Plot Synopsis: A rescue operation to save Deanna Troi and the lives of a shuttle crew costs the Enterprise one of its own.
Plot A and B Analysis: The teaser here works well enough. The Enterprise is finishing up some dilithium crystal re-alignment stuff so they’re under impulse power, but as soon as that’s done they will rendezvous with a shuttle carrying Troi. The shuttle however, loses control and crash lands on a nearby planet. Plot A involves Armus and Troi, there is no plot B. They can’t beam up the injured from the shuttle craft and aren’t sure why, so an away team beams down. As they approach the shuttle though, there is a kind of black slick that blocks their path, and moves to intercept them when they try to move around. Then it talks, and we see our first shot of Armus, the oil monster that will be the villain of the episode. They try to get him to let them pass, but he refuses. Tasha attempts to cross anyway, and Armus kills her. Dead. Thus we are set up with the plot of this episode, attempting to defeat or outmaneuver a creature which is obviously more powerful than they are. We spend our time switching back and forth between the away team, the ship, and Deanna’s tete-a-tete with Armus through the hull of the shuttle. Unfortunately the plot here is a big step backwards for the show. It’s not boring, but Armus just doesn’t convince. He’s powerful but also petulant, fairly easy to manipulate and soooo right out of the original series. Picard saves the day at the end.
Favorite Scenes: Hmm. The scene when Tasha dies was pretty impactful at the time. I couldn’t believe that a regular cast member had gone, it affected me for the rest of the episode. The final scene with Tasha is the best, and still touching. “Hailing frequencies closed, sir.”
Use of Cast/Characters: Picard’s main job here is to pull everyone’s bacon out of the fire in the last 15 minutes. Patrick does his usual excellent job of acting and his victory here does help legitimize him as a captain who comes through. Riker has plenty of screen-time this episode, and does get put through a harrowing experience of his own. Right before Tasha is attacked though he’s using his infamous arms-under-pits gesture in such an arrogant way I’d almost rather see him killed. Troi has a major role in this episode, which is cool if you like her. She is the one who provides the key to defeating Armus and has a few monologues as well. Unfortunately some of her lines aren’t great, they are somewhat reminiscent of Farpoint. Data comes across as the answer-man again, but it’s not too terrible this time. He gets the most meaningful character development at the end of the episode, which is nice to see. Geordi’s main use in this episode is to have his visor fail to be useful (which has been the case in virtually every episode this season) and then get bullied by Armus. Doctor Crusher is in quite a bit of this episode, but it’s mostly to be impatient and then fail to save Tasha. In fact this whole season she hasn’t had the most luck with her patients, has she? Worf gets a quasi-promotion in this episode, so there’s some development for him. Wes has the least to do, I think he gets about three lines?
Blu Ray Version: In the first shot of this episode Tasha’s face is noticeably grainy and not up to the high standards of the visuals I’ve become accustomed to. A similar phenomenon happens toward the end of the episode when the camera is on Picard’s face. Vagra II does look beautiful but it’s really the same planet, Aldea, that we saw in When the Bough Breaks. Take a look at the black goo right when Riker is being pulled into it, around 25:55. Notice on the left of the screen that Geordi runs up so fast his phaser flies out of his holster and falls into it, which I’m guessing wasn’t supposed to happen. Finally, during the funeral service, take a look at Beverly’s uniform at 38:50–notice it’s green? Compare this to how blue it is at 40:06. This is an instance of the coloring becoming *less* accurate in the Blu Ray version for some reason.
Nitpicks: *sigh* Black cards appear again on the back of the bridge set, this time during the teaser and with some regularity in most of the bridge shots this episode. Why would Armus let the away team beam back, just leaving Picard? He’s giving up most of his leverage, especially since he then proceeds to bargain for their lives to gain transportation. The stardate is all out of whack for this episode, according to it this episode is set before about seven other episodes Tasha is very much alive in.
