shoot the scene due to a conflict with another job.  Also lost (although this seems to have been filmed but edited out due to time constraints): a scene between Karidian and Lenore that would have come just before the scene in which the overloading phaser is found.  This is an unfortunate loss; the jump from one Kirk/Spock scene to another that features the phaser makes the presence of the phaser seem even less likely than it should have been.
  • Director Gerd Oswald remembered Bill Shatner as being difficult to work and communicate with.  Barbara Anderson, on the other hand, recalled Shatner as being humorous and fun.  I'm Team Anderson on this one.

And in general, really.  I think she's great in the episode; overwrought, yes, but usefully and memorably so.

Let's move on to our next book:

Allan Asherman has a few interesting thoughts on the episode: "Kodos, in becoming Karidian, has condemned himself to a kind of hell, forcing himself to relive his past life in his performances.  It is no wonder that Lenore Karidian is insane.  She would have little choice in the matter, growing up with a brooding, guilt-ridden father taking refuge in Shakespeare's characters.  Karidian, the actor, was never really alive at all.  A private man who never permitted himself to be seen offstage, he regarded his sole purpose in life as raising his daughter."

Asherman is reading a lot between the lines there.  Of course he is; this episode practically requires such a reading.  I don't find fault with much of anything he says, although I'd personally say that Lenore's insanity is likely more a result of nature than of nurture.  In fact, that thought leads me to another: what if her mother was the genuinely crazy one among her parents?  Is it possible Kodos followed her into revolution in some way?  Did I just try to let Kodos The Executioner off the hook by blaming his wife for being a bad influence?  Oof.

Coincidentally, the chapter of this that I read this time began with some info about Gene Coon.  Shatner is highly complimentary of Coon, who sadly remains perhaps the most undervalued as a Trek Titan.

How about a few quotes from Shatner?

  • "At this point in the story, entering from stage right is a man who was directly responsible for the lion's share of the creative contributions that served toward making Roddenberry's good science fiction show into a frequently great one.  His name was Gene Coon." (156)
  • "Over the years Gene Coon would write many of our very best episodes, and he'd produce even more.  With Coon at the producer's post, Star Trek really began to click, and throughout his association with the show he produced the majority of our most successful outings.  One of Coon's most important contributions to Star Trek can be found in the humor that he infused into every script.  Coon's comic interludes were met with immediate viewer enthusiasm and very quickly became an important element of the series."  (157)
  • "In the past, many" [of Coon's contributions to the series, such as the Klingons and the Prime Directive] "have generally been assumed to be Roddenberry's, and that's simply not true.  Coon, having died in 1973, was never able to give interviews, work the conventions or do the talk shows, and as a result his name and, more important, his creative contributions were lost in the shuffle.  Quite simply, Roddenberry created Star Trek, and Coon made it fly."  (161)  High praise, considering who it's coming from.  Imagine the world in which Coon had lived, and had been able to be a part of the feature films and later sequel shows!  Or perhaps if he had been around, Phase II might have launched and fundamentally altered the trajectory of the series.  Who can say?  It'd be fascinating to know.
  • "I've got to tell you that Gene Coon's real life was every bit as romantic and exciting as his fiction; in fact, he lived through one of the most profound and incredible love stories I've ever encountered."  (163)  You will have to read Shatner's book to find out more about that.

I'd like to take this opportunity to report on some thoughts Quentin Tarantino -- who may or may not be directing the next Star Trek movie -- voiced on William Shatner recently.  From this interview came these thoughts: "I’m a big fan of the show Star Trek.  I really like it a lot, but my portal into that show is William Shatner.  I love William Shatner on Star Trek.  I love his performance as James T. Kirk.  That is my connection.  That is my umbilical cord.  It’s why I like Star Trek more than Star Wars, because William Shatner’s not in Star Wars.   I think it’s one of the greatest performances in the history of episodic television, of a series lead, and rightly so, because very few series leads have ever gotten the opportunity to play all the different wild, crazy things. 'The Enemy Within' alone…"

To recap: "It’s why I like Star Trek more than Star Wars, because William Shatner’s not in Star Wars."

Fuckin'-a, man; fuckin'-a.

And now, several days after I wrote those words, I'm a-gwineter write these:

Having just returned home from seeing Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, I feel motivated to write a bit about Tarantino's filmography.  Not gonna be much; just a wee bit, in the form of a cursory Worst To Best list.

