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First of all, a disclaimer. Maybe it's not fashionable these days: I've kind of lost track of what is or isn't "fashionable" with original Trek. But I like the third season. Sure, it has some turkey episodes like "Spock's Brain", "Whom Gods Destroy", "And The Children Shall Lead", and "The Way to Eden".

But the third season also featured... well, alien stuff. You had the Excalbians in "The Savage Curtain", which think that the way to discover the difference between good and evil is through... mortal kombat! The Melkots execute people by telepathically bring their memories to "life". There's Kollos in "Is There in Truth No Beauty". You've got the Tholians, which are... well, alien. They're kinda dicks, but they've got a point of view and they're not the main threat. They're a complication while Enterprise deals with the interphase issue, Kirk's disappearance, and infectious insanity.

You've also got episodes that people like. "The Enterprise Incident", and "Day of the Dove". I think if people generally don't like the third season, it's because of a) the fact that Roddenberry wasn't in it, and b) a lot of the episodes aren't like the first two seasons of Trek.

The third season also reminds me a bit of the original The Outer Limits. It's more of a horror show and kind of anthologized. "The Lights of Zetar" is pretty hokey, but the idea of a race of aliens that survived their species' destruction and go around sabotaging people's brains and the dying making that weird-ass garbling noise, and the aliens looking for someone to possess is very... Outer Limits-ish.

There is also more social messaging. "The Mark of Gideon" deals with overpopulation, and "Let This Be Your Last Battlefield" talks about racism. Yes, they're ham-handed, but hey it was the 60s. It beats My Mother the Car.

As another disclaimer, I'm rewatching the remastered version rather than the original.

And finally, I decided to rewatch "The Empath" because looking through my old reviews, I realized that I mentioned it a lot. The set design or lack therein is something they use on a lot of shows past and present.

That brings us to "The Empath" itself. To set the stage, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to investigate the disappearance of two scientists at an outpost set up to monitor an oncoming nova. The scientists have disappeared and their outpost is covered in dust. A tape reveals that they were teleported away, and soon Our Heroes are teleported away as well to a badly lit underground cavern. The trio finds Gem, an empath back before Deanna Troi gave "empath" a bad name. Gem is also a mute, which spares us the "I sense great [fill in the blank]" dialogue.

If there's one thing that mildly drags down the episode, it's Kathryn Hays as the mute, Gem. Ms. Hays was a "Hey, It's That Woman" (HITW, as opposed to HITG) actress of the 60s. Her performance is... unusual here. She mimes and stretches and gives a vaguely catlike performance. The fact that she looks like a white bread humanoid female doesn't really sell the fact that she's some exotic alien. So it's not so much Ms. Hays as just the fact that she (or any actress without makeup) is a bit miscast.

It also helps that they don't put her in a typical William Theiss bare-skin outfit. In fact, the outfit Gem wears looks kind of uncomfortable. It's basically a full-body suit with silks over it.

And then the Vians show up. They're basically the Telosians' trailer-trash cousins, with big heads and flowing robes. I'm not sure if they recycled the Telosian outfits: there are some differences. But the similarity is a bit disconcerting. The Vians, Lal and Thann, do a bit of mixed messaging and it's not clear how much of it is intentional. They tell the Enterprise trio not to interfere, but then involve them quite a bit. And that's their plan from the start. Kirk tries to get through to them, but they could care less. The Vians put the trio in a force field and examine Gem, then teleport away and release Our Heroes.

While Spock looks for an exit, Gem empathically (and emphatically) heals a cut on Kirk's head by transferring the injury to herself and then heals it. I don’t recall Troi doing that, but oh well. Spock finds equipment that wasn't there before, and the group checks it out. It's Vian research equipment, and the two scientists Linke and Ozaba are dead, locked up in big-ass specimen jars. The jars are thoughtfully labeled in English. There are also empty jars for our Enterprise guys.

It's hard to feel much sympathy for the Vians at this point or any other. They're aliens and scientists, but the whole thing here seems a bit sadistic even if they're trying to provoke some kind of emotional response in the crew to get Gem's emotional responses working.