Overall Impression: A lot of folks think this is a very weak episode. It’s actually surprisingly hard for me to evaluate, because I know this episode so well and have watched it so many times over the years. There are a lot of weak points…we have a disappointing villain, a strong flavor of the original series here, and Tasha dies in a meaningless way. In some ways this is a landmark episode, never before had any regular cast member been killed off and not been brought back to life in Star Trek history. It just should have been done a lot better. In fact the manner of her death is probably the biggest disappointment overall, so much so that when we see her again in season 3 mention is made of how meaningless it was. Still, when I was 12 I was strongly emotionally impacted by Tasha’s death, and so this episode has a lot of nostalgic value to me personally. For my part I liked her and was sad to see her go. Anyway…this time we get Leland T. Lynch as our temporary chief engineer. Luckily he’s the last one we’ll have, but you will see him again this season. I probably should give this episode 1.5 stars or even less but I just don’t have the heart. I’m gonna say 2 out of 5 stars.
Behind the Scenes/Trivia: This was the 22nd episode aired, but the 21st episode made. Denise Crosby asked to be let out of her contract due to not having much character development, which was true. Tasha doesn’t get a lot of time at all after the first few episodes. She credits Gene Roddenberry for allowing it, saying if anyone else was in charge she never would have been able to leave. According to Ron Moore, the manner of her death ticked off so many fans and even the production staff that this is what led to her appearance in season 3. Remarkably, this is only the first of the two times this character dies! On shooting this episode and her character’s death, Denise had this to say:
I just remember that that episode was very difficult. That whole setup was actually pretty dangerous. They way they rigged that rubber suit, the actor (playing Armus) had to literally be submerged into and out of that muck. That had to work within a minute because he had no oxygen in that suit. That’s no special effect. You saw him literally come up out of this muck, and it was very hot and really dangerous. Then Jonathan had to get into it or under it. It was all slightly dangerous. So it was not laughable on set, and I was not thinking about my death in any way. I was thinking, “Oh my God, is this going to be OK?” I had to be jerked with a little wire filament tied around my waist. It was all very almost low-tech, when you think about it. It was kind of crazy stuff. But what I’ve always gotten from fans was, “What a weird way to kill one of your main characters.” It was so indiscriminate, without a fight, without any confrontation or battle. This thing just takes her out.
When asked if she felt looking back it was the right decision to leave she’s said yes. When asked if she regretted leaving the show, these are her comments:
No. For me really at that point in time, I felt that it wasn’t going to grow. There wasn’t enough for me to be satisfied as an actor anymore, by the end of that season and I was very frustrated. I didn’t want to spend the next six or seven years, whatever it was going to be, just sometimes standing on the bridge doing nothing for like 15 hours sometimes not having any scenes to play or anything. So for me it was really a creative choice to make, the only choice I had to make. I was really frustrated and going to become miserable soon.
Gene Roddenberry and I met one-on-one in his office. There was no animosity. I don’t know that anybody really wanted me to go. I think it stirred up a lot of things in all the other cast members. I’m not exactly sure what, but you’ve got to question your own commitment or your own place, what you’re doing there. I think it stirs up stuff. However, Gene and I were very clear about what was going on. He said to me, “I don’t want you to go, but I get it. I get why you’re leaving. I was a young writer at one time and I was hungry and I was frustrated, and I get that.” We hugged and that was it. He got where I was coming from.
Having said that, if you look at Worf’s character he didn’t get much in the way of character development this season either. He had a total of one episode where he got much at all, other than that he was just growling and getting his butt kicked. He stuck with it and ended up being a terrific, deep character through TNG and into DS9 as well. Jonathan Frakes had an adventure in this episode too, as he was actually the one getting sucked into and later shoved out of Armus. The black stuff was a mixture of Metamucil and printer’s ink. He decided to do it, and then after getting pushed out of Armus he says that Levar Burton leaned over and said, “Frakes, I never would’ve done that.” The funeral scene was emotional for the cast. Marina Sirtis was crying actual tears because she and Denise had gotten to be good friends, she went on to cry all that day. According to Frakes, Patrick lightened the mood a bit by singing “The Hills are Alive” as they were walking up the hill.
As for Picard’s quote from a great poet saying “all spirits are enslaved that serve things evil”, this is from Percy Bysse Shelley in his poem Prometheus Unbound. It’s also a paraphrase of Jesus Christ in John 8:34, “Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.”
Missable/Unmissable? As underwhelming as this episode is in many ways, it remains one of the indispensable, unmissable episodes from season one as Denise Crosby continues to either appear or be referenced repeatedly throughout the series, including the final episode itself. It’s better than the next episode, which has almost nothing to recommend it.