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Recap / Star Trek S3 E12 "The Empath"

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It doesn't get much more Moe than this.

Original air date: December 6, 1968

The Power Trio beams down to a planet in the Minaran system to rescue a pair of Federation scientists before the sun goes supernova. The scientists are nowhere to be found, but an audio/visual record they left behind reveals they seem to have vanished into thin air accompanied by an earthquake and an ear splitting buzz. Soon, our heroes are experiencing the same thing.

Fade from black. Spock's reading indicates that they are either on the set of a minimalist avant-garde play, or they're several miles below the planet's crust. They find a lovely brunette with a pixie cut and a diaphanous gown taking a nap. They wake her up to find that she is mute. Bones decides to call her Gem. (No relation to a truly outrageous pop star, or a young character from To Kill a Mockingbird, or a hyper active and immature power ranger). Soon after, they are introduced to their hosts, a pair of Sufficiently Advanced Aliens named Thann and Lal. (No relation to a certain android who learned to feel)

Doctors Ozaba and Linke are now physicians under glass. Lal and Thann maintain that they had nothing to do with their deaths. They have experiments to do, and now they have three new lab rats. They even have neatly labeled glass cases in the event that they don't survive the experiments!

The Tropath:

  • Act of True Love: Each of the Power Trio attempts to sacrifice himself to protect his friends. Kirk intends to give himself up to the Vians to keep Spock and McCoy from having to go through the Cold-Blooded Torture they would inflict on them; Spock fully means to do the same once Kirk is sedated, making him the highest-ranking officer on the mission. Then McCoy sedates Spock and sacrifices himself to protect him and Kirk. He lives, thanks to outside interference, but he did not know that that would happen.
  • All There in the Script: Though identified as Thann and Lal in the closing credits, the two Vians are never called by their proper names on-screen.
  • As the Good Book Says...:
    • In the teaser, one of the doomed scientists calls the planet a "godforsaken place" just before the earthquake hits. His colleague quotes from the Book of Psalms, and jokingly suggests that God is registering an objection.
    • At the end, Scotty paraphrases the parable of the Pearl of Great Price from Matthew's Gospel.
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: The Vians must have some form of compassion if they are willing to rescue a race from a supernova sun. Yet, their test to see which one is more worthy of saving is needlessly cruel.
  • Book Ends: The scientists quote a Bible passage during the teaser, while Scotty recounts the story of the Pearl of Great Value, which while not identified as such, originates as another passage at the end.
  • Clothing Damage: A non-fanservice-y version, where McCoy's shirt is shredded at the end of his torture session as a proxy for indicating the extent of the injuries underneath.
  • Cobweb of Disuse: The research station has dust and cobwebs everywherenote  to show how long it's been since the scientists disappeared. One of the away team does the traditional pick-up-an-object-and-blow-dust-off-it to emphasize the point.
  • Cold-Blooded Torture: The Vians call it an "experiment".
  • Cute Mute: Gem, with her pixie cut and modest if diaphanous outfit, is more cute than sultry. Her constantly startled expression adds to her cuteness. She has no vocal cords and never utters a sound, even her weeping being silent.
  • Deadpan Snarker: The values of emotion are discussed in the epilogue. Spock is told that perhaps Vulcans could learn something about the importance of emotion. "I shall give the thought all the consideration it is due." Spock replies. Bones' compliment of Spock's bedside manner could count as a deadpan snark as well.
  • Description Cut: While the Enterprise waits out the solar storms, Scotty figures that Kirk and the gang are all right. Cut to Kirk getting tortured, while Spock and McCoy are next.
  • Emotions vs. Stoicism: A major theme of this episode. The force field Kirk and Spock are kept behind is triggered by their emotions. Spock is able to suppress his enough to walk through it.
  • The Empath: Well, duh! Look at the title! However, it is implied that the Vians may have given Gem her powers (there's a short scene where they are using their devices to somehow alter her).
  • Empathic Healer: Gem, and her decision of whether to risk her life to save Dr. McCoy is a major plot point.
  • Friendship Moment: Bones knocks out both Kirk and Spock in order to sacrifice himself to the Enemy of the Week.
  • Healing Hands: Gem has to touch people, and let their pain flow momentarily into her, in order to heal them.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The sound that attacks everyone's eardrums just before they disappear and awaken in the Vians' "lab" for want of a better word.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Kirk offers himself up to save Gem and his friends. While Kirk is sedated, Spock declares himself in charge of the mission and decides that he will give himself over to the Vians. Bones sedates Spock and offers himself up. Gem's entire race will be destroyed if she is not willing to sacrifice herself to heal Bones.
  • Hey, You!: Name dropped when Bones defends his idea of calling the female alien Gem with "It's a lot better than 'Hey you'."
  • Homeworld Evacuation: The star of the Minara system is about to go nova. A group of highly advanced aliens known as the Vians can save the population of only one of the planets in the system. They decide to determine which planet's population will be saved by putting a member of each population through a Secret Test.
  • Hope Spot: Hey, look! Scotty and a pair of Red Shirts are here to save us! Nope, just a mirage set up by those darn Vians.
  • Humans Are Special: That's what the Vians learn from their "experiments". Thankfully, this also convinces them to save Gem and the other Minarans after all, in addition to healing McCoy.
  • I'm a Doctor, Not a Placeholder: Bones, complaining about the underground lair they're imprisoned in, says that he's a doctor, not a coalminer. Later, when Spock tries to get him to help with a captured alien device, he adds that he's not a mechanic either, but without using the whole phrase.
  • Liquid Assets: Gem can heal others, but suffers concurrent damage to herself. If she heals someone badly enough injured, she could die.
  • Making the Choice for You: The Vians give Captain Kirk a Sadistic Choice: which of his officers will be subjected to torture. If Dr. McCoy is chosen there's an 87% chance he will die, but if Mr. Spock is chosen there's a 93% chance he will suffer permanent insanity. Dr. McCoy makes the decision for Kirk by injecting him with a sedative, then injects Spock with a sedative when he decides to sacrifice himself and go.
  • Moral Myopia: Gem has to die to prove she's worthy of life?! Well, to prove her people are worthy of it, but still...
  • More Expendable Than You: The Vians intend to use either Spock or Bones for an experiment that is highly likely to cause death or permanent insanity. Spock declares that he is volunteering; Bones overrules that decision with a sneak knockout shot.
  • My Brain Is Big: The alien Vians are much more intelligent than Earthlings and have the bulging heads to prove it.
  • Never My Fault: When accused of killing the two scientists, the Vians insist it was their own physical weaknesses that killed them. It was their fault for not being immortal!
  • Noodle Incident: Bones mentions that the sleeping woman they find looks harmless. Spock points out that people have said the same before being attacked by rock crystals. When the Hell did that happen, Spock?
  • Ontological Mystery: How did we get here? This is not our red sheeted bed. This is not our beautiful healer. These are not our specimen jars. (OK, they have our names on them....)
  • Parting-from-Consciousness Words: "My decision still stands" says Spock when Bones shoots him up with a sedative, taking the decision of who will be tortured out of Spock's hands. (He was going to offer himself.) "Good bedside manner, Spock." Bones tells Spock just before he passes out from his injuries.
  • Plot Hole: Gem has no problem absorbing, then apparently instantly healing Kirk's wounds. Why can't she absorb just part of McCoy's injuries and heal him in stages?
    • Discussed in the episode. Kirk actually suggests to the Vians that Gem could heal Bones just enough to keep the injuries from being fatal, and that would be sufficient. They reply back that it's not enough to just heal him—she must be willing to sacrifice her life to do so, to reveal the depth of her (and her species') capacity for compassion. The Vians just ain't gonna be happy unless SOMEONE dies in the process... They do finally take Spock's pointnote  that she's already shown herself more than willing to do it, and they heal McCoy, pick her up and leave.
  • Prematurely Marked Grave: The Power Trio find two scientists dead in experiment cases and three more cases with their names.
  • Psychic Powers: Gem has them in the form of Healing Hands. It is unknown whether other members of her race have this ability or if she is unique.
  • Reckless Gun Usage: Kirk, telling someone you're not going to hurt them would be a lot more convincing if you weren't pointing a phaser at them. He does this twice.
  • Rubber-Forehead Aliens: Lal and Thann. Seriously, Will, what's up with the glittery Hefty bags?
  • Sadistic Choice: Kirk is told he must give either Spock or Bones up to be tortured as he was earlier. He decides to Take a Third Option and offers himself.
  • Screw You, Elves!: Kirk gives Lal and Thann a good Him Summation when the "experiment" is finally over.
  • Secret Test: The Vians can save only one planet when the sun goes supernova and wanted to see if Gem's people were worth saving, all based on her decision to save another's life.
  • Shirtless Scene: Kirk's torture (but not McCoy's).
  • Single Tear: Gem sheds one when she realizes what these three men are willing to go through for each other. She breaks down in tears when she finds out just how tough it will be to heal Bones' extensive injuries.
  • Some Kind of Force Field: Prevents our heroes from interfering with the "experiment".
  • Stock Footage: The footage of the sun Minara is re-used from "Operation: Annihilate!".
  • Tareme Eyes: Gem is a rare live-action example.
  • Unwanted Rescue: McCoy uses what's left of his strength to push Gem away so that she won't sacrifice herself.
    McCoy: Jim, I can't destroy life, even if it's to save my own. I can't.
  • The Voiceless: Gem. Justified in that she has no vocal cords.
  • You Called Me "X"; It Must Be Serious: After the power trio's escape to the surface, McCoy refers to the captain as "Kirk," a rare deviation from the usual.
  • You Said You Would Let Them Go: Said by Kirk after he offers himself up to the Vians. Bones and Spock are, as they say, safe. For now.