Warp Speed to Nonsense

Warp Speed to Nonsense

Monday, January 19, 2015

Season 3, Episode 63 "The Empath"

"The Empath"
Production Order: 63
Air Order: 67
Stardate: 5121.5
Original Air Date: December 6, 1968

So my friend Teacup posted a video to my Facebook wall, which consisted of shots of Will Riker doing his weird sit-thing (he swings his leg over the top of low-backed chairs, then straddles them, for those of you who are not well-versed in TNG).
Here's the video if you're curious.


I commented that I'd like to see him do that in a scant, TNG's answer to the ass-skimming tunics worn by TOS females. Scants are worn by both genders on the first season of TNG, and were made into dress uniforms worn with leggings by male officers in later seasons.
Teacup obliged by posting this in the comments:

This is what happens when your sarcastic friends also have art degrees.
Also, thank Zod this Riker isn't going commando.


Our adventure this week begins with our intrepid trio beaming to the surface of the same desert planet set that they always use. It's not the end of the world, but it seems like Star Trek seems to favor desert planets because, I dunno, maybe those are cheaper to furnish and film? They also tend to film a lot of actual  outdoor (rather than studio) shots in desert settings as well. Maybe I'm just annoyed because I grew up in a desert area and find it ugly. Maybe I'm irritated because I think there should be more variety in the universe. Whatever. It doesn't really matter.

Kirk's Log 5121.5: "We're on the second planet in the Minarean system. The star is going nova soon, so the Federation set up a research lab here to watch it in the meantime. We're here to pick up those dudes because as crappy as the Federation can be, they don't believe in vaporizing citizens for the sake of science. At least, I don't think they do. Who knows?"

The boys go into the dome to get the scientists, but end up walking into Miss Havisham's house. There are old, gross cobwebs on everything, as well as a quarter-inch of dust. I'm looking for the nasty rat-infested wedding cake. No, seriously: Kirk says that the science station has only been there for six months, and I know they want to get the point across that it's been abandoned, but it would take years to accumulate that kind of neglect. Maybe the set dresser had an enthusiastic intern or something.
Anyway, Scotty calls Kirk to alert him that there's a solar flare coming from the sun, and that, while the trio will be protected by the planet's atmosphere, the E is at risk. Kirk tells him to back the ship up to protect it, and they'll contact the E again when they need a lift out of there. Are we paying attention, friends? We are only a minute and a half in, and they've already Disabled the Ship.

Spock miraculously finds the tape of what happened to the scientists. (That was quick, Spock. Was it labeled "What Happened to Those Two Guys Who Used to Work here"?) He says it's from three months earlier, and again, I have to point out that the timeline here would not have allowed for the accumulation of that much dust and spider activity. Spock puts the tape in and we're treated to a view from across the lab showing the two scientists working at their stations. I have the same complaint here that I had with season one's "Court-Martial": who the hell is filming this? There are two dudes on this station, and it's not a log entry, so is it CCTV? Why was this being filmed? 
Anyway, there's an earthquake, and Orange Coveralls complains about wanting to finish their work and get the hell out of Dodge. Pink Coveralls responds with a Bible verse. There's a high-pitched whine, and Pinky stumbles to the stairs in pain. There's a weird moment when colorful animation showing a dot pattern appears, and there's a funny sound effect, then Pinky vanishes.
"WTF?" yells Orange Coveralls, then the animation comes up with the sound effect, and he's gone too.

Suddenly, the high-pitched whine comes up again, and the animation, and the sound effect, and Spock disappears. Then Bones. Kirk is stumbling up the stairs with his hands over his ears when an earthquake occurs. He falls backward onto the floor and disappears as he is getting up.
And for those of you are thinking that I'm exaggerating about the dust, there is enough of it on the floor that when Kirk fell down, he made a fucking DUST ANGEL:

Looks like he was encased in corbonite ass-first. Heh.

