Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Lessons”

Administrative note: There will be no TNG Rewatch on Friday the 23rd of November due to the Thanksgiving holiday. We’ll be back on Tuesday the 27th with “The Chase.”

“Lessons”
Written by Ron Wilkerson & Jean Louise Matthias
Directed by Robert Wiemer
Season 6, Episode 19
Production episode 40276-245
Original air date: April 5, 1993
Stardate: 46693.1

Captain’s Log: Picard, apparently suffering insomnia, shows up on the bridge during the overnight shift. He asks Data to put a call through to an archeology professor, but stellar cartography has requested a communications blackout in order to run an experiment. He soon learns that that department has also taken the library computer and food replicators offline, so Picard can’t look up stuff regarding that archeological dig, nor even get a cuppa tea.

Picard grumpily goes to stellar cartography to find out what the hell they’re doing. His opening the door of the darkened room is apparently enough to screw up the experiment, about which the new head of stellar sciences, Lieutenant Commander Nella Daren, is quite cranky—right up until she realizes that it was the captain who interrupted. She sucks up by giving him the tea he was deprived of—though it’s one of her herbal blends, not Earl Grey—and explaining that they’re trying to construct a mathematical model of an emerging star system. They’re doing it at three in the morning on the theory that nobody would need the library computer or replicator at that hour.

It seems the captain has been charmed by the lieutenant commander—he brings up stellar sciences every chance he gets, goes on and on (and on) about the mathematical model she’s building, and even adds one of her herbal blends to his and Crusher’s evening meal.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Lessons

There’s a concert in Ten-Forward of Chopin’s “Trio in G Minor,” with Data on the violin, Ensign Cheney on the cello, and, to Picard’s surprise and delight, Daren on the piano. Afterward, Picard talks to Daren about a musical choice she made at one point, at which point Daren discovers that Picard is a bit of a musician, and she says they should play some time. (That’s not a double entendre. Probably.)

Daren comes to the bridge to ask Riker for use of a sensor array, but that array’s been allocated to engineering. She pushes, and Riker gently slaps her down, saying that he’ll try to get her some time on it tomorrow. She reluctantly agrees—then goes to Picard’s quarters, carrying a roll of some sort. She sees his Ressikan flute, saying she’s never seen anything like it. Picard simply says that they aren’t made anymore—he also has to think about how to answer Daren’s question of how long he’s been playing. (He settles on “a long time.”)

It turns out that the roll she’s carrying is a flat, flexible piano, and so they start playing Bach’s “Third Brandenburg Concerto.” Picard has a little trouble, as he usually only plays with the computer, not an accompanist. Daren suggests something simpler, and she plays “Frère Jacques.” They start simple, and then she encourages him to improvise around the melody.

Picard is positively giddy—he invites Riker to fence with him (the look of combined fear and amusement on Riker’s face is classic)—while Daren goes to sickbay, having strained her arm playing too much piano. Crusher is surprised to learn that they’ve been playing duets together. (Still not a double entendre. Probably).

That night, they go to the fourth intersect of Jefferies Tube 25, which is also the most acoustically perfect spot on the Enterprise, which Daren demonstrates by playing Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” on the rollout piano. Picard then plays a Kataan folk song, and Daren notices how much more feeling he plays that song with. She then plays the melody on the piano, and he joins her after a measure. The sound echoes down to engineering. When the song is done, they smooch in the Jefferies Tube.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Lessons

Later they talk in the turbolift—until another crewmember enters the lift, at which point, Picard goes stiff and formal, referring to her as “Commander” before departing. Daren is confused and distressed.

Worf reports that the outpost on Bersallis III has detected firestorm activity, eight months ahead of schedule for a Berallian firestorm. (That’s also not a double entendre. Probably.)

After diverting the Enterprise to Bersallis, Picard asks Troi to join him in his ready room—where Troi already knows what he’s going to ask about. “Is it that obvious?” Picard asks in a pained voice, but Troi reassures him that it’s only obvious in a way that pleases people who are glad to see him happy.

However, as a starship captain, his happiness is not the only concern. Picard is worried about the consequences of becoming involved with someone under his command; Troi counters that denying your feelings could also have dire consequences.

That night, after Picard apologizes for his behavior in the turbolift (he’s not used to the crew seeing him as a person), and then tells her where the flute comes from and about his experiences as Kamin in “The Inner Light.”

Daren goes to Riker with a personnel issue, and the first officer quickly realizes that he’s second-guessing himself because of Daren’s relationship with Picard. To his credit, he goes straight to Picard with this issue; to Picard’s credit, he makes it clear that he expects Riker to do his job regardless of who’s sleeping with whom.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Lessons

Picard then gives a similar talk to Daren, making it clear that she should also just do her job. Their dessert is interrupted by Worf—the firestorms on Bersallis have picked up speed, and they need to evacuate. The outpost was designed to withstand normal firestorms, but this one’s twice as strong as anything recorded. The problem is, the Enterprise will arrive one hour before the storm hits, but it’ll take two hours to evac. Daren suggests using thermal deflectors to keep the worst of the storms away while they get everyone out. Riker doles out assignments: Data is in charge of the evac, Crusher’s priority are the patients in the outpost’s infirmary, Marquez (a science officer) will track the storms, and Daren will be in charge of the thermal deflectors. Picard is very unhappy about that last assignment, though he doesn’t say so in front of everyone, only privately to Daren—she reminds him what he himself told her, that they wouldn’t let the relationship get in the way of the work.

