Jammer's Review

Star Trek: The Next Generation

"Lessons"

***

Air date: 4/5/1993
Written by Ronald Wilkerson & Jean Louise Matthias
Directed by Robert Wiemer

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

Picard meets the ship's new head of stellar science, Lt. Commander Nella Daren (Wendy Hughes), a smart, strong-willed woman and talented piano player, and he slowly learns that he enjoys spending time with her. They have deep conversations. They enjoy playing music together. Picard realizes he might want to have a real relationship with this woman — a member of the crew — which is not something he takes lightly. He tiptoes around it for a while before realizing that it might be something he wants to seriously pursue.

"Lessons" succeeds where so many TNG would-be romances have failed because it considers the romance as a serious and realistic piece of business and not as a hopelessly arbitrary and unconvincing afterthought of the plot ("Aquiel," "Birthright, Part II"). Here is the Starfleet equivalent of an office romance; Picard and Daren must proceed cautiously, because he's the captain, she is a member of his crew, appearances matter, and there are plenty of people who could potentially be made uncomfortable with the situation, even if no one does anything wrong. (Riker has such a moment where he questions whether his objectivity is being affected with regard to Daren in light of her relationship with Picard.)

Also important is how the story spends the necessary time setting up the relationship to give it legitimacy. Daren and Picard share an interest in music, which leads to a number of nice scenes featuring classical music, including one in the ship's most acoustically perfect location. The music lessons take on even more meaning when Picard explains to Daren the story behind the flute he plays, which serves as a welcome callback to "The Inner Light" and lends a lot of credence to the story's emotional center.

Ultimately, this story's lesson covers familiar territory similarly mined in "The Perfect Mate" — Picard cannot avoid a life of solitude because he will always have to choose duty over companionship. This theme reveals itself in the closing acts, where a crisis arises and Daren must be sent on a dangerous mission where she nearly perishes, forcing them both to confront the reality they both probably knew was already there. Naturally, Picard is not about to stop being the captain of the Enterprise, and TNG is not about to take on a permanent girlfriend for him. But "Lessons" presents a one-off romance with solid execution, believable situations, good performances from Wendy Hughes and (naturally) Patrick Stewart, and a genuine emotional core.

Previous episode: Starship Mine
Next episode: The Chase

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35 comments on this review

Paul - Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - 10:31am (USA Central)
I liked this episode, but I think it's another example of where TNG started to run out of steam. So many of the episodes in the sixth and seventh seasons revolve around Picard -- and not just Picard making decisions, but Picard in action. That was something that rarely happened in the first five seasons. Patrick Stewart is the best actor in the cast, so he can usually carry episodes. But TNG becomes more Picard/Data focused to its detriment in the later seasons (and movies).

Peter H - Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - 12:53pm (USA Central)
I've always liked this one, but unfortunately it's hamstrung from the very start by the need for a "reset". This is where Star Trek in all its forms falls short by not really having week-to-week consequences. That said, it's still a solid package of an episode and well told. I do love the reference to the Inner Light for the very reason that it goes against what I've come to expect from series continuity; the events of that episode would have had such an impact on Picard's life that to ignore completely it would be a betrayal of what had come before (I'm looking at you DS9 Hard Time and VOY Latent Image!)
Tim - Thu, Jul 12, 2012 - 2:37pm (USA Central)
Picard's flute playing hands amused me, and had me reaching for rewind and google.
Grumpy - Sat, Jul 14, 2012 - 1:56pm (USA Central)
This episode is one of the few times on TNG that a (non-medical) blueshirt actually does some science. For a ship of exploration, the scientists seen passing in the corridors hardly ever have work to do. "Pen Pals" is the only other time they're used.

Come to think of it, who was the chief science officer on 1701-D? Not Data; he was the operations manager. If the producers hadn't been worried about direct comparison with Spock, Data would've worn a blue uniform from the beginning, representing the scientific mission of the ship (and the show).

Ironically, Deep Space Nine had a blue-shirted science officer even though the original mission (quietly orbiting Bajor before the wormhole was discovered) would not have required one.
grumpy_otter - Mon, Jul 16, 2012 - 4:13pm (USA Central)
I'm a romantic at heart, so I love this one. Not only is Nella a "perfect mate" for Picard, but I thought their chemistry was great and both actors really committed to the roles.

