Having seen DS9 first this episode is kind of confusing.
Beverley is dating an ambassador who is being taken to mediate in a dispute between the populations of two moons. The relationship is passionate and secret, but the Ambassador has his own secret which bulges inside his stomach. The planet they're going to asked the Federation to help because the peoples of their two moons hate each other and due to recent developments are close to war. The Ambassador's father helped negotiate a previous settlement between the moons. The Ambassador refuses to use the transporters and despite safety concerns insists on getting a shuttle to the talks. Troi chats to Beverley and reveals that her relationship isn't really secret.
Riker asks to fly the Ambassador's shuttle, but as they're going to the mediation a ship appears from one of the moons and fires on them. The shuttle is damaged and the Ambassador injured; he tells Riker that the transporters will kill him. The Enterprise scares away the hostile ship and the shuttle returns. In sickbay Beverley is confused by the medical readings of her lover, it looks like he has a parasite and then his stomach bulges again. He tells her that he is the thing in his stomach, that the humanoid is only his host. This is how it works with Trills and so the Trill homeworld must be contacted to send another host or he'll die. WAIT, WHAT? He's a Trill? Just assume the rest of this episode is punctuated by me saying "That's not how Trills work!" This is not the best episode to watch when you've seen Deep Space 9 first. DS9 has a Trill as a main cast member and various other Trills and joined-Trill issues appear during the show.
The Ambassador says the drugs are killing Riker, so he moves the mediation forward. He tells Picard and Beverley that regardless of what happens with the negotiations he must be removed from Riker that day or the Commander will die. The negotiations are successful (the details apparently do not matter in the slightest), but Riker/Ambassador looks dreadful. The Trill ship is still some distance away, so the Enterprise races to meet it. The new host arrives and Beverley is shocked to see that she is woman. After the surgical transfer the new Ambassador speaks to Beverley and says she still loves her. Beverley is cold and says that perhaps it's a human failing that she can't cope with this change (it's really not, Beverley).
Oh Captain, My Captain
The Ambassador identifies Picard as Beverley's old friend and starts trying to talk to him about her, and how serious she is about her Star Fleet career. Picard is really awkward and doesn't want to be in this convo while also trying to be polite because diplomacy. Plus it's a bit weird that the Ambassador is trying to have this talk with Beverley's friend/superior officer rather than her. Later he's really supportive to Beverley and gives her a hug and offers to talk things through, even though talking about that sort of stuff makes him awkward. He is being a good friend.
Riker: lover, adventurer, middle-manager
Potentially dangerous shuttle-mission? Oh, me!
Dangerous, unprecedented hosting of an alien creature that'll take over your body? Yes, yes I'll do it!
Where does Will Riker go when the ambassador is in his body? Is he still able to sense things or is it like he's asleep? Should Beverley be kissing him if Riker doesn't want to kiss her? The consent issues here are really tricky. Riker gave consent to host the Ambassador, but it was hardly well-informed. The Ambassador keeps courting Beverley even though he must realise it's weird now he's inhabiting her colleague/friend, plus Riker's loaning his body for emergency/diplomatic reasons, not for relationship stuff.
It's cool that Beverley has an episode that focuses on her and gets a romantic plotline, though this is the second time she's had a one-episode boyfriend with some kind of odd situation that means he leaves the ship. At least this time it's actually a proper relationship; they are pretty cute together and feel strongly for each other. There's humour and fun and intimacy, though I get the feeling the the Ambassador is more committed to the relationship. As a professional Beverley is excellent as ever, despite how upset and confused she must be that her lover died, kind of. Plus here's yet another unprecedented medical procedure that she's done (I'm guessing Wesley got his smarts from the maternal side). When things get weird between her and the Ambassador (and Riker's body) she uses her role as distancing tactic, trying to keep things professional though the Ambassador makes that difficult by pushing the issue, which isn't cool. Being weirded out by the situation in general is understandable, finding that a lover is in the body of a friend is even odder. Seeing Beverley and Riker kissing is so strange, I hope it never happens again, especially after her "like a brother" comment. (Eww!) The end (as I will discuss below) is not great and did make me annoyed at Beverley. She assumed the host would be male, which I suspect was due to her preferences. When the new host is female she doesn't make a big thing out of it, just gets on with her work (did the Trill just send the one host and not a specialist medical team?). Again she tries to use medical concerns to distance herself, and her being freaked out by a change she wasn't expecting makes sense, but that doesn't mean she gets to decide that it's a failing of her entire species. You don't get to talk for everyone, Beverley. At least she admits that her reaction it is a failing, even though she tries to justify it in a way that removes personal responsibility.
