“The Perfect Mate”
Written by Rene Echevarria and Gary Perconte and Michael Piller
Directed by Cliff Bole
Season 5, Episode 21
Production episode 40275-221
Original air date: April 27, 1992 Stardate: 45761.3
Captain’s Log: Krios and Valt Minor have been at war for centuries, but they are having a reconciliation ceremony on board the Enterprise—which will be positioned equidistant between the two systems—in an attempt to bring about peace. Picard meets with the Kriosian ambassador, Briam, who has very fragile and irreplaceable cargo in the Enterprise’s cargo bay, and asks that that space be declared off-limits to all but the most essential personnel for that reason.
The meeting is interrupted by a distress call from a Ferengi shuttle. The Enterprise beams off the two Ferengi on the shuttle just before it explodes.
They are given guest quarters, and must remain there until the reconciliation ceremony is complete. Once Worf leaves them alone in their cabin, the Ferengi cackle with glee.
La Forge has re-created an ancient Kriosian temple on the holodeck, which will be the site of the ceremony. Par Lenor, one of the Ferengi, intercepts Ambassador Briam outside the holodeck in an attempt to drum up business. His associate, Qol, enters the cargo bay without a care in the world—so much for keeping it off-limits to all but essential personnel—and tries to scan the cargo, which is a glowy cocoon. Qol stacks some barrels so he can scan it more closely. Since he has a hand-scanner, it’s unclear why he needs to do this, beyond the plot requiring him to lose his balance and knock the cocoon over, which he does as soon as Worf and a security detail enter the cargo bay.
The cocoon unravels to reveal a woman, who walks right up to Picard and says she is for him. Briam quickly corrects her, explaining that this is Captain Jean-Luc Picard, not Chancellor Alrik of Valt. Turns out this woman, named Kamala, is a gift for Alrik, the leader of the Valtese people. She’s an empathic metamorph, the first such to be born on Krios in seven generations. She has the ability to become the perfect mate (what a great title!) for whichever man she happens to be near, until she fully imprints on the person she’s going to spend the rest of her life with.
Riker and Picard are both pretty well appalled, at first thinking her to be treated as property. Indeed, Briam brought her on board in stasis at least partly because he expected them to react this way. Kamala makes it clear that this is her purpose, and she does this of her own free will. The Enterprise commanders are somewhat placated, and Riker escorts her to her quarters, which is a bit more comfortable than the cargo bay.
Kamala explains another reason why she was in stasis: she’s in the latter stages of her sexual development, so she’s putting out pheromones like whoa. Then she grabs Riker and kisses him. He manages to resist her advances—“I make it a policy never to open another man’s gift”—and beats a hasty retreat.
The next morning, Crusher rips into Picard, expressing her great displeasure with the situation, finding it offensive, to say the least. Picard points out that it’s not really possible for them to do anything about it without violating the Prime Directive (not to mention keeping a centuries-long war going). Crusher also tells Picard that Kamala’s been confined to quarters by Briam, which he did not know. He goes to visit her, and she starts to work her mojo on him, which he resists. She explains that she’s incomplete without someone to imprint upon—that’s her nature. Picard says he’ll see about easing her restrictions.
Briam agrees to let her move about the ship only if she has a chaperone who is immune to her charms—to wit, Data. She flirts with some miners in Ten-Forward (who were rescued by the Enterprise en route to Krios), and only Worf’s ability to intimidate keeps the situation from getting out of hand.
Kamala realizes that her presence might be disruptive, and she goes to Picard’s ready room and says she’ll volunteer to stay in her quarters, but only if Picard promises to visit her. He resists even that much, and then she starts talking both archaeology and Shakespeare at him. However, Picard continues to rebuff her, and he insists that his visiting her would be inappropriate.
The Ferengi provide Briam with a bribe in the hopes that he will sell them the metamorph. Briam is outraged, and threatens to report them to Picard. They try to stop him, and in the struggle, Briam suffers a nasty head injury.