I loved her standoff with Riker, too.

I also thought it was great because I really thought they were going to kill her off--so was on the edge of my seat during the action parts. The look on Picard's face when she returns is priceless.

Wish they had revisited her in the finale--she'd have been such a better wife for Picard than that doctor.

Paul - Mon, Jul 16, 2012 - 4:42pm (USA Central)
@Grumpy: Data was the science officer, though it's never explained why he wears a gold uniform.
Elliott - Fri, Jul 20, 2012 - 1:24pm (USA Central)
@ grumpy_otter: "that doctor"? You mean Dr Beverly Crusher, the show's CMO and long- long-term friend and confidant of Picard? okay...

Actually, I really enjoy Wendy Hughes' performance as Nella. I can't help liking this episode simply because most of the time we're in the presence of Hughes and Stewart. It's almost enough to look past the episode's flaws, but not quite enough.

Picard's relationship with Daren is what it is; we won't see her again, we know how they feel, it's fine. More crucial to Picard is his relationship with Crusher--her feelings about him are on display and there's a reasonable parallel between them and Troi/Riker as an unrequited pair. Crusher is all but tossed aside though and this theme is never revisited.

The music is a mixed blessing: while its general presence is refreshing (if for no other reason than to hear *good* music in Season 6) and carries the episode through thematically (although not as well as VOY's "Counterpoint"). The ridiculousness of what they do and say (changing a harmony in a Chopin piano trio huh? Picard's flute is so obviously a penny whistle...it worked okay in "Inner Light" because Picard's experience of the alien culture was filtered through his human perspective [hence why the aliens appeared human]) undermines the genuineness of the scenes.

There are a number of good pieces here, but I think Jammer's comment from "Birthright: Part I" applies: it "contains interesting issues worth exploring but is a failure at turning those issues into compelling drama."

2.5 stars from me.

Interesting sidenote: Nella's roll-out piano became the inspiration to a real-life practice tool that keyboardists use when they travel and don't have access to a piano. It's like cell-phones all over again!
Grumpy - Mon, Jul 23, 2012 - 10:30am (USA Central)
Data may have been referred to as 1701-D's science officer once or twice, but I never had the impression that he led the department. LaForge, Worf, and Crusher were definitely in charge of other personnel. But can you imagine Data as Darren's boss? Did he butt in the way Worf did when Data (Worf's superior officer, mind you) dated a woman in the security department?

TNG didn't portray the starship as a workplace very often, but on those few ocassions, the detail made the setting more realistic, which heightened the drama. I wish they had done it more.
Eduardo - Tue, Jul 24, 2012 - 12:32pm (USA Central)
This episode marks the point where Patrick Stewart got to kiss two women named Wendy.

One was Wendy Hughes, actress, and the other would be Star Trek producer Wendy Neuss, whom he'd eventually marry, and then divorce.
Nick P. - Mon, Sep 10, 2012 - 3:53pm (USA Central)
Nice episode. One of the few episodes from the last few seasons that I thought was solidly acted, and in character. Picard actually stayed on the Bridge, and Riker went to the planet.
T'Paul - Tue, Jun 18, 2013 - 9:12am (USA Central)
Very nice... realistic reactions from Riker, Bev, and others have said, nice continuity with The Inner Light. Plus as others have also said, a good match for Picard. Shame she didn't become a regular, would have been a nice shake up for the remaining episodes
T'Paul - Tue, Jun 18, 2013 - 9:25am (USA Central)
I did think that the justification for ending the relationship was a little weak and hurried though.
mephyve - Mon, Sep 2, 2013 - 8:51pm (USA Central)
Boring, pointless debacle.
William B - Wed, Sep 18, 2013 - 11:59am (USA Central)
I like this one a lot, and I think that the elements that represent a sequel to "The Inner Light" are more than surface-deep. At the beginning of the series, Picard was pretty sure that he had no room in his life for children or a relationship. At most, he couild hope for someone like Vash to shake his life up in an obviously ephemeral way. Season five started to turn things around, with Kamala being a breakthrough for him in some respects by showing to him what the Ideal Relationship could be, and how a relationship could complement and strengthen his identity rather than detract from it. But really, it's "The Inner Light" that changes everything, on some level, because suddenly he is shown a genuine, honest-to-goodness alternate life in which he has a home life, a family, children, and a loving wife. It's not just an abstract idea of what could have been like Kamala, but something he lives through. All he has left, as he says here, is the flute, and the flute comes to represent an entire part of Picard's life and potential life that he lacks on the Enterprise, and is now aware is something he misses. I think this awareness that he could have another life *and enjoyed it* is part of what informs, in ways big and small, a lot of material in the last couple seasons, from young-Picard wondering if he could start a new life in "Rascals" to his consideration in the episode that follows whether he should have become an archaeologist to the wistfulness of "All Good Things" and Generations about either the future that disappoints or the future that will never happened. But this one is the one that is particularly about "The Inner Light," and is about His Music, and what that means to him. By "making beautiful music together" with Nella, Picard finds a way to bring his "The Inner Light"-life into the present, and perhaps find a way to express that dormant part of himself through something other than just he music itself. In other words, can he have the family life that he had as Kamin in the present, in a way that is real rather than imaginary? For a time, it seems as if he could.