Dramatic music! Credits break!
Alright, Trek fans. We're at four and a half minutes now, and this is where the episode gets weird. Our boys wake up on the floor of what is pretty much the empty studio. You know how when, sometimes you go to see a play or a ballet or something, and the set designer is a minimalist, and instead of actually designing sets, s/he just puts some random background pieces out and chooses to use spotlights and darkness to further the story? That's what happens here. For about forty minutes of this episode, it's really just our boys, a few guests, and an empty stage.
Not gonna lie. This episode is boring. I fell asleep twenty minutes in on the first viewing, and had to work on paying attention when I went back to re-watch it. I suppose the lack of background sets saved them some moola, but I had trouble becoming immersed in the show. The story itself wasn't enough to keep me interested, and I kept wandering over to Facebook in the meantime.
Anyway. Kirk has a gash on his forehead, which is interesting, because while he tumbled over a bunch of times, at no point did he tumble forward. Spock does a scan and says that they were beamed onto the empty stage by some kind of alien technology. He detects a humanoid nearby and they all walk in that direction with their phasers drawn. They come to a dais with a bed, and the spotlight comes up to reveal a girl.
Dramatic music! 
The girl sits up in a way that is so "modern dance" that I have to ask myself if I'm watching Star Trek or some kind of bullshit cultural thing on PBS. (Don't get me wrong: I love cultural shit on PBS. But there are times when you're flipping through the channels looking for something good on, and you happen across modern dance programs and you're like "Oh, heeellllll nnnoooo." This is one of those. Ditto on Sia's "Chandalier": I like the song, but could do without the kid in the leotard.)

Spock thinks this chick didn't evolve on this planet, so she was probably brought here the same as they were. Bones says his scans show no vocal chords: mute. He thinks her species is probably all like that. Kirk wonders how they will communicate with her, and if she might be a telepath, but Spock informs him that if she were, they would be able to hear her thoughts, which they don't.
"I'm gonna call her Gem," Bones announces randomly. Spoilers: she is not truly outrageous.
There's a sound effect and a pair of alien douchebags appear. They have weapons of some kind. Points for this alien make-up, but everything else about them is annoying.

So the aliens are Vians, and they are already familiar who Kirk and his friends are, enough that when Kirk gets out his phaser to explain the Prime Directive, the Vians trap their asses in a forcefield.
"I can't stand up!" complains Kirk, who is already fucking standing.
The Vians tell them that the forcefield draws energy from their systems, so the more they struggle, the stronger it gets.

The Vians scan Gem, then declare things "sufficient" and disappear. The forcefield goes away, and Kirk checks out Gem. She sees that he has a cut on his forehead, then she touches it, and there's an animation star and a ding, and it's gone. It reappears on her forehead, then there's another star and ding, and it's gone. Lots of time-lapse photography in this episode.
"Oh, she's an empath," says Bones.
Hmmmmmm, no. An empath is someone who understands feelings on a deep emotional level. That works for this girl until you add in the fact that she can magically heal people's wounds. That is not empathic. That's more like "magical wound fairy."
They take Gem and walk to another part of... wherever the hell they are, and encounter another place with random computer consoles and stuff. There are glass tubes that are holding the bodies of Orange and Pink Coveralls. They appear to be frozen or something.

The camera switches to our intrepid trio, and when we look back at the Coverall Twins, they are no longer grimacing. Way to stay on top of the continuity, Star Trek. Actually, Ozama appears to be samba'ing and having a good time now.

Dramatic music! Commercial break!
When we return, the boys take two steps to the left and find that their names have been attached to three empty tubes. Gotta give the Vians credit here: they kidnapped three guys and have already labeled their holding tanks. Very efficient.
One of the Vians comes back, and says that they intend to do alien anal probes and crap, and that the samba brothers died because they were weak. Spock pinches him and Kirk takes his weapon. A scan reveals an exit up ahead, so they move off toward it. 
Kirk keeps leading Gem everywhere by the hand. She's mute and comes off as super-vulnerable, so it feels like he's infantilizing her. WTF, Star Trek? You either feature female badasses like Uhura and the Romulan commander, or they're little girls like Miri, or women to be seduced (fucking Shahna).
The group reaches the surface, but the E has moved out of range. They decide to run around outside in the heavy wind.
Look! It's Scotty with two Reds! Hooray, we're saved!

Kirk notices the Vian douchebags and sends Gem ahead with the boys so they can beam to safety. The Vians shoot Kirk with some kind of ray that turns everything into slow motion. Unfortunately, I'm paying enough attention to notice that the wind is still blowing at the same rate in the background. The Shat is running in fake slo-mo. Whoomp-whoomp.
Also, Scotty isn't there. It's a freaking mirage. They run back to Kirk, who is falling in fake slo-mo.
"Hey," says one of the Vians, "we only really need one of you. Your friends can take off, Kirk."
"I volunteer as Tribute," says Spock.
"The hell you do," replies Kirk.
The boys in blue turn to leave with Gem, but there's animation and a boi-oi-oing sound, and they disappear. Kirk rages at the Vians, but then they disappear his ass, too. 

