Enlightenment > Star Trek > TNG
TNG 5-02

TNG 5x02
"Darmok"

Original airdate: 9/30/1991
Rewatch date: 3/29/2012


While trying to communicate with a seemingly incomprehensible alien race, Picard is kidnapped and forced into a deadly contest.

Spoiler-free notes:

I like Picard's new outfit. Very stylish and comfortable-looking. If I had a jacket just like his, I would wear it all the time, communicator and all. Maybe it's just the new clothes, but Picard seems a lot more laid back as this episode starts.

Picard starting communications with a proposed non-aggression pact might not have been the most prudent course of action.

Rewatching this episode is fun, because with each viewing, I understand more and more of the Tamarian "language."

This episode gives Riker another shot at command, and you see how he reacts to a different kind of pressure. Both Picard and Riker are trying to sort out how to communicate with the Tamarians without sparking a diplomatic incident, all while Picard has apparently been kidnapped and placed in danger. There's an interesting dichotomy in how the two deal with their respective situations.

I'm unapologetic about being a geek, so I will admit that, sometimes, I use "Shaka" as a swear word. It's good because I don't have to feel guilty using it around children. Every once in a blue moon, I come across a fellow Trekkie who will reply "When the walls fell." Okay, so that's only happened once, but it was awesome.

How does the computer know of Darmok and Tanagra if nobody in the Federation has ever succeeded in sharing cultural information with the Tamarians? The only explanation I can come up with is that the Tamarians have been able to communicate with other alien races, one of whom was able to communicate with the Federation and somehow pass on the knowledge of Darmok and Tanagra. However, it seems odd that the mythology would be passed along while a critical understanding of how to communicate with the Children of Tama is not. And while we're on the subject, how does anyone know that they are called "The Children of Tama"? Who came up with that term?

I love the premise of this episode, but it calls into question how, exactly, the universal translator works. How is it able to translate "Temba, his arms wide" if it can't decipher the context? How does it know the Tamarian word for "arms"? The universal translator is one of those pernicious little plot devices that isn't adequately explained and seems to work according to the convenience of the writing rather than by any consistent rules.

That's Ashley Judd playing Ensign Lefler, in case you didn't notice.

The "beast" is pretty hardcore (and I really like the effects). It's hard to imagine how Picard and Dathon (the Tamarian captain) could hope to defeat it with just two hunting knives.

The scene where the Enterprise is trying to beam up Picard while the Tamarian captain is getting the snot kicked out of him is a great bit of suspense.

I wonder if Dathon knows that Picard was unable to help because he was stuck in a transporter beam, or if he just thinks Picard is a terrible, terrible coward who stood by while the creature was attacking.

Why is it we speak loudly whenever we think somebody doesn't understand us? Even Picard does it. When he starts telling the story of Gilgamesh, he's practically screaming at the poor Tamarian, who is only three feet away.

How come the Enterprise fires phasers from the photon torpedo bay?

Picard facing off against a monster on an alien world and getting his shirt torn open is very Kirk-like behavior.

The epic of Gilgamesh is one of the oldest surviving works of literature, if not the oldest, and this episode parallels some of its main plot points, as explained by Picard. This episode can be seen as a tretise on how we use stories and metaphor to communicate with one another and why so many of our stories follow archetypes and use homages. After all, language is, at its heart, entirely metaphorical. It's a really deep theme, and one of the reasons I think of this episode as one of my favorites. Sure, I can nitpick it, but at the same time, I can respect it for being a meaningful bit of sci-fi.





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