Picard saying, at the episode's end, that he realized that he could never enjoy his music again if Nella died, means a lot, I think, and explains why Nella's departure from the ship is necessary. In some ways, if Picard and Nella had started a relationship before The Inner Light -- well, Picard probably would not have gone for a real relationship before TIL, but bear with me -- I think he'd be able to bear the idea of losing her, on some level. But Picard has *already* lost that entire life -- he's already lost Eline, and his children, and an entire planet, and all he has left is his music and his memories. He can't go through that loss again, and, more to the point, he can't bear to lose *his music* because that is the only connection he has to a whole part of himself. The use of the music as a symbol for his experience there is poignant; there is something of a widower realizing that he can't remarry because if his new wife died, he would not be able to bear the memory of his previous wife, in all this. (It also reminds me of one of the most touching elements of the M*A*S*H finale.) I do wish that Nella had stayed on the ship, actually, because I love the Stewart and Hughes chemistry, I love seeing Stewart play smitten, and I love having a smart, headstrong science officer on the ship. But I think it makes sense that she had to leave, and the episode's relatively quiet tone makes the tragedy seem bearable rather than mawkish. The episode veers a little close to sentimentality at times, but I think it largely avoids it. Probably a high 3/low 3.5 from me.
William B - Wed, Sep 18, 2013 - 12:13pm (USA Central)
Actually, to elaborate a bit: I think that the portrayal of office relationships is good, but slightly overdone, in that I don't think that Riker's discomfort should be as big as it is. What this really shows, though, is how deep Picard's emotional disconnect from his crew and best friends really runs, which helps set up why Picard's joining the poker game in "All Good Things" is such a momentous moment. Picard as father figure, mentor, teacher, boss, even friend: yes. Picard as someone who is personally open with his crew is really off limits, which is something that "QPid" is also good for (though I know Jammer is not exactly on board with that as a good episode to demonstrate that :) ). And I think we see, too, that Picard no longer *wants* this to be the case. Picard used to want to maintain the emotional distance he did, but now he has changed and wants to be emotionally open; see, for example, his wanting to go fencing with Riker, which itself seems to Riker to be uncomfortable and odd. But, and I think this is very realistic and well-observed, Picard has built his life so carefully around this professionalism and emotional detachment that he is not quite prepared for what it means when he lets these walls come down. Beverly's discomfort with Picard dating hints at the problems that can come, too; Picard's...special relationship with Beverly, which is somewhere between coworkers, friends and almost-lovers, can only exist as long as Picard is single and as long as the attraction and deep bond between them goes mostly unspoken. This is also, of course, why being able to read each other's mind in "Attached" represents a potential change in their dynamic, unless of course they choose, as Beverly does at the episode's end, to just ignore what they've just realized. I don't think this is a huge tragedy, and as the poker game in "All Good Things" suggests, it never is too late to try to make changes to parts of yourself where you realize you had been mistaken. And yet, these shows do still demonstrate that Picard's focus on his duty and rejection of personal relationships have, over time, made it extraordinarily difficult to make even small steps. Picard is among the most incredible, perfect characters in the Star Trek canon, and this one flaw of his -- his difficulty dealing with interpersonal emotional relationships -- is part of what makes him human, believable and touching.