Upstairs, Sulu reports to Scotty that the storm cause by the solar flare will last another 17 hours or so.
"It's cool," says Scotty. "Kirk probably has things under control."
Um, how long have you served with Kirk, Scotty? That guy gets himself into trouble faster than you can say "I cannae do it!"

Just to prove my point, the very next shot we see is of Kirk hanging from the ceiling while the Vians torture him. Spock and Bones are missing, but Gem is kneeling on the floor like the Vians are her lords and masters.

The Vians tell Kirk that they have charted his kindness and compassion, but now they want to run experiments on him to determine his courage. During this conversation, we keep going back to Kirk, who is supposedly swinging from those manacles. But his arms are bent so we can't see his cuffed wrists, and they keep zooming in and out on The Shat so we are made to think that he is probably swinging back and forth in those manacles. It's sort of clever/not clever at the same time. The Shat's nipples are once again getting more screen time than is needed. Also, welcome to the party, pit hair. We really didn't need you to crash, but if you were going to show up rudely, you could have at least brought booze.

That left nipple is super-fuzzy, like it wasn't there, and some
stage-hand drew one on with a magic marker.

The Vians are super-vague about what they intend to do to Kirk, but Gem looks all concerned. She gets some Girl-O-Vision as we zoom in on her. You know, maybe she's not concerned. Maybe she's thinking of buying a boat.

Spock and Bones are wandering in the dark near the dais when Kirk and Gem appear. Spock and Bones are in the forcefield again, and Gem hesitates to help Kirk. Bones yells at her to help him, and she does. I gotta say, that was pretty rude of him to insist like that, knowing that in order to help him, she is taking on all of his pain and physical injuries. She's not just swiping a wet nap over his wounds and applying gauze, she's actually putting herself at risk. Anyway, she does just that, taking on Kirk's manacle injuries before getting rid of them on herself.

When released from the forcefield, Bones at least has the decency to scan Gem and declare her to be okay. They have a brief discussion about how Gem had to be encouraged to help Kirk, at her own expense.
"Beeteedubs, you have the bends," Bones tells Kirk.
"Hey, I think I can figure out how to work their transporter based on that weapon thing we stole off them," remarks Spock.
The Vians blink into existence. "So you're in charge of these other men, yes?" they ask Kirk. "Because we need one. If you pick the doctor, he'll probably die during the experiments. If you pick Spock, he'll probably end up with brain damage."
They disappear again, and Spock goes back to his examination of the weapon-thing. He and Bones get into an argument about who should be picked for the experiments, and Bones asserts that he is neither a coal miner, nor a mechanic.
"Both of you shut up," says Kirk. "I'm picking."
Bones sneaks up and hypos him in the back. Kirk drops like a bag of rocks.
"That was for your health," Bones declares.
"Awesome," says Spock. "With Jim asleep, I'm in charge. And I pick me for the experiments."
"Bullshit," says Bones, and he hypos Spock's ass, too.

The Vians show up and haul Bones away, locking him in the manacles. Kirk and Spock wake up, and Spock resumes his tinkering of the weapon-thing.
"It's mostly a transporter," he tells Kirk, "and it's tuned to the person wearing it. I can adjust it to my own brain patterns, and we can use it that way, transport back to the E."
"How come they let us keep it?" asks Kirk. "They would know that we could alter it to escape, which means that they really only wanted one of us to begin with. And Gem is at the center of this, because she was here before we were."
Spock fixes the weapon-thing to match to his own brain, and they transport over to where Bones has been shackled to the ceiling. His face is bloody and bruised.
Dramatic music! Commercial break!

Spock scans Bones and reports that the Vians have fucked up all of his shit. He's gonna die soon. Gem hangs back.
"Can we ask Gem to help him?" Kirk asks Spock.
"We could," Spock replies, "but he's pretty close to death, and it might kill her. If she has a sense of self-preservation, she might not agree to it."
They go to ask her, but the forcefield comes up, and the Vians appear, telling them that they cannot interfere.
"What the hell is your problem?" demands Kirk.
So the Vians start monologuing: they know the sun is going nova soon, and that it will destroy every planet in the system. They have the power to save the inhabitants of one planet, but they need to find out if those people are worthy of being saved. They're considering Gem's people as the ones to save, but they have to find out more about them by running experiments on her. They insist that, rather than being experimental victims, our intrepid trio has actually been teaching Gem about the good parts of a society, where people are willing to sacrifice themselves to save one another.
Kirk and Spock seem to be satisfied with this answer, but I'm loathe to understand why they would be okay with this kind of sick Nazi psychological bullshit. The Vians have to determine if Gem's people are worth saving? Who gives a shit? You save them because it's the right thing to do, you assholes. Aren't you learning anything from your own experiments? While we're at it, you couldn't accomplish this with willing participants? You had to kidnap people to do this?
Take this katana, and go sit in the corner.

