Original air date: April 27, 1992
The warring planets of Krios and Valt Minor, once two halves of one civilization, have finally decided to bury the hatchet and reunite. The Enterprise is to serve as the site for the historic peace treaty signing and reunification ceremony. Kriosian Ambassador Briam boards the ship along with a good bit of cargo, among them a strange glowing egg-like thing. Not too long after, the Enterprise takes on two unexpected guests, a pair of Ferengi rescued from a damaged shuttlecraft.
The two Ferengi don't waste any time making nuisances of themselves; one ambushes Briam just to annoy him and Picard while the other one pokes around the Kriosian cargo. He manages to break open the big egg, and the cargo inside awakens: it's a beautiful young Kriosian woman named Kamala, and she was meant to be in suspended animation until the ceremony began. Oops.
Briam explains the situation to Picard and Company. Kamala is an "empathic metamorph," a naturally-occurring, albeit rare, mutation from the Kriosian genetic norm. Metamorphs have the ability to sense the emotional needs of a potential mate and change themselves to suit those needs. She was intended to be a gift to the Valtese Chancellor Alrik as a token of good faith. It seems the original rift between Krios and Valt was caused by a metamorph so many centuries ago—two brothers fighting over a girl—and the gift of a metamorph is a symbolic gesture to heal the rift.
Picard and Beverly Crusher have a lively debate over the ethics of this arrangement. Beverly is furious, calling the arrangement little more than slavery. Picard hides behind the Prime Directive: this is how an alien culture does things, and a massive civil war hangs in the balance. Besides, Kamala is a mature, intelligent person who knows what she's getting into, so they really don't have any ground to stand on.
Unfortunately things are a little more complicated than that: Kamala is at a very delicate stage in her development, which is why she was kept in stasis. For a metamorph, sexual maturity means emotionally imprinting on a single mate, pair-bonding permanently with them (this was meant to be Alrik). A side-effect of this is that Kamala is awash with pheromones right now, driving any man who comes near her wild with desire. This includes Riker, Worf, and the group of rowdy space miners that have taken over Ten Forward. Realizing the seriousness of this situation, Picard assigns Kamala a chaperone: Data, the one man aboard the Enterprise immune to her charms.
The situation, however, soon escalates: the Ferengi offer to buy Kamala from Briam, but when he refuses, the argument turns physical, and Briam winds up in a coma—leaving Picard with no choice but to take over administering the ceremony himself, with Kamala guiding him through the nuances of Kriosian culture. Working together so closely means trouble, of course. Picard struggles to maintain his Stoic façade and diplomatic detachment while becoming genuinely attracted to Kamala. Kamala, meanwhile, finds herself fascinated by Picard, mainly because he's probably the first man ever to treat her like a person and not a living sex toy.
The day of the ceremony arrives, and Chancellor Alrik meets with the crew. Alrik, it turns out, is a humorless bureaucrat who's more interested in finalizing the details of the treaty than he is in the reunification ceremony. He views the ceremony, including his marriage to Kamala, as a tired formality. He has no interest in her as a person; she's just part of the peace offering. Picard is troubled by this, but then Kamala drops the big one: she has reached sexual maturity, and she has pair-bonded. With Picard.
Not to worry, though. Kamala retains her empathic abilities. She'll still be able to sense Alrik's needs and meet them. He'll never know that she hasn't really bonded with him. Picard tries to stop the whole thing, but she refuses to let him. You see, one of Picard's most attractive qualities to her was his sense of duty and willingness to sacrifice for others. It's what she learned from him as part of the bonding, and it's why she can't back out of the ceremony now. The peace is more important than their happiness.
The ceremony is finished, the peace treaty is finalized, and Ambassador Briam makes a full recovery. Everyone is happy. Well... almost everyone.
Tropes found in "The Perfect Mate" include:
- Actually That's My Assistant:
- When a Ferengi forcibly introduces himself to Ambassador Briam and Captain Picard intervenes, the Ferengi asks if Picard is the man who schedules the Ambassador's appointments.
- Kamala initially assumes Picard is Chancellor Alrik due to his air of authority.
- Altar Diplomacy: Kamala is there as a prized gift to seal the deal with Chancellor Alrik. It turns out that he's not all that interested, though he does seem impressed when he finally meets her.
- Armor-Piercing Question: When Kamala tells Picard that she can become the perfect companion to anyone she's with, Picard asks her who she is when she's alone. Her response is bewilderment; she's never thought of herself as anything more than what others require her to be.
- Aroused by Their Voice: Kamala finds Picard's voice very sexy.
- Becoming the Mask: In a way. Spending so much time in Picard's company means Kamala spends a lot of time embodying what he values in an ideal mate. And she actually likes being that person, enough to want to permanently become her. However she also takes on Picard's sense of Duty, so leaves him to become the wife of a man she doesn't love to ensure peace.Kamala: I only hope he likes Shakespeare.
- Blatant Lies: The (bald) Ferengi caught attempting to steal the metamorph claims he was there by accident while looking for a barber.
- Bodyguard Crush: Assigning Data as Kamala's chaperone is a deliberate plan to subvert this trope. It works, but doesn't prevent all her other admirers from crowding in.
- Bribe Backfire: Briam isn't even slightly tempted by the Ferengi's offer. They assume at first that he feels insulted by them offering a Comically Small Bribe and assure him that it's just a down payment on a much larger bribe, which doesn't help at all.
- Deliberate Values Dissonance:
- The main source of conflict between Picard and Crusher. Arranged marriages for political purposes seem to be perfectly acceptable for the Kriosians. Picard isn't enthused about it, but won't interfere with their cultural practices, as long as all parties agree. Crusher explicitly equates it to slavery.