The evac goes slowly, and Daren and her teams activate the deflectors—but they need constant manual adjustment to stay cross-connected, which means the team needs to stay on-planet until the colonists are evacuated. Once that’s done, they beam out all but two of the teams—after which the interference from the firestorm prevents transport. Daren is on one of the teams that’s still trapped down there, and they’re unlikely to have survived. Picard is abjectly miserable—until Worf contacts him to say there are survivors being beamed up. Going to the transporter room, Picard is relieved to see that Daren made it out alive.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Lessons

In the end, eight crewmembers died, although all the colonists were successfully evacuated. Daren had to stand there and watch one of her team die. Meanwhile, Picard admits that when he thought she was dead, he shut down, devastated that he would no longer be able to share his music with her. When he saw her in the transporter room, he realized he could never put her in danger again. That leaves them with three choices, two of which ain’t gonna happen: she resigns her commission, he resigns his commission, or one of them leaves the Enterprise. Daren says she’ll put in for a transfer, and they make the usual noises about how they can still see each other some time, even though it’s blindingly obvious to both of them and the viewer that that will never happen.

Can’t We Just Reverse the Polarity?: Daren has experience with putting up levees—er, that is, thermal deflectors to help fend off hurricanes—er, that is, firestorms.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Lessons

Thank You, Counselor Obvious: Troi cuts through the crap when she and Picard are talking and asks if he’s asking for her blessing to date Daren. He asks what she would say if he was, and she smiles and says, “Yes.”

If I Only Had a Brain…: Data is still in charge of the overnight shift, as established in “Data’s Day.”

No Sex, Please, We’re Starfleet: We get musical geekery as foreplay in this episode, as Daren and Picard bond over music, and don’t use terms like “we should play” and “performing duets” as double entendres. Probably.

I Believe I Said That: “Now perhaps you can tell me what was so important that it required depriving the captain of his cup of Earl Grey.”

“Earl Grey? No wonder you can’t sleep.”

Picard looking for answers, and Daren criticizing his choice in beverage.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Lessons

Welcome Aboard: Only one real guest star this week: the magnificent Australian actor Wendy Hughes as Nella Daren. (To me, she’ll always be Dr. Blythe on Homicide: Life on the Street…)

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Lessons

Trivial Matters: We once again see Picard’s Ressikan flute from “The Inner Light,” and he even shares the story of Kataan with Daren. As in “A Fistful of Datas,” Sir Patrick Stewart has learned the proper fingering and breathing for the tin whistle on which the flute is based.

The same cannot be said for Wendy Hughes, who is very obviously not a piano player—most of the shots of her playing are hands-only shots where a double is used or shots where you can’t see her hands. When you can see both hands and face, she’s very obviously not playing.

The piano used in Ten-Forward for the Chopin concert actually belonged to Senior Illustrator/Technical Consultant Rick Sternbach.

Picard sang “Frère Jacques” as a morale booster in “Disaster,” and last played it on the flute in “The Inner Light.”

This is our first time seeing stellar cartography. The Enterprise will have a much fancier SC lab in Star Trek Generations.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Lessons

Make it So: “I can assure you that I am not given to casual relationships.” It’s kind of amusing to see how TNG has evolved at this point. When the show started, Jean-Luc Picard was the cerebral leader who stayed on the bridge while the manly Will Riker went off to have adventures and beat people up and get the girl.

Five seasons later, Sir Patrick Stewart has, through the power of his own awesomeness, made Picard into The Captain, dagnabbit. In the last dozen episodes alone, he’s been changed into a little kid, been captured and tortured, done riffs on both It’s a Wonderful Life and Die Hard, and this week gets his very own romance.

As always with romance-in-an-hour episodes, much of the weight falls on the non-regular-cast-member half of the couple, and TNG’s track record to date has been very much the way Crash Davis described baseball in Bull Durham. Sometimes you win (Suzie Plakson in “The Emissary” and “Reunion,” David Ogden Stiers in “Half a Life”), sometimes you lose (Matt McCoy in “The Price,” Melinda Culea in “The Outcast”), and sometimes it rains (Frank Luz done in by a mediocre script in “The Host”).

Luckily, they cast Wendy Hughes, who is never not wonderful, and who clicks with Stewart pretty much from the moment he walks in on a darkened stellar cartography. It’s also helped by a script that hits all the right notes. (Sorry, couldn’t help myself…) Using “The Inner Light” is a masterstroke, as it provides an emotional core to the episode that the viewer can instantly appreciate. It also fits so perfectly with Picard’s character, because playing the Ressikan flute is something he has, on the one hand, been doing for decades and, on the other hand, is pretty much brand new. Daren is the first person he’s shared his music with.

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch on Tor.com: Lessons

And in the end, it doesn’t last for exactly the reasons Picard feared when he spoke to Troi, but unlike, say, the equally inevitable end to Data’s relationship with D’Soura in “In Theory,” this doesn’t feel contrived or constructed, but natural. It makes perfect sense for Picard to take Troi’s advice and take the shot at happiness—but it also makes perfect sense that he won’t be able to handle putting her in danger again. I do wish TNG wasn’t so rigidly standalone in its episodic structure—I would have much preferred this relationship to play out over several episodes, give it some legs, let Picard really get the chance to explore and enjoy the happiness.

My only other quibble with the episode is the lack of a mention of Jack Crusher. He was Picard’s best friend, and he ordered him to his death, so—to a degree—he’s been through this before, and it would add weight to his final conversation with Daren on the subject, that he would not want to put himself through that again, nor subject himself to what Beverly Crusher suffered.

But that’s minor. This is one of TNG’s best romances and an absolute joy. On top of everything else, it’s a delight if you love music, as we hear some great pieces from Chopin, Bach, and Beethoven, as well as “Frère Jacque” and the Kataan folk song.

 

Warp factor rating: 9


Keith R.A. DeCandido would make a terrible TV character, as he has never fallen in love with and broken up with a person within a single hour.

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