In the meantime, Gem has decided to help Bones.

So she does her empathy thing that's not really empathy but something else entirely, and the Vians rubberneck and talk about her as though she isn't there. I guess she passed the test, and those dicks will save her species after all. More time-lapse photography shows the wounds disappearing from Bones' face, and reappearing on hers. Then they clear up, because she's a magical wound fairy.

Not gonna lie: that special effects make-up was better applied to
De Kelley.

But then she starts to heal herself, which tells the Vians that her instinct for self-preservation is greater than her instinct for self-sacrifice, which is what they want to see. So they might not save her people after all.
"Hey, can't you guys save my friend?" Kirk asks.
"Yeah, but we won't," says Vian #1.
"Because we're dicks," adds the other.
Gem tries to heal Bones completely, but he pushes her away, not wanting her to sacrifice herself for him. Unfortunately, the asshole Vians declare that it's not enough for her to offer, that she actually has to die.
"Are you shitting me?" demands Kirk. "You guys are so high and mighty intellectual that you've lost all notion of the the things that you're studying, like kindness and compassion." He and Spock free themselves from the forcefield, and Spock returns the now-altered weapon-thingy.
The Vians pause, then heal up Bones, and scoop up an unconscious Gem. "Okay, I guess we'll save her people. Laters." And they just kind of float backward and up, receding back into blackness.

Upstairs, the trio discusses how, in the end, what the Vians were interested in was human emotion. Scotty suggests that Spock carry the idea back to Vulcan that human qualities were of great importance to mostly intellectual beings.
Spock gives them the finger. "Fuck you guys. Does every episode have to end with you making racist remarks against Vulcans?"
And of course everybody laughs.

Blech. This episode was okay, but not great. I'm generally turned off by that minimalist approach to set design, so that worked against it for me. I also wasn't down with the idea that intellect should be "trumped" by emotion. How about we not trump anything of that sort? I'm also irked that they referred to Gem as an empath, when her powers and communication comprised more than that. Come up with a new word for your aliens, Star Trek. You're allowed.
So costumes: the Vian silver robes were alright, if a bit cliche, especially with those huge bulbous "intellectual" heads. The whole look seems to have been copied from the Talosians in "The Menagerie". I'm giving them a five for being simple and uncomplicated.

Gem's costume gets a four. I'm really over Star Trek's use of bodysuit-under-Bedazzled -floaty-thing. It only scored as high as a four because I like the pattern on the sheer overlay part. Unfortunately, her blue-grey eyeshadow-up-to-eyebrows thing reminds me a bit too much of Mimi from The Drew Carey Show.

Death Toll:
Red deaths this episode: 0
Red deaths this season: 3
Gold deaths this episode: 0
Gold deaths this season: 0
Blue deaths this episode: 0
Blue deaths this season: 0
Total crew deaths this season: 3
Total crew deaths thus far: 45


My friend and I strolled into a Teavana the other day while window shopping. The nice thing about that place is that they always have samples at the ready. This time, one of the samples featured was Gingerbread. No doubt they brewed a pot of this hoping to get rid of some seasonal stock before putting out new stuff. I grabbed a tiny sample cup and drank it down. It's nice, with a spice palette that a bit heavy on the cinnamon, but not so much as to be obnoxious. The leaf based was black, but it wasn't overly bitter, and it tasted just enough like a cookie to be satisfying.

Reader PD's cat, Mingo, in one of the cooler cat photos I've ever seen.
Chiaroscuro is the best, you guys.

1 comment:

  1. How can you hate the desert? Unless you mean the "nothing but sand" type
    But the rocky outcrops and hills are gorgeous, natural works of art I could never tire of looking at. And there are so many cool animals you can find there if you know where to look. Part of what makes Mars so cool is that it's just a big, rusty desert. To each their own, I guess.

    I didn't think this episode was too bad, especially for season three. We got some nice interactions from the big three, Kirk didn't try to seduce the girl, and I think the idea of aliens with healing powers who communicate by feeling each other's emotions and through interpretive dance (lol) was pretty neat. We also got a bit of philosophical musing - if we are torturing a "lower life form" to see if they are worthy of something, what does that say about us?