Star Trek TNG (Season 1, Ep 22): Skin of Evil

Welcome back to Star Trek: The Next Generation. I am doing an episode-by-episode watch, recap, and reaction and blogging about it here. There will be no spoilers for the series beyond the current episode. You can find my prior recaps HERE.

For those of you that don’t want to read the long recap, I provide a quick episode summary here at the top. You can also just scroll down to the “REACTION” heading below.

THE QUICK AND CLEAN SUMMARY:

Troi’s shuttlecraft crash lands on a planet on her way back to the Enterprise from a conference. The Enterprise rushes to help her. She and the Away Team encounter an alien entity, referring to itself as Armus, while on the planet’s surface. It thinks of itself as the embodiment of evil. It is powerful enough to disrupt communications and to prevent the Enterprise from transporting Troi and her shuttlecraft pilot off the planet without its assent. One of Armus’s first actions, to demonstrate its evil nature, is to somewhat flippantly kill a member of the Away Team, Chief of Security Tasha Yar.

The entity soon decides that killing is too easy and it instead tries to coerce the officers into amusing it. They refuse. This effort, though, creates a dialogue between Troi and Armus that exposes the alien’s weakness. Its powers are lower when it is exploring the source of its rage and anger with her. On the Enterprise, Worf notices that its forcefield is weaker when this is occurring. They believe if they can distract Armus into lowering its forcefield just a bit more, that they can transport everyone back to the ship. Picard does exactly that. He intentionally antagonizes the creature to a point that its forcefield weakens and everyone is beamed safely away.

Later, Picard conducts a funeral service for Yar on the holodeck. A hologram of Yar says goodbye to the rest of the crew in a pre-recorded message.

THE EXTRA DUSTY RECAP:

Captain’s Log Stardate 41601.3

The Enterprise is on its way to pick up shuttlecraft 13 which is carrying Counselor Troi who is returning from a conference. Engineering is working on maintenance for the ship’s dilithium crystals so the ship is moving at impulse power.

Worf confirms with Yar that the ship’s deep space censors show no objects approaching within a distance of three light years. Worf asks Yar if she is prepared for the martial arts competition. She says that she will be if Worf meets her on the holodeck for practice. They discuss her competition before Worf lets her know that he wagered on her to win the competition. He says it’s a sure thing. She is very pleased.

Geordi tells Picard that the estimated rendezvous time with the shuttle is one hour and ten minutes from now. Picard mentions to Riker that it will be good to have Troi back and he agrees thoughtfully. Abruptly Worf reports that he is receiving an emergency transmission from the shuttle. Picard orders it on screen. Yar reports that they are receiving audio only. The shuttlecraft pilot requests that Geordi provide its coordinates to it. Geordi asks the pilot to confirm and he replies that he cannot due to malfunctioning instruments. Picard calls to main engineering and asks how long it will be until Warp Drive is restored. He is told that it will take roughly twenty minutes. Picard says it needs to happen faster and is told that it will be done.

Geordi tells the shuttle that its coordinates now indicate it is dangerously close to a planet. Data says that the planet is uninhabited. Troi takes over speaking with Picard because the pilot is busy. She reports that the shuttlecraft has now lost most of its impulse power. Picard calls to Engineering and is told that Warp Drive will be restored in three minutes. The shuttlecraft loses control and is caught in the planet’s gravity.

In a supplemental log, Picard states that the Enterprise has lost all contact with shuttlecraft thirteen. Picard says the assumption is that the craft crashlanded on the nearby planet. He also says that Engineering is still attempting to restore the ship’s Warp Drive capabilities. We see the Engineer, Lynch, overriding safety regulations to get the Warp Drive going. He tells Picard that minimum warp drive capabilities are restored. Picard immediately orders Geordi to Warp 8. Lynch interjects that he said minimum warp drive. Picard replies that Lynch heard his order of Warp 8 and tells him to make it so.

