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Darmok (episode)

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Real World article
(written from a Production point of view)

Picard is captured, then trapped on a planet with an alien captain who speaks a metaphorical language incompatible with the universal translator. They must learn to communicate with each other before a deadly planetary beast overwhelms them.

Summary Edit

Teaser Edit

"Captain's log, stardate 45047.2. The Enterprise is en route to the uninhabited El-Adrel system, its location is near the territory occupied by an enigmatic race known as The Children of Tama."

The USS Enterprise-D is on a mission to attempt to establish communications between the Federation and the Tamarians after several previous attempts by the Federation over the last century had failed. The Enterprise and the Tamarian vessel make a rendezvous in orbit of El-Adrel IV. The two parties try to communicate but, like the occasions before, neither party can comprehend what the other party is saying. Captain Dathon disarms his first officer of a knife-like weapon and repeats, “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” Suddenly both he and Captain Picard are transported off of their ships to the surface of El-Adrel IV. Data finds that the Tamarian vessel projected a scattering field in the ionosphere of the planet, preventing both the Enterprise and themselves from using their transporters.

On the planet, Picard watches the Tamarian captain approach. He suddenly holds up two knives.

Act One Edit

Data also finds that the scattering field is blocking communications. However, sensors can still penetrate the scattering field, allowing either party to monitor Picard's and Dathon's locations. Lieutenant Worf suggests it might be a contest between champions. Seeing that they are in good health, Riker attempts to communicate with the Tamarian first officer, with no success. He has Worf prepare a shuttlecraft to get the captain, betting the Tamarian ship won't fire on it.

On the surface of El-Adrel IV, Picard and Dathon once again try to communicate, as Dathon passes one of the two knives to Picard, repeating “Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” Picard assumes that Dathon wants to engage in combat and refuses to take his knife. Frustrated, Dathon says "Shaka, when the walls fell" but Picard cannot understand the terms that Dathon is using and both men become frustrated with their failure.

As nightfall approaches, Picard is still stuck on the planet's surface. He tries to make a fire, but cannot. Dathon then does something akin to prayer and goes to sleep, taking one of his knives for protection. However, he cannot sleep knowing that Picard will go through the night cold. Dathon takes a branch from his fire and throws it to Picard. He says "Temba, his arms wide." While Picard does not understand what or who Temba is, he understands that Dathon is trying to help him, and thanks him for the fire.

Act Two Edit

"First Officer's log, supplemental. I am sending a shuttlecraft to find Captain Picard, gambling that the Tamarians will sit tight rather than risk an exchange of phaser fire."

Worf takes the shuttle Magellan with Ensign Kellogg to the surface of El-Adrel IV to rescue Captain Picard. As they begin to descend, the Tamarian vessel fires upon the shuttle and disables the starboard nacelle, destroying the shuttle's thrusters and forcing it to return to the Enterprise. It was a very precise shot.

In the observation lounge, Riker has Lieutenant commander Data and Counselor Troi analyze the log of the communication between themselves and the Tamarians and consult the ship's computer with the words and names mentioned and find several commonalities. Data and Troi deduce that the Tamarian language is entirely based on metaphors derived from their own experience and mythology, making their language extremely difficult for a non-Tamarian to understand because without knowing the people or things in the metaphor, the metaphor is impossible to comprehend. Lieutenant Commander La Forge and Ensign Lefler then attempt to modify the transporters to transport Captain Picard through the dampening field.

The following morning, on the planet's surface, Picard and Dathon are still no better off in their attempts to communicate with one another. Picard wakes up to find Dathon missing. He examines his things, finding what looks like a captain's log, then he returns. Picard notices that Dathon repeatedly uses the phrase "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra", but he does not understand who or what they were. Dathon is still insistent in giving Picard one of the knives, but again Picard refuses. They hear a loud roar in the distance and rocks fall from the cliffs behind the two men, and Picard realizes that Dathon and he are not alone on the planet's surface.

Act Three Edit

As the creature approaches Picard and Dathon, Picard realizes that Dathon is not offering him the knife to fight him, but to arm him against the creature, and accepts the weapon. When Dathon speaks again, referring to what sounds like a battle plan, Picard understands that the Tamarians communicate by metaphor. Dathon utters a phrase that sounds like he was relieved that Picard finally understands why the knife was offered.

