Thoughts on TNG: “Skin of Evil”

Posted: March 20, 2013 in TV
Tags: , , , ,

I’m going to preface this with a piece of information that may cause shock and alarm: I didn’t grow up with Star Trek

nope

I know, I know. Well, I’ve been getting into TNG in a big way lately and will be discussing my most and least favourite episodes, starting with one that had me in two minds – “Skin of Evil”. Spoilers ahead, if you’ve somehow arrived at the party even later than me!

TNG: Season One struggles to find its feet, which is understandable. It’s not easy crafting an identity while following in the footsteps of a cult phenomenon but when it succeeds, the results are quite special. In spite of its inconsistencies Season One did keep me hooked and left me wanting more. Personally, I’d rather watch a show with hits and misses than one that takes no risks.

With that in mind, on with the episode in question…

RIP Lt Tasha Yar

st-yar

“Skin of Evil” is notable for the death of a major character. I liked Tasha, so I was obviously a bit miffed when she kicked the bucket. Strong female characters written against type have always appealed to me so I was pleased to see a woman in charge of security and tactics. I’m not saying that her female colleagues don’t have their own strengths but the roles of Counsellor Troi (empath, emotional support) and Dr Crusher (healer, mother) are very much rooted in the traditionally feminine.

Yar, by contrast, was a tough cookie who could hold her own in a punch-up. Her manner and stance just seemed to exude confidence and you could tell how seriously she took her job. Denise Crosby managed to bring enough cheer and heart to make her character both relatable and likable, as well as a paragon of triumph over adversity. Yar endured a brutal adolescence on a colony gone feral (two words – “rape gang”) where she managed not only to survive but to rise to a prestigious career in Star Fleet – kudos to her for taking control, turning that fear and anger into courage. Even getting enrolled in Star Fleet is no easy task, as a certain tea-drinking captain will testify.

Yes, I’m aware that Crosby asked to be released from her contract and that’s what led to her character being written out of the show. All the same, Tasha Yar was a great gal full of potential and seeing her cut down in her prime was nothing short of tragic.

Armus (a.k.a. "that blob-monster-thing")

Armus (a.k.a. “that blob-monster-thing”)

It wasn’t just the fact Tasha died; it was the way it happened. This was no showdown with the Big Bad or even a mid-level sub boss. Armus was a TNG “Monster of the Week” and a fairly shit one at that. The design looks more like a throwback to the original series and just listen to him speak: those are the words of a petulant toddler read by a goofy pantomime troll. He strikes Yar down near the beginning of the episode for no real reason, granting her demise no honour or purpose. At first you don’t quite realise what’s happened, even when Doctor Crusher confirms her status. It’s only when she’s back on the ship, desperately trying to revive Yar’s lifeless body that the truth finally hits. Yes, she’s dead. And she deserved better.

“Anyone can be killed”

On the other hand, an unceremonious death in the line of duty seems “real”, perhaps uncomfortably so, and I can’t help but applaud such a bold move. Back in the day, we’d watch TV safe in the knowledge that the goodies would beat the baddies and all would turn out well. However, this safety net of convention can turn the action stale, as we take for granted that our heroes will leave each battle unscathed and that the status quo will be restored by the closing credits. Once a character dies, all bets are off – the stakes are raised and the threats get serious. From now on you’ll be glued to the screen when those phasers start firing, hoping your favourite character can make it out alive.

Cruel and abrupt TV deaths are more common nowadays; consider Game Of Thrones (where I snagged that quote) or the works of Joss Whedon, whose philosophy is “don’t give the audience what they want – give them what they need”. It’s all well and good to write fun space adventures but TNG’s substance (as with all good fiction) comes from facing the harsh realities of life and exploring the human condition. Nothing does this quite like a death. It’s up to the rest of the characters to rationalise what happened and to carry on in their friend’s absence while contemplating their own mortality. Pointless as it seemed at the time, Yar’s sudden departure left an impact and she would by no means be forgotten the following week.

We’ll Always Have Worf

Yar and Worf - BFFs

Yar and Worf – BFFs

I wish (as did Crosby) that more scenes had been written for Yar and Worf, those two unlikely kindreds. They couldn’t be more different on the surface but they’d shared many of the experiences that made them strong. Both had that warrior’s spirit and knew they’d eventually meet death with eyes wide open. There was a sense of mutual respect between them, plus you couldn’t help wonder who’d win in a figh

Given their similar roles, perhaps the Enterprise just wasn’t big enough for both of them. Eventually one character would have had to develop in another direction (and they weren’t exactly the most pliable types) or face being made redundant in the group dynamic. Instead Worf succeeds Yar’s post; a fitting choice as we know he’ll do Tasha proud, carrying on her work with pride, care and honour. I’m sure she’d rest a little easier too, knowing the ship is still in good hands.

And the rest?

I’ve talked at length about Tasha Yar but have said very little about the rest of the episode. To be honest, not much else is memorable apart from seeing Riker dipped in tar (my flatmate pointed out that it was really Jonathan Frakes doing the stunt) and Troi’s empathic experience. It was at this point I started to warm to her character; the idea of “feeling” someone die is a powerful one and you’ve got to admire her bravery in offering to sacrifice herself for her comrades. Finally there’s Data’s exchange with Picard about the nature of grief which, seeing as I love Data to bits, I found deeply moving.

Much as I’ll miss Tasha, she left with a bang instead of a whimper in an episode that made a bold break from convention. Yar out.

yar_wave

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