Star Trek: The Next Generation


3 stars.

Air date: 9/30/1991
Teleplay by Joe Menosky
Story by Philip Lazebnik and Joe Menosky
Directed by Winrich Kolbe

Review Text

An alien race called the Tamarians meets the Enterprise in orbit of a planet to establish first diplomatic relations, where initial communications prove frustrating and bizarre because of the Tamarians' incomprehensible language, which when translated results only in phrases like "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra." The Tamarian captain, Dathon (Paul Winfield), kidnaps Picard to the planet surface where the two attempt to come to some sort of understanding while a strange creature lurks on the other side of the rocks.

It's fascinating, how these Tamarian words, initially so nonsensical, ultimately end up taking on so much meaning. "Darmok" might be the ultimate Joe Menosky episode — one deeply rooted in ancient legends and strange cultures, and a story that's far more conceptual than your average storytelling fare. Essentially, you have a story that's being told through snippets of other stories that the characters are telling each other. In this vein of unique Menosky-scripted myths within myths, see also TNG's "Masks" (which I'll deal with down the road), DS9's "Dramatis Personae," and Voyager's "Muse." Granted, the level of success varied greatly among these episodes, but there's a kindred thematic current running through them all.

All of which means that it kind of pains me to say that I like, but do not love, "Darmok." I admire it more than I enjoy it, because to a certain degree this episode keeps itself at arm's length with all of its legends and metaphors and its striving to reach this conceptually ambitious place. The Tamarians, you see, have a language based completely on metaphors and storytelling, so in order to know what "Darmok, his arms wide" actually means, you need to know who and what Darmok himself represents.

That's a fascinating concept, but not one that's easy to convey on screen — or without a certain level of (granted, perfectly TNG-appropriate) exposition. The story frequently cuts back to the Enterprise, where sometimes too much is made of dealing with the procedural details of Riker trying to get past the Tamarians' energy field in the attempts to rescue Picard. And at times the story stalls dramatically; for stretches it's just two guys sitting on a rock trying patiently to break through the wall of confusion that stands between them. But in this conviction is also the story's strength. What I really like about "Darmok" is Picard's willingness to listen — really listen — and try to figure out what all of this means. (I think it takes a little too long for Picard to initially realize that this encounter is in fact not a death match, but once he gets over that misconception, the story demonstrates Picard's gifts for digging in for the long haul and fighting for diplomacy.)

Ultimately, Picard reaches that epiphany. The entire meeting was set up by Dathon in order to reenact an ancient Tamarian tale in which Darmok and Jalad fought together in much the same way Picard and Dathon do here. That's a neat narrative trick, but not one that completely makes me a die-hard advocate of this episode. Sometimes the experience of watching "Darmok" is as slow going as the process of Picard learning about it. But when you finally get to the end, you see how that patience pays off.

Previous episode: Redemption, Part II
Next episode: Ensign Ro

Like this site? Support it by buying Jammer a coffee.

◄ Season Index

Comment Section

199 comments on this post

    I do agree Darmok is overrated by the fan community and is more of a 2.5-3 star episode. The scenes back on the ship do seem like padding and a lot of the scenes on the ground are routine. The alien threat was a macguffin and reminded me of the Gorn. Sure the ending was poignant but that doesn't make a 4 star episode.

    The episode isn't that entertaining--the episode is more of an academic exercise.

    "Darmok" is no more overrated by its fanbase than DS9 (as a whole) is by its fanbase

    I'd put Darmok higher because of how it can be sort of twisted to apply to itself -think of TNG itself as a legend ...

    Also, as someone who wonders about such things as the nature of communications and concepts I do find the "crazy premise" wonderful, even if absurd if taken literally.

    Giving this particular episode only a 3 star rating, much like DS9's "Sacrifice of Angels" (another vastly underrated episode reviewed), is one I strongly have to disagree with.

    Granted I haven't watched Darmok in a few years, I do remember it as one of the stand out episodes of the entire series. Even after re-watching it in my adulthood. The fact that it was just essentially two guys talking and trying to understand each other--in ways beyond just language, is what gave it its strength and uniqueness. I did not find it dull in the least, even stripped of all the usual sci-fi and action. Maybe it was just the way Patrick Stewart and the other actor portrayed it, but this wasn't another average fare episode (which is what 3 stars suggests).

    I think at very least it deserves 3.5 stars. Sacrifice of Angels though, that I'll always be of the opinion it deserved a full 4. :)

    I agree with Mitch (on both counts!) and I don't think either "Damok" or DS9 are overrated by their fan bases :)

    As a translator, I have always found it laughable how easy it is for alien species to understand each other through the miracle of technology. But then here comes an episode whose whole point is about two very different peole who have to learn to understand each other's language. Never has that idea been more compelling to me than in this episode.

    It was Temba whose arms were wide, not Darmok.

    I'm not going to try to persuade you of this episode's brilliance, since your comment that it pains you to give this a good-not-great review indicates that you've probably heard them all before (besides, Mitch and Nic seem to have covered all the bases regardless). All I can say is that this is by far my favorite TNG episode and that it has moved me in ways that Trek would not do again until DS9's "The Visitor."

    I absolutely adore the small morsels of the Tamarian language that we are given here and wish that Menosky were able to give us further insights in subsequent episodes (I've been known, on very rare occasions, to use, "Sokath, his eyes uncovered!" as a cry of victory). Beyond that, there are just so many little things that I love about this episode - the slightly exaggerated, theatrical mannerisms of the Tamarians (e.g., the way the first officer hangs his head after being chastised by Dathon), the way Dathon chuckles, "Gilgamesh," during Picard's story. It is, to me, a very rich, vibrant episode that gives a fascinating peek into such a thoroughly alien culture, and one of the sorts of things that made me a Trekkie in the first place.

    (Okay, so maybe that had more of a persuasive edge than I'd intended.)

    For my part, I always rated this episode highly because it was the debut of Picard's bitchin' jacket.

    To follow up on my comment to "Redemption II" regarding my perception of Ron Moore as a writer -- I had a sense of Joe Menosky as a writer at the time, simply because of his focus on anthropological themes.

    I'll admit that I've bought into the love this episode gets.

    It's been so long since it first aired it's impossible to recall what it was like after first viewing. But I think it's a brilliant idea, greatly executed.

    It's so much what Voyager could have been. SO many episodes had those great one-liner ideas, but they were usually botched beyond measure.

    TNG shows almost always -- if nothing else -- managed to live up to the premise.

    I'm not even going to jusify it. I love this episode, one of my all time favourites of any Trek series.

    If anyome would ever ask me to use an episode to describe why i love TNG and why i hate the reboot movie then Darmok would be one of the first that would come to my mind, 4 stars from me.

    I think I am can sum up the problem with this episode. I call it the "Star Trek VI" problem. This episode is PHENOMENAL, when you first see it. No argument at all there. But I agree with most here (who aren't lignuists), that once you have seen it and "get it", it really is dull on the re-watch. I don't think it is truly a bad thing, there are lots of episodes and movies of all genres like this. I think the reason we are so critical is because we know that Dathon is a good dude, but when I first so the episode, you do not have the slightest idea what is going on.

    So I would agree with the 3 star review. I think 4 star episodes should be enjoyable viewing past the 1st time.

    I guess to each their own, but to my mind this is one of the best that Star Trek has to offer. I've watched it many times and always enjoy it.

    This was one of those episodes that I knew as I was going in for the revisit it had much love in the TNG fandom circles. But I just couldn't muster more than three stars. I like it, but it just doesn't go beyond like for me. It's nice, it's original, but it's also kind of a dramatically repetitive show.

    Mitch, I will officially announce here that I underrated "Sacrifice of Angels." I've watched that many times on DVD over the years and found it constantly rewatchable and just a plain great hour of TV. The three stars should probably be four. (I'm not going to officially change the rating, because I could probably change dozens of ratings on this site, and there's just no point.)

    Nick Poliskey, I disagree on the "Star Trek VI" comparison. If anything, "Star Trek VI" remains just as entertaining when rewatching. The same flaws are evident, but it's a definitely rewatchable and entertaining movie.

    I love this episode, but when I rewatch it, I only watch the Picard and Dathon parts and fast-forward through all the on-ship stuff.

    But as much as I love the idea of their metaphor language, how could it possibly work in practical terms? How, for example, do they potty train their children?

    Mirab, with sails unfurled.

    I've never liked this episode, despite wanting to. Can someone please explain to me how it makes any sense? I mean are we supposed to believe that the Universal Translator knows enough to translate this alien language into English words, but can't figure out these metaphors? This is the Magic Trek Universal Translator we're talking about here. A device that's so good that it even makes the aliens lips appear to move in English. And also has been shown to work many times without ever having encountered a language before. I really want to figure this out! Or maybe we're supposed to believe that all these aliens just speak English?

    I must admit on first viewing of this episode many years ago I experienced two WTF moments that caused me to lose focus on the episode.

    First, Picard's uniform. There was no explanation, it had two layers with the primary shirt being blue, his pants were tucked into his boots. Why? What was the reason? No one else had it and no one else ever would in the Star Trek universe. I seriously thought I must have missed an episode or something.

    Second - when phaser fire started blasting out of the photon launcher. I was totally confused, literally said "what the hell?" and was pulled out of the action. I thought to myself "could the FX department had screwed up that bad? Where's quality control?"

    to Angel, let me paraphrase the Big Lebowski, " What does DS9 have to do with anything????"

    good enough, had to be very patient at the time

    reminds me of Alien Mine movie

    Harsh rating. You've given plenty of inferior Voyager and Enterprise episodes higher ratings. Realistically if Darmok is only 3 stars, no Voyager or Enterprise episode deserves 4 stars. Perhaps you should go through your old reviews and apply your new harsh standards.

    MadBaggins, not only are Jammer's scores relative between series, season and year of review, but he was also quite clear that he didn't think VOY or ENT were successful series as a whole.

    So, those four-star reviews you deride are only in the relative scale of being above average for some very flawed series'.

    I love the relationship between Picard and Dathon, but I could never buy into either the impossibility of communication with the aliens, or the likelihood of their language being so based on metaphor. In the first case, I know that I - as a child, on first viewing - understood that their language was metaphor-based from the beginning. Guy mouthing off, other guy yells "The river in winter", and the first guy shuts up. Child Me says, "Oh, I get it: he meant shut up, be still, i.e. like a frozen river". If I got it, then why does it take the Predator to hammer the point home to Picard?

    And more importantly, how could these people have developed their language in the first place if it was only ever based on something else? If I make a reference to Romeo & Juliet, then Shakespeare had to have written the play in the first place for my metaphor to make any sense. These people had to have had a non-metaphorical language in the first place to have written (or read) the stories their metaphors refer to. And how the hell does one construct a starship when one's language is entirely metaphorical? How would you go about discussing mechanical engineering or complex computer programming in terms of Greek myth?!

    So, nice acting, nice Trekian philosophy, but zero logic.

    Both the review and comments which follow offer me the knowledge that Star Trek is truly lost on most people, even those who like it. Star Trek is a MYTH. The science fiction aspect to the drama serve the same function as magic or divine powers in ancient stories. Has anyone here even read Gilgamesh? Geez. This is the absolute best episode of the fact its existence alone justifies the season as a whole.

    Enough quibbling over the technologies, the fireside scenes are completely captivating and emotionally resonant. The story is not a "conceptual one" at all. It's rooted in the very legend it names; love, trust and loyalty to one principles transcends any kind of cultural or technological barrier (as it did between Gilgamesh and Enkidu) and the bonds our shared adventures create, the dreams we whisper to one another change us more than "event" could ever hope to.

    Four stars without question. THIS is the essence of Star Trek in every way...and it's executed extremely well by the actors and director.

    To Noxex regarding the universal translator- If you had a term you used to describe waking up because of an experience. Say a cat sitting on your head (I'm sure cat owners will gt that one). You could say 'A cat sitting on my head' to a Russian, in Russian and they would understand the words, but not the meaning behind it.

    To Elliot, You are absolutely wrong about that. That is not a view shared by casual fans, obsessive fans, or even the producers or creators. The show went out of its way to hire very smart people with PHD in physics, chemistry, etc.. to be part of the show (Sternbach, Okuda, etc...) Now I think you could make a strong argument this episode was meant as myth, but I would disagree with you even on that one. This was a genuine attempt at something, and when you read what the writer and producers were aiming for you have to take them at their word.

    Part of the reason people get so jazzed up is becuase STTNG was generally so straight forward in its' presentation of science, that when there are some irregularities, they are that much more noticeable.

    Obviously this is a TV show, but it is not "meant" as a myth anymore than any other TV show, and I think people are quite justified in their complaints on this particular hour.

    to Weiss, I'm just sick of people who think that the ONLY possible way to give DS9 the love & attention it didn't get during its run is to take pot shots at TNG, the show which made DS9 possible, & the way Jammer (and some others) basically drool over that show by giving too many of its episodes 4 stars, while short-changing TNG classics such as this one, "Family," & "The Drumhead" in the same way suggests they are doing just that.
    Read any interview with the irascible Ira Behr and he basically says: "TNG sucks, watch our show instead." Hardly a way to draw viewers!
    He comes across as bitchy as Kevin Sorbo does when anyone brings up Xena.

    @ Nick P : Intent does not account for content. I understand and appreciate that there is a real science aspect to the show; and much of it is there (whether or not this was anyone's intention) as a means for social commentary ON technology itself and our use of it. The fact is in all the incarnations of Trek (some more than others) the core of characterisations come from archetypes, the building-blocks of myth. The references in the show to our own poetic heritage (here and elsewhere) is part of the message here. Many will label such devices as "derivative," thereby demonstrating their severe lack of creative energy. Science fiction is a 200-year-old genre, but the power of Star Trek as compared to the myriad of other sci-fi is its durability. That durability comes from its mythical power. Myths are older than civilisation itself and will never decay. When Star Trek is at its best (as it is in "Darmok"), it captures that timeless quality as well as any TV show ever has.

    You say people are justified in their complaints, but such complaints stem from an emotional vacancy in the fans--they are looking for something superficial because the true content of the show is lost on them.

    @ angel : couldn't agree with you more. I can't help but feel a sneaking suspicion that the DS9 "droolers" never really appreciated their Trek for what it was, being possessed of some other Sehnsucht which DS9 offered them.

    Elliott, in your arguments you have concluded what Star Trek is and have also decided that those fans who haven't reached the same conclusions as you must therefore not understand what Star Trek is. I find that position awfully myopic.

    Armed with a working definition of what myth is and multiple viewings of every episode and movie of the franchise (well, I admit, I couldn't bring myself to multiple viewings of many ENT episodes), I reached a conclusion. When an episode can fundamentally exist as only Trek and not any other subgenre of Sci-fi, I take that to define its essence. While there are numerous good episodes which don't necessarily make the most of this core, that doesn't change the fact that it's what makes Star Trek special.

    Tell me that the archetypal image of a ship on an idealistic adventure meeting aliens which personify various archetypes and allegories is anything but the stuff of myth?