Crusher cares for the comatose Briam, while the Ferengi are dispatched in custody to a starbase. Kamala must imprint on Alrik within two days, so the ceremony needs to go ahead as planned. Picard reluctantly agrees to fill in for Briam in the final negotiations with the Valtese.
Of course, Kamala keeps hitting on Picard, partly because it’s her nature, partly because she’s growing quite fond of him. As he continues to resist, she asks if he finds her unattractive, and he tartly responds that he finds her unavailable.
The Valtese ship arrives. Picard meets with Chancellor Alrik, who has several issues with the treaty as written, and Picard assures him that he’s been authorized to negotiate on the Kriosians’ behalf. Alrik also seems to be mostly indifferent to Kamala—the trade agreement is his primary concern.
After informing Kamala that Alrik is on board, Picard starts to leave her cabin, but Kamala all but begs him to stay, because she loves just the sound of his voice (and hey, Sir Patrick Stewart’s voice is pretty damned awesome), and also because she doesn’t wish to be alone. (Indeed, she’s never been alone any time in her life.)
The next morning, Crusher and Picard share breakfast again, and Picard confides in her. He finds himself being captivated by her—but who she is changes when the next man walks into the room. He fears that when she changes to accommodate Alrik she’ll not be the woman who fascinates him any longer, and that something will be lost.
Picard changes into his ridiculous dress uniform and meets with Kamala, who’s wearing a ridiculous white gown. She also confesses that she’s bonded with him—but in doing so, she has come to appreciate the importance of duty. She will go through with the ceremony, and as an empath she’ll be able to fake being the perfect woman for him. She just hopes he likes Shakespeare…
On the holodeck, Picard gives Kamala away to Alrik.
Briam recovers just in time for the episode to end (lucky him!), and Picard escorts him to the transporter. The ambassador says that he was chosen for this mission in part due to his being 200 years old, and therefore more resistant to the temptations of a beautiful young woman, and he asks Picard how he resisted. Picard pointedly doesn’t answer.
There is No Honor in Being Pummeled: Worf gets to defuse a situation in Ten-Forward simply by stepping forward menacingly and asking if there’s a problem, at which point a half-dozen boisterous miners suddenly get all subdued and scared. It’s good to be Klingon. (Right after that, Kamala growls at him, and Worf growls right back before self-consciously remembering that he’s in public.)
If I Only Had a Brain…: Data is specifically assigned to chaperone Kamala around the ship because he is the only male on board immune to Kamala’s charms. (It’s never made clear why a female officer can’t escort her. Or a homosexual male, he says, opening that can of worms again.) Kamala also asks him a lot of questions about Picard, since she claims to have learned from Data about the captain’s love of archaeology, Shakespeare, and Earl Grey tea.
No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: Picard and Crusher continue to be adorable as they share breakfast, first with Crusher haranguing him about Kamala, the second time with Picard baring his soul to her. (At one point, he asks, “May I take off the uniform for a moment?” and she gets all mock-outraged and says, “Captain!”)
Meanwhile, Kamala gets hot and heavy with Riker, Worf, and Picard, as well as a bunch of miners. You can see the agony on Riker’s face as he resists her very blatant advances. She tries to convince him to stay and enjoy himself by saying, “It’s going to be a long journey,” and Riker very gravely replies, “Yes it is.” One senses cold showers in his immediate future.
What Happens on the Holodeck Stays on the Holodeck: Of course, after backing slowly out of Kamala’s quarters, Riker informs the bridge that he’ll be on Holodeck 4. Wah-hey! Let’s face it, you know that’s what most people use the holodeck for. (Something Deep Space Nine would embrace a bit more openly.)
I Believe I Said That: “I’m really quite dull. I fall asleep each night with an old book in my hands.”
“When a metamorph finds you interesting, do not take it lightly.”
“Oh, I’m not taking it lightly. I’m just trying to be as dull as possible.”
—Picard resisting Kamala’s charms.
