Skin of Evil (TNG Rewatch, Season 1 Episode 23)

Rewatching Star Trek The Next Generation after a 20-year break.

The touching holodeck send-off is well done. Marina Sirtis does good solo acting as her character Troi psychoanalyzes a disembodied voice. While I appreciate the Roddenberrian argument against playing along with a power-mad enemy’s sick games, dramatizing a philosophical concept is not enough to carry a full episode.

The opening voiceover log establishes the Enterprise is on its way to rendezvous with a shuttle carrying Troi. After a slow (in terms of unusual editing) but welcome character moment between Worf and Yar, and some avuncularity from Picard, we hear an audio distress call from the shuttle.

We briefly meet another random unlikeable engineer. During the crisis, this one introduces himself as “Engineering Lieutenant Commander Leland T. Lynch reporting.” The ensuing “realigning the dilithium crystal” scene gives science-fictiony eye candy while the bridge crew listens to budget-friendly audio updates from the shuttle.

Later episodes establish the Enterprise has several warp-capable shuttles, so in retrospect it’s odd that the crew didn’t think to send out a rescue shuttle. It’s also odd that nobody asks for help from other ships that may have just left the same conference Troi attended.

Better storytelling might have avoided such distractions by opening with a slightly later log entry: “We’ve received a distress signal from a shuttle carrying Counsellor Troi. Because our warp drive is down for maintenance, we’ve sent a rescue team on a warp-capable shuttle.”  The teaser could show Yar and Worf aboard the shuttle prepping for the rescue, and end with the Enterprise receiving an audio report from from Troi about the shuttle going down. Act 1 could open with the rescue team already on the planet, with tension higher than usual because the Enterprise hasn’t yet arrived.

But this early in the series we are still following the formula of “Routine bridge chatter interrupted by an incomplete report of a problem; Picard and the bridge officers discuss their options as new information trickles in; the first away team runs into trouble, and based on what he learns in a meeting, Picard beams down to sort things out personally.” And that’s pretty much what happens here.

The alien of the week is a puddle of black ooze which, the script tell us, can block transporter beams, life scanners and communicators; can electro-zap people to death, eats phaser beams, can make Data point his phaser at targets of its choosing, can absorb people, interact with them while they are in liquid form, and spit them out unharmed, and can even teleport people short distances; and who is scripted to use all these powers to do random evil things “because I wanted to. It amused me” (or so the oozy puddle tells Troi).

During this TNG rewatch I have enjoyed watching the actors pretending to amazed by the low-budget sets they are “exploring.” In this episode they do a fair job reacting to an animated tar pit that that, the dialogue tells us, prevents them from accessing the prop that rather unconvincingly represents the partially-buried shuttle.

The technobabble in the engineering scene is not terribly inspired.

Engineer: Forget the final check. Initiate startup sequence.
Computer: Beginning checklist.
Engineer: Override. We are going directly to start-up.
Computer: That procedure is not recommended.
Engineer: Understood.

We see pretty much the same pattern in sickbay, where a determined person gives orders, and an underling mildly talks back in order to convey to the audience that this science-fictiony thing the character wants to do is unusually risky.

Crusher: Let’s go for direct reticular stimulation.
Technician: Direct? (Apparently shocked that doing so might harm a patient who is currently dead.)
Crusher: Do it! (The patient convulses.) Increase to seventy microvolts.
(The patient convulses again, but weaker.)
CRUSHER: Eighty five microvolts. (No reaction from the patient.) Again. (No reaction.) Ninety. Again. Again. She’s gone.

Picard gives a good supportive speech during a crisis, reminding everyone to keep their emotions in check while they have a job to do. When the crisis is resolved, he presides over a touching holodeck ceremony that’s worth watching. But other than that and the opening scene between Yar and Worf, this episode is nothing special.