The Enterprise responds to a signal from a Tamarian vessel, though previous Federation encounters with the Tamarians have been problematic because the universal translator could not translate their language. Picard and the Tamarian captain, Dathon, attempt to communicate from their respective ships, but the translator can only render cryptic phrases like "Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra," which is meaningless to the crew. As Picard tries to explain that Starfleet wants peaceful relations, Dathon raises his hands holding two daggers, and he and Picard are both beamed from their ships to the surface of the planet below. While Riker and the crew discover that the Tamarians have set up a field in the planet's ionosphere to prevent a beamout, Dathon offers Picard a dagger, which Picard refuses because he believes the Tamarian wants to fight him. At night, Dathon makes a fire, then tosses Picard a flaming log so that they can both sleep comfortably at a distance from one another. Dathon keeps repeating, "Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra" and "Shaka, when the walls fell," which mean nothing to Picard. In the morning, while the Enterprise sends a shuttlecraft on a rescue mission that is foiled by the Tamarians, Picard and Dathon are pursued by a large alien. They fight it together and Picard realizes that the strange utterances by the Tamarian are names and events - examples of how they might bridge the divide between their cultures. LaForge makes an attempt to beam Picard back to the Enterprise at the worst possible moment, just as the alien on the planet has Dathon in its clutches. Back on the planet after the unsuccessful attempt, Picard realizes that Darmok and Jalad are part of Tamarian lore: two leaders who also fought a common threat. He tells the dying Dathon the human myth of Gilgamesh and Enkidu. The Enterprise is able to retrieve Picard by disabling the Tamarian vessel, yet Picard averts an armed battle by addressing the Tamarians using metaphors about the conflict. "Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel" results in the communication breakthrough that the Tamarians wanted badly enough for Dathon to sacrifice his life.
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