Monday, March 12, 2012

The Next Generation, Season 6: Lessons

The Next Generation, Season 6
"Lessons"
Airdate: April 5, 1993
144 of 176 produced
144 of 176 aired

Introduction

Captain Picard begins a romance with Nella Daren, the new head of Stellar Sciences. They bond of a shared love of playing music, and Nella begins to draw Picard out from his normally reserved demeanor. Picard is understandably worried about the pitfalls of dating someone under his command, but seems prepared to work through them. Matters are complicated with a dangerous firestom threatens a nearby colony, and Picard must order Daren to to risk her life to save the colony.

If looks could kill... 




Writing

Kevin: I remember that, while not thinking the episode was bad, that I was just not that into this episode when I was younger. I think that was because I was just a kid, who didn't get it. Having watched it a few more times over the years, I can safely say this is easily one of the most authentic and mature depictions of a romance in the franchise. First, I think the actual romance itself was really, really credibly developed. As the scene in sickbay demonstrated, Nella and Beverly have more than a little in common, so it makes sense that Picard would be initially attracted to her. Using Picard's music as a basis for the relationship was a master stroke. It not only made continuity fans happy, but it really was a nice way to telegraph Picard's vulnerability without needing a speech. Aside from that, it helped make the relationship seem more real, as it had the arc of a normal everyday relationship we 21st century humans have. This one of the precious few times where a romantic liaison really seemed to flow organically from the characters rather than be dictated by the story.

Matthew: OK, based on my past comments, the observant reader will probably predict that I will have some severe problems with this episode. And I do. So I'm just going to put them out there right away, and get on to reviewing it when I'm finished. The very idea of creating a Crusher substitute for Picard to consummate his relationship with, seemingly just in order to punt on Picard and Crusher having to address their feelings, is beyond maddening. I might have even been able to stomach it if the relationship with Daren had actually precipitated something with Crusher in its aftermath. But no. I think this episode signals a very poor treatment of Crusher on the parts of the writers and producers. She is left to rot on the vine, a deep and complex character with a whale of an actress portraying her, in favor of some interloper.

... breathe...

That said, I agree entirely on the use of music. Referencing Picard's love of music, and his unique history with the Kataanian probe, was a great nod to continuity, and makes loads of emotional sense for Picard's character. The music scenes were easily the highlight of this episode. I didn't find the romance quite as credible as you did, inasmuch as it felt a little quick. The passage of time was only very slightly hinted at, and I would have preferred a bit more obvious time passage. The best romances on Trek are the ones that develop over the course of a season or multiple seasons of the show. To introduce and eliminate a romantic interest in the space of one episode will just never feel truly organic to me. Underscoring this lack of organic flow, the first two act breaks ended on "oh, gee, Daren is a saucy minx" jokes. The double entendre of Daren saying that she would be more enjoyable than a computer was this close to going over the top.

Kevin: I like the discussion of how the relationship would impact their professional lives. It provides both insight into the characters and into the world. Picard explicitly states that the otherwise voluminous code of Starfleet regulations is silent on this subject, and Troi is certainly not shocked by idea. On the one hand, it does stretch credulity given the nature of Starfleet service that there is no prohibition of officers being involved with those under their command. That being said, I have enough faith in the writers and enough optimism for the future that maybe its a sign of how far relationship and gender politics have come. The rules are silent because sex is no longer a weapon you use to exploit people in vulnerable positions. Hey, we accept the absence of war and poverty, why not also the absence of people being jerks about sex? Maybe in this world, it is enough to trust that the officers involved will weigh the pros and cons of the specific situation. I also like how it leads to the scene with Troi. Not only is it another great scene of her counseling and their friendship, but it's another insight into at least how Troi views the world. She acknowledges the risks of getting involved, but posits there are risks to not getting involved as well. At least in our society, we tend to treat romantic and sexual fulfillment as somewhat disposable (See: abstinence education policies), things we should just be able to do without, and it was nice to see Troi argue that isolation presents its own set of pitfalls and is not merely a safer option by default. But connecting this back to the episode as a whole, what I loved is that even when there was a problem, everyone dealt with it like adults. They weighed options and sought advice and acted like the mature, conscientious Starfleet officers they behave like in every other context. More than blanket pronouncements about the end of poverty, seeing the crew behave like this makes me think this future is both positive and possible.

Matthew: I found the lack of regulations regarding fraternization of superior and subordinate officers to be unrealistic. I don't think it's idealistic, I think it borders on Pollyanna. The very emotional conflict at the climax of this episode demonstrated the need for such regulations, and I find it impossible to believe that in an organization as large as Starfleet, it has never come up before. This isn't about sexual politics. This is about compromising conflicts of interest.

Kevin: I'm going to leave the bulk of the analysis vis a vis Picard's relationship with Beverly in this episode to Matthew, but I want to highlight something I really like, which is how her jealously was portrayed. It's credible, given the character history, but it doesn't cheapen either Beverly or Nella characters. There was no grab for cheap comedy by having Beverly "accidentally " use the medical device on too high a setting or something. Normally, I would be pretty annoyed that a female character's only presence in an episode was pretty much to be jealous of another woman about a man, but between the acting and writing, it registered the appropriate degrees of surprise and hurt that it felt human, not sexist.

Matthew: While I agree that the jealousy scene was really well written, I am still going to stick to my guns that in the larger sense, this story renders Crusher's character pathetic and ineffectual, and that pisses me off. I agree on the lack of low comedy in that scene as well.

Kevin: The crisis of the week was pitched really well for me. It felt like they were almost trying to construct the most generic crisis in which the Enterprise saves the day as possible to underscore how frequently Picard may have to risk Daren's life. The technobabble was fun, and seemed above average on the internal consistency, though you do have to question that rather than build a fire-resistant colony, why not just build on a world that doesn't sporadically set itself on fire.