    A thing is what it is. It may mean nothing to some, everything to others, but it exists as itself on some fundamental, platonic level. Is it myopic to hold a thing accountable to its essence?

    I vividly remember 20 years ago watching the coming attractions for this episode at the end of "Redemption II" and thinking that perhaps they were going to change the uniforms. I always loved that bitchin' jacket too - I think it was called the "light duty uniform" on the packaging for the Picard action figure that was released the following year. I remember reading that Patrick Stewart simply wanted a more comfortable costume and that's what Robert Blackman came up with. In fact as I recall it was Stewart who got the uniforms changed to the two piece design in Season Three because the jumpsuits were giving him back trouble. Perhaps they decided it would be more cost effective this time to just give Picard a special outfit rather than make new ones for the whole cast.

    It wasn't unprecedented in "Trek" for the captain to have his own uniform variant. On "TOS" Kirk sometimes wore that cool green tunic instead of the usual yellow shirt and that was never explained either. Much more annoying to me was that until Captain Jellico came along in Season Six Deanna Troi was allowed to run around in all sorts of silly outfits. And I thought she was sexier in a Starfleet uniform than in any of those costumes! (Well... that low cut teal number was pretty hot.)

    LIke many Trekkies I've always counted "Darmok" as a favorite for all the reasons that the other posters have said. But I think my favorite part of the show is at the end when Picard returns to the bridge and hails the Tamarian ship. He just strides on the bridge with his ripped up uniform with such authority and takes control and saves the day. For me it was one of his coolest moments. Maybe because he was wearing the bitchin' jacket!


    "...the show's Prime Directive--not to interfere with the normal development of other civilisations--has appealed to millions. It has also inspired each series to reflect the moods and concerns of the times in which it was made. It IS our own 20th-century mythology, and there's NOTHING else out there like it."

    --Majel Barrett Roddenberry, aired on Sci Fi, January 12, 1995

    You or anyone may argue if you wish the definition of mythology or its applicability, but to deny that it provides the essence if not the entire Universe of possibilities for Star Trek is naïve and self-defeating.

    Elliot, that was beautifully put. I never really thought of it that way. I personally don't really care for the prime directive, but it is as much the core of Star Trek as Spock is. It IS Star Trek, philosophically.

    One day, somehow, the TNG-versus-DS9 wars shall end.

    For my money, "Darmok" is three-and-a-half stars. I like it a lot but I don't quite love it. Everything about the episode is wonderful high-concept science fiction but there was a bit of a pacing issue as far as Riker's scenes were concerned.

    When an episode isn't just as comfortable a fit no matter which set is being filmed I tend to subtract a bit of the score. Riker's scenario wasn't intended to be quite as compelling as Picard's, I'd imagine... but every time I saw the bridge I just desperately wanted to see the planet again.

    Good to see new TNG posts (ok, I'm a bit behind noticing, but still nice). Also a plus to see more 'full' reviews. Sorry to hear you didn't get more work done on these during the summer.

    I'm in the camp of people who would rate this episode at 3.5 or 4 stars. I respect your opinion on this one, but for me the Picard/Dathon scenes more than make up for any on-ship scenes that drag. I noticed that one commenter mentioned the Gorn. Funnily, I had a Gorn thought while reading your review as well.

    My thought was that this episode acts as a sort of anti-‘Arena’. In this episode, everyone assumes that this is a deathmatch a-la Gorn. However, it turns out to be the opposite. The thing is that the episode also serves to highlight the differences between Riker and Picard and what makes Picard a true diplomat. Only Picard ever realizes that Dathon is seeking friendship. Riker continues to be aggressive and assume hostile intent because he doesn’t understand. I wonder if there was any intent to make a comment to the point that people assume the worst of someone who speaks differently than themselves (though in this case, they do seem to “attack” the Enterprise).

    In any event, the relationship that builds between Picard and Dathon is the gem of the episode. Stewart and Winfield turn in fantastic performances of frustration, anger and ultimately friendship and understanding. I usually get a tear or two when Dathon ultimately dies. Picard almost seems to realize that had they just understood each other in the first place, it might not have been necessary, making it truly tragic. The only other pieces of Trek that really give me that emotional reaction are the eulogy in ST:II, and when Jake reveals his plan in The Visitor.

    Ultimately instead of trying to outwit and defeat the Gorn, Picard has to learn to communicate and work together with Dathon, which makes this a standout “see how Trek has evolved since TOS” episode. I understand that there’s a lot of exposition or stalling on the ship, but it doesn’t seem terribly forced to me. It seems like Data and Troi trying to genuinely figure out the issue of communicating with this culture, and it goes to show again that not everything can be solved via the computer and databank research. This problem was solved by Picard’s communication skills and intuition.

    Jeff O'Connor,
    The TNG vs. DS9 wars can only end when those who obsessively drool over DS9 can see reason by not taking pot shots at TNG whenever they praise 'their' show.
    If someone likes DS9 better than TNG that's fine, but what bugs the crap out of me is how they basically dismiss TNG as a bland abomination for no good reason.


    "The TNG vs. DS9 wars can only end when those who obsessively drool over DS9 can see reason by not taking pot shots at TNG whenever they praise 'their' show."

    Well, not saying your experience is my experience, but I haven't really seen this. DS9 fans are in large part people who have come to Trek through TNG. Most of them, as far as I know, hold both TNG and DS9 in high regard.

    Now Voyager is a completely different matter :)

    I'm with Paul - I've known TNG fans who didn't care for DS9. Either because they bailed early on when the show was still finding its voice or because they had very narrow definitions of what "Trek" should be - namely one hour isolated stories featuring a ship and its crew. However I don't recall ever meeting a DS9 fan who didn't like TNG let alone dismiss it as a "bland abomination".

    Now Voyager, as Paul puts it, is indeed a completely different matter.

    @Tony & Phil :

    Well, it's been my experience that most of DS9's fans liked or even loved TNG but found it rather childish in comparison to the former--which, as this episode should demonstrate--is utter rubbish. In other words, I'm convinced that DS9 was the non-trek that bribed fandom through references and continuity to TNG.

    "Can someone please explain to me how it makes any sense? I mean are we supposed to believe that the Universal Translator knows enough to translate this alien language into English words, but can't figure out these metaphors?"

    I gave this a bit of thought and came up with one possible solution: the Tamarians split from another race that speaks more normally and that the Federation has dealings with, so the ordinary words can be translated but the metaphors cannot. The name "Children of Tama" suggests a cult that left the home planet. Of course this isn't stated in the episode, but it could be added without changing anything, so I'm willing to let it slide.

    That said, I do think this episode is a bit overrated. Good but not excellent.

    Always loved this episode, in a way it's almost like we're seeing a mirror image of Picard in the Temarian, that culture's version of the captain dedicated to meeting new life and establishing communication. Nitpicking the chosen language conceit, and the translation difficulties, is an old past time. It makes sense to me that the Universal translator would fail with idiom and metaphor, it does the same with curse words, in a more literal fashion. People who speak different languages on Earth today face the same difficulties, heck even English causes some confusion, with the various dialects and whatever it is they speak across the pond.

    As to the great Trek debate, I'll weigh in by saying that the usual suspects complaining above are guilty of the exact thing they lament, namely dismissing DS9 and insulting it's fans in a lame attempt to prop up (uneedlessly, IMO) TNG.

    I'll say this, DS9 is my favorite Trek. It's the most consistently well written from the 1st season onward, the characters are so diverse in temperament, the setting unique in the franchise, so and and so forth. However, TNG defines Trek, even more so than TOS. That obviously doesn't make it a better series, since not everything about Trek is necessarily a positive, but even the excessive technobabble and bumpy forehead aliens are part of the formula. TNG isn't diminished because someone likes another series more. I expect that kind of defensiveness from Voyager fans (smile).

    @Tripps "I'll say this, DS9 is my favorite Trek. It's the most consistently well written from the 1st season onward, the characters are so diverse in temperament, the setting unique in the franchise"

    I am currently rewatching DS9 after many years. It's interesting how solid that series is, and I think characters are the main "culprits"; even a stupid episode is often saved by all those wonderful characters. Sisko&Co, not to forget the huge support cast, in my opinion, have a... I don't know, vibrancy, radiance, life to them that really set DS9 apart from other Trek series. Of all the Treks, they are the most lifelike and, well, in the words of James T. Kirk, human.

    Great reviews Jammer, and glad to see you were able to post some new stuff.

    Skip to 3:02 for some Darmok-related goodness. Heck, the whole thing is hilarious: http: //

    @MadBaggins - dig the name. It's also the name of my (conceptual) stoner rock band. If only I could learn to appear on stage with a flash and a bang.

    My opinion of the great TNG/DS9 Debate. OK, I feel torn here. I will go on a limb and say that DS9 is a better series. That is really hard to argue against. It is tighter, better written, better characters, and way better actors, overall. that being said, I am a purist, DS9 is NOT Star Trek. I am firmly in the camp that Gene Roddenberry would have hated calling this star trek. This is not drama. It is a war story in Space.

    People forget that Gene had a vision, and I disagree with his vision in many ways, but he still had a vision, and TOS and TNG was it. It was not people hating each other and religious nonsense being "respected", that was in no way roddenberry. He would have hated DS9 I have no doubt. It is much close to BSG than ST.

    People argue way too much over this one. This episode relies almost purely on how far one is willing to suspend their disbelief. The concept itself is great, but there's an "uncanny valley" effect introduced by the execution.

    It's not really worth debating whether it's 3 or 4 stars.. the concept is 4-star, the execution is what people tend to harp on and that's less important to most sci-fi viewers.

    You can rationalize away the "speaking with metaphors" thing either as "there's more (non-verbal) communication we don't see or hear" or "it's just artistic license" (etc), but it still comes down to how much you like the idea and want to see it work.

    For my money, the execution was sub-optimal, but it deserves props for the concept and the fact that such a silly episode actually worked. As cheesy as the metaphor idea was, it did give us some memorable quotes.

    A great story, but the brief battle at the end where the Tamarians totally outclassed the Enterprise tactically seems a contrivance.

    "Darmok" is far more fitting 25th Anniversary episode for Trek than the "Unification" 2-parter. Gene Roddenberry's memorial card (which was at the beginning of both parts of "Unification" should have been for this show.

    Hear! Hear! Patrick!

    Every truly great work of art is rooted in myth. This must be true because myth is the most original expression of the human subconscious, the nouminal and the metaphysical, and because only art can express these things in a coherent way. This inevitable truth is recognised in the review to BSG's "Mælstrom," also an excellent episode of myth-oriented television. Mythology and religion are, of course, intertwined, but not inexorably. Star Trek is the demonstration to the 20th/21st centuries that science fiction is a means by which myth and religion can be separated WITHOUT sacrificing the power of mythical insight. In the 19th century, it was Wagnerian opera, in the 18th it was poetry of Goethe...

    This episode is the pinnacle of that realisation and is supplied with pitch-perfect performances and just a hint of self-awareness that make it unquestionably great. Yes, unquestionably. That is the price one pays sometimes when dealing with things as potent as myth; they simply are or are not, like the will of a deity and do not succumb to the opinions of critics. I can understand that this is a problem for many in our democratic and atheistic zeitgeist (I believe in democracy and am an atheist) but without that un-questionability, Star Trek would not be the phenomenon it is. As a television show, it could stoop to the lows of "Spock's Brain" or the highs of "Far Beyond the Stars" and "The Inner Light", but as an idea, it is impenetrable. "Darmok" is the sacred altar of the myth that is Star Trek, which is why awarding it anything other than 4 stars is * irreverent* if tolerable.

    I really liked this episode.

    When I was 13.

    3 stars is about right.

    I went into this episode hating the first 20-25 minutes of it. I found the language unbelievable, the Enterprise scenes tedious, and the phrases repetitive and annoying. All of that changed at the end, when the writers managed to pull off a sudden understanding that made most of the language hang together, as well as the telling of the story of Gilgamesh, which had some seriously stunning emotion, and Picard's final delivery to the Temarians, more or less, made the beginning of the episode worth it.

    This is a fantastic episode, maybe in the top 5. It is very deep and is similar to the way humans have difficulty communicating ideas that are not tangible, and more spiritual. The acting is amazing and Picard is flawless as usual. I do not think it is as touching as "The Inner Light" or "Tapestry" nor as exciting as "Yesterday's Enterprise" or "Best of Both Worlds", but it is right up there with them. Also, I'm really tired of hearing the negative comments with regard to Voyager. Some of the episodes on Voyager were right up there with the very best of ANY Star Trek from any of the series. Anyone who says there were no four star episodes has obviously never seen masterpieces such as "Distant Origin", "Timeless", "Living Witness", "Blink of An Eye" - not to mention some incredibly fun episodes such as "Pathfinder", "Scorpion", and "Year of Hell" (Red Foreman people, come on!) On the whole, TNG might have been a little better (thanks to Patrick Stewart), but Voyager was Star Trek at its best once again. I do not think people open their minds enough to even give it a chance. The acting on the whole is better than ANY of the series (other than Patrick Stewart). Robert Picardo (Doctor) is an unbelievable actor, as well as Robert Beltran, Ethan Phillips, Tim Russ, and of course Janeway. I'm also tired or hearing that DS9 is far superior to Voyager. Baloney! It is still great Trek, but talk about overrated, please! Voyager is so much more interesting, not to mention the acting is far superior, and the screenplays are more diverse and thought provoking, especially the aforementioned episodes.

    To weigh in on the TNG/DS9 wars, I am someone who came to DS9 via TNG, love TNG, but still find DS9 to be the "better" series.

    I don't feel that it takes a pot shot at TNG to say so either.

    If you look at TNG->DS9 as a whole entity that spans a 12 year period DS9 just simply benefited from being second. The writers were able to push into a more serial direction where actions have consequences because TV was evolving and this is where it was going. My favorite "arcs" from TNG involve Data's growth and Worf's family/Klingon drama. They were TNG's best attempts at having actions with consequences and real character development. If you look at Worf in TNG S1 and see what they did to him by the end.... well THATS why DS9 wanted him. TNG took a 2 dimentional character and made him really interesting. And after the writer's learned you could do stuff like this on television they applied that standard to DS9 and doubled up on it, make even the minor characters like Nog/Garak be fully realized and interesting.

    I don't know why saying these things (which I basically take as facts) diminishes TNG in ANY way. TNG laid the foundation for amazing Trek and DS9 kept building on it. Saying these things does diminish Voyager, since they decided to take the things that TNG and DS9 built up and knock them down, going back to what TV was like a decade before Voyager was on.

    There was a time when DVDs weren't around and shows weren't watched in marathon style bursts. Back then it was more important that you put out an hour of awesome television. The world is changed now and DS9, taken as a whole product, is simply more satisfying than TNG. However I love TNG and I think that if I was being really fair and grading on the exact same curve TNG (with episodes like Inner Light, Measure of a Man, Darmok, Best of Both Worlds, Yesterday's Enterprise, Drumhead and All Good Things) would likely have the same number of 4 star episodes as DS9. When I say DS9 is better I mean as an entire 7 season product, not necessarily which has more 4 star episodes.

