Thursday, June 30, 2011

"The Perfect Mate:" Sometimes Even Picard Has A Chance At Romance!

The Good: Nice acting, Great character development, Pacing and mood, Ending
The Bad: Simple plot, Unimpressive costuming, Never followed up on.
The Basics: When a woman with extraordinary powers of seduction visits the Enterprise, the men turn to jelly and she turns to Picard . . . in "The Perfect Mate!"

There are few episodes of Star Trek The Next Generation that could be described as "bold." And this isn't one, either. I'm not sure why I started that way, maybe I wanted a hook. But controversial? There are controversial episodes of the series and the resolution to "The Perfect Mate" is something fans of the series still debate. It's too bad the series never had a chance to revisit the threads left in the wake of this piece. There is enough in "The Perfect Mate" to have made a compelling and interesting Star Trek The Next Generation romance movie, but odds are that will not happen now.

When the Enterprise is transporting an ambassador and his cargo to a peace mission, they do the humanitarian thing and rescue a Ferengi ship in distress. The Ferengi soon become more of a problem than they are worth when they disrupt the ambassador's cargo and release an individual from stasis. Her name is Kamala and she is an empathic metamorph, a life form that can read the thoughts of others for a limited time until she bonds with her permanent mate. She is to be married to a planetary leader to seal a peace negotiation. Unfortunately, her flirtatious ways get her in trouble on the Enterprise and she finds herself attracted to Picard as her time of bonding draws closer and closer. Unfortunately for Picard, who does his best to resist her charms, the Ferengi inadvertently wound Kamala's aged mentor and Picard must guide her through the ceremony that will bring peace between two worlds.

Here is a chance to see Picard's fine moral code come into play. He is, in every sense, a gentleman. Given that, he has the desire to respect Kamala's commitment balanced with the idea of trading a sentient life form for peace, using a person to seal a deal. Moreover, Picard is conflicted in that he is seriously attracted to Kamala, but recognizes that she is set to be married to another man. He has an ethical issue and in "The Perfect Mate," even Picard discovers there are no easy answers to the problem.

The ethical issue brilliantly pits the desires of one person against the fate of millions. The conflict Kamala is being used to end in some ways trumps the desires of both Picard and Kamala. The ethical issues are complicated by the indifference the husband-to-be shows in relation to Kamala. The issue becomes is the happiness of two people worth the lives of millions? And is it ethical to sacrifice the happiness of an adult to commit them to service as a bargaining tool? "The Perfect Mate" makes the issue less black and white than our presumptions would like them to be.

But, the plot is simple: woman is to be married off, the Enterprise needs to get her there. It's unsophisticated and does not try to be more than that, with the exception of forcing Picard to finish the negotiations when the Ferengi wound the ambassador who was to deliver Kamala to her husband in the neighboring system. On a similar disappointing note, the costuming of Kamala was less impressive than it could have been, especially her wedding dress. While her daily costume is at least titillating, her wedding dress is dull, traditional and unflattering.

And it's on a figure that is meant to be flattered: Kamala is played by Famke Janssen, who many people know from X-Men (reviewed here!). Janssen's first U.S. acting role, according to the extras in the DVD set, was in "The Perfect Mate." She acquits herself well doing a great deal at being a lot more than simply a fine - if unrealistic - figure to look at. Janssen creates Kamala as a cultured, intelligent and refined woman who it's easy to see why she would be desired by Picard. Janssen has a great ability to change her facial expressions and body language in the scenes prior to the Captain becoming involved that clearly illustrate her character's chameleon ability to become attractive to anyone.

Part of what makes "The Perfect Mate" so appealing is that it is both intelligent and clever. So, for those who want something simple, there are amusing factors like Data (the android) being Kamala's chaperon around the Enterprise. For those who want substance and something to ponder, there is the question of what the right thing for Picard to do is. Therefore, this episode may have broad appeal to many different types of people.

Famke Jansen is not the only actor worth noting in this episode. While Max Grodenchik, who plays Par Lenor here, helps define the Ferengi wonderfully in such a way that it becomes clear why he was cast as Rom on Star Trek Deep Space Nine, a great deal of credit must be given to Patrick Stewart. Stewart does an excellent job of using his facial expressions and body language to complement his wry tone and awkward silences to enhance the feeling that there is a real dilemma in this episode. Stewart sells us on the problem of staying away from Kamala vs. giving her some companionship which she explicitly needs. He does a great job, as well, of seeming completely surprised when he is supposed to, by some of the things Kamala says. There's a very organic sense of realism to Stewart's acting in "The Perfect Mate."

In the end, "The Perfect Mate" could easily have been an episode that just died because of a simple plot. Instead, it keeps the pace fresh with a great balance of humor, conflict and romantic intrigue. There's the sense that "The Perfect Mate" could be a setup episode for a future relationship, but alas, some doors on Star Trek The Next Generation were never opened. While I can certainly respect that, every episode that follows this one that was simply a bad episode - be it off paced, poorly plotted, or lacking in superior acting - I thought could have been replaced with a clever sequel to this one.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Fifth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the fifth season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek episode reviews, please be sure to visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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