Jun 5 2012 3:00pm

Star Trek: The Next Generation Rewatch: “Darmok”

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 2 “Darmok”
Written by Phil LaZebnik and Joe Menosky
Directed by Winrich Kolbe
Season 5, Episode 2
Production episode 40275-202
Original air date: September 30, 1991
Stardate: 45047.2

Captain’s log: The Enterprise is en route to El-Adrel IV. A ship from a reclusive nation known as the Children of Tama has entered orbit of that world, and is sending a subspace signal of a simple mathematical progression—no message, but an indication that they’re there. The Federation has had sporadic contact with the Tamarians, but no formal relations were ever established—one of those contacts was by Captain Silvestri of the Shiku Maru, who described the Tamarians as “incomprehensible.”

Upon arrival at El-Adrel IV, it’s clear that Captain Silvestri was right. The universal translator is able to render Captain Dathon’s words, but not his grammar. The Tamarians keep throwing proper names and locations around while the Enterprise crew stares incomprehensibly, and when Picard tries to talk to them, the Tamarians are equally baffled.

Dathon then gets into an argument with his first officer, which ends with the captain taking the first officer’s dagger, and holding them both up at Picard, declaring: “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra” (a phrase that was also a major component of the argument between Dathon and his first officer).

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 2

And then both captains are beamed off their respective bridges down to the surface of El-Adrel IV. The Tamarians have created a particle scattering field in the ionosphere that inhibits transporting and communications—but not sensors. They can all tell what’s going on, but not talk to the captains, nor bring them back. And the Tamarians are just as helpless as the Enterprise. Worf theorizes that it’s perhaps a contest between champions.

On the surface, Picard has similar notion. Dathon holds up both daggers, and repeats, “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra,” indicating one dagger when saying “Darmok” and the other when he says, “Jalad.” Then he tosses one dagger at Picard, who tosses it back, refusing to fight him.

Riker tries to talk to the Tamarians, but the communication gap is no narrower, so he sends Worf with a security team in a shuttle to rescue the captain. He’s hoping that the Tamarians won’t actually fire on a shuttle.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 2

On the surface, night has fallen. Dathon has managed to start a fire to keep warm—Picard’s attempts to do likewise fail (all the boy scouts in the audience are now laughing at him). Dathon’s fire is surrounded by rocks, and after another failed attempt to talk to Picard, he removes the medals from his uniform, seems to pray with them for a moment, then distributes the medals around the circumference of his encampment. As part of the ritual, Dathon touches the medal, then touches his forehead.

At first, he lays down to sleep, then sees that Picard is very cold, and so he lights a stick from his fire and tosses it to Picard, saying, “Temba, his arms wide.” Picard realizes that it’s an offering. He accepts the torch and thanks Dathon, who smiles, happy at the breakthrough.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 2

Worf and a security guard (coulda sworn Riker said to take a team, but never mind) take a shuttle toward the surface, but the Tamarians fire on them, damaging their thrusters just enough to force Riker to order Worf back, as he’d be able to land, but not take off again. Data reports that the phaser beam was specifically attenuated for so specific an attack. La Forge reports that, with a day’s work, he can punch a transporter beam through.

Meanwhile, Riker has Data and Troi study the Tamarians further. They look over the recordings of the earlier communications, in particular the oft-repeated phrase “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” There are 47 linguistic references for “Darmok” just in this sector alone. But a search for “Tanagra” reveals a commonality—one of the entries for Darmok is a hunter on Shantil III, and Tanagra is an island continent on that same world.

The following morning, Picard wakes up to see that Dathon has abandoned his encampment. Picard enters, examining Dathon’s medals, and also finding a diary, which he assumes is a captain’s log. He’s interrupted by Dathon, who is anxiously running toward Picard, again declaring, “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” He then tries once again to give Picard one of the daggers (“Temba, his arms wide!”), but Picard refuses to fight him.

Then they hear the growling, and occasional glimpses of a creature (one that always makes me think of the Shrike from Dan Simmons’s Hyperion Cantos stories). Picard finally agrees to take the dagger. The shrike (that’s what I’m calling it, so there) keeps appearing and disappearing. On the Enterprise, Worf detects the shrike, and sees that it’s moving in on Picard and Dathon. La Forge is still several hours away from modifying the transporter fully; if he tries it now, it might not work. Riker and Worf are concerned that this will tip their hand to the Tamarians, but Picard’s life is in danger, and they have to give it a shot.

The shrike grows closer. Dathon declares, “Uzani, his army with fists open,” then adds, “Uzani, his army with fists closed.” Picard realizes that this is a battle strategy—that they must separate and close in on the shrike. More importantly, Picard realizes that the Tamarians communicate through example and metaphor.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 2

When the shrike attacks, O’Brien tries to transport Picard up. It fails, but Picard’s stuck in the beam long enough for the shrike to pound the crap out of Dathon.

Riker is forced to order La Forge and Worf to adjust the phasers in such a way that they can take out the Tamarians’ scattering field with one shot, which will take a couple of hours. A diplomatic solution appears to be off the table, as Troi and Data have figured out how the Tamarians communicate—via references to stories from their myths and history—but without actual knowledge of those stories, they have no frame of reference by which to speak to them.

On the surface, Picard sits with a dying Dathon next to a fire. (Apparently, Picard’s fire-building skills have improved in the past day.) Picard gets Dathon to work through the story: “Darmok on the ocean; Tanagra on the ocean; Darmok at Tanagra. Jalad on the ocean; Jalad at Tanagra. The beast at Tanagra. Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. Darmok and Jalad on the ocean.”

Picard figures it out: Darmok and Jalad came separately to Tanagra, they fought the beast, and left together. Dathon knew that there was a dangerous creature on the planet and thought that a shared danger might bring the Children and Tama and the Federation together as Darmok and Jalad were.

Dathon then tries to get Picard to tell a story of his own, and he tells the story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu, and how they started as enemies, became friends, and fought together—and how saddened Gilgamesh was when Enkidu was struck down by the gods. Dathon dies shortly thereafter.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 2

The shrike returns in the morning, and Picard is worried that Dathon’s sacrifice will be in vain if it kills Picard. On the Enterprise, Worf fires the modified phasers, which takes out the scattering field, enabling O’Brien to beam Picard up—but which also starts a firefight between the two ships. However, Picard arrives on the bridge and is able to communicate with the Tamarians, thus revealing that Dathon’s mission was successful—but Picard is also able to communicate that Dathon was killed. The crew take out their daggers, touch them, then touch their foreheads.

Picard returns Dathon’s diary, which is beamed over, but when Picard offers to return the dagger, the first officer allows him to keep it. And now the Tamarians have a new phrase: “Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel.”

Later, when Riker brings Picard the full damage report, the first officer finds his captain reading the Homeric hymns in Greek, feeling that familiarity with humanity’s myths will help understand the Tamarians better. After Riker leaves, Picard takes the dagger, touches it, then touches his own forehead.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity?: The Tamarian scattering field prevents communication or transport. La Forge tries to punch a transporter beam through, but fails, though he might’ve been able to do it with more time. Somehow, La Forge and Worf are able to modify the phasers so that they can take out the scattering field generator—it’s unclear how this works, exactly, except maybe to make them aim better, but if that’s the case, why aren’t they like that all the time? (The VFX people screwed up in post-production, and had the Enterprise phasers firing out of the photon torpedo launcher, so maybe that was the big-ass modification that La Forge and Worf needed two hours to implement?)

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 2

Thank you, Counselor Obvious: Troi and Data are tasked with learning more about the Tamarian language—because apparently on a ship with a thousand people on board, whose primary mission is seeking out new life and new civilizations, it never occurred to anyone to assign a linguist to the crew.

There is no honor in being pummeled: Worf takes a shuttle down and engages in evasive maneuvers when the Tamarian ship powers up—these evasive maneuvers are so effective that the Tamarians get a perfect shot on the shuttle.

Worf also suggests firing on the Tamarians from jump, but Riker declares it to be a last resort, which Worf reluctantly agrees with. Of course, it gets to that point in the end—the tactic works, enabling Picard to be rescued, vindicating Worf, but the Enterprise also gets its ass kicked by the Tamarians, vindicating Riker’s decision to go for that option only when all others were exhausted.

If I only had a brain...: Data tells Troi that he has encountered 1754 non-human species during his time with Starfleet.

I believe I said that: “Shaka, when the walls fell.”

The Tamarian phrase for failure, used quite a bit throughout the episode.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 2

Welcome aboard: Richard Allen, having previously played Kentor in “The Ensigns of Command,” returns as the Tamarian first officer. We get half a Robert Knepper moment, via Ashley Judd’s appearance as Ensign Robin Lefler—half because she’s well remembered as Lefler, thanks to a) her being a member of the Judd family of country singers, b) her forthcoming appearance in “The Game,” c) the character’s ongoing role in the Star Trek: New Frontier novels, and d) her subsequent career as an A-list actor in films and TV series (including an Emmy and Golden Globe nomination for her role in the HBO movie Norma Jean & Marilyn), but getting one anyhow because it’s very easy to forget that she was in this episode as well as “The Game.”

However, the big guest star here is the late Paul Winfield, last seen in Trek circles as the ill-fated Reliant Captain Clark Terrell in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, putting in a superb performance as Dathon.

Trivial matters: Christopher L. Bennett (a regular commenter on this here rewatch) followed up on this episode and provided some background on the Children of Tama in his short story “Friends with the Sparrows” in the TNG anthology The Sky’s the Limit.

This episode marks the debut of Picard’s alternate uniform, an open red jacket over a gray turtleneck. It will continue to be used as an occasional alternative to the regular uniform, much like Kirk’s green uniform on the original series.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 2

The original pitch from Phil LaZebnik came in the third season, but it didn’t come together until Michael Piller assigned it to Joe Menosky in the fifth. Rick Berman reportedly hated the concept, and resisted approving it, but afterward cited it as a particular favorite.

Russell T. Davies cited this episode—specifically its logline, which so intrigued him that he refused to actually watch the episode itself—as a major inspiration for the Doctor Who episode “Midnight.”

Make it so: “Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel.” This tends to be a polarizing episode, with people either adoring it or hating it. So fair warning to the haters: I fall squarely in the former camp.

The story has its flaws, certainly. It’s not clear how the language could really evolve or function practically, and the technobabble to explain how the Enterprise can so perfectly target the scattering field doesn’t make anything like sense. Plus, why isn’t there a linguist on board the ship? Okay, fine, you need your regular actors to be doing something, but why can’t they be working with a guest star who plays the linguist?

Star Trek: The Next Generation, Season 5, Episode 2

But those flaws are minor and irrelevant, because ultimately this episode is precisely what Star Trek is supposed to be about, based on what Patrick Stewart intones before the credits every week (and as William Shatner did before him): seeking out new life and new civilizations. Plus it deals with an issue that Star Trek has mostly avoided like the plague (even Enterprise, which was supposed to take place during the early days of translator technology and which actually did have a linguist on board, mostly spackled over this), to wit, the language barrier. As Troi so eloquently pointed out way back in “The Ensigns of Command,” it’s a wonder that any two species who evolve on different worlds can communicate at all, and it’s an issue that really should come up more often. What I especially like is that the universal translator works—the words are rendered into English—but it’s of little help given the Tamarians peculiar mode.

In particular, what makes the episode is the stellar turn by the always-great Paul Winfield, who magnificently conveys Dathon’s eagerness to communicate, his frustration with Picard’s inability to understand him, and his joy when he finally starts to get it—all while, in essence, spouting gibberish. Sir Patrick Stewart, of course, more than holds his own, and the scene where they exchange stories—Dathon of Darmok and Jalad, Picard of Gilgamesh and Enkidu—is one of the ten best scenes in all of Trek history.

A strong first contact story, a strong science fiction story, and first-rate performances. Just excellent stuff.


Warp factor rating: 9


Keith R.A. DeCandido will be appearing at Annie’s Book Stop in Worcester, Massachusetts this Saturday, the 9th of June, from 2-5pm, for an autographing/reading/Q&A. Please come on by!

1. StrongDreams
This is also one of my favorite episodes. It is poetic, and well-acted by Winfield and Stewart.


It makes no frelling sense that the Tamarians would evolve this kind of language AND a complex technological civilization AND have no understanding of how other races communicate.

Imagine two Tamarians building a boat together,

"Shalka, his fist closed."
I need the 7mm socket wrench.
"Temba, his arms open."
Here it is (hands over a 6 mm wrench)
"No, Shalka his fist a little less closed."
2. That Neil Guy
It sure was handy that Picard was wearing his spiffy new jacket at a time when he'd unexpectedly spend the night outdoors.
Michael Burstein
3. mabfan
Nomi, who majored in Linguistics, had a professor that liked to show this episode (as well as not take off points if you misspelled the Whorf Hypothesis). As a language of communication, what the Children of Tama speak is clearly ridiculous; you would need some underlying basis to teach the metaphors to your children before communicating solely in metaphor. In a way, the langauge reminds me of the way SF fans love to refer to our favorite scenes and stories.