#13: From Dusk Til Dawn --  Arguably shouldn't be on the list at all, since Tarantino didn't direct it.  But this gives me an easy pick for last place, so as much as anything else, that's why I'm including it.  Plus, he wrote the screenplay and co-stars in it, and it just plain feels like Tarantino to me.  (Are we on "perception is reality" again?  Fuck, man.)  I didn't care for it all that much the one and only time I saw it, which was in a theatre on opening weekend.  I've long felt I should give it a second chance, though, and I just might do that this year for Halloween.

#12: Four Rooms -- Another dubious inclusion.  Tarantino directed only one segment of the four; I don't mind the movie as a whole, but both the Tarantino and Rodriguez segments are pretty great.  I've ranked based on the overall film moreso than on Tarantino's own contributions, but even so, this is likely where it'd have landed.

#11: True Romance -- This one might rank higher if I remembered much of anything about it.  This, too, I only saw once.  It's fine, from what I recall, but nothing special.  (By the way, in case you're wondering why I'm not including Natural Born Killers, it's because the finished film bears very little resemblance to Tarantino's screenplay.  That movie, to me, is an Oliver Stone film.  A great one, too; if I had ranked it here, it'd be around #5 or #6.)

#10: The Hateful Eight -- Now, to be clear: I liked the movie.  It's got great performances, as well as numerous great scenes (including one of the most memorable blowjob scenes in movie history).  But much of it felt forced and inauthentic, like somebody's superb-but-nevertheless-shallow imitation of a Tarantino movie.  Apparently there's a longer version that exists on Netflix as a four-part series; how I'm just now learning of this I do not know, but allegedly that is a thing.  Anyways, regarding the theatrical version: you can do worse, but it's one of only two Tarantino movies I've never felt an urge to see a second time.  Speaking of which...

#9: Django Unchained -- Again, to be clear: I liked it.  But I couldn't get my arms around it.  As with The Hateful Eight, I've never felt a strong enough urge to revisit it to bother actually doing so.  I'm sure I will someday; a full-fledged chronological Tarantino deep-dive lies in my future, I've no doubt.  So who knows?  Maybe I'll get my arms around it the second time.

#8: Reservoir Dogs -- Look, it's a great movie, no question.  The gap between #9 and #8 on this list is a jump from, like, three stars to four and a half.  So that's what the rest of this list is like.  The last time I watched Reservoir Dogs, I thought it felt a little stiff in a few places, a little fake, a little rushed.  But that's maybe ten percent of the movie.  The other ninety percent is dynamite.  ("Yer not gonna be Mr. Poiple.  Some udder guy on some udder job is Mr. Poiple; yer Mr. Pink!")

#7: Kill Bill Vol. 2 -- A little too ponderous, maybe.  But shit, man; great movie despite a bit of ponderousness.  It's got numerous standout sequences, and really suffers only by not being the popcorn-flick fusilade that Vol. 1 is.

#6: Jackie Brown -- This would be permanently in my good graces if only for having introduced me to the title song from Across 100th Street, which is astonishingly good.  Much is in this movie.

#5: Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood -- I can't get too deep into what made me love this movie without spoiling it, and I don't want to do that.  So I'll have to just say that the cast is uniformly excellent (Pitt especially, and of course Di Caprio), Tarantino's adoration of the late sixties is evident and maybe just a little overbearing at times.  But I think if you enjoy what he does, you don't mind indulging him a bit; and I was happy to indulge him as much as he wanted to be indulged here -- if you told me he'd secretly filmed nine seasons of a show starring Rick Dalton and Cliff Booth, I'd literally run around celebrating for a while.

#4: Death Proof -- I'm in the minority in loving this one, but I do love it, from top to bottom.  Kurt Russell is awesome, and I fell in plain old love with Zoe Bell, who by all rights should have become a star based on her performance here.  Great music selections, too; that's de rigeur for Tarantino, but I thought the choices were especially great in this one.  (Sidebar: I'm conflicted as to whether I should actually be ranking Grindhouse as a whole instead of Death Proof; since my reflexive action was to do it this way, I'm sticking with it.  But add in Planet Terror and the fake mid-show trailers, and it would cause the ranking to drop one bit.  Wouldn't raise it any, either, though, because these next three films are five-star all-time classics, so far as I'm concerned.)

#3: Inglourious Basterds -- I am giving this one the bronze among the top three, but it pains me to do so.  I didn't love this movie the first time I saw it; I walked out of it feeling weirdly disengaged.  But something about my reaction felt wrong, so I watched it again the next night, and had an absolute blast with it.  That happens to me every so often; I think occasionally a movie just takes more of an effort for me to process.  (See also Interstellar, which left me cold on viewing one, but emotionally devastated me on viewing two.)