Meanwhile, Worf detects a highly localized EM disturbance in fairly close proximity to Picard and Dathon, and it is approaching them. La Forge, Lefler and Chief O'Brien are almost ready to attempt to beam Captain Picard back aboard the Enterprise. Riker orders them to try early, but La Forge isn't hopeful. They make preparations for transporter room one where O'Brien is ready.

The creature attacks Dathon and Picard wounds it, but the creature strikes Picard. Dathon makes a return attack and draws the creature. Just then, O'Brien makes the attempt to transport Picard while the creature is striking Dathon. Picard is furious with being transported as it leaves him unable to help his fellow captain just as the two are beginning to understand each other. The transport fails and Picard is left on the planet as the creature moves away from Dathon. Picard holds him as they say "Shaka, when the walls fell."

Act Four Edit

"First Officer's log, stardate 45048.8. Our attempt to transport Captain Picard back to the ship has failed. My options are narrowing and my patience is all but gone."

The Tamarians raise the scattering field to a higher level of the planet's ionosphere, making transport impossible and forcing the crew to devise a new way to bring the captain back to the Enterprise. Riker has La Forge work on a way to disable the field generator on the Tamarian ship. The Enterprise's sensors show that Dathon's life signs are fluctuating and they know that the Tamarians know this also, but, surprisingly, no action is taken by the Tamarians to save their captain. Troi and Data explain the difficulty with their language, that it is based on narrative imagery. One must know the context as well as the words of the language.

Back on El-Adrel IV, Picard sits down next to a dying Dathon near the fire and asks him about Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra. It seems that Darmok and Jalad were two legendary travelers, strangers who faced and defeated a common enemy on the island of Tanagra. Picard realizes that Dathon knew of the creature on El-Adrel IV and brought them both here so that they could re-enact the events between Darmok, Jalad and "the Beast" at Tanagra. Dathon's hope was that by facing a common enemy, the two sides could learn to understand one another and bring the two species closer together. Now that Picard understands how the Tamarians communicate, Dathon wants to hear one of his stories. Picard recites an old story from Earth, very similar to that of Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, about Gilgamesh and Enkidu at Uruk, how two enemies became friends through hardship. Dathon appears impressed and amused by Picard's story. Dathon dies during the night, but not in vain, as he has become the first Tamarian to successfully establish communications between his people and the Federation.

Act Five Edit

"First Officer's log, supplemental. Despite the risk of war, I have no choice but to break the stalemate."

Back on the Enterprise, La Forge and his staff have developed a way to disable the Tamarians' scattering field – by firing a highly focused single phaser beam aimed at the generator on the Tamarian vessel. Commander Riker gives the order to fire on the Tamarian vessel. The shot disables the generator, allowing Chief O'Brien to beam Captain Picard aboard just as the creature is about to attack him again. The Tamarians return fire, severely damaging the Enterprise and crippling the ship's warp drive. As Picard returns to the bridge, he orders hailing frequencies to be opened with the Tamarian vessel. The Tamarians reply angrily but they quickly calm down when Picard addresses them in metaphor. He explains that although the mission was a success as far as establishing communications between the two peoples is concerned, Dathon gave his life to accomplish it. This successful contact will henceforth be known as the story of "Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel". Picard offers the knife to the Tamarian officer, but the Tamarian insists that Picard keep it.

Picard later reads the Homeric Hymns in his ready room, explaining to Riker that maybe more familiarity with their own mythology may help them relate to the Tamarians. Picard notes to Riker that Dathon sacrificed his life in hope of communication, and wonders if he would have been willing to do the same. Riker leaves the ready room, and 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.

Log entries Edit

Memorable quotes Edit

"Darmok and Jalad... at Tanagra."

- Dathon (meant as a metaphor to fight a common enemy)

"Picard and Dathon... at El-Adrel."

- New Captain of the Tamarians, referring to Dathon and Picard's experience at El-Adrel

"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

"Shaka, when the walls fell."

