Listeners, waiting, their ears unfurled. The Enterprise makes rendezvous with a race known as the Children of Tama. No one has understood them for 100-years and it looks like the Tamarian captain wants to fight. But with whom and against what? And what will fighting solve anyway? Find out when we put Darmok in the Mission Log.

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  1. JusenkyoGuide says:

    When I was in college, I had to take Western Traditions, a kind of lit/history/political course. 101 covered ancient history and the first ‘book’ assigned was The Epic of Gilgamesh. My professor introduced it by saying he wanted to give us a summery and that he would leave it up to a better man than him to do so… and promptly played Captain Picard’s take on it. That’s when I knew I was gonna have a great semester.

  2. regeekery - JD says:

    this is a still a fantastic episode of TNG

  3. CmdrR says:

    Darned if you guys didn’t do it again. I have a bad habit of ‘watching TV’ and thinking good ep/bad ep. (Occassionally — BAD EP! BAD, BAD EP!) The reason I enjoy this podcast so much is that it makes me reconsider episodes I have otherwise pidgeonholed into one of those categories.
    Yes, it’s tough for me to get beyond the annoying metaphors (as opposed to colorful metaphors: Picard, double dumb-ass on the planet.) and staring at the latex, thinking, “Hey, I’d swear that’s Paul Winfield.” Now, when I watch this one I have a lot more to think about.
    BTW — My iPhone asked me to tell the computer voice she’s hot.

  4. Barry Ingram says:

    I realized what an insensitive person Captain Dathon is, at least from the mindset of a person interested in the welfare of animals and not causing them grief. Lemme ‘splain.

    Dathon knows there is a dangerous animal on El-Adral IV. I don’t think he would kidnap Picard and send them both down to a planet where they would have weeks to learn how to live together before they would succumb to starvation. No, Dathon needed a deadly threat and he needed one right now, that would affect Picard and Dathon shortly after they transported to the surface.

    Let’s look at this from the point of view of the animal they face on El-Adral IV

    Imagine, on Earth, you are a grizzly bear, perhaps a sow with a couple of cubs. You are minding your own business in the Montana wilderness, hundreds of miles away from people and civilization. All of a sudden, two people with weapons show up in your territory. The bear doesn’t know who these people are, or what their intentions are. Her instinct is to protect her cubs and herself from harm. So, she watches. The two intruders don’t leave her territory, but instead set up a campsite. At this point, and throughout the episode, we’re given no indication that the animal Picard and Dathon face is any different from something like a grizzly bear, with similar instincts. It’s not evil or sadistic, or wishes to do them harm, like Armus. It’s just an animal that is native to El-Adral IV.

    Keep in mind that there isn’t any interaction between Dathon/Picard and the animal on El-Adrel IV until the next morning, when Picard found Dathon gone. Dathon returns a few minutes later, breathless, urging Picard to help him defend themselves against this animal. What did he do during this time? Did he go seek out the animal, who was content to watch them and leave them alone? Did Dathon attack the animal first, or taunt it? Keep in mind that Dathon’s plan was for himself and Picard to have to work together to protect themselves from this animal. His plan wasn’t going to work until the animal became threatening to them, and the animal wasn’t a threat until Dathon apparently went to find and perhaps confront it.

    Let’s throw in the variable that Captain Dathon’s ship put up some kind of “invisible fence” to keep the animal from leaving. After all, that was what Dathon’s plan was all along – to have him and Picard face a deadly threat to force them to understand each other and work together. If the animal could simply take her cubs and hightail it out of there, then Dathon’s plan wouldn’t work. So, not only do we have the possibility that the animal is worried about her safety and the safety of her cubs, but now when she tries to leave, she can’t. That would make her even more desperate to protect herself and her cubs.

    I realize that is farfetched, to think maybe that the El-Adrel IV creature was a mother protecting her offspring, but even if it wasn’t, it still was an animal, minding its own business, when all of a sudden it is faced with two strange, dangerous creatures who just might be trying to kill it. It also doesn’t attack them until it is sought out and possibly confronted by Dathon.

    The premise of the episode is wonderful – to have a common obstacle which forces two people who can’t communicate into doing so. I’m just concerned that they did this at the expense of a clueless, otherwise nonthreatening animal who is minding its own business, who only becomes dangerous when its territory, safety, and perhaps the safety of its offspring is threatened.

    • deaddropsd says:

      The Children of Tama might have had a Predator like mentality. The hunt/fight being a spiritual bonding experience that can bring people together? When you think about it, they really should have been open to a sit down at a desk, w visual aids, holodeck etc…to get their point across, but I guess we have to believe the Children of Tama have such a radically different perspective that it wasn’t feasible….