#2: Kill Bill Vol. 1 -- For me, this gets close to being perfect.  From beginning to end, it's one scene after another in which Tarantino shows how incredibly firm a grasp he has on every aspect of filmmaking (at least when he's at his best, as he is here).  The music in this one is especially effective, too; I love most of it, but the Zamfir piece that takes the movie into the end credits haunts me.

#1: Pulp Fiction -- For many years, I steadfastly maintained that, no, in fact Forrest Gump DID deserve the Oscars it won.  And I still think it's Oscar-worthy, but the more time passes, the more Pulp Fiction seems like it might have been not merely the best movie of 1994, but of the entire decade.  I'm not sure I think it actually was, but I do think it's one that has to be on the shortlist for consideration.  I can see how some people might find it to be stagey or pretentious or whatever; and if those feelings held sway in a viewer, I can absolutely see how those viewers would hear me talk about this being a near-perfect film and just roll their eyes.  It's a fair counter-reaction.  I can vouch only for me, though, and for ME, this is a movie that seems more incredible every time I see it.  One insanely quotable line after another.  The performances are out-of-this world good.  I'm going to cut myself off, because bed is calling; but know that I could go on for pages and pages about this movie.

With all that in mind, I can see how some might despair at the thought of Tarantino directing a Star Trek movie.  But I'm at the point where I'm going to be devastated if it doesn't happen, and here are a few reasons why:
  • If you take nothing else from Once Upon a Time... in Hollywood, you should take an appreciation of Tarantino's love for the era, of which TOS was a part.  But not only that era; he's also got a love for the fifties and the early sixties, among other eras.  What I'm saying is, he knows the aesthetics of those times.  So when he talks about how big a Shatner fan he is, and how much he loves TOS, I take it to mean that if he made a Star Trek movie, he'd be making one with a TOS aesthetic in mind.  Watch some of his era recreations in Once Upon a Time and tell me the idea of him doing that with Star Trek at feature length doesn't jazz you up.
  • His insistence on it being rated R is a bit worrying, I'll grant you.  But I'm not sure I believe he'd do it purposelessly.  Hey, what if he wanted to make a sequel to "A Piece of the Action" in which Kirk and company returned to Iotia and found that the residents had discovered the films of Martin Scorsese?  That'd be a crazy idea, and you couldn't sell me a ticket to it fast enough.
  • I can also imagine him figuring out a way to convince the Harlan Ellison estate to give him permission to use the Guardian of Forever, and cooking up some sort of wackadoodle time-travel adventure in which Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Uhura, Sulu, and Scotty (and maybe even Chekov) found themselves in some blood-soaked, profanity-laden adventure on the gritty streets of twentieth-century Earth.  Is that Star Trek needs to be?  Probably not, but I see no reason it couldn't work fabulously for a single film.
  • Or hey, how about this?  What if Tarantino cast the Kelvinverse performers as the TOS actors and made a behind-the-scenes movie about the making of Star Trek?  It's ribald and wild enough to be worthy of an R rating, for sure; no Tarantino-esque ultra-violence, but for all I care he could add some in just for the hell of it.  I mean, why not?
Better yet, give the man a dumptruck full of money and talk him into making all of those movies at once.  I'm into it.  Moreso AFTER his newest movie than I'd been before it, even.  But let's face it; I'm in the bag for Tarantino no matter what he does.  He's literally only let me down in comparison to his own films; in comparison to the films of most other people, he's let me down not once.
Take that, Stuart Baird.
I can even imagine a scenario in which Tarantino might want to include the character played by the author of our next book:

We've only gotten about two-thirds of the way through Grace Lee Whitney's memoir; we'll definitely be finishing it, though, despite the fact that "The Conscience of the King" marked the end of her time on TOS.  We'll keep taking it a chapter at a time, and the chapter I read this time tells the story of her post-TOS relationship with Harlan Ellison, best known to Trekkies as the writer of "The City on the Edge of Forever."

