Star Trek 3.12: The Empath

The EmpathThe Empath” is a weird episode that looks very much like they ran out of budget to build sets. Most of the episode takes place in an interior that is obviously a sound stage with a few props and no walls – the scene just fades away into unlit blackness in the distance.

It begins with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy (being the three most expendable members of the crew) beaming down to a planet to evacuate a research station because the planet’s sun is about to go nova. But the researchers have vanished, possibly something to do with the unnatural 4 shadows cast by the unusual lighting on the planet’s surface. After a quick look around, they vanish as well, mysteriously reappearing 121.32 metres below the surface of the planet, according to Spock’s tricorder. Here they meet the mute Gaussian girl of the week, who inhabits this mysterious empty subterranean sound stage, with only a prop lounge to sit on.

It turns out she (dubbed “Gem” by McCoy, who takes a fancy to her) is an experimental subject being used by a pair of sinister big-brained rubber-forehead aliens, the Vians. They torture Kirk and McCoy to see how Gem reacts. She turns out to be an empath, having the psychic power to heal by transferring wounds to herself. Basically, the Vians want to see if Gem is self-sacrificing enough to deserve to live, whereupon they’ll save her entire planet and species from the nova. Not that the existence of another populated planet in the star system was mentioned before.

Throughout this we’re treated to Scotty back on the Enterprise saying of Kirk, “He’ll be more worried about us than we are about him,” followed by a hard cut to Kirk being tortured, with his shirt off naturally. Kirk then has to choose which of Spock or McCoy gets tortured next. McCoy gets not one – “I’m a doctor, not a coal miner” – but two – “I’m not a mechanic!”

Kirk sums up with an empassioned speech about the importance of emotions over implacable indifference that convinces the Vians to stop torturing everyone and just get on with saving Gem’s people. They agree and vanish with Gem, and return the crew to the Enterprise in an ending that seems way too rapid, given the amount of padding earlier in the episode. The question of what the Vians actually do with Gem and her people is never actually answered – for all we know they buggered off and murdered her off-screen. Oh well, never mind, Kirk, McCoy, and Scotty end the episode with a biblical reference and head on to their next adventure.

Well, it’s kind of a blah episode. Honestly, I was just bored by it. By the end I didn’t really care what happened any more, if only they could get out of that unlit sound stage. Gem really only came across as sympathetic because she was the Girl of the Week and therefore you knew she was supposed to be. And the main plot element was never really resolved unambiguously at the end of it all.

Tropes: Ontological Mystery, Ludicrous Precision, Cute Mute, Gaussian Girl, Girl Of The Week, My Brain Is Big, Rubber Forehead Aliens, The Empath, Psychic Powers, Empathic Healer, Secret Test Of Character, Humanity On Trial (variant species), Description Cut, Shirtless Scene, Sadistic Choice, I’m A Doctor, Not A Placeholder (twice!), Talking The Monster To Death, Emotions Vs Stoicism, Screw You, Elves!, Padding, As The Good Book Says.
Body count: Two scientists from the research station, found dead in giant test tubes in the wall-less sound stage.

4 Responses to “Star Trek 3.12: The Empath”

  1. The two scientists they were looking for are found dead early in the episode, before the credits if I recall correctly, stuffed in giant test tubes. So there would be a body count of two.

  2. Oh right, forgot about that!

  3. Tah says:

    Just came across this. Thought you might enjoy it given your discussions of the original episodes here.

  4. Mark Simpson says:

    The Empath was one of four TOS episodes that were banned in the UK for various reasons ( the others being Miri, Plato’s Stepchildren and Whom Gods Destroy) so I never saw these on broadcast TV. In fact, I didn’t see The Empath until a couple of years ago. Having read William Shatner’s autobiography, I saw this episode as being ” well. we’re probably going to be cancelled, most of the writing talent has already jumped ship, why don’t we do a little Brecht-in-the-Park episode”. The whole thing felt a little like a bad Stanislavski improvisation. Less mentioned, the better. Could be said of the whole third series. Though, strangely enough, my earliest memories are of watching colour TV (at my uncle’s house – we had black & white) of the Moon landing and The Cloud Minders episode. But what do I know – I’m watching Blake’s 7 at the moment – and enjoying it!!

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