Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Skin of Evil"

*1/2

Air date: 4/25/1988
Teleplay by Joseph Stefano and Hannah Louise Shearer
Story by Joseph Stefano
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

A shuttle carrying Counselor Troi (and some poor guy named Ben that the episode doesn't care about because he doesn't also have awesome boobs) crashes on a planet. The away team beams down to rescue the survivors but encounters Armus (Mart McChesney), who initially resembles a miniature tar pit. He turns out to be an intelligent, albeit hopelessly embittered, being who can rise up and take humanoid form, and who has a voice that sounds like Megatron, only deeper and meaner. Maybe he's Unicron.

He also has the power to do ... well, whatever the plot requires him to do, including killing people at will and creating forcefields that prevent the beam-up of the shuttle survivors. Armus' biggest claim to fame is that he kills Tasha Yar, who dies a rather ignominious death, which is ignominious in no small part because of that goofy splotch on her cheek during the ER sequence — one of few TNG season-one moments to actually use hand-held cameras. (Things must really be bad when the hand-held cameras come out.)

You know, there really should be a "Skin of Evil" drinking game where you drink every time Armus rises up into humanoid form from his tar pit or descends back down, or every time he covers or uncovers the crashed shuttlecraft. Because it's a lot. If anyone sells that game, I expect royalties. Armus is occasionally amusing, simply because he's such an incredible bastard that you almost have to like him — or else hate Troi for trying to disarm him with her psychobabble. Come to think of it, maybe I'd just rather hate Troi in this episode.

The battle of wills (wits?) with Armus goes on for too long and gets too repetitive. (Did I mention that the scenes of Troi trying to counsel Armus really tried my patience?) The episode, at the very least, does not try to redeem Armus, and leaves him stranded and as unhappy as ever. Yar gets a holodeck funeral, which is well-intended, yes, but way too cloying and pushy. But what else would you expect from TNG?

Previous episode: Symbiosis
Next episode: We'll Always Have Paris

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20 comments on this review

Charlie - Mon, Apr 14, 2008 - 1:33pm (USA Central)
I actually thought "Skin of Evil" was a bit better than most seem to make it. The sudden death of Tasha, while somewhat anticlimatic, was still a shock. The Troi/Armus scenes weren't as powerful as they wanted to be, but the funeral scene for Tasha at the end was fine, I felt.
And, as you pointed out, the episode "does not try to redeem Armus, and leaves him stranded and as unhappy as ever," which is another thing I liked about it, including Picard's great line("I'm not taking you anywhere") and his following log entry revealing that the shuttle has been destroyed to prevent Armus from leaving and declare Vegra II off limits.
Of course the best part is that this 'lemon' led to the 'lemonade' that was "Yesterday's Enterprise."
rob - Sat, Aug 20, 2011 - 8:59pm (USA Central)
Mostly spot on, but I have to disagree on "skin of evil". It isn't perfect by any means, but such a bastard of a villain is rare for tng, especially season 1. And yar's death is admittedly meaningless, making this episode further removed from season 1 foppery. Plus it holds interest if unevenly due to the high tension. 6/10
Corey - Mon, Apr 23, 2012 - 2:39pm (USA Central)
Using Jammer's scale, I would give this 3 stars. It was entertaining, did not have a cheap ending, was truly sci-fi, and did demonstrate some human values (stand up to evil, not give in to it).

I wish Starfleet would have learned a lesson from this incident though. Their hand phasers were ineffective -- their backup weapon? Nothing! Starfleet should have immediately did some R&D on different types of weapons! Somewhat frustratingly, this same situation happened again later (e.g. hand phasers ineffective) and Starfleet never learned! These humans more advanced than 20th century my foot!
rikko - Wed, Oct 10, 2012 - 11:04am (USA Central)
The only redeeming quality of this episode is the death of Tasha Tar, imo. I was done with the driving force of the plot by the third time the bad guy raised and uttered its 'uugh' and 'aargh' for what seemed like forever. At least we got plenty of meme material: Riker's 'Data, something's got meeee!'- and Picard saying at one time 'forever... alone'. Now, how convenient that when they see Tasha' holographic will, she only talked about the few guys that were there. No more friends? what a sorry life she had.
xaaos - Mon, Nov 5, 2012 - 3:10pm (USA Central)
"A shuttle carrying Counselor Troi (and some poor guy named Ben that the episode doesn't care about because he doesn't also have awesome boobs)"

So true! First, Beverly asks Troi is she is all right. But no question for poor Ben.

Then Picard teleports into the shuttle, and Ben is still in the same position, Troi didn't even try to put him in a more comfortable one.

And when the Enterprise beams up the shuttle's crew, we only see Troi's beaming, and not a single moment for Ben.

The funeral scene was overplayed and way too corny. And only the protagonists were there? Why not any other crewmen? Didn't she have any friends in security team?

