Star Trek TOS: Shakespeare Coming Out of Star Trek’s Ears

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Star Trek: The Original Series

Season 1, Episode 14

The Conscience of the King

Immediately, we learned that the crew went to plays for entertainment — a fact previously unknown to the viewer. Folks in space blew off steam in the same manner as planet Earth as Macbeth was on the docket. Theater within a theater.

Kirk was coaxed into investigating a food shortage on Planet Q, which seemed to be a ruse by Kirk’s friend, Dr. Thomas Leighton. The buddy claimed the actor in Macbeth was actually a mass killer on Earth. Kirk used some fancy side-by-side photo technology to formulate a judgment on the lead. Ever the agent of justice, Kirk must hold Kodos the Executioner accountable if he was doubling as a Shakespearian actor.  

Perhaps reeling from the steam Pike living happily ever after with Vina in virtual reality, Kirk flirted with a blond woman at a party named Lenore. Kirk constantly nibbled at love in the first season — not yet closing the deal through 14 episodes. Outer space — unsurprisingly — created loneliness and an appetite for romantic companionship. 

Just as Kirk got one step closer to kissing Lenora, the submitter of the Kodos tip, Leighton, is found dead, presumably slain. The stakes for the conspiracy theory of Kodos posing as an actor skyrocketed. 

Incidentally, the viewer learned that Spock allegedly doesn’t consume alcohol because his father’s race was immune to the effects. A sober man in space. No wonder Riley pissed him off so greatly in The Naked Time

Speaking of Riley, he returned to the plot. In the background, Spock was suspicious of Kirk’s squiring routine with Lenora. Spock — apparently not a fan of dalliance — believed Kirk’s head was not in the right place. This marked two consecutive episodes of Kirk and Spock misfiring with belief systems. 

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So, Spock took on the case of Kodos by himself — another flex by the Vulcan — while Kirk finally smooched Lenora. Kirk sought love with Kodos as a secondary subplot. Spock wanted to solve the mystery foremost. 

Mid-episode, Uhura serenaded the ship with a magnificent song — a powerful display of airtime with a Black woman stealing the screen. And that’s while was Riley was poisoned (Shakespeare parallel, anyone?), whisking the episode into a full-blown whodunnit. That brief Uhura scene should be remembered as a beautiful moment of Black power. It possessed the vibes of a German woman crooning to soldiers at the closing scene of 1957’s Paths of Glory

Spock accused Kirk of acting with vengeance on the brain, not justice. Kirk acknowledged that Spock was correct, launching into a speech about his past deeds — moments that shaped him as a man. This is a vital motif for Star Trek: Justice instead of revenge. 

Then, a momentous conversation occurred. Kirk verbally squared off versus Kodos on the pros and cons of eugenics, laced with serious Nuremberg undertones. Lenore listened on, siding with Kodos on the mechanization of man as a fault. Her brand of forgiveness and sympathy for Kodos was a bit disappointing. A human’s utilization of tools in space need not be a segue to evil. 

Riley returned from the poisoning, seeking vengeance on Kodos as an on-brand Irishman does. Kodos was implicated in the murder of Riley’s family. 

Lenore wound up clumsily killing Kodos after fully going rogue, intensifying the obvious Shakespeare ties to this episode. Of course, Kirk had sympathy for the disturbed woman, even after she admitted to killing the witnesses who saw Kodos’ crimes on Earth. She was ordered to undergo psychiatric evaluation. 

Regrettably, the woman (Lenora) — who started so promising as a match for Kirk — was used as a crazy plot disruptor. Not a good look for women. Where’s Janice?

Themes: Romance, Eugenics, Justice Above All Else

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).