Troi and Beverley chat in the ship's hairdressers/beauty parlour. Turns out they can colour your nails without polish in the future, which is amazing! That combined with the hair dye wand from the last hairdresser scene makes me wonder why people aren't changing their nail and hair colour all the time. Troi is a little too empathic about Beverley's relationship, her powers must be really good for office gossip. Though Troi suggests that Beverley's secret isn't that secret because it's clear something's going on. The first part of this scene is Bechdel-Wallace passing, it's about beauty treatments, so it's girlier than most of my conversations, but it counts. The rest isn't because it's about the Ambassador (who is/presents as male at this point). The later conversation in 10 Forward is also about the Ambassador, and weirdly that talk is Deanna getting Crusher to make out with someone in Riker's body. Well, not exactly but that's the outcome.
The conversation with the Ambassador at the end is also Bechdel-Wallace passing, as it's two women talking about their relationship.
Future is Better?
It's really telling about US TV in the early 90s that Crusher is less accepting of her lover in a woman's body than in Riker's. She says she thinks of Will as like a brother, but she'll kiss him over kissing a woman who she knows is someone she loves on the inside. It's so heteronormative and bi-erasing and kinda transphobic (I mean I know the Ambassador isn't trans really, but I guess they're non-binary/genderqueer). I don't think this is how a progressive, accepting future is gonna look. I mean if Beverley can't handle it personally that's something that can be explored (it is a very new relationship and there have been sudden and unexpected changes), but it's treated like a gender change is an automatic deal-breaker for anyone and it's not. Bisexuals exist, but goodness knows society tries to pretend they don't. Plus cisgendered people have transgendered partners and those relationships are real, so don't act like three centuries from now folk are all still going to be freaking out about this.
The wrist-kiss and Beverley's icy admission of love are (I assume) closest Trek came to anything other than heterosexuality on screen, until a Trill-centric episode in DS9 some years later. It's telling to me that Trill characters are always involved because their gender changes almost provide an excuse for the non-het situation to arise. Homosexuality and bisexuality never really seem to be addressed with people whose gender presentation is fixed, I hope the new series will do better in this area. Plus it strikes me that while Trills are used by Trek to explore homosexuality/bisexuality there's an argument to be made for them representing people who aren't cisgendered. I mean the way Crusher suggests she's been deceived by her lover who was just being what he is by nature could be used to explore transphobic issues. Beverley's assumption that the new host would be male is what immediately made me think she wouldn't be. I've been referring to the ambassador as 'he' here, but that's only based on his presentation in most of the episode, there's no signal as to the best pronouns. There's more elements of this kind of thing in DS9, but it's not explicitly explored.
They're Trills, But Not as I Know Them
I know they only just came up with the idea of Trills in this episode and it's something that changes in the later series, but this is an even bigger change than what happens with the Ferengi and the Cardassians, who only look different. Where are the spots? What's with the foreheads? Why is the ambassador-worm bulging out of the host's stomach and why does it need to be scanned (or whatever that device was). Why does the ambassador only have one name and why does it seem like s/he's parasitically controlling the humanoids rather than symbiotically sharing bodies and memories? I'm pretty sure Dax used the transporters, or is that because they've been set up for Trills? Also it's not clear why -if Trills are also a Federation species who've been working as diplomats for at least 2 generations- it isn't known that they're joined. Troi comments they they know little about the species, but they're Federation citizens, it's not like all those new or reclusive species they deal with. Why keep it a secret? Clearly if Trills have special needs (like not using transporters) they should be upfront about it. Plus I'm pretty sure that somewhere out there Curzon Dax is negotiating with Klingons and putting Benjamin Sisko through his paces, so there are Trills in Star Fleet. I don't think a symbiote can live in a human, or it would've been mentioned, I mean the party line is that they can't live in most Trills. Also (and this goes for DS9 too) why don't they travel in pairs or groups, or at least with others near by, so that there's always an available host should there be an accident in space (as seems to happen).
Staff Meetings: 2
1. Senior staff, the Ambassador and the Governor of the planet discuss the situation with the two moons (the Ambassador and Dr Crusher arrive separately by different doors). The Governor explains that the moons hate each other and the planet thinks of them as squabbling children, but war is coming now because one moon found a cheap energy source that is causing climate change on the other moon. After everyone else has gone Troi tells Picard that she's getting emotional fluctuations from the Ambassador (which sounds like what she gets from everyone). Picard says that's normal for Trills even though they don't know much about them and he isn't an empath, but whatever.
2. Crusher tells senior staff that the Ambassador's body died, and a new host is hours away. She's doing well considering she's mourning. Data volunteers to act as a vessel (does he has cupboard space in there?) but it has to be a biological host. Picard says the Ambassador is vital to peace and though it's never been done a human host is suggested. Riker volunteers without much info.
Beverley is reporting on her successful, unprecedented surgery when the Ambassador comes to thank her and say that she still loves her. Beverley is cold to her and tries to just keep it professional. She says she can't deal, but tries to say that's a human thing (bollocks!). The Ambassador is understanding, Beverley admits she still loves her. The Ambassador kisses her wrist as she did in her previous host. It should be bittersweet, but the handling and wider context of this moment pissed me off.