2011.12.23 in The Original Series
The Enterprise is called to a planet by a scientist friend of Kirk’s, who believes an actor in a touring company to be a war criminal in hiding. The captain connives a way to investigate after his friend ends up dead, and there are shenanigans on board the ship.
We open on a murder, one old man in antique costume kills another; it’s a stage play. The dialog is reminiscent of Shakespeare, but I haven’t seen all of his plays, so I don’t recognize it directly. A dude sitting in the audience next to Kirk swears that the actor is Kodos “The Executioner” – apparently, a person of rather fearsome reputation. Okay, that’ll work.
Kodos, though, is dead, as Kirk tells …uh, Tom (from the audience) – who has an eyepatch over half his head. So Kodos killed like four thousand people on a remote planet, and only nine people saw him, including Tom here and Jim. There’s a cocktail party later, and Kirk declines the invitation. That’s exactly the kind of thing I’d expect our captain to attend: I’d bet he could land a hot actress with so little effort it puts my imagination to shame.
Kirk investigates via computer whether Tom’s accusation is feasible. Apparently he decides it is, because he goes to the cocktail party. Enter the AWotW – a cute blonde who happens to be the suspect’s daughter, Lenore. The play, apparently, was Macbeth (which I have a hard time typing due to high school theater memories); Lenore tells Jim that her dad never socializes or accepts visitors, ever. So he gives up on that tack and starts working his charm on the girl. A man has needs, and a captain doubly so.
They go for a walk outside, which looks exactly like the planet surface from The Man Trap. Out there, they come across Tom’s body. Suspect named? Check. Motive? Check. Now we just need a good old-fashioned investigation. Kirk calls a buddy on a space station and asks him to let the Enterprise perform the pickup he’s scheduled for the acting company. Ah: check.
Lenore beams aboard shortly thereafter, dressed in the gaudiest fur dress and sparkly tights ensemble I think anybody’s ever seen. Of course she asks for transport; Jim plays coy and gets a performance out of the negotiation for passage. I think he’s still working the funtimes angle with her.
Just as Lenore is leaving the bridge, Yeoman Rand steps out of the turbolift and gives her the iciest glare she’s capable of. I just had to point that out because it’s hilarious that Rand is so jealous though she could act on her own desires for Kirk at pretty much any time. Hell, as far as we know, they’ve already hooked up between episodes, and Jim gave her the old brush-off. They say space is a cold, dark place, and you can see that in her face at that moment.
Kirk and Lenore are flirting so much it’s unreasonable. When he asks about her father, it all comes clear: he primarily wants to figure out this Kodos thing, and if he gets to knock a boot or two in the process, all the better.
Spock figures it all out: Kirk and (of all people) Riley are the only remaining eyewitnesses able to finger Kodos in a lineup. Riley has been reassigned to engineering at some point, and is there alone. He rings up the rec room and begs Uhura to play a song over the PA. A shadow moves, and now we know why Riley has seen Kodos: today, his yellow shirt turns red. The shadow uses a squirt bottle (like a regular one in my kitchen) to poison Riley’s chocolate milk. Apparently the squirt bottle has already achieved its optimal design, and after hundreds more years, we won’t be able to improve on it.
Bones and Spock deliver the medical report to Kirk in his quarters, and present Kirk with the assumption that he’s next. Kirk defends his attempt to play this action close to the vest, but is convinced to share his plan. He swears for justice, not vengeance; he wants Kodos in prison and on the news. Suddenly, a strange hum is heard: a phaser is overloading in Kirk’s quarters. It threatens to blow the deck. Kirk finds it in time to throw it down the trash chute. I wonder how that bit of technology is supposed to work.
Kirk confronts Anton and forces him to record an old speech by Kodos for a test against an old voice tape. Anton glances at the paper and recites its contents staring at Kirk; obviously the dead guy planetside was right. Anton continues to deny it, but Kirk needles a confession out of him. Lenore enters from the next room. She’s angry, of course, but that’s nothing new to Jim. She accosts him, he barely apologizes, and he leaves her to seethe.
Bones updates Riley’s log; he’s all better now. Riley overhears the doctor mention that the actor is the bad guy, and hides before Bones learns that Riley heard. The company is putting on Hamlet; Spock brings the voice prints to Kirk; Riley breaks into a weapons locker and out of Sick Bay. So much is happening at once! Kirk isn’t yet completely convinced of Anton’s guilt, and doesn’t want him dead without complete surety. He rushes backstage to stop Riley, and succeeds.
Anton and Lenore finish the scene and she confesses that she’s been the one killing off the witnesses. She’s been trying to make it impossible to prove that he’s Kodos; somehow she’s known the truth for a long time. Hell of an actress, I suppose, better than what you’d usually find in a touring company.
Kirk overhears the confession and gets his chance at justice. When he calls over a guard, Lenore grabs his phaser and makes a play to shoot Kirk – as she fires, Anton/Kodos jumps in front of him to take the phaser beam in his chest. Lenore’s completely stricken but also quite mad – she now speaks exclusively in lines from various Shakespeare plays. I’ve never known anybody to quote, as conversation, more than a single line of Shakespeare (or other pre-written dialog) who wasn’t also at least a little bit crazy in general. However, the speech that results from these excised lines strung together make for quite a compelling character portrayal. The last bit, a few lines from Hamlet, work perfectly in this strange context. Ultimately she gets sentenced to a mental hospital and can’t remember having killed her father.
I’d like to put something funny here but the episode was honestly too good to snark about.
This story could have been told on pretty much any episodic series since television was invented: swap out the starship for a wagon convoy, and put the massacre at a fort instead of a remote planet, and you have an episode of Gunsmoke. Use a cruise ship and a hospital, and you have a particularly dark Love Boat. This is exactly the kind of story with which Star Trek shows its versatility and value as a platform for storytelling. With writing this good, most series would have been elevated: references to the classics weren’t limited to the scenes featuring quips from Shakespeare.
On the surface, this tale is about the value of the presumption of innocence. More specifically, it’s an allegory about hunting Nazis: change the remote planet to a concentration camp and the ship to a town in Brazil, and you can see the fit. Kirk wasn’t so blinded by rage and vengeance to assume Anton was Kodos, he demanded absolute proof. One thing they couldn’t predict in the ’60s was DNA, though, which makes a lot of the story a bit trite; still, how could one be certain that old guy in the woods outside São Paulo was Goebbels? If you just assume and exact vengeance, you could be wrongly marking someone off the list. Proponents of innocent-until-proven-guilty know the exact issue here: an innocent person is dead, and the guilty party is now even better hidden from justice.