“Skin of Evil”
Written by Joseph Stefano and Hannah Louise Shearer
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan
Season 1, Episode 22
Production episode 40271-122
Original air date: April 25, 1988
Captain’s Log: Shuttlecraft 13 is on its way back with Troi from a conference when it starts to lose power. The Enterprise is doing maintenance on the warp drive, and by the time Chief Engineer Lynch can get the dilithium crystals back where they belong, the shuttle has crashed. The transporter can’t lock on the two shuttle inhabitants — Troi and Lieutenant Prieto, the pilot — so Riker, Data, Yar, and Crusher beam down. Their way is blocked by an oil slick that appears to be sentient.
When they try to simply walk past the creature — who calls himself Armus — he attacks Yar and kills her. Riker and Data fire on it, to no effect. The away team beams back, but Crusher is unable to revive Yar — Armus apparently damaged her nervous system beyond repair.
On the planet, Armus tries to taunt Troi, but Troi gives as good as she gets. Armus claims that he killed Yar to amuse himself, but Troi’s empathy sees through that, knowing that it was intended to amuse him, but failed.
A second team beams down, with La Forge in Yar’s place. Riker tries to negotiate, but Armus is capricious and cruel. He lets Crusher speak to Troi, but no more — then he knocks La Forge’s VISOR to the ground, taunting him with lost sight, and finally envelopes Riker.
Armus reveals to Troi that he was created by a species that was able to bring all the negativity in their psyches to the fore and cast it out in this one creature, which they abandoned on this world. Data sums it up best: he has no redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Picard beams down to further negotiate with Armus. The crew refuses to give in to his bullying, which frustrates him. Armus disgorges Riker and lets the away team beam back. Picard leads Armus on by pretending to allow him transport off the planet if he can speak to Troi. The counselor tells him that making him confront his rage weakens him, and Picard is able to, basically, taunt him until he screams. The energy field lowers when he’s pissed off, enough that Worf is able to beam Troi, Prieto, and Picard back.
The episode ends with a memorial service for Yar, which includes a prerecorded message for each person in the opening credits.
Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Often forgotten regarding a story mostly remembered for Yar’s death, is that this was one of Troi’s better episodes. She plays Armus like a two-dollar banjo, getting Armus to open up to her, manipulating him while psychoanalyzing him. She also forces him to confront his rage, which causes his energy field to fluctuate, which is what enables her eventual rescue.
Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Chief Engineer Leland T. Lynch has to manually restart the dilithium crystal chamber, skipping the checklist and the final checks. Given that we’re talking the annihilation of matter and antimatter, Picard basically asked Lynch to risk blowing the ship up.
The Boy!?: Wes takes over Worf’s generic “bridge officer” function after Yar’s death, and he helps Worf track the energy signature given off by Armus.
If I Only Had a Brain...: Yar refers to Data as “my friend.” One assumes that’s friends with benefits, given the events of “The Naked Now.” Supposedly in an earlier draft of the script, Yar said to Data that “it happened.”
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf has bet in Yar’s favor in an upcoming martial arts competition — that she obviously doesn’t live to participate in. Worf is made acting head of security, despite the fact that Yar’s deputy chief of security (whoever that might be) should have taken over. Worf also shows remarkable good sense in declining to go on the second away team, believing that he can best help Troi and Prieto from the bridge.
Welcome Aboard: Ron Gans gives Armus a cartoony deep voice that manages to completely undercut the creature’s menace. Mart McChesney gets guest star billing for mostly just sitting in an uncomfortable oil-slick suit and gesturing occasionally. Walker Boone is the fourth and final member of the First Season Chief Engineer Derby, following MacDougal in “The Naked Now,” Argyle in “Where No One Has Gone Before” and “Datalore,” and Logan in “The Arsenal of Freedom.” His tetchiness and insistence on referring to himself by his full name make him come across as unnecessarily snotty, but he also proves himself quite the miracle worker by getting the warp engines up and running. I’m actually kind of sorry we didn’t see more of this character.
I Believe I Said That: “I find my thoughts are not for Tasha, but for myself. I keep thinking, how empty it will be without her presence. Did I miss the point?”
“No you didn’t, Data. You got it.”
Data wondering if he understood the reason for the memorial service at the end, and Picard reassuring him.
Trivial Matters: This is the first time a main Trek character has died and stayed dead. An alternate-reality version of Yar would show up in “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” in part to give the character a “proper” death, that alternate Yar’s daughter Sela would appear in the two-parters “Redemption” and “Unification,” and Yar would return in the finale “All Good Things…” during the first-season parts.
Leland T. Lynch was revealed to have served for a time as the head of the Starfleet Corps of Engineers in the novella The Future Begins by Steve Mollmann & Michael Schuster, which is in the Star Trek: Corps of Engineers: What’s Past compilation.
One of the early TNG novels, Survivors by Jean Lorrah, focused on Yar and Data, and had to have a framing sequence hastily added to account for the former character’s death. That novel also delved into Yar’s backstory, hinted at but never revealed, though that was superseded by the fourth-season episode “Legacy.”
Make it So: “Data! Data, something’s got meeeeee!” An episode that should’ve been a lot better, undermined to many by the pointless death of a main character, but far more undermined by a disastrous portrayal of Armus.
The loss of Yar is unfortunate. While it’s true the character as portrayed didn’t live up to the character as envisioned — Yar was the most interesting person in the TNG bible — that’s also true of a lot of characters. Denise Crosby has never been the best actor in the universe, but Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, and Marina Sirtis weren’t any great shakes in the first season, either, and their characters didn’t blow the doors off. They got better with time, and there’s every reason to believe the same would’ve been true for Crosby had she remained.
Frankly, I’ve never gone along with the complaints about how Yar is killed. Klingon feelings notwithstanding, there’s no such thing as a “good” death, and Yar going out in a blaze of glory isn’t inherently any better than being casually snuffed out by a sadistic oil slick. In fact, Yar’s death is in keeping with the deaths of security people throughout Trek history — the only difference is that this one’s listed in the opening credits. So that is not this episode’s problem — I actually prefer this random, pointless death to the clichéd-up-the-wazoo one she would get in the third season’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise,” though many, including the cast and crew of the show and a large chunk of the fanbase, disagree with me.
No, the problem is that Armus fails in every possible way as a villain, and that’s entirely on the backs of the people doing the visual effects and the voice casting. As written, Armus is a formidable and fascinating villain. As dramatized, he’s either a slightly burbling oil slick, a doofy-looking humanform oil slick, or cheesy-looking black mass that reminds us all of the sorry state of CGI in 1988. It’s not a coincidence that the most effective scenes are the ones on the shuttle with Troi talking to Armus, which are the only Armus scenes where we don’t actually see the creature.
To make matters worse, Ron Gans sounds like a dopey bad guy out of a Hanna-Barbera cartoon rather than an embodiment of all that is evil in a species. If they’d gotten David Warner or John Vickery or John Schuck or J.G. Hertzler, or somebody with an awesome voice who could have made Armus a true terror, this episode might not have been viewed as such a failure.
But, sadly, a failure it is, despite it being one of the best Troi vehicles, despite some excellent work by Sir Patrick Stewart when he confronts and manipulates Armus.
Warp factor rating: 3.
Keith R.A. DeCandido has written a great deal of Star Trek fiction, ranging from novels to comics to short stories to novellas, but never once wrote the character of Tasha Yar. His latest novels are Unicorn Precinct, SCPD: The Case of the Claw, and the upcoming Guilt in Innocence, part of the Scattered Earth shared-world science fiction series. Go to Keith’s web site, which is a gateway to his blog, Facebook, Twitter, and much more.