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Recap / Star Trek: The Next Generation S 1 E 22 "Skin of Evil"

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"I do not serve things evil, I am evil."

Original air date: April 25, 1988

The first pivotal episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. An evil, tar-like creature holds Troi hostage on an alien world. During the rescue mission, one of the Enterprise crew is killed. It's Tasha.

This episode contains the following tropes:

  • 13 Is Unlucky: Troi is on Shuttlecraft 13, which crashes under mysterious circumstances.
  • An Aesop: Tasha's death serves as a reminder that our heroes won't always be saved by Plot Armour, and they don't always get to die heroically.
  • Ain't Too Proud to Beg: Troi resorts to begging to try to get Armus to release Riker and offers herself instead, but she otherwise doesn't give Armus the satisfaction. The rest of the crew refuse to beg, as well, despite being commanded to.
  • And I Must Scream:
    • Armus is trapped alone on a dead world with nowhere to go and nothing to do, never to be reunited with the glorious beings who abandoned him there. Forever. And how he screams when Picard rubs that fact in.
    • Riker, when trapped inside Armus — and worse, when he's outside of Armus, covered in black slime, face frozen in mid-scream.
  • Antagonist Title: "Skin of Evil" describes Armus.
  • Apocalypse How: It's implied (though never stated outright) that the original inhabitants of Vagra II devastated the surface and wiped out nearly all life through their warlike ways, before purifying themselves of their negative aspects. They then left the barren world and left Armus, the embodiment of their cast-off wickedness, as the only thing living on it.
  • As You Know: The Chief Engineer (for this episode) announces his name and rank when Picard hails him, even though Picard would be well aware of who his Chief Engineer is. This is because he's the last in a revolving door of temporary Chief Engineer characters spread across season one.
  • Bait-and-Switch: The camera zooms in on Geordi studying Armus through his visor while Riker is talking. You'd expect that Geordi would reveal some insight about the creature he'd gained from his special sight, but it's really just setting up Armus knocking Geordi's visor off his face as a cruel game.
  • Believing Their Own Lies: Captain Picard says this of Armus when he's been stranded on a planet for so long because its former residents didn't want to have anything to do with him, having shed themselves of him (quite literally).
  • Blob Monster: Armus is a pool of black sludge that can take a roughly humanoid form.
  • Break the Haughty: Picard returns fire to Armus's Kick the Dog actions with words, which are the only thing that can really harm him.
  • Break Them by Talking: Picard's way of defeating Armus; possibly the only way, as he is Made of Indestructium to the point where a direct photon torpedo strike isn't expected to kill him, only to destroy the downed shuttle.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: At the end, while Picard tries to reason with Armus that serving evil enslaves one's mind, Armus has to clarify that he is an actual skin of evil. Despite this, Armus had no choice in the matter.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The holocube with Tasha's funerary message is given to Data, where it will play an important role in the coming seasons.
  • Complete Immortality: Armus. And it is absolute torture for him.
  • Condescending Calmness: Picard does this for good reason, to egg Armus on in order for him to lose his concentration and allow the Enterprise to beam up Troi and the injured shuttle pilot.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Armus strikes down Tasha, and she is dead almost immediately—much to the dissatisfaction of Armus, who wanted to see her suffer.
  • Damsel in Distress: Deanna. Trapped in a wrecked shuttle, unable to do anything against Armus. Though her insight does eventually prove significant in helping Picard figure out how to defeat Armus.
  • Dark Is Evil: Armus, made out of pure evil, is an entirely black liquid.
  • Deconstruction: What if the security personnel Red Shirt wasn't some anonymous character but one of the main cast?
  • Don't You Dare Pity Me!: Picard and Deanna both feel some level of pity for Armus when they learn how he came into existence, and just how unimaginably long he's been alone on the dead planet. Armus feels insulted when they offer their compassion, and Troi's pity presses his Berserk Button, causing him to attack Riker.
    Armus: Pity me?! Save it for yourselves!
  • Dropped a Bridge on Her: Tasha Yar tries to ignore Armus and walk around him, only for it to unexpectedly kill her with a single blow. Gene Roddenberry insisted that Yar's death be senseless rather than a Heroic Sacrifice of some sort. Even the new writing staff that took over in Season 3 thought it was such an awful idea that they specifically wrote "Yesterday's Enterprise" to give Yar a better send-off.
  • Early-Installment Weirdness:
    • The last time we see an Enterprise chief engineer other than Geordi, in this case Leland T. Lynch. None of the remaining first season episodes mention a chief engineer, and when Season 2 begins, Geordi has been promoted to the post.
    • After Tasha is mortally injured, the away team beams up to the transporter room and then carries her to sickbay. In nearly any future episode, they'd have just beamed her directly to sickbay.