Although I diagree with the possibility of the language, I do love this episode. And once, when a friend of mine dismissed the language by saying, "How would you teach calculus?" I responded, "Newton, with the equations hidden. Liebniz, with the credit given." :-)

-- Michael A. Burstein
Keith DeCandido
4. krad
StrongDreams: I highly recommend picking up the TNG anthology The Sky's the Limit and reading Christopher L. Bennett's "Friends with the Sparrows," which not only does an excellent job of dealing with the Children of Tama and helping explain how they developed their language, but it also does a better job of showing Data dealing with the emotion chip than any of the four TNG movies could manage.

(It also has a pretty awesome story by your humble rewatcher called "Four Lights." *cough*)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
5. tigeraid
Absolutely agree, I always thought "there's no way in hell a race of people with a language made of ONLY metaphors could ever assemble the simplest of machinery, let alone be space-faring"... But it doesn't matter. The story is great, Stewart and Winfield are excellent, and the ending is heart-rending. I was only 12 when I first watched it and got teary-eyed.
6. Sean O'Hara
I just can't get past the premise. Forget how you run a technological civilization when everyone speaks in metaphor, how does this language even function on an everyday level. "Romeo and Juliet on the balcony," only works if you know who Romeo and Juliet are and what they're doing on the balcony. So what language do the Tamarians use to tell those stories? If they understand what "balcony" refers to in the story, why can't they understand "balcony" in everyday usage?

There's a good story to be had about aliens' whose language is so influenced by metaphor and allusions that it's impossible for outsiders to understand, but having the aliens saying, "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra," over and over again.
Chris Hawks
7. SaltManZ
It's very much like Gene Wolfe's "Ascians" in The Book of the New Sun, who only speak in phrases from texts approved by the ruling Group of Seventeen. There's an entire chapter devoted to an Ascian (called "Loyal to the Group of Seventeen," naturally) telling a story from his country with another character interpreting.
8. Mike Kelm
I agree with you that this is very much the explore strange new life and civilizations that we expect from Star Trek and works very good as a standalone show. It provides a fantastic forum for Patrick Stewart and Paul Winfield to try and face a foe and establish communication, which is something we usually take for granted thanks to universal translators (or that English has apparently conquered the galaxy).

As usual my issues are nitpicky. There are way too few crew on board and utilized by the senior staff (no linguistics expert, and "take a team" seems to be the 24th century equivalent of grab the nearest redshirt and go). Second, I agree with you as far as the fact that there are no way that a language like this could develop. It''s linguistically like communicating with a 5 year old, which works with a 5 year old, but how do you explain that the port plasma injector of the starboard manifold is stuck open and the ship is going to blow up in the next 30 seconds? Third, once again the most powerful ship in the fleet gets its butt whooped by the opposing battleship of the week. Just once I'd like to see an enemy that shoots the enterprise and scores minimal damage, or that is at least as succeptible to damage as the Enterprise is. Instead you lose half the shields in one blast while not even scratching the paint.

Lastly, I offer one last thought on why Ashley Judd/Robin Lefler is so memorable. 23 year old Ashley Judd was rediculously hot. It's not overly relevant to the episode, but just putting that out there.
Jay Hash
I absolutely adore this episode.

My friend, who is an elementary school teacher, used this episode as a basis of getting his masters degree (as he focuses in science and communication studies). And it does exceedingly well at illustrating the various breakdowns in communication, and how we can try to overcome them.

And whereas I see your point Sean, we are only hearing the terms as translated into english by the universal translator, which is taking the phonetically similar sounds, making approximations with known languages, then tweaking in real time to find a translation that makes sense to a native speaker (at least from what I remember from the TNG Tech Manual). Who is to say that the Tamarians translator is that universal? Or works on the same premise? The word for balcony could come through on their translator as 6 different words, and it is the context that makes that word with the sentence mean something. It's speculation, but possible.

Also, I remembered Christopher's story about the Tamarians in "The Sky's The Limit" and the explanation he gives is quite logical and makes for an interesting interaction with the Tamarian Delegation. Not to mention the hoops Troi has to jump through with Data. And yes, Keith, "Four Lights" was equally awesome. And I wish that it could have been the basis for the last Trek film, as it was far more interesting than what we got with Shinzon. If Picard ever had a "Khan", it would be Gul Madred.
10. Christopher Walsh
This is the only TNG episode I made sure to save (on VHS, even though I no longer have a VHS player, but still). Yes, it's special to me.

Among many things (and I accepted the premise), I like how the episode successfully keeps some things unexplained, like Dathon's ritual with the medals. It just happens, and has meaning to him, but one we can't know. A lovely quiet moment in an episode full of them.

My hunch was that Barclay would be fascinated with the Tamarians, given his problems communicating. (Which sounds flippant, but I'm sincere.) I love how this entire race communicates in a way that shouldn't work, but does. Now I want to read Christopher Bennett's story.
11. Lsana
Something that might be worth considering in the debate about this language is the way that TVTropes is (or at least used to be) structured. Someone finds a character or situation that embodies a trope and names it after that character: ex. since Scrappy Doo is perhaps the most universally loathed character in fiction, the character everyone hates is called "the Scrappy." Then variants of this trope become their own tropes. Then someone makes a pun on the name of the trope to name a related trope. This happens a dozen times or so, and before you know it, you are writing paragraphs about Jane Austen that are nothing more than strings of metaphors from Shakespeare, Avatar: The Last Airbender, Final Fantasy, and Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

All that's a long way of saying that I find this language not so implausible as others seem to. Yes, you would need a way to communicate the original stories, which they clearly had since Dathon told Picard the story of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. You would probably also need a way to say "I need the 9mm socket wrench right now or the warp engine's gonna explode," but of course Dathon wasn't trying to say "I need the 9mm socket wrench." He was trying to say, "Hello, let's be friends," which paradoxically, might have been infinitely more difficult. In general, highly technical stuff is the easy part of any language. It's the everyday stuff that causes people problems.
12. Christopher L. Bennett
Thanks to Keith and the others who mentioned my story. I do think that a lot of the features of Tamarian communication can be explained, for instance by assuming that a lot of it is nonverbal (through tone like in Chinese, and through gesture, expression, and body language), or that technical concepts are handled primarily by the written language, the way we use musical notation or mathematical symbols to convey things that we don't have words for. Here's my essay on Tamarian grammar, which I wrote as part of my research process for "Friends With the Sparrows":


But ultimately, I think dwelling on the technicalities of the language is missing the point. Because this episode, like the Tamarian language itself, is metaphorical. The technical details of the universal translator don't make any more sense than the technical details of Tamarian, so both are beside the point. The translator is a storytelling device to enable communication between characters from different worlds and species, and Tamarian grammar is a storytelling device to enable a story about surmounting an obstacle to communication. And humanoid aliens are metaphors for facets of human nature, and so forth. They're all just symbols when you get right down to it. It's the ideas those symbols are used to convey that really matter. And "Darmok" is a magnificent, inspired, moving first-contact story that marvelously embodies the core themes of Star Trek. It's about using intelligence, courage, and determination to surmount the barriers of incomprehension between very different people, so that conflict can be averted and understanding gained. And Dathon's willingness to risk everything to fulfill those goals makes him one of the most heroic characters in ST history. In many ways, "Darmok" is perhaps the most perfect Star Trek story ever told, technicalities aside. (Except for the phaser coming out of the torpedo tube. That's always bugged the heck out of me. ;) )

And Paul Winfield certainly deserves enormous credit for making Dathon such a compelling and poignant character. In a way, the fact that he had to do it all without using normal language made it more powerful, because it somehow distills and purifies the underlying emotion. (Some may laugh, but I have a similar reaction to the use of slang in the Doctor Who serial "Paradise Towers." Something about that kind of substitution of vocabulary heightens the emotional impact for me, perhaps because I have to think about the meanings more and so they're more internalized. Though it didn't work nearly as well in Voyager's "Nemesis," perhaps because the alien vocabulary was less elegant there.)

Kudos also to composer Jay Chattaway, whose score for the Gilgamesh scene makes me tear up every time I hear it, or heck, even think about it.

Mirab with sails unfurled, folks!
Alan Courchene
13. Majicou
The funny thing about the Ascian language in Book of the New Sun is that even though it consisted entirely of approved quotations in an attempt by the ruling party to exploit the (discredited) Sapir-Whorf hypothesis and make it impossible for the citizenry to rebel, Newspeak-style, the guy telling the story manages to speak against the Group of Seventeen anyway.
14. IvoryTower
The first time I saw this episode it was for an introduction to social sciences class (along with the Four Lights) episode, and while thinking about it too hard makes things fall apart, the point is that language is not simply words. It is also the meaning behind them, the context from which we draw them, and so forth.

I'm from Canada. We use words and phrases in our country, hell, in certain parts of certain provinces, that aren't used anywhere else. If that's all we had to speak in, I could easily see how we could confuse people. This is true of any english speaking region and continues to be true of any other language. This episode took that to an extreme, as science fiction is wont to do, and taught us an important lesson about language, communication, culture and history.

Now take off, ya hosers. ;)
Christopher Hatton
15. Xopher
Well, of course there's no linguist on board! That would require LaZebnik and Menosky to have been aware that the science of linguistics exists, or at any rate of some basic principles thereof.

I hate this episode more than any other episode of TNG. Even by Star Trek standards, the science is horrible (or maybe it's because I did my degree in linguistics, and notice it more), and the logic is even more cracked than usual.

How can the scattering field interfere with communications but not sensors? Aren't sensors communication? If information can get through one way, why not the other? Ridiculous.

Let's even leave aside the fact that if the Universal Translator works at all, it has to work on idioms and expressions. For example, if I say "You're asking for bricks without straw," and the UT has to translate into a language from a culture where neither bricks nor straw nor Exodus have ever existed, it must either come up with an equivalent metaphor or convert my sentence to something literal ("You have asked for an end result without providing an essential component"). But the UT is absurd anyway; it translates everything except apparently Klingon and Vulcan, though Klingons and Vulcans speak perfect (presumbably-translated) English except when they decide to Speak Their Language. So the UT is arbitrary anyway; even FarScape's "translator microbes" are more consistent.

The language as described could not be learned from one generation to another. Having the Tamarians think the Enterprise crew were speaking babytalk would make more sense, but of course it wouldn't be as dramatic. But even if that were the case, I think the question "how do you teach calculus?" says it all.

But others have pointed out the utter absurdity of the premise. I suppose it's no worse than having major characters turn into spiders because of "evolutionary regression" and other nonsense, but I deeply hate this episode. One flying snowman too many, I guess.
Christopher Hatton
16. Xopher
And "technicalities aside"? Seriously? If there were an episode where chemical rockets can't work outside atmosphere because there's nothing to push against in vacuum, but the episode had a good story, could you set the technicalities aside so easily?
marian moore
17. mariesdaughter
Somehow, I always looked at the Tamarian language like an Earth written languague that uses pictograms. If the universal translator was offered Chinese, might it not translate what the original pictograms meant--instead of the symbols now mean?
Keith DeCandido
18. krad
JYHASH: Thanks, though I don't see how they could have used my story written in 2007 as the basis for a movie released in 2002..... ;)

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
19. StrongDreams
Even by Star Trek standards, the science is horrible (or maybe it's because I did my degree in linguistics, and notice it more)

It's you. My most hated episode is the one where Barclay turns into a spider (PhD in immunology, natch).
Christopher Hatton
20. Xopher
StrongDreams, that one's high on my hate list too, but this one is at the very top.
21. Juliette Wade
I hear a lot of people object to the nature of the language used in "Darmok." I had trouble with the idea that the people would be entirely unable to speak in a normal way, but as a linguist and anthropologist I have no trouble with the idea that evocative allusions could be used to communicate. The first story I ever had published in Analog was a response to this episode, proposing the idea that a language like this one might be passed down over generations by a people who designated a particular place (in this case a holy place) as the one location where the language was allowed to be spoken normally, and the stories told and discussed. Outside of that special location the language was considered too sacred to be used in anything but the most oblique way, through references to commonly shared stories. I think a lot of the 7mm vs. 6mm precision issues could be solved by body language. Even so, I didn't try to have my aliens be a spacefaring race. The whole point was to take the inspiration of the episode and delve into how an actual language of that nature might work socially and culturally. If anyone's curious, I have my story available free online:

As far as the technical aspects of the transporters and such, they were obviously intended to serve the premise that Picard and Dathon would need to be isolated for a period of time in order to tackle their communication problem. I'm willing to overlook that sort of thing for a story that opened up a really different way of thinking about language. Thanks for the great article!
Jay Hash
@krad: I just mean, that for as much as "Nemesis" was a ripoff of "Wrath of Khan", there were far better villains in Picard's past to have him run into again, rather than have to make a hackneyed attempt at creating a new one out of a barely plausible "clone raised by Remans" background. Madred was one of those who Picard never faced again (like he did with the Borg in "First Contact"), and would have been much better than the forced Shinzon.

