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A fitting play within a play

  • May 28, 2008
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Although the premise of this episode has some serious holes in it, the merging of Shakespeare and space travel is a good one. The idea that the plays of Shakespeare would still be popular light years from Earth and centuries in the future is a comforting one. As long as humans still enjoy Shakespeare, it will be certain that they remain human. However, the premise that the governor of a space colony would order the execution of half the colonists during a famine is absurd. Furthermore, the idea that the governor could then disappear and somehow remain hidden as a Shakespearean actor in the Star Trek world is beyond belief.
Kirk is reunited with an old friend Thomas Leighton and the episode opens with them attending a Shakespearean drama. The lead male is an actor named Anton Karidian and Leighton believes that he is in fact Kodos the Executioner, the governor of a colony whose response to a famine was to kill thousands of the colonists. Help arrived much sooner than expected, saving the remaining colonists and somehow Kodos was able to disappear and his body never found. Leighton and Kirk are two of only nine people who remain alive and were eyewitnesses to the slaughter.
At first Kirk does not share Leighton's suspicions, but when Leighton is murdered, Kirk arranges to transport the company of actors to their next destination. When there is an attempt on the life of crewman Riley, a third eyewitness, Kirk confronts Karidian and tries to prove that he is Kodos, although the evidence is inconclusive. At the end, Karidian/Kodos dies trying to protect his daughter from the dark stain of his past.
The major problem with the plot is that it is very unlikely that the soldiers under Kodos' command would ever obey an order to systematically kill thousands of innocent people in order to avoid a famine. This is largely unprecedented, even in the dark and blood stained history of humans on Earth. Secondly, in the highly technical world of Star Trek, medical records would be universal and it would have been a simple matter to verify whether Kodos and Karidian were the same man.
Despite the obvious weaknesses of the story line, the presentation of "The Tragedy of MacBeth" being performed on the Enterprise was heartwarming. Given the plotline of the episode, it was a fitting play within a play.

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Charles Ashbacher ()
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Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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"The Conscience of the King" is a memorable drama about a traveling Shakespearean troupe led by one Anton Karidian (Arnold Moss), who may or may not be the same man as Kodos the Executioner, former governor of a Federation planet who oversaw the mass murder of thousands of people rather than watch them starve to death during a food shortage. (Shortly after the deaths, Federation supply ships arrived and Kodos disappeared, right around the time that Karidian arrived as a classical actor touring the planets.) A nice twist: among victims of Kodos's wrongheaded mercy killings were relatives of Captain Kirk (William Shatner), adding a personal note to the mystery of Karidian/Kodos. Well-written (by Barry Trivers) and sensitively directed by a not-well-known but very interesting Hollywood filmmaker, Gerd Oswald.--Tom Keogh
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Studio: CBS Paramount International Television

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"A fitting play within a play"
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