Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"The Perfect Mate"

***

Air date: 4/27/1992
Teleplay by Gary Perconte and Michael Piller
Story by Rene Echevarria and Gary Perconte
Directed by Cliff Bole

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

The Enterprise provides transport for the ambassador (Tim O'Connor) of a world that's attempting to negotiate with a neighboring system the end of their long-standing conflict by way of special negotiations and reconciliation ceremonies. The ambassador has brought aboard mysterious cargo that will be used in these negotiations. It turns out the cargo is actually an empathic metamorph — an exotic woman named Kamala (Famke Janssen) who has the unique ability to sense what a mate wants and be exactly what he wants her to be.

Her entire life has been in preparation for an arranged marriage; she is to be a gift in these negotiations (though the episode is very clear that she does this of her own free will and is not a slave). Kamala was supposed to spend the trip in stasis, but the meddling of some mischievous Ferengi releases her prematurely, leaving her with several days to spend aboard the Enterprise, where she attracts a great deal of attention.

First, let's get this out of the way: The Ferengi (including one played by Max Grodenchik, the future Rom) are an egregiously dumb piece of business here. They provide their typically annoying and contrived role. Why are they so easily able to access the cargo bay, which is supposed to be under lock and key because of the special cargo? Simply because the plot requires it, just like it requires the Ferengi later to bumble their way into accidentally knocking down the ambassador and putting him in a coma, requiring Picard to step in and carry out the negotiations.

But forget about the Ferengi. "The Perfect Mate" is really a story about Picard, and the relationship that he has — or, more to the point, doesn't have — with Kamala in the course of the days leading up to the arranged marriage. Kamala's diverse education has prepared her for all possibilities, and her empathic nature allows her to adapt to almost any situation. What's interesting here is not just that Picard finds that Kamala may actually be exactly the kind of woman he needs, but that Picard may be exactly what Kamala needs in return. The fact that Kamala will miss out on a much richer, fuller life aboard the Enterprise, instead being a diplomat's trophy wife, is not lost on her.

What we have here are two people trapped between their duty to the greater good and the possibility of a meaningful relationship. And what most struck me about this episode was the unspoken but clearly conveyed message that a man like Picard is essentially destined to a life of solitude because his responsibilities as a starship captain do not allow him to make a relationship a priority. Here's a man who's the paragon of integrity, sometimes at the expense of his own personal happiness. That all sounds like a cliche, but in its quietly effective and unassuming way, this is a character study examining that sacrifice.

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35 comments on this review

grumpy_otter - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 7:14am (USA Central)
This episode is also good for presenting the funniest line of TNG:

"I'll be in Holodeck Four."
Nic - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 8:20pm (USA Central)
This is a wonderfully tragic episode, mostly because of the ending. They really are perfect for each other, in a way no two people could ever be, but they still must separate "for the greater good".
bigpale - Wed, May 11, 2011 - 11:52pm (USA Central)
There is but one reason to watch this episode a second time.

And it aint the Ferengi.

Seriously, this is a 2 star show. Maybe 2 and a half.
startrekwatcher - Thu, May 12, 2011 - 12:12pm (USA Central)
I would only give this episode 2 or at most 2.5 stars myself. I thought it was boring. The first half of the episode centers on the Ferengi which was terrible then halfway through the show shifts gears to a "love" story which I found pretty boring. TNG could do an effective romance of the week--"The Host", "Lessons" for instance but I though this one dragged.

One thing I didn't like about it was the casting of a young hottie for Picard's love interest. Why are tv shows always casting young women for older actors?

It just felt off to me. In a year they would wisely cast an age appropriate actress in "Lessons" with Neela Darren.
Sxottlan - Fri, May 13, 2011 - 3:01am (USA Central)
This was an interesting "Age of Innocence"-esque episode.

Lots of interesting subtext:

-I think this was Famke Janssen's debut and then eight years later her and Patrick Stewart team up again for the X-Men films.

-Love the hilarious holodeck line, which was the one time it was pretty explicitly stated that the holodecks were used for sex, but that Riker uses it for that purpose was an interesting quirk.

