Star Trek: The Next Generation: Skin of Evil   Rewatch 
June 19, 2020 9:46 AM - Season 1, Episode 23 - Subscribe

"Noncooperation with evil is as much a moral obligation as is cooperation with good." - Martin Luther King Jr., "Loving Your Enemies," November 1957. [Potential major, 30-plus-year-old spoiler within]

Memory Alpha, you are the BEST:

• The writing of this episode was influenced by Natasha Yar actress Denise Crosby requesting to be released from the series because she had become disappointed by how little Yar was being developed in the series' first season. On leaving the show and marking the end of her character, Crosby stated, "Gene [Roddenberry] really felt that the strongest way to go would be to have me killed. That would be so shocking and dramatic that he wanted to go with that."

• At the time this episode was written, several rumors had been surfacing that Roddenberry's lawyer, Leonard Maizlish, was rewriting a majority of the season's scripts, an illegal act in terms of Writer's Guild policies. According to one source, Maizlish was responsible for the dismal manner of Yar's demise, and wanted to be sure that Roddenberry's story idea was enforced, and that Yar's death happened as a matter of course during a dangerous mission, despite the differing views held by the various writers involved with the story. In the end, there was considerable controversy among the show's staff regarding this death: some felt that it was cynically manipulative, while others felt that a swift death made sense to avoid sentimentality.

• Denise Crosby has expressed that, if more TNG scripts had provided parts for her that were as strong as this episode, she would never have asked to leave the series. She has also said that, had there been more scenes like the one at the beginning of the episode between her and Worf, she may have considered staying on the show. However, Crosby added, "Perhaps Tasha should've really gone out in a blaze of glory. There's never any real battles ever fought. The show is never supposed to be about violence and it shouldn't be. But I think if you have one cause for there to be a show about a real violent battle, that was it. Let's see this supposed expert security officer do her stuff."

• Jonathan Frakes expressed sadness regarding Crosby's departure, musing, "That's an episode where we were all crying as our characters and ourselves."

• As a whole, Troi actress Marina Sirtis felt she did some of her best work in this episode, citing it as one of two episodes from the first season that she fondly recalls, with the other being "Haven".

• Filming the funeral/memorial service for Yar was an emotionally charged affair for the cast and crew; indeed, the tears cried by Marina Sirtis during the scene were real, as she and Denise Crosby had become particularly close friends while working together on the series.

• Frakes remarked about Crosby, "She shot her farewell message to us in one take."

• The scene when Riker is sucked into Armus was actually performed by Jonathan Frakes himself. During a break in filming – while Frakes was lying on the beach set, covered in the black sludge – LeVar Burton approached him and said, "Frakes, I never would have done that!" Recalling the experience, Frakes himself said, "I suffered physically like a fool with Mikey – sure, I'll get in that black fucking Metamucil shit. That was absurd."

• With its depiction of Natasha Yar's death, this episode marks the first time in Star Trek history that a regular character is killed and not brought back to life.

• According to Ronald D. Moore, strong dissatisfaction among fans and production staff with the manner of Yar's death in this episode was one of the main reasons the character was brought back in the alternate timeline of "Yesterday's Enterprise".

• Alternatively, in his online review, writer Keith R.A. DeCandido expressed much more satisfaction with Yar's death in this episode, saying, "Frankly, I've never gone along with the complaints about how Yar is killed. Klingon feelings notwithstanding, there's no such thing as a 'good' death, and Yar going out in a blaze of glory isn't inherently any better than being casually snuffed out by a sadistic oil slick. In fact, Yar's death is in keeping with the deaths of security people throughout Trek history – the only difference is that this one's listed in the opening credits… I actually prefer this random, pointless death to the clichéd-up-the-wazoo one she would get in the third season's 'Yesterday's Enterprise', though many, including the cast and crew of the show and a large chunk of the fanbase, disagree with me." DeCandido also commented on Yar's death in general, saying, "The loss of Yar is unfortunate. While it's true the character as portrayed didn't live up to the character as envisioned – Yar was the most interesting person in the TNG bible – that's also true of a lot of characters. Denise Crosby has never been the best actor in the universe, but Michael Dorn, Jonathan Frakes, and Marina Sirtis weren't any great shakes in the first season, either, and their characters didn't blow the doors off. They got better with time, and there's every reason to believe the same would've been true for Crosby had she remained."

• Denise Crosby later returned to the series, firstly as an alternate timeline version of Yar (in "Yesterday's Enterprise"), then as Yar's offspring Sela (in "The Mind's Eye", "Redemption", "Redemption II", and "Unification II"), and finally as Yar again in the series finale "All Good Things...".

