Written by Joseph Stefano, Hannah Louise Shearer, Tracy Torme, Hans Beimler, and Richard Manning
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan
At this point in the season, Denise Crosby (Lt. Tasha Yar) was dissatisfied with the writing – and her role in particular – of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Who could blame her? As I’ve noted before in my reviews of the first-season episodes, this show struggled repeatedly trying to find itself during this time. Entirely too much time was dedicated to creating Wesley Crusher, boy genius (portrayed by Wil Wheaton). If I were in Crosby’s shoes and playing second fiddle to that, I might have had the same sentiments.
Still, this represented a quandary for the Star Trek: The Next Generation writers: should they recast so early into the fledgling series? Their answer was “no” and for the first time, a regular crew member of the Enterprise dies, instead of the “extra of the week”.
The Enterprise is set to rendezvous with Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) who is returning from a conference. Her shuttlecraft experiences unknown trouble and crashes on a planet called Vagra 2. This planet has been charted but never explored.
The crash is no accident, and here we are introduced to a new alien named Armus. Armus appears to be something similar to an oil slick. He is purported to be all of the evil of a race which formed a second skin, was shed, and discarded and abandoned here on this planet. It is an intriguing concept, and one I almost wish was delved into later in the series as I think the level of writing was much better later on.
An away team is led by Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes). Armus does not want to allow them to rescue Troi and the shuttle pilot. The creature seems to get its jollies when it makes people suffer. When Yar attempts to just go up to the shuttle to get out the injured crew, Armus attacks her with an unknown energy and kills her.
We are then treated to a scene rarely seen in any Star Trek episode: life-saving attempts on the part of Dr. Crusher (Gates McFadden). After all of the simple “He’s dead, Jim”s that we see in the original Star Trek and the usual simple pronouncement of death by the crew, this stands out. It also brings about the question of if there truly is a class structure in this supposedly perfect society of our future. Does Lt. Yar in some way deserve the extreme measures that seem to be taken with her and not anyone else?
In the end, I chalk it up to poor writing. This scene should not have been included. Once Dr. Crusher pronounced Yar dead, that should have been the end of any attempts at resuscitation.
This happens fairly early in the episode, so we are then turned back to the struggle of how to rescue the two crewmembers still trapped in the shuttle, all the while with Armus attempting to use the away team as his entertainment. The moral questions he puts to them are interesting, as he seems ready to murder anyone else at any time. At one point Armus grabs hold of Commander Riker, drawing him into the oily substance (which was actually black-dyed metamucil – not the highlight of Frakes’ career).
It is only when Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) comes down and takes control of the situation that the crew actually appears to function as a crew should. Up until this point Armus has been playing them the same way a troll plays newsgroups on the Internet.
The episode closes with time in the holodeck, where a holographic image of Tasha Yar talks to all of the crew. At times it is poignant, at others it feels very phony. This is especially true when she sounds like a schoolgirl as she exudes “Commander Riker, you are the best!” Her sentiments to Captain Picard and Deanna Troi seem genuine, however, and we also learn a bit more about Yar’s background during this time.
That this episode works is a credit to the actors. All of them in how they react to the enemy Armus as well as to the loss of a friend are magnificent. We see Worf (Michael Dorn) become Security Chief in Tasha’s wake. This immediately changes the character as he tempers himself from the one-dimensional conflict-mongering Klingon into a more tempered personality. Instead of rushing to the planet’s surface, he immediately sees the difference between the need for the safe return of the shuttle crew versus a confrontation with the enemy. Brent Spiner is once again wonderful as Data, conveying the poignancy with which he remembers Yar. (The two had a “special” relationship in an earlier episode.)
Skin of Evil, though not one of the best of The Next Generation episodes is one of the most important ones. The implications here are truly not seen until the third-season episode Yesterday’s Enterprise, which is considered by some (myself included) to be one of the best.
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