-Geordi's throwaway line later references the dolphins that the TNG Manual said were onboard.
Elliott - Fri, May 13, 2011 - 8:10pm (USA Central)
Minor disagreement : I think the social-commentary aspect with Kamala held that indoctrination into a "free-willed" duty is a form of oppression and even slavery. This idea would later carry into and be developed between Janeway and Seven of Nine (make whatever lesbian joke you want). The tragedy as I see it is magnified by the fact that while Picard's sacrifice has a point, Kamala's is ultimately an empty one as the episode seems to indicate the Ambassador wouldn't really care if Kamala were his trophy or not, but goes along for the ride for the sake of the negotiations.
Reciprocity - Fri, Jul 22, 2011 - 2:49am (USA Central)
You smacktards who found this episode boring have absolutely no concept of character development, character study, or nuance in acting. Just because shit isn't blowing up doesn't mean the episode isn't interesting. Advice: Pick up a book and read....and spend less time in dark closets talking to coat hangers.
Rachael - Fri, Aug 19, 2011 - 10:30am (USA Central)
I agree with the star rating for this episode and the general commentary, but I do disagree that it was made explicit that Kamala did what she did out of her own free will. The breakfast conversation between Picard and Crusher early in the episode makes clear that Beverly is appalled by the way Kamala is being treated, and her umbrage is what prompts Picard to look into it rather than just washing his hands of the fact that the Enterprise has become a de facto human trafficking vessel. (His apologia for arranged marriages in Earth history is pretty squicky, here, too). The episode regains its moral compass as Picard realizes that what Kamala is and is being forced (whether by gun or by overwhelming social pressure is rather beside the point when it comes to servitude this thorough), but I don't think it does anyone any good to pretend that Kamala and Picard are equals who have chosen of their own free will to deny themselves happiness for the "greater good," unless a woman subsuming her identity in order to become the embodiment of a man's desire is actually seen by the male writers and fans of TNG as "the greater good."
pviateur - Mon, Aug 22, 2011 - 1:56pm (USA Central)
What I want to know is where are the rest of the negotiating teams representing both parties? You'd think with something of this importance, more than single ambassadors would be sent so that an outsider like Picard wouldn't have to be relied upon to fill in for one of them.
John - Mon, Aug 29, 2011 - 5:57am (USA Central)
The Ferengi issues are easy to overlook in an otherwise excellent episode. I believe its best quality is that it leaves a lot to the imagination in that the viewers are asking themselves many questions about love and life throughout the hour. Great acting. Thoroughly enjoyable.
TH - Fri, Sep 9, 2011 - 6:19am (USA Central)
@Rachael I think Jammer's point is that once Picard confronts her about it, it seems clear she is doing it out of her own free will, not because any character (i.e. ambassador) is putting any pressure on her.

This episode reminds me of the reasons I don't buy The Game. Picard is able to resist a woman that no other man on the ship can resist; but not a video game? (it was unclear to me whether the whole crew is smitten because she is their perfect woman, or if she actually has some magical/chemical/whatever force that actually has a controlling influence, but either way, Picard resists it).

I like this one a lot more as an adult than I did as a child; likely because the concepts of loved-and-lost, and the great subtle performances did not register with me at that age.
Percivale - Sun, Oct 23, 2011 - 3:35pm (USA Central)
I almost disagree with Jammer's star rating here - the refreshingly interesting dialogue and tense plotting of this episode make it deserve four stars. But, unfortunately, the Ferengi bring it down a whole star.

There was really no purpose for them. There was no reason for Kamala to be in the cocoon - they could have made a mysterious request to have her transported to quarters from the beginning. Captain demands that the identity and purpose of all passengers be known to him, there's a conflict with the ambassador, who then informs the Captain who is coming aboard, and there you go.

The beginning actually made me angry - it was another episode where you really can tell the show was written by people who have never worked in positions of authority. You simply require that all cargo be disclosed and lock the doors they go into. No questions need to be asked. You're not being "mean" by doing so.

And the ambassador could have tripped in the holodeck or something.

But back to the substance of the episode. Yeah, great. We see Captain Picard in a situation that truly challenges him, and the tension, the resolution and subsequent tragedy of it packs a real emotional punch.

Also, this is perhaps the closest any tv episode has been to actually convincing me that two people fall in love in a 43 minute tv episode. Kudos.