    As for Voyager... I watched it all and will concede that there are some really amazing stand out episodes. What hurts Voyager is looking at the interesting premise and how far DS9 had come with compelling character studies by then and knowing what Voyager could have been and chose not to.

    TNG evolved the franchise from its 1st year attempt to emulating TOS badly to being an amazing show in its own right. DS9 learned from TNG and pushed the envelope further to fully realize its own premise. Voyager dropped the ball. It will always stand for me as a show that could have been more.


    I think the whole TNG vs DS9 thing boils down to a kid who had his entire education paid for by his father who busted his rear and innovated to make sure his kid had a first class schooling. And the kid, now fully educated, thinks he's not just smarter, but better than his old man.

    As you say, TNG evolved. Boy howdy! It went from episodes like "Skin of Evil" to episodes like "Chain of Command" in less than six years. (I think the key catalyst of this was the late, great Michael Piller, who was a co-creater of DS9, but anyway)

    DS9 was a terrific show, but it was standing on the shoulder of a couple of giants.


    I pretty much agree. As I said, I don't feel that saying DS9 is better takes away anything from TNG. DS9 climbed a little higher because its standing on TNGs shoulders. I take this as a fact, you'll get no argument from me.

    TNG was groundbreaking, it was amazing and it put out many hours of excellent television. It also probably has the best actor in the entire franchise. But it didn't have the benefit of the hard working father to teach it (the way that DS9 did).

    As to DS9 fans, who I assume are like the kid who thinks hes not only smarter but also better... I am not one of those. I think the show is better (as I said, from the perspective of watching it as a 7 year product) but that doesn't in any way imply that I think TNG wasn't as great for its time or as groundbreaking. And it certaintly doesn't mean that, as a fan who thinks DS9 is better I still don't look up to the old man (continuing your metaphor). Because I do, and he is a great man.

    Have to agree with Elliott on this one. For me, this is a straight 4 star episode. The basic premise is excellent- a race who as Picard says'are extending a hand' encounters the Enterprise but is unable to communicate, as although the Translator makes their language comprehensible to the Enterprise crew - the ideas are couched in a form which is incomprehensible.

    This was, and still is, one of the best episodes of this or any season. Guest star The late Paul Winfield, superb in Star Trek 2, is pitch perfect here as Captain Dathon, the Alien willing to sacrifice himself for the sake of greater understanding between the two elope, and Patrick Stewart gives his customary excellent performance, thriving on having such a strong guest star. A must watch for anyone seeing TNG or indeed any Star Trek incarnation for the first time. As I say, Elliott and I haven't always seen eye to eye on some episodes but here he is spot on.

    The way they outclassed the Federation flagship, it would have been nice to see these guys as allies during the Dominion War..

    Why is it that people think that serial television automatically is better than episodic television???
    For an extreme example, I don't think anyone would ever argue that Days of Our Lives is superior writing to Seinfeld. And Days of Our Lives, SOAP OPERA, is indeed where all serial television really evolved from.

    For my money, TNG accomplishes far smarter and more philosophically challenging concepts in its best hour long stand alone episodes (like this one) than DS9 does in all its melodramatic, angsty soap opera.

    @Patrick: I don't know that I "automatically" think that serial television is better. It IS a fact that there is only so deep as single hour can go when the goal of that hour is to ensure that the status quo is maintained at the end.

    TNG has a lot of great episodes. A LOT. I doubt anybody on these boards would argue it. But that still doesn't change the fact that having your characters change and grow makes for a deeper experience.

    Look at early episodes with Beverly and Picard. Then look 7 years later. It just went NOWHERE. That doesn't make for a satisfying experience.

    Say what you will about DS9, but stuff happened and consequences for actions were felt. Did they press the reset button too? Yes. Less than TNG though. And they ALL pressed it less than Voyager.

    I guess THAT'S what's nice about serialized TV. The reset button is just a amateur writer's plot device. In serialized TV it gets pressed less (on average). But that doesn't have to be the case. In soap operas they constantly bring back dead characters years later with ridiculous reasons. Doesn't get more reset buttony than that.

    TNG occasionally didn't press it (or only pressed it halfway). Then you get brilliant episodes with great fallout like S4's Family.

    @Robert :

    I think it's fine to speak of being "satisfied" with story arcs and continuity, lack of reset, etc. In-Universe continuity is always fun for the viewer, it rewards him for having paid attention to what happened before, to care about it episode to episode.

    However, saying that it is "a fact" that serialised television goes "deeper" is, I think, erroneous.

    If that were the case, we could say that "Atlas Shrugged" is factually deeper than "Dubliners" or that a 4-hour Händel opera is deeper than a Beethoven string quartet, or that "Avatar" is deeper than "Run, Lola, Run"--you get my point, I believe.

    Yes, it is perhaps unfortunate the TNG (and especially VOY) writers did not take advantage more fully of the fact they had so many episodes to work with--that they could have been as broad as they were deep, but DS9's serialised nature does not make its content deeper or even more interesting. As I said, it simply rewards the viewer for his loyalty and attention.

    I think I agree with... Elliott. But I also agree with Robert. Therefore, by the Transitive Property of Grumpy, Elliott and Robert agree with each other.

    P.S. I disagree with Patrick's choice of Seinfeld as an example of non-serialized TV. Its peak episode, "The Pilot," built on a season's worth of continuity. Subsequent seasons each had their own long-term arcs, too. So, bad example.

    Of course, now we all want to know: Jammer, when will you start posting reviews if Seinfeld??

    And Days of Our Lives???

    @Grumpy : LOL! Although, I think your transitive property works (at least on my side). Robert does agree with Elliott.

    When I said deeper I believe I was not necessarily referring to deeper content. It is a fact that, unless a person is deeply broken they should be much less affected by me killing a character on a TV show that they met an hour ago than killing their best friend that they've known for 30 years. In that regard all I'm trying to say is that serialized TV offers the possibility (but not the guarantee) of a deeper, more meaningful and emotional connection with the characters and the setting.

    I did not mean that one show was intellectually deeper than the other. When you look at shows like Inner Light, Measure of a Man, The Offspring, Tapestry and Darmok.... even if you consider that DS9 has it's own powerful stories I wouldn't claim that DS9's powerful stories were intellectually deeper than TNG's.

    All I'm trying to say is that when things happen to your characters and you don't reset button them away.... it makes for deeper emotions. When Vedek Bareil died I imagine most people felt for Kira harder than when Dax lost Deral in Meridian... because Bareil had been around for 3 years and you've seen their relationship grow.

    TNG understood this too though. Worf's loss of K'Ehleyr was made deeper by their history on and off screen. If she had been a one episode wonder you wouldn't have cared as much.

    So in closing, while I can't say for certain that Elliott agrees with me, I mostly agree with him. Serialization doesn't necessarily make content deeper or more interesting, but I DO think it connects you more deeply to the characters. Most people seem drawn to the TNG characters that had the largest arcs (Data for instance has at least 20 episodes where we explore his history, family, friendships, growth and his quest to become human). The kind of continuity and growth we see from Data connects us to him in a way that causes us to be more invested in his episodes from the start.

    Let's take an episode I really love... VOY's "Blink of an Eye". It was great sci fi, and interesting concept and I even especially connected with the guest character that visited the "sky ship" in the end. But the depth of my emotional attachment to him just can't compare to an old friend I've seen grow over 7 years... no matter how much I love that episode.

    I think this was a really good episode. I'm not sure I'd give it four stars, but it's definitely in my list of personal favorites. It took some getting into initially, but overall, it was very, very good. Great performances by the two captains. Very touching ending. As someone further above said, the ending was so brilliant, it made the first 25 minutes "worth it".

    Watched this again last night and nothing changes. Solid 4/4 and this is the epitome of what TNG was about is about.
    DS9 could never have done an episode like this because that wasn't what DS9 was about. Would have been nice to see Voyager take on more stories like this.
    That's not a Voyager slag off by the way. Just a want for a little more.

    Shahryar, his ears perked. Scheherazade, surviving the night. Keanu, saying "whoa". Siskel and Ebert, their thumbs skyward. Mona Lisa in the Louvre.

    [Translated: The story was quite interesting and had me engaged. I would highly recommend it, and think it stands as a true classic.] See, their language isn't hard to understand!

    In all seriousness, I think I consider this episode the quintessential TNG episode. Or, more accurately, the best possible episode to introduce others to TNG. It's not the best; far from it! But BBW and YE aren't exactly typical of TNG. Likewise, they both require a bit of background and a bit of time spent with the characters in order to fully appreciate them. On the other hand, Darmok requires no previous knowledge of any of the characters, and no previous knowledge of Trek in general. And it also seems to be a summation, really, of what TNG is all about.

    For one, it has all the flaws that people tend to use to denigrate TNG. There's technobabble here. It's slow and talky. It involves one interesting story and one not quite as interesting. It has the silly fake ship in peril scenes at the end. It has bad special effects. Yes, these are all here. If you can't look past them, then what can I say? TNG is not the show for you, and we can all move on. But if you do think these are only minor issues, if you can tolerate them and focus on the larger picture, if you can enjoy the show despite these flaws, then you will probably enjoy all of TNG.

    Because what does it have going for you? A truly unique and interesting story that you most likely will not find anywhere else. An interesting science fiction story, discovering with Picard a bizarre yet still recognizable society. A story that draws you in at a leisurely pace, allowing it to grow naturally. A touching, emotional story with engaging characters. A story that makes you care for these people, and hope for a positive resolution. A story that makes you feel a loss, saddened when one of the characters dies. Yet you still feel relief knowing he did not die in vain. A story told by brilliant actors. A story told with excellent direction. TNG, at its best, could tell these stories. Exploring the potential of humanity and the unknown possibilities of existence, all with a positive outlook and a sense of both awe and determination. And when looking at all the diverse stories it told, flowing easily from deep philosophical discussions to defining character moments to political intrigue to high drama to bizarre tech to intense personal stories. Not just any stories, but stories with an impact, stories that stay with you. Darmok is a near perfect example of this.

    As for a few of the complaints:
    1) How did they get their stories in the first place??? Actually, this is shown clearly. Picard is seen flipping through Dathon's logbook, which has some sort of symbolic language that seemed to map out ideas visually (at least that was my impression). Picard offers it to the first officer, who glances at it and says "Picard and Dathon at El Adrel". Clearly, that log will be circulated to provide a new story for the Children of Tama to reference.

    2) The language was so simple!!! We know that this is not the first time the Children of Tama attempted to communicate with the Federation. So they knew it was a difficult test. It's quite possible that they were attempting to "dumb down" their language to make it easier for the Federation to understand. For example, maybe they have a dozen different metaphors for giving that would work in different circumstances, just as we have many different words (giving, donating, sharing, etc). But perhaps Temba is the most basic one and thus the only one Dathon used. It was like he was trying to teach a child to talk; why would he complicate things?

    3) This is so ridiculous, how would a culture like that exist??? Actually, I find this pretty interesting. There was a line by Data that I don't remember exactly, but he said something along the lines of "Tamarians have an unusually low sense of ego". I think that's the root of it, and that that lack of ego, lack of self, is the dominant trait in the Children of Tama. They see themselves, not as an internal reference, but seemingly as an external reference. Almost like they are performing in a drama, performing for others. They see themselves as parts of an overall story. While they probably recognize the concept of free will, and certainly act on their own volition, they may not necessarily do it from a selfish perspective.

    Obviously this is hard to tell from just one episode. But we saw quite a bit of ritualistic behavior from the First Officer. Rituals deny the importance of the self in favor of the continuity of a community, and thus strengthening my thesis here. When you are performing a ritual, you are acting the part expected of you. But more importantly is Dathon's actions. Seriously, do they make sense to you? You're having trouble connecting with someone. So you think, "hey, I read a story in which two strangers fought side by side in a battle to the death with a common enemy, and left as friends. Maybe if I set a similar scenario up with this guy and risk both of our lives, the same thing will happen!" No, that would be crazy. But that's what Dathon does. So to him, it can't be crazy.

    And thus Data's statement makes sense. I wouldn't risk my life on a crazy scheme like that. And I wouldn't think it would work, because I know I wouldn't want someone to do that to me. But if I have no ego? If I think I'm just a character in a story? Then maybe it makes sense. They were at an impasse, and needed to do something to move the plot along. Dathon thought this might work. His own mortality was not a concern, because the story is immortal. If the plot follows how he thinks it will go, then the story ends happily. If it veers in a different direction, then at least he creates a new story that others can follow. And if the self isn't important but the narrative is, then it becomes a sane conclusion to risk your life in this way.

    I used to post under the name of Robert, but that was before I realized that there was someone else who posted under the name of Robert. So now I'm "OtherRobert".

    Anyways. Just wanted to register my "votes", not to persuade/dissuade anyone, but just to go on the record.

    As in,

    -I really love this episode: four stars for me, one of my favourite Trek episodes.

    -I luv the Picard bitch' jacket

    -I like all the characters, including the "beast"

    -I thought the space battle scene was cool

    -even on initial viewing I did squirm at the idea that the aliens could communicate solely through metaphor. But that doesn't change how I feel about the episode.

    On a separate note, I do get a kick out of the passionate debates on all Star Trek. What number of stars rating is correct? TNG vs. DS9. The castigating of VOY and ENT. And on and on...

    Really enjoy reading everyone's reviews, even the ones I can't stand. :-)

    Great thoughts, SkepticalMI. The part about Tamarians' lack of ego and acting as players in a 'story' reminds me a bit of Julian Jaynes' theory of the bicameral mind. You might want to track down his book.

    I sort of agree that it seems implausible that a language would really develop like this, especially since, as several people have noted, the stories would have to be written before they could be used as metaphor for future communication. I guess one possibility is that the Tamarians keep written records of their stories and myths that are in more literal form, and that perhaps it's more of a cultural standard that they don't *speak* literally even if they can still understand more literal forms of communication. If that's the case, then perhaps Picard and company have simply encountered them at a stage of cultural development where this is their preferred method of verbal communication. It does seem unlikely that they've communicated exclusively through metaphors throughout their entire history.

    The question that I guess that leaves unanswered is why it might not occur to them to try a different method of communicating with the Enterprise crew. They're smart enough to have developed a rich mythology and to have constructed starships, so wouldn't they realize that other species might have different cultural standards of communication?

    On the other hand, I sometimes think that science fiction fails to deal adequately with the possibility of aliens who are very different from us psychologically. For example, the question is sometimes raised as to why, if there is alien life in the galaxy, there's no trace of their existence through stray radio communications or even a long-term galactic colonization project. I sometimes wonder if there might be advanced species who simply don't care what might lie outside their own solar systems and just haven't made the effort to communicate or explore even if they could theoretically do so. So perhaps it's understandable that the Tamarians fail to account for cultural differences despite their apparently considerable scientific advancement.

    I'm fairly certain that the Tamarians are just what happens after 3 centuries of lolcats and internet memes. People don't remember how to say "I'm disappointed" and just say "McKayla after the vault". Picard his face in his hand. Fry, his brow furrowed. Could we ever end up like this? Only ceiling cat knows....

