Picard strikes up a friendship with the new head of Astrophysics, Lt. Commander Nella Daren, centered around a mutual love of music. This friendship blossoms into romance. It’s only when Nella is nearly killed on a mission that Picard realizes that he cannot have a woman he is in love with serving under his command, and she agrees to leave for another assignment.
Written by Ronald Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias. Directed by Robert Wiemer.
And here we have that most rare of creatures, an effective and believable romance-driven story on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Picard’s connection with Lt. Commander Nella Daren feels emotional and heartfelt, with a genuine affection and real sense of fondness being evident between them. A lot of the credit for this goes to Patrick Stewart, who we always know will be good but in this case really demonstrates a really charming sense of vulnerability. It’s especially present in the initial “music lesson” scene between the two – we see Picard’s discomfort, but mixed with such trust and pleasure, that it’s easy to buy that he’s falling in love. Connecting the relationship with Picard’s experiences in The Inner Light was a brilliant move, highlighting the emotional depth of what is going on. It’s impressive that the story managed to keep the interest almost entirely on the strength of the romance plot – although the sci-fi drama story integrates in very well when it turns up.
Wendy Hughes does a nice job as Nella Daren as well, making her someone who is understandably noticeable to Picard, and yet at the same time likeable. She makes a good contrast to Vash (Picard’s other great romance up to this point), who traded more strongly on her looks and style; or Kamala, who was also all about her looks, as well as her alien-physiology-induced (and potentially terribly sexist) plight. Nella, on the other hand, isn’t someone Picard is just going to have a fling with, or be infatuated with, but is a woman you could believe that the Captain would actually marry–intelligent, forthright, dedicated, and charming, and sporting a hairstyle that probably looked fetchingly futuristic in the early 1990’s. This of course all leads us to episode’s biggest challenge, which is simply the way the story has to force them apart at the end.
This is the inevitable difficulty of doing a well done romance, in that (for this series at least) that romance is automatically doomed by a little thing called status quo. Picard can’t actually settle down into a committed relationship for more than an episode or so, because the show is scared that this will “ruin” the character for future storylines or, even more importantly, for future positioning as romantic lead for a movie (something which I believe would certainly be being looked at as a lucrative possibility at this point). And in a way, this is a valid concern – Next Generation was a procedural program where we expect to be able to tune in each week with most story elements reset to the same baseline. Actually allowing Picard to remain in a long-term relationship would simply have changed the program too drastically; at least one feels that’s the attitude the production team fears that the audience has. And maybe they were right, though it seems a bit of a shame in light of the fact that there were only about two episodes and one movie in the show’s future which dealt with Picard and romance at all. In a way, it may have been sort of thanks to the fact that Next Generation was both so commercially successful and so conservative in its storytelling that the subsequent Star Trek series felt the freedom to be a bit more daring,especially Deep Space Nine, where for example many of the characters had romantic plotlines that lasted for episodes or even seasons.
All this brings us back to the big obstacle for a story like Lessons, which is how to break these characters up. Killing Nella Daren seems a bit cruel, and having the relationship just peter out doesn’t fit the weight the story gives it. So instead it breaks them up in a way that is somewhat plausible, but also sort of ruins Picard for future stories, unfortunately. If Picard can’t find a way to make it work with someone that he obviously loves like he loves Nella Daren, than how will ever make it work with anyone? Why would we ever care about him being romantically involved with anyone ever again?
The answer of course is to wait a year, completely ignore Nella Daren from here on in, and then tease at paying off the long-hinted possibility of a romance with Dr. Crusher – a move guaranteed to engage a number of fans quite rabidly. And though I wouldn’t actually describe myself as “rabid”, I did enjoy that possibility when it came up. Still, in the light of just re-watching Lessons, I have to say the Picard-Nella pairing worked quite well, and though I didn’t necessarily want the relationship to last, it wouldn’t have necessarily been a bad thing for the show if it had.
Shout Out to the Past:
• There are very effective references to the events of The Inner Light – when Picard explains it all, of course, but just the presence of his flute and the beautifully subtle comment that “They’re not made anymore.”
• Picard orders “Tea, Earl Grey, Hot!” for the first time in ages, I think.
• And at the concert scene, we see that she’s beautiful, forthright, and a very good piano player
• There’s what I assume is a clever match cut between a shot of Commander Daren’s hands playing the piano and one of Wendy Hughes acting like she’s playing the piano, to give the impression that we’ve just seen her really playing.
• Nice moments with Dr. Crusher having a meal with Picard, which seems to be a necessity whenever Picard has a potential girlfriend on the ship. Also a good scene with Dr. Crusher treating Nella in sickbay: “Yes. But I didn’t know he played duets.”
• Picard’s happiness about fencing, in his talk with Riker, is very funny.
• Lovely directorial touch, having the camera pull back as Picard and Daren play in the Jeffrey’s tube.
• And cut to the kiss!
• Would Troi give permission for someone to “go for it” romantically? is the earth-sky blue? Is the Space-Pope a lizard?
• Very touching moment when Picard tells Nella about his experiences with Kataan.
Picard: I had a wife, and children, and a grandchild. And it was absolutely real to me. When I awoke, all that I had left of that life there was the flute that I had taught myself to play.
Nella: Why are you telling me this?
Picard: Because I want you to understand what my music means to me. Adn what it means for me to be able to share it with someone.
• Good little character moment with Picard and Riker talking about duty assignments.
• Nella’s teammate is conspicuously untalkative, as if he is an uncredited extra.
• Very effective drama when Picard is listening to Daren and Riker speak. Also later, when Picard is with the flute, waiting. There’s a great shot where the camera moves below the glass table in order to look up at him. This episode is really well directed.
• A dramatic highpoint of the episode, where plot and character really mesh, is in this simple line of Picard’s during the crisis: “Picard to perimeter teams, it is imperative that you hold your position until we finish evacuating the colony. Picard out.”
• Eight crew members died? Which eight? I thought there were just six teams of two people each, plus Commander Daren. Two teams went missing, but Daren and one of her teammates returned. That makes three crew members (Richardson & Team Three) who didn’t make it.
• I like Nella’s insight at the end, “I was more afraid that you would blame yourself if I died? Would you have?”
Dialogue High Point
A favorite moment of mine is one that I almost missed. When Nella comments that she’s never seen a Ressikan flute before, Picard says quietly
They’re not made anymore.