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Retro Review: Lessons

Posted by Michelle - 21/05/10 at 03:05 pm


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Star Trek: The Next Generation

Season: 06 Episode: 19 (s06e19)

Original US airdate: 04/05/1993

Picard falls in love with the new head of stellar cartography, then must send the officer on a mission that puts her life in danger.

Plot Summary: Discovering that many ship’s systems have been taken offline by stellar cartography, Picard visits the lab and introduces himself to the new head of the department, Lieutenant Commander Nella Daren. Picard finds that she is both brilliant and driven as well as musical, which he learns when she plays the piano in Data’s trio. She visits him in his quarters and the two play together – Daren on a portable keyboard, Picard on the Ressikan flute bequeathed to him from his experience with the probe from Kataan. Later Daren takes Picard to the most acoustically resonant spot on the ship, where they play a duet and end up kissing. But afterward, Picard is cool to her around others and tells Troi that he is unsure whether to pursue a relationship with a crewmember under his command. Troi encourages him not to bottle up his feelings. After apologizing to Daren for his previous stuffiness, Picard tells her about his experiences on Kataan and the two become romantically involved. When Riker tells Picard that he feels uncomfortable rejecting Daren’s requests for personnel transfer, Picard says that he should always put the ship’s interests first. When the crew learns that firestorms on Bersallis III are threatening an outpost there, Daren suggests building a firewall of sorts to protect the colonists during an evacuation. LaForge concurs, and since it was Daren’s idea, Riker puts her in charge of the teams setting up the protective perimeter. Because the storm interferes with communications, Daren and her people must calibrate the deflectors manually. Though he knows it will place their lives in danger, Picard orders Daren and her team to remain on the surface. When the storm reaches its peak, he believes she must have died, though later he learns that survivors have been found. Daren beams back last and tells Picard that she understands his decision, but they both agree that they cannot remain lovers while serving on the same ship, and Daren decides to apply for a transfer.

Analysis: “Lessons” seems a much more in-character Picard story to me than the previous week’s “Starship Mine,” yet somehow it still seems like a rush job, with a lot of loose ends the writers hadn’t worked out before they decided it was time the captain had a girlfriend. It’s one thing to give Picard an off-duty fling with someone like Vash, who isn’t going to interfere on a regular basis with his command, or to drag in a former girlfriend like Jenice Manheim for a bit of a Casablanca plot, but when making Picard fall in love over the course of a single episode, there are all sorts of complications. The writers do a pretty good job of making us believe that Picard might fall fast and hard for Daren, who has the intellect and strength of character to attract him and who shares two important interests – music and stellar evolution. Yet there’s a lot of distance between attraction and the decision to become passionately involved, all of which is covered here with only a cursory nod to potential problems, and I don’t mean the possibility that Riker might freak out about having to say no to the captain’s girlfriend’s requests. I mean problems like the fact that we never see Guinan, who is Picard’s sounding board in matters of emotion at least as often as Troi, and who told Riker when Picard had been transformed into Locutus that their relationship was “beyond friendship, beyond family” – strongly implying that Picard had had a romantic relationship already with someone who worked on his ship. I assume the long-lived Guinan isn’t the jealous type, but I’d still think Picard would want to tell her before ship’s gossip let her know that someone who mattered so much to her was head over heels for the head of stellar cartography.

Then there’s the matter of Beverly. The writers deal with the on-again, off-again “Is she the great love of Jean-Luc’s life or isn’t she” question by ignoring it, presenting Dr. Crusher as Picard’s good friend, sometime confidant and casual date for concerts. We get hints that she may be the jealous type from the nuances of Gates McFadden’s performance when Daren tries to pick Crusher’s brain in sickbay and Crusher warns that the captain is a very private person; we’ve already seen in this episode that he’s much less private with Crusher, though I gather he’s never played his flute for her. But we see no evidence of the man whom we have hints all along carries both a torch for and guilt about his best friend’s widow, let alone the woman who often turns to Picard in times of crisis and starts to say, “Jean-Luc, I have something to tell you…” I’ve never been a big Picard/Crusher fan and if I ever had been, I suspect the marriage-and-divorce alternate timeline of the series finale would have killed it for me, but as a survivor of seven disastrous years of Trek writers teasing us with Janeway/Chakotay, then making a mockery of both characters in tossing that aside, I have a lot of sympathy for people who think P/C deserved a much stronger presentation than it ever got. Picard’s issues with sending Daren into the line of fire must remind him of what happened when he did the same with Jack Crusher, or with Tasha Yar for that matter, despite the fact that there was no romantic interest between them. Since it’s treated a novel experience for him with Daren, it feels rather paternalistic and condescending – after all, he’s sent Beverly into potentially deadly situations before many times and she never flinched, which makes her seem far more deserving than Daren of Picard’s affections.

Since “Lessons” is entirely about Picard’s love life, with the firestorms serving as a plot contrivance to put Daren in danger rather than an actual sci-fi concept to explore, there’s really not a lot to analyze besides the crewmembers and their reactions. Whether one loves or hates this episode is going to hang on how one feels about the way the characters respond to this situation. Data, Worf and LaForge act the way they always do, performing their duties and not sticking their heads into the captain’s private business except when they have to do things like interrupt a date to tell him there’s a potential emergency on Bersallis III. Troi has a lovely moment advising Picard that denying his feelings can have consequences just as damaging as acting on them – we’ve really seen this season how much she’s become his personal counselor, not someone he treats as an underling. Riker, on the other hand, seems completely out of character – I have no trouble believing that he’d feel uncomfortable if someone he knew was involved with the captain started making demands, but I’d think he’d bring it up more in terms of knowing that Picard trusted her judgment, not acting more jealous than Beverly that the captain’s been confiding in someone else. There’s an element of “You think you’re so great, fine, YOU lead the dangerous mission!” when he chooses Daren to head the perimeter teams, which makes it particularly icky when Picard then has to order her to remain on the surface and risk death; she tells Picard she doesn’t blame him, which is understandable since she knew he had to save face in front of Riker after Riker’s little scene.

“Lessons” could have used a B plot of substance or at least more attention to the science fiction elements – the firestorm looks great but don’t ask me what causes it, nor why there’s an outpost nearby – though that would have left even less time to convince us that Picard has true feelings for Daren and to develop her sufficiently as a character that we appreciate her on her own merits. Picard’s suggestion that she leave Starfleet to stay with him is met by her suggestion that he could resign his commission just as easily, but of course Picard would never consider doing that merely for love, so it’s just as well that she won’t, either. Still, the Enterprise is the Starfleet flagship; giving up a post there must be a difficult step for a stellar cartographer, a step in the wrong direction. It’s a shame that both the writers and Picard are so nervous that they have to write Daren off the show as soon as they’ve let us see her mettle. Anyone who could hang on through those firestorms could weather some tough situations with a lover who’s also the captain, and I’m betting she’d have no problem throwing herself into her work if he chose to keep having tranquil breakfasts with Beverly instead of sharing meals with her. They could, at least, have kept making music together.

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