    • The ship's crew is gambling on the outcome of the martial arts tournament. Canon would later establish that money became obsolete in the 22nd century. (That said, nothing confirms that they're betting with actual money; it could just be for fun, like the iconic poker games later in the series.)
  • Emotion Eater: Armus needs it to stave off its own suffering.
  • Enemy Without: Armus was created by an alien race who left his world eons ago, possibly to Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence. He is the result of a process they used to dispose of their collective negative emotions, of which he is the physical manifestation.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Armus' questions of the Enterprise crew suggest this. It doesn't seem to get why the Enterprise crew would endure self-sacrifice on behalf of stricken comrades, and a lot of his dialog, when not making threats, revolves around this type of questioning.
  • Evil Is Petty: Armus isn't too bright or clever, and all it wants is to torment people for its own amusement, but in rather pedestrian ways like "make Data point guns at everyone." Everyone else refuses to give it the emotional hand-wringing he desires, which frustrates it to no end, and after killing Yar, their deaths no longer amuse him, he is lonely, and the next worst thing it does is envelope Riker and then spit him back out alive again when it is bored. Data even spells out that "Death is no longer sufficient to eliminate its boredom." Basically, Armus is revealed as an attention-starved bully.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Armus is defeated by tricking it into lowering its guard so its hostages can be rescued, then they blow up the shuttle and drop a warning beacon in orbit so no one will ever get near the planet again. Armus has eternity to himself.
  • First-Name Basis: For some reason, both Troi and Picard refer to the injured redshirt on Shuttlecraft 13 simply as "Ben."
  • Ghost Extras: Yar apparently had no other friends on the Enterprise except everyone in the main cast. You'd think she might have wanted to say something to some of her subordinate security officers.
  • Heroic Spirit: Picard says that the human spirit is indomitable, and that true evil is not Armus himself but the resignation of submitting to him.
  • How Dare You Die on Me!: Crusher goes to extraordinary lengths to try reviving Tasha. Even after one of her staff hesitates, she orders the power on the cortical stimulator increased to try again.
  • I Am the Noun: Picard quotes to Armus that "all spirits are enslaved that serve things evil". His reply: "I do not serve things evil; I am evil."
  • I Lied: Armus tells Troi that the Enterprise crew won't be coming back. Later...
    Armus: I lied to you. They came back.
  • Inelegant Blubbering: Armus's screams when Picard is delivering his "The Reason You Suck" Speech sound very much like weeping. Watching it melt back into a puddle is similar to seeing someone curling up in grief.
  • It Amused Me: Armus's stated excuse for killing Tasha and torturing Riker. Deanna realizes that it did not amuse Armus — because she didn't suffer.
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Armus takes offense to the crew referring to him as "it" as if to suggest he's not a living being. This doesn't stop him from casting aspersions about Data's own sentience, due to being an android.
  • Kick the Dog: Armus seizes every chance he can get to do this to the away team because he hopes it will amuse him.
  • Killed Off for Real: Tasha Yar. Denise Crosby left the show because she felt her character didn't have enough to do in the episodes. The producers probably felt that there were too many characters anyway and needed to trim the cast a bit, so they apparently took it pretty well. In fact, they worked with Crosby to make her departing episode special—in terms of Star Trek, the show that was responsible for the Redshirt trope. Also, driven home is the fact that Yar's death is somewhat pointless and understated and not the type of dramatic heroic death usually reserved for main characters. Crosby has also stated that she would have stayed if she'd gotten more character-based scenes like Tasha and Worf discussing her performance in the tournament.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Considering Armus is living a Fate Worse than Death, it gets away with nothing despite ending the episode exactly as it began.
  • Made of Evil: Armus claims to be a skin of evil cast off by titans who thought that by ridding themselves of him, they could escape the bonds of destructiveness. He has zero redeeming qualities. He kills because he thinks it will amuse him. He tortures, physically and psychologically for the same reason. He is literally a black tar pit of hate that was cast off long ago. The only thing that might provoke sympathy is that he had no choice in his creation, and his evil nature is torture for him as well, being in a constant state of undirected hatred and rage.
  • Magical Defibrillator: Averted. Dr. Crusher cranks up the cortical stimulator as high as she can trying to restart Tasha's brain function. Her body jumps from the shock, but she's still dead.
  • Meaningful Funeral: The episode ends with the senior officers on a holodeck, where a message recorded by Tasha in case of her demise is played for them. The holocube that contains the message is later given to Data.
  • No-Sell: Phasers have no effect on Armus.
  • Ominous Obsidian Ooze: Armus, a living oil slick Made of Evil; while he can take on a roughly humanoid form, he always retains his tarry complexion.
  • Powerful and Helpless: Armus murders Tasha, physically tortures Riker, and emotionally tortures the rest of the Enterprise away team in order to gain amusement, yet it doesn't amuse him for long and he can't get them to obey him or break their spirit despite his vast power. Rubbing his own impotence in his face turns out to be the key to defeating him, as Picard discovers.