I just meant that your story would have made a better send off for the Crew of TNG than "Nemesis" did.
24. Christopher L. Bennett
@16: If you can't willingly suspend disbelief about technical implausibilities, it's impossible to enjoy Star Trek at all. Realistically, there would be no humanoid aliens, or at least extremely few; warp drive would either be impossible or require such immense energy that its use would be quite rare; teleportation would be so prohibitively difficult as to be impossible; ships would probably need to rotate to generate gravity; interspecies hybrids like Spock and Deanna couldn't exist; "wall"-type forcefields wouldn't exist; and so on. Now, I daresay I'm pretty good at finding plausible rationalizations for a lot of the improbable things featured in ST, but I'd never incorporate them into my original SF because they're just too fanciful. Ultimately it all comes down to how willing the audience is to suspend disbelief -- to understand that what they're seeing is impossible or doesn't make sense, yet choose to accept it for the sake of enjoying a work of fiction. Some degree of suspension of disbelief is necessary in even the most naturalistic fiction -- because you're suspending disbelief that anyone was present to record everything you're reading or that there was somehow a camera in the room that nobody noticed.

And generally, the more satisfying a story is in other respects, the more willing the audience is to suspend disbelief and forgive the credibility issues. Not only is "Darmok" a wonderful, moving story -- not only is it one of the few ways they could have told a story about surmounting communication barriers in a universe with magic universal translators -- but the logic problems with the Tamarian language are really no worse than the credibility problems with warp drive, humanoid aliens, transporters, and many of the other fundamental tropes of ST. So if you can suspend disbelief about the rest, why not this?
23. hapax
Xopher: "The language as described could not be learned from one generation to another. Having the Tamarians think the Enterprise crew were speaking babytalk would make more sense, but of course it wouldn't be as dramatic."

It's always bothered me that this bothered other people.

I always assumed that the Tamarians had at least two levels of language, maybe more. The language that was used to tell the stories from generation to generation would be an intimate, family-and-close-friends-only language; to use this language in a "first contact" situation would be as unthinkable as using sexual intimacy in a "first contact" situation OUGHT to be (despite the fact that this is a regrettable common SF, and indeed ST, trope).

Indeed, I can see a certain sense in developing such a language exclusively for use with "outsiders" -- look, here comes another tribe over the hill! Quick, do we have any common stories? Yes? Well, then let's trade jewelry for their fermented juice. No? Okay, better get ready for a fight.

I don't see why a culture could not also develop a language exclusive to a technological /educational context -- goodness knows that's what I feel like when I call IT repair -- that it would never occur to the Children of Tamar to use in a diplomatic context.
Mordicai Knode
25. mordicai
Part of Star Trek is accepting the axioms. Black & white aliens, planets of children...the social theory is more interesting than the technobabble. 9 is exactly the right rating; this episode is gold.
26. Christopher L. Bennett
@23: I'm not sure it's even necessary to assume there's a second, more detailed language for teaching the basics. In real life, children tend to pick up language by hearing it used and figuring out its meaning from context, even if they don't study it in school. How do you think we learn slang, the unconventional usages that aren't methodically explained in classrooms? We just hear other people using it, figure out what it means from context, and start using it the same way, even if we don't know the specifics of how it came to mean that or where it originally came from.

And as I said (and assumed in "Friends With the Sparrows"), if there is a "second level" of language, it's not necessarily separate from the first, but could be part of it -- a great deal of the detail of meaning could be conveyed in tone, expression, body language, and context. That's part of our language too, for instance, the way "Great!" can have completely opposite meanings depending on your tone of voice and whether you grin in joy or roll your eyes when you say it. I think we underestimate just how much of our own communication is nonverbal, and it could easily be that the ratio is even higher in Tamarian. We shouldn't assume that the only way to convey meaning is with words.
James Goetsch
27. Jedikalos
This episode came out when I was a graduate student writing my dissertation on Giambattista Vico, the 18th century philosopher of history and the imagination. In Vico's philosophy the first humans communicated through what he called imaginative universals, using what he called a poetic logic (instead of an intelligible abstract logic). Instead of using abstract universals to communicate, they used concrete imagery, in the following sense: we might say "I'm a bear" and we would mean "I am like the bear"--the bear is brave, fierce, I am brave, fierce, and so we are alike. But Vico claimed the first humans would literally think/imagine themselves to BE the bear in a univocal sense, in a way that is almost impossible for us to comprehend (except, as Owen Barfield put it, in our dreams or most creative moments). Now the paralles with the Children of Tamar are so striking when laid up against Vico's thought that all us grad students at the time who were studying Vico were astonishingly excited! Particularly when we noted that at some point (in another episode?) there had been a starship called the U.S.S. Vico. I remember we sent off a letter to TNG offices wondering if there was some fan of Vico amongst the producers or writers (but alas, never received an answer).

I did finish that dissertation on Vico, by the way, which became a book, and went on to become a professor of philosophy (my sails unfurled) who still teaches about Vico and loves to show this episode to my students.
Christopher Hatton
28. Xopher
I can see how people would like this episode despite the implausibility of the premise. I have more trouble understanding how people can defend the premise as plausible.

Juliette, they would still understand Picard and the others speaking outside the sacred place, even if they were offended. And if you could communicate 7mm and 6mm by body language, you'd then have a sign language, which again the UT should translate correctly. Might work in your story, but it doesn't work with the observed behavior in this episode.

Christopher Bennett 24: So if you can suspend disbelief about the rest, why not this?

One person's refrigerator moment is another's flying snowman.

and 26: Any half-decent UT should get the nonverbals as well. Also: calculus.
Jenny Thrash
29. Sihaya
Calculus? Maybe basic algebra (but that's how it starts, isn't it).
Shcrodinger's cat, the miracle of the loaves, three as to twelve, Solomon's Decision, two.
The variable times three equals twelve divided by two.

Metaphor basically stands in for verbs, or at least it seemed that way to me when I watched the episode. The literal translation of "surf", for example, would be, "Duke Kahanamoku on a board in the ocean." The translation of "think" might be, "Aristotle in his temple." Nouns, including proper nouns, exist. I could see how metaphors might stand in for adjectives, too, but those are easy since we already let simile do the job of adjectives and adverbs all the time. Nope, verbs are the tricky part.

And yeah, the idea that a language would develop this way does bend my brain. It's more fun than practical.
30. don3comp
This is an episode I have grown to love. Keith's opening comments about the episode being "polarizing" notwithstanding, my reaction to it when it first aired was that it was interesting but a bit esoteric, and my 20-year-old self preferred the action of the previous episode and the subsequent one, "Ensign Ro."

However, now that I am older, I really appreciate this episode for its exploration of language. I love that we have an alien species that communicates in a way that is, ya know, alien. And as Keith noted, the idea of two species trying to bridge a communications gap falls squarely at the heart of what "Trek is supposed to be about." So I have grown from the "take it or leave it" camp to the "love it" camp.

This isn't an excuse for the writers, but perhaps the absence of a Linguist could be explained away two ways:

1. Certain crewmembers fufill multiple functions, as we have seen by the fact that in TNG, there isn't even a Communications officer, that role being covered by the Security chief. (That itself bugged me. First of all, if this Enterprise is so much bigger than its predecessor(s), wouldn't there be more jobs, not less? And I'm nostalgic for "Space Seed" when we even had a Historian on board!) But anyway.

2. Computer technology, including--yes--the Universal Translator, has developed to such a point that a linguist and a historian are no longer very necessary because the databases are very complete.

I agree that Paul Winfield gave an excellent performance, though I don't think I noticed at the time that the same actor was the Reliant's captain.
Keith DeCandido
31. krad
don3comp: The Enterprise-D was established way back in "The Big Goodbye" as having a 20th-century historian on board (Whelan, who subsequently got shot on the holodeck). It makes no sense, none, that they have one of those, yet don't have a linguist when their mission is to seek out new life and new civilizations! See, that's the sticking point to me -- not having a linguist on board when your mission is to seek out new life and new civilizations is like not having someone on board who knows how to operate the weapons or pilot the ship.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
32. Christopher L. Bennett
@28: "One person's refrigerator moment is another's flying snowman."

I find it highly amusing that you use that sentence to denounce the plausibility of a metaphorical language. You're practically speaking Tamarian right there. (I've never even come across "flying snowman" before.)

And who says the universal translator would automatically recognize gestural language? If that were so, then they wouldn't have needed Data to learn Riva's sign language in "Loud as a Whisper." Not to mention, how would it translate English into Tamarian gestures?
33. Juliette Wade
To respond to Khopher, I'm not sure they would understand (in my own life I've had the experience where a language I'm speaking proves incomprehensible to someone who should have comprehended it, for contextual reasons). At very least, in my story the rules concerning sacredness would mean that the speakers would refuse to recognize the human speaker as a legitimate speaker of the language, and thus avoid or ignore them completely.
34. Jettoki
@Xopher: I'm sorry, but the linguistics in this episode are far more plausible than pretty much any of the other science in Star Trek. Here's how:

Every metaphor used by the Tamarians corresponds to a pictogram. They are not actually saying "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" - they are making a sound like "Darmak-Jalad-Tanagra-" which modifies the actors and objects in the pictogram, which in turn paints a picture of the metaphor in question.

The unviersal translator is able to get so far as describing the pictogram, but without historical context, it has no meaning.

Algebra works like this: "Adam joins with Peter." Adam means 1, but the translator doesn't know that because it's not aware that Adam was the first human. Peter means 2, but the translator doesn't know that because it's not aware that Peter was the second leader of the church. So in Tamarian math, the numbers themselves are metaphorical pictograms of historical figures, and math problems look like slash fiction.

Infinitesimal calculus can work very much the same, where the numbers are pictograms being described and the operations are metaphors drawn from history. "At Jalad, when the stairs were built" can mean the area under a curve, etc.

How do you teach this to kids? Easy - you show it to them, with non-verbal theatre. You don't need to have a word for "stairs" in order to have an actor build stairs. All you need is a sound and a pictogram for the architect.

Is this all a little far-fetched? Absolutely. But the notion of a language that works this way is far less crazy than the notion of a universal translator.
35. ChrisG
In my family, we often refer to ideas or lessons learned from shared experiences by referencing the story. One might say "that's food in the tree" or "it's a spider in the towel", and we all know exactly the point, even when it is complex or abstract. I started gathering these phrases in a file, darmok.org, and now when we recognize one of these, we say "Add it to the Darmok file!" So the metaphoric language in this episode has gained an extra resonance for me.

Ultimately, I think the practicality of this as a language is beside the point. It stands in for a genuinely different way of thinking and creates the central conflict of the story -- the inability to communicate and the need to overcome it. If suspension of disbelief serves a purpose, it serves it here. I love this episode.

While I certainly agree with krad about the linguist, the part of the Troi-Data scene that makes me laugh most is that they don't cross-list on their two search terms. Maybe Google has spoiled us, but I think that should have been obvious even circa 1990.

Also, kudos to @11, the connection to TVtropes as a metaphorical language made is very nice.
36. StrongDreams
@28: "One person's refrigerator moment is another's flying snowman."

I find it highly amusing that you use that sentence to denounce the plausibility of a metaphorical language. You're practically speaking Tamarian right there.

CLB wins this round!

(But, Xopher is engaging in cultural criticism, not building a complex machine from many small intricate parts that must be described precisely and without ambiguity.)

(And, tonality and body language can increase the bandwidth of metaphorical-mode language; I'm not convinced it can convey technical information.)
Cait Glasson
37. CaitieCat
Also, tonality is verbal. Just because we who don't speak tonal languages don't perceive it that way, doesn't make it so.

- love, yet another linguist who loves/hates this episode for all the reasons outlined above
38. Christopher L. Bennett
@34: That's a brilliant theory for how Tamarian math works. The only problem with your examples is that Tamarian has very little in the way of verbs, and interactions and motions are illustrated by the juxtaposition of phrases; "With fists open" followed by "With fists closed" conveys the closing of fists, and "On the ocean" followed by "At Tanagra" conveys movement from the ocean to Tanagra. So making math work in that context would be trickier.

But it's a very good insight that numbers could be represented symbolically. Why not? After all, a lot of letters are based on symbols, like the letter A being an inversion of a symbol that represented a bull's head, or some such thing. And the number "googol" was named that because all the zeros in it reminded a mathematician's kid of googly eyes -- a phrase which entered the language through a popular song about cartoon character Barney Google, and was probably influenced by the word "goggle."

@36: Tonality could perhaps convey some technical information if the listeners had perfect pitch. Certain tones might represent different numbers, their durations might represent mathematical operations, who knows? Music and math are closely related.

Something tells me this is likely to become one of the most commented-upon posts of the entire Rewatch.
39. SKM
I like @29 and @34's theories of Tamarian math, especially in conjunction with each other:

Schroedinger's cat, the miracle of the loaves, Noah's sons, Atticus Finch's closing argument, showbread, Solomon's judgment, Peter. (The variable multiplied by three is equal to twelve divided by two.)

Colonel Travis at the Alamo, Atticus Finch's closing argument, Sisyphus's task, the miracle of the loaves, Schroedinger's cat, St. Nicholas and the dowries, Washington at the Delaware. (A line is equal to the slope multiplied by the variable, plus the intercept.)

