Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 1: Skin of Evil

The Next Generation, Season 1
"Skin of Evil"
Airdate: April 25, 1988
21 of 176 produced
22 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is en route to pick up Counselor Troi's shuttle when it suffers an emergency and crash lands on the planet Vagra II. Troi and the shuttle's pilot are taken hostage by a mysterious and malevolent creature named Armus. Will the Enterprise be able to rescue them? What price will they have to pay to do so?
Every once in a while, you'll find a being of pure evil that looks like this in the toilet, too.


Kevin: The science fiction premise is pretty interesting, like Dorian Gray in outer space. It's easy to demonize a human opponent as pure evil, but with rare exception, that's not the case. Here we have a creature who is by design a sentient being's worst impulses. I would have liked more exploration of this idea. Why did these negative emotions need a physical receptacle? Why didn't they destroy Armus themselves? A great follow up could have ben later meeting some advanced peaceful beings and learning they created Armus.

Matthew: I've always been tantalized by this script's mention of "beings whose beauty dazzles all who see them." That's pretty much all we get, though. I am working on a story that does indeed follow up on this, but I should keep the details hush-hush. As it is, it's just an interesting idea that fails to receive any development. This is sort of a syndrome in Season One. I think budgets and editorial direction simply weren't there. Later seasons see more development of ideas.

Kevin: The other problem I have with the set up is that Armus' powers seem ill-defined and controlled by the demands of the moment in the script rather than a cohesive set of powers. He can beam objects and people. Why not beam himself somewhere? Where does Riker go when he is in the ooze and the ooze is enveloping the shuttle?

Matthew: This story, despite having the aforementioned interesting conceptual hook, has the feeling of being thrown together quickly. This was probably a function of the suddenness of Denise Crosby's decision. It feels like they borrowed an idea from a spec script and just used it as a means to an end, which shortchanges both the idea and the audience. How long had Armus been there? Why is he called Armus (aside from his namesake Burton Armus, a member of the production staff)? If their tricorders don't register Armus from a foot away, how can the ship's sensors detect minute fluctuations in his power from orbit? He must be emitting some kind of energy if he can be sensed with sensors. Even casting a shadow would register, since it would be blocking energy.

Kevin: The other major element of the story is pretty rare in Star Trek: the death of a major character. Spock obviously comes to mind as the only other example. Though here, there is not even an attempt at leaving a back door for the character's return, and unlike Spock's, Tasha's death is senseless. When I was kid the senselessness of the death bothered me. I think I thought the writers didn't come up with something more dramatic because they chose not to, but as an adult, a demonstration of the randomness of fate is far more dramatically satisfying. The strongest part of the episode is certainly the crew's reaction to Tasha's death. The sickbay scene, despite the trope of using the resuscitative device past its design limit, is very tense, and the funeral scene is heartbreaking.

Matthew: I don't think this senseless death is as bad as the one we got for Dax. Tasha was doing her job, trying to rescue two crew mates. Perhaps she was being a bit hot-headed, but she is who she is. It was consistent for the character. Either way, the funeral scene was great. The only small niggle that creeps into my mind is that her recording is perfectly keyed for exactly the people who show up. Is the program adaptive? If Troi died, too, would it have dropped her segment? I also found her remarks for Picard a little odd (she imagined him as a father), given that she expressed sexual desire for him in "Hide and Q." OK, all that aside, the scene gave the rest of the cast a chance not only to do some good acting, but also allowed them to "mourn" their reparting vast member. The little coda with Data was perfect, too, in which Picard tells him that he got the point entirely, since he misses her even more.

Kevin: Pacing became a bit of a problem for this episode. It seems like we got the same ten minute scene of Armus taunting the crew then going to have a gab fest with Troi about three times. It drags down the second half of the episode. I also found the solution a little too pat. He's a creature made of anger. The way they defeated him was distracting him by making him angry. It ranks up there with Kirk using logic to destroy a computer.

Matthew: I didn't find the pacing too bad. If anything, I wanted Troi's scenes with Armus to be longer, because I found the idea of psychoanalyzing a skin of evil to be provocative. It would have been nice if Armus could torment Troi (and Riker, when enveloped) mentally, perhaps creating false horror scenarios sich as abandonment, betrayal, etc. It could have shed light on both Armus and his victims. What we got was some OK stuff with Troi going at it against Armus. I think having Picard be the one to "beat" him was cheap. Troi really deserved that scene, and it would have shown us a darker side to her character, too.


Kevin: This is certainly the strongest part of the episode. Both the scenes in sickbay and the funeral scene were quite moving. Little notes like Beverly holding Wesley's hand and Riker putting him arm around Troi really made the scene. I choose to forget Tasha hitting on Picard in Hide and Q in favor of her memorial message, as it was better acted and more genuine.

Matthew: Apparently both Sirtis and Frakes were really broken up about Crosby leaving. Sirtis in particular is obviously devastated, and it works on screen. Kudos to her for allowing herself to be so open for an audience.

Kevin: Troi gets another pretty good outing, both in terms of emotion and professional competence. Her sobbing in the funeral was credible and not over the top and her attempts to analyze Armus showed her ability to handle a crisis.

Matthew: Gates McFadden played doctor very well. The scene was tense and exciting, and was the first in TNG (and of many future scenes in Trek) to employ the "one more time" resuscitation trope. She handles props well, and gives off an air of actually "doing something" technical as opposed to "modern actor pretending." This was something De Kelley was good at, too. McFadden really creates a character with Crusher. It's an interesting study in contrasts - her character was axed after the first season just like Crosby's, albeit for different reasons. Whose is more memorable? Crusher may have gotten 10% more screen time, but she's twice as memorable as Yar. No small roles, just small actors, and all that.

Kevin: Armus didn't really do it for me. The lack of a face and the modulated voice wore a little thin on me pretty quickly.

Production Values

Kevin: Production was a little weak here. The planet set was pretty sparse. The planet was rendered in that same grainy way of a lot of season 1 planets. The shuttle was not good. The animation for the oil slick was obvious. On the positive side, except for one close up of Picard and Data where the compositing was obvious, I liked the holodeck scene, and Riker going in and out of the oil slick was well done. You really have to give Frakes credit for being such a sport.

Matthew: The music for the funeral scene, which is featured on "The Star Trek Album," is perfect. Understated enough to go by barely noticed, but pretty and sad enough to really heighten the impact of the scene. I've listened to it many times in the car, and I always enjoy it.


Kevin: I am going to give this a 3, entirely on the strength of the acting. The cast's sadness of Denise Crosby's departure came through in spades and all the emotional components of the show and each character really hit the mark. On the technical side, I suppose you could attribute all the problems to the episode being rushed. They weren't planning on doing this, and frankly it shows. Still, I do get genuinely verklempt in the funeral scene, and that's enough to push this into average territory.

Matthew: I give it a 3 without reservations. Maybe I'm a sucker for a good idea (the skin of evil concept), maybe I'm a sucker for a good heart-string tugging. But I've never felt this episode warranted a skipping. So that's a 6.

1 comment:

  1. HD Highlights from the Blu-Ray:

    During the attempt to resuscitate Tasha, labels which were blurry on the DVD are now clearly readable on the Blu-Ray. So you now know which meter applies to which bodily function.

    The increased color fidelity allows us to see just how bad that red blob on Tasha's face was. So I guess that's a lowlight.