Star Trek The Next Generation: Lessons

"I want you to understand what my music means to me."

Captain Picard gets close to a Commander newly transferred to the Enterprise after she shuts down his replicator and denies him tea at 3am.

This is a romance episode – always a dodgy prospect on TNG. Like Troi episodes, they can be brilliant, but (more often) they can also be terrible. Luckily, this one sits somewhere in between the two – it's certainly not terrible, but it isn't quite up there with the all-time greats like 'Half a Life'.

I love that one of the things that brings Picard and Commander Daren together is Picard's "flute"-playing, from 'The Inner Light' (what he's playing looks distinctly like a tin whistle to me). Daren is surprised to learn he's a musician, and while the character has always appreciated music and attended concerts, it's only since that episode and his experience as a musician with a son who is also a musician that he's been playing something regularly.

I'm sure that this continuity and the ongoing impact of Picard's experience in that episode is one of the reasons 'The Inner Light' such a fan favourite. It's a great episode in and of itself, but it is quite vulnerable to the complaint that nothing actually really happens and everything goes back to normal at the end. The fact that, as in the wake of his rescue from the Borg in 'The Best of Both Worlds', Picard never does go back to 'normal', but is permanently affected by his experience is one of the things that makes viewing the episode so satisfying on a re-watch.

The moment in this episode where Picard plays the tune from 'The Inner Light' is genuinely affecting, and I actually welled up. Picard calls it 'an old folk melody', and later in the episode he briefly explains the events of 'The Inner Light' to Daren. One of the things TNG started to do really well was to blend episodic story-telling – you don't have to have seen 'The Inner Light' to enjoy this episode, so you don't feel you have to keep up with every single instalment to enjoy the show – with elements of ongoing continuity – so that moment in this episode becomes more meaningful if you've seen 'The Inner Light'.

On the other hand, there can be downsides to ongoing continuity. Any Captain Picard romance episode has to deal with the fact he's blatantly in a relationship with Dr Crusher. They may or may not be doing the nasty, but considering how much time they spend having breakfast together, having dinner together and so on, they're clearly in some kind of relationship – albeit one where she tactfully withdraws to let him talk to another woman. Quite why TNG was so keen on these half-relationships (see also: Troi and Riker) is a mystery, but it does create an interesting tension in the story. Crusher and Daren even look very similar, something highlighted in the scene where they sit next to each other in their blue uniforms with long red hair, snarking at each other.

The best thing about Picard romance episodes is easy – Patrick Stewart's acting. This is especially important in an emotional and dramatic story like this one. This is not a 'comedy' episode, as some TNG romances are, but a dramatic story exploring a genuine and highly relatable issue. Picard is, by nature, reserved, and he has to keep his emotions in check in order to maintain his position as Captain. However, we can read every flicker of emotion on Stewart's tortured face, and so we can follow and engage with Picard's emotional journey throughout the episode, even as the character tries desperately to hold it all in.

Not a lot actually happens in this episode. I mean, a bunch of people get rescued from... something, but we don't really care. The story is basically, Picard gets a girlfriend, the job gets in the way, they break up. It's a bit depressing. And to be honest, Daren isn't that likeable – she's OK, but a bit dull. But it's nice to see Picard play the "flute" again, and the exploration of whether it's possible for a Captain to be in a relationship with someone on his crew is interesting.

Bits and pieces

 - Apparently, there are no Starfleet regulations about a Captain getting involved with a fellow officer under their command. This is rather bizarre – most military organisations have rules about getting involved with someone in your direct line of command – but it does explain a lot about Captain Kirk!

 - I like the detail of having Data on duty on the bridge during the night shift - presumably, as an android, he doesn't need to sleep and night shift is easier for him!

 - Wouldn't the Captain need to sign off on a plan to shut down so much power no one can make a cup of tea, even if it was the middle of the night?

 - I love how many music concerts and am dram plays they put on in TNG – my brother is a singer and my partner and I do am dram, so this is something I spend a lot of time doing! And the piano music in this episode was lovely.

 - Geordi hearing music from engineering reminded me of The Hunt for Red October, if you've seen that film.

Quotes

Picard: Now, perhaps you can tell me what was so important that it required depriving the Captain of his cup of Earl Grey?

Daren (to Crusher): Guess the Captain and I overdid it last night.

Crusher: I didn't know he played duets.
Daren: I don't think he did before.

Troi: Captain, are you asking my permission?
Picard: If I were, would you give it?
Troi: (smiling) Yes.

Decent enough, but ultimately forgettable. Two and a half out of four cups of Earl Grey tea at 3am.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

3 comments:

tucsonbarbara said...

This has always been one of my least favorite episodes, although I did enjoy the flute playing.

While Wendy Hughes was a fine actress, IMO she and Patrick Stewart had absolutely no chemistry. I just didn't believe them as a couple, which ruined the episode for me.

Billie Doux said...

Yeah, I so agree. It just seems like this should have been an episode about Picard and Crusher, not Picard and some random officer with long, red hair who for some strange reason *looked* like Crusher. I mean, was that deliberate?

I did enjoy everything about "Inner Light" and especially that it had a profound, lasting effect on Picard's life. And of course, Patrick Stewart is such a phenomenal actor that the episode was worth watching just to see his emotional struggle. But (again) how much richer could this episode have been if it had been about Picard and Crusher?

Billie Doux said...

One more thought. I want one of those portable pianos. :) Although I kept thinking about how it sounded like there were more octaves there than were visible.