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Captain Picard’s greatest Star Trek romance is also his most forgotten

Star Trek's Captain Jean-Luc Picard isn't known for his romances, unlike James T. Kirk. But of the relationships he does have, this is TNG's most forgotten.

Patrick Stewart as Captain Picard in Star Trek TNG

When you think of Star Trek, romance might not be the first thing that comes to mind. Adventure, introspection, exploration, and action? Yes, there’s plenty of that. But through the history of Star Trek, romance has also has its role to play, even for the best Star Trek captain, and most guarded: Jean-Luc Picard.

While Kirk has become partly known for his galaxy-spanning romances, enabled by his smooth and easy charm, Starfleet’s Captain Jean-Luc Picard liked to keep things aboard the USS Enterprise slightly more professional, and private, for fear of the potential impact it could have on his position in command.

Even then, though, across the seven seasons of his Star Trek series, and the Star Trek movies, romance would occasionally find its way into his life whether he liked it, or not. He did, of course, have an on-off (but mostly off) relationship with Dr. Beverly Crusher, the partner of his deceased best friend Jack Crusher. But, mostly, their relationship was based on mutual respect and friendship, even if there was an underlying romantic interest.

Their relationship was propelled forward in Star Trek Picard season 3, with the discovery that the two had had a son. When the season concludes, the status of their relationship is unclear. Are they together, finally? And what about Laris?

Orla Brady as Laris in Star Trek Picard

Laris, introduced in Star Trek Picard season 1, is the only real Star Trek character who we know that Jean-Luc Picard officially enters a relationship with. It’s one of the focusses of (the fairly awful, let’s be honest) Picard season 2: they sit and sip wine at the chateau, basking in the French sun.

There’s also Vash. Unlike Beverly and Laris, Vash was never going to be with Picard in a long-term relationship. Meeting on the planet Risa in the episode Captain’s Holiday, they share interests and an attraction, but are otherwise opposite personalities. His stiffness contrasts with her craftiness, and willingness to break the rules, evidenced by her eventual partnership with Q. It was never going to work.

But put Beverly, Laris, and Vash (as well as others, like Anij and Kamala) to the side: Captain Picard’s most compatible romance, which would have stood the test of time, was with the forgotten Nella Daren. Lieutenant Commander Nella Daren joins the USS Enterprise as the head of stellar sciences in the vastly underrated season 6 episode Lessons.

Wendy Hughes as Nella Daren in Star trek TNG

Lessons is underrated because it’s understated. It focusses almost exclusively on the growing relationship between Daren and Picard, its positive and negative impact on him, the strain it creates between him and the rest of his crew, and his eventual decision to let her go when he’s forced to choose between protecting her safety with special treatment, or treating her like any other crew member. Essentially, this is a choice between whether or not to act as her partner, or as her captain. He chooses the latter, and they go their separate ways.

But, prior to being forced into the decision, Lessons proved that Picard was far more compatible with Daren as a romantic partner than any of his former, or subsequent, love interests. She shared his passion for learning, his inherent sternness, and she allowed him to open up to her without being left to feel vulnerable. Above all, she looked just like Beverly (honestly, she could have been her sister; tall, red hair, and slim, Picard certainly has a type).

Wendy Hughes and Gates McFadden as Nella Daren and Beverly Crusher in Star Trek TNG

There are two scenes, in particular, which prove that Daren was Picard’s greatest romance. The first is a scene in which he and Beverly are sharing dinner, as they regularly do. They talk about the ship, and its daily business, and Picard informs her of some new scientific discovery. It’s not sterile, but it’s not exactly electric either. Beverly listens and responds passively; they’re comfortable in each other’s company, but there is no sense of excitement, or challenge.

The second is framed similarly. Picard and Daren are sharing tea, but now the conversation is focussed: they’re both present, and Picard tells her about one of his most personal experiences (his life as Kamin on Kataan, seen in The Inner Light). She listens actively, and probes, asking questions and challenging him to think about himself, and his choices.

It’s a neat juxtaposition, highlighting exactly what Picard needs in a relationship. Forthrightness, intellectual vigour, and curiosity. It’s not necessarily that Beverly, Laris, Vash, or any of the rest lack these traits. But Picard only manages to ignite them in Daren. He only gives her up because he has something that he already loves and values more than any relationship. The captain’s chair aboard the USS Enterprise-D.

For more on Star Trek, see why Jonathan Frakes thinks one TNG episode needs to be banned. Or, learn why Patrick Stewart says his pride nearly killed Picard season 3. You can also find out more about the future of the Star Trek timeline with our guides to the Lower Decks season 4 release date, Strange New Worlds season 3 release date, and a potential Star Trek Legacy release date.

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If that’s not enough, see our picks for the best Star Trek starships, before reading why Kirk is definitely in love with Spock. If that’s enough Star Trek, you can see what else is new on Paramount Plus, and see our selection of the best TV series ever made.