Friday, October 14, 2011

4-23. The Host

Dr. Bevery Crusher, in love. 
You just know this will end badly...

















THE PLOT

Odan (Franc Luz) is a Trill ambassador, on Enterprise to conduct negotiations between two rival moons who are only one step away from war. He and Dr. Crusher have fallen into a relationship during his time on board, a relationship that has quickly become serious for both of them. But Odan hides a secret - a facet of Trill life that has been kept hidden from the Federation. The Trill are a composite race, with a humanoid body acting as host to the symbiont intelligence within.

When Odan is injured and near death, that secret is revealed - leaving Beverly Crusher uncertain as to whether she can enter into a relationship with a being whose entire physical form may change on a regular basis. Meanwhile, both Odan and his mission are kept alive when Riker volunteers to act as a temporary host while the ship waits for a replacement Trill host to arrive. The operation is a success, and Odan is able to function in Riker's body. It isn't long, though, before Riker's body begins to reject the symbiont. If Odan is not able to finish his negotiations quickly, both he and Riker will die!


CHARACTERS

Capt. Picard: Patrick Stewart's conflicted expression as he realizes that Odan may well take Dr. Crusher away from his ship - and him - are a strong reminder of the history between these two. Picard is largely focused on the mission, as is his duty, but he also takes time to show his concern for Beverly. "Whatever else we may have been to each other," he tells her at one point, "I am your friend, and I am here for you."

Riker: The Host gives Jonathan Frakes his first real turn in the spotlight since Future Imperfect, more than half a season ago! Frakes makes the most of the opportunity, giving very good performances both as Riker and as Odan. As Odan, he pulls back on the confidence he always displays as Riker. His speech is a little slower, his eye contact more direct. With the first twenty minutes giving Riker more of a role than he's had in a while, the contrast is strongly evident. One of my biggest regrets about the script is that the emotional focus is so squarely on Beverly that we never get to see Riker after the experience - which, in my opinion, would have made for a nice button to the episode.

Dr. Crusher: Though I find some of Dr. Crusher's overly on-the-nose dialogue annoying (more on that below), I will say that Gates McFadden is particularly appealing in this episode. The first Act, in which Beverly is simply enjoying being in a new and passionate relationship, sees McFadden practically glowing. There is a real sense of sexual energy to her early interactions with Odan, and the two actors' chemistry helps to carry the episode over some speed bumps in the dialogue. She's good in the more thoughtful scenes later in the episode, too, particularly in the scene in which she goes to Odan/Riker in his quarters. Between this and Remember Me, Season Four has been far better to Dr. Crusher than Seasons One and Three were.


THOUGHTS

A noteworthy episode, in that it introduces the Trill to Star Trek. The Trill was significantly redesigned for Deep Space 9, in ways that made them a much more interesting species. DS9 presents the Trill host as fully "joined" with the symbiont; Jadzia Dax has the life experiences and personality of Jadzia, as well as those of Dax, and is a noticeably different person than other versions of Dax as a result. Here, the host is presented as just a sl ab of meat. "That parasite is me," Odan tells Beverly. Odan/Riker is presented as the exact same person, only in a different body - a very different and more simplistic characterization than what would come later.

The Host is the second episode in a row to focus on a romance. However, it is the less believable romance, not because of the actors but because of the writing. Half a Life was a badly flawed episode, but the central romance worked. I believed in Lwaxana and Timicin as a couple, and the script wisely did not bang me over the head with their love for each other - it simply showed it. The Host, by contrast, gives us endless speeches in which Dr. Crusher and Odan talk about how they love each other, dribbling cliches out the corner of their mouths like particularly gooey drool. Troi never blinks about Riker's body being effectively possessed by Odan when she urges Dr. Crusher to "accept the love." After all, this is a romance; any other considerations (such as Riker's inability to consent, as portrayed in this episode) are brushed aside to pursue the romance.

If the writing was less on-the-nose, with some of the characters' feelings allowed to remain subtext shown through actions rather than speeches, the relationship between Beverly and Odan might be compelling. As it stands, it's the least interesting element of the episode. Members of a couple do not just stand around talking about their feelings for each other in between rounds of the horizontal mambo. Members of a couple do things together, share activities, talk about their lives and interests. Romantic talk has its place - but if it's the whole conversation, then it doesn't take long for it to become a very boring conversation.

It's a shame that I can't quite buy into the central romance, because I find the rest of the episode to be quite good. Riker's body gradually rejecting the Trill symbiont is an effective way of creating tension without having to invoke some artificial external threat - the threat arises naturally from the story. Riker/Odan faking good health and then breaking down in agony as soon as the first meeting is over? A good scene, with some terrific acting by Jonathan Frakes. Even Beverly's central dilemma, of trying to maintain a relationship when the physical presence is continually changing, is intriguing.

So this ends up being a mixed result for me. As a romance, the episode's on-the-nose dialogue makes the central relationship strained and artificial. But as an introduction to a new Trek species, it is intriguing and enjoyable. As an episode, I like it better than Half a Life. If the romance itself worked for me, though, this would be at least one point higher than its current score.


Overall Rating: 6/10.







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