Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Host"


Air date: 5/13/1991
Written by Michael Horvat
Directed by Marvin V. Rush

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Crusher falls head over heels in love with a visiting Trill ambassador named Odan (Franc Luz), who is assigned to negotiate a solution to an alien dispute that is threatening to escalate into war, pursuant to the Two Warring Factions standby oft employed by TNG. The Federation knows so little about Trill society at this point they don't even know they are a joined species.

So Crusher is shocked and saddened when Odan is critically injured in an attack on a shuttlecraft and it turns out the symbiont slug inside him (not even referred to as a symbiont here) is actually "Odan" and the external body is just a host. The symbiont is joined with Riker as an emergency to keep Odan alive until a replacement Trill host is sent. It's interesting to look back at "The Host" and realize how much the Trill backstory and rules evolved after DS9 came around. The host here is depicted as more of an empty shell rather than a fully participating half of a joined whole, which begs the question of where Riker's mind goes while Odan is joined with him.

Odan's negotiations with the Two Warring Factions are pure MacGuffin, and I frankly don't care. But as a romance, "The Host" works for all the reasons "Half a Life" fails. First of all, we have an actual spark of chemistry between the leads. "Half a Life" was labored and stolid, whereas "The Host" shows evidence of actual passion and emotional risk. Second, we have an alien element to the story that actually enhances the storyline rather than detracting from it. "Half a Life" was about people who kill themselves at 60, which is so arbitrary as to make it impossible to become emotionally invested in the premise. "The Host," on the other hand, asks an interesting question: What is it that defines us in the eyes of a lover? How important is the physical component of love, when you know someone by touch and by sight and by the sound of their voice? If the same person you knew had a different external package, would they be the same person?

These questions put "Doctor Beverly" through the ringer in fairly interesting fashion — although I think the story would've worked better if a regular character had not been the emergency host. Riker's role as host merely complicates matters (is it ethical for Odan and Crusher to pursue the relationship while Odan is in Riker's body?) and provides a distraction from the true heart of the story, which is: How far does love transcend our physical presence?

Previous episode: Half a Life
Next episode: The Mind's Eye

Season Index

19 comments on this review

David - Mon, Mar 24, 2008 - 2:44pm (USA Central)
I agree "The Host" deserves the 3-star rating. It's good, but not great.The Host really was a nice episode.

I know many get caught up in the discrepancies between DS9's Trills and this episode but I could care less. For me the story works because of the interesting look at the nature of love. Do we really love the person? Could we still love that same person in a different body? It would seem for Beverly the answer is No and I loved that story decision because for all the criticisms against TNG's characters as perfect or PC this was an instance where it showed that no matter how far we come in the 24th century we still do have some limitations on love. And I know many felt the ending was not daring and was homphobic but I don't see it that way.

Would we have said it was anti-heterosexual if the character was a gay man and the new form that the symbiot took was a woman?

I also enjoyed Beverly trying to get rid of Data so she could be alone with Odan and her conversation with Troi where Deanna encouraged Beverly go for it with Riker/Odan.
grumpy_otter - Thu, Jul 23, 2009 - 9:38am (USA Central)
Just saw "The Host" again on "SyFy." (You ain't kidding--that's about the dumbest name change ever--I read it as "siffy.")

But anyway, I liked the episode generally and just wanted to point out one thing that makes it extraordinary--Frakes' performance. He is clearly someone else while carrying Odan--the characterization never slipped. Really brilliantly done.

Jay - Sat, Nov 26, 2011 - 8:41pm (USA Central)
Beverly's central dilemma in "The Host", whether she could accept Odan in Riker, seems ultimately moot unless Riker had consented to "be" Odan for the rest of his life, which is of course not the case by a longshot. And while the death at 60 thing in Half a Life was indeed silly, while grading the broader stories, I'd swap them with Jammer...Half A Life gets 3 stars, and The Host only 2.
Keiren - Wed, Apr 25, 2012 - 11:09am (USA Central)
The way BSG needs to stop using "frak".... Jammer needs to stop using "MacGuffin"....
Mike Caracappa - Wed, Oct 24, 2012 - 3:09am (USA Central)
Uh....Odan was dishonest with Crusher. How could he neglect to tell her the most important part of what he is. That he's a worm in a host body. And to find out the moment he's dying and that he has to be transferred to Riker, if I were Crusher I would have been pissed off at him. That's a terrible deception. He lied to her and played on her naivety that she didn't know what a Trill really was. She should have broken it off right there, and Troi should have been smarter as counselor to point out what happened to Crusher. 0 stars.
Matt - Thu, Dec 20, 2012 - 1:40pm (USA Central)
Odan was very deceptive to both the factions and Crusher. He pretended to Crusher it was an innocent omission that he was a Trill, but with the factions, he deliberately mislead them that he was his own son. I believe he was fully cognizant of his deception when he did not tell Crusher. Odan sucks. I wish they would teleport him.
Jack - Tue, Jan 15, 2013 - 10:58am (USA Central)
As portrayed here, particularly in the final scene with the female replacement host, the species seem less a joining and more like the humanoids are just husks for the symbiont.
EightOfNine - Sat, Mar 23, 2013 - 3:28pm (USA Central)
I found the episode as a whole quite watchable, but found the ending lacking in courage a bit. LGB issues are usually absent in Trek and this was a good moment to tackle it.