As the Enterprise approaches the planet, Data reports that the shuttlecraft is not issuing indicators of its situation. Picard asks Data what he knows of the planet and Data says that almost nothing is known of the planet except that it exists. He says that the atmosphere is minimum for human needs, that no life is reported on the planet’s surface, and that only minimal vegetation exists on the planet.

Worf announces that he has located the shuttle. After some probing with the censors, he says that he is reading very faint life signs. Riker – obviously concerned over Troi – asks him how many and Worf replies that he cannot tell from their standard orbit distance. He also reports that the craft appears to be buried under debris. Data, separately, reports that the ship’s censors are struggling to penetrate whatever the debris is. Picard notes that this is unusual and Data agrees saying that he cannot explain why. Picard orders Riker to prepare an Away Team. Riker calls for Data and Yar to join him. Picard sends Dr. Crusher to join them.

The Away Team arrives on the planet. As they approach the shuttlecraft, Dr. Crusher notes that the two life signs inside are very weak. Just then, a flowing black liquid blocks their path to the craft. When they attempt to go around it, it moves such that it continues blocking their path.

Riker informs Picard about the “slick” and Picard orders him to keep an open channel. Data analyzes the lifeform and can only say that it does not fit the model of any known life forms. Dr. Crusher states that she believes she can step over it but is stopped from doing so by Riker. Riker and Picard ask Data repeated questions and Data can only tell them, “insufficient information.” He does states though that it appears to be following them. He says it is possible that the entity is a life form.

Just then, the slick speaks.

Slick: Very good, tin man.

Picard asks Riker what he is seeing and Riker replies that he sees trouble. The slick rises upward and begins to take a humanoid form. Picard says that he does not believe that the location of the crash and the proximity of the creature is a coincidence. Riker announces his name to the creature. The creature states that its name is Armus and asks the humans why they are here. Riker states that they mean him no harm and that they wish to tend to their injured comrades. Armus asks him why they want to help and Riker replies that they believe all lifeforms in the universe have a right to live.

Armus: That is an interesting notion which I do not share. You may leave now if you wish.

Yar: We are not going without our shuttle crew.

Armus: I warn you.

Yar tries to go around Armus and he strikes violently at her head, causing her body to fly a few meters away. Data fires at the creature with his phaser and it has no effect on it. Data and Riker report to Picard tat Armus seems to feed on their phaser energy rather than be injured by it. Dr. Crusher begins scanning Yar as the creature recedes from humanoid back to what looks like a simple oil slick. Picard again asks for a report on Yar.

Dr. Crusher: She’s dead.

Picard orders the transporter room to beam them up immediately. Crusher says that she needs Yar in sick bay. Data carries her body there.

In the sickbay, Dr. Crusher and her team begin the work of bringing Yar back. Picard enters sickbay and Crusher can only tell him “we’ll see” with respect to whether her efforts will succeed. Crusher places Yar on a neuro stimulator. One of the other doctors treating Yar begins to look as if this effort is hopeless while Crusher continues trying new desperate treatments. She tries direct neuro stimulation at an increasingly high voltage.

Dr. Crusher: She’s gone.
Picard: Gone?
Dr. Crusher: There was too much synaptic damage. That thing just sucked the life right out of her. There’s nothing I can do.

Back on the planet, Armus – looking again like an oil slick – approaches the shuttlecraft. He then covers it up with his own body. Troi senses something inside the craft. She attempts to use her communication device and is unable to do so. She begins communicating with Armus. It brags to her that it killed one of the crew members outside. Troi says that she knows and that she felt her die. It asks Troi if she wants to know why it killed her.

Troi: Your answer would be meaningless. That act has no reason.

The creature replies that it did it because it wanted to. Troi – using her mind reading powers to sense its motivations – tells Armus that it felt not satisfaction from killing Yar. Armus agrees stating that killing her was too easy. Troi notes that Armus wanted her to suffer first. Troi says that they will not give it what it wants. Armus asks Troi what she thinks it wants and she replies that it wants to break their spirit. Armus says that if breaking their spirit is what it wants, then that is what it will have.

