Skin of Evil #122
When a shuttlecraft carrying Counselor Deanna Troi (Marina Sirtis) crash-lands on the planet Vagra II, an Enterprise rescue team discovers that a formless creature of pure evil brought the craft down. “Skin of Evil” is of less interest for its petroleum-based boogeyman Armus (who would not have been out of place in an old episode of Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea) than for its unprecedented slaying of series regular Tasha Yar. When actress Denise Crosby asked to be released from her contract at the end of The Next Generation’s first season, the producers took the opportunity to kill off her character, something that had never been done on a Star Trek television program. While the beloved character of Mr. Spock benefited from an emotional death scene at the end of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Yar’s death was planned to be the opposite of that: it comes quickly, with little warning or relevance to the story at hand—Armus is the result of a superior alien race’s discovery that they could distill all their negative impulses into a shapeless “skin” that they could slough off, leaving them beautiful and perfect while discarding Armus on a barren planet. Ironically, “Skin of Evil” was cowritten by Joseph Stefano, who had written the screenplay for Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, a movie that features the gold standard of a shocking death that misdirects the audience.
With its ludicrous villain, claustrophobic stageboard locations and purposefully meaningless death of a cast member, “Skin of Evil” is not fondly remembered by Star Trek fans. It does somehow endure, however, in its sheer weirdness—as the series became more and more polished in its later years, it is amazing to think that an episode once revolved around debating an oil slick. With so much artifice involved in the production, the music for “Skin of Evil” became particularly important, and Jones responded with two very different sonic palettes. For scenes involving Armus, he created a malevolent world of electronic klangfarbe, with a spine-chilling synthesized choir enhancing a dark melody reminiscent of the Dies Irae; and for Yar, he wrote a militaristic yet warm theme, something of a bugle call for the character that Jones developed into a lengthy elegy at the end of the episode.
The composer introduces his Armus motive in a haunting guise in “Strange Readings From Vagra” for the wrecked shuttlecraft on the planet’s surface—he expands this softer treatment in “Confessions of a Slimeball” and “It’s Not Easy Being Slime,” cues that underscore Troi’s discussions with the creature as she reveals her understanding of Armus’s tortured feelings. A kinetic, staccato variation for electronics gives energy to the low-key visual effects sequences of Armus moving (“Blocked Path”) as it repeats against the Armus motive. Jones adds orchestral forces to create a horrific backdrop for shots of a submerged Riker trying to escape from the black pool (“Skin Game”). Jones acknowledges the Dies Irae influence on the Armus material: “I kind of alluded to the Dies Irae in there a little bit,” he says. “There definitely was a requiem in mind with the choirs and stuff. That’s another whole layer we were able to add, what a choir would mean, what voices would mean to Star Trek, because this represented death—if you poured all of death into a big goo, this is what you’d get, so I tried to make it almost religious.”
Jones confined much of the score to electronics and a small group of 19 players, saving his orchestral resources for “Tasha’s Goodbye,” in which the Enterprise security chief addresses her friends as a holographic projection. Jones introduces the appropriately militaristic melody for Yar in the teaser as Worf reveals his respect for her (“Sure Thing”), then brings it to the fore in “Trouble on Vagra” and “Yar is Down” as Armus strikes down Yar, who is then beamed up to sickbay, where Dr. Crusher engages in a lengthy but ultimately futile attempt to save her life.
“Tasha’s Goodbye” is one of Jones’s masterpieces on Star Trek: The Next Generation, a heartfelt elegy that inspired an ovation from his orchestra at the recording session and continues to move viewers. The lengthy (6:35) cue begins with an ethereal take on Yar’s expressive melody, voicing it with ghostly synths; a cascade of strings gives way to statements for woodwinds, strings and horns before a final duet for synthesizer and solo trumpet. “I was taking the Star Trek theme”—meaning the literary theme, not any musical melody—“and making it romantic,” Jones says. “Here they’re going out onto the frontier but then a beloved crewman dies and the whole thing means nothing because they’ve lost this person they loved. It’s like a bugle call—I did a lot of Veterans Day things in drum and bugle corps and we’d have taps where one trumpet would be over here and another one over there. It’s a traditional thing where one trumpet would echo over the other, so I did that like we were burying a soldier here. We were able to do so many things that you can’t get away with all in one episode. She starts to smile and talk about everyone, and as it gets more human I put oboe on it and it becomes more like a human theme and not a pre-recorded projection.”
The cue as heard in the episode (and on this CD) is take two of two—no intercutting. “We had one of the bigger orchestras for ‘Tasha’s Goodbye,’ Jones remembers. “A television act is seven or eight minutes—we scored the whole act with all the drama, that’s something you couldn’t do now. The whole cue was free timing—there was a trumpet solo and we hired the lead player of the L.A. Philharmonic. He’s playing a C trumpet, not a B-flat trumpet, to get a little purer sound, and he just cracked, and I didn’t want to do any cutting, so we had to go back and redo it. That’s Joe Meyer on the horn at the end.” Jones reduced the expression of the Yar melody to solo piano for the intimacy of the final moments in which Picard speaks privately to Data about Yar.
