Star Trek: The Original Series Rewatch

Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch: “The Empath”

The Star Trek The Original Series Rewatch is devastated by the tragic death of Anton Yelchin, taken from us far too young. Rest in peace, good sir.

 “The Empath”
Written by Joyce Muskat
Directed by John Erman
Season 3, Episode 8
Production episode 60043-63
Original air date: December 6, 1968
Stardate: 5121.5

Captain’s log. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy beam down to Minara II, which orbits a sun that is going nova. The Enterprise‘s mission is to retrieve the scientific team that is studying the nova, as the sun’s reaching a critical stage, but the scientists have responded to no hails, and the landing party finds all their equipment covered in dust.

A solar flare is approaching the planet. The landing party will be safe on the planet, as the atmosphere will protect them, but the ship is a sitting duck. Kirk orders Scotty to take the ship out of orbit, which means the trio are stuck there for at least 74 hours.

They play the most recent record tape, which is three months old. It shows the two scientists studying the nova, Doctors Ozaba and Linke, who suddenly hear a strange noise and then disappear one at a time. As soon as the landing party stops watching, the noise sounds around them, and they all also disappear one at a time. They awaken in a cavern, which Spock’s tricorder says is more than 120 meters below the surface, and they were taken there by a type of transporter.


Spock also picks up a life form, which turns out to be a woman on a slab. McCoy determines that she’s mute. She cowers from Kirk’s attempt to interrogate her, while McCoy decides to name her “Gem,” which, he explains to Spock, is better than “Hey you,” a fact that can be argued.

Two aliens who identify themselves as Vians appear, and tell the landing party not to interfere. They’re carrying weapons, and their very presence makes Gem cower. The Vians’ response to Kirk’s attempts to communicate are, in order, dismissal, weapons fire, and trapping the landing party in a force field that gets more powerful the more they try to resist.

While the landing party are trapped, the Vians examine Gem and then transport away.

Gem then notices a cut on Kirk’s forehead that he obtained earlier. She touches his forehead, and the cut heals, then appears on Gem’s forehead, and then it heals. McCoy theorizes that she’s an empath.

Spock has found technology nearby—which he didn’t detect up until now. They go to check it out, with Kirk insisting that Gem accompany them. They find a space that has bits and pieces of technology of various types—and a pair of tubes containing Linke and Ozaba. They’re dead, and apparently died while trying to strain against the tubes. There are also three empty tubes, one each for Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.


One of the Vians appears and says that they’re proceeding right on schedule. Spock neck pinches him, and Kirk takes his weapon while they head toward what Spock thinks might be an exit. But once they leave, the Vian stands up, unharmed, and nods to the other Vian.

They reach the surface and head to the research station. Scotty and two security guards are waiting for them there. Kirk sends Spock, McCoy, and Gem ahead to the research station, while Kirk stays behind when he sees the Vians watching them. The Vians hit Kirk with, I guess, a slow-motion ray? Kirk moves like he’s swimming in a vat of honey, veeeeeeery sloooooooowly collapsing to the ground.

As Spock, McCoy, and Gem approach, Scotty and the search party disappear. They go back to find Kirk moving in normal time again. The Vians announce that they only need one specimen and Spock and McCoy are free to go. Spock and McCoy are not happy about this, but Kirk doesn’t hesitate to sacrifice himself to save his people.

But then the Vians transport Spock, McCoy, and Gem away without telling Kirk where they’ve gone. They bring him back to the cavern, where Gem has reappeared. They remove his shirt (hey, it’s been a while!), and dangle him from the ceiling via wrist manacles, torturing him.

They insist they want no information as such. They’re curious to see their subjects’ passions, will, and so on. Gem does her best to use her empathy to ameliorate Kirk’s distress.


Spock and McCoy are back in the room where they first met Gem. Spock can no longer find an exit. Kirk and Gem appear while Spock and McCoy are put into a force field. Gem refuses to help Kirk, who is obviously in tremendous pain (and also wearing his shirt again).

