Monday, December 12, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: The Perfect Mate

The Next Generation, Season 5
"The Perfect Mate"
Airdate: April 27, 1992
120 of 176 produced
120 of 176 aired


The Enterprise is ferrying a Krisoian ambassador to Valt Minor, to finalize the treaty that will end a decades long war between the two worlds. Unexpectedly, it turns out that the ambassador is bringing a strange cargo with him: a stunning woman named Kamala. She is an empathic metamorph who can sense what a man wants and change herself to match it. She is intended to marry the leader of Valt Minor. Captain Picard is faced with a problem now - the Prime Directive bars him from interferring, but can this woman truly be freely choosing to be treated as property? Complicating matters is the fact that as he spends more time with her, Picard begins to become attracted to her.

Why yes, I do find bald men irresistibly attractive!


Kevin: This episode riffs on a number of previous Star Trek episodes, particularly some TOS episodes, like "Elaan of Troyius." This is certainly the most effective of the spins on the idea of the woman who is literally "enchanting." I think it is more successful for a few reasons. First, the nature of her powers is interestingly and credibly developed; it's not magic. Second, I think they do a pretty good job of at least sketching out the ethical issues for such a person. On the one hand, she does seem to be choosing to be married, but how can you separate out a lifetime of grooming for this role? It has echoes of "Half a Life," where we have to confront a social norm we find repugnant, but are forced to acknowledge the subjective value for its adherents. Lastly, I think the writing does a great job of making Kamala a well-developed character, a particularly noteworthy feat given that the set up is that she doesn't necessarily have her own innate personality. The final moment when she chooses to imprint on Picard certifies some base persona that can make moral judgments for herself, and it really prevents the resolution of the episode from devolving into a feminist nightmare.

Matthew: The way I read her personality is that she does indeed have her own persona, it is just one that feels "incomplete" if she is not paired empathically to another person. If one of your friends dreamt of having a spouse and children all their lives, would we say they were a malformed person? I think not. Or to put it another way, imagine someone with a bursting visual creativity who never gets to paint. They're certainly still a person, even if an unhappy one. Anyhow, I too was pleased by the very clear Kantian morality on display. Riker was particularly offended by treating a sentient being as property. But as usual, Picard struck the more culturally relativist note.  The breakfast scene between Picard and Crusher was a nice exploration of the issues.

Kevin: The Ferengi plot felt like the filler it was, as it was just a cheap way to get Kamala out of storage. I think it could have been fun to have Kamala on board from the beginning, like "The Dauphin," where her real nature is revealed as she interacts with the crew. Those interactions were also a highlight of the episode for me. Her banter with Worf and Riker and her non-banter with Data were engaging and revealing for both her and the crew. I like again that Riker's ideal woman is portrayed as horny, but not stupid or submissive. I find it reassuring he's a horndog with an ethical center.

Matthew: Although I agree that the Ferengi subplot was not in fact necessary, I didn't hate it. It would have elevated and justified it if we had gotten 60 seconds of exploration of the Ferengi attitude towards women, slavery, and the rights of sentient beings. I do wonder about their plan - it seemed like they cut it awfully close while blowing up their ship to board the Enterprise. Speaking of crew interactions, I also enjoyed them and think this should have been amped up a bit. Perhaps a fight between two friends over her affections would have raised the stakes nicely. If anything bugged me in terms of story construction, it was that Alrik was too much of a straw man in the story. To have him be so unappealing is a bit of a manipulative dodge, making us root against him and for Picard by default.

Kevin: This is a great Picard episode, too. It's always a party to watch him wrestle with an ethical conundrum, and the development of his relationship with Kamala was awesome. He resisted and relented in just the right stages. I also liked his conversations with Beverly. It has just the right notes of friendly support and tinge of jealousy. In the end, I liked watching Picard and Kamala decide not to be together. It had both a sense of genuine stakes, but in keeping with the values for Picard that we've established.