On a plot note, I found the complete absence of any reaction from Troi regarding Riker's personality effectively disappearing puzzling.
grumpy_otter - Tue, Apr 9, 2013 - 5:35pm (USA Central)
One of the reasons I prefer Dr. Pulaski to crusher is this episode. Pulaski had such a sense of adventure and exploration that I think SHE wouldn't have minded Odan's female form. She would have run with it as the next step in exploring the relationship.

Unlike Beverly, who could only say "Ew."
mephyve - Sat, Jun 22, 2013 - 7:21pm (USA Central)
I'm sorry but this was just too icky for me. The trill was clearly hiding it's secret from Dr. Crusher and everybody else. It only used it's ray gun when no one else was around, and instead of saying that the transporter would kill its symbiote, it gave a weak excuse about being 'uncomfortable' with molecular transport. It knew that if Crusher knew the truth she wouldn't have gotten involved with it.
As for the violation of Riker. I'm sure he wouldn't have a problem doing the doctor, but he would have wanted to be there to enjoy it. He was basically used as a blow up doll by a woman and a worm. icky
William B - Fri, Jul 12, 2013 - 1:42pm (USA Central)
More than most episodes, how you take this episode depends on how much you buy into the central metaphor and ignore the bits that run counter to it. To wit, the episode is ostensibly “about” to what extent the physical body of a person determines how we view the person inside. It works both ways: Beverly has to adapt to seeing that Odan is the same person when he gets transferred to Riker; and to change her responses to Riker’s body so that she no longer views him as Riker but as the person controlling that body. Those aspects of the episode work very well, and the episode additionally is about something greater, about love—about the question of how much love really is about an embodiment, about the physical rather than the spiritual. We get numerous references to the physical side of love—the clear physical, sexual passion between Beverly and Odan, Beverly’s wanting to be her (physical) best at the spa. When Beverly and Deanna have their dialogue in Ten-Forward which basically amounts to two extended monologues, both the descriptions of love are physicalized: Beverly fell for the soccer player because he was just so beautiful, even though the relationship was all in her head; and Troi’s description of her father involves mentions of his appearance and him holding her, and how she wishes she could feel him holding her again. This all ties in, weirdly enough, with Beverly as physician, especially since most of the excuses Crusher and Odan make to spend time together have to do with her administering hyposprays. Love may be something more than the physical, but the episode sets us up for the ending by reminding us how much the locus of love is in the physical realm. (Even Crusher and Picard, whose relationship is as unphysicalized as seems possible for a quasi-romantic one, share a hug late in the episode.)

So that’s all well done. The question is: what about Riker? As mephybe says above, Riker is violated here. Riker agrees to have his body used for Odan, at risk to his very life, to prevent a war. I don’t think “preventing a war” means signing up to have his body used for sex. No one mentions this even as a possibility—not Odan, not Crusher and certainly not Troi. And this hints at part of the big problem with Odan in this episode. He preaches tolerance, and Beverly basically apologizes for not being able to keep up with the way the Trill do things; but until he presses the issue of him being disconnected from Riker to save his life (to Odan’s credit), he never makes any effort to consider what it would mean for Riker to have his body completely hollowed out for another being, to be just a body to be used and (eventually) discarded. Odan even seems pissed off when Picard says that a line of Odan’s reminded him of Riker. We saw both Sarek and Picard’s reactions to their mindmeld; what this joining means to Riker is completely unknown.

As others have pointed out above as well, Odan is being disingenuous when he claims that it never occurred to him to bring up that he was a joined being—he certainly wasn’t hiding it! That might fly if not for the fact that he dissembled about the real reason he didn’t want to use the transporter; and, more obviously, lied to the people he was representing diplomatically by claiming that he was the son of his last identity/host. Odan publicly lied in order to protect his Trill identity; while he may not have “wanted” to lie to Crusher in particular, he clearly knew that she believed him to be an unjoined being.