    Interesting suggestion, Robert. It would be kind of cool if the standard response to faux-macho behavior became, "Degrasse Tyson, his arms raised!"

    The conceit with this race is the same as with Vulcans, Romulans and Mentakans being "related" yet evolving on different worlds before the advent of space travel, or probe from The Inner Light being built by a pre-warp civilisation--it's not meant to be an extrapolation of a plausible race, but a means to an end for us the viewers. The Tamarians represent an important if overlooked truth about ourselves: the power of our own metaphorical mythology (including Star Trek itself).

    @Squirrel - :)

    @Elliott - Of course, but what kind of Star Trek fans would we be if we couldn't fanwank an explanation for how they got that way!!

    @Robert: I see your point of course, but I've always viewed Trek as mythology. I don't try to explain every thunderbolt hurled by Zeus or how mermaids reproduce either. What matters to me is why the Tamarians got to be this way, not how. Maybe that's just me.

    @Elliott - I do get your point but I think there's more meat in imagining how a civilization created a language based on metaphors than how the Q can teleport by snapping his fingers.

    Obviously the alien races are supposed to be us painted through a fun house mirror, but it's still fun to imagine how the Tamarians got to be that way.

    They fixed the Phaser FX mistake in the Blu-Ray Remastered edition.

    Note this is the first appearance of Robin Lefler (played by Ashley Judd), helping Geordi try to break through the ionospheric scattering field to try and beam up Picard.

    She'd later play opposite Wesley in The Game.

    @Robert. I would really like an article now extrapolating memes as a fully functional language like these Tamarian guys.

    I've never seen this episode.

    @Matrix - h t t p://

    Wish granted. Now as payment, go watch the episode.

    @Robert Cheers for that! I have read it and will probablybe thinking about this for a long time now and it seems a lot of other people will too. There's a passage on a reddit page linked there that I love:

    PICARD: "I don't understand you! Return me to my ship!"

    DARMOK: "Not sure if serious."

    PICARD: "Wait. Are you saying that this is a complex bonding ritual in which we strand ourselves on a planet with a partially invisible monster?"

    DARMOK: "Shut up and take my money!"

    PICARD: "We shall be fast friends until the end of the episode."

    DARMOK: "HA! HA! I'm using Forbes' insoluble dry plates!"

    at the very least it makes you think and for that reason alone it's a valuable episode. i will be checking it out very soon.

    I appreciate your take on this episode, Jammer, but think it's a bit misguided. This story is what Trek is all about, an alien race with whom we've struggled to make a connection, any connection for that matter. All of the crew, not just Picard, trying to figure out the problem. A courageous sacrifice by the Tamarian captain all in the name of trying to understand one another... Not sure why you feel the pace is too slow, as I thought those slower parts were necessary to get us to the payoff at the end... The "fans" rate this in the top 5 consistently for good reason, and I would easily rate this as a 4-star episode. It's great stuff that you can't find anywhere else on television.

    I liked this episode on the whole... It was a nice tale. It is one of those episodes where you have to throw science and logic out the window, though (as with much of Trek and its "science"), but if you can ignore that (and with this episode I could), then you will find it enjoyable.

    It's these kind of episodes that I like, but at the same time cause me to see Trek as entertainment and sci-fantasy, rather than sci-fi. Too many conflicts to be taken seriously, but some very fun episodes nonetheless.

    I'd give this episode 1.5 to 2 out of 4. It has several fatal flaws.

    - Pacing: This would be a much better plot if the show was only 30 minutes long

    - Believably: So this alien race is advanced enough to build ships, transporters, and everything else that they'd have leading up to space travel, but they only have a couple handful of phrases they can say that are metaphors for large ideas? I simply don't believe that this race has made it to space.

    - Repeated phrases: They simply just say the same jibberish too much in the episode, to the point that it becomes annoying.

    Nonetheless, this is still an episode that I cherish, because it is a very unique TNG episode.

    I had no idea who the actor who played the captain was until I rewatched this last night and checked imdb. Talk about escaping into your role!

    I literally had no idea it was THAT guy playing the alien captain. Talk about acting range!!!!

    I do enjoy the episode a lot, although the premise of the Tamar language is really really distracting. For the umpteenth time watching this, I wondered how it could be possible for the Tamarians to speak in metaphor, yet still have myths that were told in a straight-forward manner. (Data and Troi had no problem reading the historical legends of the Tamarians).

    Shouldn't all their myths be written the same way they speak?

    And furthermore, even if they use metaphor, they still construct the phrases in those metaphors with nouns and verbs.

    But yeah, if you ignore the linguistic rabbit hole, there's a lot here to be enjoyed. Picard and the alien captain bonding is a masterclass in understated portrayal. Data and Troi using logic and reason to investigate the issue is nice to see.

    Really, the only negative to this episode (other than the language) is the boring musical underscore. So underwhelming it almost detracts from what is onscreen.

    *** three stars

    As a writer and a lifelong fan of mythology, this episode really appealed to me. I'd give it 4 stars.

    Good acting, a tense and well-paced plot, and even a brief appearance by Ashley Judd as a crew member.

    The linguistic concept of a language based so heavily on imagery, metaphor and shared myths was sort of intellectual candy. The fact that some Star Trek episodes are thought-provoking is one of the main reasons it's such a great show. My only quibbles were that it struck me as unlikely that a species whose language was structured that way would ever become so technologically advanced as to achieve interstellar travel. At least in our world, engineers tend to be extremely literal minded, and perhaps there's a reason for that. I also failed to see why Picard could not initially communicate more through gestures, body language and facial expressions. That would not work with a non-humanoid, but the Tamarians seemed to be sufficiently similar to humans for some non-verbal communication to be possible.


    I agree that Star Trek is a mythology, but curiosity and logic and the-quest-for-explanations are core values of this mythology.

    So in my opinion, the view of "don't bother to explain away inconsistencies, because Trek is just a myth" doesn't jive too well with the spirit of Star Trek Mythos.

    I'm in the "overrated" camp on this one. The linguistic barrier seems cool at first, but if you think about it, it really makes no sense. I mean, after all, how do these people even know their own myths if they don't have the words to tell them? Presumably these stories involve descriptions, scenarios, dialogue; so why can't they use those words in the same way? They're using words normally to paint these images: "his arms wide," for instance. Why can they only use those words to recite images from stories?

    It just makes no sense. I mean, how do these people actually communicate in detail? They're flying spaceships, for Pete's sake. How do you build a spaceship communicating only in mythic imagery? How do you order a pizza? Say one of these guys' air conditioner breaks at home. How do they schedule a repair? Call the guy, then what?

    "Darmok, his air conditioner broken."
    "Timpek, his schedule full until Tuesday at eleven-thirty."

    Makes no sense. The whole idea is a house of cards. I can't even watch this episode because this is all I can think about the whole time and I just feel like it's too silly to even try to care about it. Not to mention the very idea that these people make first contact by kidnapping Picard and yelling stuff at him while an invisible space monster tries to kill them. Seriously, WTF is this?

    Turin at Nargothrond. Luthien in the forest. The river Sirion, Ulmo not hearing. Beleg, his bow taut. Turambar, his face aghast. Maeglin in Gondolin. Thingol, his caverns rich. Maedhros upon Thangorodrim.

    Does anybody have the vaguest idea what I'm talking about? Unless you're a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien and have a fairly good memory for his book "The Silmarillion," I doubt you do. Every single one of those statements I just made is a reference to the stories in that book. Now imagine, if you will, that a whole civilization had based its entire language around that. Sound absurd? That's because it is. And that's the problem with "Darmok."

    How in the world can anybody take the Tamarian language even remotely seriously? How can these people communicate with themselves, let alone an alien species? The fact that it is all based on metaphor and citation of example makes it virtually unworkable as a functioning language. It would necessitate that every single Tamarian be 100% instantly familiar with the entirety of Tamarian mythology. With my Tolkien idea, that would require everyone to be intimately familiar with "The Silmarillion." See the problem? That isn't going to (I would argue it can't) happen. And that's just one book of pseudo-mythology written within the last century. Now imagine every human being having perfect memory recall of every single myth humanity has had throughout recorded history. Again, see the problem? The base assumption this episode asks the viewers to make is absurd on its face.

    And that's sad because "Darmok" does have a lot of good points. Picard's willingness to dig in an find a common ground between him and Captain Dathon, a rather nice tech plot on-board the Enterprise, the use of diplomacy to solve the crisis and the final scene of Picard reading the Homeric Hymns (I like that the episode takes the time to encourage viewers to read actual mythology). If they had done something similar to the DS9 episode "Sanctuary" where the problem was that the alien language's syntax and grammar structure were simply so different from anything on file, I wouldn't have a single problem with the episode.

    So, as it sits, count me in the "like but not love" camp.


    Luke, I agree 100%. Without an underlying language for sharing the metaphors the metaphors would be totally meaningless to eveyone with the exception of those who witnessed the actual events the metaphors were based upon.

    This was one of the most absurd and illogical ideas in Trek history, even sillier than Paris and Janeway evolving into lizards and mating.

    First, I just wanted to say I've enjoyed reading your reviews of TNG, even though I have close to the opposite opinion of yours of what makes Trek special.

    Anyways, I think you're a bit harsh on the premise of this episode. You claim the idea would require the entire Tamarian race to be familiar with precisely the same stories. But perhaps other Tamarians exist who are not familiar with these stories. They just couldn't communicate as easily with the Tamarians we meet. But even though Picard has no idea about the specific stories, once he understands the concept, he is able to communicate simply enough.

    Perhaps all Tamarians descended from a single community that never split off in ways similar to humanity. Perhaps their 'scientific' communication (to build a ship, etc) is handled purely symbolically/mathematically. We even see a hint of this when Picard looks at Dathon's record book.

    None of this makes real sense when you probe for the details. But in my opinion, that's true of the vast majority of Trek. At the very least, the idea of the Universal Translator itself is far more difficult to swallow to me. But we allow it because it allows compelling stories to be told. Same with the political and military structure/scale of basically any of the 'majors' (Federation, Klingons, Romulans, etc).

    In general, I think good fantasy/scifi fiction needs a premise. I think most fans of these genres have to be lenient on the premise. Then good stories feel as though they flow naturally/logically from said premise. I think this episode takes an admittedly absurd premise and runs with it in the best possible way. Even in the small details that remain unexplained, like Dathon's nighttime ritual.

    All that said, I suppose 8/10 is a fair score to someone who values the 'world-building' of vast political/cultural landscapes over the concept of seeking out and trying to understand the unknown.

    At the risk of getting flagged for preaching or whatever nonsensical insult one wants to hurl, I believe that faulting this episode based on the plausibility or workability of the Tamarian "language" is missing entirely the point of the episode. When Data and Troi are searching through the databanks to try and figure it out, do they at any point discuss grammar, semantics or etymology? No, they discuss history and mythology. The Tamarian language does not make sense in a *literal* sense, but in a metaphorical sense, just like our own mythologies don't make literal sense, but metaphorical sense. The Tamarian language and culture are themselves metaphors for our own connection to the primitive sources of our own culture. The language is not meant to be plausible, it's meant to be representative; to cause us to reflect on our cultural history and value of stories like "Gilgamesh."

    That said, if you absolutely must find the apologist's answer to the Tamarian dilemma, don't forget that they have a written language as well. Their written language may be able to convey non-metaphorical ideas like mathematics. They did after all make contact with the Federation by sending out mathematical sequences. If you need a little bit of filling in the blanks to get at the heart of this episode, then fine, they aren't difficult to concoct, but I would beg you not to allow those blanks to obfuscate the incredible depth and power of this episode.

    "Without an underlying language for sharing the metaphors the metaphors would be totally meaningless to eveyone with the exception of those who witnessed the actual events the metaphors were based upon."

    Why do you assume there is no underlying language? I'm assuming the universal translator is translating the language.

    Furthermore, at the end they create a new phrase. Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel. Mirab, with sails unfurled.

    They clearly have words equivalent to "and" and "to". I think the real point is that they don't THINK like this anymore.

    The truth is that we speak in metaphors all the time, they just do so more.

    In Japanese the word for tornado basically translates into "rolling dragon". In English we use Nazi to indicate extreme oppression. We may not be so "flowery" about it... but is feminazi as an insult so different from invoking a short phrase about "Hitler, his wrath absolute"?

    And Luke, you invoke Tolkien but why should you do that? There may be a great overlap between Tolkien readers and Star Trek fans (at least greater than the average population most likely) but why can there be nothing shared culturally?

    Memes for instance. Would most of you understand what I meant if I said of your argument that this cannot be "McKayla at the medal ceremony"? Now what if everyone spoke that way?

    I don't personally think that way, so I have issues with the nuance... but as Elliott said, they have math.

    I go into a store and pick up a widget.
    Me : "Spock, his eyebrow raised"
    Shopkeeper : "Baby, his fist pumped"
    Me : "Bob Barker waiting in anticipation"
    Shopkeeper : 35 Darmoks
    Me : "Fry, his eyes narrowed"
    Shopkeeper : 30 Darmoks
    Me : 20
    Shopkeeper : "Picard, his arm held outward"!
    Me : ::Shrugging:: 25?
    Shopkeeper : 28
    Me : "Picard, his face in his hand"!
    Shopkeeper : 26?
    Me : "Happy Cat is happy" ::hands over cash::

    How many of you understood 90% of that?

    Just to say one more thing... I think the charm of the episode was to explore a situation where the universal translator fails NOT because it doesn't understand the aliens (which is a stupid cop out) but because it DOES understand the aliens and they think so differently than we do that we can't figure each other out.

    Please don't misunderstand - I'm not saying "Darmok" is a bad episode, not by any stretch of the imagination. I just don't think it falls into classic Trek territory.

    But then, I seem to be quite the contrarian when it comes to what is generally considered "classic Trek." For example, I even think that "The City on the Edge of Forever" is over-rated. I didn't give "The Best of Both Worlds" a perfect score. And, I think everyone knows what I think about episodes like "Who Watches the Watchers" and "First Contact." And just wait - there's more "classic" ones coming up that I usually disagree with.

    @ msw188:
    "In general, I think good fantasy/scifi fiction needs a premise."

    I agree and I generally think that this episode has a great premise, it's just the details of that premise I have a problem with.

    "you invoke Tolkien but why should you do that?"

    I actually used Tolkien because I'm currently reading one of the volumes of "The History of Middle Earth" series and the Silmarillion stories are fresh in my mind. And I think that proves my point. Because they were fresh in my mind I understood them. But what if they weren't fresh? What if someone used a much more esoteric reference - say "Thor in Asgard." Some people might think that refers to actual Norse mythology. Others might interpret is as a reference to Marvel's Thor comics. Still others could look at it and think "oh, it's a reference to the Asgard race, and the character of Thor specifically, from the Stargate franchise." See the problem? The use of the metaphor requires both parties to have intimate knowledge of what is being talked about. And with the Tolkien references - yes, if someone else is also a fan of Tolkien, those metaphors would mean something. But if I said any of those to someone who has never read Tolkien, he would be totally lost because he would have absolutely no idea who, say, Luthien is or what significance the forest plays in her story.