- Dathon and Picard (repeated often by both; meant as a metaphor for failure)

"I have encountered 1,754 non-Human races during my tenure in Starfleet."

- Data (reference to the breadth of alien races in the Star Trek universe)

"Temba, his arms wide!"

- Dathon (meant as a metaphor for giving and receiving)

"That's how you communicate, isn't it? By citing example... by metaphor! Uzani's army... with fists open..."
"Sokath, his eyes uncovered!" (meant as a metaphor to comprehension)

- Picard and Dathon

"Imagery is everything to the Tamarians. It embodies their emotional states, their very thought processes. It's how they communicate and it's how they think."

- Troi

"Our situation is analogous to knowing the grammar of a language, but none of the vocabulary."

- Data

"Darmok, and Jalad... on the ocean."
"Darmok and Jalad... they left together."

- Dathon and Picard

"Temba, his arms wide."
"I'll go along with that."

- Dathon and Picard, as the creature begins to attack them

"Gilgamesh, a king. Gilgamesh, a king. At Uruk. He tormented his subjects. He made them angry. They cried out aloud, "Send us a companion for our king! Spare us from his madness!" Enkidu, a wild man... from the forest, entered the city. They fought in the temple. They fought in the streets. Gilgamesh defeated Enkidu. They became great friends. Gilgamesh and Enkidu at Uruk."
"At Uruk…"
"The... the new friends went out into the desert together, where the Great Bull of Heaven was killing men by the hundreds. Enkidu caught the Bull by the tail. Gilgamesh struck him with his sword."
"(laughing) Gilgamesh..."
"They were... victorious. But... Enkidu fell to the ground, struck down by the gods. And Gilgamesh... wept bitter tears, saying, "He who was my companion, through adventure and hardship, is gone forever."

- Picard, reciting The Epic of Gilgamesh, and Dathon as he dies

"Temarc! The river Temarc in winter!"
"...and Jalad at Tanagra. Darmok and Jalad... on the ocean."
"Sokath, his eyes open!"
"The beast at Tanagra. Uzani, his army. Shaka, when the walls fell."

- Picard and the Tamarian first officer, finally able to understand each other

"Temba, his arms open."
"Temba, at rest."

- Picard and the Tamarian first officer

"New friends, captain?"
"I can't say, Number One... but at least they're not new enemies."

- Riker and Picard, on the Tamarians

"Now the door is open between our peoples. That commitment meant more to him than his own life."

- Picard

"Picard of the Federation. Of the Starship Enterprise. Of the planet Earth!"

- Picard, still not understanding Dathon's language

Background information Edit

Story and production Edit

Darmok location map

The location map for the two day location shoot at Bronson Canyon.

  • This episode had the longest gestation period of any episode 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, so he finally gave it to Joe Menosky. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
  • The inability to communicate had been the central theme of Philip LaZebnik's premise, but it was Menosky who worked out the Tamarian's language of allusion and metaphor. Menosky changed the premise from a complex "ant farm" visit to a more straight-forward examination of the two strong commanders, Picard and Dathon. (Star Trek: The Next Generation Companion)
  • The story about Gilgamesh and Enkidu is from one of the world's earliest known literary works, a Babylonian poem entitled the Epic of Gilgamesh, said to have been dated from around (2150 BC-2000 BC). The story of Gilgamesh and Enkidu at Uruk is itself a metaphor for the situation of Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel: two people, initially combatants, come together to become friends and fight a common foe, a battle in which one of them is struck down and the other mourns his loss. (Mission Overview: Year Five, TNG Season 5 DVD special features)
  • "Darmok" was filmed between Thursday 18 July 1991 and Friday 26 July 1991 on Paramount Stage 8, 9, and 16, as well as on location at Bronson Canyon. An additional day was Thursday 8 August 1991 on which the blue screen unit filmed the creature scenes with stuntman Rex Pierson on Paramount Stage 9. Second unit for this episode filmed on Monday 26 August 1991 on Paramount Stage 9 and 16. When the following episode "Ensign Ro" returned to location at Bronson Canyon on Monday 5 August 1991 another sequence was filmed for "Darmok" involving Rex Pierson and photo doubles Ron Large and Lanier Edwards. Photo double Dana Vitatoe filmed additional second unit shots on Wednesday 28 August 1991 on Paramount Stage 9.
  • The call sheet dated on 18 July 1991 featured an "uncast actress" in the role of Lt. Larson. In the final episode this role became Robin Lefler who was played by Ashley Judd.
  • First UK airdate: 28 December 1994

