Sunday, August 2, 2015

“Love the one you're with”: The Perfect Mate

It's fuck-awful. It's “Elaan of Troyius” again. Famke Janssen, who would appear alongside Patrick Stewart again in the X-Men movies, was also Rick Berman and Michael Piller's first choice to play Jadzia Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, but she turned them down fearing she'd grow complacent as an actor despite the opportunity. Even so, Janssen is herself responsible for redefining the Trill as we will soon know them, as it's the spots on Kamala's neck that will go on to be Jadzia's signature look once the production team realised giving Terry Farrell Odan's headpiece from “The Host” would be a crime against humanity (much like the rest of “The Host”) and Rick Berman told Michael Westmore “just give her spots like we gave Famke”. Speaking of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Max Grodénchik plays a Ferengi in this episode, and he too will get cast on that show next year as Rom.

I have now exhausted literally all of the erudition it is possible to glean from “The Perfect Mate”.

Because I have an essay's worth of space to fill, however, I need to think of something to talk about. One solution might be to talk about Jadzia Dax, given how many links to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and her character in particular there are this week. There is an earnest danger in doing that, however: At the very least ever since I spent the bulk of “Ensign Ro” talking about the world-building that episode puts in place instead of the episode itself, which I now consider to be a catastrophic mistake on my part, I've sensed a overwhelming, and perhaps inevitable, desire to move on to the fourth Star Trek as quickly as possible. This is a bit heartbreaking for me though, because as much as I adore the show we're about to see in less than a year's time, it's Star Trek: The Next Generation that's my first and debatably still my greatest love, and I don't want its legacy on Vaka Rangi to be entirely one of missed opportunities and unfulfilled potential.

I grant there's a great deal of that, however. A whole bunch more than I remember, in fact. This season in particular is unbelievably more rocky than my memory affords it (though not as much as the fourth season). Ironically, it's the much-maligned first season that's still standing out as the strongest and most consistently solid and on-target, even though this one has had a higher percentage of my favourite episodes and season six is looking pretty damn excellent from where I sit now. Star Trek: The Next Generation may not be the soundest and most put-together show with the strongest sense of identity, ethics and storytelling technique this blog has looked at, but I'd definitely say it's the third (since you're going to ask, or at least wonder, the first two for my money are Original Dirty Pair and Miami Vice, respectively). And like I've tried to stress, Star Trek: The Next Generation is a tough, tough gig: Leaving aside the greenhorns and staff fanboys for the moment, this show has a history of tripping up even the most talented and hardened writing vets. When scribes of the stock and calibre of Michael Piller, Maurice Hurley, Melinda Snodgrass and Jeri Taylor struggle to wrap their heads around what precisely this show necessitates, that does say something. And what it says is that Star Trek: The Next Generation is a one-in-a-million kind of series.

So with all that off my chest, what am I going to do? Talk about Jadzia Dax a bit. I know. Life is full of contradictions. My Star Trek: Deep Space Nine coverage is going to be a a little unorthodox, or at least the things I'll be focusing on are not what people maybe expect me to focus on. One of the things I'm going to be focusing on in particular is that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine should not be seen as a sequel or correction to Star Trek: The Next Generation (which is the way a lot of people, including, I think, the creative team, have traditionally viewed it), but rather as a sister show that *compliments* it. So because I've got a specific, and somewhat lateral, direction I want to go with Jadzia in particular, I thought it would be a good idea to talk a bit here about what what her basic narrative role is. Because while the writing staff will overwhelmingly say they prefer writing for the Deep Space Nine characters than the Next Generation ones for reasons that can be more or less boiled down to “ZOMG teh conflict”, nobody ever really gets a solid handle on Jadzia, or rather they seem to deliberately ignore some underdeveloped, though plainly evident, aspects of her character that were present in her from the beginning. And that makes her interesting to me.

(OK, one person pegged her from the very beginning. And yes, it's the person some of you particularly perceptive longterm readers might have guessed it is.)