Back on the ship, the bridge officers sit around a table deciding what to do next. Picard appoints Worf to the position of Acting Chief of Security. Picard gets an update from Crusher on the shuttle crew. She says that they are still receiving faint life signs but notes that those life signs may not be accurate. Data reports to Picard that Armus is capable of producing force fields which means, in effect, that they cannot use the transporter, or communicate with the shuttle crew, unless Armus allows it.

Riker says that the creature only killed one of the Away Team members when it could have killed all of them. He also points out that it is leaving the shuttle crew alive for a reason. Geordi suggests that he may be able to see something, through his VISOR, as part of the Away Team, that might end up proving to be helpful. Picard agrees and tells Riker to assemble the Away Team. Data and Dr. Crusher join Geordi and Riker. Emphasizing the loss of Yar, Riker turns to the new acting Chief of Security, Worf.

Worf says that the mission is not to engage the creature in battle, but rather to ensure the safe return of the shuttle crew members. He tells Riker he can best accomplish that goal on the ship. Picard agrees.

The Away Team is back on the planet. Riker reports to Picard that they are approaching the shuttle craft and that the creature is covering it. Inside the craft, Armus tells Troi that they came back. She requests to talk to them and Armus tells her no.

Troi: Why? Does the thought of my having contact with them make you uneasy?
Armus: No. Not being able to contact you, not knowing if you’re alive, makes them uneasy. Do you feel how worried they are?

She says she can feel it. She explains that she is a part of a community that cares for one another. She notes Armus’ surprise that they came back. She goes on to say that Armus cannot hide its own emptiness from her. She knows there must have been others that left it alone and rejected on this planet. She says these “others” are the ones who make Armus so angry. It asks her what she knows of the others and she replies that she only knows what it tells her. It replies that it will tell her nothing.

Troi: Not now.. but soon.

Armus abruptly pours off of the shuttle craft toward the Away Team.

On the ship. Worf and Wesley are studying the energy field over the shuttle craft. Worf notes that just for a moment, when the creature was draped over the craft, the energy field was low. Picard is there and he asks it it was low enough to beam Troi and the other crew member out and they say it was not, but it was almost low enough. Picard orders them to chart the fluctuations to see if they can find a pattern. Wesley notes that the creature is now moving toward the Away Team and that the force field around the shuttle is back at full strength.

On the planet, Armus resumes a mostly humanoid form. Dr. Crusher asks if she can treat their wounded. Armus makes her say please. After she says please, it tells her that it has changed its mind. It tells her to talk to Troi from where she stands. Dr. Crusher successfully uses her communication device to speak with Troi. Troi relays to Crusher that she is alright. Crusher replies that they have encountered difficulty and Troi says that she knows. Riker suddenly shouts that she needs their help.

Armus: So what?

The Away Team again expresses their desire to go around Armus. Data says that they do not know what it is made of, referring to Armus. Armus takes offense. He asks Data if by calling it “it” he is implying that Armus is not alive. Data says he is not making that inference as Armus is clearly alive and an intelligent life form of some type. Armus returns the conversation to Data’s statement that “it” does not register on their instruments.

Armus: Perhaps your instruments are useless.

Suddenly Armus removes their instruments from them – including Geordi’s VISOR – using a forcefield of some type. When Data bends to help Geordi find his VISOR, Armus instructs Data not to help him physically. Data describes the direction of the VISOR to Geordi but when La Forge reaches it, Armus moves it first.

Armus: Aren’t you going to lead him to his sight again, robot?
Data: No, you will simply move it again. I will not help you hurt him.

Armus tells Data to give Geordi the VISOR and says it will find something else to amuse itself. It resumes the form of an oil slick and moves to cover the shuttlecraft again.

Armus speaks with Troi again. It tells her that she was correct when she said they would not amuse her. She replies to it that it sounds so alone. Armus replies, “I am alone.” She asks it who deserted it and Armus replies that it was deserted by creatures whose beauty now dazzle all who see them. It says the “others” would not exist without Armus.

