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Gates McFadden Dishes On Beverly Crusher's Most Complicated Romance - Exclusive

To say that many of the romantic entanglements on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" range from laughably absurd to deeply troubling would be an understatement. For an evolved race that overcame war, famine, and poverty, humans of the 24th century sure did tend to drunkenly sleep with androids, date their former lover's transporter twins, and develop unhealthy relationships with holodeck programs with stunning regularity. And none of those instances even touches on the dancing doctor herself — Doctor Beverly Crusher (Gates McFadden). The good doctor has never been terribly lucky in love; even her most successful relationship with her husband Jack Crusher ended in his tragic and untimely death — and that's prior to her even joining the crew of the Enterprise.

Over the course of six seasons, we see her struggle with her feelings for Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart), fall for one of her amnesiac patients who evolves into a glowing body stocking, and even develop a sexual relationship with grandmother's alien ghost candle — yes, that's a thing that really happened. But arguably the most interesting romantic relationship Beverly Crusher ever has is with a character named Odan during an episode called "The Host." Crusher and Odan's relationship gets talked about even to this day — so naturally we asked Gates McFadden — during an exclusive interview for Looper —how she feels about it now.

Anatomy of a Trill scene

The character of Odan marked the first appearence of the Trill on "Star Trek" — an alien race comprised of a host body and a slug-like symbiote. When the host dies, the symbiote — and all the combined memories of the two beings — is transferred to a new host. In "The Host," Beverly Crusher falls in love with a Trill named Odan without knowing anything about the Trill. So when the host body dies, she suddenly has to contend with the symbiote in a temporary new body — that of her friend Commander William T Riker (Jonathan Frakes). And while Crusher and Odan continue their romance while Odan is in Riker's body, their romance ends when Odan finds their way into their next, full-time host body. The reason? Odan's new body is a woman.

Both when "The Host" was first written and now, LGBTQIA+ fans were frustrated by the way the romance between Crusher and Odan concludes. This was a chance to use science fiction to explore both transgender and queer romance, and "TNG" didn't take it.  McFadden agrees it was an opportunity missed with the way the scene was scripted. "Well, I felt that it was looked at as a very surface response," says McFadden. "It's just because she's a woman. You can say the dialogue, and you can say, 'Okay, she's doing that because it's a woman.' And yet she was fine with it being her friend [Riker] who was a man. And I think that's too easy in a way. I think that, that might be what many of the writers were thinking."

More interesting, though, is how McFadden chose to play the scene and how she feels about it now.

The Odan and Crusher relationship that could have been

"Actually if you just observe what's going on, that's not what I was playing," Gates McFadden said of the scene in which Crusher turns down the new Odan host. "I think if you are really in love with someone, and then all of a sudden there's this, within a matter of 24 hours, this host gets put into someone else, and you're still so worried about whether the host is going to live in the operation and how it's going to handle, it doesn't seem a leap. Whether it had been put into Deanna Troi or put into Riker, I think that would have made sense. I think it's the fact that then there's another person." 

"How much is the physical, how much is the experience? How much is the emotional, the intellectual?" McFadden continued. "That was the power to me of that episode, that you asked the question, what is love? And that was very powerful, because the best of 'Star Trek' is when it gets people to think, to weigh conflicting information and go, 'Well, that's feels ambivalent.' Yeah. How can you hold that ambivalence? And how can you think about all these aspects of it? Because really, what if the only body to put it into had been a child. There's all sorts of things that you can think about. But to me, when I turned her down, all this had happened within a matter of two days, all of these operations. I think it's too much to handle, because it's not that only the host was the only part ... For me, that's what I was playing. 'I can't process this. I'm just not ready for this.'"

McFadden agreed that, were "Star Trek: The Next Generation" to be created now with a more serialized storytelling format, Crusher and Odan could've gotten another chance to make a romance work. "That's a very interesting story," she said.

You can find more insights from McFadden and many of her "Star Trek" cohorts on her new podcast series "Gates McFadden InvestiGates." New episodes release on Wednesdays.