The Empath is another episode in which Kirk, Spock and McCoy find themselves at the mercy of aliens with incredible powers who can do to them whatever they want. It also deals with the usual theme of the need for logic without forgetting the emotions that make us who we are: human. This theme was at the core of Gene Roddenberry’s Star Trek with the contrast between cold Spock and the rest of the crew formed by the various Kirk, McCoy, Scott and all the rest to act as a counterpart .
This time the Enterprise is sent to investigate a planet in a system whose sun is about to become a nova to look for the two scientists who are studying the situation in a scientific outpost. Naturally, the two scientists have long been dead and the responsibles are two macrocephalic aliens who present themselves as Vians (played by Alan Bergmann and Willard Sage) and who are conducting experiments with humanoid guinea pigs to determine who’s worth saving from the dying planetary system.
How do they do that? By torturing anyone who comes to hand (in this case, our heroes) to see if the mute Jem (Kathryn Hays) is empathetic enough to deserve the salvation of his planet.
Star Trek’s messages have (almost) always been good and reasonable (this one could actually be seen as another anti-Nazi message, just like the one of Patterns of Force), but here it’s a little too didactic to be enjoyable. The choice of having Jem being a mute doesn’t pay much because the actress cannot convey any message with her facial expressions and it’s up to McCoy and Kirk to explain aloud what’s happening (the many close-ups on her face don’t help!)!
Then, the episode drags a bit since it takes place almost entirely in a dark and empty room (the budget was no longer that of the first season!) and the whole thing feels repetitive: torture Kirk, then torture McCoy, then torture Spock and Kirk… But it’s always the same thing! The Empath also reminded me of The Immunity Syndrome: Spock and McCoy compete with each other to claim the right to be killed instead of the other. Although we already saw that, this time the resolution is different as McCoy incapacitates Spock to get him out of the way and to go undisturbed towards his own death sentence signed by the cruel Vians.
And then, let’s face it, I couldn’t appreciate too much an episode so full of biblical references like this one (the scientists who quote a passage from the Bible at the beginning, the sacrifice on McCoy on the cross, his resurrection, and Jem’s sacrifice too), sorry. In Star Trek’s future there’s no religion! Ciao!
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