Continuity Edit

Reception Edit

  • On Menosky's effort, Piller commented, "I just think "Darmok" is the prototype of what Star Trek should be. It dealt with a very challenging premise and many of our best shows are scripts that have been around a long time...He created a whole language for that episode and it's just astonishing. The episode worked on every level; it had the philosophy dealing with language and what it does for us, two great acting performances, it had a monster and a space battle – it had everything." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
  • Director Winrich Kolbe commented that he had mixed feelings on the episode. "Storywise, it was a hell of a story. It was almost flawless. It tangled a very interesting subject and a very complicated subject as well, and I think it did it well." However, he felt somewhat constrained in how he could film the planet scenes with the monster. Furthermore, he noted the difficulty in directing scenes in an alien language. "Can you imagine not speaking Russian and...having to write an article in Russian? It makes it kind of difficult. Even though I had a translation of the dialogue, it wasn't quite there and for me it was like directing a Russian movie without speaking the language, but you work your way through it. So that was an additional challenge. The episode seems to have struck a chord. It's a show we can all be proud of." (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
  • Despite his initial resistance to the idea, Berman later named "Darmok" as one of his all-time favorite episodes. (Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages)
  • Patrick Stewart commented, "If you're talking about awards, ["Darmok"] is something that should have won awards because it was a brilliantly written episode based on the myth of Gilgamesh and with one of our most distinguished guest stars, Paul Winfield." (Mission Overview: Year Five, TNG Season 5 DVD special features)
  • This episode has been used by linguistics teachers to aid in students' understanding of how languages work and evolve. ("Mission Overview: Year Five", TNG Season 5 DVD special feature; [1])
  • Doctor Who writer and producer Russell T Davies liked the billing blurb for this episode so much that he deliberately didn't watch it, later saying, "I love the idea so much, I'd rather think about it. Forever." Nearly twenty years after the episode first aired, Davies wrote a Doctor Who episode with a premise that he reckoned was similar to this one. (SFX, issue #200, p. 140)
  • A mission report for this episode by John Sayers was published in The Official Star Trek: The Next Generation Magazine Vol. 18, pp. 12-15.

Video and DVD releases Edit

Links and references Edit

Starring Edit

Also starring Edit

Guest stars Edit


Co-stars Edit

Uncredited co-stars Edit

Stunt double Edit

Stand-ins and photo doubles Edit

References Edit

47; annular confinement beam; balcony; bioscan; bluff; bull; Children of Tama (Tamarians); communications channel; dagger; Darmok; Darmok (colony); Darmok (emperor); Darmok (food); Darmok (hunter); Earth; El-Adrel IV; El-Adrel system; Enkidu; evasive maneuvers; Federation; Gallos II; Gilgamesh; grammar; Great Bull of Heaven; Greek language; Homeric Hymns; ionosphere; Jalad; Kanda IV; Lerishi IV; linguistic database; Magellan; Malindi VII; mythology; NDT; nonaggression pact; Number one; particle scattering field; particle sustaining beam; plasma reactor; polarity coil generator; noun; Razna V; red alert; Romeo and Juliet; Seventh Dynasty; Shantil III; Shiku Maru, SS ; Sigma Tama IV; Silvestri, A.; Tamarian deep space cruiser; Tamarian language; Tanagra (beverage); Tanagra (island); Tanagra family; time index; universal translator; Uruk; vocabulary

Children of Tama language references Edit

Anzo; Bahar; Bakor; Bashi; Callimas; Chenza; Jiri; Kadir; Kailash; Kanza; Kiazi; Kira; Kiteo; Kituay; Lashmir; Lowani; Lungha; Mirab; Mo Moteh; Rai; Shaka; Sokath; Temarc; Temba; Ubaya; Uzani; Zima; Zinda

External links Edit

Previous episode:
"Redemption II"
Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5
Next episode:
"Ensign Ro"

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