|Star Trek: The Next Generation episode|
|Episode no.||Season 5|
|Directed by||Winrich Kolbe|
|Teleplay by||Joe Menosky|
|Featured music||Jay Chattaway|
|Cinematography by||Marvin Rush|
|Original air date||September 30, 1991|
Set in the 24th century, the series follows the adventures of the Starfleet crew of the Federation starship Enterprise-D. In this episode, the crew of the Enterprise is unable to establish meaningful communication with the crew of an alien vessel, which is resolved by the struggle of the ships' captains to defend each other from a vicious beast. It is often cited as one of the best episodes of both The Next Generation series and the entire family of Star Trek television series.
The alien species introduced in this episode is noted for speaking in metaphors, such as "Temba, his arms wide", which are indecipherable to the universal translator normally used in the television series to allow communication across different languages. Captain Picard is abducted by these aliens and marooned with one of them on the surface of a planet, and must try to communicate.
The Enterprise makes contact with a Tamarian ship in orbit around the planet El-Adrel. The Tamarians had been previously contacted by the Federation, but could not be understood — although the universal translator can translate their words, they communicate by using brief allusions to their history and mythology to convey thoughts and intentions. Likewise, the Tamarians cannot understand Captain Picard's straightforward use of language.
The Tamarian captain, Dathon, has himself and Picard transported to the planet's surface. The Tamarians then cast a scattering field that blocks further transporter use. Dathon utters the phrase "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" and tosses Picard a dagger. The next morning, Dathon comes running and Picard realizes there is a hostile predator in the area. Picard begins to understand the Tamarians' jargon when he recognizes one allegory as a tactic to fight the beast. The two attempt to battle the beast together, but the Enterprise's unsuccessful attempt to beam up Picard prevents him from participating at a crucial moment. Dathon is severely wounded.
On the Enterprise, First Officer Riker and the crew struggle to understand the aliens' language. They make several efforts to rescue the Captain, all foiled by the Tamarians. While tending to Dathon's wounds, Picard slowly deduces that Darmok and Jalad were warriors who met on the island of Tanagra and were forced to unite against a dangerous beast there, becoming friends in the process. Dathon tried to recreate this event with Picard, hoping to forge a friendship through shared adversity. Picard recounts for Dathon the Epic of Gilgamesh, a story that parallels the allegory of Darmok and Jalad. Dathon seems to understand the story but succumbs to his injuries.
The Enterprise fires on the Tamarian ship, disabling the scattering field, and beams up Picard. A battle begins, but just when mutual destruction seems certain, Picard enters the bridge and uses his newfound knowledge to communicate with the Tamarians. The Tamarians joyously perceive that Picard's eyes have been opened. Picard offers them Dathon's diary and dagger after telling them of their captain's sacrifice. The Tamarians tell him to keep the dagger in remembrance of Dathon, and record the incident as "Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel" — a new phrase in their language.
Picard later reads the Homeric Hymns, explaining to Riker that studying their own mythology may help them relate to the Tamarians. He mourns that Dathon sacrificed himself in the hope of communication, and wonders if he would have done the same.
This episode had the longest gestation period of any episode of TNG during Michael Piller's tenure, taking around two years to make it to the screen. Rick Berman hated the premise, but Piller thought it was interesting and was determined to make it work. Piller gave it to writer Joe Menosky, who completed the script and focused the story on the idea of two leaders attempting to communicate, as well as using the Epic of Gilgamesh as a plot device.
Primary filming for "Darmok" occurred July 18−26, 1991, on Paramount Stages 8, 9, and 16, as well as on location at Bronson Canyon. An additional day was August 8 for the blue screen unit to film the creature scenes with stuntman Rex Pierson on Paramount Stage 9. Second unit for this episode filmed on August 26 on Paramount Stages 9 and 16. When production for the following episode, "Ensign Ro", returned to location at Bronson Canyon on August 5, another sequence was filmed for "Darmok" involving Pierson and photo doubles Ron Large and Lanier Edwards. Photo double Dana Vitatoe filmed additional second unit shots on August 28 on Paramount Stage 9.
The episode features Paul Winfield as Dathon, who previously played Captain Terrell in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Ashley Judd in her debut acting performance. The call sheet dated on July 18 featured an "uncast actress" in the role of Lt. Larson; in the final episode, this role became Robin Lefler, who was played by Judd. She later reprised this character in "The Game".
Tamarian use of language
The Tamarian language and its societal implications, as portrayed in the episode, have received considerable attention, both from fans of the series and also in mainstream media.
The episode describes the language as being built upon metaphors and allegories, in which Tamarians cite incidents from their cultural history, to communicate the emotions they feel, their perceptions of situations, and their wishes and opinions about actions. For example, the Tamarian captain Dathon uses the expression "Temba, his arms wide", to indicate his intent to give an item to Picard, and his motive of generosity and friendly helpfulness, by referencing an event in Tamarian history involving a Tamarian, Temba. Similarly, the expressions "Darmok on the ocean, Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, Darmok and Jalad on the ocean", convey a sense of two opposing persons, who arrive separately at an isolated place and, forced to cooperate when faced with a fierce beast, leave together as friends. The expression conveys his intentions and purpose in requiring his crew to transport Picard and himself to the planet (where there is also a dangerous creature), and isolate them there together. At the end of the episode, his diary is read by his crew, and a new piece of language emerges: "Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel".