So the, admittedly strangled, reason I can justify bringing this up now is because Kamala is in some ways the rough draft of Jadzia. I mean...strip away the blatant repugnant sexism (fuck's sake here's a culture that literally gives women away as trophies) and you can at least sort of see it, can't you? I mean Kamala after she imprints on Captain Picard, not the fact she imprints like a fucking gosling in the first place. The important thing is that Kamala becomes a cultured diplomat, poet and explorer who doesn't necessarily look or act the way you might expect someone like that to. She's a philosophical interlocutor (a bad one, mind, she's certainly not Guinan, but cut me some slack here). She's a lot like Captain Picard, just not as stodgy and dull as some more unsympathetic readings of his character would label him. She's also a very serene, content character, but that doesn't mean she doesn't still enjoy life and all it has to offer-A compelling argument that someone allegedly so “perfect” and “flawless” (really just code for “not a cartoonish emotional wreck of a human being because that's apparently all people like to watch stories about”) need not be boring or untenable as a character.

This, uh, isn't working, is it?

Alright, well consider the counterfactual. What might Star Trek: Deep Space Nine have looked like had Famke Janssen accepted Berman and Piller's offer to play Jadzia Dax instead of Terry Farrell? I mean as weird as it is for me to think of my favourite Star Trek character (honestly it really is down to her or Geordi) played by anyone other than Farrell, that possibility was certainly there. I want to say Famke would have played up Jadzia's elegance and poise a bit more than Terry Farrell did: Farrell's Jadzia ended up in a very bawdy, rough-and-tumble place that's as much to do with the writers not quite knowing how to balance the myriad facets to her personality as it did to the fact Terry Farrell is a very brash and dominating personality. Then again, Famke Janssen could certainly be that way too, and you wouldn't accuse Jean Grey of being wistful and resigning. What it comes down to, I think, is that the characterization later creative teams eventually settle on for Jadzia is “basically Curzon but a girl”, and that's not really how I see her. It's possible Famke could have driven a bit more nuance out of the character than that-Not to diss Farrell, of course, who I obviously adore, but simply for the fact her presence might have teased different material out of the writers. Of course the danger in this situation would be in making Jadzia a carbon copy of Kamala, given the fact she would have been played by the same actor in essentially the same makeup.

But regardless, the fact remains that in an alternate universe, Jadzia Dax met Captain Picard. I'm going to go think some more about that universe instead of the one where “The Perfect Mate” exists, if you don't mind.


  1. Actually I always found Perfect Mate to be a good deal worse than Elaan of Troyius. At least that one gave the female trophy wife the veneer of her own sense of agency and disapproval of the whole affair. Sure, by playing up tropish pulp "warrior woman" stubbornness cliches, but still.

    This was always at least memorable for Jansen's deftness with the material, as bad as it is. And I think we're in for a LOT of that this season. It is indeed rocky and unfocused. With each passing season, TNG has gotten less focused and had more ups and downs. But admittedly, by the latter half the quality of guest actors was often so good that they made pretty bad scripts watchable.

    I do want to give a slight (ever so slight) redemptive reading here, if only because the blatant and brutal sexist dilemma at the heart of this episode is you know ... what the Enterprise crew are facing. That there is this kind of thing in the wide, wide galaxy. They're careful never to depict the initial transactional crap as having anything to do with the crew, merely that they're also affected somewhat by Kamala's extrasensory vim. As soon as they find out what's going on they quickly react negatively to it. It's somewhat obviously the space miners in Ten-Forward who act like complete idiots. This episode isn't a great example of it, and it's a little TOS and a little moral-of-the-day and a little inorganic, but it is part of Trek's makeup to have our crew encounter alien cultures that are engaging in the retrograde practices of the day and to have to deal with that with utopian ethics.

    That's all the redemptive reading I have though - that I'm not offended by the fact that other cultures in Star Trek that the Enterprise might encounter are somewhat heinous. But seriously, when latter day Ferengi sex & gender politics episodes seem nuanced and organic by comparison, we're not breaking much ground.

  2. Horrible episode.

    Not much more to say!

    (I am not having as much time to comment as I catch up on essays, but really enjoying the current run)