    I think you provided a perfect example of this when you used "McKayla at the medal ceremony." I honestly had no idea what you were talking about until I Googled that phrase and saw the meme. Yes, I was familiar with the meme but I had no idea that the woman's name is McKayla. So, the metaphor didn't work between us because I didn't have the appropriate amount of knowledge on it. And that's the problem I have with "Darmok." This language would require all Tamarians to have that level of knowledge and memory recall for everything. Suppose Dathon said “Shaka, when the walls fell" to one of his officers but that officer didn't know who Shaka was. The two would be in the position of Picard and Dathon for most of the episode. If an entire civilization is in that position, I just can't see how it can function.

    Again, "Darmok" is a very good episode. It's just not perfect.

    One of those episodes where I enjoy the idea much more than the execution. Ultimately this is about communication - Picard and Dathon both desperately trying to overcome the language barrier and achieve the cooperation that both want but can't express directly. While above them the two ships knock the crap out of each other because they don't understand what's going on any more than anyone else.

    And it has some great scenes - the exchange of tales toward the end when everything becomes clear included. Nevertheless, 30 minutes of "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" gets old pretty quickly for me, and the rather poorly presented beast adds to the cheese factor. More "Shaka, when the walls fell" than not for me. 2.5 stars.

    I think all the criticism of the episode is accurate.

    With that said, it's still one of my favorite episodes! I believe why so many of us love The Drumhead and Darmok is Patrick Steward's performance. Patrick's performance frankly overpowers the story limitations and bring us viewers passionately into the story. Looked under a microscope, both these episodes have flaws (but so does any story). It's just so much fun watching Patrick act perfectly and be allowed too showcase his talent.

    Okay, someone enlighten me. How does the Enterprise computer know that Darmok is a mythical hunter on Vagris 3? If the Tamarians refer to him as part of their cultural / linguistic vocabulary, it stands to reason that Darmok was a Tamarian i.e. that Vagris 3 was a Tamarian colony.

    But if so, how did the Enterprise computer know anything about the history of a Tamarian colony if they thus far hadn't even figured out how to say "hello" to the Tamarians?

    If Vagris 3 was not a Tamarian colony, 1) Why would the Tamarians base their cultural / linguistic vocabulary on somebody else's history / myth and 2) How did the Tamarians know anything about Darmok and Vagris 3 if they themselves find it impossible to communicate with cultures that use conventional linguistic patterns?

    Jammer, his stars hidden, his heart unmoved. DS9 fans, their eyes closed. Elliott, his face chagrined!

    A Trek fan, his first episode. "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra." Darmok, midway through the show. Actually-alien aliens, mysterious and cool! (In the distant sense, too.) Darmok, reminiscent of "Enemy Mine". A Trek fan, instantly intrigued! A Trek fan, his eyes closed for many years. A casual fan, too tired to bother watching more of the show. A Trek fan, got back into TNG. Picard and TNG, at Basic Cable. Picard and Q, a brilliant antagonist! Q, remembered since youth. A Trek fan and Darmok, again on TV! For the first time in years, A Trek fan, why he first liked the show. TNG, its overly-idealistic 80s premise. A fan of darker sci-fi, his eyes closed, his heart hardened. TNG, more complex and soulful than initially assumed! Another Trek fan and Elliott, their minds met.

    BTW on the subject of actually-alien aliens, I'm a big fan of myth (no problem with religious elements, but I know Gene Roddenberry and co. don't like 'em, which is one reason I didn't used to be a fan of Star Trek's utopian brand of sci-fi since the premise taken in isolation seemed to me too Republican -- in the sense of Plato's Republic -- until I got into the more serious philosophy of the TNG episodes). but I'm also a big fan of realism, and I find it odd that so many advocates of "hard" sci-fi complain when marginally-alien (albeit humanoid) aliens appear and do things and speak in ways that are "not normal" to quote one reviewer upthread, or behave in ways that are humanly unethical, to quote some critics on the review of the excellent "Inner Light". One of the virtues of storytelling is conflict and you can't really feel good about the story if everything in it is sweetness and light, or if every alien is easy to understand and all tech is prone to working perfectly.

    Maybe I'm too much of a nerd, being a casual fan of linguistics, but what sucked me into TNG because of first seeing (half!) of this episode long ago was precisely how much it reflected how language and storytelling works on the meta level. There actually *are* languages in real Earth that lack verbs, that have only one tense for past present or future, or whose members are "forced" to speak in something resembling metaphor.

    A fan of myth could easily imagine how the Tamarian language might have evolved similar to Earth languages by people telling stories: (seemingly lacking verbs or other transitive forms of speech, like some obscure Earth languages, and thus describing only nouns.) Tolkien for instance invented his languages by coming up with proper names first, then key phrases ("Earendil leapt over the mid-world's brim", "in a hole in the ground lived a hobbit") then invented stories to go with them *after-the-fact*. This is not much different. Fans of that sort of thing (including Tamarian children) would presumably learn the phrases first, and come to their own understanding of what the stories meant, based on their own imagination and experience. Much like any other language. Not to sound too postmodern. I think much of what we identify as "myth" goes back to what we associate as structural concepts learned early on that help us make sense of the world as we learned language by reading stories.

    Jason R. -- admittedly, that is one of those needling plot holes that we have to live with because it makes a great story to imagine that the computer has access to these mysterious, unexplained threads of information, but no more. It would spoil the mystery, I think, if we knew the entire backstory of the Tamarians.

    "New archaeological studies show Darmok was not the green-skinned humanoid hero often depicted in Tamarian literature, but was in fact a composite of three semihistorical figures, one of whom was a tentacled, extradimensional creature who did not even speak in metaphor, but in fact communicated exclusively with gurgling sounds. Also s/he/it slew Jalad at Tanagra, or so researchers assume, based on the extensive evidence of humanoid sacrifice there... 'All in all, Darmok and Jalad, in our hearts', one researcher added. 'Our children, their eyes wet. Shaka, statistically speaking, when the walls fell...'"

    I know this is a very old thread, but I just have to say one thing in response to comments that try to show how this language can work practically by using metaphorical examples in English. I don't think anyone here is denying that metaphors can be used to construct meaning. The question is -- what's the next step? The Tamarians don't just use metaphors haphazardly, making them up as they go along (as in English we mostly do) -- they clearly have standard denotative meanings, allowing the same phrases to be reused in similar linguistic contexts to allow consistent communication.

    We have a different linguistics term for what that is -- it's an idiom. And idioms frequently become "fossilized," in the sense that we continue using them for their denotative meaning, but we forget the meaning of the individual words. You "wend your way through," you "eke out a win," you use "sleight of hand," you "ride roughshod," you have "kith and kin," you "give short shrift," etc. I challenge anyone here to define the words wend, eke, sleight, roughshod, kith, and shrift, use them in other contexts correctly, and explain exactly how the function in these idioms (many of them metaphorically).

    Of course, most people would have no clue, even if they know precisely what the idiomatic phrases mean. But that's only the beginning, since this process happens with words themselves. We forget etymologies, so if a word is used metaphorically at first, it often loses its original meaning. We successfully know what "gargantuan" is without having read Rabelais's novels, we know what "titanic" means even if we're rusty on Greek gods, and we know "colossal" denotative meaning without being aware of the statue at Rhodes. And those are just words all meaning "big" -- there are literally thousands of common English words derived from proper names for specific things that most people don't know the etymology of... yet understand the meaning.

    And that's ultimately the problem with this episode. Even if you can figure out a way for the Tamarians to teach their kids this grand mythos without a proper denotative language to explain the meaning of the phrases in the stories, there's just no way that these metaphors survive for more than a few generations without becoming "fossilized" and people forgetting who "Darmok" was, while continuing to use his name in idioms with clear, recognized meaning. The vast majority of kids raised in this culture will just know to say "Darmok in X" when they mean "I'm hungry" and "Darmok on Y" when they mean "I'm sleepy," and eventually nobody cares who Darmok is, because that meaning is not only not necessary for communication, but it's impossible to describe completely to language learners without a denotative language to "fill in the gaps." Knowing who Darmok is would actually be an IMPEDIMENT to understanding, since you'd spend time thinking about this dude and why he's on the ocean rather than just instantly understanding the common phrase's meaning which was just uttered at you.

    Oh, and by the way, if the universal translator fails at this language, then how exactly is it supposed to succeed at ANY language? How is it supposed to know what wend, eke, sleight, roughshod, kith, and shrift mean in those idioms? Does it really need to understand ancient Earth history to translate words like colossal and titanic? Obviously, no. Words like colossal now have denotative meanings that are now primary, not metaphorical. And words like wend and eke only make sense in modern English within phrases -- they have no atomic single-word meaning to modern English speakers. Most known Earth languages have plenty of similar situations, where etymology has become irrelevant to meaning -- in fact, you might say that's the DOMINANT case for most words in most languages. And once a word or phrase becomes isolated for specific uses, it's no longer a metaphor -- it now has a specific meaning. If the universal translator can't figure that clear denotative meaning out just because it's conveyed in a phrase rather than a single word, it should fail in every episode... because language isn't based on single words with atomic meaning. (If it did, we'd have had perfect machine translation between languages decades ago just by inputting a dictionary and a few simple grammar rules.) Meaning frequently resides in larger linguistic structures, but those structures aren't "metaphors" -- they're just stylized idiomatic phrases, where native speakers don't generally even know where they're from.

    Oh, apologies for the long post, but one last thing: we actually see the problem of teaching young children Tamarian directly in a scene from the episode, i.e., where the captain "tells the story" of Darmok and Jilhad to Picard. Of course, he doesn't actually "tell the story." He says about 10 phrases, and for each phrase, Picard intuits about five sentences just to explain what's going on. If you've ever talked to a child, you know how this process works -- except YOU need to do WHILE telling the story. You'll need to use some sort of denotative words or phrases with standard meanings to fill in the gaps for kids, just as Picard does for himself (because he's heard thousands of stories before and knows "how they usually work"). Kids don't know "how stories usually work" when they hear a story for the first time with a new situation or a new word or a new meaning. The only solution with kids is to explain the novel situation using "simpler" words or phrases that have clearer, denotative meaning. (Why can't the Tamarians do THIS when confronting other cultures?) Alternatively, you don't explain the new word directly and the kid learns its meaning from context -- in which case the kid now only understands "Darmok in X" to mean "I'm hungry" and nothing about Darmok himself. Learning words from context (how most of us pick up new vocabulary) will guarantee that the metaphorical meaning is completely lost. Thus, once those "stock phrases" begin to have a secondary meaning (rather than just a metaphorical one) for young kids, within a couple generations they'll start to lose the old metaphorical context.

    @Sam - Regarding the universal translator, I suspect that's kind of like warp drive and transporters - the writers will never try to explain it in all its details and nuances, because they can't and it might not be possible even with futuristic science and technology.

    As for why it fails with this language, my impression was that it wasn't actually failing in the sense of translating words literally into English or whatever language any crew members might understand. I assume that when Dathon says "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" or "Sokath, his eyes uncovered," he's actually speaking the Tamarian words for "and," "at," and "his eyes uncovered," and we're just hearing those words in English as Picard does through the universal translator.

    While you're correct that every language has idioms and references that a simple literal translation doesn't capture, I think the problem here is that the Tamarians use them in much greater frequency than any other Trek species, with a lot of proper names thrown in that don't mean anything to other species that don't know the stories. Furthermore, when other species get confused, it appears that they just keep plugging away at it instead of trying to speak in more literal terms, thus giving the Universal Translator little in terms of further useful "data" to extrapolate meanings.

    For example, I just used the idiom "keep plugging away." If a non-native English speaker asked me what that meant, I don't think I'd respond, "The Cardinals, World Series 2011." If I did, and the other person was still confused, that certainly at that point I'd say "it means they continue trying even though it's difficult" rather than use another metaphor or cultural reference. The Tamarians' MO when someone doesn't understand one of their references seems to be to declare, "Shaka, when the walls fell" and then try another one.

    This is actually where I think one could really take issue with the episode's logic - even if Tamarian culture dictates that they speak in references and metaphors most of the time, they must still at least understand more literal communication to be able to have all these myths and stories in the first place (or to carry out more detailed and specific tasks like building spaceships). So why doesn't it occur to them that they might communicate better with other species if they spoke to them more literally? On the other hand, I sometimes think sci-fi underplays the extent to which intelligent aliens might be very different from us psychologically. So perhaps it makes sense that the Tamarians are smart enough to build spaceships but can't initially figure out why they have trouble communicating with other species.

    A 4 star episode for me.

    Can we talk about how great the music was? Very powerful, dramatic and mounting.

    All language is metaphor. Saying the alien language wouldnt work "because it is metaphor" is to denounce all language.

    This episode was silly. The humans efforts to demonstrate english was absurd and unrealistic. I laughed when picard began communications with them by spouting out a big long string of gobbelty gook, instead of something like... *points to self* "PICARD". But its not all the humans fault, did the tamarians make any effort to understand all?
    Also agree with jammer, it took wayy too long for picard to figure out it wasnt a death match, and it seemed out of character to me that he spent his time sulking around his pathetic attempt at a campfire, and not being all olive-branchy picard.

    Lastly, although its an interesting concept, lets be honest....a civilization that communicates only in metaphors would still be living in mud huts, not building starships. Its too restrictive, and not nearly detailed enough for that level of technology

    Id give it maybe 2.5 stars for a couple touching scenes and an interesting concept.

    Hello Everyone!

    @Kned and others...

    Yeah, the thing that bothered me about this episode (that I actually enjoy), is their communications between themselves. If one of them needs a "spanner" from another crewperson, to fix the engine, they'd have to come up with a metaphor for that eventually. And, there'd have to be millions of them for what they need to do. And what if they forget, or don't know a particular metaphor?

    First Crewperson: Rigandalo, in the puddle, at Wizant.
    Second Crewperson: Grabs sandwich, tries to give it to First.
    First Crewperson: *annoyed* RIGANDALO, in the PUDDLE, at WIZANT! *points down at spanner*
    Second Crewperson: *nods in comprehension* Takes off shoes.

    If they mis-remembered even one time, it could be catastophic. :)

    Regards... RT

    The past few posters are of course, thinking in a very cultural/language-centric manner, believing that every language and culture must, by definition, must by similar to or be compared to your own.

    Even on earth, we have many cultures and languages that are not strictly defined by its grammar, yet are surprisingly rich enough to get across information. The most amusing part of your argument is that English itself is HEAVILY based on idiom and metaphor, enough so that it's why non-native speakers have the hardest time figuring English out.

    Now, abstract that out to different species on different planets, who might have figured out how to talk in all idioms or with metaphor, such that they become commonplace and as defined as any grammar we could come up with.

    The last poster's little scene (inadvertently, I am certain) reminds me of blackface cartoons they would make in the 40-50's to make fun of other non-American/European cultures (where two people speaking in a Polynesian, African, Native American, Chinese, etc. tongue and are comically unable to understand one another despite being from the same culture and speaking the same non-English language), and it really starts to carry a certain weighty conceit to say that Western languages are the sole epitome of effective communication, or that other languages (even imaginary ones from other planets!) must evolve in similar patterns.