    • Very good questions @disqus_cMCcMa8oW1:disqus. There is an ethical situation here that Picard was never given the luxury to face. Perhaps this is a common thing for Tamarians (not that it makes it right), and perhaps the longer they are exposed to the Federation’s values it might not be a “thing” they do for much longer.
      There’s a darker possibility too – that the “creature” is one of many that have fought the Tamarians for a long time. Maybe Dathon was inviting Picard (and by proxy his crew and the Federation later) into it.
      In any case, we’ll have to still chalk it up to the metaphor it is and hope that down the road someone said to the Tamarians, “hey, about beaming down to planets to hunt beasts, maybe we should talk about that…”

  5. Wildride says:

    “Shaka, when the walls fell.” – Still something I say when things go badly. I’m anticipating using it during a future Game of Thrones season finale.

  6. deaddropsd says:

    “Captain Terrell” ST II :TWOK Paul Winfield RIP 2004

  7. deaddropsd says:

    Paul Winfield RIP

  8. deaddropsd says:

    “Captain Terrell” ST II: TWOK Paul Winfield RIP 2004

  9. Wildride says:

    So, a few things about the language here:

    1) The speech, as we heard it, is translated through the universal translator. There’s no reason to believe it’d be as cumbersome in the original Tamarian. It comes through as bite-lets of stories to the Enterprise crew (and therefore us) but that doesn’t mean it’s what it really sounds like. It is merely the best approximation the universal translator can come up with. Compare it to how stilted and awkward the dialog of dubbed movies sound like.

    2) “Parents would have to tell their children all the stories …” Yes: Inasmuch as Earth parents have to teach their children each and every word of the language they speak. Tamarian children would pick up their language the same way we do: First by hearing it spoken and then by being educated by parents and teachers. Their language would come as naturally to them as ours does to us.

    3) Speaking of the universal translator, this was an incredibly clever way of getting past it, regarding communication difficulties, without outright disabling it. Normally it’s, “We can’t use the transporters because, uh — Scattering field. Yeah, that’s the ticket.” or “That last shot knocked out the warp drive and the transporters.” In this case, the universal translator was working perfectly, yet still ineffectually.

    So, we’re all just assuming Kirk would’ve somehow just beaten the monster single handedly, right?

    Troi certainly seems to be the go-to for language stuff. The Jarada, Riva, the Sheliak, reading the Royale, and so on. They should’ve just made her character the linguist. Remember when they had those and communication officers?

    • JusenkyoGuide says:

      Re 2): Indeed, you hit the nail square on the head. Children pick up their native tongue (or tongues) by hearing them used. The hard-wiring for the sounds and rhythms starts in the womb, which is why infants come out reacting to the languages of their parents and more or less ignoring ones not used by their parents/guardians.

      If you think about it, children do use concrete examples (Daddy holding up a ball and saying “Ball”), but they also do pick up and use language that HAVE no such example. The Children of Tama wouldn’t have to have the stories explained to them because for them, it would just be their language and the meaning would be understood instantly as they developed their own language skills.

      To give an example, I am constantly asked by my Japanese students who are struggling with the quirks of English (The bloody irregular verbs and articles, articles give Japanese conniption fits) just how I taught them to my own sons, who are Japanese-Americans and bilingual. I didn’t, they just picked them up by hearing me speak and understand intrinsically the differences between “A starship” and “The starship”.

  10. Earl Green says:

    An interesting quote from SFX Magazine, interviewing Doctor Who 2005-2009 showrunner Russell T. Davies:

    “I love the idea so much, I’d rather think about it. Forever. The episode is called ‘Darmok’, and the synopsis simply says that Captain Picard is trapped on a planet with an alien who can only talk in metaphors. Wow. That sounds brilliant. How does that work? What happens? How does it end? I’ve got no idea – not seen it! But it keeps resonating with me. I’ve just looked up its TX date, and it’s almost 20 years old. I’ve been thinking about that story and its potential for almost 20 years! Would it have sustained itself for that long in my head if I’d seen it on BBC2, long ago in 1991? I think the mystery keeps the concept alive. Here I am, still wondering, right now! And I can see the idea bleeding into my own work. In 2008, I wrote a Doctor Who episode called ‘Midnight’. Is it like ‘Darmok’? I don’t know. But stripped down to its essentials, it’s a story about a hero, an alien, and words. That’s practically the same billing. Maybe the two shows are profoundly different, but I know for a fact that all those years of wondering about ‘Darmok’ led me to that script.”

    And go figure, Midnight may well be my favorite episode of Davies’ reign on Doctor Who, just like Darmok is one of my two or three favorite TNG episodes. (You probably wouldn’t believe what the other two are.)