It's unwieldy as heck, but so are Roman numerals. And it's a nice, tricky brain teaser trying to come up with these.
Scientist, Father
40. Silvertip
When I was a graduate student, I gave a series of seminars to a research group (in the U.S.) that included several Swedish scientists. I've always prided myself on being an effective speaker, but I finally had to be more or less told off for using too many Americanisms, cultural references, and so forth and leaving the poor Swedes behind. And I was talking about physical chemistry!

I'm not as bothered as KRAD and others by the lack of a linguist, precisely because the universal translator is so good and so relied upon. Look at it this way: Imagine telling an 18th century exploration ship captain that you were writing a story in which the characters embarked on a long sea voyage sometime in the future without anyone aboard who knew one constellation from another or could use that information to navigate. The reaction would be equal disbelief. Technology makes job descriptions obsolete all the time. Yes, the communication barriers are likely to be higher than the UT as presented can handle -- but, in all of ST except for this one episode, that likelihood is ignored for the sake of telling the story. So, I'd actually be more surprised if starships routinely included a "linguist" (especially since "linguist" and "good translator" are two very different things) with absolutely nothing to do than if they didn't.

@16 Xopher:
And "technicalities aside"? Seriously? If there were an episode where chemical rockets can't work outside atmosphere because there's nothing to push against in vacuum, but the episode had a good story, could you set the technicalities aside so easily?
What CLB@24 said. And look, you've actually encountered arguably a bigger implausibility than that almost every time you've watched a SF show or movie. How many times have you seen a spaceship/starship/whatever's engines shut off or fail ... AND THE SHIP STOPS MOVING! If you can get past that (and it still sets my teeth on edge every time, but I let it go for the sake of the story, because what the writers are doing is placing the characters in something like our intuitively familiar universe) surely you can live with this episode.

41. Nomi
As Mabfan noted in #3, I had a professor who showed us this episode in an Introduction to Linguistics class. It was the first semester of my sophomore year, and the professor videotaped it on its first broadcast and then showed it t0 my class a couple of weeks later. He was a Star Trek fan (as Mabfan said, he was lenient about misspellings of Whorf's name when talking about the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis), so when they had this linguistically focused episode, he thought it was a wonderful leaping-off place for discussions about what makes a means of communication.
Keith DeCandido
44. krad
Silvertip: They have a frikkin' 20th-century historian on board, they should bloody well have a linguist. Dammit.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido, who will not let this go, so there, nyah, nyah
Tim May
45. ngogam
Beyond that - even if the universal translator solved all the practical issues of dealing with unknown alien languages, if you're on a voyage of exploration, the languages of the new life & new civilizations you encounter are something you'd want to document in their own right as part of your scientific mission. So, yes, there should be a linguist or two on board (if you have room for them, which the Enterprise D clearly does). Should be a whole team of xenoanthropologists, really...
46. Mike Kelm
I always thought that Whalen, the 20th century historian had another job on board, and that 20th century history was his hobby. It's a big ship but I can't imagine that being said there is one guy sitting around in case someone has a question about world war 2. Why only the 20th century earth? Why not 467th century Vulcan or whatever.

But I'm with KRAD on this- they don't even need to show the linguist, just drop in a throw away line that Ensign Smith the linguist is doing research. This ship should have probably about 200 scientists/mission specialist types of some sort who report to a science officer. Now assuming at science officer may report to Data in his role as operations manager, but it doesn't exclude lazy writing for not mentioning any of the scientists and lazy producing for not paying an extra in a blue uniform to nod when someone says "lt. Jones of xenobiology says blah."
alastair chadwin
47. a-j
If I thought about how Tamarian society operated, which I didn't, then I supposed that there is an underclass who do the actual talking to eachother and who teach the upperclass the stories but are otherwise despised and unvalued. For an important occasion such as meeting an alien species, the upper class takes over, naturally, just as if an alien species were to land in the UK they would be told that the Queen is the leader despite the fact that she has no political power. That's my pennysworth anyhow.

Always rather liked this episode as legends and myths are a great interest of mine. Nice to see Gilgamesh being used rather than the more familiar Greek legends though I can't, off the top of my head, think of another legend that would work. Two enemies/strangers who meet and become friends despite their differences? The only one I can think of right now is Robin Hood and Little John.
alastair chadwin
48. a-j
Also interesting to see where different peoples' cracking point is when it comes to bad science in SF. Mine is noise in space and the fact that when two spaceships meet they are always oriented in the same way to eachother, ie both the same way up. Also, as heavily discussed last week, the inability of space faring races to grasp the idea that space is infinite in all directions and so you can always go round something.
Mordicai Knode
50. mordicai
46. Mike Kelm

Right; with silly pieces of continuity like that I just appreciate a handwave. A line of dialogue can usually do it. "Specialist Chomsky fell & broke his back on the holodeck & we just dropped him off at starbase, drat!" or whatever. I also like using it as an opportunity to guest star, but that is a different matter entirely.

48. a-j

For me, sound in space is the major demarcation line from "science fiction" to "space opera," yeah. Or rather, in reverse; silent space always seems "hard" to me, even if there are...sexy robots & teleporting spacejumps.

The fact that space is BIG on the other hand ALWAYS bugs me, even in 90% of "hard" SF.
Mordicai Knode
51. mordicai
47. a-j

Comic books? "Batman, with a ring of kyrptonite!" Actually, stepping away from classical myth & looking at comics, there is a wealth of flexible metaphors.
Joe Romano
52. Drunes
Once again, the initial article and subsequent comments thead proves there's a tremendous amount of creativity and knowledge among Tor.com's writers and readers. It would be grand if we could somehow get together in one room and knock out our own screenplay. I have no doubt it would be the best SF movie ever produced.
53. Christopher L. Bennett
Sound in space doesn't bother me. Why? Because I'm not supposed to believe that there's actually an orchestra tucked away in the back of the bridge playing thrilling music while the ship's in the middle of a battle. Or that MacGyver's voiceovers are actually being broadcast over an invisible PA while he's building one of his gadgets. Things like background music and narration aren't supposed to be actual parts of the scene, but are sounds heard only by the audience and added for dramatic effect. I just think of sound effects in space scenes the same way. It would only be a problem if there were dialogue or action indicating that a character in the story actually heard sound propagating through vacuum.

What does bother me are "shock waves" in space. That's basically the same thing: the assumption that a pressure wave propagating through a medium (which is what both sound and shock waves are) can somehow exist where there is no medium and have a physical effect. In the case of a shock wave, it's always meant to be an actual part of the events, something that directly affects the characters and ships, so it can't be dismissed the way sound effects can. And it's always, always wrong. It just wouldn't happen. Sure, there can be shock waves propagating through the tenuous interstellar medium, but they're so faint and diffuse that nothing the size of a spaceship would feel any noticeable pressure.
treebee72 _
54. treebee72
I could get behind the idea that a linguist isn't needed because the UT is practically perfect in every way, if the opening exposition of this very episode didn't pretty much explain that while the UT may always technically work, in the reality of having actual conversations, it can be total crap.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
55. tnh
Tamarian is not a complete language, and it doesn't function as one. Tamarians' metaphoric story-expressions are constructed out of declarative language. If "fist" is the same element in two expressions, and in both its meaning is understood to have some connection to a "a hand, clenched", then it's a word. By the same reasoning, "Uzani" is a proper noun which refers to an agreed-upon historical figure, "army" is a common noun, "his army" is a possessive, "closed" and "open" are adjectives derived from verbs, the stories/descriptions embedded in Tamarian expressions are language, and that component language isn't story-based.

This is quite fixable. It requires only two assumptions, neither of which contradicts our knowledge of how the universe and its sophonts work.

First: Story is one of the basic ways we humans organize information. It exerts a powerful force on the ways we think about and understand our world. If we assume that Tanarians have an even stronger tendency to organize and think about the world in terms of stories, then it's not unreasonable to assume that whenever they know an applicable story, their minds automatically jump to it. This is comparable to the situation where, if we have a strongly controlling metaphor for some event or situation, we have real trouble talking about that subject without referring to that metaphor.

Second assumption (this one's dead easy): Troi and Data are either mistaken or being sloppy at the point where they explain that Tamarians communicate exclusively via references to stories from their myths and history. What they doubtless would have said if they were being more carefull was that Tamarian story references are a preferred and overriding mode of communication, but Tamarian language is that set of meaningful sounds you can use to say "my fist is open" and "my fist is closed."

Are Troi and Data incapable of making errors? They are not. And since the language they describe doesn't match the language we've seen being used, it's reasonable to assume that this is one of those times when they err.

Never send rubber science to do an unreliable narrator's job.

The "scattering field" that disrupts communications but not sensors is unfixable. That one really doesn't make sense. What sensors sense is not some magical essential reality; it's signals of some kind, or of multiple kinds. If you can get a signal through, you've got communications, even if you're just switching it on and off in Morse code.


There's a precedent for the Tamarians' referential language. During the period when Neoclassicism was all the rage in Europe, anyone with class pretensions studded his or her language with references to Greek and Roman mythology and history. Feasts were Lucullan, educational institutions were Atheneums, uncomfortable situations were described in terms of Procrustes' bed or Scylla and Charybdis, slackers were lotus-eaters, big messes were Augean Stables, a soldier was an Ajax, and a handsome man an Apollo. References to stories like Horatio at the bridge, the Spartan boy and the fox, the Capitoline geese, or Alexander and Cleitus were used without explanation. It could be very hard to understand if you didn't know the background stories. References to the Bible and to the works of Shakespeare have also served a similar function.

In modern times we have of course progressed beyond such things, which is why no one ever augments an explanation by saying "Use the Force, Luke," or "It's pining for the fjords," or "Say, I see you're not here for the hunting."
Alan Stallings
56. astacvi
The one thing I see lost in this discussion is a very specific ritual Dathon performs. Before placing his little tokens around his campsite, he casts them. This indicates, to me at least, an I Ching sort of divination. Further, he seems to see the eventual outcome of the episode -- his death -- and doesn't seem surprised by it. If anything, he reacts to the divination as though it has confirmed, one last time, what he already knew.

This makes Dathon even more noble in my mind. Picard's recognition of his sacrifice is incomplete; Dathon didn't just risk his death to achieve this contact, he knew the outcome going in and went ahead anyway.

I suppose this is just speculation, but the scene is in there, and I think for a reason. And if you grant the Children of Tama a little bit of psychic ability in a universe where telepaths, empaths, and telekinesis have all been shown to exist, that might short-circuit a whole lot of quibbling about how their language functions and how it is taught to new generations.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
57. tnh
"Psychic abilities" doesn't explain it. The problem isn't that story references don't communicate meaning. They do, and we ourselves use them that way. The problem is that their story-reference mode of communication is based on a more conventional language that does not depend on story references in order to have meaning.

Here's another way to put the question: In what language are Tamarian children told the stories which they thereafter use as points of reference?
Mordicai Knode
58. mordicai
57. tnh

Inherited memories? I mean, "genetic memory" in humans is a sort of silly trope but Tamarian children may have some sort of advanced instinctual language-- I mean, at least "technobabble"-wise?

Have there been any tie-in novels written about these guys?
Keith DeCandido
59. krad
mordicai: not a novel, but the short story "Friends with the Sparrows" -- mentioned in the rewatch itself, as well as several comments -- by Christopher L. Bennett in the 2007 TNG anthology The Sky's the Limit went into more depth on the Children of Tama.

In general: the outpouring of comments herein have been amazing and insightful and fun to read. Thanks everyone -- keep this up, and this episode will shoot past "The Best of Both Worlds" for most comments........

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
60. dav
This is my favorite episode of TNG hands down. When my daughter was finally old enough to watch the show, this was the first one I showed her on Netflix (we have since gone back to the beginning and watched them in order). It perfectly encapsulates everything that I love about Star Trek and their philosophy. High concept SF at it's finest.

On a side note, I think dwelling on the evolution of the language completely misses the point (as many others in the thread have mentioned) and when I first saw this as a teenager I never even thought about it. It was a compelling story and I found myself much in the same position as Picard... learning or trying to learn right along with him.
Sorcha O
61. sushisushi
This is one of the few TNG episodes that's stuck in my memory since the day it was originally aired - I was a teenager and remember having a really long discussion afterwards with my dad about the practicality of how the Darmok language could possibly work, covering some of the same issues as the comment thread above. I don't think we came to any ground-breaking conclusions, but it was a fascinating discussion for a curious teenager.

silvertip@40, krad@44, and others Hell, they should have a Linguistics *Department* on board - who debugs the UT when it goes wonky and makes sure that the latest patches from Starfleet have been applied? (don't tell me Data on his 'spare cycles') Never mind having Xenoanthopology and Xenobotany Departments, to expand the point of ngogam@45. The fact that they are not casting someone to appear on screen doesn't mean that Data or Picard or whoever can't be getting reports from the backroom boys. Actually, wasn't Keiko O'Brien a xenobotanist?

tnh@55 You're absolutely right about the Neo-Classical references in 18th century Europe - it makes the absolutely reams of bad poetry that practically everyone literate seemed to produce at the drop of a hat absolute hell to try and parse if you haven't spent several years immersed in Classical mythology and history. Darmok isn't in it.
Alan Stallings
62. astacvi
@60. Yes. And I wish I could erase my knowledge of Tamarian, just so I could again experience that progression from total incomprehension to complete understanding of what Picard is saying when he strides onto the bridge and totally defuses the situation.
63. rowanblaze
It's interesting to read through all the comments and realize how much an individual's reaction to a given episode is affected by their area of expertise; in this case, the linguists' disbelief crashing to the ground. I often balk over issues with the military aspects of ST and other shows, given my background.

