Given that this episode has a guest actor from the early part of the X-Men film franchise -and of course Patrick Stewart- I was thinking I could do a sort of X-Men/TNG crossover thing. But this episode was so enraging that I just don't feel like being flippant.
The Enterprise is hosting a ceremony to end a centuries-long war and transporting an Ambassador, business as usual. He has a gift with special storage requirements, but he didn't tell the Enterprise about this before he came aboard.* Meanwhile 2 Ferengi are beamed aboard as their ship explodes. Despite the general distrust and dislike of Ferengi they have freedom of the ship, just like every other unexpected visitor. One accosts the Ambassador to talk about trade while the other sneaks into the cargo bay where the Amabassdor's golden egg gift-thing is precariously balanced on lasers.* Picard and the Ambassador walk into the cargo bay as the Ferengi topples the egg, which dissolves to reveal a beautiful woman. She greets Picard as the Leader of the opposing nation. Picard angrily asks for an explanation, he and Riker are appalled by having their ship used for person traffiking. It's explained that the woman isn't property but a gift (so, property). She says she's a very rare, empathetic metamorph who adapts her personality to please the desires of whichever man she's around. When she reaches maturity (or something, cos she looks pretty grown to me) she will bond to a single man and become his perfect mate. Her being given to the Leader of the other side has been planned since her birth and has great cultural significance. Picard tells Riker to escort her to quarters, seems like a bad plan. And it is, she explains to Riker that she's giving off lots of pheromones**, then she kisses him twice before he hastily leaves for alone time in a holodeck.
Crusher admonishes Picard for allowing trafficking, he points out the Prime Directive stops him from intervening if Fantasy-Gift-Woman says she's doing this of her own accord, though he's clearly not comfortable with his argument. Crusher makes many good points and says Fantasy-Gift-Woman is imprisoned by the Ambassador. Picard visits Fantasy-Gift-Woman and is uncomfortable with the way she behaves; seduction is as natural to her as breathing, yet Picard is curious about her as a person. Picard insists she be allowed out, and despite the Ambassador's objections Data takes her to 10 Forward where she's pleased by the attention of some miners and there's a brawl.
Picard talks to Fantasy-Gift-Woman about her situation suggesting she should remain in her quarters after all (hmm, so it's OK if he's the one imprisoning her). She's fascinated by Picard who tries to present himself as dull, but as she points out part of him must want her interest or she wouldn't be interested (this is really the clue that it's all her programming). Meanwhile the Ferengi accost the Ambassador to buy the metamorph, he refuses their bribes, things get a bit rough and the Amabassador is knocked unconscious. This means Picard needs to work on the ceremony with Fantasy-Gift-Woman as he has the most authority and she has all the info. Picard and Fantasy-Gift-Woman talk about themselves a bit, even though Picard tries to keep it all business. She thought about his questions (having never metanyone who didn't treat her like a commodity before) and she's decided that she is destined to be the Leader's mate, but meeting Picard has intrigued her.
The Leader arrives, he's more interested in trade agreements than Fantasy-Gift-Woman. It seems like he's not interested in women, or maybe he's not interested in this particular arrangement, it doesn't seem to have the weight in his culture that it does in hers. I think he's supposed to seem unpleasant, the focus on trade is reminiscent of the Ferengi maybe, but he's focusing on the practical matters that will come from peace, not the Fantasy-Gift-Woman he didn't actually ask for and has never met. Fantasy-Gift-Woman asks Picard what her inteded is like and he tries to be diplmatic. She says she craves the Captain's company, but that's the kind of thing a woman designed to fulfil fantasies would say.
Picard unloads to Beverly about the situation, knowing he's gotten involved in something he shouldn't have, but not fully regrettng it. He knows she's different with anyone else, but wishes it didn't have to be that way. Crusher provides a sympathetic ear, which is a different energy from before. As Picard is going to give Fantasy-Gift-Woman away she tells him that she's bonded to him and the person she is with him is the person she will always be (so avoidable), but because he's all about duty so is she now. To do her duty she will go through with the gift-giving cermony and as an empath she'll still be able to please Leader. Picard watches sadly as the gift-giving ceremony happens.
Famke Janssen as Kamala (aka Fantasy-Gift-Woman)***
She played Jean Grey in the first 3 X-Men films, alongside Patrick Stewart as Professor X (though of course that was a while after TNG finished filming). In this episode the character even says mutant to describe herself early on, so it's annoying to me that I can't focus on that more.
Max Godenchik as a Ferengi (Par Lenor)
He will later play Rom on Deep Space Nine, which is confusing because Rom is fairly nice and this guy is a jerk, as all Ferengi on TNG are.
Oh Captain My Captain
|My X-Men idea might've ended up a bit creepy|
Picard keeps protesting that he finds the set up bad, and yet he's enjoying her attention and keeps coming back even though he knows it's nonsense. He might be able to do more (not like he hasn't ignored the Prime Directive in the past) and if he can't surely he should completely stay out of it. The episode praises Picard for his restraint, it's meant to be a sign of the good, intellectual man who may feel strongly but will not act out of line, except he keeps coming back. Additionally, I know we're supposed to feel sad for Picard and/or Gift-Lady, but how likely is it that she's actually in love with him? She's designed/bred/trained to please those around her, so of course she makes Picard feel desired and also dutiful. Of course she would tell him she loves him and he's had the most profound affect on her that any man could, telling people what they want to hear is her entire function. He feels like he's bravely sacrificing his own feelings for a nobler purpose, without any chance of having to make a comitment or disrupt his life in any way. For a life-long bachelor who's committed to hs job but is still a bit of a romantic that seems, well... perfect.
