One of the most talked-about episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation was the fifth-season episode “Darmok.” It introduced the Children of Tamar, a species who communicated only in metaphor and allusion. The Universal Translator translated their words, but they still had no meaning, unless you understood the references. A Tamarian captain named Dathon, played by the late great Paul Winfield, kidnapped Picard and put them together to try to communicate.
It’s one of the great TNG episodes, but was only ever followed up on in tie-in fiction. Until now.
Shaxs’ replacement as chief of security and tactical officer on the Cerritos is Lieutenant Kayshon. Like another person in that position on a Star Trek show, Kayshon wears a sash, in his case with a dagger in it, which is in keeping with what we saw in “Darmok,” as all the crew on Captain Dathon’s ship wore that.
I was looking forward to seeing him in action and trying to communicate with the crew, but once we got past the initial greeting—”Rapunke, when he joined the Seven”—Kayhson then starts talking in regular old English like everyone else, with only occasional forays into Tamarian metaphor.
On top of that, the episode takes him out of action almost instantly, as the away team mission he leads sees him turned into a cute Tamarian stuffie. Now, for the record, I totally want a Lieutenant Kayshon stuffie please and thank you, but watching the episode I was mostly thinking, “Ah, so that’s how they’re avoiding the issue of him talking.”
If you’re not up to the challenge of having an abstruse security chief who’s hard to understand, don’t put him in in the first place.
His introduction also annoyed my inner fan=dweeb, as Kayshon said that the Universal Translator doesn’t always catch it when he goes metaphorical, and that is a swing and a miss. The whole point of “Darmok” was that the UT didn’t help—they were hearing Dathon and the other Tamarians in English. The translator was doing its job. The problem was their mode of communicating, not the words. So the UT doesn’t enter into it, it’s Kayshon himself who has to learn, in essence, a new language.
In addition to introducing Kayshon, we get two returning Cerritos crew: Lieutenant Jet from “Cupid’s Errant Arrow” and Counselor Migleemo from “Crisis Point.” The counselor doesn’t play a big role in the story, though I love his jaunty wave to Kayshon as the security chief enters the bridge.
Jet, however—who was once described by Boimler as “like a Kirk sundae with Trip Tucker sprinkles”—plays a bigger role, as he’s been reassigned to beta shift, and is therefore working alongside Mariner, Tendi, and Rutherford. Mariner and Jet immediately start in with trying to show who’s the bigger badass, initially with a tiresome upping of the communal sonic shower to show how tough they are, then with competing plans on the away team. (And yes, Kayshon needs to be taken out of the action so that Jet and Mariner can argue over who has the better plan, but I still think it was a lazy way to avoid letting the Tamarian have too much dialogue.)
For all that the one-upping between Jet and Mariner gets very tired very quickly, it does end nicely, as both of them realize they’re being idiots and decide to ask Tendi and Rutherford what they think. The pair are shocked to even be acknowledged, and then quickly come up with a much stronger solution.
And that makes the whole episode worth it, because finally Mariner isn’t the one who saves the day. This show has twisted itself into a pretzel to make Mariner always be the one to be the hero, often to the detriment of the story (as recently as last week), so to have Tendi and Rutherford do it instead is a huge relief, and makes the episode that much stronger.
The away team is mostly on their own because Freeman has received her command evaluation, which says that she micromanages too much, so she decides to be hands-off with this away mission, only to discover that everything went horribly wrong and her security chief got turned into a stuffie. So it’s back to micromanaging for her. This subplot is yet another case of Lower Decks inserting 21st-century office plots into the 24th-century Starfleet, and it still doesn’t work.
Much more successful is the inevitable return of Boimler to the Cerritos, and I have to give massive amounts of credit to executive producer Mike McMahan and the episode’s scripter Chris Kula for the solution to the “problem” of Boimler being transferred at the end of season one: a transporter duplicate! In order to save the Titan away team he’s part of, Boimler technobabbles a solution that results in him being duplicated the same way Captain Riker did in TNG‘s “Second Chances.” With two Boimlers, Riker can only keep one, so one of the Boimlers is sent back to the Cerritos.