Given the difficulties we often have communicating even with everyone speaking English—much less throwing in another *Earth* language—I personally have no problems with the way language is presented in this episode, and find "Darmok" both thought provoking and emotional (Dathon's sacrifice, actually caused by the Enterpsie crew, if you'll notice).

The language we speak affects our way of thinking, processing information, and decision making. As has been pointed out, English is full of idioms, slang, and regionalisms, incomprehensible if translated literally into another language. Indeed, the nature of language itself is primarily symbolic, we're just more removed from the origins of our symbols than the Tamarians seem to be.

However implausible it may seem to us as English-speaking humans, the Tamarian languge might be perfectly precise for their purposes. We only get a few spoken phrases of Tamarian. I didn't see Riker discussing the sizes of wrenches with the Tamarian first officer. There was no reason for him to.

The UT is essentially magic, as are many other aspects of ST tech. The purpose of it is to tell a story, not be scientifically accurate. However, I do agree that it is silly for them not to even mention a linguist amongst the Enterprise crew.
64. Mark Z.
Keith, they do have a linguist on board. It's Picard.

"Universal Translator" is an idiomatic term for the computer's ability to do all the grunt work of linguistics: compile a corpus of an alien language, parse it into words, infer parts of speech and rules for constructing sentences, and make a big list of vocabulary. Their computers are better than ours and can do all this automatically.

However, this doesn't eliminate the need for a human (or Vulcan, or Klingon) at the controls. Given a computer that can do the grunt work, the job of a "linguist" is to sort out higher-order issues like idioms, social status cues, and cultural concepts that don't translate cleanly. This kind of thing is why the captain of the ship is a guy with a cultural anthropology degree.

tnh: Personally, I suspect the Tamarians were conquered by a foreign power and forced to speak the invader's language (as they tend to do). As a means of defiance, started speaking to each other entirely in references to their own myths and literature. Eventually the empire collapsed (as they also tend to do) but the original Tamarian language was extinct. They were left with the imperial language, and the distinctly Tamarian idiomatic use of it.

So I think Dathon would disagree that "Tamarian language is that set of meaningful sounds you can use to say 'my fist is open' and 'my fist is closed.'" That's the substrate of the Tamarian language, and they do understand it, but it is not Tamarian.* It's the language of slaves and masters, and speaking to a foreigner that way would be degrading or even treasonous. Dathon insists on speaking to Picard as an equal, even if it takes longer and costs a hell of a lot more. And Picard has the sense to answer him as an equal, which, again, is why the captain of the ship is a guy with a cultural anthropology degree.

* In the same way that Vietnamese is written with the Latin alphabet, but Latin is not Vietnamese.
Alan Courchene
65. Majicou
The Flying Snowman
I googled this up. Scalzi makes a good point.
You know, on the TV Tropes page on "Starfish Language" (meaning any language that is so hugely different from any of our Earthly languages as to be untranslatable), someone notes that the Tamarians are essentially "an entire race of tropers," since TV Tropes Will Ruin Your Vocabulary since talking in trope names all the time makes you incomprehensible to others.
66. Tesh
As much as I love digging into the "how" in my off time, sometimes it's most important to ask "what now?" and I think that this episode handles that very nicely. It's not so much about the fact that communication with the Children of Tama is hard or why it's hard, but rather, the deeply poignant story is about the incredible value in trying to communicate anyway.

I've always liked this episode for that aspect; an alien captain sacrifices himself to offer friendship and communication. That's a story worth telling, and in the end, even the Tamarians agree, encoding it into their language.
67. don3comp
@ #31. KRAD: I'd forgotten about Whelan. In any event, we don't really disagree: the Enterprise absolutely should have both a historian and a linguist on board. Heck, as I said, it bugs me that the Security chief also covers Communications! My only point was that, given this doubling, perhaps the Linguist is not called that because he/she also does something else (perhaps the quartermaster-ing?) But I absolutely agree with you that there should be a Linguist on board, given the mission charter!
Drew Holton
68. Dholton
To give an example of the flip side of the metaphorical language problem, it occurred to me that David Brin's Uplift novels have this same problem, but with humans being the problem. The aliens in the books have very well designed and precise set languages for each species type to use, and they are always confused by the messy, imprecise and metaphorical Terranglish (ie SF English) language. It made me realize exactly how many expressions, quotes, metaphors, and references we use in our everyday speech that would be incomprehensible to others without the same references.

So given this example, I can see this being more realistic than it might otherwise seem. After all, we have a technological society, and still manage to communicate with all these metaphors.
69. Kallie
Sushisushi, I second your comment on this being one of the episodes that stuck with me right from first viewing even though I was only 12. I can't see the word "Darmok" without filling in "and Jalad at Tanagra" - and I probably can't even have rewatched this more than a couple of times in 20 years (I didn't have cable to catch reruns until 10 years after this aired, and of course DVDs weren't available). So it was highly memorable. I didn't think about the technical communication problems until this discussion, but it doesn't change my enjoyment of the episode.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
70. tnh
I'm going to try this one more time. Consider these examples:
Uzani, his army with fists open.
Uzani, his army with fists closed.
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.
Temba, his arms wide.
Darmok on the ocean; Tanagra on the ocean; Darmok at Tanagra.
Jalad on the ocean; Jalad at Tanagra.
The beast at Tanagra.
Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.
Darmok and Jalad on the ocean.
Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel.
Shalka, when the walls fell.
We've got regular grammar and regular syntax. We've got proper nouns, common nouns, possessive forms, participles (verbs acting as adjectives), adjectives, inflected verbs, prepositions, conjunctions, definite articles, and so forth.

Classifying Shalka, when the walls fell as a single unit of meaning is not a problem. What is a problem is that the components that make up that unit are also functioning as meaningful language. The examples I've quoted are all conventional declarative statements. They only look exotic because in each case the speaker has left the main verb unspoken.

The main verb is nevertheless understood to be present. As they're told in the show, the stories about Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, and Gilgamesh and Enkidu, would make no sense unless each statement contained its implicit verb. Without that, there'd be no causality or consequence -- nothing to distinguish the stories from shopping lists.

We know the Tamarians (Tamarinds?) understand verbs because they use them: open, close, fall.

The components of the Tamarians' referential constructions are functioning as language. Tamarians are using those components as language, and that includes using them to make new language. One presumes that this is the linguistic mode the Tamarinds use to discuss calculus, ask to be handed a particular socket wrench, and teach their children the stories they'll refer to in their language's other major mode.

If the Tamarians didn't speak and understand the language in which their stories are told, their elaborate verbal constructions would not convey any narrative meaning. They'd just be unusually long words. Furthermore, the Tamarians wouldn't be able to make new words when they needed them. If you don't speak the substrate language as language, you can't use it to encapsulate a new meaning you wish to refer to in the future.

Does the hypothesis of inherited memory cover the question of how their children learn stories? It might, but in the process it brings up an even bigger question: where did the Tamarians pick up the concept of having to learn a languge, instead of knowing it from the start? That's a much bigger and hairier concept than figuring out how someone else's language conveys meaning. If the Tamarians don't have that concept, they and humans understand the universe in profoundly different ways. For example, there's no real way for Tamarians to learn that language isn't just an emergent property of the natural world.

I must protest, Mark Z. @64, that inventing a history of alien invasion and the Tamarians' weird master/slave attitudes toward their declarative language mode is not an explanation. It's fanfic. If fanfic counts, I have a sonic screwdriver right here, I'm not afraid to use it, and that means I can prove that anything is right. But while that might be amusing, I don't think it's appropriate in this discussion.

To sum up:

I'm sorry, and I don't mean to step on anyone's toes, but the show's explanation of how the Tamarian language works is approximately equivalent to insisting that though UNIX lurks beind the Mac operating system, it's the Mac OS, not Unix, that makes the computer go.

On the other hand, we can assume that Data and Troi misspoke. It's easy. It's clear. It's parsimonious. And best of all, thinking about it doesn't make my brain hurt.
Don Barkauskas
71. bad_platypus
tnh @55:
The "scattering field" that disrupts communications but not sensors is unfixable. That one really doesn't make sense. What sensors sense is not some magical essential reality; it's signals of some kind, or of multiple kinds. If you can get a signal through, you've got communications, even if you're just switching it on and off in Morse code.
If the sensors are active scanners (e.g., radar, sonar), then I agree. If they're passive (e.g., telescopes, radios), then it's easy to fix. A one-way mirror allows light through in one direction (hence, passive sensors) but prevents (two-way) communication via this method. If the mirror is set in a solid wall, then sound-based communication is blocked in both directions. There you have it: communicators blocked, sensors working for the ship, and if the communicators aren't designed to send information that the passive scanners can pick up, no communicators.

Now, I would assume the Enterpise's sensors are at least partially active scanners, so it would be more accurate in such a scenario to say "sensors partially working," but I really don't think it's "unfixable."
72. Juliette Wade
Just a response to tnh @70, as a linguist I have to take issue with a couple of your arguments. The fact that a phrase has internal syntax doesn't necessarily mean that the people using the phrase actually understand its internal structures independently. A current example of this is expressions like "pride goeth before a fall" which can be used by people who don't really understand the verb usage that the phrase depends on. It's conceivable that the Tamarians used to use the language more productively, but that though the situation implied by the phrase remained similar, the productive forms of the verbs may have been lost. Personally, I prefer the idea that the contexts for productive usage of the language are heavily circumscribed, and that productive use in other contexts is forbidden - which is why I went that direction when I revisited the language concept.
73. Christopher L. Bennett
@55: Your comment about Neoclassical allusions in European writing is interesting, considering that Joe Menosky is something of a scholar (or at least aficionado) of European history (specifically the Italian Renaissance, IIRC). So maybe his portrayal of the Tamarians was inspired by something from his history studies. Although, of course, a great deal of his work is built around symbols and metaphors brought to life.

@70: Nobody's saying that Tamarian language makes perfect sense, any more than transporters or humanoid aliens or interspecies hybrids make perfect sense. You could write lengthy essays explaining in detail why those would never work. Or you could just suspend your disbelief for the sake of enjoying the story. I and others have offered perspectives on why Tamarian isn't quite as nonsensical as it might seem, but I don't think we're trying to say it could actually work -- just that, like a great many ideas in science fiction, it has enough of a grounding in plausible ideas that it feels like it could work, at least to an extent that makes it possible to suspend disbelief and enjoy the story.

On the issue of blocking communicators but not sensors... keep in mind that in ST, communicators seem to be based in subspace transmissions rather than EM radio. We've seen cases where starship crewmembers reacted to EM radio as if it were a laughably primitive technology. And it's a bit hard to credit that such a tiny insignia pin could have a powerful enough radio transmitter to reach a ship in orbit, let alone one on the opposite side of the planet, so it's plausible that their communicators could be exclusively subspace-based. Now, they also have subspace sensors, but those wouldn't be necessary for scanning a planet surface directly below them, in which case a simple telescope would work just fine. So if the scattering field interferese with subspace transmissions but not EM, that could explain why it blocks communicators but not sensors.
Scientist, Father
74. Silvertip
@KRAD and others: Thanks for the discussion. I see your points about the relationship between the UT and the "linguist," should he or she exist. I guess it depends whether you're thinking about most of the rest of the episodes, where the UT is essentially perfect and extremely high-level (in the computer science sense), or this one, where it's definitely not. This is I think a lot more realistic, but it's not where TNG usually lives. But hey, glad I could stoke the fires a bit!

More broadly: I think, within the confines of an hour-long episode that by convention needs a reasonably neat resolution at the end, it's literally not possible to truly make a believable "this species's communication is so different from ours that it's impossible for us to reach them at all" story. Why? Because, almost by definition, something we can't understand is something that we can't dream up in enough detail to reveal fully by exposition before the end of the show. How could they possibly have invented something that realistically could defy for days these very smart and experienced people with all sorts of historical knowledge of first contacts, plus all their computational horsepower, and yet bring it within the grasp of us schmucks within a commercial-laden hour with a lot else going on? It's darn miraculous the writers did as well as they did, and that's a big part of what makes the story so compelling.

@rowanblaze 63:
It's interesting to read through all the comments and realize how much an individual's reaction to a given episode is affected by their area of expertise; in this case, the linguists' disbelief crashing to the ground. I often balk over issues with the military aspects of ST and other shows, given my background.
Bullseye. I can shrug off all the language stuff as "OK, they have to do that to keep the story from bogging down, fine," and the military howlers no doubt go straight over my head, but violations of the laws of physics (see earlier comment) pull me right out of the story. Wanna guess what I do for a living? Science professor, natch.

