"Darmok" is the 102nd episode of the American science fiction television series Star Trek: The Next Generation, the second episode of the fifth season. The episode features Paul Winfield, who previously played Captain Terrell in Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and Ashley Judd in her debut acting performance. It describes an incident in which 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.
|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|
The senior crew discuss their latest mission: to make contact with the Tamarian race who have been transmitting signals toward Federation space for weeks. They mention that several prior contacts have occurred, but no meaningful interaction has ever been achieved because the way the Tamarians communicate could not be understood. The Enterprise makes contact with a Tamarian ship in orbit around the planet El-Adrel. Though the universal translator can translate their words, the Tamarians communicate only through allegory - using brief allusions to historical and mythological events to convey thoughts and intentions - which baffles the Enterprise crew because they do not understand this yet, nor do they even know the stories and names to which the Tamarians' language refers. Likewise, the Tamarians seem equally baffled by and unable to understand Picard's straightforward use of language.
Frustrated by their failure at communication, the Tamarian captain, Dathon, has himself and Captain Picard transported to the planet's surface. The Tamarians then create a scattering field in the planetary atmosphere to prevent transport functions from being used on either captain. On the surface, Dathon utters the phrase "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra" and tosses Picard a dagger. Picard is unsure if this is some kind of formal challenge to a duel and so tosses it back to Dathon. As night falls, Picard fails to make a fire and Captain Dathon shares his fire with the phrase "Temba, his arms wide." The next morning, Dathon comes running and Picard realizes that there is also a hostile predator in the area that is stalking them both. Picard finally begins to understand the way the Tamarians communicate when he recites one of the allegories and sees the meaning underneath it: it is a direction on the tactic Dathon wants to use to fight the beast.
The two attempt to fight the beast together, but the Enterprise's ultimately unsuccessful transporter attempt to rescue Picard mid-battle 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 and Riker has Commander Data work with ship's counselor Troi in hopes of translating it. Lt. Worf, in the meantime, thinks that the Captain is being tested as a warrior and advocates an aggressive stance, which Riker says he will take as a last option. Riker has Worf take a shuttlecraft to try to retrieve the Captain, which fails when the aliens precisely disable the craft and force it to return to the Enterprise. Chief Engineer La Forge and Worf work on a way to disable the Tamarians' scattering field to beam up Picard, while Troi and Data work on deciphering the Tamarian language. They deduce that it is entirely based on allegories from Tamarian folklore. They learn that Darmok was a hunter and Tanagra is an island but nothing else. Without the stories behind the allegories, the Tamarian language remains indecipherable.
While tending to Dathon's wounds, Picard keeps him talking and slowly deduces that Darmok and Jalad were two warriors who met on an island called Tanagra and were forced to cooperate when confronted by a dangerous beast dwelling there, becoming fast friends in the process. Dathon tried to recreate this event between himself and Picard on El-Adrel, hoping that their shared adversity would forge a friendship where words had failed. Picard recounts for Dathon the Epic of Gilgamesh, a human story that parallels the allegory of Darmok and Jalad. Dathon seems to understand and appreciate the story but eventually succumbs to his wounds.
The Enterprise fires on the Tamarian ship, disabling the scattering field, and beams up Picard. The Tamarians return fire, and a battle begins. Picard uses his newfound knowledge of Tamarian allegories to communicate a simple message to the Tamarians, that he understands Dathon's intentions now, and the plan indeed worked - just like the mythical Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra, he and Dathon had become friends and begun a journey of mutual understanding through their shared adversity. He offers Dathon's knife to the Tamarians, using the same expression Dathon had used to give him fire, out of goodwill and friendship, as well as returning Dathon's personal journal. The battle ends, as the Tamarians joyously perceive that Picard's eyes have been opened wide ("his eyes open!") by understanding. On reading the diary, the Tamarians record the new story as "Picard and Dathon at El-Adrel" - a new phrase in their language. Picard mourns Dathon, who sacrificed his life to open relations between their two cultures.
Picard later reads the Homeric Hymns in his ready room, explaining to Riker that more familiarity with their own mythology may help them to 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.
After Riker leaves the ready room, Picard picks up the knife given to him by Dathon, and looks out of the ready room window into space while he repeats the seemingly ritualistic gestures that he saw Dathon engage in. Picard thus pays silent tribute to his fallen comrade.
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 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 Rex 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 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 Ashley Judd.
Tamarian use of languageEdit
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.
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 his 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 not 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." 
In 2014, io9 rated "Darmok" as the 5th best episode of all Star Trek. A newspaper placed this episode in a ranking of the 25 greatest episodes of Star Trek prior to Star Trek: Discovery, "Darmok" was ranked as the 22nd best episode of Star Trek overall.
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. In 2018, Tom's Guide rated "Darmok" one of the 15 best episodes featuring Picard. Geek.com rated "Darmok" as the fifth greatest moment in Star Trek, noting that a line from the show, "Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra," as a modern day influence on language.
In 2016, The Washington Post ranked "Darmok" the second best episode of all Star Trek television.
- Koltnow, Barry (April 5, 2002). "Ashley Judd Has Beauty, Brains And A Down-To-Earth Attitude". Orange County Register. Santa Ana, CA – via Newspaper Source Plus.
- "Creative". The Official Website of Ashley Judd. Retrieved May 2, 2015.
- "One Trek Mind: Deciphering 'Darmok'". Retrieved August 27, 2016.
- Thill, Scott. "Best Star Trek: The Next Generation Episodes, According to You". Retrieved August 27, 2016.
- Gross, Edward; Altman, Mark A. (1995). Captains' Logs: The Unauthorized Complete Trek Voyages. Little Brown & Co. ISBN 0316329576.
- Ian Bogost (June 18, 2014). "Shaka, When the Walls Fell". The Atlantic. Retrieved February 24, 2019.
- McMillan, Graeme (September 5, 2016). "Star Trek's 100 Most Important Crew Members, Ranked". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved March 20, 2019.
- "The 15 Best Capt. Picard Episodes of Star Trek". Tom's Guide. August 12, 2018. Retrieved March 26, 2019.
- "The top 35 moments in Star Trek history". Geek.com. January 2, 2015. Retrieved March 24, 2019.