In the twenty-third episode of the first season of The Next Generation, this isn’t okay, and I WILL DIE ON THIS HILL. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
I get it. I get the narrative shock and power of what happens here. Hell, there might even be something that happened behind the scenes to warrant this. That still doesn’t make this a good writing choice, y’all. I think it’s fucking terrible, nonsensical, and an utter insult to Tasha Yar as a character.
The Skin of Evil
I think I’m also a little angry that there’s actually a TON of cool shit in this episode because I wish I could focus on that. I do want to talk about the Skin of Evil and Deanna Troi (MARINA SIRTIS IS A WORK OF PERFECTION HERE), but I admit that this entire episode is stained by the death of Tasha Yar. It is! But for the sake of discussion, let’s talk about everything else in “Skin of Evil.” I’ll start by saying that even if you cast aside Tasha’s role here, this is a viciously cynical episode of the show, one that is so fucked up when you think about it for like… five seconds. These beings – “titans,” Armus calls them – more or less shed their “evil” nature, creating another creature that’s nothing but a skin of evil. Abandoned on this planet, Armus developed a hatred and sadism that is so pure that it does nothing other than tease and torment any living creature it comes across. And how long has it been since Armus last interacted with someone? Years? Decades? Centuries? Who even knows?
And this is where Deanna comes in, and as much as I hate the framing of this episode, I will be thankful that we got to see Marina Sirtis give us the best performance of this season. It’s brilliant that the show uses her to give us the emotional perspective of both Tasha and Riker as they are attacked by Armus. Her Betazoid nature allows her to feel Tasha as she dies; she knows exactly what Riker is going through while inside of that disgusting pool of goo. And yet, while suffering immensely, Deanna still finds it possible to try and sympathize with Armus. There was no other character on this show who could have been in this predicament and had the affect that Deanna had. She’s the ship’s counselor for a reason: her empathy allows her to understand other creatures instantly.
However, the sad part of all of this is that the show posits that Armus is irredeemable. There’s no hope for this being because it’s so far gone, obsessed with its own hatred and violence. That’s not something that’s common within the Star Trek canon. We don’t really deal with extremes of evil, you know? And even if we do, there’s closure. There’s the defeat of evil. There’s some end to it all. That’s not the case here. Picard and Deanna do what they can, but they ultimately choose to distract Armus and escape. They leave this lonely, bitter, hateful thing on Vagra II, and NO ONE IS SUPPOSED TO HELP IT EVER AGAIN.
Over the course of this season, we’ve gotten a lot of hints about Tasha’s past. We’ve seen glimpses of possible directions her character could be taken. Hell, in this episode alone, we get a scene where Tasha looks fondly upon Worf, hinting at her affection for him. But when you get down to it, that’s all that Tasha is: a hint. Potential. A clue. While many characters on this show got fully-fleshed backstories or episodes devoted to exploring their characterization in the present, Tasha Yar was just there. That’s not Denise Crosby’s fault, of course. But as someone watching this show for the first time, it was certainly glaring. Why else have I been demanding a Tasha-centric episode for so long?
So when the show decides to kill her off in the way they’ve done here, it feels even more hollow and egregious than anything else. We’re supposed to be shocked because a beloved member of the crew is dead, but did we see how beloved she was? I don’t think any one member of the crew had less time on screen than here. We saw more of Wesley’s ugly sweaters than Tasha, haven’t we? So, based purely on this alone, her death actually isn’t that shocking, nor is it that meaningful. If Riker had drowned in that pool of goo? That would have been a huge deal. But killing off a secondary character in a way that reflects nothing on their character or history? Why? Why kill someone off like this – something that The Original Series never did – and do it in a way that’s so pointless?
Look, I know from people on Twitter that Denise Crosby wanted to leave the show. That’s fine. Then give her a story. Make this episode about her. Close the book on her character. Don’t treat her like collateral damage and then give us a funeral sequence that tells us that she was meaningful to the Next Generation universe. If she was important, why didn’t you show us that? You’re just telling me she is, and only AFTER she’s died. I suspect that this is part of the motivation for Crosby’s choice because… well, it’s not like the show was doing much for her.
God, the more I think about this, the more furious I am. What a waste of a character! What a terrible way to let her go! I know that I’m biased because I latched on to Tasha pretty early on, and I know that this clouds my view. But I don’t care because I feel like it’s fair to want this cast to be treated equally. By the end of “Skin of Evil,” I feel like the writers stuffed in a last-minute dedication to a character they realized was underused. It’s too little too late.
The video for “Skin of Evil” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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