Welcome Aboard: Our two main guest stars have past and future geek cred—Tim O’Connor (who was Dr. Huer on Buck Rogers in the 25th Century a decade prior to this episode) plays Briam, while Famke Janssen (who will go on to play Jean Grey, opposite Sir Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier, in three X-Men movies a decade after this episode) plays Kamala. Max Grodénchik plays his second of three Ferengi, following Sovak in “Captain’s Holiday,” and prior to his recurring role of Rom on Deep Space Nine (amusingly, Grodénchik has the same prosthetic teeth, with one diagonal snaggletooth, in this episode that he’ll have as Rom). Michael Snyder plays his first of two Ferengi—he’ll return next season as another Ferengi in “Rascals.” Mickey Cottrell is sufficiently slimy as Alrik, and April Grace is back with a new hairdo as Transporter Chief Hubbell.
Trivial Matters: While Briam and Kamala’s homeworld has the same name as the Klingon colony seen in “The Mind’s Eye,” the history of the world we’re provided with is incompatible with the rebellious colony from last season, so it’s probably just an example of a coincidental homonym. Maybe Krios is to the 24th-century Alpha Quadrant what Springfield is to the United States…
Famke Janssen was originally offered the role of the Trill science officer on Deep Space Nine, but she turned the role down. However, when Terry Farrell took the role, they decided not to keep the same makeup used on the Trill in “The Host” for fear of obscuring Farrell’s face; instead the spots used on the Trill moving forward were virtually identical to those used on the Kriosians and Valtese in this episode. (Your humble rewatcher has a character getting Kriosians and Trill mixed up in Articles of the Federation.)
The Kriosian xylophone that is seen on the holodeck, and which Kamala has to teach Picard how to play, is actually a Balinese Gamelan, and Balinese musicians were brought in to provide the soundtrack for that instrument being played.
The Kriosians will be seen again in the Enterprise episode “Precious Cargo.”
Co-scripter Michael Piller originally wanted the episode to end with Picard breaking up the marriage ceremony, only to have a cut reveal it to be Picard’s imagination, and the ceremony goes through as planned. While Sir Patrick Stewart loved the idea, Rick Berman nixed it.
Picard and Crusher sharing breakfast, seen previously in “Qpid,” is established here as a regular thing.
Kamala at one point refers to herself as a mutant, which is much more amusing now, after she’s played the telepathic mutant Jean Grey.
Make it So: “Who I am today, I will be forever.” I really hate this episode. In fact, I hadn’t watched it at all since the first time it aired because it left me seething.
What’s funny is that it wouldn’t have bothered me as an episode of the original series. Hell, in a way, it was an episode of TOS, to wit, “Mudd’s Women.” (Look, there are even horny miners!) But I’d expect a storyline rooted in tiresomely traditional gender roles from a show airing in the late 1960s. Not so much the early 1990s.
The one sop to modernity is Crusher’s tirade at Picard, which wouldn’t be so bad, except the episode pointedly avoids dealing with it, except to assure us over and over again that Kamala’s perfectly okay with being a sex object. And then in the end, her “independence” isn’t to realize that she’s been a tool her entire life, but rather to imprint herself on Picard.
It doesn’t help that Janssen’s performance is incredibly flat. She and Stewart don’t really generate any sparks, and the script calls for Kamala to be far more chameleonic than she actually is.
The entire story is predicated on universal heterosexuality. This episode, even more than “The Outcast”—which was a major flashpoint for TNG’s failure to address homosexuality—is a total missed opportunity. Why don’t Kamala’s superpowers work on women as well? Why is Data the only crewmember who’s safe?
Worst of all, Troi doesn’t appear in this episode. That’s right, an episode that has an empath in it, one who is struggling with her powers, and you don’t have her talk to the empath who’s part of your opening-credits cast? What the hell?
And then to make matters worse, we have the Ferengi at their absolute worst—cackling caricatures whose sole purpose is to put plot points into motion, through methods that don’t even make anything like a lick of sense. (Shouldn’t the cargo bay be locked? Why does Qol need to climb barrels to scan something? Why did the Ferengi try to manhandle someone they want to do business with?)
There are some interesting notions in here about the call of duty versus the call of the heart, but it’s buried under a bunch of twaddle.
Warp factor rating: 2
Keith R.A. DeCandido wants to know how much wood a woodchuck would chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood.