Tuesday, May 28, 2019


PHENOMENALITY: *marvelous*
CAMPBELLIAN FUNCTIONS: *psychological, sociological*

One or two previous TREK episodes dealt with the Federation trying to rescue alien races from their planets in the event of their suns going nova. Here, Kirk and Friends know that the star Minara is due to go nova soon, but there's no mention of rescue operations, perhaps because there are too many inhabited planets to deal with. The Enterprise takes up orbit around a particular, theoretically uninhabited planet where two Federation scientists set up an outpost to study the star's nova processes, and the scientists are the only ones Kirk, Spock and McCoy are sent to rescue.

The trio, however, find that the planet has another outpost deep within the bowels of the earth: that of two aliens called Vians. The Vians take the three crewmen prisoner and place them in a minimalistic prison, along with one alien female, a mute woman whom McCoy nicknames "Gem" (probably because she has gems studding her gownlike attire). The crewmen endure a number of torments-- not least being the discovery that the two scientists have been killed and preserved in experimental canisters. Meanwhile, Commander Scott, in charge of the ship, can't locate the landing party, and worries about whether he'll be forced to leave them behind when the sun goes nova.

The crewman make the discovery that Gem, though unable to communicate with them, is an empath who can cure others of their wounds, apparently by projecting energy that heals her patient but causes her own body to duplicate those wounds, which she must then heal-- though severe wounds require so much expenditure that she may risk killing herself. Kirk speculates that the Vians are conducting experiments to see how Gem responds to human injuries, and that the first experiments with the scientists didn't go well. One Vian claiming, rather obliquely, that the men were killed by their own fears, and this remark isn't adequately explained. However, the broad implication seems to be that the scientists failed to inspire Gem to want to heal them of their Vian-inflicted wounds, in contrast to the way that Gem reacts to the courage and mutual respect she sees in Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

The Vians wound Kirk, and Gem assimilates and cures his wounds. Then the Vians make clear that the next experiment involves bringing a subject close to death. McCoy arranges things so that his comrades will be spared these rigors, after which Kirk and Spock are prevented from intervening while Gem silently agonizes about whether to try to heal the nearly-dead doctor. The Vians finally reveal their purpose: that they have the technological prowess to save one of the races in the Minara system, and that they will choose Gem's people if she can demonstrate the will to self-sacrifice-- that is, of losing her life to save McCoy's.

"Empath" is far from the first TREK episode to meditate on the role of altruism in the advancement of human (and human-like) species, but the visceral nature of the self-sacrifice herein makes the
intellectual problem far more immediate. The interpersonal dynamic of Kirk, Spock and McCoy is at its best here, with Spock getting a standout moment in which he illustrates the utility of being able to control one's emotions. Without discoursing on the conclusion, suffice to say that Gem's people are vindicated and therefore saved, though one has to wonder whether any of the other species in the Minara system got the benefit of these integrity-tests.

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