A star is approaching nova and on one of its planets there’s a research facility that hasn’t checked in with Starfleet in a while … hmm. Turns out the technicians mysteriously disappeared and just as everyone’s favorite landing party finds this out they too disappear!
Really they’re just transported deeper into the planet where they are tortured by big-giant-head aliens (minus the psychic twitching of old) and tested to see who is actually the most selfless. All of that is to make a mute empath worthy of living by making her willing to make the ultimate sacrifice which will ultimately save the people of her planet orbiting the star about to nova. Though none of this can be communicated to her because she doesn’t actually get the whole language thing.
SPOILERS: She totally passed the selfless test but didn’t die because McCoy is equally selfless. This doesn’t satisfy the aliens for illogical reasons and Kirk is shown as saving the day by giving a very short and unimpressive speech that is no less attack-y than anything else he’s said over the course of the episode and after how many hours of listening to Kirk complain they finally agree with him and take her and her people to safety. The episode was so close to perfect, but that little bit left a bad taste in my mouth.
On a Catholic note (Did you not know I’m a Roman Catholic? Well, you do now.), a superior being taking a kind, young lady and — essentially — filling her with self-sacrifice is not unlike what went down with the Virgin Mary (except for the whole purposely torturing others to torture her to get a desired result). So I pulled inspiration from a Polish hymn for this sonnet (because I am also partly Polish):
This quiet beauty of spring lived
a life of ordinary grace
until put to a test contrived
to prove her worthy of embrace;
for she who understands all hearts
and sees those wounds that spare no parts,
she brings release — prosperity —
and weeps tears of new clarity.
When kindness is the blade of choice,
she burns with living gold to show
the good in use we may yet grow;
she stays with us and does rejoice
when we go forth and carry high
the call to answer every die.