Star Trek

Season 3 Episode 12

The Empath

Aired Unknown Dec 06, 1968 on NBC
out of 10
User Rating
155 votes

By Users

Episode Summary

On a planet doomed to destruction, Kirk, Spock & McCoy become involved with two aliens who use them as laboratory animals in a bizarre series of tests on an alien empath who may be the savior of her planet.

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  • On a planet doomed to destruction, Kirk, Spock, and McCoy meet a mute alien with special abilities.

    This planet-based episode featuring Kirk, Spock, and McCoy on a darkened set with a nonspeaking alien is often cited as proof that Shatner, Nimoy, and Kelley can carry an episode with no more than a bit of dialogue.

    While there's an element of truth to the legend, it does gloss over a fine script featuring some of the richest character interplay among the big three and gives no credit to a uniquely brilliant performance by Kathryn Hays who uses her entire body to say more than most other guest stars do with words. Yet for all the episode's strengths, it can be a difficult episode to watch, with our heroes randomly tortured by a pair of aliens who seem like distant cousins of the original pilot's Talosians. It's an episode that's endured more than enjoyed, though some of the touching moments in between the sadism make it worthwhile. (And George Dunning's sensitive score helps sell every one of them).

    Unfortunately, Star Trek fan and amateur writer Joyce Muskat doesn't give it much of a plot, nor does she know how to pay it all off in the last act, unable to take the episode's threads and themes and tie them all together for a bold statement at the end. (It would be interesting if the episode were to turn out to be an allegory for the psychological testing of animals, although that would probably be a bit too daring for a 1960s television The climax she does come up with is based on a silly explanation for the events that doesn't make too much sense when you think about it (a perpetual problem for the third season) and ultimately hurts the episode on the whole.

    Nonetheless, "The Empath" is a unique stage play-like offering that fans of the series will want to see at least once.

    Remastered Version:

    With most of the episode set underground, there's little for CBS Digital to do other than the usual establishing shots of the Enterprise and a planet (originally a reuse of "The Deadly Years" orbital footage). However, we do get a more realistic shot of a star with solar flares (with the original simply reusing the star in "Operation: Annhiliate") and the team smoothes out the make-up transitions that the episode uses to illustrate the titular character's healing powers.moreless
  • Kirk and company are kidnapped by an alien race in order to unwillingly partake in life threatning experiments.

    I give this episode a rating of fair because, although the story had a strong as well as an interesting plot idea, the execution of this idea was lacking. I sat through most of the episode somewhat confused as to what was happening. I was also annoyed by the severe overacting involved (especially by the actress whom played the role of Gem), although I do acknowledge that this was somewhat necessary considering the fact that she was indeed, mute. Since this episode paid special attention to the theme of emotion and empathy, I as a Trek fan (as well as a Spock fangirl) expected a more memorable and involved part from everyone's favorite Vulcan, but I was indeed disappionted.

    I believe that if the story line had permitted Spock to become the test subject, rather than McCoy, the episode could've been improved by at least 3 points. As I believe the psycological aspect coupled with the emotional one would've been more successful than, "Oh no, let's watch dramatically in our little rainbow tube in the corner as our friend dies slowly and painfully".moreless
  • On a doomed planet, Kirk, Spock and McCoy meet a mute empath, but also find themselves as the subjects for two alien beings' series of experiments. Average in some ways, but some good moments and concepts save it...moreless

    "The Empath" is a mixed episode, and seems to be a 'love it or loathe it' story. But it has some very good concepts included, even if they weren't all executed perfectly.

    For someone who has no dialogue, Kathryn Hays gives a very intriguing performance as mute empath Gem. I was really drawn to the character, and found her very memorable.

    In some ways, I felt this to be a poor man's version of "The Cage" (the original, unaired pilot for the series). First, the aliens' visual appearance struck me as similar – the long cloaks, the elongated heads – and the similarities followed through to much of the plot, with their 'experiments' and illusions, and Kirk and co. being their 'subjects'.

    The plot is mixed but mostly I found it to be quite good. One thing I did feel though, was that it was a bit dragged out in a couple of places to fill the running time.

    One of the things that many people don't like about this episode is the sets – or rather, lack of. Indeed, the vast majority of the story is filmed in a large, dark hall, with no visible walls or anything. I suspect that this might just as easily been down to the third season's drastically reduced budget as it was to any sort of artistic intentions.

