Star Trek: The Next Generation – Skin of Evil [1.22]

A shuttle carrying Counselor Troi and another crew member crash, and the survivors are held prisoner by a Armus, an immensely powerful shapeshifting sludge-type creature who seeks to find some purpose in his rage and anger. He refuses to allow the shuttle survivors medical assistance and kills Tasha Yar when she attempts to move close. Troi helps Picard to realize that Armus is weakest when he is experiencing rather than supressing his rage, so Picard goads him until the Enterprise is able to beam everyone up and get away. The crew farewells Tasha in a special memorial service on the holodeck.

Teleplay by Joseph Stefano and Hannah Louise Shearer. Story by Joseph Stefano. Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan.

Previous Episode: SymbiosisNext Episode: We’ll Always Have Paris

Comments:
This is the big one! Without a doubt, this is the most significant episode so far in terms of its future influence of the series. Now, both of the final two episodes of the season would have had aspirations to that claim at the time they came out – after all, one was Conspiracy, which wraps up the conspiracy theory from Coming of Age and sets up a major storyline in the future (err, or would have if they had ever bothered to followed it up), and the other was Neutral Zone, which featured the long-awaited return of the Romulans as major players in the galaxy (except that Next Generation Romulans were always a bit dull, and though they did cause problems later on, they themselves were just a bit ho-hum). But with Skin of Evil, we’ve got the real deal: a pretty decent episode that majorly changes the status quo of the series forever, in a way that ultimately proved beneficial to the show’s strength.

Of course this change is the completely abrupt, entirely unexpected death of Security Chief Tasha Yar. Her removal from the cast also helps to streamline the bridge crew, and to give Lt. Worf a clear function on the ship that he was lacking up until this point. Prior to this, you never knew what Worf was doing on the bridge – he would bounce around between security, science, communications, ops, or just extra muscle on an away team – wherever the script called for another character to be functioning. By placing him directly in the new Security Chief role (although here he is still “acting” head of security), it helps to cut out some of the redundancies on the large ensemble and give him some clear business to do from here on in, as he continues to develop into one of Star Trek’s most interesting characters.

On top of that, Tasha’s death continues to have a lasting impact upon the cast. They never really forget about her, and her death – especially her dying in a fairly typical situation that didn’t seem to carry with it any greater risks than any other story – continues to inform the development of the series from here on in. Like Barry Allen for many years in DC comics, she in many ways becomes more significant in her death then she did in her life – having seen her die adds a very real and very necessary human element to the show, serving as a reminder for the crew and the audience of the risks that go with the Enterprise mission.

Tasha’s death scene itself is completely shocking. There is no foreshadowing, no build up – it just comes out of nowhere. One fully expects Dr. Crusher to be able to revive her in the extended sick-bay scene that follows. I remember when first watching it that I was hoping that they wouldn’t save her, just because that would have been unexpected, but still, I was shocked. After that, as we learned about Armus’ story, I fully thought the story would end with his race’s embodiment of light and virtue to show up and restore her life. But no, instead we have an extended funeral scene, an opportunity to really say goodbye.

I’ve heard it criticized that this was a pretty dumb way to kill off a regular character for the first time in television Star Trek’s history–and it is true that the event itself was a bit underwhelming, but the impact upon the show was monumental and very positive. We had some very human moments in response to the shocking pointless tragedy of Tasha’s death, and all of a sudden it gave the entire series a sense of relevance, risk, and real consequence.

This is a good episode for Troi – her empathic abilities have a real purpose in this episode – providing Troi with genuine and useful insights into their enemy. The writing and performance of the character is one of her best so far, and she has a number of good lines (“You thought it would amuse you, but it didn’t. You felt no satisfaction,”and “We are members of a community. We all care for each other.”)

This is also an awesome episode for Picard. He shows incredible strength and determination, and operates in his greatest strength – the ability to look his enemy in the face and stare him down, defeating him by the power of his words and his conviction in his principles.

