Before I go any further, I have to say this: I have absolutely no recollection of this episode. At all. Normally I might remember a couple scenes or something along those lines, but “The Empath” drew nothing but a blank from me. I mean, it’s not a bad episode by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s also one I have no recollection of. Maybe I’ve just never seen it before, or maybe it ultimately isn’t that memorable.
I’m actually leaning towards the latter as I type this up. Good to great episodes have moments that just hit our greater cultural awareness, remind us why these characters are special to so many fans, and have something deep to say about the human condition. Bad episodes can angry up the blood, often by showing us stupid or awful things that hurt worse because we know how much better Star Trek is than all this. But then we have episodes like “The Empath” that are neither particularly bad nor good, and what is there?
The biggest thing to jump out to me is, once again, how the series’ budget cuts affected the show. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are collectively captured by a pair of advanced aliens for experimental purposes. Most of the alien’s lair is a large, dark room, covered in black. There are some set pieces here and there, most of which look like the sort of odd geometrical shapes that dot Mars every time Bugs Bunny had to deal with Marvin the Martian on Marvin’s home turf, and that’s about it. Yeah, there’s a dusty shack/research station at the start of the episode, but most of the episode is in the dark space. I saw this before with “Spectre of the Gun,” but this time the effect doesn’t work so well. At least that episode had an in-story reason for incomplete sets.
But what was the point of this one? After their capture, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy find a young woman who seemingly can’t talk. McCoy reasons she’s an empath. He then names her “Gem” because they have to call her something. Mostly, the character sits there and makes doe eyes at everyone. It’s not a bad performance from the actress, but it also seems so…silly I guess is the best word for it. To the credit of this story, none of the men fall in love with her, but something is going on with her, and that brings in the Vians, emotionally cold aliens who appear to be conducting some kind of experiment on the three men.
They also look and dress a bit like the aliens from “The Cage”.
Now, there is a ticking clock element here because the planet is due to be destroyed by solar flares, like, at any minute, but that plot point rarely seems to come up with any degree of urgency, so I’d just assume forget it.
So, the Vians do stuff to Kirk, Spock, and McCoy, mostly to Kirk, and even give Kirk the opportunity to pick which of the other two will go to the final experiment. The Vians assure Kirk that McCoy would die and Spock would get some brain damage and go mad. He apparently can’t choose himself, so McCoy opts to drug him so he won’t have to. Spock then points out that since he is then in command, he will choose himself. McCoy manages to drug Spock as well, and off he goes. And, as promised, he does nearly die.
But that’s where the twist is. The experiment/test isn’t being conducted on the men. It’s being conducted on Gem. She has some healing abilities, whereby she can take the injuries of others, temporarily transport them to herself, and then everyone gets better. But she also has a self-preservation instinct. Can she overcome that to save McCoy’s life?
Apparently, the Vians can use their great technical powers to rescue Gem’s people, but want to only if her people are rise above self-preservation and become worthy of such a rescue.
And I gotta say…wow. That is, um, some kind of a test they got going on. All the three men did was, ideally, teach Gem about self-sacrifice for others. It more or less works, but she isn’t strong enough to completely save McCoy without falling over herself.
And that would be when Kirk argues the Vians forgot about emotions and that seems to work, so the pair pop out with Gem and that’s that. We get a scene on the bridge where Scotty compares Gem to the pearl of great price, a rare Christian allusion on Star Trek, and then he, McCoy, and Kirk suggest Spock should remind the Vulcans how valuable emotions can be.
Spock says he’ll give the idea the due consideration it deserves, which probably means about as much time as he spent uttering that sentence.
You know, at one point Spock realizes the Vians’ forcefield only contained Kirk, Spock, and McCoy when they weren’t calm, which makes me wonder why it was able to hold Spock at all.
Then again, one Vian shrugs off the Vulcan nerve pinch, so there may be some inconsistencies.
But ultimately, this was a long way to go to see if Kirk, Spock, and McCoy could represent the best of humanity (of course they could) in order to properly impress that Gem woman (which they did) in a very dark room.
You know, I think I know why I don’t remember this one. Even if I did see it before, there really isn’t anything all that different or exciting here. Time to move on…