Riker: he has a beard you know
Riker sleeps with ladies quite a bit, and he has facial hair (which is not affectation[link]) and this makes him manly or something, so of course he's going to get a bit of action. While I will generally argue that Riker is a pretty sex-positive, woman-friendly ladies man (and pretty progressive for the time of the show) there are times when the show falls back on stereotypes and he's not so great. This is one of those times. I suppose the show could be emphasising the power of Fantasy-Gift-Woman's Sexy-Magic by showing that it overcomes Riker's restraint, but it's not clear enough that that's what's happening. Also, based on the premise as stated, she only kisses Riker cos he wants her to.
I think we all know what Riker is going to the holodeck to do, and that is a shared space, so ew gross! I hope those things are self-cleaning. I guess they must be.
Does Not Compute
Data is a bad chaperone. He really needs to work on developing the disapproving manner and authority of a posh old aunt who views the world with moral absolutes. Also Kamala may be the only person not charmed by him, she doesn't seem interested in him at all, possibly because he wants nothing from her. I feel like people often project their own stuff on to Data, and Kamala is a being made of people's projections, so possibly he's just null to her. That's something interesting that could've been explored.
Beverly is only one speaking any sense here, she should be listened to. I'm just gonna quote the good
"She has been conditioned since the day she was born to believe it's perfectly acceptable to exist only to please men. ... And bred by those people to seal a treaty with a seductive coup de grace."
Much though I like the words here (and I do!) I feel like it doesn't go far enough, I would have preferred if Beverley had taken some action. Maybe she could have chaperoned (she does disapproval so much better than Data) or offered support and company to Kamala directly. Of course Beverley trusts Picard and probably never assumed he'd get involved the way he did; she was highlighting an injustice to friend who could do something about it. She's a sympathetic ear about his feelings later, but I wonder if she shouldn't have busted his chops more about getting entangled in something she considers to be slavery.
Future is Better?
-This whole set up is very heteronormative. Fantasy Gift Woman's powers are only ever mentioned as working on men. There appears to be no consideration of the fact that some men aren't attracted to women. Or that people who aren't men are attracted to women. Do her powers work on everyone? Do they manifest in any way besides romantic/sexual? What happens when a woman is near her? There don't seem to be 2 women on screen together once in this episode, so I guess we never know. What about an asexual person? Honestly there were so many more interesting things to do here than straight male fantasy made flesh.
-Arranged marriage is mentioned by Picard (Troi did almost have one a while back), but this is more transactional and preceeded by conditioning/grooming. (Why do terms for something so unpleasant sound like hair care?) I mean she's literally trained in sex (alongside music, history, literature and art), and has never been presented with another option her whole life. Also no one ever says wife or spouse, so to me this feels like concubinage. She says partner once, but the main word is mate (and I dont think it's meant in the British/Australian sense).
-There are miners in 10 Forward for some reason. They start a mass brawl under the infulence of Sexy-Magic. There needed to be some unexpected manual labourers around to act in an uncouth manner, because of course the educated and morally upstanding crew of the Enterprise would not behave in such a manner (apart from that time everyone was super angry, but that wasn't about sex). Basically lower class people ain't no good, and if you need proof see the Ferengi.
-Male metamorphs are mentioned as being common, and I have to know what the deal is there. Are they perfect mates to (presumably) women? Do they change themselves entirely to meet the whims/personality/desires their partners? Honestly that's more interesting, why don't we see that? Oh right yeah, male gaze and assumed gender/sexuality of the audience.
Ambassador is awake now. He's curious how Picard could resists Kamala, he was chosen for the mission because he's old**** but even he felt something. Picard pretends he didn't hear the question and sends the Amabassador on his way.
* This is a failure of communication and storage. If the Ambassador had special storage requirements and needed the cargo bay to be guarded, those arrangements should have been seen to before he boarded the Enterprise. Also, why is Kamala even in a floating, golden egg precariously balanced on 3 laser supports? If they want to conceal that she's a person surely there are safer, less flashy ways to transport her. I think hiding people among freight is common for a reason, and probably easy if you're only smuggling one person.
** Pheromones don't work that way! There's no evidence humans even have pheromones. If they do the only thing close to human pheromones is a new born's instinctive reaction to human milk (not so sexy now, eh. And yet that's the only context pheromones are referenced on TV). There's no evidence of a human sex pheromone, and if it does exist it certainly doesn't work at a distance. Additionally, pheromones don't work between species, so the chances Kamala's biochemistry would any effect -much less this effect- on anyone of a different species is unlikely. Just say she's a magic sex lady who'll be whatever you want and have done with it!
*** I debated with myself whether to call Kamala by her name rather than use my usual one-episode character epithets. It initially felt disrespectful to not use the character's name and describe what she is, but it occurred to me that that was only because the role she has is so troubling. Additionally, she's not a real person she's a character purposefully dreamed up to be a straight male fantasy, so hey why not call a spade a spade?
**** It feels both insulting and staggeringly inaccurate to assume that age makes people (especially men) somehow sexually neutral.