Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Dr. Crusher's Biology Lesson: "The Host" Is Clever.

The Good: Interesting cultural and biological premise, Good acting, Intriguing character development.
The Bad: Staggering lack of biological knowledge in the Federation
The Basics: In “The Host,” a Dr. Crusher romance turns into a biology lesson about an intriguing joined species.

One of the most neglected characters in Star Trek The Next Generation is Dr. Crusher. As actress Gates McFadden, who plays Crusher, has openly stated in the past, "There will never be a Dr. Crusher movie." She's in the same boat as Uhura, Sulu and Chekov in Star Trek, a supporting player, though her cast is a bit more of an ensemble than Star Trek ever was. "The Host" is a Dr. Crusher episode and it is one of the few focusing on the Doctor that were ever made.

"The Host" finds Beverly very much infatuated with an ambassador named Odan. Odan and Dr. Crusher spend the beginning of the episode exclusively getting it on to the extent that one is forced to wonder when Odan actually does any work. While on his mission, however, Odan is critically wounded and it is revealed that his race, the Trill, are a joined species. This means that - for the purposes of this episode - that the Trill exist as a host and a symbiont. The symbiont is a wormlike creature that lives in the belly of the host. The host is dying, but the symbiont, Odan, may be transplanted and the best candidate on board . . . is Riker.

While "The Host" is apparently a Dr. Crusher episode, the episode fails to maintain that; once Riker gets the symbiont, Jonathan Frakes steals the show. And easily. For some time, Riker's character has been in decline and "The Host" illustrates yet again that Jonathan Frakes can act! Frakes plays the joined Riker Odan as an almost completely different character than Riker. He pulls off creating an entirely different body language for the character and watching Frakes here . . . he's mesmerizing.

That's not to say that Gates McFadden doesn't give a good performance. Her portrayal of Dr. Crusher in the final scene explores a melancholy area of Crusher that McFadden has not played up until this point. And she pulls it off quite well. The problem on the acting front is that Frakes is given vastly more to do as an actor while Gates is basically playing Crusher in a somewhat new situation. Crusher is still Crusher; Riker is not just Riker here.

The real disappointment of "The Host" is in its underlying premise. The idea of a joined species is a cool and intriguing one. How neat is it that there could be a part of oneself that outlives us and continues on for hundreds of years? This is a very intriguing concept for the audience. The problem is, the concept shouldn't be all that intriguing for the characters involved.

Dr. Crusher is just as surprised as the viewer to learn about the Trill being a joined species. Yet, the Trill are Federation members. Given that, how could ANY doctor in StarFleet not know about the Trill and their specific needs? It seems improbable and it seriously works to the detriment of the episode.

People who are not invested in the Star Trek universe will find this a minor detail and ought to enjoy the episode quite a bit. Indeed, this is one of the most intriguing races introduced in the Star Trek universe, no doubt the reason Star Trek Deep Space Nine added Dax to the crew roster. This is an interesting love story turned medical drama with a great deal of tension. All of the backstory elements - i.e. Riker and Troi's relationship - are explained enough that this is a remarkably accessible episode. Fans of Star Trek The Next Generation, though unsettled by this fairly obvious flaw in the episode will find much to enjoy, most notably Frakes' performance.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fourth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the fourth season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode and film reviews, please visit my index page on the subject for an organized listing!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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