Friday, October 15, 2010

The Empath

From Wikipedia:

"The Empath" is a third season episode of Star Trek: The Original Series
, and was broadcast December 6, 1968. It is episode #67, production #63, written by Joyce Muskat and directed by John Erman.

Overview: While visiting a doomed planet, the landing party is subject to torturous experiments by powerful aliens.


Watch it

Notes and pics:

* Good teaser. They watch what happened to the missing Federation scientists three months earlier on a TV screen, then it happens to them immediately afterward.

* Nice touch, fading to the credits over the dust print of Kirk's missing body on the floor.

* Very cool and theatrical black box set.

* The Empath, played by the amazing
Kathryn Hays, moves like a dancer or mime.

* Which makes sense because her race doesn't speak: physical communication, body language, necessarily become all important.

* Calling her "Gem" was confusing to me as a child. McCoy's Southern accent makes it sound like "Jim," and I thought that the Doctor was naming her after the Captain for some reason. Actually, it would have been a nice moment if Kirk had given McCoy a brief glance or something to acknowledge the similarity.

But the missed moment doesn't hurt, really.

* Butthead alien mad scientist types in shiny dresses who use human beings as test subjects. This hearkens back to the Talosians in "
The Menagerie." Nice touch.

* Good scene with the Empath healing Kirk's cut.

* This is all very theatrical.

* Cool mad scientist lab.

* Oh, this is fucking fabulous! How can you not like seeing dead bodies in giant test tubes? This is so very 1940s comic book.

* Hmm. Spock took this guy out pretty easily...

* Oh, I see. It was a trick!

* I love the weird illusion-Scotty, smiling and waving like a drugged up moron.

* Just as I love the slo-mo Kirk trying to reach his alien tormentors. Really, if there's one thing that typifies the third season, it's all the psychedelia and trippiness. I guess that simply reflects the year in which the season was produced, 1968-1969, but it is entirely welcome.

* Gem kind of reminds me of that mute character in Brecht's Mother Courage and Her Children. Did I already point out how totally theatrical this episode is?

* Scotty in command!

* Shirtless Kirk in bondage. Reminds me of "
Gamesters of Triskelion," but far more creepy. This wouldn't be a bad episode to watch on Halloween.

* Speaking of which, the aliens from time to time come off as creepy haunted house tour guides, what with their affected sense of narrating everything all the time.

* Healing Kirk: Hays playing Gem is just astonishing here, an incredible performance, fabulous facial expressions, marvelous movement. This affected me emotionally, for sure. She invokes the abstract notions of pain and sorrow, and gets it into your gut, without uttering a single word.

* The aliens like to stand in creepy tableau.

* Spock stands a "sixty three percent chance of permanent insanity" if Kirk chooses him to be the next alien test subject. I say bring on the insanity!

* McCoy: "I'm a doctor, not a coal miner." Glad they were able to get one of these in.

* McCoy hypos the Captain. Glad they got that in, too. It is, after all, his weapon of choice. McCoy then hypos Spock, leaving the Doctor as the only choice for the alien experiments. McCoy finally gets to play the martyr.

* Unlike with Kirk, the aliens keep McCoy's shirt on. I guess that's just as well.

* Okay, really cool scene when the aliens offer their justification for what they're doing, which complicates the morality here tremendously. And while they go on and on, Gem silently struggles with whether or not she should sacrifice herself to save the Doctor.

* Heh. The sadist aliens commend Kirk and Spock for their morality. Nice irony.

* Very
post-modern, and several years before the notion had really become well known: Kirk, Spock, and the aliens watch and comment on the interplay between Gem and the dying McCoy, while we, the viewers, watch them being watched.

* Silly Kirk! You can't simply push your way out of a force field!

* Classic Kirk speech trying to persuade the aliens to save the Doctor.

* Nice WTF exit of Gem and the aliens: they sort of recede into the blackness.

* This is probably the longest closing bridge conversation of the show's run.

* Scotty: "Have you not heard the tale of the merchant?" No, Scotty, nobody's heard the tale of the merchant. Why don't you tell us?

* Four stars. All the theatricality, the classic sci-fi aliens and their twisted sadistic experiments, the 60s psychedelia, the moralizing and philosophy, and most importantly, the gripping performance of Kathryn Hays make this episode a lot of fun. Especially Gem, who nails it to the wall without a single line. Really, she's one of the best guest stars the show had, right up there with Ricardo Montalban and others.

Hey, that makes three four star episodes in a row. Looks like we've got a great run here a third of the way through the third season!