In the list of season six episodes about Picard questioning his life choices, I obviously meant to add "Tapestry," and I think his attempt to start a relationship with Marta was his way of nipping his emotional disaffection in the bud. It seems to me as if young Picard's womanizing ways was (as it is with Kirk and Riker) a way of keeping people at an emotional distance while having the thrill and pleasure of sex, and once he decided to become a more serious person after his injury this got largely left behind, too (and it takes someone like Vash to reawaken that side of him). If he started dating Marta way back when, maybe he'd be able to be a guy who could have a real chance at love, now that he knows (from "TIL") that it's possible to do so and for him to like it. But of course, 'twas not to be.
Paul M. - Fri, Sep 27, 2013 - 6:19am (USA Central)
William B, let me say I really enjoy your write-ups on this site; very thorough and insightful. The way you connect Picard's experiences in The Inner Light with several later episodes is something I haven't considered before.
William B - Sat, Sep 28, 2013 - 8:18am (USA Central)
@Paul M., thanks!
Herman - Sat, Nov 23, 2013 - 6:39pm (USA Central)
On a more shallow note, this episode suggests Picard has his share of "If you need me, I'll be in holodeck 4" moments:

Daren: "You're not used to playing with anyone, are you?"
Picard: "Just the computer."
Daren: "Hm, well, I may not be as precise as a computer, but I think you'll enjoy it more..."
Picard: *stares*

Haha!
Smith - Mon, Feb 17, 2014 - 12:19pm (USA Central)
Another boring "soap opera in space" episode. This one pushed and green-lit by Jeri Taylor. There can be relationship stories on trek...but they should have a sci-fi twist. The story was too one-dimensional...and the banter over relationship politics was so drivel. Who cares. Felt like a contrived episode. Like the idea of incorporating music in the story...but it needs a fun sci-fi twist which this didn't have.
Joseph S. - Sun, Mar 9, 2014 - 10:54pm (USA Central)
Just saw this episode for what I think is the first time. I watched TNG in the 90s, and then on Netflix, but I guess I missed this one. And that's a shame because it was very well done—a quiet, but deep episode. I loved the references to The Inner Light and how it deepens Picard's character.

I also have to give praise for the writing of Nella's character. Usually one-time guest characters with a major role in their one-time appearance are so lazily written, that you don't care about them because you know you'll never see them again. But at the end of the episode I realized I would miss Nella, and that's such a testament to Wendy Hughes, and her work portraying such a likable character. A fitting way to remember her after her passing yesterday. May she rest in peace.
213karaokejoe - Wed, May 14, 2014 - 12:52am (USA Central)
I like this episode. But I have to laugh when the writers force some kind of sophisticated musical observation. Picard says "I noticed you chose to use fminor instead of dminor on your second arpeggio" or words to that effect. REALLY??!! Who counts the arpeggios that the piano plays?? They play so many during typical pieces. The script is just forced. I expect that kind of talk in the technobabble, but not real music. How about instead "I enjoyed the embellisments you made in the second movement" Bear in mind that Chopin wrote what he wrote. Performers shouldn't be "choosing" unexpected notes. That's called "making mistakes"
msw188 - Thu, Aug 21, 2014 - 11:34pm (USA Central)
Somebody earlier made a comment likening this to Birthright, and I agree. Unfortunately, I find 'office romance' less compelling of an idea compared to 'regaining lost culture'. The execution here is a bit better, but only because of better acting. There's almost nothing for me to chew on here that isn't just piggybacking off of the Inner Light. It just doesn't feel like there's any inventiveness in the writing (compare with the ideas floating around in "Perfect Mate"), and the overall story and directing feel stale. I'm beginning to see why people say season 6 is where the show starts to feel 'tired'. I'm a bit harsher on the scale than Jammer; I'd probably hand this a low 2 or a high 1.5 stars. Whereas Birthright as a whole I'd feel okay with giving 2.5 stars.
J.B. - Sun, Feb 1, 2015 - 6:01pm (USA Central)
It's a good episode but as a pianist, I was spending a good deal of time trying to figure out how Daren was playing that foldout piano of hers. There's no tactile feedback and the keys are all flat. That would drive me crazy.
CPUFP - Thu, Mar 19, 2015 - 6:57pm (USA Central)
What is up with Jonathan Frakes in this episode? His facial expression and posture is slightly off in all his scenes. Had me thinking he might have been drunk on set.
HolographicAndrew - Sat, Mar 21, 2015 - 12:22am (USA Central)
@CPUFP

I think he's playing annoyance and surprise at Picard's new girlfriend. Seemed fine to me...
$G - Tue, Apr 21, 2015 - 10:10pm (USA Central)
Really liked this one.

