Fifty years ago, Gene Roddenberry’s first “wagon train to the stars” began airing on NBC. Star Trek featured a cast of many nationalities, had people of color in important roles, it commented on the social problems of the day disguised in science fiction, and it was the first time we’d seen humanity out in the stars in a ship meant to not only get us to them, but to explore. It was a show about hope for the future, a future that we continue to ape from today with our cellphones, video conferencing communications, and even equipment you can carry around that will tell you the current and future weather conditions.

Was Star Trek perfect? No. Between all the series that they put out from the ’60s, to the reintroduction of the show again with Next Generation in the ’80s, and up through Star Trek Enterprise, there were some episodes that didn’t work, weren’t necessarily poignant, and some that were just not good sci-fi. I’ve seen a number of articles out there listing the great episodes. There are several guides on how to get through the shows as quickly as possible so you get the most for your streaming buck. These guides don’t necessarily go into much detail, though. They list them, but they don’t rate them or give you much info on them. Star Trek Essentials aims to be a little different. I’m going to go over two episodes each week, review them, and talk about what makes them special.

Today I cover two excellent episodes. An actor is suspected of being a mass murderer in disguise, and ends up on the Enterprise. Plus, studying a quasar, Spock is forced to make life or death decisions for his team on a crashed shuttlecraft. As a note, I’m not going with broadcast order on these, but rather production order, although for simplicity’s sake I’ve got the episode number as they appear on Netflix for those that want to watch these.

The Conscience of the King (Season 1, Episode 13)
The Enterprise is diverted off its scheduled course under the promise of a new synthetic food to ease chronic shortages elsewhere. What Kirk finds is his friend, Doctor Leighton, obsessing over an acting troop whose star is Anton Karidian. Leighton believes Karidian is actually Kodos the Executioner, a former governor of an Earth colony where Kodos ordered the execution of half of the population. Of the survivors, only nine of them ever saw Kodos face, Kirk among them, and Leighton is sure Anton is him. Kirk isn’t until Leighton is killed and Kirk tricks the acting troop into hitching a ride aboard the Enterprise so he himself can determine if Anton is in fact Kodos.

When I was younger I enjoyed this, but watching it now, this ends up being a fantastic episode. We get some history on Kirk, sure, but also we get an exceptionally good performance from Arnold Moss as Anton. Spock and McCoy aren’t left sitting on their butts either. There are a lot of allusions to Shakespeare here, especially in the title, and it all works really well together to form a sort of murder thriller set in the Star Trek universe. On top of that there are some great character moments scattered throughout, and Shatner does a great job playing up a Kirk torn over whether or not Anton is Kodos, and what to do about it.

The Galileo Seven (Season 1, Episode 16)
The Enterprise is on a mission to deliver some needed medical supplies when it encounters a quasar, Murasaki 312, which Starfleet has a mandate that says starships need to study these. With High Commissioner Ferris breathing down his neck about the supply delivery the Enterprise has five days to make – but can be there in three at warp one – Kirk sends out the Galileo shuttlecraft to study the phenomenon. Spock and his team quickly lose control as the quasar wreaks havoc with the shuttlecraft and it makes a crash landing on a planet within the effect, making it impossible for the Enterprise sensors to find them. With limited time, hostile aliens, and a shuttle crew that’s borderline mutinous, Spock must make decisions that will save the crew before they’re stranded as the Enterprise will have to leave in under forty-eight hours.

We get a major Spock episode here with lots of back and forth between him and his emotional human crew. McCoy gets some good digs in, and it’s apparent the writers are starting to figure out that it’s a great dynamic. Spock has to make a lot of choices, none of them good, to try to get the Galileo back into space. The remastered version of this episode has some great new effects shots, and the quasar is quite breathtaking. The script is solid, with a lot of great, tense moments, and this easily makes its way onto my favorites list.