• Despite leaving Trek in 1988, Crosby's future association with the franchise and the fanbase led her to produce and host the documentary Trekkies in 1997. She also returned to executive produce and host that film's 2004 sequel, Trekkies 2.

• In 2013, Crosby provided the voice of Tasha Yar in Star Trek Online, her character making a special appearance in a mission added to celebrate the game's third anniversary, "Temporal Ambassador". She has also reprised the role of Sela, now Empress of the Romulan Star Empire, in "Legacy of Romulus", the first expansion pack for STO, which was released in May 2013.

• The season 4 episode "Legacy" involves Tasha Yar's sister Ishara.

"Lieutenant Yar's death is very painful for all of us. We will have to deal with it as best we can for now. Until the shuttle crew are safely beamed aboard the ship, our feelings will have to wait, is that understood? Lieutenant Worf, you're now acting chief of security."
"I will do my best, sir."
- Picard and Worf

"You wanted her to suffer. You have a great need."
"I need nothing."
- Troi talking to Armus after the death of Tasha Yar

"I think you should be destroyed."
- Data, to Armus

"A great poet once said 'All spirits are enslaved that serve things evil.'"
- Picard quoting from "Prometheus Unbound" by Percy Bysshe Shelley to Armus

"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."
"I will kill you, and those in there."
"But you will still be here. In this place. Forever. Alone, immortal."
(Armus begins growling loudly)
"That's your real fear: Never to die. Never again to be united with those who left you here."
(Armus begins screaming)
"I'm not taking you anywhere." (Armus screams continually as Picard beams out)
- Picard and Armus

"Captain Jean-Luc Picard. I wish I could say you've been like a father to me, but I've never had one so I don't know what it feels like. But 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 only exists in the memory of others; which is why it is not an end. No goodbyes, just good memories. Hailing frequencies closed, sir."
- Tasha Yar, to Picard in her recorded message

Poster's Log:
Lately I've been pondering the nature of evil and cruelty, for obvious reasons, and I think I half-consciously hoped that this episode would explore that with some depth, given all the focus (and screen time) on Armus. Instead, this one strikes me on rewatch as being half-baked about its two topics: Armus/the nature of evil, and Tasha Yar. And re: the latter, I've mentioned before that many many Trek episodes are "Somebody episodes" (e.g. "Heart of Glory" is a "Worf episode"), and it's pretty shitty that the first and only "Yar episode" we ever get is the one where she dies.

I remember "Skin of Evil" fairly well from its first airing, of course—and even at that tender young age, I recognized that they were pretty bold to kill off Yar in this fashion. And yet also that the poignant ending was awfully unearned, given how little quality screen time she actually had with all of these characters. It seems more so now, following other main-cast deaths (permanent or not) that the franchise has largely handled better. (Also, some distance from 1988 makes the memorial's Windows-95-background look a lot funnier.) But, as has already happened a few times now, the difference-maker in terms of actual emotional impact here was Patrick Stewart's acting in the final minutes.

This episode also contains one of a handful of times where Data seems to demonstrate actual emotion pre-emotion-chip (I perceived it while he was on Vagra II), and in this case, I have to think it was scripted.

Anyway, damn shame that Crosby left the show. Her portrayal of Yar had a realness that Trek casts tend not to have a lot of. The funny thing is that her subsequent characters in TNG don't have it (though they are edgier and thus arguably a little more fun). She went on to a quite busy career.

After Yar's death, the entire conflict with Armus is pretty tedious (because of course Armus's brand of lonely-basement-dweller griefing is tedious, but also because we know this show won't kill off TWO main cast members in the same hour). The manner of Yar's death, though, seems to be controversial, so I'm curious to see what others think. I'm sort of on the fence, but one thing I'll say is I'd be surprised if it was chiefly meant as a ploy to suggest that this new show is unpredictable a la the classic "ONE OF THESE CHARACTERS…WILL DIE" promos…even though that is, um, pretty much exactly what we see in the actual promo from its initial airing (wherein, amusingly, they give Armus a line he didn't actually have in another dude's voice). I wonder instead if its purpose was along similar lines to that of the upcoming episode "Conspiracy"—that is, to set this series apart from TOS by trying to be, and I use the term hesitantly, more realistic? I also don't think DeCandido's criticism above of the "Yesterday's Enterprise" ending is justified, but he may have a point otherwise.

What I did unreservedly like was how Picard handled Armus's ultimate fate. It's catharsis on a level that TNG doesn't always give us. Enjoy stewing in your own literal juices, shit-dick.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Trek tech nerds will enjoy the long shots of the ship's dilithium crystals, and their articulation frame, during the engineering scenes.