Scientist, Father
75. Silvertip
Inadvertent double post, sorry.
Cait Glasson
76. CaitieCat
Hell, I'm just happy reading comments at a place where people don't believe that linguist=polyglot.

I've known more than a few monolingual linguists, and worked as a linguist at a software company filled with 14 developers and me - all of whom, save me, learned English as a second language, and many of them as a third or fourth (immigrants from Harbin, for instance, speaking Mandarin, and a local dialect, and often Russian as a locally useful second language, and then English), and not one of whom is a linguist.

Definitely enjoying the thread, more than I thought for an episode I go hot and cold on.

It also always bugged me on a silly level that the UT is the UT, and not the UI (Universal Interpreter - it does a lot more oral interpretation than written translation, which is one that most people seem to miss outside the field). And it was a long time before GUI or even UI made appearances as recognizable concepts as acronyms. But this is definitely being picky at a recognizably silly level. :)
Alyssa Tuma
77. AlyssaT
The only thing I dislike about this superb episode is that every time after I watch it I can't get this freaking language out of my head! I rewatched it last night and spent the rest of my evening annoying my boyfriend by following him around the apartment and saying, "Temba, his arms wide."

Also, Paul Winfield is so damn gifted that it's kind of a shame that the Tarmarian makeup covers his face. Then again, it kind of proves how great he is considering he can still make Dathon come alive.
Keith DeCandido
78. krad
Alyssa: You can still see his broad smile when Picard finally figures out what "Temba, his arms wide" means. It's one of the most joyous moments of the episode.

---Keith R.A. DeCandido
79. Philippe13
Nothing useful to contribute on this one except to note that in 70+ comments, most of which are about linguists, not a single one mentions them being cunning!?
And I thought linguists were supposed to be FUN at parties! ;)
Alyssa Tuma
80. AlyssaT
@78 -- That is so true, Keith. It is a really beautiful moment. Also, the Tamarian makeup is pretty cool all things considered. It didn't seem dated at all.

I just like Paul Winfield's face. It's a very friendly and compelling face. Of course, I suppose that maybe there was a motive to covering him up, as many viewers would have recognized him from Wrath of Khan.

Holy 80 comments!!!!
Michael Burke
81. Ludon
Context (to borrow from the series From the Earth to the Moon), it's the difference between a meal and roadkill.

I've loved this episode from the first time I saw it and I think one reason why (beyond the good storytelling) was that it reminded me of a lesson on language way back in the 70s in a middle school science class. (I'll be using all caps in three lines but don't read them as shouts. They are how the lines were written on the board.)


The teacher wrote that first then asked what we made of it. Wayne Cornell responded "It's a figure of speech." We then spent some time discussing that figure of speech.


We replied "It's a statement of not being able to do something."


We couldn't get beyond the fact that we didn't know who they were.

Then the teacher told us to make sense out of all that. (Gesturing to all three lines.) We weren't very bright middle schoolers. It took the teacher writing it out as

"Time flies."
"We cannot, they're too fast."

for us to see it. (If anyone doesn't see it, "Time flies" is a command, not a figure of speech.)

In light of that lesson, I can see that in this episode, we're only seeing the Tamarian language in a limited context. Does that make a difference? Imagine a French man trying to learn the language by using a pocket translation dictionary to translate the seventeen pages of fine print in a phone contract from English to French. Might, after doing so, he be able to converse with a group of teens on the beach at L.A.? Context. Picard's breakthrough does not mean that he can hash out a treaty covering relations. Picard wouldn't be able to do that any more than that French man would be able to talk with the beach kids. Picard's experience led him to the context of what Dathon was trying to say and do then to being able to figure out how to respond. What happens after that is another story.

Star Trek was never about being accurate. Star Trek has been about storytelling. Walt Jefferies once, when I commented about a critique of the Enterprise design in an aerospace magazine, said that you shouldn't judge the design by todays science because we created a new kind of science to make it work. (In this context, make it work meant tell the stories.)

I've enjoyed reading the comments as much as the rewatch review on this one.
Cait Glasson
83. CaitieCat
The reason, @79, that none of us linguists have mentioned it (and I think I can reasonably speak for my colleagues here) is that it's possible, just possible, mind you, that we may have heard that joke once or twice before.

That, in fact, we've heard it as much as my former subunit commander in the Canadian Forces, one J(ohn) Kirk, heard the inevitable and obvious joke about his name when he was promoted from 1st Lieutenant? This is also possible.

I would ask him, but he got to the point where he promised to do bloody murder upon anyone who made the mistake of even mentioning it where he could hear it.

So, y'know, just for one linguist's opinion.
84. Philippe13
@ 83 Oh yes, I made that assumption ;)
...fun at parties!
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
85. tnh
CaitieCat @83, thank you for explaining.

Alyssa @80:
Holy 80 comments!!!!
Yes. This is a good thread, with real back-and-forth engagement. Take a bow, everyone.

Juliette @72:
as a linguist I have to take issue with a couple of your arguments.
Busted. I have no academic credentials. I'm just an editor.
The fact that a phrase has internal syntax doesn't necessarily mean that the people using the phrase actually understand its internal structures independently.
I'm aware that people can use a phrase without understanding it. I see them do it all the time.
It's conceivable that the Tamarians used to use the language more productively, but that though the situation implied by the phrase remained similar, the productive forms of the verbs may have been lost. Personally, I prefer the idea that the contexts for productive usage of the language are heavily circumscribed, and that productive use in other contexts is forbidden - which is why I went that direction when I revisited the language concept.
That would represent an anomaly in the world as I understand it.

Before anything else, language is for use. It's the basis of civilization. The need for everyday communication does not go away. If one mode of language is too constrained to meet that need, people shift to another.

There's a style of worldbuilding and storytelling in our genre that depends on arbitrary prohibitions. These are usually blamed on the local religion. For instance: "God is perfect, circles are perfect, therefore circles are sacred and belong only to God, therefore it's blasphemous to make a circular artifact, and that's why we use square wheels." (A real example.) A fair number of stories like that get published every year because they're relatively easy to construct, and at first glance they aren't obviously implausible.

Thing is, they don't hold up well. In the case of the example above, a little thinking will tell you that when the next tribe over invents a schismatic sect whose doctrines approve of circular artifacts (which is neither difficult nor unlikely), they're going to out-fight and out-compete the orthodox Cornerists in nothing flat.

If you take a strong position on the Tamarians having only figurative language, the episode turns into one of those narrative devices that come apart in your hands afterward. Major objections:

1. In what language are Tamarian children taught the requisite stories?

2. How do Tamarians of any age learn what "Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel" means?

3. If (as you suggest) the Tamarians are using these phrases without knowing what they mean, how can the phrases function as references to events? Are they not rather caesura'd single words that have inherited the forms of once-meaningful phrases?

Social organization requires communication. This is known. If spoken Tamarian has become so ossified that Tamarians use it without necessarily understanding it, and they've abandoned (rather than elided) the use of verbs, my immediate reaction is to assume that formal good manners forbids them to manually sign in front of distinguished guests, and that whenever they're out of sight of the cameras and the Federation, they're signing away like a bunch of Gallaudet students.

The business of language has to take place somewhere.

However, I don't actually think that's what's going on. I think this episode is smarter and more sophisticated than that.

Christopher Bennett has observed that Joe Menosky is a European history buff, but I think it's at least as pertinent that his co-author, Philip LaZebnik, took a degree in Classics at Harvard. Tamarian maps way too well onto the European Neoclassical enthusiasm for peppering their discourse with so many classical allusions that it can be incomprehensible if you don't know the background: Uzani, his army with fists open. Crassus, his mouth filled with gold. Temba, his arms wide. Odysseus, his bow drawn. Darmok at Tanagra. Caesar at the Rubicon. Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel. Hector and Achilles at Troy. Shalka, when the walls fell. Pyrrhus, victor at Asculum.

If so, what the Tamarians have is a two-part language. The substrate is declarative, and is used for things small, precise, novel, or unreified: That'll be two pazoozles sixpence for a pound of butter and some plums. An armored column is stalled just short of the bridge at Kohl Berouk. Today's high will be 92, with a chance of thundershowers. Let the control unit warm up before you re-initialize it.

Meanwhile, as we've been discussing, the language's more prestigious mode handles larger and more abstract and/or formal events and situations, which are conveyed via references to known stories. If we followed the same conventions in our own world, Bush at the Japanese banquet would either mean "I have a nasty stomach bug," or "Get out of the way, I'm about to barf."
86. Christopher L. Bennett
@85: I remember that "circles are forbidden" story -- "The Three-Cornered Wheel" by Poul Anderson, one of his David Falkayn stories (spun off from the Nicholas van Rijn series). Which was basically just an excuse to show off a neat bit of geometry.

On the subject of how the Tamarians teach their children (or other listeners) a new story, I assume that the written language plays a significant role there; Dathon's journal, which Picard returned to the Tamarian first officer at the end, was evidently of major significance to the Tamarians as a document of the contact. I've already made the analogy of musical notation; we have symbols for things that can't be pronounced, that there aren't words for. We saw that Tamarians valued physical symbols and objects as part of their rituals, so it stands to reason that written symbols, sigils, and the like could be a core element of their communication.

I also imagine, as an extension of the idea that they rely heavily on body language, that teaching a new story might entail a lot of acting out and pantomime. Again, a lot of our own language learning doesn't come from study and textbooks, but just from listening to the people around us use words and getting to know how they use them and in what contexts. To a Tamarian, a story might not be just words, but an entire performance that includes a verbal component as well as a tonal component, a visual component, maybe even a tactile component if it involves those talismans. If it seems to us that the words alone don't convey enough information, it's because they're not supposed to, because they're just one thread of the "multimedia" language. We're not hearing the full amount of communication that's going on because we're only paying attention to one piece of it. (Although we didn't see a lot of pantomime going on in the actual episode, and I think it was Picard's idea to use rocks and sand drawings as visual aids. So it's not a perfect hypothesis.)

I did a similar thing with the Pak'shree, a crustacean alien race in the Star Trek: Titan novels. They use audible speech only for basic concepts like names, actions, emotions, the kind of broad ideas that a smart animal might convey, while using a gestural language with their numerous, dextrous tentacles to convey more complex ideas. Which I based on the hypothesis that humans actually developed sign language as their first form of higher communication before evolving the full capacity for phonetic speech. I assumed the Pak'shree reached the same stage and just stayed there.

The explanation that the Tamarians have a second, clearer (to us) language that they use in other contexts doesn't make any sense to me, for the same reason the square-wheel culture doesn't make sense to you -- because it's not functional and thus would be outcompeted in practical use. "Darmok" establishes that both the Federation and the Tamarians have sincerely been trying to establish communication for decades. If the Tamarians had the capability to communicate the same way we do, surely somebody among them would've realized "Hey, why don't we use that language when we talk to them?" I don't buy that there was some sort of cultural taboo, because it clearly mattered to them to make communication work -- Dathon gave his life for it. So I think they would've compromised on the whole taboo thing for the sake of getting results.

Not to mention that the Tamarians seemed confused and frustrated that they couldn't get us to understand what they were saying. If they had a second language that worked like ours and just weren't using it, then they'd understand why the communication wasn't working. Moreover, they would've understood what Picard and Riker were saying, and it seemed to me that they didn't, that the confusion was mutual.

As for whether Tamarian has abandoned or elided verbs -- in my story I went with the assumption that they didn't have any in the first place. Not all languages have the same parts of speech, even among humans. For instance, Siouan languages (and Klingonese, for that matter) have no adjectives, though they use nouns and certain verb forms to fill the equivalent role. As I mentioned before, Tamarian seems to describe action through images of successive moments: with fist open, with fist closed. Rather than using a distinct category of word for the action (in this case the fist closing), they encode the action in the sentence structure, the juxtaposition of clauses. I assumed they had a different sense of time than we do, perceiving things more in terms of moments than processes.
Joseph Newton
87. crzydroid
Dare I even comment on an 86-comment thread when I'm already behind on the rewatch? I'm certainly not going to get in on the language discussion; that has already been well-covered.

I just want to chime in real quick on the point of flying snowmen and all of that: I pretty much echo everything CLB has been saying about a show (and Star Trek in particular) being about a story and having a bunch of other things that are hard to accept. I was also going to give a similar explanation about why the sensors would work but not communications. If only certain frequencies/waves/whatever were blocked, and his communicator badge was attuned to a particular communication format, pounding out morse code with the sensors would do anything because they couldn't tell him to reconfigure his communicator badge. Airplanes--giant hunks of metal with people on board--somehow fly, and we accept this. My cell phone somehow carries my voice to my wife's cell phone a thousand miles away. This is all magic to Mintaakins. In the 24th century, if we accept that they have sensors and communicators, maybe we can accept there are scattering fields that block one and not the other.

krad--and others--I'm glad you mentioned the phasers coming out of the torpedo bay because otherwise I would've thought I was that nitpicky technical nerd that cared too much about that when no one else even noticed. In "Encounter at Farpoint" I can almost forgive the phasers coming out of the wrong place, because that's where they came out on the old ship (during the show, not the movie version) and this was a new ship and no one explained the new phasers to whoever was doing it. At this point in the show, there's no excuse.

