“The Host” is the episode where the Trill — a “joined species” consisting of a humanoid host and a parasitic symbiont — were first introduced. The idea was intriguing enough that the creators of Deep Space Nine reused the Trill concept to create the Dax character. Nearly all of the development of the Trill on DS9 contradicts the Trill as portrayed in “The Host”: the makeup was different (standard headbumps exchanged for Kriosian spots), there is no ban on using the transporter, and it became established that the Trill were longstanding Federation members (not a mystery race whose true nature had been a secret). “The Host” can hardly be faulted for these subsequent changes, which were apparently necessary to make Dax an attractive (no bumps) and viable (transportable) character with many past lives that were relevant to Federation history.
That said, “The Host” can be blamed for its own shortcomings, which are many. The focus of the episode is Beverly Crusher’s love affair with Odan, who begins the episode with a very attractive male Trill host body. When that host body dies, the Odan symbiont is temporarily transferred into Will Riker, a friend Beverly thinks of “as a brother.” Although the newly joined being that results is technically still Odan, and although he still has the same feelings for Beverly and expects her feelings to remain, she is suddenly confronted with a lover who looks and sounds (and is in the same body as) someone who is a long-time, platonic friend. Her disinterest in continuing the relationship is very understandable. Less understandable is Counselor Troi’s strong advice to Beverly to continue the relationship. If Beverly felt good about the situation and wanted to continue the relationship, more power to her; but if she didn’t (and she clearly felt incredibly awkward), Troi’s pushy advice was nosey and unhelpful.
The worst part of this whole thing is Troi’s speech which compares loving a boyfriend with loving a father, and equates a woman’s feelings of romantic love with a child’s desire to be protected. This is a horribly regressive speech for two women of the 24th century — and it comes after Troi and Beverly have been hanging out in the ship’s beauty salon together! Finally, when Beverly decides to resume the relationship, she does so by going to Odan’s quarters, babbling passively, and allowing Odan/Riker to make the moves. We might as well watch re-runs of TOS: “Turnabout Intruder” since the sexism is just as unreformed.
At the end of the episode, when Odan is transferred into his new Trill host, an attractive woman, Beverly is unwilling to even consider continuing the relationship. Although Odan has crossed a gender barrier and is now a “she,” this final change seems frankly less freaky than kissing someone who is like a brother to you. Although Beverly couches it in being unable to handle so many changes, her ultimate reaction seems gratuitously homophobic.
Despite these problems, the episode isn’t a disaster. As introduced, the Trill are already an interesting idea; it’s little wonder that DS9’s creators decided to revisit the concept. As interesting as they are, the critical aspect that “The Host” fails to touch on is the role of the host in the relationship. In DS9 we find that the personality in the joined person is likewise joined, but in this episode the personality of the host appears to be entirely submerged — there is no hint that Will Riker has any say over his body while Odan is calling the shots. Perhaps the episode would have been improved if the writers had spent time exploring these ideas instead of hanging out with Beverly in the beauty salon.
Remarkable quote: “The first man I ever loved was my father. He was strong and tall. He carried me when the ground was muddy. He chased away the monsters that hid under my bed at night. And he sang to me and kept me safe. And he went away. What I wouldn’t give to hear those songs again. To feel his arms protect me. I never will. But I can still feel his warmth and his love as though he were here with me. If you can feel those things from the man we know as Will Riker, accept them. Accept the love.” —Troi
“Remarkable race”: This episode marks the introduction of the Trill, but when the race reappears in DS9 its characteristics and history are significantly different.