Lynch's Spoiler Review: "Lessons"
Review by Tim Lynch <> ===============================================

WARNING:  The following post contains spoilers pertaining to the latest TNG
episode, "Lessons".  Let this warning serve as an object lesson to those who would proceed on.

Wait a second ... character growth?  Is that *allowed*?  :-)

What's more, recognition of *past* character changes seems _really_ out of
place.  What a remarkably pleasant surprise.  But, before I continue, here is, of course, the usual synopsis:

Picard goes to meet the new head of Stellar Sciences, Lt. Commander Nella
Darrin.  Although he is initially gruff about having his work interrupted by
the drain on resources she had caused, they seem to recognize kindred spirits
in one another.  Their relationship takes a stronger turn, however, after a
concert in Ten-Forward in which Darrin displays a great gift for music.  When
he expresses his admiration and wonders about a particular improvisation
she'd done on the piece, Darrin feeds him back his own earlier words, telling him to "expect the unexpected."

The next day, Darrin goes to visit Picard after a singularly unsuccessful
plea to Riker for more sensor time.  She finds Picard listening to music and
holding his flute.  She remarks on its unusual nature and asks to try to play
it, but fails.  She quickly suggests a duet, having brought something serving
as a piano (but that can be carried under her arm) for herself.  Picard
initially falters, but then learns through Darrin's tutelage how to improvise
based on someone else's melody.  The results are impressive, and leave him very pleased.

Later, after Picard invites Riker to fence and Beverly tells Darrin (in for a
strained arm from all the duets) that Picard, although *private*, is not
isolated, Darrin leads Picard into a Jeffries tube, which she claims is the
most acoustically perfect location on the ship.  There, Picard plays the
folk melody he learned on Kataan, and after marveling at its beauty, Darrin
begins accompanying it.  Geordi, in Engineering, begins looking for the
source of the strange music he hears, but then it stops -- and we see Picard and Darrin embracing.

Some time later, Picard turns from casual conversation to stiff formality
when another crewmember enters the turbolift, leaving Darrin feeling somewhat
brushed-off.  As the Enterprise heads to Versalis Three to investigate some
unusually early firestorms, Picard talks to Troi about his feelings for Darrin
and his worries that they may impair his judgement.  Troi reassures him, and
gives implicit (or perhaps _explicit_) permission.  Picard immediately finds
Darrin and apologizes to her, and asks her to come back to his quarters where he can tell her something.

There, he tells her all about his experiences on Kataan, noting that his life
there was real -- and that when it ended, the only trace he had of that life
was the flute he now plays.  Darrin is moved, but curious about why he would
tell her such a thing.  "Because I want you to understand how much my music
means to me -- and what it means for me to be able to *share* it with someone."

Riker, however, becomes uncomfortable with their newfound relationship when
he interprets Darrin's forcefulness about a transfer request as a demand for
special treatment.  However, Picard clears things up with Riker and then
notes to Darrin that, while neither of them should compromise themselves,
both Picard and Darrin need to be aware of perceptions.  They begin to plan
the rest of their evening, but are interrupted by further developments on the Versalin firestorms.

The storms are stronger and faster then usual, and threaten the Federation
outpost on the planet.  The colony needs to be evacuated before the storm
hits, and there isn't time unless it is somehow given extra protection.  
Darrin suggests building a "firewall" of sorts using cross-connected thermal
deflectors.  With luck, the wall will deflect enough of the heat to allow the
colonists to be saved -- and once it's set up, the teams should be able to
transport out in safety.  Picard agrees, but privately suggests to Darrin
that someone other than *her* should run the deployment.  Darrin reassures
him that she'll be all right, however, and Picard watches her beam down with a heavy heart.

The deployment runs into problems, however, and the teams are forced to act
alone.  The initial report suggests that although the colonists were saved,
two of the six teams were lost, including Darrin's team.  Picard goes to his
quarters, and sits there in shock.  He goes to his flute, and promptly locks
it away in its case.  Just then, however, Worf reports that survivors are being beamed aboard, one of which is Darrin.  

Some time later, Picard and Darrin talk, and realize that although Picard
never again wants to put her in danger, he might have to if she remains
aboard.  Darrin decides to put in for a transfer -- and although both talk of
seeing each other long-distance and planning for the future, she at least
seems to recognize the unlikeliness of this.  With a last kiss and a request that Picard never give up his music, she is gone.

