Star Trek TOS: The Empathetic Mime Is an Experiment
Star Trek: The Original Series
Season 3, Episode 12
Kirk and his trio was dispatched to a planet named Minara II with orders to evacuate a station. No one was present, and the only tangible clue available was a video of previous inhabitants vanishing into thin air.
The video spooked Kirk, Spock, and McCoy. And just as their collective puzzlement was peaking, they began vanishing, too. They reappeared beneath the planet’s surface, confused about their surroundings and about just what in the hell was going on.
A woman in a purple dress was motionless in their presence. When Kirk approached her, she sprung up in surprise. She could not talk. Even though she looked human, McCoy theorized she was of a different species.
Suddenly, two “Vians” arrived, complete with strange looks and hostile personalities. Kirk explained his men were peaceful, but the Vians disregarded the declaration, blasting Kirk, Spock, and McCoy into a neutral force field. The Vians had strange skulls and were generally ugly.
In the tryst with Vians, Kirk scraped his forehead. But in a bonding ritual, the alien “woman,” who McCoy renamed Gem, healed his wound, transferring the cut to her forehead.
She was the empath.
Remember the video on the Minara II where two men vanished at the beginning of the episode? Well, those two men showed up in the posses of the Vians, sealed in tubes and physically twisted in agony. Evidently, the two men were doctors.
Situated adjacent to the twisted bodies in tubes were extra tubes labeled with Kirk, Spock, and McCoy’s names — an ominous bit of foreshadowing. Spock and team (plus the Empath) wrangled free of confinement, breaking free outside to the stormy surface of Minara II.
Because of the strange appearance showcased by the Vians – mainly their skull shape – and the environment of the planet, this episode had vibes similar to The Cage, Star Trek’s first-ever episode.
Meanwhile, the Vians declared only one of the Starfleeters was needed as a prisoner, so Kirk freed his company, leaving himself as the sole captive. The Vians weren’t messing around, stringing Kirk up in chains amid his imprisonment. The Empath also remained behind on Minara II. The Empath watched as the Vians zapped Kirk with flares of electricity, Unsurprisingly, her expressions were, well, empathetic.
With help from the Empath, Kirk broke free from the chained bondage. His wrists were diced to smithereens, but the Empath transferred the wounds to her wrists just as she did with the cut on Kirk’s forehead. What a gal.
The Vians showed up again right after the Empath collapsed from healing Kirk. This time, they explained Kirk must choose as an experimental sacrifice — either Spock or McCoy. And, Spock had a 93% chance of experiencing brain damage from the Vians’ twisted actions, whereas McCoy had an 87% of fatality if he was picked. Decisions, decisions.
Kirk became ill while the group speculated who to nominate for experimentation. So, McCoy jabbed him with a shot of medicine, knocking him out. Spock declared himself captain and had a clear plan to insert himself as the subject of experimentation. McCoy disagreed, jolting Spock with a shot, too.
All these main characters were giving themselves up in acts of selflessness.
McCoy was seized by the Vians and tossed into the chain bondage just like Kirk earlier in the episode. When both Kirk and Spock awoke, they determined McCoy was nabbed because he was a doctor – and that the Empath held a crucial role in how the plan would unfold.
The Vians revealed all of the strange happenings were purposeful. Kirk, Spock, and McCoy as the subject of testing was the goal. The Vians wanted to see how the men would react in certain scenarios – mainly their willingness to self-sacrifice for one another – and if the Empath was learning the traits. With the impending nova of Mirana II, the Vians had to power to save just one species. Examining the Empath’s reactions – taking on wounds of her own from others – gave the Vians assurances that her species was worthy of salvation.
The episode was a commentary on compassion, unsurprising by the title “The Empath.” Humans are capable of so much good – even though so much bad exists, too – and when they set examples rooted in empathy, a chain reaction can follow. The Empath absorbed the good parts of human nature. Love over intellect – can be considered the takeaway.
Obviously, the experiments conducted by the Vians were over the top and God-like. But it was a very trekkian plot.
This was one of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Original Series. It was a vehicle for Spock to shine, chiefly because the plot bumped up against his Vulcan-versus-Human personality. His character was rich with intellect, leaving his capacity to love open for interpretation.
Themes: Will to Survive, Passion for Life, Love of Intellect
Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. His odyssey with Star Trek starts from beginning to finish, watching ‘The Original Series,’ all the way to the present day. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ and The Doors (the band).