Matthew: Well, you probably can anticipate what my beef will be here. I certainly buy Picard's falling for Kamala. She was a well-developed character with interests and strengths, and she is absolutely ball-searingly hot. But I just don't like the writing choice for Beverly, here. She should have let her jealousy or her disapproval show through more clearly, here. I would have been on board with her making a play for Picard's affections, because not only do I think it would be a good move for their relationship, but I think it would have provided a good story counterpoint to a potential tryst with Kamala - this is what a healthy relationship between two consenting beings should look like, not the phony, idealized, essentially adolescent fantasy that a metamorph presents. Instead of any of these interesting things, she says "I wish I knew how I could help." AAAAAARRRGGGHHH!!! Even if I want to buy into the idea that she doesn't want to be with Picard, this line pisses me off. Don't tease it and then leave it be, writers. My issue with Picard's character story is his line at the end, "you can't go through with the ceremony." Why? Just because she has imprinted on him, why would he argue that she should stay? It seems out of character, and unprecedented by the events of this episode.

Kevin: One nitpick, which is less a nitpick than a supposition, but this episode could have had a great subtle exploration of human sexuality. Like how does Kamala interact with women? What if I met Kamala? Would she hit on me or ask me to appraise her shoes? That could have been interesting is all I'm saying.

Matthew: This thought absolutely occurred to me as well. The women seem completely unaffected. That seems unsupportable given the two potential attraction mechanisms proposed in the story. And insofar as gay persons seem not to exist in Trek, this aspect too was left unexplored. I just have to point out the best laugh line in the episode - Riker's hasty call to the bridge after his close encounter with Kamala - "Riker to Bridge... if you need me I'll be on holodeck 4." The great thing about the line is that it totally sailed over my head when I watched this as an adolescent. Now, as a lecherous adult, I really appreciate it. If I had to pick a few more nits: the way the stasis "egg" was stored was silly. Is an energy tripod that can be defeated with a cardboard box really the best way to store something so fragile? The Enterprise has force fields, antigrav generators, inertial dampers, and all sorts of other technological gewgaws. A tripod? Really? Also, where the hell was our resident empath, Counselor Troi?


Kevin: I don't know if it's years of flirting with Beverly or what, but Patrick Stewart has nailed the "shy, reserved Captain opening up to the capable, intelligent woman who could really be a partner" schtick. I bought into all his hand-wringing on the larger issue of Kamala's self-determination and on his own feelings. I thought his chemistry with Famke Janssen was pretty solid.

Matthew: Stewart and Frakes both did a great job of physical acting. Little flashes on their faces, subtleties of posture, and so on, really telegraphed the roiling sexual turmoil going on under their professional veneers. Indeed, Stewart did a good job of working up to a slow burn with Janssen.

Kevin: First, let me say that as a nerd, I thoroughly enjoyed the image of Jean Grey telling Professor X that she's "a mutant," ten years before the X-Men movies. Second, wow did she do a great job. One of the failings of other episodes of this nature is that the preternaturally attractive woman is not really...attractive. In addition to being gorgeous, she was also warm, engaging, and charismatic with everyone she interacted with. It really helped cement the episode.

Matthew: As you mentioned above, the entire crux of an episode like this, or like "Elaan of Troyius" (or, for that matter, the ENT episode "Precious Cargo") is that the woman who drives the plot, who enchants all the men around her, actually has to enchant we, the viewers, as well. The other two episodes failed in this, and thus suffered quite a bit. Well, Famke Janssen most definitely does not fail to enchant here. Her line readings are calculated to charm and entice, with a soft sort of purring lilt, and the litte traces of her Dutch accent. Her physical choices are also well thought out, with smiles, eye movements, head tilts, and postures all contributing to the allure of the character. And then, well, she's just fantastically physically attractive in her own right. So this combination of pure physical beauty and acting choices had me absolutely melting when the character smiled, got wistful, flirted, and so on. Janssen sold this part with everything she had, both physical and acting-wise. This was only her second professional role. It was pretty impressive.

Trying to choose the most radiantly beautiful Kamala screen cap was difficult. So here's another one.

Production Values

Kevin: Hair, make-up, and costume on Kamala were pretty fucking fabulous, and since I'm immune to her charms, I can say that with authority. I liked the spots that would eventually become the Trill spots, and they really flatter an already stunning woman.

