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The Host

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at April 17, 2009 - 9:29 PM GMT

See Also: 'The Host' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Dr. Crusher is having a discreet affair with Trill ambassador Odan, who is aboard the Enterprise to negotiate a truce between the peoples of two moons in the Peliar system. The Trill are secretive, and Odan insists without explaining why he must take a shuttlecraft rather than use the transporter. As Riker is piloting the shuttle, a ship from one of the warring moons fires on it, injuring Odan. Crusher believes the wounds are being exacerbated by a parasite, but Odan explains that his personality and knowledge reside in the symbiont inside his body; it is the host who is dying. The Enterprise alerts the Trill of the need for a new host body for Odan. In the meantime, since the diplomatic situation is so dire, Riker volunteers to serve as a host for Odan to try to work out a peace treaty. The surgery is successful, but Riker's health suffers from the symbiotic bond. Odan is more successful convincing the people of the moons of Peliar that he is still the man they knew than he is in maintaining a relationship with Crusher now that her lover is inside the body of her friend. Troi convinces her that real love transcends the physical, and Crusher resumes her affair with Odan in Riker's body, but the host's health is failing quickly. Though the ambassador is able to prevent a war, he demands that Crusher remove the symbiont to save Riker's life. The Enterprise rushes to rendezvous with the Trill ship, which is escorting a young woman to serve as host to Odan. Crusher performs the surgery to join her lover's personality to this new body, but once it is completed, she tells Odan that while her love has not diminished, she finds it too confusing to keep adjusting to new physical manifestations, and breaks off the romance.

Analysis: It's very nice to see Crusher get some screen time for something other than medical genius, but I don't think "The Host" spotlights her best qualities; in fact, it's Riker who's the unsung hero of the episode, briefly providing a nice fantasy for viewers who think Jonathan Frakes is hot but would prefer in a dream lover a more romantic personality than Riker's. Sure, it's fun to see Beverly head-over-heels in love, but it would have been nice to get a bit of backstory on the romance - other than being passionate about her, there's little we see about Odan that makes him an obvious choice for Crusher, particularly since we've so rarely seen her emotionally involved with anyone. She's been hurt badly by love, and we get intimations of that pain, but not what it is about Odan that makes her so willing to trust him considering how very little she knows about his background or his people. As a result, this is a more difficult affaire de coeur to believe in than Lwaxana's recent intimacy with Timicin (and not all that smart of the producers to have aired two love stories in a row). And let's face it: since we all know that Beverly's a bit hung up on Jean-Luc, a fact of which we're reminded in "The Host," any man she falls for had better measure up to Picard, something that Odan just doesn't have the chance to do.

So this is an entertaining episode, but not a good one. The interplanetary drama is painfully generic, as though no thought at all went into making this alien race believable or interesting in the hope that that would make the romance more compelling. Indeed, except for the long, funky prosthetic noses, this could be a species we'd seen before...and except that it's Odan instead of Riva, and the complication is the death of a host body instead of the death of interpreters, this storyline could be "Loud as a Whisper." We're never given any reason to care about the Peliar people, so other than a vague sense that war is bad, we have no investment in their conflict or its resolution. Even Odan seems less concerned about the potential deaths than he is about completing the mission and being able to brag that it was accomplished by one individual, not an older Trill and his son as the Peliar combatants initially believe. I'm all in favor of girl talk between Deanna and Beverly, but in this storyline, it really could have been compressed...we don't need a counselor to tell us that Crusher is in love, and we certainly don't need a summary of the affair to date that tells us everything we already know with no new information.

There's decent chemistry between Crusher and Odan, though the real fireworks are between Crusher and Riker-Odan, which makes for some nice moments of titillation whenever the two share the screen for the rest of the series. Does Riker remember being intimate with her...is he even fully complicit in Odan's decision to use his body in that way? It's never made clear how the host brain interacts with the symbiont, which works very differently on Deep Space Nine. We're led to believe here that the Trill host is a mere shell without joining; when Kareel arrives to become host to Odan, she has a glassy, vacant look that's changed completely once Odan is inside her, but Jadzia and Ezri both have fully formed personalities before they become Dax. Maybe hosts for Odan are specifically chosen for their malleability, since his knowledge and value as a diplomat are evidently so important that a conflict like the one that produced Joran Dax must never be risked. Or maybe the bumpy-headed Trill join differently than the spotted-skin Trill; like the Klingon forehead issue, this was never resolved during the Next Gen era.

What should be most engaging is the topic of what makes romantic love so powerful - what distinguishes it from infatuation, lust and admiration, what happens to it when the body of a lover changes irrevocably. Most people experience such changes slowly as their lovers age; Crusher is asked to experience it twice in a very brief time span. Sadly, "The Host" chickens out on the big question at the end, when the issue for Crusher evidently isn't accepting a loved one in a new package but accepting a loved one without a package at all. She's all smiles when Worf announces that the new host has arrived; her dismay is very specifically the discovery that Odan's next incarnation will be as a woman. Odan finds it undisturbing to contemplate a sexual relationship with someone with identical genitalia - as far as Odan's concerned, love occurs between two individuals regardless of gender.

But Crusher can't wrap her brain around that concept, and doesn't even try. I'm not faulting her for this - all indications are that some people are hardwired to be heterosexual, some people are hardwired to be homosexual, some people are hardwired to be bisexual and some people are hardwired to have very little interest in sex at all - but I think the drama would be much stronger if she were more conflicted. She's lost so many people in her life, and here comes a lover who is highly unlikely to die before her, though that lover's shape may change again. Would we judge her differently if she rejected the new host not because it was female, but because it was paunchy or silver-haired or had hairy feet? Is love for humans merely an extension of the physical, dependent on looks and touch and voice and smell, rather than something formless and eternal like Sargon and Thalassa's disembodied love in the original series' "Return To Tomorrow"?

We know from Deep Space Nine's "Rejoined" that if Crusher were a Trill, a relationship with Odan's new host would be verboten - not because they're the same sex now, but because the Trill forbid people to hook up with significant others from their previous host incarnations. That storyline irritated me at the time - how convenient that Jadzia couldn't pursue a lesbian relationship because of a Trill law that would never apply to humans - but in some ways it's less cowardly than "Rejoined" on the subject of love as a psychological and even spiritual state not so much rooted in bodies as expressed by them. As a diversion, "The Host" is okay to watch, but given the extraordinary reflections we've seen on what it means to be human in an era of human-shaped androids and Borg assimilation, it's a pretty weak installment.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green is a former news writer for TrekToday. An archive of her reviews can be found at The Little Review.

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