There we go.  Now, that said, on to comments.

I had three "advance opinions" about the show, running quite a range.  First,
there was my reaction to the preview, which was "Gods, this looks awful."  
[This is not atypical, however; the publicity department at Paramount is in
serious need of someone who knows how to make previews appealing without
giving everything away.]  The second was Brannon Braga and Ron Moore at a
writers' workshop this past weekend, who termed "Lessons" a nice love story
with great performances, but somewhat, well, "routine".  (If this is a
mischaracterization, I trust I'll be well corrected.)  Finally, I received
email from someone a few hours before I saw "Lessons" saying that he'd just seen it and that it was superb.

My opinion?  Someplace between the second and third opinions above.  It was a
wonderful character piece, and the only real objections I have are minor nitpicks.

I was also told at this same workshop I mention above that we'd be seeing
some serious aftermath of Picard's experiences in "The Inner Light".  Given
that I've been chewing out Paramount for not doing so for, oh, roughly six
months now, that was welcome news.  However, I didn't expect it to be this *soon*!  :-)

What's even more interesting, in this particular case, was that the followup
to TIL shown here in "Lessons" not only gives Picard some much-needed
advancement, but retroactively makes the flute cameo in "A Fistful of Datas"
much more meaningful.  At the time, I dismissed it as (pardon the pun) "lip
service" to the events of TIL.  Apparently, Ronald Wilkerson and Jean Louise Matthias (the writers here) decided otherwise.  I'm glad of it.

"Lessons" was a very straightforward love story -- there weren't a lot of
surprises or twists to make it different from a story you could find on many
other shows.  One prevailing opinion I've heard insists that that makes it a
bad Star Trek story.  I disagree.  Were it done week after week, then yes, it
would be verging on pointless to have the 24th-century setting we do.  But
the characters we see each week are still *people*, and that means
occasionally there will be people-stories that have very little SF-type twists to them.  This was one.

The gradual growth of Picard's and Darrin's relationship was well done on all
fronts.  The scripting was quite true to Picard (and starting out with his
annoyance at not having his tea was a beaut of a touch), and Stewart and
Wendy Hughes both did superb work, Stewart particularly.  (Not that this is a
surprise, mind you.)  The use of the *music* as the tool that united them so
quickly was an extremely good choice, and all the expected issues about
dealing with co-workers as lovers were dealt with properly and with good attention to all the different characters involved.

I have only a few negative points about the story, and all but one are quite minor.

First, I think more might have been done with the Picard/Bev angle.  We had
their one dinner together, and the scene in sickbay as Bev helps Darrin with
her arm.  That's nice.  And with it, we also had a very important clue about
*why* Picard's never tried to make their relationship more romantic, when
Picard talks to Troi about relationships with co-workers.  All of that was
wonderful -- and thinking about it, there may *not* be much more that should
have been done here.  I just felt like it was a little unfinished.  (On the
other hand, maybe that's future planning.  I suddenly feel a bit more optimistic about that.)

Secondly, and more importantly, the ending, while safely escaping one major
cliche, didn't quite take the gutsiest direction it could have.  Now, I was
strongly expecting from minute one to find Darrin a corpse by the end of the
episode, and everyone involved deserves credit for *not* taking the "Bonanza"
route.  What's more, the resolution certainly made sense, because the
reasoning for her leaving fit both characters, at least mostly.  However, I
think that things *could* have been left a lot more open-ended, and that
Darrin might have been able to stick around for a while.  This was the "safe"
ending; not as safe as killing her off, so that helps, but safe nonetheless.   I'm just disappointed by it, that's all.

(Also, as a smaller point, the jeopardy story didn't do much for me.  It had
me worried about Darrin, which was its main objective, but it mostly just was *there*.)

There's not much else to say about the story, though.  This, like a lot of
similar stories, is something that mostly rose and fell on the performances of
the principals; and all did wonderful jobs.  Starting with the smaller roles and moving up:

Gates McFadden had a small but crucial part as Bev this time.  While I think
the Picard/Bev issue might have been gone into more, as I said, she served as
a good reminder that there was a past to worry about here.  (Darrin may not have known it, but we did.)