- And then there's the issue of Kamala herself. She gains fulfillment by becoming what men want her to be, a concept that Picard can't quite accept.
- The Ferengi don't quite understand Briam's "Screw the Money, I Have Rules!" attitude.
- Devoted to You: Kamala is already quite attractive, but she's putting out pheromones that entice every man on the ship that she comes into contact with. Also, because her stasis was interrupted, she can't help but adopt whatever traits a given man finds appealing, which just increases their interest in her.
- Distracted by the Sexy: Every guy near Kamala falls under her spell (save, of course, for Data). Our Starfleet heroes have enough discipline to resist; the miners, on the other hand, don't bother doing so.
- Early-Installment Weirdness:
- The Kriosian body markings were later repurposed as the markings of Trill, who didn't have them in their first appearance.
- The Ferengi are still using gold as currency rather than gold-pressed latinum.
- Gratuitous French: Dr. Crusher drops the common French phrase "coup de grace," though she makes the common mistake of mispronouncing the final word "grah."
- He Knows Too Much: When the Ferengi tell Briam that they have a ship coming for them, he tries to leave so he can report it to Picard; their subsequent attempt to detain him ends up seriously injuring him.
- Head-Turning Beauty: Everyone notices whenever Kamala enters the room.
- I'll Be in My Bunk: Riker, after a close encounter with Kamala, tells the Bridge he'll be spending some time in Holodeck Four. Considering Kamala's effect on people, Holodeck Four's gonna be awfully crowded that week.
- Imprinting: Kamala seems to have initially done this on Picard, thus wanting to be the perfect mate for him. Unfortunately, he has to fight his feelings for her in the name of interstellar diplomacy.
- Jerkass Has a Point:
- Beverly is disgusted that the ambassador ordered Kamala to stay in her room, and Picard agrees that it's unacceptable. After one trip out in public, it becomes very clear how much chaos her very presence could cause on the ship.
- Alrik is seen as unreasonably cold because he's less interested in Kamala than he is in trade agreements and border concessions. Given his position, caring about about the details of a peace treaty that will end decades of war seems pretty damn responsible. Since the marriage primarily impacts him, and he's keeping his focus on the things that will impact his people, he should be seen more as a selfless leader than a cold-hearted jerk.
- Living Aphrodisiac: Kamala is this to just about every male on the Enterprise. Oddly, Picard is this to her; he's so unlike any other man she's met that his uniqueness is intoxicating to her.
- Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Deconstructed. Kamala exists to please her mate and derives all of her satisfaction out of doing so, yet over the course of the episode, she discovers her own needs.
- Meaningful Name: Kamala is based on the Arabic word for "perfection", and her power is to become the perfect mate for the man she will marry.
- No Bisexuals: It's not clear if Kriosian culture even has the concepts of bisexuality or homosexuality, but the people that Kamala works her mojo on are exclusively male. For what it's worth, when considering a chaperone for Kamala, Picard apparently never even considers a woman for the job. Only Data will do.
- Not So Stoic: Plenty to go around when Kamala is present:
- Picard learns this about himself. He's not even sure if he's genuinely attracted to Kamala or if it's just her pheromones working on him... which in itself gives him pause.
- Kamala's enough to make even Worf turn flirtatious, though he's clearly embarrassed about it a moment later.
- Ambassador Briam admits as much at the end of the episode. He says he was selected to accompany Kamala because it was believed that his advanced age would lessen her effect on him. And it did, but he'd be lying if he said he didn't feel anything at all. And he's quite impressed with Picard's self-control...
- Oh, Crap!:
- The miners in Ten Forward don't see Data as a threat (even though he could probably take them all on if necessary), but then Worf walks up and they immediately back down.
- The Ferengi are horrified when they accidentally injure Briam, probably not out of concern for him as much as realizing how badly they've screwed themselves.
- Picard is shocked when Kamala reveals that she's bonded with him instead of Alrik.
- Older than They Look: Ambassador Briam appears to be in his 60s or 70s in human years, but is actually over 200 years old.
- Pygmalion Plot: Unintentionally on Picard's part. He doesn't deliberately shape Kamala into something appealing to him; it's just part of her abilities to do so. And Kamala finds that she likes being Picard's ideal woman: Picard's an intelligent, enlightened male, who doesn't want or need a woman who will cater to his every desire. His ideal woman is his intellectual and emotional equal, and being the equal partner in a relationship like that is something very appealing to Kamala.
- Relationship Sue: Played straight and deconstructed In-Universe. Kamala's superpower is to become this to any man. Which is what draws her to Picard, the first man she's ever met who doesn't want a Relationship Sue.
- The Smurfette Principle: Briam says that a large number of males of his species are metamorphs that automatically shape themselves to the females they interact with, but female metamorphs are exceedingly rare.
- Snipe Hunt: One of the miners tries to get Data away from Kamala by telling him that the replicator's malfunctioning. Data is just about to check it out before realizing that it's a trick and decides to stay put.
- Statuesque Stunner: Played by Famke Janssen, the beautiful Kamala is taller than most of the male cast.
- Styrofoam Rocks: A Ferengi 'struggles' to lift a plastic cargo container that is clearly empty.
- Swiss-Cheese Security: Despite having cargo that's explicitly described as "quite fragile and quite irreplaceable", Worf doesn't seem to have taken the slightest security measures, like posting guards or even locking the door. Which is particularly egregious since there are a number of civilians on board who he has no reason to trust (including two Ferengi who, it turns out, are there specifically to steal it).
- Unexplained Accent: Famke Janssen's Dutch accent is completely different from the two other members of her species we see. To be fair it's reasonable to imagine that interplanetary civilizations might have different accents.