    One good thing about the episode is the in-episode score, which suits the story perfectly, particularly that relating to Gem.

    The late DeForest Kelley (Dr. McCoy) mentioned this as (one of) his personal favourite episode(s), and its nice to see it get such a recognition, as it is an often overlooked and underrated instalment.

    I totally disagree with those who say this is the worst episode of the series – there are some far worse offerings. And this is coming from someone who has sat through the terrible "Spock's Brain"!

    All-in-all, although far from perfect, this is an intriguing third season episode, and doesn't deserve to be so underrated.moreless
  • Stuck in the center of a doomed planet, Captain Kirk, Bones, and Spock come to reallize they are nothing more than lab rats for a mysterious race of aliens. A mute women must learn compassion in order to save the day.moreless

    The worst episode in the entire series. It's nothing more than a mixture of "The World is Hollow and I Have Touched The Sky" and "The Cage". Only it lacks the things that made those episodes so engaging. The episode takes place in a boring, black void. There's just not much going on and doesn't feel "real". Almost all episodes in the series feel authentic or realistic. In this episode, you simply don't wan't to believe it, it's not imaginitive enough. In general, it lacks the Star Trek "flair" that I have come to love so dearly. If there was a single episode that represented the drop off between seasons 2 and 3, this was the episode. This is an episode I pray a first time viewer wouldn't watch. It's also the only episode I can't watch 20 times over.moreless
  • A couple of egg headed pranksters tell McCoy he has an 80% chance of dying

    I have a lot to say about this episode. I was reading one review that mentioned the plot was quite intelligent and under rated. I totally agree with that thought. To add, (and I’ll go on another tirade about me watching the shows in the 2000s vs. the 70s) I thought what Lall or Thann (I forgot which is which.... does anyone know?) said at the end of the episode was one of the most brilliant sentiments ever said in the show. “Everything that is truest and best in all species of beings has been revealed by you. Those are the qualities that make a civilization worthy to survive.” I totally broke down and cried at this point because that is the only reason I go on living in this crazy, unfair world. It is what I am suppose to do, be as good as I can be and represent myself in the best possible light no matter how ugly and unfair the rest of the world seems to be. By now, some of you who actually take the time to read my reviews certainly know I’m a very emotional individual. But, I never gave that line a second thought when I watched it in the 70s. So why the really low score? Here is the most classic example of a solid plot line gone terribly, terribly bad. It is dreadful to watch, and if I ever see it again, I will fast forward to the end where one of the egghead says that brilliant linemoreless
William Shatner

William Shatner

Captain James Tiberius Kirk

Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy

Mr. Spock

DeForest Kelley

DeForest Kelley

Dr. Leonard Horatio "Bones" McCoy

Kathryn Hays

Kathryn Hays


Guest Star

Alan Bergmann

Alan Bergmann


Guest Star

Davis Roberts

Davis Roberts

Dr. Ozaba

Guest Star

James Doohan

James Doohan

Lt. Cmdr. Montgomery "Scotty" Scott

Recurring Role

George Takei

George Takei

Lt. Hikaru Sulu

Recurring Role

Paul Baxley

Paul Baxley

McCoy's Stunt Double (uncredited)

Recurring Role

Trivia, Notes, Quotes and Allusions


  • TRIVIA (10)

    • The Enterprise crew seems curiously disinterested in all the people that are going to die. The Prime Directive and limited resources presumably prevent them from interfering. However, they don't even seem aware of the other civilizations populating the planets. None of them recognize Gem's race, and Spock merely speculates that she couldn't have evolved on the planet.

    • It's not clear how Spock determines that Gem couldn't have evolved on the planet. It's a Class M planet with no noticeable difference in atmosphere or gravity or lighting. It in fact appears a bit like Vulcan or a desert environment on Earth. The Vians presumably evolved there, and they don't look that substantially different from Gem other than larger heads.

    • There seems to be no point or purpose to the high-pitched whining noise that painfully renders first the scientists and then the landing party unconscious. The noise doesn't accompany later teleportations, and the Vians are easily capable of rendering teleported victims unconscious or imprisoned without it, as we see when they teleport Kirk away and he's in chains.

    • McCoy grouses about how men weren't intended to live that far underground. However, as seen earlier it's an easy walk from the Vian testing facilities to the surface entrance, with no indication of an upward slope.

