63 "The Empath"

(airdate: December 6, 1968)

Writer: Joyce Muskat
Director: John Erman

Gem: Kathryn Hays

Lal: Alan Bergman

Thann: Willard Sage

Stardate: 5121.5

Captain's Log: The Enterprise is sent to check up on a research team stationed on Minara II, watching as Minara prepares to go nova. There's no sign of the team, and evidence suggests that they were attacked and transported away - a fate which also befalls Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. They find themselves in a dark underground chamber, along with a mute empath called Gem, being held prisoner by two Vians. The Vians are running scientific experiments: experiments that involve testing the landing party's resolve as well as physical torture. The reason for this experiment is to see if qualities like self-sacrifice can be passed on to Gem; the Vians have the power to save only one species before Minara goes nova, and they need to make certain that Gem's people are worthy candidates for survival. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy successfully convince the Vians that Gem has passed the test, and the Vians depart with Gem, the experiment concluded.

Whoops!: When we first see Gem, she switches between laying on the bed and on the carpeted platform, depending on the shot.
     It's not exactly a problem for the episode as shown, but the definition of "empath" being used here (i.e., one capable not only of experiencing another's emotions, but also able to completely take on their emotions and physical injuries, healing the other person in the process) is an incredibly extreme one - and yet McCoy acts as if it's the most natural explanation in the world. ("It fits, Jim," McCoy says. "She must be an empath.") Compare with Star Trek: The Next Generation's Deanna Troi, who is said to have empathic abilities but at no point shows herself capable of healing others by absorbing their injuries.
     So is the Vians' plan really just to wait for three months for other people to come along, torture them to the point of death, and hope that Gem will sacrifice herself to save them? Doesn't that leave an awful lot to chance? What if no one came by, either a) to look for the unresponsive research team, or b) at all? (Mind, the script attempts to paper over this at the end, after Kirk marvels at "that fantastic element of chance that out in limitless space we should come together with Gem," by having Spock state that "the element of chance can virtually be eliminated by a civilization as advanced as the Vians." But that still seems like a crap plan.) And how is this the best way to see if Gem is capable of understanding and performing self-sacrifice? Or is the point only for her to sacrifice herself for people she's only known for something like 95 hours (judging from the solar storm comments)? Either way, it's a bizarre experiment for the purely intellectual Vians to have devised.

Classic Lines: "The best defense is a strong offense, and I intend to start offending right now."

Cringe Lines: "We're not going to hurt you," Kirk tells Gem while pointing a phaser at her.

Library Computer: Minara II is a planet in the Minarian star system, with some vegetation and an orange sky. Minara itself showed signs of preparing to go nova, so a research station was set up on Minara II to study the star. The research station was a domed shape, with an area underground to work in, and was manned by two researchers, Drs. Linke and Ozaba. [Based on comments by the Vians], there are other inhabited worlds in the Minarian system, including one populated by Gem's people [who are presumably a race of empaths like her, but this is never made explicit]. A lifeform like Gem's would not be capable of evolving on Minara II.
     "Gem" (McCoy's name for this person, which everyone else (including the Vians) subsequently adopts) is a young humanoid (though not Homo sapiens) female with short brown hair, wearing a sleeveless blue catsuit with a pink chiffon-like robe over top, with delicate patterns woven into the fabric. She is also wearing a large decorative belt over her catsuit. She is naturally mute as well as empathic - in fact, she is so empathic that she can not only understand others' emotions and pain, but she can take that pain over herself, manifesting as identical physical wounds on her body. This is because her nervous system is so highly responsive that it's able to actually connect with another's. The process isn't easy for her, however, and it's possible she could die if she supplied another with sufficient life support.
     Gem is being held captive by the Vians [rhymes with "lions"], an advanced race of beings in long silver robes, with large, domed, bald heads, marked by a distinctive ridge along the sides of their foreheads, across their brow, and around the sides of their eyes. They are an incredibly advanced species (as one of them, Lal, tells Kirk, "Your civilization is yet too immature to have knowledge valuable to us") with impressive technology, including the ability to trap people in rainbow-patterned force fields and to transport people across distances almost instaneously with a matter-energy scrambler (a process involving a high-pitched whine that doesn't register on a tricorder and a flash of orangy-red-yellow-and-black-splotchy-patterned light right before transport). They've developed to become creatures of pure intellect, capable of understanding empathy (in the conventional sense) but not actually experiencing it. The Vians use a small handheld device as a weapon and apparently as a transporter [judging by Spock's modification of it]. This device isn't a mechanical one, but rather is operated by the brain pattern of the person using it. They have the ability to use this device to heal someone seriously injured (although it takes Kirk shaming them into it for them to do so).
     The Vians are conducting experiments on people, testing their will to survive, the strength of their emotions, their courage, and their capacity for self-sacrifice. They do this via a number of [what we would consider unethical] experiments that include creating illusions and physical torture: dangling people by chains and causing severe internal damage (including giving Kirk the bends and causing extensive internal injuries in McCoy). The researchers Ozaba and Linke died as a result of these experiments, although the Vians maintain that it was their own fear that killed the men.
     The purpose of the Vians' experiments is to see if Gem will sacrifice her life for the sake of others. The Vians have the ability to save one race of beings before Minara goes nova, and they want to make certain that Gem's people are worthy of being saved. However, the Vians have decided that only by actually giving up her life for another will Gem be deemed to have passed the test ("to offer [her life] is not proof enough," Lal says) - although Kirk and Spock convince them that to offer one's life is in fact sufficient.
     The Vians conduct their experiments in a large underground chamber, located 121.32 meters beneath Minara II's surface. It's primarily a black, nondescript space, with occasional pieces of electronic equipment and architecture dotting the place. There's also a carpeted platform with a T-shaped bed on top, surrounded by orange triangles on the floor pointing toward the bed, that seems to be the main resting area for the Vians' subjects. There is an exit from the chamber to Minara II's surface, six kilometers away from the research station.
     Cosmic ray concentrations are measured on the Ritter scale. Both readings of 3.51 and 2.72 on the Ritter scale are too intense for a starship like the Enterprise to safely transverse, and a reading of 3.51 means that it will take 74.1 solar hours for the solar storm to pass (although in the event, the storm lasts even longer than that, presumably due to a slower rate of decreasing intensity than predicted).
     Over 98% of known telepathic species can both send and receive thoughts.
     The civilization on Gamma Vertis IV is a race of mutes.
     The sand bats of Manark IV appear to be inanimate rock crystals until they attack.

Final Analysis: "Everything that has occurred here has been caused to happen by them. This has all been a great laboratory. And we have been the subjects of the test." The minimalist set design, combined with Kathryn Hays's performance (who, as Gem, has to convey her performance through movement rather than speech), makes this one of the most theatrical episodes of Star Trek: "The Empath" is possibly the closest the show has come to being a televised play (as opposed to a miniature film). It is a touch sadistic in places, and the underlying theme of showing a young woman various acts of torture to see how she reacts could have been gravely mishandled. But generally they walk the right side of that line, and while the result isn't perfect, it is surprisingly compelling.

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Page last updated: September 8, 2018

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