After knocking out Lal, the group gets to the surface, unaware that Lal isn't really unconscious and the whole thing is a set-up. The group sees Scotty and two redshirts, but Kirk and Gem fall behind and the Vians teleport in. Kirk sends Gem ahead and charges the Vians, who slow him down and Shatner does a bit of gurning before passing out in slomo. Spock and McCoy discover that the landing party is an illusion, and Gem catches up and mimes that the Vians have Kirk. When they all get together, the Vians tells Kirk that he'll come with him and the others can go. It turns out the Vians are big fat liars: that mixed-messaging again. The Vians teleport them away and when Kirk objects, the Vians teleport him away as well.

Back in the underground lab, the Vians thoughtfully remove Kirk's shirt, chain him to the ceiling, and torture him with their hand weapons. They also make Gem look on, and talk about how Linke and Ozaba's fears killed them. Ummm, no. It looks like they were tortured to death, and rather unhelpfully tells them that if he lives then he'll know why they're killing him.

The Vians then teleport Kirk and Gem back to Spock and McCoy (giving Kirk his shirt back in the process), and put the latter two in a force field. Gem starts to heal Kirk but then withdraws due to the pain. She eventually goes back and heals him. There's some decent makeup effects here as the manacle abrasions on Kirk's wrists transfer to Gem's. And Ms. Hays wanders back and forth over the line of overacting as she feels Kirk's pain, fights against it as she takes on her injuries, and finally collapses.

The Vians return and there's a nice mildly fish-eye shot of them compliments of director John Erman. One of those guys you see in the end credits of a lot of 60s stuff.

Our aliens give Kirk a choice: choose Spock or McCoy for the next round of torture. McCoy is likely to die. Spock is likely to live but suffer irreparable brain damage resulting in insanity. The Vians blip away and Spock fiddles with a stolen Vian hand unit. He works out notes to let McCoy and Kirk use it to escape, and Kirk tells them that he'll decide which of them to sacrifice. McCoy knocks him out with a sedative and Spock says that now he can make the choice and sacrifice himself. There's a nice bit where Gem touches Spock and gets a "read" on his concealed emotions.

McCoy knocks out Spock and then offers himself to the Vians. They teleport him away, leave him his shirt, apologize, and start torturing him.

Spock works out the hand unit, and Kirk wonders why the "Vions" (that's how Shatner pronounces it) let them keep it. They figure that the Vians figured that they want to let them go, and you know Big Jim ain't going to do that. The hand unit will work for one use, and Kirk tells Spock to use it to take them to McCoy. DeForest Kelley is doing the patented "Kelley stare" and is not in good shape.

It's easy to get an audience reaction from threatening a main character with death. Still, you can see why Leonard Nimoy is the actor that he was often praised as. Nimoy does a lot with a character that mostly doesn't show emotion.

As Kirk and Spock try to persuade Gem to help, those rascally Vians surround them with a force field and say that interference won't be permitted. They want Gem to do it on her own, and explain that they know about the nova. They're there to determine which of the various planets they will save, because they only have the power to teleport one population to safety. The Vians are making sure that Gem's people are worthy of survival, if she proves that she'll give her life for McCoy. Each of the trio have been willing to give their lives for the others, and now the Vians wants to see if those qualities have been transferred to Gem.

Gem approaches McCoy and starts to heal him. She withdraws before she's finished due to the pain, and Spock figures out how to passively get through the force field. Kirk reads the riot act to the Vians, saying that they no longer feel the emotions they brought Gem there to learn. Chastised, the Vians heal McCoy and then teleport away with Gem in a neat non-FX receding-camera effect, presumably going off to rescue her people. As for the rest of the planets, tough luck.

Back on Enterprise, there's a typical Trek wrap-up scene where they tease Spock about how emotions won the day. He gives them his typical Vulcan "bite me, it's fun!" look and says that he'll give it all the consideration that it's due, and off they go.

"The Empath" reminds me of Outer Limits, in that it has aliens testing human emotional qualities. To varying degrees that's a running theme with a number of Outer Limits episodes, from "Controlled Experiment" to "Nightmare" to "A Feasibility Study". The aliens are... well, alien. Kirk berates them at the end for being intellect rather than emotion, But we don’t how much of that is the Vians being scientific intellectuals, and how much of it is just them being aliens. The idea of intellect vs. emotion is another Outer Limits subject that Stefano & Co. kept coming back to.