Troi: They absconded you and left. You have my pity.
Armus: [enraged] Your pity? Save that for yourself.

Abruptly Armus leaves the shuttlecraft and approaches the Away Team. An invisible force knocks Riker to the ground and begins pulling him away. Riker shouts to Data for help and Armus replies that if anyone touches Riker, Riker will die. Riker is pulled inside Armus and he vanishes.

Data: [on his comms device] Enterprise, Armus has enveloped Commander Riker.

Picard says that he will beam them up. Armus communicates aloud that if any of them leaves, Riker and the survivors of the crash will die. We see Riker’s now oil slick covered face emerge from Armus, his open mouth and nose also filled with the creature, before it is once more enveloped fully.

On the ship, Worf shows Picard the energy field pattern emitted by Armus. The energy field is much lower when the creature is enveloping the shuttle craft. Picard deduces that this must be related to Armus’ interactions with Counselor Troi. Picard tells Worf that he is beaming down. He tells Worf that he will have the comm on the ship.

On the planet, Armus has re-enveloped the shuttle craft. Troi pleads with Armus to cease hurting Riker. She offers herself. Armus, surprised, asks her if she would really give that much and she says that she would without hesitation.

Armus: Just for him?
Troi: No, not just for him. I would do the same for any of the others.

Troi tells Armus that it has her and she asks it to let the others go. Armus answers her, “perhaps” then tells her that another has arrived.

We see Picard now is on the planet. Armus speaks to him and notes that Picard is the one in charge. Picard asks Data if Riker is alive.

Armus: Answer, tin man.
Data: I would guess that death is no longer sufficient to alleviate its boredom, so yes, Commander Riker is alive.

Armus asks Picard if he will ask it what it wants. Picard says no. He then tells Armus he wants to see his people in the shuttle. Armus replies by telling Picard to entertain it. Picard say no.

Armus: Then I will do it myself.

Armus takes on a humanoid form and takes control of Data’s body. Armus forces Data to point a phaser at first Dr. Crusher and then at Picard. It asks Data, calling him tin man, how he would feel if he is the instrument of PIcard’s death. Data replies that he has no control over his own body and therefore would not be the instrument of Picard’s death. Armus suggests that killing the doctor would engender more feeling from Data and points Data’s phaser at Dr. Crusher. Data replies that the control still belongs to Armus.

Armus tells Dr. Crusher that one of their team is going to die and that she will choose which one. She chooses herself. Armus says that she must choose one of the others. Before he continues that track, though, he has Data point the phaser at his own head and asks him how he feels about ending his own life. Data simply replies, “curious.” Armus asks Data what he thinks about itself and Data replies that Armus is capable of great cruelty with seemingly no redeeming qualities. Data suggests that Armus should be destroyed.

Armus: Moral judgments from a machine.

Picard says that he will either see the crew members aboard the shuttle craft or that the Away Team will leave. When Armus believes that Picard is serious, it shows him Riker’s body – still covered by oil slick. Dr. Crusher wipes oil away from Riker’s mouth. He begins to move and she instructs him to be still. Her scans indicate that his vital signs are normal. Picard next insists that Armus let him see the others. He says he will not allow his team to entertain the creature until the creature lets him see the crew on the shuttlecraft.

Picard communicates with the Enterprise to beam up the Away Team, excepting himself. Nothing happens. Picard tells Armus that the Away Team is no longer involved and that this discussion is between the two of them. Armus says they may leave and they are beamed away.

Armus resumes a humanoid form and tells Picard that it wants to leave the planet. Picard says that he has the means to give it transportation but states that first he must see his people. Armus assents and transports Picard into the shuttlecraft. Inside, Picard learns that Troi is in good condition but that the shuttle craft pilot is alive but not doing well. Troi asks Picard if he was able to help Yar. Picard tells her no. Troi weeps. Picard explains the situation with the weakened energy field whenever the creature is communicating with her. She explains that when Armus speaks with her, it confronts its own rage rather than suppressing it. She states that feeling its emotions make it vulnerable. Picard asks what caused the rage and Troi tells him that Armus was left and abandoned on the planet.