A few tidbits:

  • "Harlan and I had a lot in common. We were both Jewish, we were both involved in Star Trek—and we both grew to hate Gene Roddenberry!  I was angry with Gene because I had been written out of the show.  I knew that, whatever the real reason I was written out, Gene had a hand in the decision.  I was always aware that one little word from Gene could have kept me on the show."  (108)
  • Ellison, of course, would grow to hate Roddenberry because of how his original version of "The City on the Edge of Forever" would be rewritten.  Whitney reminded me of a thing I knew but had forgotten: that in that original version, Rand has a significant role and even gets to be something of an action heroine.  She beams down to the planet with Kirk and Spock, and it is she who discovers the Guardians (they are aliens in this version, not a device).  She later beams back up to the ship with Kirk and Spock, and the three of them discover that the Enterprise is now the Condor, essentially a pirate ship.  Rand creates a distraction that allows the two men to beam back down to the planet in the hopes of undoing the temporal damage that has been done, and Kirk tasks her with holding the transporter room as long at it takes.  The implication: he has ordered her to defend the room even if it means her death.  What a juicy part this would have been for Whitney!  Gah!  Man, that's a loss.  In most respects, I think Ellison's original version of the story is overrated; but having Rand be such an integral part, that's top-notch.
  • Whitney and Ellison began dating after she left the show.  Her sons evidently loved the writer, and vice versa.  She feels she sabotaged the relationship by insisting on drinking and smoking marijuana (which Ellison was dead-set against); I feel based on what she says that he might have put a bit more effort in than he did.  But regardless, Whitney accepts the blame as being entirely on her, and her candor is heartbreaking.  "To this day, I'm still crazy about Harlan Ellison," she says (116).  "I wish I had been a good girl with him."  Man.  Man, dude.

In honor of this, here are a few pages from issue #2 of the comic-book adaptation that IDW did of Ellison's original screenplay back in 2014:

"I can, sir."  Man.

And, for good measure, here are two subscriber-variant covers that featured Rand:

We'll get to "The City on the Edge of Forever" in due time, of course.  And that might well end up being a multi-part series; one on the as-produced episode, following the format of these posts; another reviewing Ellison's book on the subject; and a third reviewing this comic adaptation.

We'll cross that bridge when we get to it, though.

For now, let's cross this one:

"The Conscience of the King" is the final of the stories in the first of Blish's Trek books, and as is the case with all the others, there are some interesting differences.  As we've discussed before, that's due to the fact that these prose adaptations were based on drafts of the teleplays that predated the shooting drafts.  Not sure why you'd do that if you were James Blish or Bantam, but I'm sure glad they did; these books serve as a fascinating parallel-universe version of TOS.

Among the differences:

  • Leighton's injuries are more extensive here: his "crippled, hunched body" is in a "lounger" of some sort.  This made me think of the contraption that Pike is in during "The Menagerie," which I don't believe had aired at the time this book came out.  So it's probably just a coincidence, but who knows?
  • Kirk meets Lenore not at the Leightons' party but by going backstage after attending a second performance by the Karidian Players the following night.  This version is a bit less cheesy; there is nowhere near as much awkward flirtation.  However, it's also less effective than the produced version; I'm not sure how to reconcile these two reactions, but that's how I feel about it.
  • I may have neglected to mention it anywhere above, but the name of the planet where Leighton lives and works is apparently Planet Q.  So that's not a difference, but I felt the need to point it out.  Anyways, Kirk learns about Leighton's murder not by finding the body but by Spock calling him while he's flirting with Lenore backstage.  Spock reports that he's had a call from "Q Central" informing him of Leighton's demise.  Not sure why they'd call the Enterprise for that; Mrs. Leighton's request, maybe.  Yeah, that seems likely.
  • Lt. Riley is not present in this version; it is Lt. Robert Daiken who shares with Kirk a past on Tarsus IV.  Daiken, like Riley, is sent back to Engineering by Kirk.  This still doesn't fully make sense to me.  The idea must be that Engineering is such an isolated and lonely place -- remember, these are still the early days of the series/franchise, so many of the dynamics had not been set in stone as yet -- that there's less chance of Daiken seeing Karidian.  I guess that's a reasonable idea; kind of.  But it doesn't come off in the episode, and Blish doesn't clarify it at all.
  • The poisoning of Riley/Daiken is not depicted.  As is typical of these prose adaptations, Blish stays entirely in Kirk's POV.  The poisoning seemingly happens in much the same manner; it's still tetralubisol that gets used.  Kirk finds out about it when Spock sends a literal note to him.  On paper!
  • We get a wee bit more on the anti-technology ideology of the Karidians.  Reference is made to "three-V serials" being a crass modern thing to which live plays are superior.  I hate to think what Lenore would make of the Captain Proton program on Voyager's holodecks.
  • The play at the end, uh, plays out somewhat differently.  Kirk is in the front row of the performance, and sees Daiken coming up behind Karidian.  So Kirk goes to the side of the stage and tries to talk Daiken out of taking vengeance, with Karidian and the other players nervously continuing to perform in the middle of this confrontation.  It's kind of a nice idea; I like the notion of a real-life play between two people sort of serving as parentheses around a staged play.  It doesn't seem very realistic, though, and if the episode had been filmed that way I think it would have been even more pretentious than it already is.  Other than the blocking, though, things more or less play out the same way.

