Written by Joyce Muskat, Arthur H. Singer, and Gene Roddenberry
Directed by John Erman
When I’m writing these reviews, I usually watch the episode at least twice to feel like I have a comprehensive understanding of what’s going on in the story. With The Empath, I really didn’t want to watch it a second time. I had zero enthusiasm for the episode whatsoever. I couldn’t even muster up the passionate dislike for this episode that I had for others in this third and final season.
The Enterprise is ordered to Minara II to evacuate the research station there prior to the sun in the system going to supernova. Captain Kirk William Shatner), Mr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy), and Doctor McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) beam down after not having received any answer to their attempts to communicate. None of the scientists can be located. They review tapes from the station and see the men disappear before their eyes.
With Scotty (James Doohan) at the helm of the Enterprise, there is a solar storm approaching. Kirk orders him out of orbit while they continue to search for the scientists below. One by one, the three members of the landing party disappear from the research station.
They awaken in a cavern deep beneath the surface of the planet. They find one life sign and locate a beautiful woman who cannot speak (Kathryn Hays). Doctor McCoy tells them she is from a race of mute beings.
As they are trying to figure out what is going on, two beings identifying themselves as Vians appear. They know who the landing party is, but turn their attention to the woman, whom Dr. McCoy has named “Gem.” When Captain Kirk is injured trying to resist the Vians, Gem heals him by taking his pain into her. Doctor McCoy pronounces that she is an empath, capable of feeling other people’s pain and healing it.
Eventually, the Vians let on that the landing party is there as part of an experiment. Kirk is taken away, beaten, tortured, and returned for Gem to heal. Kirk must then choose whether Spock or McCoy will be the next one subjected to the Vians torture and almost certain death.
How many times have we already seen the plot where aliens of higher intelligence torture the crew of the Enterprise? It was done just a few episodes earlier in Plato’s Stepchildren. This third season is really suffering from a lack of original stories. The pacing here is ridiculously slow, with lots of soft focus on Kathryn Hays and her dewy eyes. Since she cannot speak, she must try to convey her emotions with expressions. Hays does a decent job of it, I just felt like the pacing was off and we had too many dewy-eyed close-ups.
The story doesn’t make sense in that the Enterprise cannot reach the scientists at the station and none of the landing party seems to have any notion that maybe beaming down there could be a dangerous thing. Kirk waves Scotty and the ship away for 72 hours like they’ve just landed at a vacation resort.
There is a good twist to the story that keeps it from being a total failure. That and some good character development for the regular cast. McCoy really seems to be getting his fill this season as we’re seeing the curmudgeonly facade fail him time and time again to show the humanity beneath and the likely reason he turned to medicine. Spock also gets some good character moments. The decision that weighs on Kirk is presented without any heavy-handedness on the part of the actor. It’s pure strife he’s experiencing and it’s shown without being over-dramatic.
For being the aliens of the week, the Vians were pretty decent. Their costumes and make-up did make them stand out a bit from every other race the Enterprise encounters. However, it’s a bit of a conflict when you’re experimenting to try and get a sense of compassion and humanity in a race and you do that by torturing another race. It’s another part of the story that really doesn’t make sense.
The acting saves The Empath from being terrible. I found it to be one of the least-engaging episodes that I’ve watched so far. Character-driven episodes can be great, but when the stories don’t resonate, they suffer. With no special effects or real action, it ends up being forgettable.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Wink of an Eye
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Original Series – Elaan of Troyius