Picard returns to Armus. He asks the creature if it wants to find those who left it on the planet. Armus notes that Troi told Picard and the captain nods. Picard asks Armus how long it has been on the planet and it replies “a very long time.”

Picard: That’s a long time to be alone.
Armus: Save your compassion. It’s revolting. You offer it like a prize when in fact it’s an insult.

Picard and Armus discuss compassion and the indomitable human spirit. Picard tells Armus that a great poet once said, “all spirits are enslaved which serve things evil.” Armus tells Picard that he does not understand.

Armus: I do not serve things evil. I am evil.

Picard disagrees. Armus goes on saying that it is a skin of evil, left behind by a race of titans who believed that if they could rid themselves of it, they could free themselves from the bonds of destructiveness.

Picard: You say you are true evil? Let me tell you what true evil is – to submit to you.

Armus threatens to kill Picard and the crew on the shuttlecraft and Picard replies that if it does so, it will remain on that planet alone forever. Armus yells out in rage.

On the ship, we see that the energy field produced by the creature is dropping.

Picard tells the creature that it is afraid of being Immortal, and alone forever, never reunited with those who left it on this planet. We hear it scream in rage again.

The energy field is lowered enough that the shuttlecraft crew are teleported onto the Enterprise.

Picard tells Armus that he will not take it anywhere. As it screams out in pain and rage, Picard beams away, too.

Picard’s supplemental log says that the shuttle craft has been destroyed to prevent Armus from ever potentially leaving the planet. He says that the planet will be declared off limits by Starfleet. However, he notes that the damage from the encounter has been done.

Yar’s funeral takes place inside the holodeck. Picard and the bridge officers gather on a sloping green field beneath a blue sky. Picard tells the bridge officers that they will all have time in the days ahead to grieve her loss, however, he says that Yar has requested that her life first be celebrated. Picard joins the bridge officers while a hologram of Yar appears to speak to their group.

She tells her friends that she probably died while on duty and states that this is what she expected. She reminds them that she died doing exactly what she chose to do. She says that she loved her life and those who shared it with her. She tells Riker that he is the best. She says that he trusted her, encouraged her, and made her laugh. She tells Troi that she is capable of a great amount of love, that she taught her without words, and that she also taught Yar she could be feminine without losing anything. She tells Worf that they are alike, that they were both orphans who found a family with Starfleet, and she says that she hopes she met death with her eyes wide open. She tells Dr. Crusher that she has learned from her to strive for excellence regardless of the personal cost. She tells Wesley that she is sorry that she will not be able to see him grow into an adult. She tells Geordi that in the moments wherein she felt the most despair, he took her hand and helped her to see things differently. She says he taught her to look beyond the moment. She tells Data that he sees things with the wonder of a child and that this quality makes him more human than anyone. Finally, she addresses Captain Picard.

Yar: I wish I could say you’ve been like a father to me, but I never had one, so I do not know what it feels like. But if there is someone in this universe I could choose to be like, someone who I would want to make proud of me, it’s you.

She concludes by saying “hailing frequencies closed, sir” and vanishes.

Picard announces that the gathering is concluded. Everyone but Data and himself exit the holodeck.

Data: Sir, the purpose of this gathering confuses me.
Picard: Oh? How so?
Data: My thoughts are not for Tasha but myself. I keep thinking how empty it will be without her presence. Did I miss the point?
Picard: No, you didn’t, Data. You got it.

Picard exits the holodeck while Data remains behind.

Roll credits.

REACTION:

I am confused by this holodeck recording. It is a program designed to account for those present? Is it a recording? If it is the latter, do the bridge officers semi-regularly record “so I guess I died” messages for their comrades? That’s a dark notion.

