Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Next Generation 4x23 "The Host"

rating: ****

the story: Crusher finds herself in an unusual romantic situation in the franchise debut of the Trill.

similar to: "Sarek" (Next Generation), "Life Support," "Rejoined" (Deep Space Nine)

my thoughts: It's rare that a species that essentially is set up to try and prove a point ends up becoming a major element in the wider franchise, but that's exactly what happens to the Trill once Jadzia Dax debuts in Deep Space Nine.

This is a very, very tricky episode, and its immediate impact comes most directly from its closing moments, when the symbiont that has previously been residing in Crusher's lover and then Riker ends up in the body of a woman.  This is the first franchise statement on sexual orientation.  It's not a matter of how you interpret it so much as that it's addressed at all, not as the entire point of the story but rather how it ends, and that's really quite remarkable.

Crusher was routinely a tough nut to crack as a character.  She was famously excised from the series entirely following the first season, only to make further franchise history by returning in the third.  She's the main cast member with the least to do in the movies.  And every time she's got a moral quandary, she comes off as being shrill.

So here's Crusher in her biggest test.  How does she do?  That's the big question, isn't it?

That she somehow remains the main draw even after "The Host" twists into one of Riker's more unusual romances is a good start.  What the episode ultimately proves is that everyone has a point where they're no longer willing to play along.  That's in fact arguably the character's whole legacy.  From her backstory and entangled relationship with Picard to other weaker versions of this same plot ("Ethics," one of her worst moments), Crusher was always defined by this trait.

It's not a judgment, then, on her part, when she declines to continue the romance.  It's a statement the franchise is making about sexuality with or without her: that gender is more fluid than it seems, when a whole species can exist that plays host to a continuing personality who can easily step from male to female, and only pesky outsiders will fail to completely understand.

Isn't that how it always is?  Deep Space Nine itself later revisited this topic in "Rejoined," ostensibly the episode where sexual orientation was the subject matter.  It was for viewers, anyway, and in point of fact, I know it engendered the conversation because in my own family it was the breaking point in viewership for some of us.  I ended up being the last one to continue watching it regularly because of creative decisions like that.

And beyond that, "The Host" joins a rich Star Trek tradition of the irreplaceable negotiator whose presence is predictably compromised, from Next Generation's own "Loud as a Whisper" and "Sarek" to Deep Space Nine's wrenching "Life Support."

So there's a lot of really good reasons to watch this one.  And to name it a classic.

criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential

notable guest-stars:
Patti Yasutake (Ogawa)

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