    There's a huge hole here. How do they communicate the legends their language is based on to each other and their children if their language is only references to legends? Their written language could communicate that information I suppose, but then how do their children learn to read if there are no words to explain the writing to them? Even if they have a written language that makes more sense, why not just give a dictionary to Data and solve the communication problem in two seconds. No need for kidnapping people and forcing them to fight a beast who may or may not be sentient.

    @K9T making fun of a stupidly implausible fake language isn't comparable to blackface and isn't racist. You've got a pretty warped worldview if you're always looking for "racism" everywhere you go. Nothing they said implied they thought western languages were superior to eastern languages or anything of the sort.

    Not sure why you're offended by them comparing a fake language to real language, either. Comparison of the unfamiliar to the familiar is one of the tools we use to better understand foreign concepts. Looking for a basis of comparison is how radically different groups get along: they start with their similarities. If they have nothing in common, it's going to be hard for the, to relate to and get along with one another.

    I wouldn't say Darmok is overrated at all, it's only overrated if you're some sort of Star Trek hipster "I liked it before it was cool".

    Darmok is one of those episodes you could introduce non-Trekkies too and they'd be able to relate to it, it's got a tale of friendship between two completely different people in their attempt to understand one another, it's the very core of Trek "to seek out new life and new civilisations".

    Sure, on an aesthetics point of view you might nitpick on "This scene was quite boring" or "This part of the script needed some work" but 99% of people aren't going to really notice that so that's where theres a difference between a "review" and a "dissection". Remember these episodes are only 45 minutes long, they can't go into detail about the entire Tamarian civilisation and it's inner workings plus even the writers don't necessarily know, so cutting the episode open and dissecting its internals and then claiming "it doesn't really work" isn't a review its - to extend the metaphor - a post-mortem.

    Frak the ratings (not getting into that) and go beyond the sheer llnguistics for just a moment. Another larger-scale objective of Trek and shows like it, that still falls under the communication aspect, I guess, is UNDERSTANDING. Again, not the sheer linguistic science of it all, but the bigger meaning. I too thought the ep was mediocre until I watched it in light of an educational philosophy that I utilize in a few different media.

    At a re-viewing of this episode way way waaaaay after its release in '91, the following two Picard quotes, both after his return from El-Adrel knocked me on my ass.

    "The Tamarian was willing to risk all of us, just for the hope of communication. Connection. Now the door is open between our peoples. That commitment meant more to him than his own life. " [Picard]

    "But are they truly incomprehensible? In my experience, communication is a matter of patience, imagination. I would like to believe that these are qualities that we have in sufficient measure. " [Picard]

    I agree, linguistics is important here, but even the Big E's database couldn't lick: patience or imagination. And Dathon had it right! One of the few ways to get two disagreeing people to talk, even if they speak the same language fluently, is to give them a common foe--in this case, the Beast at Tanagra. Unfortunately, that cost Dathon his life... a noble sacrifice that Picard understood, and that the other Tamarians respected. ("Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel...")

    Just saying that I think it goes beyond the tangible side of linguistic. I would toss in there the value of community....

    Very interesting episode - I think the viewer is in the same boat as the Enterprise crew trying to figure out what the Tamarians are saying. Finally Picard gets it and is able to diffuse the situation.
    I don't think Riker and the Enterprise trying to figure out a way to save Picard is wasteful or padding - they have to do what they have to do. Sure there's a bunch of technobabble but the episode can't just totally forget about what they're up to while Picard and the other captain are on the planet.
    I think Jammer's review sums up well my feelings on this episode. It is clever, definitely an above average episode but not one of TNG's very best.
    It's impactful in that the Tamarian captain really wants to forge relations with Picard and even when he was getting killed by the creature and Picard was unable to help because O'Brien was trying to beam up to his ship, the Tamarian captain didn't get upset with Picard or the Enterprise crew. He was accepting of his fate and never seemed to show frustration at not being able to communicate with Picard or that Picard didn't get him sooner.
    Of course, it's a bizarre way to forge relations -- to beam down to a planet and fight a creature.
    Still, this is a somewhat unique TNG episode - not the standard fare for sure and I'd rate it 3 stars out of 4. I liked it.

    Very good episode. It's pace is slow, but is necessary for the payoff: a true sense of discovery, wonder, and connection. Even though it's hard to believe tbat such a language could exist, the episode makes the language feel alive makes us wonder who the mythical figures are, what their stories were.

    I agree with Jammer's rating.

    Yes, the premise that an alien race could communicate in this fashion does seem far fetched. However, once you put that aside, this is an entertaining episode. However, this type of episode - trying to establish communication with an alien race - will probably work only one time.

    My biggest problem with this episode is this: Picard shows no anger at being kidnapped and placed in mortal danger. At the end of the episode "Allegiance", the aliens in that episode who kidnapped Picard said they did not injure or harm him in any way. PIcard rightly states that imprisonment is harm in and of itself. But in this episode, he's fine with Darmok's race kidnapping him. Why the difference?

    Maybe because he sensed, at least after the initial interaction, that he and Dathon were in the same boat together and and that Dathon was *not* upset, and therefore this wasn't a perpetrator/victim dynamic like in "Allegiance," where the aliens who did the kidnapping held the advantage over Picard and the other abductees. Rather, he saw it for what it was - an unusual attempt to communicate by the Tamarians. Also, he may feel a greater sense of obligation to restrain any anger because this is, if not exactly a first contact situation, still a potential first *meaningful* contact between the Federation and the Tamarians (since previous encounters had just left Starfleet confused).

    Many people here complaining about the impossibility of a language that uses metaphors so extensively, while on the other hand difficult in communication is what should actually be the norm in all first contacts.

    Arabic language is one language that uses metaphors extensively, it is extremely poetic and flowery compared with other languages.

    Even then, we can not communicate with dolphins or whales, and they do have a language. We can only deduce dolphin's language is a series of echoes that represent 3D things in the sea.

    I suspect most complains about the Tamarians language come from people who only speak one language and can't bother with subtitles.

    Me and my wife are currently watching all of the Trek episodes in order (I rewatch, she's in for the first time) and tomorrow we get to "Darmok".

    I envy the magical experience awaiting her, watching this episode for the first time. It is - literally - a once in a lifetime experience.

    This is such a popular episode, I think, for showing the process of coming to understand unfamiliar people, thematic Trek at its finest.

    But this is also exactly why I've always thought the universal translator has always been an absurd technology. Isaiah Berlin was wrong; words and their ideas are not always translatable, especially for radically different societies immediately upon making each other's acquaintance. Teleportation is nothing but a technical problem. Translation is a cultural one, and far, far more complex.

    It occurred to me long ago that these people were probably not called the Children of Tamah or Tamarians at all. That name probably came from a metaphorical statement made during the first contact that the Feds misunderstood.

    "Greetings. We are from the United Federation of Planets."
    "Tamah, his children in red pajamas. Sukkoth, when the walls fell."

    My views on Trek episodes tend to align with yours Jammer, but I disagree about this one. "Darmok" is a Trekkian classic by my books. Everything great about TNG is on display here. There's a true sense of wonder and magic by the end. 4 stars.

    While the idea might be nice, the execution is horrible (@playwriters).

    Picard, fluent in e.g. Klingon, trained in diplomacy and first contact babbles out whole sequences of sentences in English to a species that obviously has no hope in the world to understand him. And instead of either species starting with the basics of any language and simple symbolism, or drawing, or doing holodeck simulations to make their point, they just keep on babbling as if repeating complex phrases that are not understood makes them any clearer as well as force beam someone into a seemingly dangerous situation. -10 points for first contact psychology.

    As someone said here earlier: a child/two children would have done a better job at communicating.


    ...counldn't resist.

    This is such a classic, iconic episode, with a wonderful premise (two aliens struggling to understand one another over a campfire). Didn't realize Joe Menosky wrote it; he's quite reliable.

    Darmok and Jalad the musical:

    I know, "dramatic license" and all, but I thought it strained credulity that (as implied) no one in the Federation had ever come up with Data and Troi's solution of asking the Starfleet Google for linguistic matches on key Tamarian words.

    I liked the ending, where Picard picks up the knife and looks out of the ready room window into space while repeating the possibly religious gestures he saw Dathon engage in, paying silent tribute to his fallen comrade.

    Jammer-you must be kidding!
    This is one of the best and most memorable TNG episodes, easily worth 4 stars IMHO.
    Perhaps I feel that is so as I am a sucker for mythology but although the planetary drama could be taken as another visit to the 'Enemy Mine' scenario the struggle to communicate through the virtually impenetrable metaphorical Tamarian language raises this above that cliched territory.
    Picard is just right for the everyman role in this episode.

    A treasured story.

    I'm kind of where Jammer is on this one.

    I admire the episode completely. I just didn't enjoy so much. I'd rather watch "Redemption II" again.

    But I absolutely salute Next Gen for having done the episode.

    As for DS9/Next Gen, I liked DS9 better. But that doesn't diminish Next Gen in the least.

    I find the struggle of Picard and Dathon to break through to an understanding to be quite moving,, and I agree that the episode deserves a high rating...with one reservation. While the Tamarians' form of communication based on metaphors may serve for many purposes, I just can't see how it could work for scientific, technical or scholarly subjects that would require a different kind of precision and specificity. This surely czn't be their ONLY form of communication.

    re: "-even on initial viewing I did squirm at the idea that the aliens could communicate solely through metaphor. But that doesn't change how I feel about the episode."

    Possibly it's more like "the language is so rooted in metaphor" than "it's 100% only metaphor". After all, to say "Shaka, when the walls fell", you have to have some component in the language for the object of a "wall", the action of "falling", and the time-indicator of "when". And it is believable, as well as a nice change, for alien civilizations and cultures to develop very differently from ours.

    re: "I just can't see how it could work for scientific, technical or scholarly subjects that would require a different kind of precision and specificity"

    I can see it somewhat. We have a little bit of that in our own scientific language. 12 Watts = 12 units of power named for James Watt. It's not the same as having a verb for scientific inquiry that translates literally as "James, building his steam engine", but it's at least vaguely in the neighborhood. If we on Earth did this like the Children of Tama, we'd have all our units that way. Instead of nautical miles, we'd have Leifs. Instead of horsepower, we'd have Eds or Pegasi or something.

    And it's consistent that the Universal Translator can't always handle this. In The Defector, when Adm. Jarok wants water, he specifies something like "12 Anghiens" for the temperature. Presumably the UT can get that he wants 12 of some sort of temperature unit but doesn't know how to convert Anghiens to Degrees.

    Seems impossible to build spaceships when speaking in metaphor.

    How do kids learn the language? As the Enterprise crew say, you have to already know all the history to know what the metaphors mean.

    And Picard's new uniform...why? Suddenly he's just walking around in a cool new jacket nobody else has.

    I'm in the overrated camp. The story as a whole (not just the metaphors) is ridiculous. I don't mind Trek getting a bit silly but this was suspension of belief destroyed territory.

    Also something that grated on me about this alien race is they made zero effort to understand the enterprise crew. Self obsessed or what.

    Only Picard's performance saves it somewhat.

    2 stars

    I agree with Kebab, and especially with SonOfMog. This is also only 2 stars max for me. The situation is impossibly contrived and doesn't make any sense. Language doesn't work like that, and the monster is a transparently dumb plot device.

    Boring, bland, and zero suspense of disbelief. I'm not even going to bother pointing out whole dumb the entire premise is since others have already done so.
    Half a star for me.

    Also, some of you REALLY hate on Voyager.
    Imo, Voyager is the best Star Trek series. And while I respect other people's view, some of you guys talk as if it was a complete failure of a show.
    It wasn't. It had many great episodes and overall great series.

    Now, I'm normally one to nitpick in Star Trek and, yes, the metaphorical language concept seems utterly unsuited to efficient communication. But here's the thing: it doesn't matter! This is definitely one of those occasions where disbelief must be suspended. The episode is so earnest and commited to its concept that it deserves to be taken on its own terms.

    This episode displays the quintessential spirit Star Trek, and as such remains one of my all time favourite episodes of any of the shows. I wholeheartedly agree with Elliot's impassioned defence of this episode above. I couldn't have put it better really.

    To those who say there was an underlying, normal Tamarian,language that the metaphors were based upon, if there was, why would they use metaphors that they know the aliens they never met before would not understand, instead of speaking in plain Tamarian?

    If I was trying to communicate with some who only speaks Japanese, and I had a translator app, like Google translate, I would speak or type in as directly in plain English as possible, instead of using American specific metaphors or references that the Japanese speaker would not understand.

    The idea of 2 strangers learning to communicate and cooperate had great potential, but it was totally spoiled by the absurd Tamarian, metaphor only language.

    Not a fan and what I find unbelievable is that it took them so long to figure out what was going on. I thought I'd scream if I heard "Darmak and Jalad at Tanagra" one more time. It was so obvious they needed to find out what happened to Damark and Jalad at Tanagra, and they'd figure out what the alien was trying to communicate.

    But no. We all had to be beaten over the head, over and over and over. This is a below average ep with frustrating repetition and a nonsensical premise.


    This is THE iconic TNG episode for me. It was truly creative. I can ignore all of the plot holes.

    when you think of it, we actually live by only a few simple situations. Yes of course that doesn't work for discussing the warp engines. But check out how many simple repeated situations you experience on a given day. Kids whining? Boss expecting performance and you'd rather watch movies?, coworkers droning on? people not moving out of the way of the subway or elevator door to let you off? Shaka when the walls fell.

    I was shocked at how useless both Deanna and Data were at trying to understand their language until ordered to. No attempt at pictures or gestures? Language is a code so instead of the universal translator deciphering language units to words, why didn't they have it use the recurring phrases?

    It is interesting the need to understand the underlying culture. what could someone learn from reading works of fiction on our planet? I used to have a personal expression that I have forgotten( I said it over and over again in my youth). It was something like "Look to the Arts". But there was something before that I think - it is remarkable that I have forgotten what that first part was.,.it was when something has failed look to the arts. I am an engineer but I was commenting on situations where science doesn't have enough data(no pun intended). I think I was commenting on psychiatric illness and how poor the data is on it. (due to low funding etc.)

    In my dotage, I found the death of the other captain so sad. Face black, his eyes red.

    I think I don't get it. Why didn't they use symbols, pictures or gestures to communicate? They are mandatory to differentiate between aggressive behaviour (like preparing for an attack) or neutral / friendly behaviour (like putting the weapon down, retreating), but some how, no one cares or even tries to use that. Something like "shooting the phasers into space once means yes / good, shooting twice means no / bad". Or turning the lights on and off.

    The whole plot seems constructed just for the sake of creating a problem that shouldn't exist like that in the first place.

    I would more likely buy that episode, if they were non humanoid beings without two eyes, arms, legs and a mouth, but rather completely different to humans. But they aren't. I like the general idea, however I find the execution poorly handled at best.

    1.5 out of 4 for me.

    Four stars. Not for the plot, which is silly; nor the acting, the cinematography, or anything so common.

    Four stars wholly for the plethora of one-liners.

