Monday, December 6, 2010

Officer Down (And That's The Whole Story)! "Skin Of Evil" Replays Less Extraordinarily!

The Good: Character, Acting, Behind the Scenes stories
The Bad: Plot, One-Trick Pony, Pointless Enemy.
The Basics: A disappointing episode that kills off Tasha Yar and serves little other purpose, including not being terribly entertaining.

Star Trek The Next Generation has a fairly stable cast . . . by the third season. Here in the first season, the crew undergoes a single major change and that occurs in the episode "Skin Of Evil." In fact, the whole purpose of "Skin Of Evil" is to make a change in cast. In a way, it strengthens the characters in the long run.

While flying to pick Counselor Troi up from a conference, the Enterprise receives a distress call from her shuttlecraft. Her ship is under attack and by the time the Enterprise arrives, the shuttle has crashed on an unexplored planet called Vagra II. When the Away Team beams down, they find an oil slick blocking their path and whenever they try to pass it by, it moves to block their way. The slick reconfigures itself to the form of a human, sort of. It generally resembles a human shape and it calls itself Armus.

Armus apparently has a grudge against everyone and everything and is a sadist to boot. When the Away Team tries to get by the creature, it lashes out and kills Lieutenant Yar. Yar is beamed back to the Enterprise and, in a scene reminiscent of every medical drama, Dr. Crusher tries desperately to save her, to no avail. Yar dies, Troi is trapped in the shuttlecraft and upon returning to the surface, Riker is absorbed by Armus and lost.

The rest of the episode, and the rest takes a while as Yar is killed fairly early in the piece, is spent with Picard figuring out how to free Troi and thwart Armus using philosophy alone. It becomes pedantic and the pace slows to ridiculous levels during the second half.

I once had a writing teacher who taught that if a conflict is easily resolved, it wasn't much of a conflict to begin with. It makes a lot of sense and it's something I've come to live by in both my life and my writing. Unfortunately, the writer's of "Skin Of Evil" had no such guidance in their education. Faced with the dissatisfaction of actress Denise Crosby, the writers of Star Trek The Next Generation came up with "Skin Of Evil" to resolve the problem. It was a simple problem and they came up with the most simple resolution: kill her. The problem is, it's a simple problem and resolving it is ridiculously easy.

But, it doesn't take a lot of time.

Much of "Skin Of Evil" is filler. That is, the episode is resolved rather quickly; Yar is killed, but the episode keeps going on. It's a lot of pointless talk defining Armus and the nature of evil and the middle twenty minutes is a complete wash.

Two important things happen in "Skin Of Evil" and both are character things. Yar is killed and in the last minutes of the episode, a wonderful scene is presented whereby a holographic Yar gives her memorial, helping to define each of the characters and her relationship with them. The other important aspect of the episode is that Worf is made Security Chief.

The episode suffers on many levels, but none more serious than the fact that the episode attempts to draw out a simple premise into a full episode. They had an easy thing to do and, unfortunately, the writer's used the easiest possible resolution to the problem.

The real nice thing about the episode actually does not appear in the episode. Jonathan Frakes, who plays Riker, was immersed in a vat of black dyed Metamucil when Armus absorbs Riker. Jonathan, being a young actor at the time, and a real sport, jumped right in. Rather disgusting. What Jonathan didn't know was it was dyed with professional printer's ink and it dyed him quite a bit. If one watches closely, when Riker is released from Armus, they may see that the whites of Frakes’ eyes are dyed! Yech.

In the end, "Skin Of Evil" is a remarkably unsatisfying end to a decent character. I am recommending it solely on the basis of its importance within the Star Trek The Next Generation mythology. Yar's death has consequences that will resonate the rest of the series as does Worf's promotion.

Watch it once, that's all it's worth.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete First Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the debut season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode, movie and season reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2010, 2007, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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