Matthew: I definitely made a note of this as I gazed upon Janssen's beauty. Her hair was very flattering, especially in the casual swept back look (less so in the updo). Part of me knows that getting someone's hair to look like that involves all kinds of products and makes it very impractical. But damn if it didn't look good while on screen. I did not love the clothing, but I didn't hate it, either. It's certainly some of the most attractive women's wear we've seen on TNG. Apparently, Janssen was approached to play Dax on DS9, but turned it down to act in movies. When they cast Terry Farrell in the part (quite a similar feminine look, as it happens), they remembered the spots on Janssen and decided to do a bit of (appreciated) ret-conning of the Trill look. And I agree, they are quite becoming.

Kevin: The ambassador's costume feels recycled from somewhere, but I don't remember where. I did like the expansiveness and detail of the holodeck sets. I also like the detail paid to the sound and appearance of the instrument that Kamala teaches Picard.

Matthew: Apparently it was a Balinese xylophone, and the producers actually had Balinese natives flown in to instruct the cast on its use. The ceremony room looked nice enough for what it was. The transport pod seemed to be a use of computerized textures spread across a rudimentary 3D wireframe. It looked OK, but not great.


Kevin: This gets a 4. I liked just about everything about this episode. The leads had chemistry and the problem is pretty well explored. I would have enjoyed more exploration of the story and dispensing with the Ferengi filler. Still, this is in the upper tiers of the series.

Matthew: I agree on the 4. A deeper exploration of the issues surrounding arranged marriage and the concept of empathy would have brought this up a peg. I was also off put by the whiff on Picard/Crusher. A few of the nitpicks I mention above also held things back a bit. But the story was still quite entertaining, and the acting really sold both the concepts and the romance. So that's an 8 from the both of us.


  1. The thing that bothers me about Kamala is that she is not a real person. I dont really see that she has her own persona, her own desires and character. She is whatever the person she imprints on wants her to be.

    I also took her imprinting on Picard not as much of it being a choice she made, but what sort of happened inevitably and as a result of having spent so much time with him.

    Finally, I dont buy Picard's attraction to fantasy girl. I mean on the one hand yes i buy that he is attracted to what she leanrs to portray after having read him: the confident, cultured and intellectual woman who can get him hard both physically and intellectually, But on the other hand, especially given that he knows why she is all those things, why she is the perfect mate (i.e. due to her ability to read him so well and give him what he wants) I dont buy that he would find that attractive and really desirable about a person. Not Picard.

    In a way Kamala is cheating, right? It is not magic, she cant just read someone's mind, but she possesses certain qualities that allow her to read the man in front of her, whoever that may be; to discern exactly what he wants in a (perfect) mate and be that. So it is not really her. She is actually not all those things Picard wants in a woman because those things dont emanate from her, they exist and have been brought forth by her imprinting on and reading Picard.

    If Picard had been into beach blanket bimbos with the intellectual capacity of a Disney Cruise ship, then Kamala would have been that.

    So she is really not her HER, she is Picard's dream partner in the flesh, yes, but it is not her.

    And I dont buy that Picard would like that or ultimately be attracted to this fantasy as a real potential partner, especially if he is aware of why she is all those great things he wants in a woman.

    Kamala is not a real person with flaws, shortcomings and maturity, or even one with desires and interests of her own separate from that of a mate she is supposed to cater to and please all her life; she is a mirage (unlike Beverly); precious cargo; a mail order bride of the highest caliber; a robot and I cant see Picard wanting that in a partner. or anyone really.

    The episode is titled the Perfect Mate and I understand why - in a way she for whomever she imprints on but i do wonder, is this what men want in a perfect mate? Is this their fantasy of the most desirable partner? Make no mistake about it. There is no Kamala. Kamala lives for her mate. She said it herself: she is what someone else wants her to be and being what someone else wants her to be is her purpose in life, it is what gives her pleasure. She doesnt have wishes and needs of her own. Whatever they are, they are fulfilled by what she gives to others.

    Again, that is not a real person. And i cant imagine anyone in their right mind wanting this in a partner.

    In a way Kamala is no different than the bride chosen for Eddy Murphy's character in Coming To America. You know, the one who danced on one foot and barked because he asked her to and who, everytime he asked her want she wanted and what she liked, responded by saying whatever he wanted and whatever he liked. Yes Kamala is more sophisticated. Less comical. But in essence it is the same thing - waiting to jump, bark, growl and recite Shakespeare when required.

  2. I'd like to know why the hell they didn't lock the door to the cargo bay...