I'm going to also transcribe the entirety of Janice Rand's scene on the observation deck, because it's relatively interesting.  We enter the scene just after the moment in which Lenore has asked Kirk if he is powerful, like his ship:

There was a sound of footsteps behind them.  Kirk turned reluctantly.  It was Yeoman Rand, looking in this light peculiarly soft and blonde despite her uniform—and despite a rather severe expression.  She held out an envelope.
     "Excuse me, sir," she said.  "Mr. Spock thought you ought to have this at once."
     "Quite so.  Thank you."  Kirk pocketed the envelope.  "That will be all."
     "Very good, sir."  The girl left without batting an eyelash.  Lenore watched her go, seemingly somewhat amused.
     "A lovely girl," she said.
     "And very efficient."
     "Now there's a subject, Captain.  Tell me about the women in your world.  Has the machine changed them?  Made them, well, just people, instead of women?"
     "Not at all," Kirk said.  "On this ship they have the same duties and functions as the men.  The compete equally, and get no special privileges.  But they're still women."
     "I can see that.  Especially the one who just left.  So pretty.  But I'm afraid she didn't like me."
     "Nonsense," Kirk said, rather more bluffly than he had intended.  "You're imagining things.  Yeoman Rand is all business."
     Lenore looked down.  "You are human, after all.  Captain of a starship, and yet you know so little about women.  Still I can hardly blame her."

I don't think I'd ever heard the word "bluffly" before.  Thanks, James Blish!  I hope you won't mind me transcribing bits of your story as captions for this slew of leftover screencaps.

" 'A curious experience,' Kirk said.  'I've seen Macbeth in everything from bearskins to unfiorms, but never before in Arcturian dress.

I suppose an actor has to adapt to all kinds of audiences.'

'This one has,' Dr. Leighton said."

"The Leightons' garden, under the bright sun of the Arcturian system, was warm and pleasant; their hospitality, including last night's play, had been unexceptionable.  But time was passing, and old friends or no, Kirk had to be back on duty shortly."

Bryant's note: IS that Arnold Moss as the younger Kodos?  I'm not sure it is.  Looks like him, but my gut tells me they just found a younger lookalike.

" 'Then I'll talk with Lady Macbeth,' Kirk said.

'If you've no objections.  May I come in?'

'Why . . . of course.'  She moved out of the way.  Inside, the dressing room was a clutter of theatrical trunks, all packed and ready to be moved.  'I'm sorry I have nothing to offer you.'

Kirk stared directly at her, smiling.  'You're being unnecessarily modest.' "

" 'But, to play the classics, in these times, when most people prefer absurd three-V serials . . . it isn't always as rewarding as it could be.'  'But you continue,' Kirk said.

'Oh, yes,' she said, with what seemed to be a trace of bitterness.  'My father feels that we owe it to the public.  Not that the public cares.' "

" 'He really died the first day those players arrived,' she said, very quietly.  'Memory killed him.  Jim . . . do you suppose survivors ever really recover from a tragedy?'

"At this hour, the engine room was empty, and silent except for the low throbbing of the great thrust units; the Enterprise was driving.

Lenore looked around, and then smiled at Kirk. 

'Did you order the soft lights especially for the occasion?' she said.

'I'd like to be able to say yes,' Kirk said.  'However, we try to duplicate conditions of night and day as much as possible.  Human beings have a built-in diurnal rhythm; we try to adjust to it.'  He gestured at the hulking drivers.

'You find this interesting?'

'Oh yes . . . All that power, and all under such complete control.  Are you like that, Captain?'

'I hope I'm more of a man than a machine,' he said.

'An intriguing combination of both.  The power's at your command; but the decisions—'  '—come from a very human source.'  'Are you sure?' she said.  'Exceptional, yes; but human?'