Jones says he worked to get as much inspiration as possible out of each episode, even at this formative stage of the series. “I believed as far as I could humanly believe that each one of these was going to be astounding and I would try to write it as far as I could.”
Captain Picard reunites with an old flame, Jenice (Michelle Phillips), whose husband is working on an experiment creating distortions in space and time. “We’ll Always Have Paris” was a subdued romantic episode, slightly muddled by the onset of the 1988 Writers Guild strike. Phillips and Patrick Stewart demonstrate a relaxed romantic chemistry intended to puncture the pretensions of the aloof Jean-Luc Picard, but the episode’s chief achievements were technical, with a number of polished composites that created the appearance of the characters interacting with themselves while caught inside miniature time loops. The story allowed Jones to create a more intimate, romantic score than the action- and suspense-filled outings he had worked on previously, with several scenes taking place on the Enterprise holodeck in an emulation of the Paris of the 24th century. “I thought Michelle [Phillips] did a nice job of trying to make her character real,” Jones comments.
After his expensive outings on the previous few episodes, Jones strove to make economic use of a smaller ensemble. He assembled an unorthodox 15-member band: 4 keyboards, 6 percussion, 2 EWI (electronic wind instrument), 2 basses and 1 musette. “I didn’t have any big moments in this. I just didn’t feel like we needed it and I’d spent a lot of money on other episodes, so I said I’d make up some of the costs on this one.” Jones’s melody for Picard’s romantic memories of Jenice is first heard in “Mixed Feelings,” growing organically into the lilting waltz heard as holodeck source music as Picard nostalgically enters a recreation of the Parisian “Café des Artistes” (the cue “We’ll Always Have Paris”). “There were a lot of opportunities to create a theme,” Jones says. “You need two bars to create half of a period in music, usually you’d have four bars, but I had many times when I could go 32 bars and then keep going.”
The French idiom required a delicate touch. “French is always a tough bag and I collected tons of French music because you don’t want to constantly do the same couple of cues that say ‘here’s France.’ I had a real musette—which is the authentic little gypsy accordion you pump with your hand—to make [Jenice] more intimate. If I used the bigger accordion it was too much. Now[adays] people would just pick an accordion and think they were an intellectual giant.”
In a break with storytelling traditions, Picard’s rival for Jenice’s affections, Dr. Manheim (Rod Loomis), does not come across as pompous and overbearing, but rather as caring and selfless in his regard for his wife, and Jones took a gentle approach to scoring Manheim’s conversation with Picard about her (“Take Care of Her”).
Jones was able to use his synthesizer-and-percussion ensemble to score the episode’s sci-fi subplot—in which time loops from Manheim’s experiment threaten to rip apart the universe. Here, his scoring is pulsating, chilly and Herrmannesque in its repeated melodic cells. In a climactic scene (“Countdown”), in which a time loop creates three Datas, Jones overlapped the mechanistic motive he uses early in the episode in “Time Distortion” to indicate the overlapping time threads playing out in front of the viewer. “It’s our B orchestra and I had sequence tracks under there, and I had it through delays so the delays were playing like the replication of the three guys,” Jones says. “So as it started to replicate the three dimensions at the same time, the delays started duplicating the music. Even the music has the idea—we’re not filling in with more real time music but we’re recycling.”
The Neutral Zone #126
In an episode that combines elements of the classic series episodes “Space Seed” and “Balance of Terror” (and which was to have laid the groundwork for the introduction of the Borg in season two until the Writers Guild strike derailed those plans), the Enterprise discovers a trio of humans in suspended animation on a remote space capsule. Meanwhile, a series of mysterious attacks along the Romulan Neutral Zone prompts a confrontation between the Enterprise and a Romulan warbird.
Although “The Neutral Zone” spends an inordinate amount of time with the Enterprise’s three accidental passengers from the past, the episode remains notable for its reintroduction of the Romulans, Star Trek’s first recurring alien “heavies.” The Vulcan-looking characters had not been seen in a Star Trek production since the third season of the original series. Jones wrote an urgent, insinuating motive for the Romulans as well as a militaristic fanfare, material he would revisit only briefly in season two (on “Where Silence Has Lease”) but would ultimately develop further in some key third- and fourth-season episodes. “Romulan Encounter” features the most extended version of the theme, while the 4:25 “We Are Back” largely plays under ship-to-ship dialogue.
“I knew these guys were a highly technical race and they weren’t very emotional, so it had to be clean, like clockwork,” Jones says of the Romulan motive. “It was as if their big plan was unfolding and the Enterprise is just a bunch of humans and they’re off guard and they don’t think like that. It goes back to the original Star Trek where Captain Kirk is like a frontiersman and he’s out on the ranch and the Indians are coming, whereas the Romulans are meticulous and organized and Mongolian.”
In order to provide underscore for some scenes with one particular member of the story’s trio of 20th century humans (a country musician played by Leon Rippy), Jones departed from the standard scoring palette, adding a few country licks for scenes between the musician and Data. “I did stuff for the country guy and had a dobro in there—it was all these people’s memories and they were at a loss for where they were in time.” The completed episode omitted the extended, Dukes of Hazzard-style “Sonny & Data,” replacing it with the shorter “Low-Mileage Pit Woofies,” (found on disc 13, track 6). —