Best part of the episode is the fact that Worf takes her place as Chief of security. Tbh, I won't miss Tasha at all. Go Worf!
DPC - Tue, Nov 13, 2012 - 8:52pm (USA Central)
Armus is a novel adversary.

Yar's death comes almost too soon and is unexpected. But voltage (microvolts)??

If anything, Yar's prerecorded message that assumes nobody's moved to new assignments is a tad contrived and mawkish... and, of course, has the Windows XP wallpaper in the background... TNG really was ahead of its time.

The questionable pacing between the mush-fest with Troi, Picard's stern attitude, and Armus' trickery with the crew, and not to mention newly-appointed Worf coming across a little too cowardly to be believed...


2.5 of 4 stars, despite being remarkably watchable...
DPC - Tue, Nov 13, 2012 - 8:53pm (USA Central)
P.S. Great bit about the boobs; Yar did have the best...
William B - Sat, Apr 6, 2013 - 6:24pm (USA Central)
I go back and forth on this one, and I was all set to agree with the 1.5 rating, but I think I'll go up to 2. This is a bad episode for Yar, and poorly paced. But Armus as a total bastard actually works well for me -- as well as the central idea of him being cast off from being the worst of a society. I think that one could even argue that Armus is a parallel to Yar -- Tasha came from Turkana IV, which was, indeed, a planet formed up of the worst of the worst of humanity and the Federation, and she managed to pull herself into being a good person with Starfleet's help. Armus is what Yar could have let herself become -- consumed by loneliness and not unjustified anger, letting the worst traits of its background define it and taking that out on others. It's somehow particularly tragic that he kills Yar, but on some level it makes sense that he targets her, since she represents the thing that Armus cannot do, which is rise above the circumstances of its creation. (Note: I don't mean that Armus literally recognizes these traits in Yar or anything -- it's more of a point of thematic interest.) I find some of the scenes between Armus and Troi fairly engaging, actually, and Armus' attempt to torment the crew by, for example, having Data point in various directions with his phaser, works for me too. It still ultimately does not work -- the episode is padded out because there simply is not enough material here, and it's hard to get through the funeral scene which is where the episode's emotional stakes actually are. And yet, there is something here.
T'Paul - Thu, May 23, 2013 - 1:15pm (USA Central)
I think this episode went a long way to establishing the camaraderie between the crew that would eventually give TNG its special atmosphere. Also, it was 'good' to see a death handled like it actually meant something, rather than nameless people just disappearing off. A tad weak, yes, like other season 1 TNG, but certainly not awful, and definitely a little meaningful, more so than in many other sister-series episodes at this point of time, even our Jammer's beloved DS9, and certainly more so than VOY. I'd go for at least 2.5.
Malcolm - Fri, Jun 14, 2013 - 8:15pm (USA Central)
So who drops his phaser into Armus when Riker gets sucked in? It really looks like Data's holster is empty. Clutzy android. Overall its a pretty slow episode though I'd give it 2.5 stars at least as its still more dramatic and important to the show than most of the first season.
Jordy - Fri, Aug 16, 2013 - 10:21am (USA Central)
I must be one of the few people who actually liked Tasha and wish she'd stayed around a lot longer. TNG's first season was, let's be honest, pretty dire and seems horribly dated now in every respect; consider how much the other characters developed in the subsequent six years, something Tasha never got the chance to do. I think she could have become a great character. After all, even Picard was quite weak in season 1. Anyway, one of the most widely criticised aspects of Skin of Evil is that Tasha's death was 'meaningless'. I actually see this as a plus point. The Heroic Sacrificial (tm) Death has been way, way, WAY overused in sci-fi - actually in all genres of fiction - and I for one get quite tired of it. I loved that Star Trek was brave enough to give such a swift, pointless and arbitrary death to a main character. Because the painful reality is that most sudden deaths are just like that, and I really appreciated seeing Star Trek reflect this for once.
Reverend Spork - Fri, Aug 23, 2013 - 10:21pm (USA Central)
The only good thing about this mushy episode was the death of Tasha Yar, and not because it was done well. Yar was not only a fairly non-descript character, but her presence kept Worf largely in the footlights. Denise Crosby's departure turned out to be a boon for Michael Dorn, as Yar's death paved way for a much larger - and satisfying - role for our favorite Klingon. episode? One star.
dkeppens - Sat, Oct 26, 2013 - 3:53pm (USA Central)
I just finished rewatching this episode after a long time. I have to say, despite vividly remembering not being too keen on it when i first saw it, it definitely left a better impression on me now. Despite the age of TNG, the visual effects still work reasonably well which definitely helps on an episode that relies so much on them. After all, Watching Armus do it's thing is undeniably central to this episode. Reading the comments, i also fully have to agree with most statements, especially rob's. It is quite refreshing to see an actual unredeemable villian in star trek for once. One might argue many more were to follow but although that may be true upon their introduction, in most cases, later developments in the franchise destroyed that aspect for most adversaries. Even the borg tended to display some human elements by the end of Voyager (geesh, thanks Berman). I also have to agree with the, admittedly pointless and low-key, death of Tasha be fitting for the episode and the character of Armus, making this a strong point. Even so, it's never a good sign when the initial impression wasn't good. Still, in retrospect, i'd have to rate this one 3 on the jammer scale.
Will - Wed, Nov 6, 2013 - 12:01am (USA Central)
"DATA SOMETHING'S GOT MEEEEEEEE"

Nuff said.
Patrick D - Thu, Dec 19, 2013 - 7:07pm (USA Central)
Well, I have to disagree with the J-Man on this one. A solid 3 stars for me.