  • The Power of Hate: Subverted—Armus is a creature literally Made of Evil and this leads the audience to expect that negative emotions would fuel his power. However, being forced to confront and feel his own rage and hate instead of suppressing it makes Armus weaker. Picard fully uses this to his advantage in escaping him. See Talking the Monster to Death below.
  • Puny Earthlings: Armus feels this way about the humans, as his power allows him to kill them with ease despite their force of will.
    Armus: You humans are puny. Weak.
  • Sacrificial Lion: Tasha Yar's death makes Armus an especially scary villain for the episode, as none of the other main cast are ever killed off in the series by another villain.
  • Sadist: Armus took no real pleasure in Tasha's death because she went too quickly. He wanted her to suffer first and wants everyone else, too, as well.
  • Sadistic Choice: Armus tries to force one on Beverly, saying she gets to choose whether Picard, Data, or Geordi die. It doesn't work because she chooses herself, and he would rather she live with the knowledge she chose which of her friends died.
  • Scotty Time: Picard telling Lynch to get the dilithium crystals realigned quicker so they can save Deanna and her pilot.
  • Senseless Sacrifice: Tasha, in keeping with Gene Roddenberry's insistence that a security officer would die ingloriously.
  • Ship Tease: Worf encouraging Tasha in her upcoming martial arts tournament, and her smile in response.
  • Shut Up, Hannibal!: See Talking the Monster to Death.
  • Shut Up, Kirk!:
    Riker: Preserving life—all life—is very important to us.
    Armus: Why?
  • Stupid Evil: Armus. He tortures the Enterprise away team for fun and then expects them to transport him off world, using threats of more violence as his sole bargaining strategy. Not that he has much of a choice on the matter; as an artificial entity of pure evil, it's literally the only thing he can do.
  • Take Me Instead: Deanna offers herself to Armus to save everyone else, as she's already his prisoner.
  • Talking the Monster to Death: Picard utterly breaks, crushes and obliterates Armus's spirit.
    Picard: A great poet once said: "All spirits are enslaved that serve things evil."
    Armus: You do not understand. I do not serve things evil; I AM evil.
    Picard: (smiling wryly) Oh, no. You're not.
    Armus: I am a skin of evil left here by a race of Titans who believed if they rid themselves of me, they would free the bonds of destructiveness.
    Picard: Yes. So here you are. Feeding on your own loneliness. Consumed by your own pain. Believing your own lies. [...] You say you are true evil? Shall I tell you what true evil is? It is to submit to you. It is when we surrender our freedom, our dignity, instead of defying you.
    Armus: I will kill you, and those in there!
    Picard: But you will still be here! In this place! Forever! Alone! Immortal!
    Armus: AAARRRGGHHH!!!!!
    Picard: That's your real fear. Never to die. Never again to be reunited with those who left you here.
    Picard: I'm not taking you anywhere.
    Armus: [Overly Long Scream]
  • Teleport Interdiction: Armus maintains an energy field around the shuttle that prevents the Enterprise from rescuing Troi and the pilot. Breaking his concentration on maintaining it is key to resolving the episode.
  • Third-Person Person: This episode's entry in the first season's round of finding a Chief Engineer is one Leland T. Lynch, whose gimmick is apparently insisting on using his full name when hailed by the bridge. Picard seems annoyed by this already.
  • Tonight, Someone Dies: The original episodic promo for the episode (viewable on the Blu-ray release) promised that one of the crew wouldn't be making it out alive, with Tasha, Troi, and Riker all being shown in life-threatening situations. It's the first of the three that ends up getting killed.
  • Tragic Monster: For all the evil Armus commits, he had no choice in being created as the thing he is, and is incapable of being anything else. In the end, he is forever stranded and alone on a barren planet with only his rage, hatred, insanity and loneliness.
  • Trauma Button: Calling Armus "it" makes him think of how the Titans cast him off and abandoned him on this world.
  • Vader Breath: Every time Armus speaks it draws a phlegmy breath that makes it sound like it's dying of tuberculosis, in keeping with its appearance as a black sludge monster.
  • Video Wills: Tasha leaves a tearjerking one on the holodeck for the rest of the crew.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Armus undergoes an epic one in the finale, utterly broken by Picard's speech.
  • Wham Episode: The sudden death of a main cast member in the midst of its first season was quite a shock at the time.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Troi notes that her fellow shuttlecraft crewmember Ben is still alive and greatly wounded. In the end, both are transported out, but there's no mention of whether or not Ben ultimately survived or recovered.
  • Who Wants to Live Forever?: Armus clearly wants to die and his suffering to end, but is incapable of doing so, instead stuck for all eternity on an empty world with his rage and despair.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Armus, rejected and bereft by a species that just abandoned him and left him alone.
  • Would You Like to Hear How They Died?: Armus taunts Troi about Yar; Troi replies that she already sensed Tasha's death.

"Hailing frequencies closed, sir."