Speaking of, it's absolutely possible that Chief Engineer o' the Week Lt. Cmdr. Leland T. "Leland T. Lynch" Lynch (whom we never see again on TNG) gets busted down to Ensign for insisting on saying "Leland T. Lynch" all the time, and later is turned Borg and killed by Picard. In fact, fuck it, that's my new RPG-campaign-canon. The ignominious end of the fourth chief engineer of the Enterprise's first year of service, and thankfully, the last one before Geordi.

Greatest Generation episode link.

Only three episodes of season one left!
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's just a crime. They made the most of it but it's just a crime. I will say the holo-funeral is... not done well. It's so hokey- so while the rest of the episode is pretty good the ending kinda makes me laugh and that's the opposite of what they were going for. This is a special episode for me because when my parents showed it to me on VHS they forgot this was when Tasha died and I was too young for it and I saw it anyways and had nightmares for weeks! The real mistake was after I had seen the death scene and started freaking out they stopped the tape so I didn't see the end of the episode for months. So my imagination filled in the rest which was bad. Once mom realized this she showed me the whole ep and... I still had nightmares but not as bad. WOMP WOMP.
posted by Homo neanderthalensis at 10:15 AM on June 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

COB has already pointed out the two points that stuck out to me--Yar's death and the nature of Armus (and the lack of exploration thereof), so I'll go with those. Yar is a character that the showrunners this season always seem to have been very ambiguous about; she was based on Vasquez from Aliens, yet the producers always seemed to have been very quick to reassure us of her femininity and heterosexuality, as if they really feared the conclusions that fans might have leaped to. (It's not that Vasquez was a perfect character necessarily, as she was played by a white woman in brownface, but it still would have been interesting to have had a character like that for seven seasons.) And, as much as I admire DeCandido as a writer, he's wrong about this sort of death. The whole point of having a main cast is that they get more characterization than your average redshirt and therefore viewers get more invested in them, and even with Yar's somewhat slipshod character arc, giving a main character a bogus senseless death only seems like a good idea if you're someone like Joss Whedon. It's pretty sad that Crosby says that, if she had been written as well all season as she was for this ep, she might have wanted to stay. (At least she's a strong presence in the Romulan arcs in STO.) And, sorry HN, but I liked the funeral.

One other thing WRT the more general subject of how the show (especially in S1) deals with its female characters: [spoiler alert: if you haven't watched the other Treks, don't follow the links] in the last ep's thread, StarkRoads noted that "the majority of main characters who have been written out of Star Trek have been women." Moreover, most of those character terminations seem to have occurred under unpleasant circumstances, whether it's the one on TOS, the one on DS9, or the other (temporary) one on TNG. (The one on VOY doesn't seem to have had any accompanying unpleasantness, although things didn't go well for the actress after she left the show.) Maybe it's too few to be a real pattern, but it's kind of striking nevertheless. (If you want details about the characters above, you can go to the MA article in the link and look in "background information", or just MeMail me.)

As to Armus, the ep seems to be largely incurious as to the basic nature of the character, that it's all the evil of an unnamed civilization just sort of poured out on the ground like an illegal toxic dump. I mean, sure, lots of the show is based on space magic, effectively, but still: how does that work? How can you take "evil" and just filter it out of an entire species? Does that mean that the Goods (to give them a name for convenience's sake) are no longer capable of being evil, and therefore basically incapable of moral or ethical choices? Are new babies born free of sin, a la the Immaculate Conception? If the Goods aren't permanently free of evil, do they channel it to Armus, keeping it supplied with fresh evil? Does Armus' existence imply that there's a universal concept of good and evil? There's some really meaty, rich questions that this brings up, and the ep just... walks... right... past them. (Also, as with so many other potentially civlilization-ending hazards that so many other civilizations just sort of leave laying around for others to stumble across, there's no attempt by the Goods to set up any sort of "This place is not a place of honor... no highly esteemed deed is commemorated here... nothing valued is here" warning; if that's not evil, it sure isn't good.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:52 AM on June 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

I'm not going to claim this is a good episode, but I happened to rewatch it in mid-November, 2016, shortly after an election that was arguably swung in part by internet trolls. In that context, having trolling made manifest claim he killed a guy for the lulz, only to have Troi tell him point-blank that he's still just as miserable as before was pretty satisfying to me, as well as the solution of just deplatforming Armus and leaving him to stew in his own hatred.