Gem takes on all of Kirk’s wounds and pain and then is able to banish them, at great emotional and physical cost. She collapses when she’s finished, and only then does the force field dissipate around Spock and McCoy.

McCoy examines Gem, and she’s fine—as is Kirk, although he’s suffering, oddly, from nitrogen narcosis. While Spock wonders if he can examine the Vian weapon, which he still has, to tap into their power source, the Vians appear and inform Kirk that he will get to choose which of his two officers will be the next person they interrogate. The Vians add that McCoy has an 87% chance of dying, while Spock will probably survive, but has a 93% chance of going insane.

McCoy gives Kirk a sedative so he can sleep off the bends. Spock is now in command, and he intends to volunteer himself to be the Vians’ next subject. McCoy isn’t thrilled with that notion, so he gives Spock a sedative as well.


The Vians appear, and McCoy tells them that the choice has been made. He asks Gem to stay with his friends, assuring her that they’ll look after her (after they wake up, anyhow). The Vians take McCoy away.

Now it’s McCoy’s turn to hang from the manacles, though the Vians leave his shirt on.

Spock and Kirk wake up and are pissed at McCoy being all heroic and stuff. Spock has a way to let the weapon work for Spock—it’s attuned to a particular person’s brain patterns—but Kirk is suspicious of why the Vians are letting them keep the weapon.

Once Spock retunes the weapon, he transports them to the lab where McCoy is dangling from the manacles, badly battered and bruised, his shirt torn. Kirk and Spock get him down and determine that he’s dying.

Kirk and Spock argue over whether or not to ask Gem to help McCoy, for fear that she would die in the process. But before they can urge her to do so, Kirk and Spock are trapped in a force field and the Vians appear, urging them not to convince Gem, to let her work on her own.


The Vians finally drop the other shoe: they can save one planet in the Minara system from the destruction to be brought about by the nova. Gem’s people might be the ones saved, but only if she proves that her people are worthy. McCoy’s death won’t prove her worthiness—his life will. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy each proved their willingness to die for each other. The hope was that this would be felt by Gem—who does indeed go over to McCoy and take on his pain and wounds and injuries.

However, Gem only cures his surface wounds. His internal injuries are another matter, and Gem pulls away before she can get to them. The Vians are concerned that her instinct for self-preservation won’t overcome her instinct for self-sacrifice. But when she does try to continue what she’s doing, McCoy stops her, refusing to let someone die even to save his own life.

The force field feeds on emotion, so Spock is able to weaken it by suppressing his own emotions, and Kirk tries to do likewise. It’s enough to allow Kirk and Spock to escape and surprise the Vians, taking their weapons. But the Vians still refuse to heal McCoy. Kirk gives them back both their weapons and tells them to kill all four of them, because they won’t leave without a healed McCoy. Kirk accuses them of forgetting the very emotions they claim to be trying to engender in Gem.

The Vians, like, y’know, everyone, are totally swayed by a Kirk Speech, and cure McCoy. They pick up Gem and depart.


After the storm passes, the Enterprise is back in orbit. How they got the landing party out of the 120-meter-deep cave is left as an exercise for the viewer. Scotty compares Gem to a pearl of great price, which marks the second Bible quote of the episode (Ozaba is heard quoting a psalm on the record tapes).

Fascinating. Spock is able to make the Vian weapon work for him, but he’s not bright enough to figure out that McCoy would hit him with a hypo to save his life.

I’m a doctor not an escalator. As in “Amok Time,” McCoy proves himself more than happy to indiscriminately use his hypo in order to save his friends, though this time he pays an actual price for it, to wit, almost dying. He then doubles down on his heroism by refusing to let Gem save his life at the cost of her own.

Ahead warp one, aye. Sulu wonders if the landing party is okay down on the planet.

I cannot change the laws of physics! Scotty tells Sulu that the landing party is fine, and Kirk’s probably just worried about the crew, which he says right before we cut to Kirk being tortured. Good call, chief engineer!


Channel open. “The best defense is a good offense, and I intend to start offending right now.”