In examining this structure as a language basis, Ian Bogost wrote in The Atlantic that the language had been criticized as unsuited to technical dialog of an advanced space-faring race ("hand me the ¾" socket wrench"), or as metaphor or imagery. In his analysis, "something much stranger" is depicted, since the language as depicted is described as "imagery", "metaphor", or "symbolic", and it seems to prevent any distinction between an object (or event) and its figurative representation (see also use-mention distinction).
Bogost suggests allegory as a better term, because in allegory, events are replaced by others instead of just referring to other events. Noting that 20th century philosopher Walter Benjamin criticized this use of allegory as flawed and harmful (it replaces real concerns by a fetishized kind of mythology), he then commented that the answer to these points was to be found elsewhere. In Bogost's view, the Tamarian language portrayed is neither imagery nor allegory, although it can take these roles. Its deeper structure is an abstraction, a form of logic. There is no need to ask explicitly for a socket wrench, because the reference suggests what should be done, as well as how those involved should organize and execute the tasks involved. He suggests that the better term to describe this language is that it instantiates strategy and logic, and all concerned can then perceive how to follow it with a shared understanding. He comments that in this sense, the term "Sim City" would represent and evoke an entire process and strategy for creating the simulations within that game, and that:
- "If we pretend that 'Shaka, when the walls fell' is a signifier, then its signified is not the fictional mythological character Shaka, nor the myth that contains whatever calamity caused the walls to fall, but the logic by which the situation itself came about. Tamarian language isn’t really language at all, but machinery." 
The book Hailing frequencies open: Communication in Star Trek: The Next Generation by Thomas D. Parham, III says that in "Darmok", the episode focused on epistemology by using interpersonal interactions. They found that several other episodes in the series used interpersonal interactions to explore concepts.
"Darmok" is generally regarded by fans and critics alike as one of the greatest episodes of Star Trek, as well as one of Patrick Stewart's most iconic performances as Captain Picard.
A character introduced in this episode, Robin Lefler (played by Ashley Judd), was ranked as the 71st most important character of Starfleet within the Star Trek science fiction universe. TV Guide listed Judd's acting role as Ensign Robin Lefler as one of 28 surprising guest acting roles on Star Trek, noting that she appears in this episode "Darmok" and also in "The Game". The future romance between Robin and Wesley's character is also noted.
In 2013, The Guardian recommended this episode as one of six "examples of a smarter version of Star Trek", out of all the episodes of the franchise up to that time. They remarked it was a "beautifully executed episode"
In 2014, Ars Technica triggered an online controversy when one staff member said it was a "bad episode"; in the ensuing discussion they noted that overall it is considered not just a good episode, but a great one.
In 2016, IGN ranked "Darmok" the 19th best episode of all Star Trek series. They call this one of "Picard's finest hours" as he tries to communicate with an alien that despite understanding the words (see universal translator), does not understand the meaning. They are stranded together on an alien planet while threatened, and Picard eventually figures out they are speaking in metaphors. A communication breakthrough comes when he relates their situation to the alien's description "Darmok and Jalad - at Tanagra."
In 2017, Screen Rant ranked "Darmok" as the 3rd most optimistic and hopeful episode of all Star Trek episodes up to that time. They also ranked the Tamarians, the alien species featured in this episode, as the 5th most bizarre aliens of Star Trek. They remark that Starfleet has difficulty in communicating with them due to a failure of their technology, the universal translator.
In 2017, Den of Geek ranked this episode as one of the top 25 "must watch" episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. They also listed it as one of the top ten ground-breaking episodes of this series. They note how Picard must overcome the failure of the universal translator technology to communicate with an alien culture. They note how these aliens communicate using stories.
In 2018, Entertainment Weekly ranked "Darmok" as one of the top ten moments of Picard. In 2018, Popular Mechanics highlighted "Darmok" as one of the 12 best Picard episodes, and as recommended viewing for audiences to prepare for a new television series based on that character, Star Trek: Picard.
In 2020, Primetimer ranked this one of the top ten episodes for Picard.
In 2020, Screen Rant ranked "Darmok" the third best episode of the series, noting its unique but great take on contact between alien cultures as Picard must contend with failure of Star Trek's universal translator technology. They point out the episode features a "harrowing" confrontation, that features some tense situations as they struggle to communicate.
In 2020, The Digital Fix said this was the seventh best episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.
In 2021, Cinemablend ranked this one of the top ten episodes of TNG.
In 2021, Robert Vaux writing for CBR, said that Paul Winfield was a "terrific" co-star for Stewart, and highlighted this episode among a trio of season five episodes (along with "The Perfect Mate" and "The Inner Light") that he really shined in.
The episode was later released in the United States on November 5, 2002, as part of the season five DVD box set. The first Blu-ray release was in the United States on November 18, 2013, followed by the United Kingdom the next day, November 19, 2013.
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