February 28, 2014

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Skin of Evil"

As you may have surmised from the past 20 episode reviews, Star Trek: The Next Generation did not get off to a promising start. The scripts were, in the main, absolutely dreadful. The cast was also relatively large - nine regular actors, all of whom were jostling for screen time and character development. Some actors won out and got quite a bit of attention: Patrick Stewart, understandably, and also Brent Spiner and to an extent Wil Wheaton. One actor who seemed to lose out in particular was Denise Crosby, whose Lieutenant Tasha Yar hadn't received any real opportunities to be showcased. She was having a miserable time, the scripts were dreadful, and there was a general feeling in the air that the series was going to be cancelled before long anyway. So Crosby went to the producers and requested that they release her from her contract.

"Skin of Evil" is, therefore, Tasha's last great hurrah. Does the production team give her a proper send-off? Of course not. This is Season 1, and if there's an opportunity for the team to miss an opportunity, they're going to take it without hesitation. In this episode Tasha Yar is unexpectedly killed by an alien menace about ten minutes in, and the episodes focuses instead on Deanna Troi and Captain Picard.

Killing off a lead character is a guaranteed ploy for high-stakes emotion in a television drama. Some of the best episodes I have seen have involved characters we've come to know over weeks or years dying, and the emotional repercussions that has on the rest of the cast. For whatever reason "Skin of Evil" throws all of that potential away; Yar dies abruptly, and the rest of the cast cope remarkably well for the rest of the episode. Only Troi seems emotionally affected, both within the shuttlecraft in which she is trapped for most of the storyline, and at Yar's incredibly trite memorial service on the holodeck.

Yar's death comes at the hands of Armus, an evil sentient black goo that is achieved well enough for the late 1980s, but is a laughably bad villain. Pretty much the entire episode is taken up with the Enterprise away team standing on an unconvincing studio-bound landscape arguing with an angry blob. It's difficult to emphasise just how tedious it all is. Troi and Picard share a half-decent scene, and the musical score by Ron Jones expresses a nice level of threat and menace. Those are the two nice things I can say about this episode. The rest is just woeful. And wasteful.
So it's goodbye to Lieutenant Yar, in a dreadful episode, leaving Season 1 22 episodes in and still with only seven good episodes to show for it. The quality ratio is now at 32%.

Two more things: I miscounted earlier when reviewing "The Arsenal of Freedom". This episode introduces the Enterprise's fourth chief engineer. I think that's it until La Forge takes over in Season 2. In addition to that, this is actual Wesley Crusher's final appearance in Season 1. We don't see him again until "The Child" in Season 2.

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