Star Trek

Season 3 Episode 12

The Empath

Aired Unknown Dec 06, 1968 on NBC

Episode Fan Reviews (8)

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out of 10
157 votes
  • A mute empath must learn compassion and sacrifice for those who get tortured by sadistic aliens. Kirk sternly lectures the aliens. The point is worthy, but flaws in the story and the execution dilute what might have been a big emotional payload.

    This story had so much potential, but it is sadly wasted.

    The superior aliens' motivations and actions are a major problem since they push for sacrifice, compassion and valuing of others, yet mostly fail to display any of the traits they take great pains to test. Then Kirk gives them a stern didactic lecture at the end and they relent a little at the last moment for unclear reasons. The story needed rewrites and a more selfless and competent writer, instead of just messing with the ending. Instead, the writer takes the easy way out and breaks the rule of "show, don't tell" and also seems unwilling to let go of the pet ideas and seems unwilling to "kill her babies." The superior and largely amoral aliens are an obvious Star Trek baby that this episode is unwilling to get rid of or rework. The writer tries playing the aliens both ways (compassionate and not), which really doesn't work well.

    The mention of the "pearl of great price" is an obvious biblical reference to a parable of a merchant that gives all his wealth to attain a pearl that is more perfect or precious than all the others. In the parable, the pearl seems to represent salvation through Jesus. The reference simply feels bizarre rather than adding much, but further makes me suspect that Gem (and perhaps the others) is supposed to be something of a Christ figure. Weird and mishandled writing.

    At certain other points in the story, the main characters all willingly volunteer themselves for death or insanity in order to save the others. Kirk tells the aliens to take him and let Spock and McCoy go; Spock clearly intends to be the one tortured to spare Kirk and McCoy; McCoy tranquilizes the others so he's the only one available for the aliens to abduct for their next torture and death session. What can you call this willingness to sacrifice for another but love? They don't have to cheese it up, but these should be powerful (but really isn't).

    Given the themes and the sacrifices going on, you'd expect maybe this would be the kind of episode that might involve some strong emotions, maybe even make you a little weepy as everyone is sacrificing for the sake of everyone else. It has the potential to be a great episode, perhaps almost on the level of the Next Generation episode "The Inner Light" (though in maybe a slightly different way and with a lot of re-writing and re-conceptualization). Handled appropriately and with skill this TOS episode could be one of the better ones. Instead, it's bungled and doesn't connect to the emotional core and a better plot that could make the episode great.

    It's interesting that both hrtonslv and Mac-Ale's reviews seem to be responding to latent potential in this episode. I feel it probably speaks more to their kindness and generosity, rather than the episode. Sadly it didn't live up to the potential which some of us see in it.
  • Not a lot of classic action, but a strong simple theme, and I think an underrated episode.

    Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are brutally used by an alien species in order to help another alien learn a sense of self-sacrifice that can save her people.

    The Empath tends to be one of those episodes fans love to hate, and I often wonder why. Its often called a "cheap" episode because the main set is a dark soundstage with black curtains and spot lighting. This makes no particular sense, because there is a lot of apparatus present and because a typical planet set for a Star Trek episode is merely a sound stage with a colored light backdrop representing a sky, some re-used foam hills and sand, and some dried out sea grass. This episode HAS one of those soundstage planets AND the main "dark" set. In addition, the make-up for the Vians is some of the most elaborate in the series. I bet "The Empath" cost as much or more to make than "Amok Time".

    Other criticisms center on a pointless story, and I don't get this either. The main protagonist, Gem, is required to learn that sacrifice is a quality necessary for a species, and to prove it, she must alleviate the symptoms of Kirk and McCoy after they are brutally tortured by the Vians. The actions of Spock and McCoy show that altruistic behavior themselves, and Kirk's final over-acted speech even drives home the message that the Vians themselves need to learn the lesson that they are hoping to teach. I am not particularly a fan of mimes, but the fact that Gem is a really mute is necessary to the entire point here, she must see and feel the actions around her. This is a much bigger theme than many episodes where the allegory is more obvious, like "The Squire of Gothos", for example, where the take away message is "don't play with people, son". Some say the Vians could have found a better way to test Gem's people, but then again, the Kelvins could have thought of a simpler way to get back to Andromeda in "By Any Other Name", for example. The allusions are a little heavy in "The Empath", but they don't have to be as "religious" as some of the references in this episode make it out to be. Lots of recent work has shown that altruistic behavior is necessary and sometimes learned in many species of social animals on Earth.
  • Kirk, Spock, and McCoy are on a planet to study its sun's coming nova, when they are abducted by sadistic aliens attempting to teach compassion to a mute.

    While this episode isn't as dreadful as some have made it out to be, it's also a long way from being one of Star Trek's elite stories. For a race trying to teach compassion, the Vians are extremely short on it themselves. While it's possible to successfully create duplicitous characters who preach one thing, but do something else, that doesn't happen very well here. The Vians have absolutely no depth that make you believe them to be real people. They're nothing more than a clumsy plot vehicle. There is some suspense when Kirk, Spock, and McCoy vie over who will sacrifice himself to protect the others, but there's little else that's interesting coming from our main three characters. Kirk's preaching at the end seems forced. The episode is saved by the performance as Kathryn Hays as Gem. She makes the most of the weak material she's given to work with. I did feel her inner struggle was genuine. Gem was a character I identified with and felt for. The episode is worth watching on that basis. Kays' performance saves this episode from belonging on the trash heap of poor Star Trek Episodes like The Way to Eden.
  • 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 line
  • 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.

    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.
  • 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...

    "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.
  • 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".
  • 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.