Speaking of small but crucial parts, check out Marina Sirtis this time.  
While the Picard/Troi conversation was certainly important (and the "Are you
asking my permission?" exchange rang solidly), the _nonverbal_ cues she gave
while Picard was listening to Darrin play earlier were one of the little
touches that really made the show.  That's a combination of Robert Wiemer
(the director) seizing the opportunity and Sirtis running with it, and it
worked like a charm.  (For those who have no idea what I'm talking about, watch Troi's eyes while Picard's are on Darrin.)

Frakes was better than usual as Riker.  It helped that the script gave him a
fairly crucial role this time, of course -- and actually getting more of a
handle on what his responsibilities are was valuable.  But the moment that
felt most Riker-like to me, actually, was his reaction to Picard inviting him fencing.  The look of "oh, my God, now I'm in deep trouble" was priceless.

Wendy Hughes did a great job as Nella Darrin.  I didn't expect the "love
interest" to be believable, given some of the past loves we've seen for
Picard.  (Jenice Manheim?  *Vash*?  Come _on_...)  She was, though:  as Bev
said, she was, well, "forthright".  Strong-willed, capable, learned,
passionate about her music -- all traits that I can see Picard being drawn to
quite easily.  (It took me a little while to get used to her accent, though.  
Is the actress Australian?  That's the best guess I could come up with...)   She wasn't quite up to Stewart's level, but very few people are.

Then (how's that for a lead-in?), there was Stewart, who as expected took the
show and ran away with it.  Virtually every scene he touched turned to gold,
and even those that didn't were substantially improved by him being there.  
The scene in the Jeffries tube is a good example:  with different characters
or actors there, that scene could have come off as silly and trite.  Instead,
with the passion for his music that Picard displayed, it very nearly brought
a lump to my throat.  It truly *was* as beautiful a scene as Darrin claimed, and much of that is due to Stewart's work.  

There are other examples there, chief among them being his reaction to
Darrin's apparent death.  He really *did* look as though Picard simply "shut
down" afterwards, and seemed as drained of life as we've ever seen Picard.   Marvelous.

That about does it.  A few short takes:

-- The version we saw in the LA area had a couple of *very* odd edits.  
Picard and Darrin's first kiss appeared cut short, and the final fade on
Picard (to the closing credits, presumably) flat-out stopped before those credits happened.  Did this happen anywhere else?

-- Another in the long line of "Fine, so Tim's not a musician, bear with him" questions.  Was Wendy Hughes actually doing any of her own playing?

-- Speaking of which, even if I'm *not* a musician, I want one of those Port-a-Pianos she had.  They're neat.  ;-)

-- I've never particularly enjoyed "Frere Jacques" until they started improvising with it.  Nice work.

-- Loved the music filtering down to Engineering.  You could almost see Geordi's face change to say "oh, geez, NOW what?"

-- "Have you been playing long?"  "Um ... yes, a long time."  That by _itself_ would have been an interesting followup to "The Inner Light"...

-- We were all nicely tricked into thinking Darrin actually died.  Kudos to whoever managed to construct it that way.

-- Apropos of absolutely nothing:  Is going to the dentist still universally
feared in the 24th century?  I've had a couple of recent visits myself, and I
suddenly have this image of Riker grumbling about it.  "Even with all the advances we've made, my jaw still hurts and I still hate Muzak."  :-)

That's about it, really.  "Lessons" was a nice little love story, with some
great acting and some generally good writing, and has managed to make me
optimistic that sometimes key character points *do* get followed up.  I'm happy.

So, the numbers:

Plot:  8.  Change the ending and it's a 10.
Plot Handling:  10.  Crisp, very crisp.
Characterization:  10.  Marvelous.

TOTAL:  9, rounding a little bit down for music and weird production problems.

NEXT WEEK:  A rerun of "Chain of Command, Part I".  DS9 has a rerun too, so I'm *really* getting a week off...:-)

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.)
BITNET:  tlynch@citjulie
UUCP:  ...!ucbvax!
"Captain, are you asking my permission?"
"If I were, would you give it?"
                                -- Troi and Picard
-- Copyright 1993, Timothy W. Lynch.  All rights reserved, but feel free to ask...

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