From time to time, and when I actually get out of bed at the first call of my alarm clock, I like to take in half an episode of Star Trek The Next Generation before going to work. Assuming I have my wits about me at 8am, I’ll then tweet a tongue-in-cheek summary of the episode under the hashtag #morningtrek. This week’s offerings contained an episode so out of place that it almost makes the one where the black man steals the white woman from the Enterprise look good. I refer to Season 5, Episode 21, The Perfect Mate. If ever there was a Trek episode that screams, “This was written while we were taking a shit and also coming up with new ways to make the future extra creepy,” then surely it is The Perfect Mate.
We begin with the Enterprise on a diplomatic mission to fulfill an arranged marriage between two feuding planets. Is anybody else curious why Starfleet keeps wasting its time with these non-Federation planets, seemingly capable of warp travel but absent so much as a single space taxi to move person A to planet B?
Bumbling from random Ferengi introduces the audience to Kamala (Famke Janssen), the episode’s eponymous perfect mate. After emerging from stasis, Kamala takes a knee, mistaking Captain Picard for her arranged husband, and promptly utters the line, “I am for you Alrik of Valt.” Creepy.
From there we learn that Kamala is special kind of psychic who has the power to change her personality to suit the sexual and emotional proclivities of whatever man is nearest. Seriously? We’ve gone from the Dohlman of Elas to Jean Grey alternately pouting, growling, and generally throwing herself at whatever man happens to come her way? It’s not often that TNG manages to look retrograde compared to TOS.
What’s particularly unsettling is the way in which Picard uses the Prime Directive to rationalize all this weirdness. Dr. Crusher quite rightly points out that it is morally dubious to be ferrying around a woman just so she can reinvent herself to suit the whims of a would-be husband. Picard shrugs off Beverly’s criticisms, invoking his usual stand-by of, “it’s not our place to impose our moral values on another culture.”
Okay, fair point. Except there’s a difference between respecting other cultures and enabling the practices of said cultures when their customs would likely be verboten under Federation law. Case in point: Kamala admits to Picard that the government of her planet took her from her mother when she was identified as a psychic. She was then trained in all manner of things, including sex, required of Alrik of Valt’s eventual bride. Correct me if I’m wrong, but such a practice is surely an affront to the guiding principles of the Federation. Season 2’s Measure of a Man demonstrated that the freedom to choose is a fundamental right within the Federation.
Yet within The Perfect Mate Picard only questions the subversion of individual rights aboard his ship when he develops a personal attachment for Kamala. These actions hardly seem in keeping with a man who previously argued for autonomy and self-determination as the cornerstone of the Federation. Where’s the oratory? Where’s discourse on inalienable rights? Where’s the angry call to Starfleet demanding that the Enterprise have no part in an action which makes a hollow mockery of the Federation’s principles? This episode is little more than a milquetoast caricature of TOS’s Elaan of Troyius. At least the former had the good sense to make Elann defiant toward her duties and resentful of a political system that used person as a bargaining chit. This episode presents Kamala as ultimately subservient, trained and conditioned to become whatever a man might desire. I can’t wait for the day when I’m a TV writer and I get to inject all my mundane sexual fetishes into the script.
The only good thing to come out of the episode is Commander Riker paving the way for Adam Baldwin’s seminal line from Firefly, “I’ll be in my bunk.” The internet may be for porn, but the holodeck is for fapping.