I forgive them for not going into the ethics of the situation deeper than they could. I was hoping for the second conversation with Dr. Crusher to go a little deeper, but it was helpful in its way - perhaps giving a hint that relationships built on shared experience go deeper than ones based on telepathy.

An interesting way to go into the ethics would have been to do something I find they do not do enough in Star Trek: portray aliens has having different natures than "human" nature (I always cringe when Guinan advocates "human" nature - shouldn't it be "humanoid" or something like that?). Maybe it's not unethical, because she actually does fulfill her role by doing what she does in a way that humans can't entirely relate to. But then again, they can barely be bothered to make the aliens look different from humans, so I guess it goes the same way for the insides. They had to have her learn how to think differently. Which means her actions are culturally enforced and unethical. Which, granted, ends the episode on a relatively profound note, as this casts a small shadow on the practices of the federation. I don't think they made the wrong decision - it's just that the episode skillfully leads you to doubt it enough for there to be something at stake.

After writing all that, I almost want to give it 4 stars. Damnit, Ferengi!
Tim - Tue, Oct 25, 2011 - 8:51pm (USA Central)
She might've been young, but she had a great voice that made her seem older and wiser. Actually, the actress did well to change her voice based on who she was imprinting upon.
Ben - Wed, Nov 9, 2011 - 8:02pm (USA Central)
Does anyone else besides me think that Picard DIDN'T resist completely, that he in fact gave in at the end. The scene from "the night before" when he's in her quarters talking, the scene fades with him still there.

I think he stayed, they made love, and that's when she bonded. It actually seemed pretty clear to me that that's what happened, but no one else has mentioned it.

I think also that when the ambassador asked how the captain could resist, he was just dying to say "I DIDN'T!", but instead held it all in and just wished him on his way rather than address the question and have to lie.
JimJ - Fri, Dec 30, 2011 - 10:21am (USA Central)
I've been doing a rewatch of TNG thanks to Netflix. Most of the episodes blend into each other, and the ones with Ferengi always go from amusing to annoying quickly.

This episode has many other flaws: the clumsy use of the Ferengi in moving the plot; the unsecured cargo bay, and (biggest of all for me) the fact that nobody thought to simply have a female chaperone for Kamala.

All that said, Famke Janssen was outstanding. Her performance hit exactly the right notes each time - from her open and confident demeanor on her emergence to her gregariousness in Ten Forward, she was utterly believable in what could have been a very hokey role. Stewart's Picard - as we all have come to expect - was just as effective in his task of showing the gradual erosion of his carefully constructed walls.

The sidebar discussion about free will was also compelling considering the relatively small amount of screen time devoted to it.

3 of 4 stars seems fair to me, on the strength of the two leads alone.

Thanks for this site!
procyon - Wed, Jan 25, 2012 - 4:29pm (USA Central)
I loved the ending where the ambassador asks Picard how he could resist her when they spent so much time together.

I totally expected him to say it was because he respected her or something, but he doesn't answer the question, so we're left to wonder.
Tim - Thu, Jun 7, 2012 - 3:45pm (USA Central)
Enjoyable, interesting episode, with much better acting than the normal love stories on TNG. Picard falling for a woman seemed far more convincing than 'Captain's Holiday' (I think it was called). Agree with a lot of the positive comments above, including the ambiguity of the ending. Holodeck 4, Worf all got a laugh out of me too.
John (the younger) - Thu, Jun 28, 2012 - 10:42am (USA Central)
Ah, the lonely man's wet dream.

Probably one of the best examinations of Picard in the whole series. Stewart is phenominal in this.

And I even laughed in a couple of places. Outrageous!
grumpy_otter - Mon, Jul 16, 2012 - 4:19pm (USA Central)
Ben said, "Does anyone else besides me think that Picard DIDN'T resist completely, that he in fact gave in at the end. The scene from "the night before" when he's in her quarters talking, the scene fades with him still there.

I think he stayed, they made love, and that's when she bonded. It actually seemed pretty clear to me that that's what happened, but no one else has mentioned it."

Oh yeah, of course. But every time I watch it I decide something else. I keep waiting for Picard to give more away one way or the other--and he doesn't.

Today, I think it went as you describe.
Jack - Sun, Oct 28, 2012 - 9:59pm (USA Central)
@ grumpy_otter...

yeah the "I'll be in holodeck 4" line was funny, but I suspect on a ship of 1000 the holodecks are pretty much in use all the time and scheduled at least a bit in advance. Holodeck 4 was surely not just waiting empty in case Riker "needed it".
Cail Corishev - Wed, Dec 26, 2012 - 11:26pm (USA Central)
I had to stop watching this one after about 30 minutes because I was falling hopelessly in love with the woman. That face, that voice .... "becomes the perfect match for the man she's talking to" indeed. Yowza.
T'Paul - Fri, Jun 14, 2013 - 6:42pm (USA Central)
I don't know, for me this one's more like a TOS episode... beautiful woman, everyone (i.e. the male characters) falling all over her, a dubious and fumbled moral message.

Plus the supposedly profound bits with Picard I think were simply the metamorph finer-tuning herself to Picard's desires, not poignantly realising what she was missing, and then the Picard scenes were simply him being taken in (or resisting being taken in) by this, regardless of whether she was consciously being manipulative or not. But I don't think it was a great character study - not that I wish to fight with anyone who does.

Not wanting to offend... but does Jammer's high rating for this one have to do with the fact that the aliens of the week look like the DS9 Trills?
dipads - Sun, Jun 23, 2013 - 11:03am (USA Central)
This episodes runs on the same storyline (almost) to the ST-TOS episode Elaan of Troyius
mephyve - Thu, Jul 25, 2013 - 5:58pm (USA Central)
I really liked this episode. I would have loved it but from the start the professional incompetence displayed was burning me up. The Enterprise is supposed to be the best of the best of a disciplined military force. So when an ambassador says he has delicate cargo in the cargo bay, some sort of security should have been in piace, both before and especially after you pick up two Ferengi. It's exactly as the Ferengi said, this was too easy. The whole misfortune can be blamed solely on Picard's uncharacteristic incompetence. Riker behaved more professionally here.
Still the ensuing shenanigans balanced things out to make the story enjoyable. The ten forward scene was played out perfectly, ending witha turned on Worf who couldn't help himself. 3 and a half stars.
William B - Mon, Jul 29, 2013 - 2:55pm (USA Central)
You know what, I assumed going into the episode that the Ferengi would prevent me from giving this a full 4, but I really don't think they do. Yes, they are annoying and silly, but they are also only on screen for brief bursts. Their plan to sell Kamala is only a more extreme version of what the Kriosians plan to do with her (i.e. to sell her for peace), and so their actions are thematically on point (and their hurting the Kriosian ambassador is appropriate, as a result). In general, their presence seems to me to be in the same vein as, say, the Porter's speech in Macbeth -- not even comic relief so much as tension relief, an opportunity to take the time to catch our bearings in what is ultimately a very tragic tale.

No one dies in this one, but it's still a brutal ending, especially if you believe, as I do and as some commenters above have suggested, that Picard stayed and slept with Kamala and that is what led to their bonding, which leads to Kamala's permanently being with a man she is not meant for. Unlike "The Masterpiece Society's" fairly forced tragic ending, the one here feels genuinely earned because each step (aside from the inciting scenes involving the Ferengi) feels natural and inevitable. Picard goes to Kamala because he is concerned that she is going to be married against her desires and he wants to save her from that fate; and in the process, he *creates* the scenario wherein she is bonded against her desires. Each scene plays delicately, as Picard tries to balance the demands of his conscience with his duty with his desires with *her* desires, and tries to figure out which of her desires are really just reflections of his. Kamala slowly works her way through his walls and in the process "discovers" herself, though the self she discovers is really one she creates, and one that dooms her to a life of duty. Their combined impulse to allow Kamala (and Picard) to have something for themselves outside of duty is what leads to their bonding, which is what leads to Kamala knowing Picard's sense of duty and being unable to defy it.

Stewart is amazing, of course, but Famke Janssen is extraordinary too. I read on Memory Alpha that she was the first choice to play Jadzia but had to drop out -- and it almost hurts to read that. Watching her in this episode, I feel like she could play the conflincting impulses from many previous hosts convincingly and effectively, or at the very least turn on a dime from one to another, in a way that Farrell never managed. Sigh.
Anthony Pirtle - Sat, Oct 19, 2013 - 10:20pm (USA Central)
I'd give this one and a half stars, purely for Janssen's and Stewart's performances. The plot is poorly written (especially the Ferengi bits) and morally objectionable, basically a fantasy for teenage males who aren't good at attracting women. That Kamala's been brainwashed since she was four years old to believe it's her job to get men off sounds like the opposite of free will to me.
JoeW - Fri, Nov 1, 2013 - 11:34am (USA Central)
I have a completely different take on this episode than the rest of you. I think this episode is about being able to resist temptation. I also don't think that Kamala was ever anything more than what Picard wanted her to be. Picard wanted her to be a free, independent, intelligent woman. That's exactly how she was portraying herself to be toward Picard. Her ability is to sense what a man wants and be exactly that. I don't think she was ever who we saw, but merely a projection of Picard's ideal woman.
Mark - Mon, Jan 6, 2014 - 5:46am (USA Central)
This episode makes me proud to be a Star Trek fan and proud to be Dutch, since Famke Janssen is Dutch! What better way to start your career in the USA than to make your debut in Star Trek? To this day she has always been proud of the chance she has been given and to make way for her Goldeneye and X-men fame. And now she's a director as well!
Love her part as Kamala here. Who wouldn't fall for her? Picard not answering that final question says it all.
Moonie - Sat, Jan 11, 2014 - 6:56pm (USA Central)
Three stars for *this*?

Lemme guess, you're all male.

Doesn't it sadden ANY single one of you that civilizations who develop the technology to travel the stars, still use women as pawns in war&peace? Annoying, outdated, sexist, stupid. Zero stars.
Moonie - Sat, Jan 11, 2014 - 7:10pm (USA Central)
Thank you, @ Anthony Pirtle, you just restored my faith in Star Trek fans. Well said.

Mr. Wizard - Tue, Jan 21, 2014 - 2:08am (USA Central)
@Jammer: Your site is excellent. I've been reading your reviews as I watch through TNG for the first time as an adult and I really enjoy wrapping up each episode with a trip here to compare my experience and evaluation with yours.

@William B: Your comments are very insightful. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I find your interpretations and ratings to be spot on.

I agree with both of you about the Ferengi. When the cold open mentioned an alien race transporting valuable goods and suddenly a Ferengi vessel in distress appears, I was prepared for the worst. Luckily, this episode took a turn for the best and I really enjoyed the ride.

William mentions that Picard creates the situation that he fears: the one in which Kamala is bonded against her desire. Picard also creates the situation he desires: that Kamala makes a choice to become her own person. Throughout the episode Kamala acts as a mirror to whatever potential mate she shares a room with. In her final conversation with Picard, Kamala reveals that she has chosen to bond herself to Jean-Luc. In that moment Kamala stands in front of a full-length mirror and we see her reflection, not Picard's or anyone else's. In that moment Kamala has become her own person by making a choice for herself.

However, isn't this exactly the behavior that mirroring Picard would produce? Kamala's self-awareness, her personhood, is gained *because* she mirrors Picard. Before Picard arrived she didn't know she had a choice to act for herself and become her own person, she simply wantonly mirrored every man she came in contact with. Yet, wantonly mirroring Picard is what drove her to this realization.

When thinking of the causal sequence I picture the infinite regress of a hall of mirrors, which is a perfect metaphor for what Kamala becomes. She becomes herself because she chooses to bond with Picard because she emulates Picard who upholds freewill but who is bound to duty. In a way, Kamala's marriage to the Ambassador is a metaphor for Picard's love life. She is herself because of him and she is giving herself to duty and responsibility and he is acutely aware that his actions made her that way.

Kudos to Patrick Stewart during those last few scenes. The subtle emotions visible on his face were perfect to be ambiguous about what happened the previous night and whether he knows the extent of his influence upon Kamala's decisions, but suggest he is fully aware of what he has done.
Locutus - Thu, Mar 13, 2014 - 11:56pm (USA Central)
Moonie... While the way this episode played out may not have been ideal, the way the "perfect mate" is ultimately being used as a bargaining chip isn't depicted positively.