Also, here's my idea of what was going on with them precision disabling the scattering field, since it seemed to bother you so much. You can determine whether this makes sense to you or you still disagree. My interpretation of the dialogue is that the actual scattering generator was too heavily shielded, but they were able to sever (with precision phaser bursts) dedicated power conduits leading to it. A Gordian's Knot sort of thing--say you had a heavily armored tv that you were trying to bust up so it wouldn't work anymore. You can break it, but you can cut the power cord.

As for the linguist on board--I'm at a loss. It certainly seems like there was no reason for Lefler in this episode, unlike in "The Game" where she serves a purpose. Why not use that guest role for someone fitting the story? I know it's a big contention of yours that they frequently use the senior staff to do everything, so I'm kind of eager for your review of "Lower Decks."
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
88. Lisamarie
I'm going to post this before reading the comments, but I'm just going to say, I pretty much hated this episode. Now, this may be affected by the fact that I got the worst migraine I've had in years while watching it but...

1)I figured out that they were using metaphors after about two seconds of hearing them speak. Subsequently, the entire episode both bored and frustrated me.
2)I don't even understand how a language like that could evolve - how do they TELL THE STORIES that are supposed to evoke said emotional responses if you don't have actual building block component words?
3)Does it not even occur to them that, you know, since these people have no FREAKING IDEA who Darmok is that constantly repeating that phrase is not going to mean much? If I hear the phrase Darmok and Jallad at Tanagra one more time I am going to bash somebody's face in. You would think a race as advanced as them would have a more clear cut way of communicating with outsiders.
4)And what, does every single person have the EXACT SAME RESPONSE to every story in their mythos? Stories are subjective.
5)What is it with these alien races that seem to think it is appropriate to put people in life threatening situations without their consent or any consideration to what their circumstance might be?

Anyway, I get it - messages about communication and seeking out new life and friendship even in the face of difference and all that - the themes are admirable, and I wanted to like it. There are certainly other Trek episodes that have bizarre pseudo science that I have been able to overlook for the sake of enjoyment. Patrick Stewart was fantastic, that goes without saying, as was the actor playing Darthon. But, the point is, I was bored and frustrated while watching it.

Argh, just thinking about this is reminding me of how my head was about to split open last night...
Joseph Newton
89. crzydroid
Oh, I also have something to add. I found it really odd that the Starfleet database had information that Darmok was a mythical hunter on whatever planet and Tanagra was an island on the same planet when during every encounter with these people, the Federation representatives have been completely unable to understand them.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
90. tnh
Christopher Bennett: You're right; it's a Poul Anderson story. I have high regard for his work in general, and didn't want to use him by name as a bad example.
Teresa Nielsen Hayden
91. tnh
Crzydroid @89, that one didn't bother me. I figure they picked up the data from a reference work compiled by an alien race that understands both Tamarian and hominid languages.
Cait Glasson
92. CaitieCat
I figure they picked up the data from a reference work compiled by an
alien race that understands both Tamarian and hominid languages.

tnh @91: But then we're back to the same questions we had about the Tamarians: how do the other race learn the Tamarian tales? By writing them down or recording them or otherwise registering the data, so that other members of their species can then learn the data.

So if they can get the information on who Darmok was, why can't they get the Collins Pocketbook $ALIENESE-Tamarian-$ALIENESE dictionary (now available in dead-tree form, for that retro Twen-Cen feel!), which the Universal Translator could then render (knowing $ALIENESE) into English?

These are the times when, as a linguist, I hate this episode, because the Fridge Logic doesn't hold up, and *bang* goes my suspension of disbelief into another wreck-strewn crevasse.
93. Christopher L. Bennett
@92: They said in the episode that Darmok was a mythical figure from Shantil III. So the Tamarians, a spacegoing people, evidently adopted that myth from the people of Shantil III; and at some point, the Federation or some other race that they've traded information with also visited Shantil III and learned of that myth.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
94. Lisamarie
Yeah, I was actually thinking that their language was actually some amalgam of various cultures and myths that they had picked up from other people and experiences (such as Picard and Dothan at El-Adrel). I still don't quite get how they are able to process them but...whatever.

The episode does look slightly better when not viewed under the influence of flashing lights and a pounding head ;)
James Felling
95. Maltheos
The biggest problem I have with this episode is that we have an inconsistency:

Obvious evidence that the UT can process idiomatic phrasing, and process dialog into idiomatic phrases from other episodes. This implies that the system can recognise metaphor and catagorize it appropriately. This leads me to 1 of 2 scenarios ( or some mix of the two), however, neither them nor anything on a continua between them seems to hold together.

1)While I can accept the existence of a strongly metaphor driven language, the fact that the system isn't flaging its failure in some way and/or providing partials or at least indicating the presence of metaphor. ( How a UT fails over gracefully) This implies a language without any substructure to indicate metaphor so everything is a symbolic concept. Given the power of the UT, this seems to render the language implausibly derefrenced. (so the language is bogus)


2) The UT is les sophisticated than we see on the episodes -- what we see is the work of a cadre of linguists that scour the universe and have built a huge database of idiom and syntax for all encountered languages and cultures which is why there is such a high quality of transalation-- in which case the language issues make sense in context, but this implies a large collection of linguists somewhere maintaining and assisting( in which case the lack of linguists on ship is unacceptable).
Joseph Newton
96. crzydroid
@95: I think the idea behind the UT (or the UI, as someone pointed out) is that it both makes use of the "dictionary" you mention in your second point AND actively tries to translate/interpret based on referents. A translation matrix is established by having a large enough sample of dialogue. From the previous 7 contacts with this species, it seems like there is a big enough sample to interpret words like "and", "his", "fist", "closed", etc.

As for your first point, I'm not sure how the system could translate the metaphor if no one knows what the metaphor means. Also, I'm not sure if we have seen any examples of metaphors being translated in context, except in situations where a common metaphor might have already been known. Can you give some examples? It seems to me like there might be more places where someone says something and then has to explain what they mean because it's an expression (though I think this mainly happens with Data).
Lee VanDyke
97. Cloric
As a bit of an aside, or perhaps it belongs under "Trivial Matters," I just encountered a character in The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim named "Temba Wide-Arm." Pretty clearly a reference to this episode IMHO, even if the character is female. In the village of Ivarstead, if you play the game.
98. DarthSkeptical
Yeah, I hate this episode. I understand your points, Keith, and I get why some would see this as a kind of "pure distillation of Trek", but the spirits left behind are the very ones I most dislike about the Trek experience.

The plot exists purely to serve up a sophomoric acting exercise.  Trek, and especially Voyager, does this from time to time.  The body swap.  The hampered communicative process.  The holodeck run amuck.  The Jekyll and Hyde moment.  The technobabble so thick it is might as well be another language.  

I almost always loathe such episodes. They're all about the acting premise rather than the narrative logic by which we arrive at the situation.  If you want an acting challenge between two actors, it's gotta make logical sense in order for emotional resonance to set in.  (See next season's "Chain of Command", for example.) With this episode, like some others, I can almost hear Stewart and Winfeild sayng, "And, scene!" when they make it through each section of the plot.  

I certainly take on board others' assertions that Trek needs to demonstrate more difficulty in communicating with other races.  But this wasn't the way to do it.   Give me Hoshi's uncertainties anytime over this rendezvous with James Lipton.   And if we must have an episode where a captain is alone with an alien on a planet, with conveniently no way for the ship to get to him, I'd rather have a fight with Gorn, please.  

The other thing I really hate about the episode is the transparent convenience of events.  Its plotting reminds me so much of Season 2's abysmal "Samaritan Snare".  At any point the plot could get totally derailed, so the writer makes sure — by totally cheating — that it doesn't.  

The captain is beamed up from the planet at precisely the moment he could have been of use to Dathon.   O'Brien keeps trying and trying to stabilize the pattern — much longer than is typically seen on the show.   Every second counts, and conveniently all seconds are exhausted.  Picard is kept away just long enough for Dathon to sustain mortal wounds.

In another example, the shuttle is damaged in an implausibly precise attack that would make it possible for the craft to land but not take off again.  Even so, Worf doesn't land.  So Worf (or Riker's orders) see it as a better option to return to the ship and leave the captain undefended on the planet?  C'mon that's just out of character for both Worf and Riker.  The actual reason Worf can't land is stupid.  If Worf is planetside, then the writer has to consider whether the Klingon might be able to defeat the entity in hand-to-hand combat.  Worse, if Worf is on site, Dorn interrupts the nauseating Winfield/Stewart edition of In the Actor's Studio — aka the low-rent Enemy Mine.  

Riker's command decisions are further at issue because he's only concentrating on getting the captain back.  Why does he not order a team to also investigate re-establishing communications with the captain?  The reason he doesn't do this is obvious.  If they do establish communications with Picard, then the captain can report that all is well, and a lot of the (false) tension in the plot is drained away. It's also thematically odd that in an episode about communication that Riker doesn't put any effort behind talking to his own captain.  I'm not saying they needed to have actually fixed communications, but surely Riker should have at least given the order to try.  

Another really unsatisfactory point about the plot is the Tamarian precision.  They're good enough with their weapons to precisely fire on a shuttlecraft (which by the way they've never seen before, so how the hell could they be that precise?) but they apparently needed Picard to tell them that their own captain had died.  Fine, it's a metaphorical language so maybe not, but it sure looks like he's breaking the news in that final Big Speech of his.

And let's talk about that Big Speech.  The attack from the Tamarians is just barely bad enough to  prevent escape once Picard is beamed on board.  And he has just enough time to make it to the bridge for his Big Speech.   It's so frustratingly convenient.  Picard only comes to the bridge so that he can make the Big Speech in a fully theatrical space.  If the director needed him on the bridge so badly, beam him directly to the damn bridge.  Otherwise, have him use the monitor in the transporter room to immediately take charge.  The only reason that final scene happens like it does is dramatic effect.  It lets the Tamarian ship have time to fire on the Enterprise and Riker go to Red Alert.  This gives Picard a heightened ambience in which to deliver the Big Speech.  But it doesn't actually make any sense why Picard wouldn't have delivered his speech immediately upon beaming back.  

Leave aside all the logical issues surrounding the Tamarian "language", the VFX errors, the lack of exolinguists, the lack even of an actual communications officer (which always bothered me about TNG and Voyager).  I think if you tried hard enough, as others have done earlier in this thread, you could resolve these matters satisfactorily.

This episode is bad because it's got one of the most "house of cards" plot structures in the history of Trek.  Everything must happen exactly the way it does happen for any of it to work.  And much of what happens is out of character for our regulars or inconsistent with established parameters for the various bits of technology.   By the time we finally get to the Big Speech, I could swear I was back on Starbase 515, watchin' Dr. Pulaski finish up Picard's cardiac implant.
99. Nix
Kallie @69, this episode is famous enough that I haven't even seen it yet (I'm just passing the end of season 1 in my first watch ever of TNG), yet I saw this rewatch appear and instantly filled in 'and Jalad at Tanagra' in my head.
100. Christopher L. Bennett
Yay, I get to make the 100th comment! Is that a record? Now I need to come up with some actual content so I'm not just some obnoxious "First!" type...

@98: I'm not sure I agree with the complaints about the coincidences in the story. One of the "Pixar's rules of storytelling" that have been making the rounds on the Internet lately is that "Coincidence to get characters into trouble is fine; coincidence to get them out of trouble is cheating." Lots of stories depend on coincidence and unlikely happenstance. But the defense is that works of fiction are meant to depict uncommon and unlikely scenarios, because more ordinary scenarios wouldn't be as interesting.
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
101. Lisamarie
Since we're still commenting on this, I have to share this. A few days after we watched this episode, one of our friends posted on FB that her experieince potty training her son could be described as 'Shaka, when the walls fell'.

Even though I didn't really care for this episode, I laughed.
102. AndrewV
Honestly I thought part of the point of this episode was that Starfleet relied on their technology a bit too much. The Translator was so flawless in the majority of situations that Starfleet no longer needed linguists on board.

A linguist in Starfleet probably occupied a position on Earth or in a starbase, but was not really an important enough position to need one on in the field-- except perhaps in rare circumstances.
103. Ashcom
I've been waiting for this episode since beginning to rewatch, and am surprised by how much it seems to polarise in the comments. This was, and always has been, my favourite episode from any of the Trek franchises.

I haven't read through all of the comments, it would take far too long. My view is that anyone complaining that the language could not develop is completely missing the point. What this episode very much points up is that aliens are... well... alien. ST all too often views alien civilizations in a human-centric way, and complaining about this language is compounding that error. Just because, as a human, you cannot understand how such a language could come about does not mean that it could not. Besides, I always took from the episode that the language wasn't really just a list of random metaphors, it was merely that the universal translator was unable to render it any other way. It would be like the Russian language, where the same word can mean two entirely different things by changing the syllable where you put the stress. The words contain the idea, but other indicators would fill in the detail.