Anticipating the Future

As stated already, Tasha’s death serves as a precursor to a number of important future storylines: the alternate universe Tasha from Yesterday’s Enterprise, that alternate universe half Romulan daughter Sela, Tasha’s sister, and so on.

Observations

• Very nice character moment between Worf and Tasha at the start about the upcoming martial arts competition. I’m not sure if this is the kind of writing Denise Crosby was referring to when she said she’d have stayed on if her character had been consistently written as she was in this episode.

• The new chief engineer acknowledges Picard’s communication by giving his full name and rank (Lt. Commander Leland T. Lynch) – it’s a sign that we’ve had a bit of a rotating door in engineering.

• By modern standards, Armus – both in his humanoid form and in the animated sludge form that the away team first encounters – looks pretty dated and cheesy.

• Interesting close up on Picard when he is on the Bridge, asking if Armus is a life form. It’s low angle, from the side, you can see a crewman’s legs in the background below the console.

• The story gives a light dosage of the Riker / Troi relationship – just enough to feel compelling without being annoying.

• Armus drops his threat to make Dr. Crusher pick one of her friends to die – by having him get distracted. I’d have like to see that play out.

• Considering that Tasha was security chief, a significant officer on the ship, there are very few people attending her funeral. But then I suppose the scene at the end isn’t her proper funeral, but maybe more of a special ceremony that certain people were invited to (by Tasha herself).

• It’s nice but implausibly convenient that Tasha recorded a message, quite recently it seems, to all her friends.

• Armus is the first near-omnipotent creature the Enterprise has had to deal with for a while.

Dialogue High Point

Picard has many awesome moments as he faces down with Armus, but my favourite comes after Armus declares about the other crew members, “I can kill them!” Picard responds

Yes, you can. But only I can command them.

Previous Episode: SymbiosisNext Episode: We’ll Always Have Paris

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4 thoughts on “Star Trek: The Next Generation – Skin of Evil [1.22]

  1. From lobaugh:

    tasha’s death is the kind of story element/character death a lot of tv series miss out on…the idea of a character just dying suddenly with no building and no deeper meaning drawn out is important because most the time, thats exactly what someone dying is like in real life. It rarely has meaning in itself, and is almost always sudden, shocking, unexpected. it is a real moment and I like stories that force characters to deal with a bit of reality. I hate it when shows draw sudden sympathetic attention to a character and then suddenly kill them two episodes later….like Shannon in Lost…and it really separated ST:TNG from the original series I think…everybody knew the red shirt joke, this really flew in the face of that.

  2. The Lost thing was unpleasant because it seemed like often they would draw sudden sympathetic attention to a character before they showed them die in a painfully meaningless way. It often felt cruel.

    With the red shirt thing, it’s notable that in Season One of TNG there is very little of that. There’s only one episode where Enterprise security officers die (other than Tasha), and it’s in a situation where you’d expect that possibility (“Heart of Glory”). But later, they definitely fell into that trap.

  3. I find this episode to be mediocre, overall, and a lot of that comes from Armus himself. He just doesn’t work. He’s a great concept. But the look and the voice just ruin it. This is a great Troi episode, though. Shame that a great Troi episode had to be overshadowed by Tasha’s death. Ah, well.

  4. I found it intriguing that, when hearing the of the Federation’s respect for life, Armus simply replies “why?” They don’t give him a satisfactory answer–a fact that doesn’t escape his notice. I’m almost disappointed that Armus identified himself as evil, because as of yet, the Federation hasn’t put forth a logical basis for their morals. Why is killing other sentient beings wrong? Who or what decides that it is wrong, and how does that person or thing have the authority? Armus is a much more compelling villain if he is simply bored; I would have liked to see him asking why he had been left behind? What made his traits unworthy of the “Titans?” Of course, the supposedly agnostic Federation merely expresses pity on Armus, because they don’t have any answers for him. “Poor, not-enlightened Armus,” they think, without defining their basis for claiming enlightenment. If I were Armus, I would have been upset by that response too.

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