This is *the* episode that made the world of TNG seem real. Tasha Yar dies and there's no miraculous fix. ("Yesterday's Enterprise" doesn't count because it's an alternate timeline and she dies again ultimately.) None of the major players of any Star Trek up to this point ever really died, not even Spock. This episode shattered that precedent. And the loss is felt throughout the rest of the series. Episodes like "The Measure of a Man", "The Bonding", "Ethics" and "All Good Things…", proved she was not forgotten by our heroes. Compare this to the exit of Kes on Star Trek: Voyager.

Could they have toned down the funeral to make it less maudlin? Sure, but it's still heartfelt (Marina Sirtis was not faking the tears).

Other things that work:

*Counselor Troi saves the day in this episode. She's actually useful and she does it by using her counseling skills!

*The scene where the crew is upset in the briefing room and are talking all at once. Picard taps on the table to remind them that they have to focus on the mission.

*The scene where Picard was pushing Armus's buttons was nicely played, and just as he beams away says: "I am not taking you anywhere"--as if passing sentence on the creature for Tasha's murder. Very pulse pounding…

*…which brings me to Ron Jones memorable score that injects true passion to the episode. As it has been stated, it's such a stark contrast from the later seasons.

*And finally, this is a well directed and edited episode that and moves smoother than a lot of the saggier episodes of TNG's first season.
grumpy_otter - Sat, Jan 11, 2014 - 9:29am (USA Central)
Everyone has pretty well covered the strengths and weaknesses of this episode--I wanted to bring up something different. The legend around Trekland is that Denis Crosby became increasingly dissatisfied with her diminishing role and made the choice to leave the show in the first season.

However, as best I understand, that assumption is based on comments Crosby made after the fact rather than any official statements.

While re-watching Season One, it occurred to me that Crosby's role was purposefully diminished because she was an appallingly bad actress. Far Point was rough for everybody, but all the actors except Crosby seemed to find their niche by the midpoint of the season. Sirtis toned down the theatrics, Spiner became less glib, Stewart became less grouchy. Crosby just stayed stilted.

Even in Yesterday's Enterprise, her line delivery seemed very fake. Trying to accept she was some kind of kick-ass warrior was painful.

I tried to find any comments from the production staff regarding her departure--it seems they stayed silent, which would suggest to me they were trying to be kind and allowed her to leave for the reasons SHE thought. But if she'd been great, I imagine they would have fought to keep her.

I don't hate Crosby--in fact, I am kind of glad her success was limited because it gave her the incentive to do the excellent "Trekkies."

johnny - Thu, Mar 27, 2014 - 5:07pm (USA Central)
I thought Crosby was ok as Yar. I always saw the character as "damaged"...her brutal childhood left her a loner who is slow to trust and cannot forgive. She would have no friends of lesser rank, and very few, period.

Ironically, Sirtis originally read for that role (then named Marla Hernandez), and Crosby read for the role of Deanna Troi.
DavidK - Fri, Mar 28, 2014 - 10:09am (USA Central)
I think Yar could have been my favourite character but a show like TNG was the wrong vehicle for her backstory. Not to knock TNG, I honestly love it and DS9 in totally different ways, but the show just wasn't the right format for a character like hers. You need time to see just how damaged she would be and how little trust she lacks, and see her grow to accept her childhood and go in new directions.

I do think she was poorly cast though. I think I read they initially had a Vazquez from Aliens type character in mind. But a blonde Vazquez? Maybe if she had been a reboot Starbuck kind of person, but Denise Crosby was just all wrong.

I can't comment too directly on her acting, but I see she's about to appear on The Walking Dead (at 57!) so we can see if she got better with age. And let's face it, first season scripts didn't give her much to work with. It's a shame, I can imagine an alternate universe where her character really found her feet and became awesome.
Elliott - Fri, Mar 28, 2014 - 11:28am (USA Central)
Crosby was in an episode of Dexter a few years ago. She did well, but I couldn't help but snigger at the irony that her character showed up, only to be killed. It may be in her contract.
Latex Zebra - Fri, Mar 28, 2014 - 9:22pm (USA Central)
@Elliot - Denise Crosby is the female Sean Bean.

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