Kirk said softly, 'You can count on it.' "


" 'Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord,' Spock said, almost in a whisper.  Both men turned to look at him in astonishment.  At last Kirk said, 'That's true, Mr. Spock, whatever it may mean to an outworlder like you.  Vengeance is not what I'm after.  I am after justice—and prevention.  Kodos killed four thousand; if he is still at large, he may massacre again.  But consider this too: Karidian is a human being, with rights like all of us.  He deserves the same justice.  If it's at all possible, he also deserves to be cleared.' "

" 'Were I Kodos, I would have the blood of thousands on my hands.  Should I confess to a stranger, after twenty years of fleeing much more organized justice?  Whatever Kodos was in those days, I have never heard it said that he was a fool.' "

" 'The lever is a tool,' Kirk said.  'We have new tools, but great men still strive, and don't feel outclassed.  Wicked men use the tools to murder, like Kodos; but that doesn't make the tools wicked.  Guns don't shoot people.  Only men do.' "

" 'Kodos,' Karidian said, 'whoever he was, made decisions of life and death.  Some had to die that others could live.  That is the lot of kings, and the cross of kings.  And probably of commanders, too—otherwise why should you be here now?' "

"In the corridor on the other side of the door, she said in a cold whisper, 'You are a machine.  And with a big bloody stain of cruelty on your metal hide.' "

"She said in a clear, almost gay voice: 'Tonight the Karidian Players present Hamlet—another in a series of living plays in space—dedicated to the tradition of the classic theater, which we believe will never die.  Hamlet is a violent play about a violent time, when life was cheap and ambition was God.  It is also a timeless play, about personal guilt, doubt, indecision, and the thin line between Justice and Vengeance.'  She vanished, leaving Kirk brooding.  Nobody needed to be introduced to Hamlet; that speech had been aimed directly at him.  He did not need the reminder, either; but he had got it nonetheless."

"They would be too late; Daiken had a dead bead on Karidian.  Then the scenery at the back tore, and Lenore came out.  Her eyes were bright and feverish, and in her hand she carried an absurdly long dagger."

" 'No!' Karidian said, his voice choked with horror.  'You've left me nothing!  You were untuched by what I did, you weren't even born!  I wanted to leave you something clean—' "

"She could not hear him.  She was the mad Ophelia; but the lines were Lady Macbeth's."


"In Kirk's ear, McCoy's voice said: 'And in the long run, she didn't even get the lines right.' "

And there you have it, another TOS episode in the bag.  Not a favorite, but one that I've kind of developed an admiration for.  In fact, I enjoyed the writing of this one quite a bit.  Not sure how cohesive it was, but hey, so it goes.

The next time we board the NCC-1701, we'll be quickly disembarking again with "The Galileo Seven."  See you then!


  1. (1) Cool intro, there, with those 2 caps and the Poe poem.

    (2) I can't understand anyone who holds this one up as one of their favorite TOS eps. Whatchoo talkin' about, Ron Moore? Insanity. With the exception of "Emergence" (TNG) Shakespeare hasn't always fit so gracefully in the Trekverse. More often than not (I haven't seen the DS9 episodes you cite, or, I should say, I don't remember them) they just come across like Star Trek VI.

    (3) I like your theories on how to make the "only 8 people saw Kodos" conceit work. As well as the other things that don't add up. But yeah: what sinks this episode is all the stuff like that. Makes no damn sense. Lenore's plan, the only-8-people aspect, Kodos's wanting to go into hiding and living 20 years under this new identity only to more or less be wanting to confess in every scene he has with Kirk, the "here, read this government order so I can have the computer analyze your vocal patterns - and which somehow cannot make a perfect match" to Vulcan being conquered, to McCoy's reading the damn entry aloud in Riley's earshot, to just every last damn thing about it. The only other TOS episode that feels as anti-23rd-century/trekverse as this is "Court Martial."

    (4) The whole thing with Kodos, too... I mean, the conceit makes sense when you think of a remote outpost out there somewhere, but less so as part of an intergalactic network of communications and supplies, etc. But morever, what is the "revolution" referred to in the ridiculous order/note Kirk has Kodos read? Like McCoy's remark about Vulcan being conquered, it just seems like whomever put this episode together has a whole different show bible/ idea of how the future is set up.

    (5) Lenore's plan makes no sense. But hey: crazy. But yeah, another problem with the episode - everything is bigger than the story/ set-up can justify. Whether it's the genocide, the guilt, the revenge plan, Kirk's strange way of going about things, everything just seems like protocol/reactions/set-ups would have actually been different had they actually built this logically from the ground up.