Matthew: The emotional crisis was the second highlight of the show for me (after the music). Why? Because finally, the writers are raising the stakes for the characters. It allows Picard a really nice chance to feel a sense of loss, to "shut down emotionally" as he says. The scenes were really effective, and they were paced well. I also liked Daren's dialogue about resenting the order to stay. It is precisely because these scenes were so effective that I question the lack of regulations. This feels like the perfect demonstration of why a captain should not become romantically involved with officers under their command.

Kevin: In the minus column, I found the resolution a little too pat. Presumably, the Enterprise posting was a promotion or at least a better job and leaving it after a few months to an almost certainly inferior posting seems like a kidney punch to her career that Picard would not be expected to even contemplate, and that undoes a little of the positive they built earlier in the episode, but it's a 43 minute show and they aren't adding her to the cast, so they have to get rid of her somehow.

Matthew: Yeah, it feels cheap. For a relationship that springs up this quickly, and appears to be so passionate, to simply end with nary a mention ever again in the series, and on such an arbitrary note, just feels cheap. The fact that "The Chase" begins with Crusher acting just as chummy with Picard as before underscores this.

Acting

Kevin: Wendy Hughes is an Australian actress of some note, and she was really, really good in this episode. She really inhabited the character. Watching this again now, I see notes of the carriage and demeanor of Captain Janeway in her performance. Between the two, I can see how a scientist could rise to captain. I don't know if it was conscious or not, but the similarities to Beverly were just strong enough to make the attraction credible without reducing her to "available Beverly avatar." Her handle of both the music-babble and technobabble was really superb. Particularly in her scenes with Picard discussing their relationship, she was really self-possessed. She never felt like a placeholder for the other characters to respond to. She was a fully realized person, and anytime an actress gets to do that, particularly on television, particularly in science fiction, I am a happy camper.

Matthew: Hughes was good, and I am not going to fault her for her Not-Beverly status. You're quite right that the actor did a good job both with the trek-material as well as simply portraying a strong woman in a romance credibly.

Kevin: Picard's vulnerability and reserve played incredibly well. It was almost as if the more he played the music, the more of the man Kamin was came out, and it made the entire episode more interesting and the stakes for Picard more interesting. Between the two actors, they managed to invest a relationship that even as an 11-year-old I knew would not survive the episode feel very real and meaningful.

Matthew: Indeed, Stewart was good. He plays "uptight" better than almost anyone. The way Gates McFadden played her emotions so subtly was superb, and puts a very fine point on just how stupid it was not to simply get her character together with Picard, even if only for an episode or two, with the same resolution. This episode, combined with her treatment in the movie "First Contact," just blows my mind in its wasteful stupidity.

Production Values

Kevin: The Bersallan fire storms looked a little CGI, but the scenes of the crews on the Planet Hell set looked good. It's a brave actress who's willing to appear on screen with pit stains, but overall, with just lighting and make up, they sold the idea it was searing hot.

Matthew: I liked all of the firestorm effects, both from orbit as well as on the surface. This use of the planet hell set, combined with optical compositing, really looked good. There were a lot of neat Okudagrams indicating the layout and the progress of the storms. I will say that Stellar cartography was underwhelming. Just what is that silly globe supposed to represent?

Kevin: I like Nella's roll up piano, though I'm pretty the two octave keyboard couldn't played all the notes she was playing. On the music side, they outdid themselves. I liked how they built up the Inner Light melody into a full piece, and the improv pieces were really interesting to listen to.

Matthew: The music was wonderful. It really lent a lot of emotion to the scenes it was in, and it covered over some of the feeling of undue briefness with the development of the romance. The Jefferies tube set was a bit less so. I like the set in general, and the ladders leading to it were cool. But he matte painting which was intended to indicate a tube stretching off hundreds of feet simply looked fake. Something about the lighting, the perspective, and the shadows, was off, and it was obvious that it was a painting.

Conclusion

Kevin: I'm giving this a 5, on the strength of the character development and the artful way a credible, adult romantic relationship was organically developed inside the confines of an episode. I may have been less than enthralled as a child, but as a grown up, I find it compelling.

Matthew: I think there is a basic lack of science fiction here that takes a 5 off the table for me. The story would have functioned exactly the same if it were on an ocean liner or a battleship. The question is, if I am able to leash my scorn for the maltreatment of the Crusher character, how good this episode is on its own merits. The acting was solidly above average from all parties. The effects and especially the music were quite good. The story was developed pretty well, though I think it lacked a feeling of longer time passage that would have made it feel more realistic, and the resolution was way too pat. I'm going to give it a 4, because I do think it is compelling, entertaining viewing, given the stakes that are presented to Picard. That makes our combined rating a 9.

1 comment:

  1. I dont even remember this episode as a kid. As an adult the first time I saw it I think i was really high and the scene in the jeffries tubes really made a strong impact on me. The acoustics really were great... This is one of my favorite TNG episodes. The relationship felt very natural and so did its ending because of the man Picard is. Daren is exactly the kind of woman I would imagine someone like Picard falling for, not someone like Vash or that sex kitten, mail order bride "ill be whatever you want me to be" from the Perfect Mate.

    I think it's interesting that Crusher exhibits jealousy at the idea of Picard being with someone else but in Season 7, if i recall correctly, says she doesnt want a romantic relationship with him and enjoys their relationship as it (I hope i am recalling correctly) and just throughout the show never did something about it (albeit I understand she couldnt given of their professional relationship).

    Anyway, great episode. Completely agree with Kevin's assessment about the organic nature of their relationship, start to finish.

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