Director: John Erman
Writer: Joyce Muskat
Cast: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, DeForest Kelley, Kathryn Hays, Alan Bergmann, James Doohan, George Takei, Davis Roberts, Jason Wingreen, and Willard Sage
Composer: George Duning
Air Date: 12/6/1968
Production #: 60043-63
Attempting to evacuate Minara II before its sun goes nova, Captain Kirk takes Spock and McCoy to the planet’s surface. Once there, the landing party encounters an empathic humanoid named Gem (Kathryn Hays), who appears to be the test subject of two Vians known as Thann (Willard Sage) and Lal (Alan Bergmann). When the Vians decide to include Kirk, Spock, and McCoy in their grotesque experiments, only the ultimate sacrifice from one of these men can save the other two.
Despite operating on a shoestring budget, “The Empath” demonstrates why the friendship shared by Kirk, Spock, and McCoy was such an essential component of the original series’ formula for success. Star Trek fans are therefore advised to view this episode, even though Kathryn Hays’ exaggerated mannerisms and facial expressions hardly generate the subtlety one would expect of a mute character.
Similar in many ways to the Talosians, the Vians utilize their extraordinary mental powers for ostensibly cruel and malevolent purposes. By employing a premise which closely resembles that of “The Cage” yet introduces a variety of unique elements so that it may stand on its own, “The Empath” will no doubt elicit strong emotional reactions from sensitive audiences, especially when Kirk and McCoy are brutally tortured at the hands of their Vian captors. The concept of luminous aliens experimenting on “lesser” organisms is explored quite effectively in the concluding sequence, during which Kirk makes a compelling case for why intellect without compassion is meaningless.
Though adequately disguised for the most part, the aforementioned budgetary constraints become obvious when the Vians perform their vile tests on the captain. Specifically, a crude zooming effect substitutes a natural swaying motion while Kirk’s limp body is suspended by a pair of chains
Due to the grueling set of circumstances with which Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are presented, “The Empath” allows for a special emphasis to be placed upon the bond that unites all three main characters, which cannot be shaken regardless of any petty differences or personality clashes that happen to arise when working in proximity with one another. The sacrificial qualities exemplified by these officers tie directly into the above theme regarding compassion over intellect, with even Spock “feeling” for a critically wounded McCoy on several occasions (this is evidenced by the fact that Spock is temporarily restrained by a force field that feeds on the emotional energy of its occupants).
A poignant and tragically underrated episode, “The Empath” will appeal to all Star Trek fans who admire the personal and professional cohesiveness that characterizes Kirk’s relationship with his two most valued officers. Also worth mentioning is a remarkable score composed by George Duning, which draws attention to the emotionally stirring nature of Gem’s silent interactions with the Enterprise captain and crew members.
Overall Quality: 9/10
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