    (6) Unfortunately, I keep getting interrupted, and I hope these comments are making sense. I keep starting a sentence and then getting back to it like 15 minutes later, then stopping again. Apologies - too many damn kids, not enough nannies/ lack of batcave.

    (7) Agreed on Shatner giving a great performance in this episode. He's definitely cast as Hamlet. In a way that's another of the episode's problems - it can't choose and stick to one Shakespeare lane and keeps going between King Lear, Hamlet, Macbeth, etc. Again that STVI vibe comes into play - is any of this used to the effect it should / could be? I think the Shakespeare of 'the conscience of the king' works better than STVI, while we're here. But it's still imperfect and kind of sloppily applied. You chose some great Hamlet quotes though - I'd say the bow / lens you're putting around the proceedings is more interesting/ sensible to me than the one the TOS crew did.

    (8) Interesting ideas re: Rand. That moment exiting the turbolift on the bridge is unmistakable shade from the yeoman.

    1. (1) I knew I needed to grab my Poe off the shelf and read "Lenore," and when I got the line about "the death upon her eyes," I was like, well, there's how THAT post starts.

      (2) I can kind of see it, I guess, if someone saw that as one of their first episodes and was hooked by it that way. Otherwise, yeah, I pretty much agree. On the other hand, you KNOW there must be hundreds of people who claim "The Alternative Factor" as their all-time fave. Bless 'em.

      (3) That's a good point about seeming anti-23rd century. To some extent that's because it was still very, very early days of making the series; I mean, only two episodes had aired by the time this was filming. Or was it that the second aired during filming? One or the other. So they hadn't figured things out yet, which makes me kind of grade on a curve. But only kind of.

      (4) I meant to talk about this in the post, actually -- yeah, absolutely, the Kodos thing only works if remoteness is built into the universe. And the interesting thing about that is that here in these first however-many episodes, I'd argue that that's the idea. There's no sense to this point that the Enterprise is one ship in an enormous organization, one which encompasses hundreds if not thousands of worlds. It feels to me as if it's one of only a handful of vessels patrolling a great many human colonies. We haven't even seen many aliens as yet.

      So this might be one of those things where the conceits of Star Trek simply outran this episode. If so, the episode itself is weirdly blameless in some ways.

      (5) Absolutely. They wrote with the end in mind, and only barely made it make even the loosest sort of sense.

      (6) That was me during the writing of the entire post! Except I was interrupting myself, and lack good excuses.

      (7) The Klingon co-opting of Shakespeare delighted me once upon a time, and looking back at that now, I am baffled at why that was ever the case. It's just so stupid and illogical. But I'm not here to bash that movie -- although I'm ALWAYS here to bash that movie -- so I'll instead thank you for the kind words.

      (8) She may as well hiss.

  2. (9) Great screencaps throughout but some of these cross-fade caps are fantastic. I'd love a poster of all of them.

    (10) That "worlds may change..." line always makes me think of FREE ENTERPRISE in that great scene where Bill is trying to pick up Marlena at the club. I think of that movie a lot more than usual lately as the guy who plays Robert is currently a newscaster in Chicago. I always want to leave FREE ENTERPRISE quotes on his page.

    (11) "I'm not sure how I feel about Uhura's song." It's funny how they felt they had to utilize Nichelle Nichols' lounge-singer persona in some of the first season episodes. This one works better than the ohter one ("Aboard the starship Enterprise...") but I'm not a particular fan of either song or the scenes they're in. But yeah this is one of those "boy that starship sure seems like a 1940s submarine doesn't it?" moments for me that the writers should have re-thought.

    (12) "truth can be removed from existence via a careful pruning of the hedges, as it were. What a terrifying idea." Indeed it is. Zipping my lid re: life in 2019!

    (13) That quote from Tarantino sums it up for me as well. I've been publically supportive of that guy lately, it seems, everytime he comes up. A quick glance at your impromptu best-of list, though, reminds me of how I feel about his work: not positive. I can't engage with the list one-by-one but I'm surprised to see TRUE ROMANCE so low. Of everything the man has written (that I've read, so not counting the last few) that's the only one I'd still rate a positive. That aside, though, I love his Shatner remark, I understand it, I support it, and I echo all your recommendations for Tarantino-Trek.

    (14) I know you can hardly fault the analog past for not being the digital present, but those side by side use-the-computer-to-make-prinouts bits are so adorable. Kirk looking so intently at the screen with the side by side photos especially. "Must... crack... the CODE." Anytime the TOS crew uses that computer or punches up some 60s-style map or graphic I love it.

