Thursday, July 28, 2011

A Little Romance For The Captain Comes In "Lessons!"

The Good: Nice character development, Sweet, Well-executed plot
The Bad: Somewhat standard and obvious plot, Stiff guest acting
The Basics: In a charming little episode, "Lessons," Picard falls in love with a Commander in stellar cartography.

Captain Picard is an intriguing character in many ways. He is strong, resilient, intelligent, cultured and a natural leader on Star Trek The Next Generation. Those admirable qualities come with a price, however. Picard is a lonely man at the end of the day and his job isolates him from those around him in a way that is very difficult to relate to. In "Lessons" some of that changes, at least for a while.

When Captain Picard cannot get his cup of tea late one night, he traces the problem to stellar cartography, where he encounters Nella Daren. Daren is polite, but abrupt with the captain, who ruined an experiment of hers when he entered stellar cartography. Picard sees Daren again at a concert and his appreciation of her music leads them to have a discussion where he reveals his own interest in music. The two meet and he shares his music, the Ressikan flute from "The Inner Light" (reviewed here!), and they begin a romantic relationship. No sooner is their relationship going places than the Enterprise must respond to a dangerous situation on a nearby planet and Nella's life will be put at risk.

Because it is Star Trek The Next Generation, Daren will survive the firestorms she is sent to help deal with. If it was Star Trek Deep Space Nine, she either would have been dead at the end of the episode or the relationship would have endured. In the case of "Lessons," Daren survives and the relationship falls apart for some rather adult reasons. Now, why would I ruin the end for you? Simply put, the plot on this one is pretty predictable and figuring out that Daren and Picard are not going to be together beyond the one episode does not take a rocket scientist. All it takes is anyone who has seen episodic dramas for a few years.

The thing is, "Lessons" is not so much about what happens when - i.e. plot - as the significance of what happens, which is character. Picard makes a huge character leap forward by opening up to loving Daren. This is easily illustrated through his sharing his music with her, a memory of an entire life spent elsewhere. The personal nature of the Captain's sharing makes the episode remarkably sweet and very vital to the Picard character. Gone is the unlovable curmudgeon of the first episodes of the series, here is a man who is opening up and risking on love and the episode feels very organic.

A lot of the credit must go to Patrick Stewart. Stewart is given the rare opportunity to emote. Indeed, the last time he had such a chance was back in the fifth season's "The Inner Light" and here he manages to express the same warm sense of love in the context of the character we know and love, which makes it quite a different performance. Instead of seeing Kamen - the delusional vision of Picard - experience love, here we see Picard with all of his characteristics attempt to express love and joy and the performance Patrick Stewart gives is distinct and impressive.

The underriding problem of "Lessons" is in Wendy Hughes, who plays Daren. Hughes comes across as stiff in many of the scenes she shares with Patrick Stewart. While her character is awkward in the concert scene near the beginning of the episode, the nervousness in her conversation with Picard seems to be more the actress getting out her lines. That is, she fails to emote in a realistic fashion in scenes with Stewart. Conversely, her scene with Jonathan Frakes in the corridor feels very genuine. So while Daren is a fine character, Hughes' performance does manage to undermine the romance.

In the end, "Lessons" is an entertaining hour of television and a nice bit of drama. Fans of science fiction will likely be disappointed by the strong romantic plot that has almost no mystery to it, though fans of Star Trek The Next Generation will welcome the chance to see Captain Picard finally get some.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: The Next Generation - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season by clicking here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please be sure to visit my index page on the subject by clicking here!

© 2011, 2007, 2003 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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