When Picard is up in the middle of the night amusing himself with his archaeology hobby, he’s annoyed to find that Stellar Cartography has taken communications, library systems, and the replicators offline.
When he heads down there, the officer in charge is taking some sensor readings that are so delicate they can be totally ruined by a 3am meet-cute.
Lt. Commander Nella Daren is intelligent, focused, witty, well-rounded, and she speaks her mind. When she joins Data as pianist for a classical concert, Troi observes that Picard is unusually moved by her performance.
When Daren drops by Picard’s quarters with a roll-out keyboard (a prop that I remember was a big hit on the trek discussion boards on the pre-WWW Internet), she offers an impromptu music lesson. Picard, playing his Resikan flute (s5e25 “The Inner Light“), gets thrown by her improvisation during a complex classical piece. When she suggests they try “Frère Jacques” instead, he’s confident enough to improvise.
Later on the bridge, Riker is stunned by Picard’s cheerfulness. Daren meanwhile drops by sickbay with a sore arm from too much piano playing; Crusher, with a subtly frozen smile, is surprised to learn she and the captain are playing duets.
A memorable scene features Daren leading Picard deep into the Jeffries tubes, to a junction that she calls the most acoustically perfect spot on the ship. There, Picard introduces the folk melody he played while living for decades on the doomed planet Kataan. LaForge and his team notice music wafting in from a service tunnel. When the music stops, LaForge shrugs and goes back to his work, and we cut to the tunnel where Picard and Daren are already leaning in for a kiss.
Picard checks in with Troi about the propriety of starting a relationship with someone under his command (this scene establishes that Starfleet doesn’t prohibit such relationships, though Picard is wary). He’s still uncomfortable talking to Daren in public, but in private he tells her he’s grateful he has someone to share his music with.
When Daren pushes back against a personnel decision Riker made, Riker confesses to Picard that he feels a bit uncomfortable due to their personal relationship; but Picard says Riker should feel free to do his job.
Because we’re still in the era of episodic TV, and the show wasn’t organized around season-long character arcs, in this same episode where we meet Daren for the first time, Picard must also order her into a dangerous situation. After that, nothing is the same.
Some old-fashioned camera work (hand doubles and clever editing) helps to sell the illusion that these actors are accomplished musicians. Memorable moments include Picard’s joyful face after “Frère Jacques,” the whole Jeffries tube scene, and a particularly powerful shot from below a glass table as Picard sadly puts away his flute.
In the denouement, Picard gamely hints at a long-distance relationship, but Daren knows we can go on shipping Jean-Luc/Beverly.