the story: Picard inadvertently bonds with an intended bride.
similar to: "Precious Cargo" (Enterprise)
my thoughts: Most people familiar with Star Trek at all will know Captain Kirk and his legendary womanizing ways. Now, fast-forward to Next Generation and the Kirk figure is Riker, so it would be logical for an episode like "The Perfect Mate" to center around him. But it doesn't. The focus, instead, is one Picard.
Long identified as Kirk's opposite number, Picard became so identified with Next Generation, and the later adventures of Star Trek, that he achieved the impossible, which was to hold equal footing with Kirk in the eyes of fans and the greater culture in general. His more cerebral approach often meant there was little room for love, so when there was room, it was sure to be notable, as it had been in "Captain's Holiday"/"Qpid" before "Perfect Mate." In fact, a Picard romance seems to be an instant recipe for a Star Trek classic, because that's exactly what "The Perfect Mate" is.
As a character study, the episode neatly sums up why it's so difficult for Picard to find love, because there are so many boxes to tick in potential candidates. It's not surprising that the most enduring relationship Picard ends up having is with Crusher, whom he's know for most of his life, because short of that, it's a near-impossible task. Yet "Perfect Mate" finds one all the same, an empathy (makes you wonder what Picard really thought of Troi all those years) who is capable of adapting herself to any companion, because she's spent all her life training to meet the needs of her eventual suitor.
The situation is a pretty complicated one, a franchise trope where two warring factions will finally bury the hatchet, but under a tricky agreement. Historically, this kind of war bride is as much of a tradition as it is horrible for modern minds to contemplate. Yet the loss of love is one of the main themes of the episode, and its ending is heartbreaking for it, not just because of what is once again denied Picard, but his potential partner, too.
I don't often talk about the actors in these commentaries, but it's worth noting that "Perfect Mate" features Famke Janssen, who would later co-star with Patrick Stewart in the X-Men movies, and is one of a handful of Star Trek guest-stars who went on to much greater fame later (most of them seem to be women: Teri Hatcher and Kirsten Dunst, from Next Generation alone, for example).
criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)