Revisiting Star Trek TNG: Skin Of Evil

Senseless tragedy strikes in this week's TNG season 1 look-back, as the Enterprise crew faces off against a malevolent puddle...

This review contains spoilers.

1.24 Skin of Evil

The Enterprise is proceeding towards a rendezvous with Shuttlecraft 13 (both ships travelling on impulse power. Er, you might want to read a book while you wait) when it receives a distress call. Troi and the pilot are in trouble, and the pair crash-land on the nearby planet of Vagra II. The Enterprise arrives, not knowing whether Troi is alive or dead. Of course, she’s alive. You didn’t think they’d kill off a major character in such a pointless and perfunctory manner, did you? Oh. Yeah. Never mind.

After arriving at the planet, the Enterprise sends down an away team only to discover a pool of tar-like liquid refuses to allow them near the shuttle. They spend what seems like forever scanning it to see if it’s alive, before it decides to put them out of its misery by rearing up in humanoid form and saying hello. The entity (why is it only Star Trek that requires us to describe things as “entities”?) calls itself Armus, and after engaging Riker in some philosophical debate, it zaps Yar when she tries to run past him, killing her. OH NOES.

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The away team beams back up and Yar is rushed to the sickbay where Crusher attempts to revive her by repeatedly electrifying her brain. But it’s too late! She’s dead. Too much synaptic damage, apparently (although to me, that sounds like something you might get from having your brain repeatedly electrified. Luckily for Crusher, she can do the post mortem herself).

Back on the planet, Armus has a chat with Troi, revealing himself to be petulant and irritating, although to be fair you would be if your first conversation in several hundred years was with a woman who kept describing your own emotions to you. Armus’ origin is revealed: he’s coagulated goo made out of negative emotions. Oh, right, something sensible at last.

Yar’s chair has barely even gone cold before Worf gets promoted to acting head of aggression, and to demonstrate the seriousness with which he’s taking this task, he declines a potential Klingon Vs. Oil Slick rumble in favour of strategizing on the Enterprise. While the second away team has a chat with Armus, who eventually gets so bored of their incessant questioning that he envelops Riker, before going back to Troi and trying to negotiate his way off the planet.

Back on the Enterprise, Worf and Wesley use a graph to discover Armus’ weakness (psychotherapy) and Picard beams down so that they can get real for a moment. Armus manipulates Data into trying to kill his friends, but everyone’s so enlightened that they accept their death/murder with cold, detached logic. Picard negotiates Riker’s release by promising to take Armus away from Vagra II, and gets a chance to talk to Troi, who reveals Armus’ backstory.

Armed with this knowledge, Picard psychoanalyses Armus (his one weakness!). Eventually he becomes so sick of the Enterprise crew’s overly pious, holier-than-thou shtick that he loses the will to keep going and they manage to escape his grip and beam back to the Enterprise. Picard destroys the shuttle (or so he says – someone must have decided that this would be too exciting a scene to actually show) and then the main cast retires to the holodeck for Yar’s memorial service, which is held against the familiar Windows XP desktop for extra poignancy. She praises all her friends in very general terms “I admire your, er, …dedication. Yes, that’ll do.” And finally, Data learns a little bit more about what it’s like to be human. Wait, was that was this episode was about?

TNG WTF: Oh, where to start. Basically everything about Armus counts. The effects, for a start. I’ll go out on a limb and say that any scene where you’ve got Patrick Stewart trying to negotiate with a puddle is a bad idea. Even his very nature is just bizarre. He’s composed entirely of negative emotions. What does that even mean? And even if you assume that it’s true, why does that mean he can talk? Let alone give him the near-omnipotent powers and invincibility he demonstrates. As usual, this is a part of TNG that you’re not supposed to think about too much.

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TNG LOL: Picture the scene: Jonathan Frakes is about to do what is very clearly a one-take plunge into a pool of a tar-like substance. All you have to do is run to his side as he disappears, stop, and let Brent Spiner say his line. Frakes’ head goes under. You run towards the tar pit. You come to a sudden halt on its edge – and as you do, your phaser drops out of its holster, falls right into the tar and ruins the shot. It’ll take three hours to scrub Frakes down and try again, so the director has no choice but to put it in the episode. Twenty five years later, people on the Internet are still making fun of it. Congratulations, you are Levar Burton.

Time Until Meeting: 17:01. A very special “Yar is dead so it’s time to hand out promotions” meeting.

Captain’s Log: There are two camps regarding Tasha Yar’s death. Those who believe it should’ve been more heroic and inspiring, and those who find its senselessness part of the charm. I’m firmly in the latter camp, although it does strike me that there’s a good twenty minute chunk in the middle of the episode where the crew doesn’t really react to what’s happened, which is a bit of a misstep. It’s very much an incidental part of the story, rather than the point of it.

Also, given that Armus was quite clearly limited by the technology of the era, it’s a shame the production crew didn’t use the remastering to turn him into something a little more threatening than, alternately, a puddle, a smudge and a guy in a really awful costume depending on the form he was taking. Ah well. It honours the original, but if anything about season one needed updating, Armus was it.

Still, Yar’s holographic goodbye is the first time TNG actually managed to inspire any genuine emotion from its audience, so it has to be praised on that level. Data and Picard’s final exchange might be a little cliché, but it really makes the episode. It’s basically a lot of standing around and talking, but Yar’s death gives it just enough spice to be more interesting than most other episodes in season one.

Watch or Skip? Definitely watch.

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