As I recall, the thing that put it over the top for Crosby to quit was the design of the bridge set, since the tactical officer's station is directly behind the command chairs and is open under the control panel. So, while Yar wasn't the only character the writers didn't have figured out, she was the only one of them who had to be on set in just about every scene shot on the bridge. Even when it's just a shot of Picard, her legs had to be there.

I was going to make a joke about how they saved Yar in the Yesterday's Enterprise timeline by filling in the area under tactical, but I looking again it's only a see-through mesh. I think you have to go to Parallels or All Good Things for them to really block that space.
posted by ckape at 12:17 PM on June 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I don't mind admitting that I saw this when I was quite young in the spoiler free days and found it pretty upsetting. So, on one level, the story was really effective. The weird cruelty of the villain is at a level one rarely sees in star trek outside of, hmm. Plato's Stepchildren?

In all honesty though I have no desire to see this one again.

Another ping of memory: circa the same time period I suddenly remember they killed off one of the female leads in the Mission: Impossible reboot of that era.

The treatment of Grace Lee Whitney, Denise Crosby, Gates McFadden, Terry Farrell, and Jennifer Lien(and Diana Muldaur for that matter) is at the tip of a bad hollywood iceberg.
posted by StarkRoads at 12:57 PM on June 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

I don't want to go over Yar and her death. The following caught my attention from the OP:

This episode also contains one of a handful of times where Data seems to demonstrate actual emotion pre-emotion-chip (I perceived it while he was on Vagra II), and in this case, I have to think it was scripted.

I don't want to jump ahead any, but this is going to be a recurring theme: the writers, while going on and on about Data not having emotions and learning about being human, were now and then rather ambiguous about Data. Sometimes the pendulum swung one way like this episode and then later, it would swing the other way, attributing everything Data does to be just some subroutine.
posted by Fukiyama at 2:09 PM on June 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Data not having emotions and learning about being human, were now and then rather ambiguous about Data. Sometimes the pendulum swung one way like this episode and then later, it would swing the other way, attributing everything Data does to be just some subroutine.

Fan theory: Data experiences emotion and has enough emotional intelligence to portray naivete in order to make others feel more comfortable around him.

This is contradicted by 'Brothers', 'Descent', et al, of course.
posted by StarkRoads at 4:22 PM on June 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

Wow, it's been like 13 episodes since the last appearance of a godlike being, I was beginning to wonder about this show. Armus isn't that impressive, but it does have inexplicable magic powers so I think it's a credible sixth god-entity of TNG, bringing us down to 23% deus-ass machina. I guess if you're going to lose, theres no shame in losing to an actual god/devil/personification of evil.

Except, it did seem pretty shameful. When Big Oil is bragging about killing Yar and how her death was meaningless, that felt a bit like the voice of the writer. That because Crosby hadn't been sufficiently grateful just to be on the show, she would not only be killed off, but in an offhand, pointless manner.

Anyway, regarding Data. It really doesn't make sense that he absolutely has no emotions. Didn't make sense when it was Spock, either. Data has friends, who he is loyal to and clearly has affection for. He's curious and even playful. He has wants and ambitions. He might not understand how jokes work but I don't know that you can have all that without any emotion at all.
posted by rodlymight at 7:42 PM on June 19, 2020 [4 favorites]

Armus really comes across as a whiny, contemptuous edgelord here. Fuck that guy.
posted by sugar and confetti at 9:15 PM on June 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

When Big Oil is bragging about killing Yar and how her death was meaningless, that felt a bit like the voice of the writer.

Hmm. There's a certain amount of resonance with the idea that Armus was the in-show version of Leonard Maizlish, especially as some of Roddenberry's defenders have rushed to insist that some of Gene's more questionable decisions and choices, in life in general and in TNG in particular, were Maizlish's; he was Roddenberry's sin-eater, in effect.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:01 AM on June 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

One more observation, the writer of this episode was Joseph Stefano, who wrote 12 episodes of the original Outer Limits. It does have a bit of that 'monster of the week' feel.
posted by StarkRoads at 3:38 PM on June 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

It was like five episodes ago where they made a big deal about the only possible matter/anti-matter intermix ratio had to be 1:1, and here the Chief Engineer orders a 25:1 intermix ratio on startup. Maybe that's why he didn't last as Chief Engineer.

The visual of Riker's face emerging from the oil-slick is really good, but the figure of Armus just looks like a guy with a trash bag over his head, and is just boring to look at.