Watching this show a decade and a half later shows how much *I've* probably grown. As a kid, I probably preferred "Starship Mine" to this outing, but now I barely tolerated "Starship Mine" and greatly enjoyed this one. Season 6 and on is where I'm more iffy with episodes since I caught more early-series re-runs than latter, so I was surprised and pleased to see a semi-sequel to "The Inner Light".

Great work all around. One of the very, very few 40-minute romances that has ever worked on Trek (the other, for me, is another Picard show: "The Perfect Mate" - makes me think this Stewart fellow can sell pretty much anything). There's also some genuine tension about the fate of Lt. Commander Daren on the away mission. Even though I'd seen this (but mostly forgot it), I still wasn't sure if she'd make it back. I was legitimately pleased when she beamed back up, and I think sparing her life was probably the better writing decision.

A high 3 stars for me. Season 6 is quickly becoming one of my favourite TNG seasons. A pleasant surprise, that's for sure. After the first 7 or 8 episodes, I'd thought the magic that Season 5's final third brought had vanished completely. Season 6 doesn't have as many Trek masterpieces as other seasons, but it keeps up a high batting average with a significant stock of very solid episodes.
Steve - Thu, Jun 11, 2015 - 1:04am (USA Central)
@mephyve
Much like your posting.
SonofMog - Fri, Jul 24, 2015 - 3:23am (USA Central)
I love the scene where Picard is blowing into a flute that is clearly being held (and played) by some guy on his back out of frame. Didn't notice at first, but cannot be unseen once seen. Really funny.
Troy - Wed, Jul 29, 2015 - 11:00am (USA Central)
3-1/2 stars for me, always liked it. Especially playing from the center of the ship and the kiss.
It does work off of Inner Light's coattails, but those are great coattails to follow.
I agree with grumpyotter, it would have been nice to have her appear in another episode, the finale, movie or something. Especially since they didn't break up, though it is likely she moved on.
Easter - Sat, Aug 22, 2015 - 12:44am (USA Central)
My issue with this episode was that Darren is AWFUL as a member of the crew. We see her do basically three things in this episode before the crisis starts. Fist she shuts down replication, communications and the library for 7 hours and feels no need to inform the captain. Second she comes to get more time on the deflector dish and is told "No" by Riker because another department booked it (something she clearly should have been aware of) and then tries to argue that her department deserves it more after being told that "hey, engineering is also kind of important Darren". And third she goes to Riker about a personnel change, is flat out told she failed to follow appropriate procedure and basically writes it off as "well I didn't. So don't worry about it and besides, that department's overstaffed anyways" and when Picard asks Riker if she acted appropriately I was completely expecting him to say "No. She's not" because oh my god she wasn't.

She seems to not understand that other people besides her department are on this ship and need it's resources and she isn't the most important person there.

Anything else about this episode is basically lost on me because I can't get over the fact that this woman should not be a department head and doesn't have any understanding of how this ship works and her dating the captain is such a huge issue because of it because she DOES make unreasonable requests and ask for special treatment constantly.
Robert - Mon, Aug 24, 2015 - 8:03am (USA Central)
@Easter - To put simply... in life there are people like this and they often get what they want. It's possibly she's only a mediocre department head, but has always seemed to be better than that because she's been able to successfully bully the XO into giving her department the best people/special favors. So her department always performs really well.
Easter - Mon, Aug 24, 2015 - 7:54pm (USA Central)
@Robert - Oh absolutely. I'm not saying she's an unrealistic character I'm saying that she's not a likable character I can emotionally connect to or one who should have gotten away with it because the question is directly asked to Riker "Were her actions appropriate?" after he had just finished explaining to her that they in fact were not. Riker was the one I had trouble accepting as realistically written in this scenario. The problem with her character was that they then tried to cast her in a sympathetic light as a likable romantic lead when the only meaningful characterization she had received so far was negative and it just doesn't work for me because I can't get positively emotionally invested in a romance with a side character I dislike.
Andy's Friend - Tue, Aug 25, 2015 - 1:15am (USA Central)
@Easter

