The Great Star Trek TNG Rewatch: Skin of Evil

We all knew it was coming, but we’re finally here – the episode in which Tasha Yar says her fond farewells to this galaxy. What begins as a rescue mission to retrieve Troi’s downed shuttlecraft becomes a tense battle of wills against Armus, a being made from all the cast-off evil and negativity of an alien race. After Armus callously kills Yar, Picard and the others know they must tread carefully as they deal with a being who seeks to entertain himself through torture and violence.

You can see why Denise Crosby wanted to leave TNG – as a character, Yar was going nowhere, and she was lucky to get 2-3 lines per episode (although as Crosby herself points out, ironically the martial arts chat with Worf at the start of this episode was exactly the kind of thing she wanted). That being said, getting casually killed by a giant oil slick near the start of an episode is hardly the most exciting or auspicious way to go – we’ve seen redshirts who lasted longer than that.

As for the rest of the episode, it’s somewhat unbelievable that no one else gets killed. Armus is a being made of discarded negativity, who hates his isolation and longs for entertainment. When killing Yar proves unsatisfying, he considers more elaborate ways of inflicting suffering, but of course since he’s purely dealing with main characters, he doesn’t follow through with any of the others. It’s not something I would have wanted to watch, but you can imagine Armus reaching into the depths of his darkness and producing all manner of sadistic games to play on the Enterprise crew, secure in the knowledge that there was a supply over 1000 of them on board.

The episode rounds off with Yar’s wake on the holodeck, an event in which a pre-recorded hologram praises all of her fellow main characters – oh, except poor Geordi, who gets nary a mention. I found it tolerable, but my viewing companion deemed it a vomit-inducing waste of time.

What could have become of Tasha Yar?

Unlike the human characters from Earth, Yar had a different, darker background – she grew up on a failed Federation colony where lawlessness prevailed, and rape gangs roamed freely. This gave Yar an edge that couldn’t really be explored in a show where the mandate was that humanity was so perfect and evolved that they didn’t engage even in bickering and petty squabbles (well, except all those annoying one-off characters like Kosinki or Wyatt Miller’s parents).

In a different world, what could Yar have brought to the table?

  • A flawed character, undoubtedly strong but still struggling with the demons of the past.
  • A tough warrior spirit, perhaps embodying some of the principles that in the real TNG were espoused by Worf. You can imagine that Yar might have found a strength in Klingon or Vulcan discipline and philosophy, having been failed so badly by humans whilst growing up.
  • A young and inexperienced first officer (stand aside, Riker), who grows in confidence and ability under Picard’s tutelage.
  • Star Trek’s first and only openly lesbian or bisexual main character – this would have seemed a good fit for her, and isn’t just because I want to see Yar on Troi action.

Other points of note

  • Once again, Picard beams down after Riker is incapacitated, risking the lives of both the captain and first officer (and second officer, since Data is already down there and isn’t indestructible).
  • Vagra II becomes the latest in what must be a long line of planets to have big “DON’T GO THERE” signs slapped on it.
  • Worf is betting on Yar in the martial arts tournament, but what exactly is he betting? There’s no money, and anyone can get what they want from the replicators, so what else is it? Holodeck, vacation or off-duty time? Favours (sexual or otherwise)? Beans?
  • The dilithium crystals literally seem to be a big hunk of crystals, like the kind you might buy from a natural history museum. They aren’t grown in a regular fashion or set into a special matrix, which seems odd.
  • We see yet another Chief Engineer of the Week.
  • The chief engineer realigns the dilithium crystals by hand, which is surely slower and less accurate than having the computer do it. Has no one written any software for dilithium crystal manipulation?
  • Taking the warp drive offline for pre-emptive (rather than emergency) repairs whilst not in spacedock seems a little cavalier. Surely there’s a starbase the Enterprise could stop at whilst doing such delicate work?
  • Data is unable to figure out human emotions after living with them for over twenty years, but is immediately able to deduce how Armus’ mind works.

Summary – Skin of Evil: One day Yar, the next day Yar’n’t.

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