    (15) That has to suck to be a beautiful actress and have a huge facial blister the week you're filming the work you'll probably forever be known for, given the relative immortality of TOS. Then again, she's lucky she had Freddy Phillips, Bill Thiess, and the gang; she looks beautiful in every shot. So, she did all right, eternity-wise.

    (16) Fantastic screencapping and some cool Blishful Thinking as per usual. I can't say you changed my mind on the episode, which remains among my least favorites and least-TOS-y in my personal estimation, but it was an enjoyable and thoughtful review. I was prepared for more pretense and navel-gazing from your introduction, but you avoided doing both.

    1. (16.5) "I was prepared for more pretense and navel-gazing from your introduction..." Which is not to say I found the intro to be pretentious or navel-gazey, only that you warned us it was coming. False advertising!

    2. (9) Indeed. Those crossfades were on fucking POINT this episode. Well done, editor whose name I do not know!

      (10) I should watch that movie again. Loved it back in the day, but haven't seen it in probably twenty years.

      (11) Good point on the submarine applicability. This is probably another one of those things where the episode really shows something about how the series was largely made by people with a military background. I hadn't thought of that in relation to this episode (or that scene within it); excellent observation.

      (12) I generally try to steer clear of discussing such modern-day things in these posts, but I simply couldn't get it out of my mind while writing this. Gross.

      (13) I remember so little about "True Romance" that I simply couldn't put it anywhere other than where it is. A rewatch is way overdue on that one. I keep fighting off the temptation to get on Amazon or Best Buy or wherever and splurge on a complete Tarantino collection on Blu-ray(s). NO, BRYANT! BAD! MUSTN'T! When I cave, I'll be picking that up, too. NO!!! STOP!!!

      (14) I was charmed by all of that, too. Like, you can imagine a future where a ship can fly at faster-than-light speeds through the galaxy, but you can't imagine a scenario where printouts aren't used? To be honest, that's my kind of futurism precisely. Wonder where I got it from...?

      (15) Indeed she did. And most televisions prior to ... dunno when, but probably the nineties ... would have been too small for it to be visible anyways. But I was glad it was mentioned in the book, just because I noticed it and was all like, "Hey, what's that?"

      (16/16.5) I kind of expected to travel farther down those roads than I ended up going. Probably for the best!

      Thanks, as always, for indulging these overlong and undercooked posts!

    3. (10) FREE ENTERPRISE is by no means a perfect movie. But I've seen it like 50 times and will probably see it 50 more. It tries to be too many things, but, like IT, kinda gets so close to all of them, if not hitting them all 100%, that you really have to tip your cap. But beyond that, it was just the trek parody/Shatner-send-up that was needed at the end of the 20th century. It was just ahead of that trend of celebrities playing themselves as crazy (or crazier) too, which is cool. Trek got there first!

    4. It really was ahead of its time in some ways. I am now resisting the urge to go see if there's a good Blu-ray edition. Nope, not gonna check! NOT GONNA CHECK...!

  3. Hey Bryant, an entertaining read as always. I just rewatched TOS about 3 years ago and it already feels like I need to re-watch it again! All the nuances or other things I've missed...

    I also don't rank this episode among my favorites, but there is definitely something to be said for its... atmosphere? It is somewhat hypnotic to watch. Kind of like The Empath.

    Really looking forward to your coverage of The Galileo Seven, which *is* in probably the top 5 of my favorite episodes!

    1. I can see that. I like that episode a lot, too. So I'm also looking forward to it!

      Your comparison of this episode to "The Empath" works for me. That feels right and accurate, even though I'm not sure I could explicate it.

  4. I came back to have a stroll through the Blishful Thinking and was not disappointed. That sequence of Blish-less caps after Lenore comes to the bridge, particularly Spock's reaction shots, are fantastic. All the Spock reaction shots, actually.

    "In Kirk's ear, McCoy's voice said: 'And in the long run, she didn't even get the lines right.' "

    1. I always enjoy doing those sections, partially to find out what (and how many) screencaps have Blish prose which will accompany them well. Often when they don't -- as with the set of them you mention -- the lack of accompanying text speaks even louder, somehow.

      I take no credit for that. It's kind of similar to how if you put a movie on, mute it, and then put on some incongruous sort of music, there *will* be unexpected synchronicities. You won't have to work for them; you'll just have to be there for them to happen. Gotta love that.

      Plus, anyways, TOS is just SO damn screencap-worthy.