Tasha's last words in the episode are "Hailing frequencies closed, captain." I remember some report at the time that said Crosby was unhappy with her role on the show because all she ever did was say "Haling frequencies open, captain." I wonder if the writers knew that and gave her this as a playful send-off?
posted by skewed at 7:22 PM on June 20, 2020

I grew up watching TNG, and Data's emotionality always really bothered me. It's taken me a very long time, as well as two separate graduate-level degrees, but I now have accepted a theory for what it means to say that Data doesn't have emotions, and how an "emotion chip" can change that.

The important thing is being careful with what we mean by the word, 'emotion.' It can, in fact, be used in a variety of different ways, in a variety of different settings. But, generally speaking, what we call an 'emotion' contains (at least) two different components:
1. an evaluative component;
2. an affective component.

The evaluative component is a judgment about the object of the emotion. For instance, to be angry involves holding a judgment like, 'I have been wronged,' or 'I have been treated unfairly,' or the like. To be sad involves holding a judgment like, 'something bad has happened.' To be grieved involves holding a judgment like, 'I have lost someone/thing of deep importance.'

If you don't form evaluative judgments like these, then you don't experience emotions. End of story. You may experience mood states, but not emotions. And, furthermore, if you don't form evaluative judgments like these, good luck trying to function in this world! The biggest lie Star Trek ever told us is that there is, ever, in any situation, a 'purely logical' course of action. There is no such thing as pure logic; all logic can do is help you sort through options, based on some central, pre-established values. Without values--without the process of valuing and judging--there is nothing to compel logic/programming to support one course of action over some others. ("Why not just blow up the ship? Then we won't have to worry about how we're slowly running out of oxygen." "Hm, I think it's because: I like people, and I don't want them to die.")

The affective component is the feeling of the physiological reaction experienced during an emotion, the mood-like aspect of the feeling. It's the feeling of crying, when you are sad, or the feeling of your heart pounding and your muscles tensing, when you are angry.

Here's what seems true about Data: while he does not experience the affective component we associate with emotional experiences (absent his emotion chip), he forms and holds the sorts of evaluations we associate with emotions.

The best evidence, I think, is this: Data is very curious. He is constantly curious! He wants to learn things, and he obviously has formed the evaluative judgment that learning new things is worth doing. To this extent, Data experiences the emotion of curiosity. He also very obviously forms opinions about what he takes to matter, or to have significance for him, such as his friendship with Geordie, or his history with Tasha Yar. He has formed and maintains the judgments connected to feeling love, grief, etc. The very act of making decisions or wanting things requires forming judgments, about accepting value claims about the world. So, Data, who is very clear in his desire to be human-like, and who made the decision to join Star Fleet, forms judgments about value.

What Data doesn't experience is the affective component of emotionality. The evaluative judgments that he holds do not accompany physiological/neurological changes with particular feels to them. So, Data says he doesn't experience emotion, but this is a short-hand way of describing it: he often experiences one significant component of emotionality (the forming and maintenance of evaluative judgments), but he does not experience another (the affective, phenomenological feeling that is salient during the experience of an emotion).

This also explains why Data getting emotions is really simple (just snap in a single chip! easypeasy!). You don't have to make major, self-changing alterations to his programming or hardwiring in order to give him emotions. The hard part of programming for emotions is already done! He, somehow, already can form evaluative judgments, and that's the real kicker to emotionality. He values things! He is capable of valuing! That's already built into him! All the emotion chip has to do is alter some subroutines related to the simulations of physiological processes that are obviously already running in him. (He is, after all, fully functional.)

So, anyway. That's my answer to the age-old explanation for all of Data's weird and strange non-emotionality. He experiences the evaluative component of emotions, just not the affective component.
posted by meese at 7:38 PM on June 20, 2020 [17 favorites]

The best evidence, I think, is this: Data is very curious. He is constantly curious! He wants to learn things, and he obviously has formed the evaluative judgment that learning new things is worth doing. To this extent, Data experiences the emotion of curiosity.

My take on Data is that he's like the Terminators: he's not without emotion, it's that he has only one, and that he therefore experiences that emotion with a purity and power unknown to people that have a variety of often-conflicting emotions. (The Terminators experience the desire to fulfill their primary objective, whether that's killing Sarah Connor, killing John Connor, or protecting John.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:31 PM on June 20, 2020

When this aired I was a university freshman and we'd all gather in this one room for the weekly STTNG watching. I was crushed because totally crushing on Yar. We were all pissed, I was WTF pissed. A year or so later, I had a short fling with a girl probably because she reminded me of Yar. Silly 19 year old things. So long ago but I still miss Yar. Traumatic it was.
posted by zengargoyle at 6:41 PM on June 21, 2020 [2 favorites]

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