More police procedural than science fiction, The Conscience of the King also presents another side to the brash Captain Kirk, a side which was explored (albeit under extraordinary conditions) in The Enemy Within. Here, we're presented with Captain Kirk as Hamlet, indecisive and hesitant, when confronted with the fact that a mass-murderer from his past is not dead as was thought but alive and on the Enterprise. Maybe the fact that he has developed feelings for the mass-murderer's pretty, young daughter, Lenore, has something to do with his reluctance to act on the evidence that he has gathered? Or maybe the captain realizes that human memory is fallible and if one is to accuse a man of having ordered the executions of over 4,000 men, women and children, one had better be certain that he has the right man.
Eugenics-inspired mass-murderer? Or itinerant stage actor? Or both? After 20 years, it's difficult to be certain...
The Conscience of the King is one of the better of the early episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series, due in no small part to the development of Captain Kirk's character as well as the relationship between Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy. Also of particular interest in this episode are:
- Mr. Spock's concern for Lt. Kevin Riley's emotional well-being when the latter is "demoted" back to engineering and
The 33-year old James. T. Kirk tongue fences with the 19-year old Lenore
The first point is interesting since the logical Vulcan in Mr. Spock shouldn't even have considered the possibility of Lt. Riley being upset at his transfer as being significant; I guess his human half isn't quite as suppressed as Mr.Spock would like to believe. The second point is interesting because of how it illustrates a point I've brought up before: Science fiction tends to reflect the mores of the era in which it was written. Now, I wasn't alive back in the 60's but I'm guessing a man in his 30's pursuing a 19-year old girl as aggressively as Kirk was pursuing Lenore wasn't considered inappropriate back then; if this episode were written nowadays, I would speculate that the screen-writers would opt to age Lenore a few years in order to minimize the ick factor or have Kirk limit his interactions with her to the occasional avuncular pat on the head followed by a lollipop or an ice-cream cone.