    "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra."
    "Temba, his arms open."
    "Shaka, when the walls fell."
    "The river Temarc, in winter."

    Come on, how can you not love it?

    Rewatching this episode, it really does seem like the audience is well ahead of the characters in comprehending the alien language. An intriguing notion: Does the Star Trek universe’s over-reliance on the universal translator make it harder for Starfleet personnel to pick up the nuances of language? They’ve presumably never had to try to communicate with someone who speaks a different language.

    Great episode, subtle and lyrical. But two things bothered me on my re-watch last night: Picard took a little too much time on the planet to figure out what the alien commander was trying to accomplish, and Riker displayed too much simplicity and brutality in his response to the episode’s events. Sure, he’d absolutely be preoccupied with rescuing the captain, but couldn’t he have at least semi-guessed that something important might be going on down on the planet that he maybe shouldn’t interfere with? That maybe a simpleminded focus on the captain’s safety shouldn’t always be his prime focus? The alien captain might have survived without Riker’s failed attempt to beam the captain out. I’m surprised that Captain Picard didn’t criticize him later about that. Still, a top-notch episode.

    Fast forward to 2020 — still love STNG and BSG. That said, watching the “Bluey” episode “Camping” with my kids. This episode takes the Heeler family camping. Bluey meets a black lab puppy who speaks only French. They must overcome a language barrier, build shelter, and defeat a common enemy (a wild pig, who’s really a playful daddy Heeler).

    “Darmok” anyone?

    Yeah, maybe I’m stretching things a bit.

    Oh, did I mention the lab puppy’s name?




    Kiteo, his eyes closed. Kira at Bashi … Einstein in the patent office, his eyes twinkling. Olivier on stage with Brando. Shakespeare with pen and paper. Shepherd Book with strawberry for Kaylee. Riker! Sonny at the tollbooth. Jimmy Stewart by the Window.

    Temba his arms wide. Brando, Pacino, Caan, and Duvall at the Oscars.

    ... Sigh … Shaka, when the walls fell

    So just how was the Tamarian's plan supposed to work out had the Enterprise not intervened? They seem highly technologically advanced, even out-gunning the Enterprise, and sophisticated enough to employ a scattering field to block transporters but leave open sensor frequencies. However, they appeared surprised when Picard told them over the viewscreen that Dathon was dead, which the Enterprise crew knew about long before that.

    I understand the goal was for Picard and Dathon to kill the beast. So if the Tamarian's detected that the beast was dead, would they then lower their scattering field? I don't think Dathon told his second in command to wait for a specific length of time before beaming them back since they were arguing about what scenario to play out right up until they beamed down. It seems they were going to just let both Dathon and Picard die at the hands of this beast, which wouldn't solve anything. I can't find the logic here.

    Overall I still think that this is a great episode, but I'd say it's not the absolute cream of the crop. It's a little too much "The Picard Show" like The Inner Light, Starship Mine, Captain's Holiday, Tapestry, and even All Good Things. Not to say that's a bad thing, some of those episodes are top-10 if not top-5, but sidelining the ensemble takes things down a small notch for me. It's more that the rewatchability is hurt since we know Dathon's motivations. Since we also know what many of the phrases mean, it makes Picard's and the rest of the crew's obliviousness even more frustrating. On the other hand, when rewatching you get to figure out some of the other metaphors they're saying but which weren't addressed, so that's a bonus.

    Watching this episode years later, I realize that we are much more like the aliens now, we communicate in memes. Picard really showed his stuff in this one. Classic.

    @Nola N

    I liked the suggestion someone made, way up the thread, hthat a way to get round the paradox could be to see the Children of Tama as a breakaway cult from a culture with a more obviously functional language.

    Imagine a bunch of fanatical Trekkies, with the Trek opus as its Holy Book - or rather it's Holy Canon of Trek episodes and films, forming an isolated civilization on a remote planet. Look at the way people in this site constantly use references to different episodes to express ideas. Even using initials rather than words to point to the episodes.

    After all, consider how many cultures do work in some ways like that - some kinds of Christians use the Bible in very much the same way, and that happens in other religions, there are Jewish, Muslim and Hindu contexts. (And look how the arguments about what true Trek and what is not Trekverges on a nascent Holy War about what is orthodox and what is heresy. After all the word "canon", so casually thrown about has its roots in religious usage.)

    As for technology, that could have been brought along with them breaking away from the mother culture. And anyway mathematicians and technicians communicate in ways no-one else can understand.

    That's a good enough botched up explanation for me. Though in fact I don't need it, because this is essentially a fable about how people can learn to relate. Like lots of Star Trek episodes are fables (the best of them, for me). And it was a very effective fable, and a tour de force for the two captains.

    Of course getting back to nitpicking, the same lesson could have been achieved without the monster, just by having the two if them marooned together. But it wouldn't have made such a powerful myth to pass on.

    I started off liking this one a lot, because the difficulty in communicating with the enigmatic aliens proved very intriguing. I was also reminded of Kirk and the Gorn from an early original series episode.

    But in the end it has too many problems. Firstly, beaming Picard down to the planet to face possible death at the hands of monster, even as a team-bonding exercise, is a pretty hostile act - but the Tamarians get a pass for this, ultimately. Picard is almost grateful for being kidnapped and placed in mortal danger.

    Secondly, I don't find the metaphor language element of the plot very convincing. What would a technical manual look like, in Tamarian? It's far too clumsy a medium of communication to express ideas to be believable in a race that has learned to travel the stars and make precise energy weapons.

    Still - I appreciate the originality of the idea.

    The Tamarians remind me of the Ameglian Major Cow from Hitchhiker's.

    Upon reflection, this episode ages well, it's even prophetic:

    Wow, I had no idea Ashley Judd was on this show. Wikipedia indicates that it was her first acting job.

    The language of the aliens is not very practical, but I give the writers credit for trying to think outside the box and imagine that there could be languages that operate outside of any structure we could conceive of.

    @Jason R; I had some of the same questions.

    Three stars. Good, but not a classic.

    I thought this was an easy 4 star ep. The writers of Darmok could probably sue the more recent movie "The Arrival" which was basically the same idea with more special effects.

    @Peter G.

    This GIF you linked in your comment is absolutely hilarious and perfectly demonstrates how the Tamarian's way of communication is present in our human culture a lot more than people realize. Good stuff.

    I agree with some others here that this episode must have meant a lot when you *first* see it, and don't know the revelation or what to expect.

    Because of this, I ended up not rewatching the episode nearly as often as other ones, maybe only 2-3 total viewings over the years. It turned out I really didn't remember much, so even on a rewatch a few days ago, it felt pretty fresh!

    I'm in the minority, but I thought the ship combat scenes were quite good for the limitations. You can tell they save on cost when they only show isolated shots of each ship firing or getting hit, but the concussive sounds and punchy effects (and yes, the shaky camera) had some serious weight to it. I can remember a good amount of TNG battles with Birds of Preys and Warbirds where there was absolutely no punchiness.

    And yes, Peter's gif is GREAT.

    "I'm in the minority, but I thought the ship combat scenes were quite good for the limitations. You can tell they save on cost when they only show isolated shots of each ship firing or getting hit, but the concussive sounds and punchy effects (and yes, the shaky camera) had some serious weight to it."

    This was one of the biggest production flubs in the series, where the Enterprise shoots a (huge) phaser blast out of the forward photon torpedo tube. In the HD remaster they recycled the Enterprise from The Best of Both Worlds, shooting properly from the saucer section.

    Mike said: 'The writers of Darmok could probably sue the more recent movie "The Arrival" which was basically the same idea with more special effects."

    That movie is based on the "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. It's one of the best science fiction stories I've ever read.

    As for Darmok - it's a classic. I'd be hard pressed to name 10 better episodes in all of Trek.

    "That movie is based on the "Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang. It's one of the best science fiction stories I've ever read."

    Everything Ted Chiang writes is gold.

    "As for Darmok - it's a classic. I'd be hard pressed to name 10 better episodes in all of Trek."

    Darmok is a classic but that doesn't make it an outstanding episode. Here are 10 better episodes (and there are many more) IMHO just from TNG alone:

    The Inner Light
    I Borg
    Yesterday's Enterprise
    Lower Decks
    Sins of the Father
    Q Who

    I'm a big fan of every one of those episodes, Rahul, but I think the only two I'd rank higher than Darmok are The Inner Light and All Good Things.

    I love this one and the language issue is resolved if one remembers the ridges on the Tamarian's head were likely telepathic nodes so that they communicated both in metaphor and telepathy.

    I love the scene of Picard and Dathon at the campfire sharing stories which is the essence of Star Trek. Picard's mastery of the Tamarian language at the end was magnificent.
    But I do have a gripe with Picard, who says even the Crystalline Entity has a right to live yet be so willing to attack the Beast at Eladrell. I cringe as the Beast attacks Dathon by punching him like a boxer.

    Oh but the metaphors are sheer poetry
    Temba, his arms wide
    Timok, the river Timok... in winter
    Chaos' children their faces wet
    Sindak his face black, his eyes red
    Mirab with sails unfurled
    Reye and Geri at Lunga
    Reye of lewani, Lewani under two moons
    Simba at crossroads
    Lunga her skies gray
    Kiteo beneath Mumbatay
    Chinza at court, the court of silence... Chinza!
    Sukat his eyes uncovered
    Darmok and Gelad at Tenagra
    The Beast of Tenagra
    and of course Darmok and Gelad on the ocean
    Picard's Gilgamesh and Inkeydo at Orruck

    Ashley Judd - timber, her arms wide!

    @Peter G., holy crap that GIF is hilarious!

    This is one of the horrible episodes that I must force myself to watch.
    I don't like it. The idea, the concept and Stewarts acting is ok. But it does not work.
    To me it is just a long transport between the beginig and the end.
    I will perhaps watch the episode again in 5 years. I hope I like it better then.

    I think "Darmok" reminds us that we have to hand wave away certain technologies such as the universal translator other wise the show just doesn't work.

    I for one accept the suspension of disbelief required to appreciate Star Trek and other science fiction.

    My over all score for this episode is 3/10 as it lacked entertainment value and also philosophical value.

    "I think 'Darmok' reminds us that we have to hand wave away certain technologies such as the universal translator other wise the show just doesn't work."

    It doesn't bother me in this episode. Yes overall there are a lot of problems with the universal translator, such as Klingons sometimes speaking Klingon and sometimes not, the whole mouth movement thing, and how syntax and overall grammar work. Still, if you accept its existence and the way it supposedly functions, Darmok still works. The words are still being translated just like with any alien. The Tamarian's aren't saying "on the ocean" or "his face black, his eyes red" in English, they're still speaking their own language and the UT is translating the words and structure. Like in Troi's example, the UT is taking whatever gibberish is coming out of their mouths and translating it to the equivalent of "Juliet on her balcony," it's just that there's extra meaning behind it that makes the phrase by itself useless.

    3.5 at least. I wouldn’t argue with a 4. What’s wrong with the guy rating these episodes?

    I will note this episode is a perfect example of why Riker is the worst character in all of TNG. Abrasive, unreasonable, obstructive. An all around ass. TNG would have been a much better series without him.

    This is a four-star episode. You will not find better acting anywhere, in any show. Patrick Stewart and the late Paul Winfield were both sublime. The joy of watching such fantastic performances by actors who are fully invested in the craft is in its own way life-affirming. I loved this episode 30 years ago, and I still do. Also, the audacity of the writers to pitch a show that is centered around the metaphors of an alien language is something that I have to stand up and cheer for, not to mention that the episode even got green-lighted.

    There are problems to be sure. For one thing, how does the computer know that "Darmok" is a mythological hunter? How could that information have been compiled without there being someone who understood the Tamarian language, assuming that Darmok and Jalad is a Tamarian myth? And if the Tamarians are only "borrowing" the myth of another species that speaks "normally," that presents its own problem, because how was that myth communicated to the Tamarians in the first place? So there's a lot of circularity with the computer database that I don't like, aside from Troi and Data having absolutely no idea how to conduct a proper search. Shouldn't Troi's first instruction have been, "Computer: Cross-reference all entries of Darmok, Jalad, and Tanagra?" That would have saved five minutes.

    But I really don't care about this because the core of the story really does work for me. That Dathon was willing to risk his life (and Picard's, of course) for a shot at mutual understanding is very beautiful. Dathon and Picard around the campfire retelling ancient myths is one of the great scenes in all of Trek, and beyond.

    As for the complaints about the practicality of the Tamarian's language, they are clearly able to speak in non-metaphorical language when necessary. "Darmok on the ocean" and "The Beast at Tanagra" are not metaphors. They are descriptions. Dathon is breaking down the metaphor for Picard into its component parts. It may not be his natural way of talking -- it seems that it takes some effort for him to construct non-metaphorical sentences -- but he is able to do it. The problem is that the descriptive sentences are too simplistic to employ in actual conversation. No verbs, for one thing. But they could be used for basic instructions, which I assume would be supplemented by pictograms of the type that we caught a glimpse of in Dathon's captain log. Perhaps the Tamarian's vocabulary has atrophied over time as they became increasingly reliant on imagery, but to say that they can only speak in metaphors is contradicted by the episode itself.

    @ Ben D.,

    I think you're right that it's not exactly accurate to say that the Tamarians can only speak in metaphor, as if it's some kind of weird idiosyncrasy. In fact what I think it's illustrating is how language forms and is used in practice, even for us. It takes a huge amount of common understanding for us humans to 'understand' even other (if we even do). Even people across very different cultures still have much more in common with each other than with an alien species and their culture. What does any word mean? Look it up and it's defined through other words. Wittgenstein, among others, began the concept of looking at language as a series of games who success, or meaning, can be derived from playing the game, rather than learning fundamental meanings. You learn usage by using, not by referring to some basic fundamental, because there is no basic fundamental. If an alien had literally no common element at all with us there would be no basis to begin learning the language. Maybe one could do it through mathematics, or through actions and implications, but even then they would be interpreting not what we are thinking, but what they think the actions mean. Ender's Game is probably a reasonable interpretation of how alien and alien's language and thinking might actually be. It's hard enough for an American to understand Japanese metaphors, just for example. Even basic words are riddled with historic meanings, usages, complex nuances and wiggle room, as well as rampant memes and references. Even leaving off idioms like "the whole nine yards" and other derived phrases, even a term like "awesome!" is not understandable without reference to a particular era and culture, and why that word should mean what it does now.

    So to me it's not so much that the Tamarians can't use language without reference points, it's that no one can. The trouble is that Picard's reference points and Dathon's have practically zero overlap. Their goal, I suppose, was to find whether they did in fact have any common reference points at all, and to build on those. If not, it would be hard to establish meaningful relations. But it turns out they did share the notion of "we fight here together, united", which has both literal and mythical connotations for both cultures. I suppose Dathon intuited (or gambled) that this would be an understandable scenario for the humans.

    @Peter G.

