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Old July 30 2014, 01:24 AM   #1
Ugly Sweater
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TNG Rewatch: 5x02: "Darmok"



The Enterprise is en-route to meet up with an enigmatic race known as The Children of Tama (also Tamarians.) The Federation and the Tamarians have tried several times to establish relations but are stymied every time due to in inability to communicate. While the Universal Translator is working to literally translate the Tamarian language into Federation Standard the translation themselves are not making sense as the UT doesn't seem able to parse the translations in a way that makes any sense. Similarly it seems the Tamarians' version of the UT is unable to properly translate FS to the aliens in an understandable way.

Seemingly frustrated by the lack of communication the Tamairan captain takes drastic actions, seemingly against the judgment of his first officer, and has himself and Picard transported to the surface of the planet they are in orbit of. After transport the Tamarian ship creates a disturbance in the atmosphere of the planet that prevents transporters from working.

On the ship, Riker wrestles with what is going with the Tamarians and with Picard and the captain on the planet's surface. He tasks Data and Troi with trying to find a way to communicate with the Tamarians and Worf and Geordi with a means of recovering the captain without having to go into battle with the Tamarian ship.

A shuttle craft is tried but the Tamarian ship fires on it damaging it just enough to preclude it from being able to take off it again once it has landed. Geordi is able to get a transporter beam through the scattering field but it's not enough to recover the captain and prompts the Tamarians to make the field stronger to prevent another attempt.

Data and Troi are eventually able to figure out the Tamarian language but ends up not being very helpful. The Tamarians speak in something akin to metaphors, citing examples from their mythology, culture and history in order to invoke imagery of the idea of what they want to communicate.

In a meeting Troi gives an example of this by saying, "Juliet on her balcony." Crusher says this creates a image of romance and passion for another but then points out the problem is that if someone doesn't know who Juliet is or what she was doing on that balcony the meaning is lost. Data says it's akin to knowing the grammar of a language but none of the vocabulary.

Meanwhile, Picard and the Tamarian captain, Dathon, struggle to communicate together but seem to make better and quicker progress than what's going on in orbit. Picard initially thinks he and Dathon are there to do battle and is reluctant to participate. But he soon realizes Dathon's motives seem less sinister and begins to pick-up some clues in the Tamarian language as he sees it used in context.

He soon realizes that he and the Dathon are not there to battle on another but to join forces to battle an invisible and powerful creature on the planet.

Dathon is mortally wounded in a battle with the creature and that night he and Picard bond as Picard learns more about the language, in particular the story of "Darmok." In the story, according to Tamarian mythos, two men arrived separately on an island, battled a beast, and then left the island together. The idea being that a shared threat can bring two people together.

Picard, similarly, does his best to translate the story of Gilgamesh from Earth's mythology to Dathon and concludes as Dathon succumbs to his injuries.

The next day Picard has a brief encounter with the creature on the planet just as the Enterprise decides to fire on the Tamarian vessel in order to disrupt the scattering beam. They're successful and are able to recover Picard in the time between the attack and re-raising their shields. The Tamarians retrun fire but Picard is now able to communicate with the Tamarians enough to establish something of a relationship with them, ending the hostilities. While it is not yet known if the Tamarians are "new friends", Picard muses that at least they're not new enemies.

This is one of my absolute favorite episodes of the series. It's one I can watch again and again and never get tired of; as it's just a fantastic episode in the way everything his handled, particularly the interaction between Picard and Dathon on the planet's surface. The scene with Picard and the injured Dathon sharing stories around the campfire is probably one of my top scenes in the entire series.

The episode has flaws, the Tamarian language really doesn't make much sense because there's a lot of questions we can ask on how their language works. Mostly how do they write their mythology if they don't have a conventional language to make these stories in order to create the imagery? The best thing I shrug and come up with is that the Tamarians must have some other form of communication that goes beyond the verbal that allows them to communicate things. Perhaps in their written language or in some form of telepathy (and a form of telepathy that cannot be read or sensed by other telepathic species like Betazoids.)

There is a nice contrast shown between how the Tamarians communicate and our characters communicate in the episode that suggest the Tamarians must have a more efficient means of communication. The Tamarian captain with the word "Darmok" is able to set into motion a lof of different things including the abduction of him and Picard, the placement of the scattering field and numerous other things. Meanwhile we see how much talking back and forth between people using technobabble to do something as simple as maintain defenses against the Tamarian's attacks/try and to disable the scattering field takes place on the Enterprise.

The actor playing Dathon does a great, great job in his scenes particularly the one where he recounts the Tamarian story of Darmok and Jilad. He's essentially speaking jibberish but he does it in such a way to really invoke a lot of emotion and heart into the story that you really feel that this is a story Dathon believes strongly in. It's also nice as he seems to understand, however slightly, Picard's story of Gilgamesh. Dathon even smiles and chuckles a bit at the name "Gilgamesh."

Overall just a fantastic, fantastic episode and while it certainly has problems in terms of how much sense the story actually makes, it's easily forgotten since it's all played out so well.

Of note:
This is the first episode where we see Picard's captain's uniform variant. This is the first iteration of it, being a heavy-looking jacket over a gray shirt. The jacket seems to be made out of crushed velvet with shiny leather shoulders. I think this is the only time we see this particular take on this uniform variant and, IIRC, we go through at least one more version of this uniform before settling on the version that'll be used for the rest of the series.

This episode introduces Ashley Judd's Robin Lefler, who'll return in a few episodes as a romantic interest for Wesley Crusher.

Before the Blu-Ray release one thing this episode was probably most noted for was the phaser-beam coming out of the torpedo tube during the attack on the Tamarian ship. While it's always argued that the writers of the script, the director of the episode and the SFX guys don't always talk to one another in keeping these things consistent you'd still think *someone* at this point in the show would have known what they were showing was plain wrong. Thankfully after 22 years this error is fixed, during the attack the phaser beam is shown coming from the dorsal saucer phaser array. I believe it was a re-used shot from the Best of Both Worlds.

There's something of an internet meme that has Worf always being right when he jumps to the idea of hostility when it comes to these type of encounters. (Where he suggests aggressive or precautionary action that may have saved the day were people to listen to him.) But here we see that he's maybe a bit hasty in making these suggestions. After Picard is kidnapped Worf is asked what he thinks is going on there by Riker. Worf apparently just saw the episode "Arena" and seems to think that there's a contest of strength and bravery going on between Picard and the Tamarian captain. Obviously this turns out to not be the case.

Again this for me is just a fantastic, fantastic episode and hands down one of my favorites. I'd probably put it in the top-5. Hell, I'd probably nail it down and put it as #3 behind "Tapestry" and "All Good Things..." (#2, #1, respectively.)
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Last edited by Ugly Sweater; July 30 2014 at 02:27 PM.
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