Thursday, September 15, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 4: The Host

The Next Generation, Season 4
"The Host
Airdate: May 3, 1991
96 of 176 produced
96 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is ferrying a Trill ambassador to Peliar Zel to mediate a dispute between the inhabitants of two populated moons in orbit. Doctor Crusher, working with him to prepare him for his task, begins to fall for him, and they begin a passionate relationship. When an extremist faction attacks the ambassador's shuttle, the ambassador is critically wounded, and Doctor Crusher discovers a startling secret. Now she is faced with difficult task of saving his life, and reconciling what she has learned with the man she thought was falling in love with.
Pictured: Dr. Crusher massaging Odan's glistening shaft.


Kevin: There are several good to very good ideas in this episode. I'm going to go over each of them individually, but I wanted to start with an analysis of the episode as whole. Somehow, despite good ideas and good acting, this episode never quite gelled for me. The component parts are there, but the tension never really grabs me the way I think it should. Maybe the episode is a little too slow and talky overall to really come together. In the end, I think there's one too many scenes of Odan talking in his languid, bedroom voice.

Matthew: I do think that pacing generally is an issue. It seems like there are several act breaks in which nothing is really different before and after. I am not saying that all episodes should have a 5-part structure in which there are clear divisions from one to the other, but it helps things feel snappy when it is present. And yes, this episode is rather talky as a whole, so this lack of snap seems more apparent.

Kevin: That being said, I still think this is at least an average episode, on the strength of its component parts. The science fiction element is fun. The idea of tapping energy directly from an atmosphere is a neat one, as is the discussion of its environmental impact. We'll get a similar idea in DS9's "Progress". I enjoyed the scenes discussing the problem, and for an "alien of the week" problem, I found myself fairly engaged by them, but I think that may have been on the strength of the acting. It's still several notches above "We need a vaccine." I also enjoyed the idea of natives inhabiting a moon would eventually grow a separate culture from their home world. That would have been fun to explore more in depth.

Matthew: Frankly, I could have done without the Alpha/Beta moon plot entirely (and why was Beta on the interior orbit?). I think it would have better served the episode if all of the sci-fi time and the drama time were devoted to the idea of a joined species, what it means for someone outside that species to participate, and what that culture is like writ large. It sure seemed like the way Odan represented things was that when the symbiont is implanted, that's basically it for the host. We don't know the name of any of Odan's past hosts. Odan doesn't currently have a two part name. He never mentions any residue from prior personalities. So what does this mean? Well, nothing, as far as the episode is concerned. Riker suffers no effects, for good or ill. The Riker persona seems totally submerged after the joining. I am not criticizing this because it is contradicted by later DS9 continuity. I'm criticizing a lack of relevant follow through within this episode.

Kevin: The romantic angles are pretty successful. I would put the exploration of Crusher's love life on par with the one we get of Troi's in The Price. I enjoy the scenes of them in the salon together, and Deanna's playful teasing. I also loved the scene in Ten Forward. Normally, when a character references a dead parent, it's a little schlocky, but it read really well here, and was plausible advice from Deanna as both counselor and friend. It is interesting to think she is encouraging her friend to go after her ex, but I can see Deana being okay with that, if she genuinely thought it would make Beverly happy. I would have loved it if Crusher retorted that if her father were magically alive, but in Will Riker's body, how exactly would she feel.

Matthew: Definitely good stuff. It would have been better, of course, had Picard and Crusher consummated their relationship in "Allegiance," "Family," or wherever else there had been an opportunity to write it in. But the Troi/Riker thing is brought up beautifully in the Ten Forward scene. The way the Riker/Crusher scene was written was very dramatic and fun, in a harlequin romance sort of way.

Kevin: The meat of the episode is clearly the implications of the "blended" nature of Trill. Obviously, we're still working out the kinks, as it reads here like Odan is the only thing responsible for the personality of the final being. I'm glad they tweak it for DS9. I did like the exploration, particularly in the Ten Forward scene of what it is someone loves in another person. Given the number of times we've transferred someone's memories and practically and philosophically treated them as the same person, it was nice to see someone react differently, that there is something fundamental to a person in their physical form and that altering it alters the person. I also have a slight ethical issue with sleeping with Odan/Riker. He volunteered his body at great personal risk to keep a world from being plunged into civil war. Did that include consent for Odan to use his body to sleep with a woman he considers a sister? Just curious.

Matthew: I agree with all of your questions. I also wonder why there was such time pressure at the end. If the symbiont could be successfully joined to Riker, why not so for another of the 1,000 people on board? If, as it certainly appears, the host loses all personality, why would people do this? It also reads like everyone on the planet has a symbiont at some point. What is the evolutionary survival value of this arrangement? I'd really like to know, from a purely sci-fi standpoint. When obvious sci-fi questions are left not only wholly unanswered, but completely untouched, there's a problem.

