Poor Tasha Yar. The first Security Chief of the Enterprise D didn’t last particularly long and only really got a few scraps of story during her time there. There were signs of a character that could have been an interesting one to delve into, with her dark background of life on the run on a colony filled with gangs of rapists and a nod to her having dealt with drug addiction. She was a strong woman, both physically and emotionally, something that would have been rarity on our screens in the 80s and early 90s. Compared to the much more traditional feminine roles we see the other two main female characters perform, Tasha could have continued to be a unique character on contemporary television, as well as given much needed gender balance to this supposed egalitarian future. It was not to be though. Denise Crosby, who played Yar, requested to leave the show, due to a lack of good storylines.
Her previous time on the show may have lacked many memorable moments, but her outing that takes place in Skin of Evil, is a major moment for the show. Star Trek is not particularly known for offing its characters, other than the numerous unnamed red shirt that met their demise (although, fun fact, turns out that the red shirts were not the most likely to die), so to kill off a major character is a big moment. Perhaps what is most shocking about this particular death is the Whedon level of suddenness that the death occurs in. Echoing those red shirt deaths of old, there is no big heroic outing for Yar, only the demonstration of an alien creature’s power and callousness. The episode itself almost takes on the qualities of this selfish and destructive force, an embodiment of evil that seeks only to feed off of the pain of those around it and to find a way to have revenge on its creators.
If it weren’t for the death of a regular cast member, this episode, like much of the first season, would likely not be overly memorable. The battle of wits with the creature, Armus, as the Enterprise crew try to reach a crashed shuttle containing Councillor Troi and an injured pilot, is not terrible, but it is repetitive. The creature that blocks their path, being just a slick of oil that can shape itself into a human figure, might be an ominous sight to begin with, but the reality of what we can actually see it do with the limitations of budget and technology of the time, means it just stands around shouting threats. The death of Tasha also comes far too soon in the plot, leaving the story with nowhere else to go from there. We do get an oily Riker, but besides some shots of a face appearing out of the oil, it doesn’t give us much indication of what is really happening to him.
Armus does have potential to have been an interesting villain though. He is the antithesis of the Federation ideals, unable to comprehend the compassion and selfless acts that the crew perform whilst during to save their crewmates. His attempts to break them are interesting, such as forcing Data to point a phase and his colleagues. However, Data just logically responds by saying that if he were to be forced to fire it would not be his own actions doing it, so he would not feel any guilt, immediately nullifying Armus’s attempts to make him culpable.
The final moments with Picard talking Armus into being distracted enough for them to beam up Troi and the shuttle pilot all comes together rather conveniently. As we will go on to find out with the series, Picard’s ability to talk people around would be far stronger than their ship’s phaser banks, but this is not overly earned and it feels difficult to believe that Armus could be defeated so easily.
In the end though, it becomes irrelevant. The episode closes with what we really should be focusing on, the farewell to a member of the Enterprise’s crew. Yar, prepared to die on duty, has left a goodbye message to all of her closest colleagues (absent are any of her subordinate security officers though). It is a touching moment, although one that could have been stronger if the character had been more present in the previous episodes. Bringing the episode altogether though is, as ever, Data. With his best perplexed expression on, Data states that he is not spending this time thinking of Tasha, but of himself and how much he will miss her. Thinking that he has missed the point of the ceremony, Picard reassures him that, no, he got it exactly right. Even at our most caring, we can be selfish creatures, concerned about ourselves. Caring for those that make us feel better, giving money to charity so that we feel good about ourselves or worrying about our own emptiness when someone leaves us. The selfishness that Armus embodies is a skin we all wear from time to time. Hopefully, most of us wear it in a less malevolent form.