    Very well stated. If anything, the Tamarians were even MORE frustrated by their inability to communicate with any species in the Federation than the Federation was by its inability to communicate with the Tamarians. Placing Picard in a "myth-like" scenario was their best chance of providing the context for a foreigner to begin comprehending their myth-based language. Something like immersive learning. In that sense, I suppose that the Tamarians were more conscious of the origins of their idioms/metaphors than we are ("basket case" and "proof is in the pudding" are good examples).

    I also think that Dathon intentionally simplified his speech when he was with Picard, using fewer and "fuller" metaphors, with greater frequency for each, as a teaching tool. His initial conversation with the first officer sometimes came down to single words "Darmok!" "Merav!" "Temarc!" which suggests that among themselves, the Tamarians could communicate a great deal quite rapidly.

    I do wonder about Dathon's decision to risk Picard's life as well as his own, because the death of Picard, which would have been literally incomprehensible to the Federation, could have had very negative consequences for the Tamarians. Perhaps if Picard hadn't been beamed away precisely during the fight, the chances were much higher that the two could have defeated the beast without mortal injury (and the Tamarians clearly had a history with the beasts of El-Adrel), but that's still taking a big chance. Although who am I to question Dathon?

    The language of the Tamarians, and the alien way of thinking it cleverly suggests, puts this episode over the top. The slow burn of Picard's eureka moment, and the deft simplicity with which the episode was executed, might give some people the impression this isn't a very complex episode. The first time I saw it, I understood the metaphors before Picard did, but that's more a storytelling device than anything, a way of dealing the viewer in, allowing them to stand in both Picard's and Dathon's shoes, to be frustrated with each in turn, as the puzzle out how to communicate.

    Dathon's gamble is certainly a risky one, but perhaps not from the Tamarian perspective. They carry hand-to-hand weapons on the bridge of their own ship, suggesting a warrior culture, who might not view such risks with as adverse an eye as a Federation human. The ceremonial use of their daggers also suggest a warrior culture, just one that isn't as aggressively homicidal as, say, the Klingons.

    I agree with the several comments above that suggest Dathon was "dumbing down" things for Picard, to give an elementary lesson in the Tamarian language and way of thinking. He goes so far as to attempt to *create* a mythohistorical account, a sort of Rosetta Stone with a single image - Dathon and Picard at El-Adrel - to teach Picard this important lesson. It is well-acted and well-executed, giving that image a lot of meaning.

    Also, watching this as a teen, my friends and I had a great time supposing how the Tamarians would work practically. Someone upthread asked how they potty-train their children, and this is exactly the sort of sophomoric humor our speculation wallowed in. "Tinka on the Bowl, her bowels unclenched."

    A brilliant episode. Unlike Jammer, I do love it (apart from the brief attack scene at the end: “Riker at El-Adril - the walls come tumbling down “). This is only the second time I’ve seen it but the whole notion of learning from an alien species where the universal translator won’t work, is brilliant and long overdue after 7 series of Star Trek set in a galaxy where all life forms speak perfect English.

    Another lesson from this is that verbal language isn’t everything. Body language counts for a lot and Picard learns this very early: after an initial “How do I know you won’t kill me while I’m sleeping?”, it builds quickly to the point where he is offered the gift of fire “with arms open wide”.

    The scenes on the Enterprise dragged a bit. It would have been a bold move to set the episode entirely on the planet surface, but I can see where the producers might have had a hissy fit and backed away. Shame really - the only scenes I remembered from first viewing were the ones between Picard and the alien captain, and none of the ones on board ship.

    It’s no coincidence that this was one of the dozen or so episodes selected for the VHS 10th anniversary box set. It would have been 4 stars if they’d had the courage to set it entirely on the planet, but it deserves 3.5

    Warning to naive young girls: “Riker at Ten-Forward - the pants come tumbling down”

    This is a fantastic episode, but I completely agree it is marred by the lack of growth of the characters by Season 5, some of which does come in Season 6 and 7 despite the weaknesses of many episodes in those seasons.

    Riker especially is a tired character at this point, chess puffed out, blustering, only appear reasonable and moderate compared to yet another stereotypical portrayal of Worf, who has just spared the life of his rival Toral and walked away from Klingon aggression, having learned nothing.

    On rewatch, I kept thinking that if T'Pol had been on the Enterprise, she could have given a cultural lesson about how the Vulcans were perceived as cold and insensitive and dismissive and condescending, when they were (legitimately) concerned as how humans might interact with other cultures - defensive, aggressive, etc. But that Vulcans did that to maintain patience with humans and trying to reason with logic. But that it took decades for them to begin to understand each other.

    It also makes me wish that when Tom had been found, Will had died and Tom replaced him at a lower rank.

    These Federation officers are ridiculously impatient and paranoid when their universal translator doesn't work. I've seen assholes like this in person before, they have a hard time getting along with anyone who doesn't speak the same language fluently and come from the same background. Pathetic. How about try relaxing, wind your ego back, stop assuming so much, and a smile? "We don't understand each other, this might take a while. No big deal."

    Talk about some stiff, starched suits. (Speaking of which, cool jacket!)

    And how did they know because there was another creature nearby that it was going to attack Picard? What if it was the alien captain's pet dog or something? These guys are massive control freaks, if anything isn't completely in their dominance it must mean the worst case scenario in their minds.

    The acting from Picard and the alien captain (especially) was excellent and sold the story, but it still didn't work for me. The Enterprise dicks were basically responsible for the alien captain's death, but they didn't care and neither did the writers apparently. Imagine if they just chilled out instead of leaping to hostility and letting their imaginations run wild? Happy ending instead of sad ending. Nice job, Riker.

    The Tamarians were the aggressive party in this scenario. They abducted and held the captain of a ship against his will and put him in mortal danger. The enterprise should’ve destroyed their ship for that.

    Can't believe all the Trekkies and fans haven't developed Darmok into a complete language like was done for Klingon.

    In light of movies like Arrival, it seems like the Darmok concrete language could be expressed in some other modality and have nothing to do with their spoken language. Perhaps when Darmoks need to build spaceships or potty train their children they communicate purely in written logograms or mathematics expressed as pheromones.

    I am reminded of that story "The Farthest Man from Earth." And trust me, it would've made a fantastic Star Trek episode in any era. The crux of the story is that all life on an alien planet colonized by human scientists have symbiotes, closest analogy would be mitochondria I guess, within their bodies. These symbiotes have extraordinary healing powers that would make humans practically immortal. However, symbiotes from any old animal or creature are lethal to humans. Meanwhile, the symbiotes from the single intelligent lifeform on the planet are somehow trained enough that they can be inserted in a human by one of the aliens and literally bring them back from the brink of death and restore an old man's youth at the cost of one of those aliens' lives.

    Hence we arrive at the central part of the story. The main character befriends the main alien character. He almost dies and the only way the alien with primitive technology has to save him is to kill one of his own people and transplant its symbiote. He does this out of desperation. It not only heals his wounds, but restores his youth. Now we have a bunch of geriatric human colonists who suddenly are aware that the fountain of youth is right next door in a village full of alien savages with nothing more than spears to defend themselves.

    The idea of how the aliens communicated was interesting. They spoke purely by exchanging scents. A single conversation could take days. You needed a way to clear away the old scents of the conversation to move the dialogue along. The title comes from the notion of sub light space travel to this planet from earth and the fact that a scent that is far away in space is also old, faint, and stale, having been scattered on the breeze, and may no longer be relevant in a conversation.

    I bring this up to say that if the Darmok have a way of communicating in a more concrete fashion it may be in a modality that is inaccessible to the universal translator. So you end up with one language that's only for expressing mathematics or precise, or, concrete concepts, and one that is what we see in the story. It seems to me a linguist could really flesh out these concepts.

    Can't believe they introduced the Breen which were a casual footnote in an episode of TNG But they never brought back the Darmok. Wasted opportunity.

    This episode doesn't make sense. How would the Tamarians develop an advanced, warp capable society with this simplistic story-linked language that we see in the episode? Their language equates more with a prehistoric society.

    It’s funny how a story that is too slow in one’s youth becomes perfectly paced as we grow older. At age 67, this episode is gorgeous. Give it some more years, Jammer, and you will grant it 4 stars.

    I liked the episode but I agree it doesn't make any sense, an entire language cannot be based on metaphors. You couldn't teach school children how a light bulb works by simply saying "Edison at Menlo Park". It would be as meaningless to them as Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. You certainly couldn't do anything as advanced as space travel by speaking in metaphors. Besides, they obviously know what the individual words mean so they shouldn't have any trouble understanding Picard.

    "I liked the episode but I agree it doesn't make any sense, an entire language cannot be based on metaphors. You couldn't teach school children how a light bulb works by simply saying "Edison at Menlo Park". It would be as meaningless to them as Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. You certainly couldn't do anything as advanced as space travel by speaking in metaphors. Besides, they obviously know what the individual words mean so they shouldn't have any trouble understanding Picard."

    We must presume here that the Tamarians have effectively two languages. There is the basic language that the universal translator is obviously processing correctly, which contains conventional syntax and other rules, and then the metaphor language built on top of it.

    This is more than a 3-star episode, at least 3.5. It basically encapsulates all of what Star Trek is about. Great story. Great acting. Touching. And good action and effects to boot. What I also love is that all of these years after the episode first premiered, I can still easily remember lines of dialogue of the alien language!

    “Darmok and Jilad at Tenagra.”

    “Temba, his arms open.”

    “Shaka, when the walls fell.”

    Sure, maybe the alien language doesn’t make sense and isn’t practical but just go with it! It’s something different and at least the idea of a language based on metaphor seems like something one could understand because there is still meaning behind the concepts.

    I’m glad Gene Roddenberry was still alive to see this episode.

    I think it's four stars.

    Sure, there are headscratchers, like how do you build a starship while speaking only in memes? How is the universal translator able to translate Tamarian words AT ALL?

    But remember this is/was a ~25 episode a year tv show. It's impossible to flesh out all the details-- and would probably be extremely dull if it did.

    And, as discussed above, the episode is a rather stunning meta example of itself that literally every TNG fan would immediately understand:

    "Picard and Dathon at El-Adril".

    This is one of my favorite Trek episodes across any series. I think it beautifully illustrates that sometimes aliens can truly be incomprehensible or nearly incomprehensible to us. It builds off of concepts developed by science fiction writers such as Stanislaw Lem who was concerned with showing that first contact with truly alien species may not go as we expect. Indeed in Lems works such as Solaris we may not even recognize the alien life form for what it is in the first place because it is so utterly alien. Enders Game with the Formix antagonists presents a similar challenge. This episode gets at some of those difficulties, much like the TOS episode with the Horta.

    Here we have an alien species that is more recognizable but we still have a wide communications gap. We simply can't understand the meanings of their words, although those words can be conveyed. The use of metaphor to convey meaning is hardly a novel one. We use many metaphors in our daily lives which may have lost much of the full meaning behind them but we all understand the basic meanings they convey.

    Lastly there have been comments to the effect that it would be impossible to convey complex technical commands using this methodology. I am unsure, however, that this is necessarily true. If one considers the concept of structuralism in such a language the use of the metaphor would imply a whole logic concept process of thought in such a species. It would not only delineate a course of action but also include the necessary steps to properly carry out that action as all the actors understand the command as well as what actions each individual needs to perform. Thus the use of the same metaphor used in a ship across centuries could mean unfurling the sails in one century, firing up steam engines in another and engaging warp drive in yet another time period.

    I always enjoy Paul Winfield and am able to suspend my disbelief for some of the more problematic aspects of this episode just because I think the concept is a great one for a show about seeking out “ new life and new civilizations” —and what that would entail.

    My biggest nit to pick is that the flagship of the fleet doesn’t have a specialist on alien languages onboard? Or a whole dept. dedicated to that? Even “Star Trek: Enterprise” had Hoshi to cover that. Instead of putting Ashley Judd in a non-essential role in engineering, they could’ve introduced a new character that was a linguist. A missed opportunity, for sure. Instead they leave the whole issue of communication to The Counselor and Data ( a walking computer who still has trouble with English language metaphors.

    Long time reader commenting after several years. Lost in all the talk about the Tamarian language is the critical commentary at the end - I don’t remember it verbatim but it was close to ‘the Tamarian captain was willing to risk his life for the sake of facilitating communication between our peoples.’ We as viewers may want to bloviate about the neat language aspects of this episode, but the crux is how two peoples who can’t communicate initially try to do so nevertheless. Despite all the communication tools in today’s world, that is still not easy when “two peoples” are far apart in their thinking.

    To me this episode felt way too high-concept and self-impressed and with that underwhelming. Some fine acting but I didn't really buy, or like, that Picard would be so moved by himself being kidnapped in order for (as he realized was/is the case) him to be manipulated, that the other captain, very unexpectedly, does die from the attempt does increase the pathos and significance but not quite enough, it's just not convincing enough that either would think what little communication and exchange happened was worth the risks and loss.

    2.5 stars and at least a bit on the lower end of that.

    I either never realized, or forgot, that Robin Lefler is featured here for the first time, getting some fairly significant medium shots and having a smattering of dialogue with Geordi. She certainly gets more attention than random engineers of the week.

    This episode is entertaining on its surface, but nonsense at its core. Imagine a Tamarian baby being born and having to learn this language? It's the chicken and the egg... you can't learn the words unless you know the stories, but you can't learn the stories unless you know the words. How does a Tamarian child communicate their needs to the parent? What if a toddler puts their hand to their mouth saying they're hungry? Oh well, they didn't say "Temba dined with Shakka in the great hall" so the parents won't know what the hell he's trying to tell them.

    Let alone how they would create a warp-capable society with such basic communication. Mathematics? Science? Forget it.

    I've never been able to get past the absurdity of the basic premise. In order to learn the various metaphors they use, they would have to have a basic language very similar to our own to tell the initial stories. It might be considered baby-talk to them, but they should be able to understand us, and speak back. At worst, we would sound to them the way the Pakleds sound to us: as creatures who speak in a dim, childish way, but perfectly comprehensible, at least with the universal translator's help.

    I thought this episode was overrated as well when it came out. If there were memes in college, they would have included lines about walls falling, etc.

    But watched it the other night for the first time after 30 years and it seems like a more sympathetic episode of “The Arena” … a battle royale at first glance. But more happens which is outlined by others.

    At the time, I got caught up in plot holes about why Picard didn’t mime or sketch out more concretely what he was trying to say. The message overwrites the shortcomings… 2/4 seen at the time, but 3.5/4 now

    This is one of the most memorable episodes aka great. The beauty of the episode is untangible. That people who watch it can come to an understanding; even a similar understanding of both the idea of the episode and what's happening within the episode. That is where the wonder lies; each of us recognizing the idea of the outside-the-norm way communication is happening and also being able to decipher and understand it. That is what makes this episode great. From one perspective your outside it and from another your inside. One moment we're all just watching a show, and then we all learn something and reach the same understanding of an abstract out-of-the norm idea and an actual language. It teaches us and teaches us to think outside the box.

    To invoke the memory of Adlai Stevenson, any thinking person would rate this a four-star episode.

    This episode was a total dog (pun intended). Dull and plodding. I give it a half-paw, and raise a hind leg to a wasted hour

    Submit a comment

    ◄ Season Index