The Empath

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"The Empath"
Star Trek: The Original Series episode
Episode no. Season 3
Episode 12
Directed by John Erman
Written by Joyce Muskat
Featured music George Duning
Cinematography by Jerry Finnerman
Production code 063
Original air date December 6, 1968 (1968-12-06)
Guest actors
Episode chronology
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List of Star Trek: The Original Series episodes

"The Empath" is a third season episode of the original science fiction television series Star Trek, and was broadcast December 6, 1968. It is episode #67, production #63, written by Joyce Muskat and directed by John Erman. It was not without controversy and was one of a handful of episodes of the series deliberately not screened in the United Kingdom by the BBC due to its perceived disturbing content. The episode was withdrawn because of 'sadistic plot elements' during the initial run in 1971 and was not shown until a repeat run in January 1994.

In this episode, while visiting a doomed planet, the landing party is subject to torturous experiments by powerful aliens.


On stardate 5121.5, the Federation starship USS Enterprise arrives at Minara II to pick up research personnel. The Minaran star is close to going supernova. Captain Kirk, Chief Medical Officer Dr. McCoy, and Science Officer Spock beam to the planet to locate the research team while the Enterprise waits in orbit. The landing team finds the research camp abandoned and the scientists missing.

Meanwhile in orbit, the Enterprise is bombarded by intense solar radiation which is causing instrumentation failure, and threatening the lives of the crew. Chief Engineer Scott orders the ship to break orbit while the landing party continues the search for the missing scientists on the planet.

As the search continues, the landing party finds themselves teleported to an underground chamber, and there they find a young woman lying on a raised platform. The woman awakens but she appears to be mute and all attempts to verbally communicate with her are in vain. Dr. McCoy names the mystery woman "Gem".

Soon, two silver-robed aliens appear, and identify themselves as Vians. Kirk approaches the beings but they repel the team with a force field. Kirk is injured and knocked to the floor. The silent Gem then rushes to Kirk's side and uses a mental power to absorb Kirk's injuries, taking them on herself and then dissipating them, healing him instantly and revealing that she is a powerful empath. The Vians leave the chamber to prepare experiments upon their newly arrived subjects.

Spock takes the opportunity to scan their "prison" for a way out. He locates a nearby area filled with sophisticated machinery and computer banks. Along with the equipment are several glass cylinders, two of which contain dead bodies frozen in ghastly poses. Signs on the cylinders identify the test subjects as "Linke" and "Ozaba", the missing research scientists. Three more cylinders next to them are empty but contain name plaques: "McCoy", "Spock" and "Kirk".

Just then a Vian appears and states that they are just in time. Spock performs a Vulcan nerve pinch on the Vian and the landing party and Gem make it to the surface where they find Scotty and some others from the Enterprise. Kirk sees two Vians who have followed them to the surface and instructs the others to get to Scotty while he takes care of them. The Vians slow Kirk with their weapons and note the powerful will of the humans to survive. Spock, McCoy, and Gem find that Scotty and the others were never really there and turn back to help the Captain. The Vians claim that they now only want one specimen, Kirk, and that they have no interest in keeping the others longer. But as the others turn to leave, they are suddenly transported away, apparently to gauge Kirk's reaction.

The storm in space has continued for four hours longer than expected, but it is still too strong for the Enterprise to return to the planet. Scotty decides to hold the ship from going back to the planet for a time longer, unaware that the landing party is in danger.

The Vians take Kirk back inside and subject him to physical torture while Gem watches, but won't tell him why. The Vians explain that Linke's and Ozaba's "own fears killed them." They then send him back to the first chamber where Gem heals his wounds. Kirk has been so badly hurt that Gem expends almost all her power on him, and faints from the strain. Because Gem takes on others' injuries in order to heal them, Kirk and McCoy are concerned that she could severely hurt or kill herself if she overdoes it. McCoy points out that her instinct for self-preservation would take over to prevent this.

Not satisfied with the results of the experiment, the Vians return and demand another test subject, giving Kirk the choice of McCoy or Spock. They even "helpfully" explain that there is an 87% chance McCoy will die, and a 93% chance Spock will suffer brain damage resulting in permanent insanity. They leave once again. Spock makes adjustments to a teleportation device stolen earlier from the Vians. As Kirk ponders what to do, McCoy sedates him, intending to offer to be taken next. Spock, now in command as Kirk is unconscious, wants to offer himself, but McCoy sedates him as well and goes with the Vians. Upon awakening, though Spock suggests that they return to the surface, Gem holds up McCoy's medical tricorder and Kirk says, "The best defense is a good offense, and I intend to start offending right now." Kirk, Spock and Gem use the teleportation device to go to the Vians' medical chamber, finding McCoy near death.

They return to the first chamber where Gem rests. She is still weak and fearful. Kirk speculates that he may persuade her to stabilize McCoy, at which point the Vians reappear and imprison Kirk and Spock in the force field to prevent them from interfering. At last, Gem overcomes her fear and tries to help the doctor but struggles painfully with her remaining power to ease his suffering. Kirk angrily demands an explanation for the tortures.

The Vians explain that they aren't testing the landing party, but are in fact testing Gem. They claim they have the ability to save only one of the peoples living in their system from the impending supernova disaster. They want to see if Gem's race are worthy of rescue. If she has learned to value the lives of others before her own, they will consider her people worthy. If not, the Vians will spare another race that is doomed to die.

The aliens continue to observe Gem as she grows weaker, sacrificing her remaining energy to save McCoy's life, but breaking away from him to rest. This leads them to determine that she is not willing to give her life for that of another, and that her people will be the ones chosen to die. They demand that the test proceed to "completion", presumably the death either of Gem or McCoy. Gem does return to McCoy, but aware her attempt will cost her her own life, he shoves her away. Too drained to return, she falls to the floor.

Meanwhile, Spock observes that the force field's energy increases with strong emotions. He manages to break free and overpowers the two aliens. Kirk confiscates the devices used for controlling the force fields.

The Vians watch as Spock explains that since Gem has already offered her life, she's earned the right of survival for her planet. Moreover, McCoy's life is not solely dependent on Gem; the Vians have the technology to save him as well. But the Vians refuse, saying that Gem offering her life is not enough. Kirk accuses the aliens of lacking the one thing that Gem has already shown herself capable of, and the one thing the Vians sought: compassion. Kirk even returns the Vians' devices, saying, "If death is all you understand, here are four lives for you." The aliens consider the behavior and agree that Kirk's words have merit. The aliens restore Gem and McCoy to health and agree her people will be the ones they spare. The aliens, along with Gem, teleport away, and Kirk and his team return to the Enterprise. Kirk muses on the "chance" encounter with Gem, and Scott talks about her in terms of the biblical parable of the "Pearl of Great Price".

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