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The Trek Nation - Skin of Evil

Skin of Evil

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at September 7, 2007 - 9:00 PM GMT

See Also: 'Skin of Evil' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: En route to pick up a shuttle ferrying Counselor Troi, the Enterprise picks up a distress call and learns that the shuttle is about to crash on a remote planet. With no other life form readings, Riker takes an away team with Data, Crusher and Yar for what they expect to be a medical rescue mission, but instead encounters a being that does not register on the sensors. The creature, Armus, refuses to allow the team access to the damaged shuttle and flings Yar away with an energy beam when she attempts to approach, killing her instantly. Then it sucks Riker into the oil-like substance of its body. Troi tries to reason with Armus, learning that the creature was produced out of everything that was evil and vile in the beings that once lived on the planet, who then departed and left Armus behind. When Picard beams down, Armus tries to infuriate him, taking control of Data's phaser arm and threatening to kill another crewmember. Looking at the readouts on the ship, Wesley and Worf realize that the force field around the shuttlecraft weakens when Armus expends energy, so Picard taunts the creature until the crew can be beamed out and the shuttle destroyed to keep Armus on the planet permanently. A funeral service is held for Yar during which she says farewell to her colleagues.


Analysis: When I first saw this episode, I was only a very casual Next Generation fan - the original series was the only Star Trek I considered legitimate - and I had no idea that Denise Crosby was leaving the series. I took Tasha's death very much in stride, waiting for the miracle that would bring her back, the way Scotty and Spock and various other crewmembers had already been returned from the dead. The funeral scene puzzled me, particularly Picard telling Data that he "got it", because Star Trek has never seemed to "get" death...with the exception of Kirk coming to terms with David's loss in The Search for Spock, it's generally been about blithe denial or quick forgetting. How long did anyone mourn for Edith Keeler or Miramanee or any of a dozen red-shirts? Then I learned that Crosby was gone and Tasha wouldn't be returning, and I was angry. What had seemed like an acceptable fake-death was completely unsatisfying as an actual character's demise, a quick and meaningless moment in a clunky story about Absolute Evil. Even before I'd heard any of the rumors about why Crosby left and how the producers felt about it, I thought it seemed apparent that they wanted to punish her by killing her off in as trivial a scene as possible.

So it's interesting to watch the episode again 20 years later and discover that I find neither the death nor the episode as idiotic as I had remembered. Maybe it's been mitigated somewhat because Crosby returned to play Tasha's daughter and has been involved with Star Trek via Trekkies and various fan productions, or maybe the late seasons of Voyager inured me to trivial treatment of characters. Yar gets some very nice character moments before she dies: she asks Worf to help her train for a martial arts competition that he tells her she is favored to win, she's the first one at Riker's side when he puts together a team for the unknown planet, and her last words are pure Starfleet, declaring that she won't hurt Armus but she's not leaving without the shuttle crew. If she is idealized in death - unmarked save a blemish on her cheek - it is still painful to watch Crusher and her team try to restore Yar's brain function, knowing that they will be unsuccessful.

Crusher comes across very well trying to perform a miracle, but it's Troi who really shines this time out, in part because it's supposed to be an emotional story so it isn't so cloying to have her weeping and saying she feels everyone's pain. Despite being knocked around and having a badly injured, unconscious colleague with her on the shuttle, she stands up to Armus' threats and insinuations and tries to negotiate her way through, then simply to weaken Armus' resolve so Picard has time to figure out another solution. In her final message, Tasha thanks Deanna for teaching her that she can be feminine and still be strong, and it's quite frustrating that the stereotypically nurturing women are allowed to show just how strong they are only when the tough woman is no longer around...stupid 20th century male writers' baggage piled onto a 24th-century woman, and it would still be around to haunt Janeway in Voyager's era.

It's hard to find much to be moved by in the episode elsewhere. The writers apparently can't decide whether we should pity Armus or find the Black Oil Alien (sorry, X-Files reference) irredeemable. They have Armus tell Troi the sad story of - his? its? I'm going with his - creation and abandonment, and she treats his pain as real. In many ways he seems like a cross between Q and Trelane, only easier to defeat. And because he's not as powerful, he doesn't get an opportunity to reverse his initial atrocity: he can't do what Nomad could do and restore the dead to life. Since the whole point of the story is to get Tasha dead and leave her that way, there isn't much point in trying to make Armus sympathetic. We're not supposed to forgive him.

It doesn't help matters that he looks like Molasses Man, talks like Darth Vader on helium and chooses really silly ways to torture people that allow them all to make grand proclamations that they'd die for each other. Very noble of Crusher to say she'd rather shoot herself and orphan her son than put any of her colleagues at risk, but come on; couldn't she fake killing Data, let him trigger his off switch and get them both beamed back to the ship or something clever rather than speechifying? The crew comes across as very earnest and dedicated and also very uncreative in facing Absolute Evil. Kirk did it with more style even saddled with Abraham Lincoln and Surak.

Not that Picard is particularly unimpressive, even though his dialogue sounds unnervingly like Troi's. Picking up on the fact that he has to piss Armus off in order to have a chance of rescuing the shuttle crew, he blathers on about Armus' pain and announces that true evil would be playing Armus' game. There's lots of roaring when the crew beams out, but I wonder whether Armus isn't secretly relieved to be rid of all this self-righteousness. Picard is more impressive at the service for Yar, where he plays the stoic leader to a number of far more emotional crewmembers (not one security officer invited besides Worf? That's rather sad). Yar's tributes to Riker - for trusting, encouraging her and making her laugh - and to Worf - "I hope I met death with my eyes wide open" - seem more genuine than her obligatory declaration that she wants Picard to be proud of her. But it's a strong farewell nonetheless, stronger than I had remembered. Au revoir, Tasha.


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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Michelle Erica Green is a news writer for the Trek Nation. An archive of her work can be