In fact, the whole episode is almost as nonsensical as an Outer Limits episode. The Federation seems to have no idea that the Minaran system has a lot of people in it. The Enterprise is just there to pick up two scientists and leave: if a few million natives die on the various planets, oh well. That leaves the two Vians we see (are they a race, or what?) with an impossible choice: "How do we pick who to save when we can't save everyone?" Sadly, "The Empath" tends to gloss over that as writer Joyce Muskat (with her only TV script anywhere) ladles on the pathos and the emotionalism and the Kirk/Spock/McCoy friendship.

Also, maybe it's just me and my humanocentric viewpoint. But how did Gem's people function as a civilization without at least some sense of self-sacrifice? Even the Klingons have self-sacrifice, although they're relatively limited about who (family) and why (honor) they engage in it. Gem is wearing what is clearly a created garment: she comes from a civilization. She doesn't seem self-centered or non-sacrificial: only that she fears for her life when called upon to sacrifice it. Maybe the Vians don't see it that way, but their understanding of self-sacrifice seems second-hand and strained through their non-emotional intellect.

Musket is a decent writer, and she reminds me of Stephen Kandel on my recently-reviewed animated episode "The Jihad". She isn't an experienced writer, or even an experienced Trek writer. The episode reads somewhat like a fanfic story, but the performances by Shatner, Nimoy, Kelley, Hays, and even Alan Bergmann (a HITG of the 60s and 70s) as Lal elevate it quite a bit. And heck, Bergmann was a "Special Guest Star" on an episode of Swamp Thing, which brings us full circle review-wise.

Like I said, the direction has that "spotlighted objects floating in darkness" feel that reminds me of Outer Limits episodes like "Nightmare". Which "The Empath"'s director John Erman also directed. Erman was a Daystar regular, and Daystar produced Outer Limits. So like Dirk Gently, I suppose that means everything is interconnected.

Overall, despite its presence in the occasionally derided third season, "The Empath" is a pretty good episode of science fiction. It also hits the right buttons on the Kirk/Spock/McCoy relationship, to the point where you don't think it would work otherwise. If the landing party had been Kirk, Chapel, and Riley... well, I don't think Gem's people would have made out quite so well.

But that's just my opinion, I could be wrong. What do you think?
Comments (4)
Jan 16, 2018
Season 3 is easier to take when you're not watching it seven nights a week and it feels like a crew member is falling in love every episode. I like "Spock's Brain" and "Whom Gods Destroy." One thing I do dislike about the season in general, though, is that it becomes the Kirk/Spock/McCoy show as far as landing parties go. And to me, Kathryn Hays is "that woman from that soap opera" (either Another World or The Guiding Light).

Do you think Erman was chosen to direct "The Empath" because of a perceived similarity to "Nightmare" or is "The Empath" similar to "Nightmare" because Erman directed both of them?

P.S.: Besides the cold opening, my favorite part of the episode is McCoy knocking out both Kirk and Spock to offer himself up as the sacrifice.

Jan 23, 2018
Kathryn Hayes was on As the World Turns from 1972 to its end in 2010. She did appear briefly on Guiding Light back in 1971.
Jan 23, 2018
For me, Hayes is probably the female version of Donald May. She pops up in reruns from the '60s, but I mostly associate with a soap opera.
Jan 17, 2018
As I said in the review, I don't think the story would work if it wasn't Kirk-Spock-McCoy. If the landing party had been, say, Kirk-Uhura-Chekov (from "Gamesters of Triskelion"), I don't think we would have seen what the Vians were looking for. Would Chekov sacrifice his life to save Uhura or vice versa? I don't think so...

And I don't mind them exploring the relationship, since there was a lot to explore. It's one of the reasons I like "Tholian Web", you get to see McCoy and Spock without Kirk around to act as a balance, at the same time that they're kinda/sorta mourning his "death". At the same time that Spock isn't convinced that he's dead and is working to get him back. While McCoy is kind of the "He's dead, Spock: accept it and let's get the hell out of here."
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