The best part of this is that, when Boimler arrives, Tendi has to pay Rutherford, as the latter guessed that he would be transporter cloned and be returned. Because, “It just seemed like a Boimler thing to happen.” And dagnabbit, he’s right. Again.
Getting there was less fun, as Titan‘s bridge crew—a teal-skinned first officer and human tactical and ops officers, none of whom are ever named in dialogue—spend a tiresome amount of time slagging the Enterprise-D, and talking about how easy Riker had it on the ship with their string quartets and holodecks and stuff. Boimler has to remind them that they did things like face the Borg, and then remind them that there’s more to Starfleet than kicking ass. The whole thing just doesn’t work, makes little sense, and isn’t actually funny. (I did like when, after seeing one of the Boimlers off to Cerritos, the first officer answers the question about whether or not they’d ever see Boimler again with, “‘Cause, like, his clone’s here—we’ll see him every day…”)
The question remains now as to whether or not Jet will still be on beta shift. It’s obvious Mariner was treating him as a substitute Boimler, and he’s cast aside pretty quickly by all three once Boimler comes back. Will he try to remain part of the group? Also: will Mariner go back to treating Boimler like crap? And will Boimler—who has now gone on several dangerous missions on Titan—continue to take it?
- The two pieces of tie-in fiction that featured the Tamarians include the post-finale Voyager novels by Kirsten Beyer, in which Voyager‘s chief medical officer is a Tamarian named Dr. Sharak, and the short story “Friends with the Sparrows” by frequent Tor.com commenter Christopher L. Bennett in the anthology The Sky’s the Limit, which dealt with post-“Darmok” attempts by the Federation to form relations with the Children of Tamar.
- The main mission is to catalogue the items on the ship of a Collector, which is apparently a community of hardcore, um, collectors. It’s implied by dialogue among Freeman, Ransom, and Migleemo that Kivas Fajo and Palor Toff from TNG‘s “The Most Toys” were also Collectors. The one Collector we meet has a personality that was pretty obviously inspired by Comic Book Guy from The Simpsons, albeit with more of a Brooklyn accent.
- After the away team returns to the Cerritos, the Kayshon stuffie is brought to sickbay, where T’Ana assures everyone that he’ll be fine in a day or two. In the meantime, she puts the stuffie on a biobed with a sign that reads, “I AM NOT A DOLL DO NOT PLAY WITH ME.” Migleemo, of course, tries to play with him anyhow, which gets him yelled at by T’Ana. People never read the damn signs, man…
- Riker is delightfully batshit in this, with Jonathan Frakes shouting a lot of his dialogue, and with more of the wonderful music metaphors that only make a little bit of sense. And with a Boimler still on Titan, there’s a very good chance we’ll see more of Captain Riker, which is okay by me.
- Lower Decks gives us a U.S.S. Titan that goes on dangerous missions for Starfleet, which is a perfectly legitimate choice, especially given the only onscreen mission Titan had prior to this was to go to Romulus to help put it back together after Shinzon’s failed coup in Nemesis. The Titan novels published by Simon & Schuster (which is where the design of the ship came from, designed by Sean Tourangeau) took a different direction, having the ship be one of deep-space exploration, and also one with a species-diverse crew. Given that the show is animated, I was hoping for at least the latter part to be used here. (In the novels, the Titan‘s chief medical officer is, basically, a giant dinosaur, for starters.) Alas…
Keith R.A. DeCandido will be a guest at Planet ComiCon in Kansas City this weekend, appearing at Bard’s Tower (Booth 1103). Other guests include fellow word-slingers Timothy Zahn, Kevin J. Anderson, John Jackson Miller, Megan Mackie, Michelle Cori, Dayton Ward, and Kevin Dilmore, as well as bunches of actors, cosplayers, and more. More details here.