Kevin: And now the paragraph I have been delaying. The whole lesbian thing. I discussing this in my essay, but I wanted to flesh it out here. On the plus side, no one explicitly discounts the idea of continuing the relationship because Odan's new host is a woman, Odan herself is certainly gung-ho, though Beverly is clearly less than pleased. In fairness to her, I would miss the dick, too. On the other, it always felt to me like the writers picked a woman host to leave no other option than to make shutting down the relationship a foregone conclusion. If the show had prior credibility in this area, I would be willing to give it the benefit of the doubt. Also, I just think dramatically, it would have been more credible for her to give that speech a similar looking man. Then it clearly only would have been her discomfort at the idea of Trill psychology, and not her gender that ended the relationship. Plus, any time there are two hot women hinted at having a relationship in science fiction, I can never shake the feeling it's being done solely to titillate the heterosexual men watching.

Matthew: The other angle missing is what the nature of Trill sexual politics is, given tis ability to change genders. At some point, you have to breed new hosts, and presumably also new symbionts. In a world where people keep switching genders, when do they make time for procreation, and how? We learned more about the culture in "The Outcast" than anything we got here.


Kevin: Doctor Crusher again does an awesome job. She did a really good job of portraying a romance in a realistic credible way. I truly believe she was falling for Odan and really wanted to jump his bones. Her grief and indecision about continuing the relationship with Riker also were engrossing.

Matthew: What's even more impressive on Gates McFadden's part is how pregnant she is during all of this believable acting. When a very pregnant woman can engage in all the physical acting, performing romantic scenes, and all that, that's really saying something about ability and dedication. She walks well, she reads her lines well, and if you hadn't known she was pregnant and picked up on the curiously above the chest camera angles, you'd never suspect.  Marina Sirtis deserves props yet again for how she balances the desires of her character and the character's professionalism as a counselor. That was really great stuff.

Kevin: The guest cast was pretty good overall. I loved the governor. Through a lot of makeup, she really sold her lines, and the underlying conflict. I think the reason I don't chalk this up to another alien of the week conflict I could care less about is because of her performance. Frank Luz's Odan was a lit too low key for me. I did like his scene with Picard talking about Crusher. But overall, I found him in substance and appearance a little too romance novel cover model. Maybe he was being aimed at the heterosexual female viewing audience and I'm just not going to respond to that.

Matthew: I agree, Odan was kind of Obland. When Frakes got a hold of the character, we reallly saw what was missing. Do we, as an audience, want Riker and Crusher together? Hell no. But when Frakes played it as though he yearned for Crusher, I believed it, and I was rooting for him. He's really good at melodrama, and it's too bad the writers didn't give him more of it with Sirtis.

Production Values

Kevin: I like the symbiont overall. There was clearly a lot of work put into making it looking like a combination of a worm and an internal organ. I like the what I am assuming is an air bladder effect for the symbiont moving in Odan's abdomen. The make up is another in the line of low-key forehead adaptations that apparently mark this season. It's nothing to write home about. I tend to prefer a less is more approach most of the time to avoid the Antican/Selay/Antedean debacles. The spots they go with on DS9 are better, though.

Matthew: I agree, the symbiont looked cool. The glittery spots and color changes reminded me of natural warning color adaptations that say "stay away, or I will EAT YOUR SOUL!" I kind of wondered why Crusher had never felt such a giant air bladder when she was getting jiggy with Odan.

Kevin: The make and costumes for the Peliar Zel native was pretty awesome. They were reminiscent of the Caldonian in The Price, but without the butt-head prosthetic.

Matthew: There were some really nice planetary shots, particularly the first shot of the ship entering the system, a rear view of the ship with several overlapping planets ahead of it.


Kevin: I'm going with a 3. Gates McFadden does another awesome job, but the episode just always feels a little underdone. It's paced a little slowly and overly talky, and the dramatic payoff of the romantic tension is just never there for me. I could watch Dr. Crusher recite her grocery list, but that still leaves this episode in the fat part of the bell curve.

Matthew: This would be a 2, owing to the lack of development of the symbiosis idea, except for the acting. McFadden, Sirtis, and Frakes save this episode for me and keep it in three territory. As much as I was bored by the lack of idea development and pacing, I was involved emotionally by the performances. That brings us to a 6 total.


  1. OMG. Which one of you came up with that caption?

  2. Unless otherwise noted, Matt is responsible for all the captions.

  3. It's a completely literal description. I don't see what everyone's so up in arms about.


  4. You're dirty. That's my brother, folks.

  5. yeah, the caption is great :)

    Anyway, I really liked this episode because i think it wonderfully explored the question of what it is that we love about another person? The sum of their parts? Their parts?

    And they did so by putting this symbiont into 3 different hosts - hosts who are very different than the first one Beverly knew and thus complicating matters - making her ask herself that very question: what is it, ultimately, that we love about someone?

    It made sense why she did not want to be with Riker: because Rikers is her friend and he doesnt her in a sexual manner and it also made sense to me why she did not want to be with the woman: cause she is straight.

    I am thinking the writers were just exploring Beverly's limits and bounds with respect to the question of what it is we love about someone and they did so by tossing around that core of the person she loved into different shells while still asking that question. "Do you love him now...yes? "How about now, as a woman?"