In the less than a year on the ship, she seems to have formed some very close bonds with her crewmates. Did she have friends outside of the Enterprise? The heartfelt messages might have meant more to me if I had seen any of what she is talking about play out on the plot of the show this season.

So long, Lt. Tasha Yar.

Let’s talk about the character herself. I think she was a misfire from the beginning. I have made no secret of being frustrated by her regular incompetency. I think this character would have worked better as an underling officer to someone more seasoned. She is supposed to be Chief of Security. For most of this season, though, she seemed to have been more in need of assistance than prepared to provide it. If she is supposed to be holding her rank, believably, the plot of season 1 needed to give her more opportunities to demonstrate that she has earned the job. That never happened.

If I remember correctly, a lot of people were upset about the way her character died. Was it in a titanic battle against a worthy adversary? No. It was almost a flippant and casual murder of her character. From a story-telling standpoint, I was not bothered by the way it occurred. It felt realistic to me.

Yar aside, what do I think about the rest of the episode? It looked and felt very much like an episode from the original series. Sometimes that can be a good thing. In this case, though, it was not. Armus just did not work. The creature looked and sounded… dated. I wonder if it looked dated when the episode aired. If you are going to have a main character die, at the hands of someone referring to itself as “true evil” then the truly evil character should actually be terrifying. Armus just felt campy and cartoonish. It was the sort of bad guy you might have wanted for a show aimed at children. As a result, every scene with Armus in it was a miss. Was this just the best that low budget TV could do in the late 1980s? Perhaps so.

There were some bright spots in this episode.

  • This was Troi’s best episode by far. The most interesting scenes in the entire episode were with her alone in a shuttlecraft talking to the voice of Armus. The character of Troi did a brilliant job of manipulating the powerful evil alien entity into an exploratio of its own feelings. She gave Picard the tools to finish the manipulation, too.
  • Picard was really good again in this episode. I feel as though the writers are finally finding a balance between “Picard, the intrepid explorer,” and “Picard, a guy who seems like he would prefer to be a university English professor.”
    …………………
    Oh, wait, I just remembered that when this episode began, Picard ordered the Chief Engineer to get the Warp Drive going and to skip over the security steps to speed things up. That could have blown the ship apart and it would have only saved them less than twenty minutes, as compared to actually performing the procedure properly. Never mind then about Picard. That was wildly irresponsible. Is it too much to ask that the Captain not get everyone killed at least once every two or three episodes?

Worf gets promoted. His first act as Acting Chief Security Officer is to make a smart decision about staying aboard the ship rather than joining The Away Team.

Dr. Crusher, Geordi, Wesley, and Riker did not do very much in this episode (unless you count Riker being enveloped by an oil slick.)

The fact that our favorite android (at least?) once slept with Yar was not mentioned. However, Data had a little bit more to do in this episode than much of the rest of the cast. There was a subtle line of dialogue from Data that the story did not explore wherein Data gave an assessment to Armus, that Armus needs to be destroyed. None of the other officers were as combative with Armus until the end when Picard became purposefully combative. Data also had a good moment at the end of the episode. His question for Picard, regarding the purpose of funerals, was well executed. Data staying behind until last at the funeral – leaving viewers to wish we could hear his thoughts – was also well executed.

That said, this episode was mostly a misfire for me. I suspect that the fandom probably blames Yar’s death for the “misfire” but in my opinion, most of the blame for that misfire characterization lies with the execution of the alien creature Armus. If you can suspend disbelief a little better than me, and actually see true evil inside an oil slick with a campy 1980s cartoon character voice, you might enjoy one of Troi’s best episodes thus far.

4 thoughts on “Star Trek TNG (Season 1, Ep 22): Skin of Evil

  1. I loved this episode as a kid – someone died for real! I recently rewatched the series though and it doesn’t hold up great. Armus didn’t look great but more than anything that bumped me was the set of the planet – looked very TOS to me.

    1. My first reaction to seeing the set of the planet was that it looked like a set from TOS. For such a big and consequences heavy episode, it looked more low budget than usual.

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