What's "annoying, outdated, sexist, stupid" is the way that you accuse us of "all being men" as if male genitalia is just cause for anger. That outburst reads like a caricature of the irate, irrational misandrist. You do your own feminist ideology a disservice.
me2olive - Sat, May 24, 2014 - 10:54am (USA Central)
As good as this episode is, it does suffer from one enormous plot hole - wouldn't the ambassador or Kamala have thought to mention the possibility of her bonding with someone that wasn't Alrik, given enough exposure? It's not like there aren't plenty of women on board the ship that could have kept her company instead, but we barely see any of them around her throughout the episode and no explanation for this is given.
Elliott - Sat, May 24, 2014 - 11:18am (USA Central)
The answer to your first point is, there would be no story and the answer to your second is the homophobic producers who would not abide Kamala's pheromones effecting fluid sexuality in the female crew. That's of course until they realised over on DS9 and later ENT that fluid sexuality is fine so long as it's ratings-boosting sexy lesbians!!
SkepticalMI - Tue, Jul 1, 2014 - 8:42pm (USA Central)
A nice, quiet, subtle, thought provoking episode. I'm glad a couple people mentioned what I suspected after watching it: Kamala wasn't exactly becoming an independent during the course of the episode; she was still just performing her mimicry abilities. We saw how easily she adapted to different people in Ten-Forward, and we saw that Picard was doing everything he could to resist trying to influence her. So naturally, Kamala picked up on the fact that Picard was not being willing to fall for her unless she became independent.

Which leads to interesting free will vs biology arguments. Kamala was being "forced" to become independent, so was she really becoming independent at all? Or was she simply following her instinct and only "pretending" to be thinking for herself? Isn't her personality just an extension of what Picard wanted and not real? But in the end, does it actually matter? We want our kids to become independent and think for themselves, but it's still with our guidance. You can't make a child completely an independent person; they will always have some remnant of their upbringing as part of them.

So should Picard have felt guilty at all? He spent his time trying to be as dull as possible to keep from imprinting himself on her, and yet it happened anyway. He was all righteous about keeping her an independent person, and then he went and formed her in his image. Shouldn't he have realized that would happen? And shouldn't he have avoided her entirely? Isn't he just being hypocritical? Does he just feel loss at the end, or does he feel bad that his attempt to give her a life outside of imprinting was itself an imprinting?

The fact that these issues are shown rather than told is part of what makes this episode pretty good. And the fact that it's all told as a great character story between Picard and a guest character, with fantastic acting from both, also makes the episode pretty good. And the fact the Ferengi... well, I'm having too good a time being positive so I'll just ignore that part.

As for the "did they or didn't they" question, I am firmly in the didn't they camp. First of all, I hate the accidental/sympathetic adultery trope. There's nothing accidental about it; you know what you're doing. There's enough time between the first moment of passion and the final act that the knowledge of what you're doing will creep in. And if you don't want to do something, you won't. You'll stop it. Heck, even a horndog like Riker managed to break away even after getting an impassioned kiss. So no, I have no sympathy for the "I didn't mean it to happen" excuse.

Which is important, because the episode then eliminates this possibility. Kamala specifically mentioned that she learned the meaning of duty, and is willing to sacrifice her desires in order to do the right thing... and that she learned it from Picard. Given that, how could they possibly have had sex? She would have imprinted on Picard's desire to throw away duty in favor of personal desires!

Seems pretty cut and dry to me.

That said, it's not like they didn't share a personal connection. It's possible to share a deep emotional bond with someone without it being physical, and it's likely that that is what happened between them. Perhaps he did stay, at least most of the night, but did not retire to the bedroom. That's why he didn't answer the ambassador at the end. He resisted her physically, but not emotionally.

OK, one final thought directed at those complaining that this is some kind of sexist fantasy. Huh? First of all, they did mention that males could get this power too, but just didn't focus on them (since the plot didn't need them). More importantly, the plot had nothing to do with a adolescent male fantasy. And isn't that more important?

I mean, Star Trek is just some liberal adolescent fantasy. It's some magical land where all problems are solved and there's peace and harmony and no difficult problems and you get to do cool stuff like gallivanting around the galaxy on a magic starship. How is that not an adolescent fantasy? And yet, none of us care, because the stories themselves aren't. The adolescent fantasy is just a backdrop for an interesting tale and interesting stories. And that's the case here.

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