Written by Ronald Wilkerson, Jean Louise Matthias, Brannon Braga, and Rene Echevarria
Directed by Robert Wiemer
In the original Star Trek series, it didn’t seem as if Captain Kirk had any scruples about relationships. He’d pretty much chase anything that moved, wore short skirts, and had big… planets. Quite often he was seen giving completely indiscreet appreciative looks to Ensign Janice Rand who used to walk around the bridge in uniforms remarkably similar to the miniskirt in the 60s. The Next Generation’s Captain Picard is quite the opposite.
In Lessons, Captain Picard (Patrick Stewart) is working one evening late into the night (or early in the morning, depending on how you look at it) when he finds all the ship’s systems, including the replicators, library, and communications off-line, their resources having been allocated to stellar cartography. Curiosity piqued, he meets the new head of stellar cartography, Lieutenant Commander Nella Daren (portrayed by Wendy Hughes).
The two develop a mutual attraction for each other. However, there are some differences. Captain Picard has always been portrayed as a very private person, and he has misgivings about his relationship with Nella, even to the point that he discusses the situation with Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis). His conscience eased, and he pursues the relationship.
When the Enterprise travels to Bersallis III to evacuate colonists who are in the path of severe planetary firestorms, Picard has misgivings about Nella being sent to the planet to coordinate a shield of sorts to protect the colonists and crew during the evacuation. Picard must decide whether or not to risk Nella’s life to ensure the mission goes as planned. Two teams are left behind, Nella’s among them.
It was nice to see a good bit of continuity here as the writers drew on the episode The Inner Light to show Picard’s love of music with the Ressigian Flute. This serves to tie the two episodes together in a very obvious way, but there is also a deeper connection between the two. Picard, having experienced the illusion of love when he lived the life of Kamin in The Inner Light, seems more willing to allow himself to fall for Nella, despite the obvious obstacles. It seemed to me as if the writers wanted viewers to make the connection of how his experiences in that episode have evolved his character to take chances emotionally where he would have shut himself down before.
There are two major problems with Lessons, however. One is the obvious one; Picard should already be very aware that a relationship with a member of the crew might mean he has to put that person in harm’s way. It shouldn’t be a realization he comes to. He’s not a giddy schoolboy who can go through life with the attitude that nothing bad will happen; he’s a seasoned, experienced Starship Captain who should know that the universe is fraught with peril. His Starfleet training should have covered this topic quite some time ago.
The other problem is the uneven chemistry between Patrick Stewart and Wendy Hughes. Specifically, I felt Hughes’ acting was uneven. This could be her fault or that of the Director, Robert Wiemer. In the beginning, when Daren has a few confrontations with Riker over scheduling conflicts and requests to have crew members re-assigned, it almost felt as if she was holding her relationship with Picard over Riker; there seemed to be unspoken dialogue hanging between them. That Riker goes to Picard and has a discussion with him over this very fact seems to support that fact. Wiemer could have given her direction to give the character that edge or she could have taken the character there a bit on her own. Either way, it leads the viewers to believe the story will be going to a place it never does. The only time I seemed to feel genuine chemistry between Picard and Nella was near the end. This is a sharp contrast to the two other times Picard has been “involved” with Vash early on in the series and as Kamin with his wife, Eline.
It’s no spoiler to state that Nella offers to apply for a transfer as Picard doesn’t have the courage to ask her to leave. The two make the usual empty promises made between people who know their love affair can’t make it, not because of the fault of the people involved, but because of their life circumstances at the time. It’s fine that we never see Nella again; Patrick Stewart has more chemistry with Alfre Woodard in Star Trek: First Contact.
It’s not a horrible episode, but it could have been better. I think it was important for Picard to become less detached emotionally as a character, but either poor acting or sub-par directing has it fall short.
Previous episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – Starship Mine
Next episode in the series (link): Star Trek: The Next Generation – The Chase