Kirk being all determined and stuff.

Welcome aboard. Kathryn Hays is very expressive, if a bit too floofy, as Gem. Davis Roberts and Jason Wingreen do a good job of showing the tedium of their lives in just one quick scene as Ozaba and Linke. They’re certainly more compelling than Willard Sage and Alan Bergman, who are spectacularly boring as the Vians. Plus we have James Doohan and George Takei doing almost nothing as Scotty and Sulu.

Trivial matters: For the second week in a row, we get a first-time screenwriter pulled off the slush pile by Robert H. Justman. This episode remains the only screen credit for Joyce Muskat.

The planet appears as gold in some of the Enterprise orbital shots, red in others. Maybe it’s the difference between night and day? Also after he’s tortured, McCoy is wearing a different style tunic.

This is the only episode helmed by veteran TV director John Erman.


We only learn the Vians’ names, Thann and Lal, from the closing credits, as their names are never spoken aloud.

The fate of Gem’s people is revealed in the Voyager short story “The Healing Arts” by E. Cristy Ruteshouser & Lynda Martinez Foley in Strange New Worlds II. The race was given the name the Anjurwan in the story.

To boldly go. “I’m a doctor, not a coal miner.” What a tiresome slog of an episode. This one is often given the same damning with faint praise as many other third-season turkeys that people try to find nice things to say about (cf. “The Enterprise Incident“), talking about what a great showcase it is for the Kirk-Spock-McCoy triad, to which I say, bushwa. Plenty of other episodes do a far better job of showcasing the triad, from “The Enemy Within” to “The Immunity Syndrome” to “The Tholian Web,” which we’ll tackle next time. This, though, just goes through the motions, particularly with Kirk, who doesn’t stand out in any way except in terms of copious use of wax on his bare chest, and Spock, who doesn’t really do anything.

It is a great showcase for McCoy’s heroism. He goes out of his way to make sure that his friends won’t suffer any more, sedating Kirk and Spock, refusing Gem’s assistance, and also frankly holding up a lot better than Kirk did under much worse torture.


But ultimately, it’s a lot of really bad acting by William Shatner, who looks ridiculous when the Vians use their slow-motion gun on him, and even more so when he’s being tortured while making sure we get to see his manly manly chest. Kathryn Hays has her moments, mostly in closeup, as she has a very expressive face, but her body language and gestures border on the comical. And as with far too many episodes this season, there’s not enough story for an hour, giving us way too much padding, particularly during the climax where we’re subjected to endless scenes of Kirk and Spock standing in the force field, Gem gesticulating bizarrely, McCoy lying around covered in bruise makeup, and the Vians just staring blandly ahead over and over again.

Warp factor rating: 2

Next week:The Tholian Web

Rewatcher’s note: Back in 1987, one of the best reference works of its kind, Mr. Scott’s Guide to the Enterprise, was published, and it is one beloved by many Star Trek fans. Its author, Shane Johnson, has since transitioned and is now Lora Johnson, and she’s having some major medical issues relating to a heart defect, and needs help. A GoFundMe page has been set up to help her with the massive medical bills. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Keith R.A. DeCandido urges folks to support the crowdfunding campaign for Altered States of the Union, for which there are only two days left! It’s an alternate history anthology edited by Glenn Hauman for Crazy 8 Press and ComicMix, featuring a story by your humble rewatcher about the Conch Republic of the Florida Keys, as well as stories by Trek scribes David Gerrold, Peter David, Michael Jan Friedman, Robert Greenberger, and Aaron Rosenberg, the first-ever fiction sale by regular rewatch commenter Meredith Peruzzi, and tales by Russ Colchamiro, Debra Doyle & James D. Macdonald, Brendan DuBois, Malon Edwards, G.D. Falksen, Alisa Kwitney, Gordon Linzner, Sarah McGill, Mackenzie Reide, David Silverman & Hildy Silverman, Ian Randal Strock, Ramon Terrell, and Anne Toole! The book will launch at Shore Leave 38 in July.


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