    • When the landing party arrives, they determine that the research team has been missing for three months. The question is, what have the Vians been doing for three months? The experiments they conduct don't seem to take more than several hours. Apparently once the two scientists died, the Vians just... waited for two months and 28 or so days until someone else came around for them to torture to determine Gem's suitability.

    • The Vians must view Captain Kirk as sexier than Dr. McCoy. They remove Kirk's shirt during his torture, but do not remove Dr. McCoy's during his.

    • During Kirk's torture scenes, the back shots have Shatner's arms stretched wide apart and yanked straight - the front shots have the chains going overhead and his arms are bent at the elbows.

    • Spock claims the Vian device they capture is operated by specific brain patterns and sets it to his own. At the end Kirk hands it back to the Vian and they instantly use it to heal McCoy without adjustment.

    • Although Kirk said back in "The Menagerie" that starships don't have elaborate zoom & pan recording logs - apparently small research bases do because when Spock plays back the log of the two scientists the automatic recording pans and zooms like a pro.

    • The Vians are very neat - they take Kirk's shirt off when they torture him and put it back on when they're done.

  • QUOTES (14)

    • McCoy: I can't destroy life, even if it is to save my own.

    • McCoy: Well, personally, I find it fascinating that with all their scientific knowledge and advances, that it was good old-fashioned human emotion that they valued the most.
      Scott: Perhaps the Vulcans should hear about this.
      Kirk: Mr. Spock, can you be prevailed upon to bring them the news?
      Spock: Possibly, Captain. I shall certainly give the thought all the consideration it is due.

    • Scott: Not to dispute your computer, Mr. Spock, but from little what you've told me, I'd say (Gem) was a pearl of great price.
      Kirk: What, Scott?
      Scott: You don't know the story of the merchant? The merchant... who, when he found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had and bought it.
      Kirk: Yes, she was all that. And whether the Vians bought her or found her makes little difference - she was of great value.

    • Kirk: If death is all you are four lives for you. We will not leave our friend. You've lost the capacity to feel the emotions you brought Gem here to experience. You don't understand what it is to live. Love and compassion are dead in you. You're nothing but intellect.

    • Lal: Your actions were spontaneous. Everything that is truest and best in all species of beings has been revealed by you. Those are the qualities that make a civilization worthy to survive.

    • Kirk: How will the death of our friend serve this purpose?
      Lal: His death will not serve it, but her willingness to give her life for him will. You were her teachers.
      Kirk: We were? What could she learn from us?
      Lal: You will to survive. Your love of life. Your passion to know. They are recorded in (Gem's) being.

    • Kirk: How long? (until McCoy dies)
      Spock: It could happen anytime.
      McCoy: The correct medical phrase, eh, Spock? You've got a...a good bedside manner, Spock.

    • Kirk: The best defense is a strong offense, and I intend to start offending right now.

    • Kirk: Why did you let him do it?
      Spock: I was convinced in the same way you were - by the good doctor's hypo.

    • McCoy: Men weren't intended to live this far underground; it's just not natural.
      Kirk: And space travel is?
      Spock: Some men spend the majority of their lives in mines beneath the surface.
      McCoy: I'm a doctor, not a coal miner.

    • Kirk: And what do you want from me?
      Lal: We've already observed the intensity of your passions and gauged your capacity to love others. Now we want you to reveal to us your courage and strength of will.
      Kirk: Why? What is it you hope to prove? If my death is to have any meaning, at least tell me what I'm dying for.
      Thann: If you live, you will have your answer.

    • Kirk: I found our missing men... dead. Another one of your experiments?
      Lal: You're wrong. Their own imperfections killed them. They were not fit subjects.

    • McCoy: I don't know about you, but I'm going to call her 'Gem'.
      Spock: Gem, Doctor?
      McCoy: Well, that's better than, "Hey, you."

    • Ozaba: (after an earthquake) "In His hand are the deep places of the earth." Psalm 95, verse 4. Looks like He was listening.

  • NOTES (2)

    • In one of his last interviews before his death, DeForest Kelly was asked what his favorite original series episode was and he responded "I suppose it would be 'The Empath'". He goes on to describe the uniqueness of the cinematography and production values, and remarks "Gee what a wild way to shoot a show".

    • The Vians and the Talosians (from "The Menagerie") sure seem to be related - they look about the same, they have a similarly emotionless approach to things, and they treat humans as lab animals.


  • 10:00 pm