Thank you very much for your comment, which gave me a point of view I hadn’t considered at all. A comment on what you wrote:

You have to remember that Star Trek only has about 42 minutes to tell a story. As a result of that, personality traits are often exaggerated, so that the audience can get the picture early and the story can progress.

As such, Darren is portrayed as the ambitious, driven, and above all, passionate department head.

And as such, she is the perfect department head.

I work at a major European university, and we see the exact same thing going on. Faculties competing for ressources. And within each faculty―Humanities, in my case―various departments competing ferociously over the allocation of ressources.

This is what Darren basically represents. In the case of universities, and except for the very, very top universities, which will have very good departments across the board, most universities tend to specialize and have one elite department, so to speak. A typical case in the US―I presume you’re American―is Texas A&M University, a somewhat undistinguished university, which however has one of the best nautical archaeology departments in the world (I’m a historian of the Ancien Regime, and particularly of navies and empires in the age of sail).

Again: all this is what that facet of the Darren character you are discussing is about. Darren is that department head who, in my world, will tell the faculty dean that her department has a good shot at entering the “Top5 in the World” with the allocation of a few more ressources that will allow say, snatching two great scholars she’s been having talks with from other universities, and that strengthening her department further surely is worth more for the university than investing in some obscure other department.

And I have to tell you: this is what any good department head will do. Deep down, any good department head must feel that his department is more deserving of ressources than any other, and fight for them, and for the bettering of the department. If he doesn’t, he is merely a bureaucrat, an administrator.

Of course, the Enterprise is a slightly different case: it’s a large vessel (the flagship of the Federation!), out where no man has gone before, and it has to run like a smooth engine: there is little room for the sort of fights over ressources―time, money, technology, people―I’m talking about out in some distant sector of space. But if you focus on that, and the usual exaggeration of character traits we see on Star Trek, you’re missing the main point that the story is trying to tell us about Darren: that she is, above all, very passionate about what she does. Which of course is why Picard likes her.

Of course, no department head in her actual situation, on a vessel in deep space (and the flagship of the Federation at that!), would ever run such a critical, seven-hour experiment without notifying other departments. It's an absurd idea; but it's the way the writers try to tell us something important about the Darren character. As usual on Star Trek, we have to look a little bit further that what we see on screen, and avoid a literal reading.

I find her an extremely competent and likable person, and would hire her on the spot to run a department, anywhere.

But again, thank you for your comment. It’s funny how we can be so used to our own way of thinking that we miss alternate ways of viewing things completely.
Easter - Tue, Aug 25, 2015 - 2:10am (USA Central)
@Andy's Friend - Interesting. I similarly hadn't considered that viewpoint. Most of my experience (I'm Canadian and mostly work for smaller teams with larger client bases btw) with managing things tends to put me in a position where I'm find myself having to create systems in order to make sure everyone is treated fairly and the loudest person can't just get everything they want and where resources are limited enough that straight up snatching other people's without asking is incredibly rude so for me a person who is overtly ignoring protocols for their own benefits, ignoring the needs of their peers and trying to take their rightfully allocated resources is a huge problem and immediately makes me dislike that person.

I have no actual experience with working in a multi-faculty setting or one with an excessive budget and the idea that this was relatively normal (if exaggerated) behaviour was one that hadn't even occurred to me. Thanks for the insight on how that might work.

I still PERSONALLY can't get into this episode because I actively dislike Darren and even understanding her motivations doesn't change the fact that she comes across as a type of person I automatically dislike and root against even when justified so *I* can't emotionally invest in the character and by extension, the episode, but I can better understand how other people can see her as more of a motivated go getter type fighting for her department and connect with her.
Robert - Tue, Aug 25, 2015 - 6:49am (USA Central)
I gotcha. You thought Riker was acting out of character. I'll have to keep that in mind the next time I see this one :)

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