The only previous time I can think of that ST successfully showed something entirely alien to our way of thinking was the Borg and it's hive mind with no structural hierarchy, which they then bogged up when they introduced the idea of a queen. I love this episode because it shows what I certainly believe any real first contact situation would be like, two species fundementally unable to understand the first thing about each other because they have evolved in entirely different circumstances.

Oh, and, ps. @#8 - Ashley Judd is ridiculously hot at any age.
104. GToffo
This is the first time I actually leave a comment on an episode, but this time I just couldn't resist (I'm actually watching TNG for the first time and read the rewatch after each episode).

I was shocked to find Keith gave a 9 to this episode (I'm usually much more forgiving than him with warp factors)... and even more shocked when I realized he wasn't the only one to actually like it. I find it BARELY better than the first season clip show.

I started cringing as soon as Picard attempts to communicate with the "incomprehensible" alien species by launching himself into a complicated monologue ("Captain, would you be prepared to consider the creation of a mutual non aggression pact....bla bla bla…"). It makes absolutely no sense. He would have had no chance of being understood by a non-english speaking human on earth, let alone an alien. Approaching an unknown alien species with complex human concepts such as "non-aggression pacts" and "cultural interchange" is ridiculous. What happened to "we come in peace?"
Anyone who has ever tried to comunicate with another person who doesn't speak his language would naturally resort to simple word/grammar and body/signs language. The Tamarians possess the same mental concepts as humans, they just communicate them differently. How hard would it have been for the Enterprise to communicate though pictures or drawings?

But the flaws of this episode are too many to list (many have already been pointed out). It's is utterly undefendable and completely illogical. I was constantly shouting at the screen in frustration. While I agree the concept of communication between species had a lot of potential, the episode fails on all levels. How such an unbearable episode could be so much as tolerated by someone (especially Keith which is often much more nitpicky than me) really baffles me…

End of rant. What a fussy start to my commenting career!
Lisamarie LiGreci-Newton
105. Lisamarie
Heh, I'm glad I'm not the only one that wasn't that into this episode. Also, hurray, we actually hit 100 comments FOR REAL now :)

PS - Welcome to the re-watch :) I also am a first time Star Trek TNG watcher for the most part (my husband is a big Star Trek fan) and I think we caught up to the rewatch somewhere in season 4, although we outpaced Keith and finished season 7 sometime in January.
106. KenN
Funny to see how many people this episode makes nuts, lol. Sure I find it very implausable, but I have a great capacity for suspension of disbelief. Ironically, the one thing that caught my eye in this episode and gave me a chuckle was about 17 minutes in when Riker was talking to Worf about how he doesn't wanna start a war and at the end Worf just does this nod/shrug and kinda waves his hand. Struck me as a very human gesture, dunno why but seeing him do that made me laugh :)
107. Midnight4444
I had to comment on the language development, keeping in mind how crazy the star trek universe is. Perhaps someone has already made these points, there were to many comment to read t hem all.

1. Perhaps they are telepathic, and additional information is being sent between them to modify the verbal statements that aren't sensed by other races.

2. Maybe there is some sort of ancestral memory that they share as a race which allows these stories to make sense to each other in some meaningful way.

3 . Or perhaps they go through a metamorphosis, where thier earlier state allows them to build an understanding of these stories, but they lack the ability to explain them to others.

Okay...nerd hat is off now.
Dante Hopkins
108. DanteHopkins
This is the one episode where I could care less about anyone's nitpicks over any issues. "Darmok" is one of my favorite hours of television in general. As stated above, its an hour that demonstrates what Star Trek is all about: overcoming differences and finding common ground. The score for this one is beautiful, an excellent turn by Jay Chattaway, and like CLB, I tear up when I hear it or even think about it. The scenes with Picard and Dathon are truly excellent. Blah blah about this or that all you want. This episode is Star Trek, indeed is television, at its finest.
109. Sam1
After reading through most of this long comment thread, I just have one response to the many comments saying, "Why nitpick!?! You just need to accept it's fiction and suspend your disbelief, like you do with warp drive, the transporter, etc."

There's a problem with that argument in this episode. The reason why many of us can't just forget about the details in this case -- and that's because this episode is about the details. And the further the episode goes in trying to investigate the problems with the universal translator, the more it draws attention to all the logical problems with it and the new "language" here.

As others have said, obviously if the UT manages to work at all, it has to handle idioms and metaphors at a very advanced level, so it doesn't make any sense that it couldn't render "Timba, his arms wide" as "Here, take this!" or whatever, if in fact that's what the phrase meant. But setting that aside....

The problem with this episode is that draws attention to the flaws in some magical device (the universal translator) and then offers a reason for this device's breakdown (a weird "language") that doesn't make any logical sense. If this were just a minor scene of technobabble taking up a couple minutes, fine. But this is the whole episode.

Imagine if there were an entire episode about how the Enterprise went to a region of space where the warp field wouldn't work. But rather than turning this into a plot about politics or ethics or some social issue or relationships among the crew or whatever, it was simply an episode about understanding why the warp field doesn't work.

Scene after scene of laborious detail while the crew puzzles over the technical details of how warp drive is supposed to function, and why it's not working now -- except all of these details are absolutely idiotic. Not just technobabble, but stuff that actually violates everything that we know about physics in most scenes. "Yes, the little gnomes that push planets around in orbit and make 'gravity' appear are not in this star system, so we're encountering friction against the levers and inclined planes that allow us to swing like a pendulum into warp." Meanwhile, Picard, stuck in a shuttle somewhere that can't move because of no propulsion, sticks his head out of the window ('cause why not? nobody cares about physics in this star system) and places a gyroscope on top of the shuttle... which for some reason attracts the "gravity gnomes," allowing him to go back into warp.

See how I just strung a whole bunch of elementary physics terms together and made up a nonsensical plot? That's how ridiculous this episode's "Oh! They communicate through METAPHOR!" comes across in its understanding about language.

If the language were a weird technobabble element that made things difficult at some point, but most of the episode was about something else, I could live with it. But it's the central point of the episode.

When the main plot revolves around the technical details of solving a problem that doesn't make any sense, it's difficult to just say, "Oh, whatever, let's just pay attention to the good acting and other stuff going on..." because... well, there's nothing else going on.

When I first saw this episode years ago, I thought it was really cool. It got me reading Gilgamesh and other obscure ancient myths. Then I saw it a decade later and realized it was stupid. Yeah, the acting is good. But the plot absolutely stinks, and there's nothing else going on in the episode other than puzzling out the technical details of a problem that doesn't make sense!
110. spyro stamat
I'm always fascinated by people reaction to a tv show. It a weekly show with buget and time restraints. I loved this episode because it was so different. I sometimes use the tagline Jallad at Tanagra to see if people can make the connection to Star Trek. Another one I use is " hablo kneesta" from the original. To those who find fault or dislike it can watch "honey bo bo" to see how far we have truly fallen.
Roddenberry wide open...
111. Kellia
Haven't gotten through all the comments on this one yet, but I really think this is one of those episodes that really sets TNG apart and shows the really unique and powerful places it can go. Regardless of whether the language "works," it's a great way to throw off the universal translator with something other than technobabble, and it allows the viewers to figure out how it works along with Picard. A lot of credit must go to the guest star playing Darmok, but for once we have a mysterious alien race that I actually want to learn more about, instead of a species that seems to be defined by one trait or acts as a hurdle the Enterprise crew has to jump over to get on with things.

My only problem was seeing the Enterprise just say goodbye and leave at the end right after Picard's breakthrough--surely that would be the perfect time to beam some people over and work on communicating further. Ah yes, and the Enterprise not having a single linguist aboard--really just silly. They could even have kept the scene with Deanna and Data figuring out the language exactly as it is; all they had to do is establish that linguists were working on the problem as well and that Deanna and Data were just doing what they could because the issue was so pressing.

Patrick Stewart retelling the Epic of Gilgamesh, though. That scene alone is enough to make this episode one of my absolute favorites.
112. Kellia
Whoops! That should be: *the guest star playing Dathon
113. Purple Queen
I really did love this episode of Star Trek the plot had me stump for a while and i did not really understand the metaphoric language but it most certainly went well with my literature class since we are now discussing Functions of Myth and how there are so many versions to one story I really do like this version of Captain Jean Luc Picard he is intelligent, logically and at times very quirky
114. KLR
I never watched TNG when it originally aired or since but have recently been going through the series from the start and just wanted to comment on this ep, which I'd give the same rating to as Keith, owing to the fantastic performances, and the actual science fiction story behind it - despite being humanoids these are truly alien
aliens, unlike the usual humans with a dash of makeup but otherwise behaving in a reasonably predictable fashion.

The grief from linguists is predicatable but without merit - who knows what aspects of the Tamarian's language are being laid out here? Perhaps more advanced concepts are conveyed by hand gestures which Picard (and us in the audience) simply never caught on to. And besides, griping about the finer details in space opera style science fiction like ST is a mug's game - anyone with a passing grasp of physics could explain to you in detail why the basic premise of the show is absurd, as travelling faster than light would require more energy than can be obtained in the universe in the first place, never mind what's supposed to make replicators, transporters, and phasers work. It all acts in service to the story, which in this case I found completely engrossing, and very moving at times as well.

Can't belive I'm the first to point out parallels between this episode and the movie Enemy Mine, which I enjoyed a great deal as well.
115. Muser
@114: In comment 98, "Darth Skeptical" calls this eplsode "a low-rent 'Enemy Mine'".
116. BenEsq
Speaking as one who loved this episode when I saw it during its original run, and who has watched it several times since, I think that the scene where Dothan explains the Darmok and Jalad metaphor goes some way to answering the question of how the language developed and how Tamarians would be able to communicate regarding basic daily tasks, i.e., "pass me the hammer" or "I need the 7mm socket wrench," as posed by the first commenter.

Here is how Dothan explains "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" (courtesy of Christopher Bennett):

Darmok of Kanza. Jalad of the Kituay.
Darmok on the ocean. Tanagra on the ocean. Darmok at Tanagra.
Jalad on the ocean. Jalad at Tanagra.
The beast at Tanagra.
Darmok and Jalad on the ocean.

We can imagine this story being told to a Tamarian child, who will eventually be able to "shed" the details so that the phrase "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" immediately evokes the concept of "teamwork." But the other point is that the Tamarian language is not exclusively made up of proper names and such. There are also more mundane words -- here, "ocean" and "beast." Although these words don't make it to the final "cut" of the metaphor, they still exist in the Tamarian language and are clearly used.

It is thus entirely plausible that the Tamarians do have (or could create) words for common objects, such as "hammer" and "socket wrench." Based on the logic of the episode, a hammer, being a tool that would have been around for millenia, would still be called a "hammer" (if Thor had one, why couldn't someone of Tamarian legend?). As for a "new" tool like a socket wrench, it would likely be named after whoever created it, something we do in English all the time. How about "Allen wrench," named after a person or a company named Allen. Perhaps the Tamarians would just call it the "Allen."

As for "pass me the hammer/wrench," the "pass me" is dispensible anyhow. When a doctor just says "scalpel," it's pretty obvious what he means." Or a Tamarian can hold out his hand and say "hammer," or combine it with a metaphor that symbolizes giving.

What about "pass me the 6 mm wrench" vs. "pass me the 7 mm wrench"? I don't think the episode reaches the question of whether the Tamarians use numbers, but it doesn't seem a stretch to me that they would.

Also, Dothan was purposely "dumbing down" his language, and repeating certain metaphors, in an attempt to communicate, just as Picard was simplifying his speech. So we don't get the full spectrum of Tamarian communication.

But my only point is that those who quickly dismiss the Tamarian language as a logical absurdity, as well as those who "defend" the Tamarians by resorting to "telepathy," are not really doing justice to what is in front of their eyes. The Tamarian language contains enough building blocks to render basic communication, when needed, entirely plausible.
117. ConStar
I was a fan of TNG, not so much the other Star Trek-themed series. I realize that puts me at odds with most of this board's readers.

Having said that, I don't just consider this episode to be the finest of this series; I consider it to be the best episode of television I ever saw. Between this and, of all things, an episode of Miami Vice called "Out Where The Buses Don't Run," I think my TV appetite would be forever satiated. Provided there were also live sports to watch.

The common thread? Both this and the Miami Vice episode were made what they were thanks to the actors working the job. Winfield and Stewart here; Bruce McGill and David Strathairn there. Funny how three-fourths of those names were guest stars to their respective series.

What makes "Darmok" so pleasurable and poignant to me, outside of Winfield's spot-on performance, is that you can show this episode to someone who doesn't know Star Trek from Star Search and it will mean something to them. And that's a helluva achievement.
MaGnUs von Tesla
118. lordmagnusen
Late to the party, but put me firmly in the camp that think this is one of the best Star Trek episodes ever. The language thing is just a metaphor, and linguist or not, if you can't see that, you're missing the point.

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