Speaking of disingenuous: Crusher dances around the truth in that last scene with Kareel Odan. She was enthusiastic and excited to see Odan’s new host until she found out the new host was going to be a woman. It’d be one thing if Crusher just said outright that she’s too far on the left side of the Kinsey scale to adapt to the idea of loving a woman, even if the woman is Odan. But she claims that it’s because she just can’t keep up—who is the next host going to be? Well, as far as I can tell, hosts only get switched when the host dies, so the risk of Odan switching bodies on her again is about as likely as losing another husband, so…unless she thinks that Odan switching bodies is worse than Jack’s death, that argument falls apart. It’s okay for Crusher not to be able to handle the change over the past few weeks, but (again) she was excited before she realized that Odan was going to be a woman, which makes her not only rejecting Odan’s romantic overtures but seeming annoyed with her frustrating.

So while I actually do agree with Jammer about the episode’s strengths, which are numerous—I want to add that Frakes’ performance here is quite good—its weaknesses are still pretty significant. 2.5 stars, I guess?
Jack - Thu, Aug 8, 2013 - 4:14pm (USA Central)
I'm with mephyve on the icky factor. And also, considering that in this iteration of the Trill, the host is not a part of the intellect, but rather a husk, it seems bizarre that the symbionts would be attracted to humanoids.
Jordy - Fri, Aug 16, 2013 - 10:46am (USA Central)
It makes no sense that Kareel (or any other Trill) would volunteer to be a host to a symbiont if it meant having her entire consciousness and personality wiped out. You might as well commit suicide! The symbionts are nothing more than deceptive, exploitative parasites in this episode. DS9's take on the whole Trill thing is a lot more plausible.
Grumpy - Fri, Aug 16, 2013 - 3:31pm (USA Central)
It makes sense if one assumes, as I did when this episode first aired, that Trill hosts were little more than shaved apes with no consciousness to sacrifice. I prefer that concept to the bureaucratic rigamarole that arrived with Dax. The only thing implausible about symbionts being exploitative parasites is that the Feds would be on friendly terms after discovering their true nature. Frankly, it's more implausible that Trill symbionts were unknown to the 1701-D crew, given Odan's fame (not to mention later DS9 canon that integrates Trill into the UFP by this time).
Kieran - Thu, Apr 24, 2014 - 9:49am (USA Central)
Crusher seems fine with the idea of Odan having a new body until she sees it is going to be female. It's interesting that this is where the line is crossed for her. I wonder if he had come back as a hideously ugly man would she be similarly uninterested? And would we think less of her if she were?
Jack - Thu, May 1, 2014 - 9:53am (USA Central)
@ Grumpy

Well the "shaved ape" was capable of speaking a language that Beverly understood (or at the least, a universal translator could handle) and had the sentience to show up for what they knew was an impending death.

The "shaved ape" assertion doesn't wash with me at all. It's getting into the territory that ENT's "Cogenitor" tackled.
Jack - Thu, May 1, 2014 - 9:54am (USA Central)
@ Kieran

Maybe I'm shallow, but I thought that the guy who played Odan was quite ugly himself.
grumpy_otter - Mon, Jan 19, 2015 - 6:58pm (USA Central)
I keep coming back to this episode. I really love it. And hate it.

I'd like to address the "Odan was disingenuous" argument. Yeah, sure, he wasn't honest. But for this episode to work, he HAD to be dishonest. If, when it came time to transport, he had said "Hey, I can't because I am a joined being," he and Beverly would have had to have THE conversation right then. It had to be kept secret for suspense and pacing reasons.

So I would argue that it was not Odan who lied, but the writers of the episode. Because they had to. If we knew the "secret" too soon, it would have ruined it.
$G - Sat, Feb 14, 2015 - 11:26am (USA Central)

That's the writers sacrificing their character for the sake of pacing, which is a pretty crappy thing to do. Especially considering the anti-transport thing Odan had going on was really only to get he and Riker into a shuttle together for it to be shot down. Riker needing the symbiont could have been handled in any other way, so writing Odan as a liar just to get him in a shuttle is just... bad, bad work.

IMO, this episode is... okay. Nothing more. 2.5 stars, I guess.

Getting to the end of Season 4 on my re-watch and I find that Beverly is probably the least interesting personality on the show. I greatly prefer the minor crew members to anything featuring her -- Guinan, O'Brien, Barclay, Ro (eventually), etc. She's completely bland and has no foibles that make her intriguing. Her role is a lot like Geordi's - a specialist in her field and necessary for episodes in which she needs to be a professional. But where Geordi's abilities come into play all the time (since everything he does involves traveling through space or the ship itself -- the *reason* we watch the show), Crusher only does her thing when a specifically medical issue rolls around, which isn't often because it's a space drama and not a medical drama.

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