Star Trek: The Next Generation Re-Watch: “Skin of Evil”

“Skin of Evil”
Written by Joseph Stefano and Hannah Louise Shearer
Directed by Joseph L. Scanlan

Season 1, Episode 23
Original air date: April 25, 1988
Star date: 41601.3

Mission summary

Since not much is going on, Chief-Engineer-of-the-Week Leland T. Lynch decides to polish the Enterprise’s dilithium crystals; fortunately, chugging along at impulse just means it will take that much longer to pick up shuttlecraft 13, in which Counselor Troi is returning from a conference on “How to Succeed in Starfleet Without Really Trying.” Then sensors read an emergency on the shuttle, interrupting Worf and Tasha’s long-overdue bonding moment—she’s really looking forward to a martial arts competition in a few days, and Worf’s betting on her, even though they don’t have any money in the future. (Or maybe because they don’t have any money in the future.)

The shuttle inexplicably loses power and crashes on the uninhabited planet Vagra II in the Zed Lapis sector. Lynch jams the dilithium crystals into the warp core and hopes for the best, and the ship races to the planet. But something blocks their ability to scan the shuttle or beam up its survivors—debris or something, maybe. Riker, Yar, Data, and Dr. Crusher beam down to investigate.

Shuttle 13 is in bad shape, but the away team can’t approach it because a black puddle on the rocky ground keeps oozing to intercept them. Weird. Data’s totally stumped, but suggests that it could be a living creature. “Very good, tin man,” it intones, and a humanoid shape rises from the muck.

They exchange pleasantries—the thing’s name is Armus—and Riker requests access to the shuttle. Armus declines, and Yar decides to force the issue. The creature zaps her, sending her flying, and easily absorbs the energy from Riker and Data’s phasers. Dr. Crusher pronounces Yar dead, but still spends a while trying to revive her, to no avail. Bummer.

They briefly discuss the senselessness of Yar’s death, then Picard promotes Worf to Acting Chief of Security; after all, he wouldn’t be a true Klingon if he didn’t benefit from his superior’s untimely death. Worf immediately proves himself more competent than Yar by deciding to remain aboard the ship to develop a tactical solution to their problem, while Riker’s team returns to the planet with La Forge, who hopes to offer a different perspective on their slick adversary.

Down on the planet, Armus covers the shuttlecraft to chat with Troi. He tells her that her friends have left her, but she doesn’t believe him. She can sense the creature’s nature and knows that he needs to make people suffer. And, oh look, here’s the away team. It’s play time! When he leaves the shuttlecraft, Worf and Wesley on Enterprise note that his energy levels were lower while he was covering it—a common side effect of talking to Troi—which they may be able to exploit to beam everyone to safety.

Armus keeps messing with them: He makes Data’s instruments fly away and knocks La Forge’s VISOR off his face. What a jerk. Armus slips off to chat with Troi again, and tells her that he is the castoff, concentrated negativity from a powerful and beautiful race—left behind like some sort of… Skin of Evil! Troi’s pity for him only pisses him off enough to drag Riker into himself. There’s only one reasonable course of action—Captain Picard must beam down to the planet and place himself in mortal danger with the rest of his command crew in order to deal with Armus personally.

Armus toys with the away team some more, forcing Data to aim his phaser at Dr. Crusher and making her choose the next person to die. But Picard has realized that talking about his feelings makes Armus weaker, so he convinces him to let the others go. Armus spews out an oil-covered Riker and allows the away team to beam away while he and Picard parlay. All Armus wants is a starship, but Picard insists on seeing Troi first.

As the captain and counselor help Armus confront his troubled past, Worf and Wesley manage to beam up Troi, the injured shuttlecraft pilot, and Picard, leaving Armus behind to scream in impotent rage. They blow up the shuttle to remove his last chance of escape, slap up a “Do Not Enter” warning on the planet, and get the hell out of there. But there’s still one more bit of unpleasantness to get through… Yar’s funeral.

Yar has left a recorded message for each of her “friends” on the holodeck, where she shares the things she learned from and appreciated about each of them. Her last is for Captain Picard.

YAR: If there was someone in this universe I could choose to be like, someone who I would want to make proud of me, it’s you. You who have the heart of an explorer and the soul of a poet. So, you’ll understand when I say, death is that state in which one exists only in the memory of others. Which is why it is not an end. No goodbyes. Just good memories. Hailing frequencies closed, sir.
PICARD: Au revoir, Natasha. The gathering is concluded.
DATA: Sir, the purpose of this gathering confuses me.
PICARD: Oh? How so?
DATA: My thoughts are not for Tasha, but for myself. I keep thinking how empty it will feel without her presence. Did I miss the point?
PICARD: No, you didn’t, Data. You got it.

She’s not really dead as long as we remember her. What was her name again? Tar?


At last, our long national nightmare is over.

I feel bad that I’m actually relieved at the death of a series regular, but it’s just one more step to getting this show to the TNG I love. Who knows how the show might have turned out if Denise Crosby had played Counselor Troi instead of Marina Sirtis, or if she had remained on the show longer? But as senseless as her death was—about as senseless as the rest of the episode—bigger and better things await her. As much as I dislike Yar in the first season, her mind-bending return to TNG in “Yesterday’s Enterprise” is one of the highlights of the series for me, as is the creative way they bring Crosby back into the fold as a recurring character. Even seeing her again in “All Good Things…” is a special treat that oddly enough does more to flesh out her character than the entire first season of forced exposition. Truly, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

I imagine that even with the likely rumors that Crosby was leaving the show, or hints that a major character would die, Yar’s brutal, bizarre, meaningless death must have been a shock at the time. Far from a dispensable red shirt on the original series, she’s a character that some people must have grown to like, or at least identify with. Maybe even care about her, a little? As Dr. Crusher works to save her life, viewers might have expected a last-minute miracle, but it would take many more seasons before she would be brought back to life. But hey, I have a more important question: What was that strange mark on her cold, lifeless cheek?

The biggest problem with Yar’s death is that the characters aren’t able to truly deal with it. She dies twelve minutes in and the rest of the episode proceeds pretty much as usual, aside from an excruciating holographic farewell—which must have been ironic for Crosby to deliver since she tells them to dwell on “good memories.” We won’t see anyone wrestling with her loss in any significant way next week, and pretty soon we’re on to a new season; the only person who shows any real sense of loss is Data, who holds onto that holo recording of her. (On a side note, are these really the only people who liked her on the ship? And why is she transparent if she’s a holographic image… on a holodeck?) It’s kind of mean to make her last words on the show, “Hailing frequencies closed, sir,” don’t you think?

Although the “episode where Yar dies” is otherwise basically a write-off—Armus looks and sounds like a monster-of-the-week on The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers, with little more to motivate him than he’s made of evil—it touches on the classic Star Trek themes of immortality, abandonment, and loneliness. But I’m most fascinated by Armus’ probing questions about whether one life means just as much as another to Troi. Though she and Riker insist that all life is equal and deserves to exist, it rings falsely. “Preserving life, all life, is very important to us,” Riker says. “We believe everything in the universe has a right to exist.” Countered by this:

DATA: Curious. You are capable of great sadism and cruelty. Interesting. No redeeming qualities.
ARMUS: So what do you think?
DATA: I think you should be destroyed.
ARMUS: A moral judgment from a machine.

When I saw the explosion on the planet’s surface, for a moment I thought that Picard had bombed the crap out of it to destroy Armus, but it may be an even worse punishment to leave him there forever, alone. I will also note that Picard never lies to Armus; he very carefully avoids promising to transport him off the planet, evading the question and enforcing conditions on agreement before finally flat out refusing him. I appreciated this small bit of morality, in an episode where it’s important for the Enterprise crew not to resort to Armus’ measures to survive.

So in the end, unlike Armus, this episode has some redeeming qualities, but it is further crippled by extra screen time for an overwrought Counselor Troi, as well as yet another example of the captain beaming down into a hazardous situation. Aside from this episode’s ultimate importance to the series now and in years to come, I think we should warn off any who think of approaching it.

Eugene’s Rating: Warp 1 (on a scale of 1-6)

Thread Alert: Perhaps not technically a fashion choice, per se, but Armus’ costume, or whatever, is Gorn-level ridiculous and I really expect a lot better from Star Trek by now.

Best Line: PICARD: You say you are true evil? Shall I tell you what true evil is? It is to submit to you. It is when we surrender our freedom, our dignity, instead of defying you.

Trivia/Other Notes: The original title for this episode was “The Shroud.”

Jonathan Frakes was submerged in Metamucil and printer’s ink for the scene in which Riker is absorbed into Armus. At the time, LeVar Burton reportedly told him, “Frakes, I never would have done that!”

Yar was originally killed even earlier in the episode, with less emphasis on her death. Roddenberry felt that her death was fitting for a security officer.

Marina Sirtis sheds real tears for Yar during the memorial scene; she and Denise Crosby had become close friends. The cast was very sad to see her go.

According to Ron Moore, Yar’s character was brought back in response to fan and staff reactions to her death. (Another perspective might be that they hated her so much, they killed her twice.)

Writer Joseph Stefano was a veteran of the 1963 science fiction anthology series The Outer Limits–and it shows.

Previous episode: Season 1, Episode 22 – “Symbiosis.”

Next episode: Season 1, Episode 24 – “We’ll Always Have Paris.”

About Eugene Myers

E(ugene).C. Myers was assembled in the U.S. from Korean and German parts. He has published four novels and short stories in various magazines and anthologies, most recently 1985: Stori3s from SOS. His first novel, Fair Coin, won the 2012 Andre Norton Award for Young Adult SF and Fantasy. He currently writes for the science fiction serial ReMade from Serial Box Publishing.