    The one thing, all these years later, that bugs me about Darmok is that it’s the beginning of making Riker more impulsive/immature/not-command-material than he has even been before. When he finally gets his opening to start firing, he can’t wait. This is the same Riker who stayed his hand when fighting Locutus? I’d really love to see some writer memos from around this time, to either confirm or deny if there was an impression that they had to “regress” Riker because he’d been shown, by the end of Best Of Both Worlds Part II, to be command material almost on a level with Picard (at which point, the question really DOES become “Will, what the hell are you still doing here?” and Riker’s career trajectory is in serious doubt). This is the beginning of the Riker who risked the entire career he built to go abduct Soren in The Outcast, among other unwise acts that would’ve been unthinkable for season 1-4 “I didn’t get here by letting my captain risk his life” Riker. And just watch – Riker’s suddenly a huge jerk in Ensign Ro as well. I know you don’t necessarily take requests on discovered documents, but I’d really like to know if there was a conversation somewhere about dumbing Riker down to make sure we know why Picard’s the captain and Riker is “only” the first officer (of the flagship of Starfleet). You’d almost think Thomas Riker went back in time and replaced Will so he could try to live his best (albeit unwise) life. There’s my headcanon at any rate. LOL

    I know that I was one of the folks who pre-emptively made comments about “How do they build ships if they only communicate in metaphor?”, but you’re right, it ultimately doesn’t matter. The message is more important than the granular details of the story.

    Does anyone know if this episode was ever followed up on in print, comics, etc.? Because unlike Dr. Tristan Adams or Garth of Izar or the snarky guy from Pen Pals who doesn’t actually doesn’t want to do any work, the Tamarians are a case where I would like a follow-up, even if not necessarily with this crew.

    Here’s a meaning that perhaps is only possible to arrive at in the now rather than in the context of the time at which Darmok was broadcast: the Tamarians’ rigid adherence to their metaphorical means of communication puts them in a bit of a cultural echo chamber. And I think Dathon discovered that’s a dangerous place to be. We might all want to heed that warning.

    Right then, I’m off to rewatch Darmok, followed by Midnight. While having a pizza party. At Tenagra.

    • Great comments, @disqus_wWzGkmaFQO:disqus – thank you. There is much more that could be learned about the Tamarians. I’m not sure if it was ever explored in a different context, but I like this idea you planted about the possibility of their own “echo chamber.” It seems that their own culture might change radically if they were to tighten an alliance with the Federation.

      • Earl Green says:

        Oh, by the way, since you mentioned it, I’m a huge fan of Picard’s one-off jacket seen in this episode. I was kinda disappointed when it never re-appeared in this form. The version that basically had the same fabric from top to bottom was just less visually interesting to me.

    • deaddropsd says:

      This episode has me thinking about the DS9 episode “Babel”- just fun concepts w words, inability to communicate…good stuff!

      • Earl Green says:

        A Tamarian…with the aphasia virus?

        Wouldn’t that basically get you Esperanto? LOL

    • How do they build ships with only metaphor?

      Gerrod and Koreth, with the Torx driver.

      Barmoth, its head stripped.

    • deaddropsd says:

      great points about Riker flailing…yeah, in my head canon, after BOBW, Picard would convalesce x10-12 episodes, half a season and Riker would have been Captain and LEFT the show!! Woulda taken over the Titan or whatever and been back for the movies. Also BOBW would have been S6 finale…lol, my alternate reality!

  11. deaddropsd says:

    “Captain Dathon/Terrell” Paul Winfield RIP 2004

  12. Lou Dalmaso says:

    Every time I used to see this episode, I kept thinking what a stupid idea it was. I mean if you can say “Darmok at Tenagra” you have the words to infer that tenagra is a place. so the concept of being “at” someplace is a starting point in deciphering the language.. What I mean to say is whenever this episode is put on a pedestal, I didn’t see it.
    Then came the scourge of the human language that is the Emoji and “Picard and Dathan at El-Adrell” becomes Shakespeare next to “poopy-face, poopy face, thumbs up”
    once again, Trek fortells the future

  13. Durakken says:

    With regard to speaking louder, you’re only half right. We speak louder and slower because innunciates better helping the other person to understand better if the problem is that they know the language, but because we spoke so rapidly they didn’t understand it.

    Also the innunciation helps transmit more information, not just from the spoken language aspects but from the intonations and such. That’s partially why you can understand pets and they can understand you. We know that we can speak jibberish to each other and still communicate due to all those other aspects.

    As far as the language itself… It is laughably unrealistic to base an entire language on, but there are parts of language that is based on that type of thing. For example “The Sun rises” is metaphor and make no sense given our current knowledge, but we all understand it.

  14. wchmara says:

    Col. Mustard in the Conservatory, with a lead pipe.

  15. deaddropsd says:

    regarding words and social media, meanness and word overload, did anyone read “Spock’s World”? About a Brexit vote for Vulcan to leave the Federation? The Enterprise had a “Bulletin Board System”- lol and crewmembers were anonymously voicing their opinions to blow off steam. It was soooooooo prescient. Nailed the keyboard warriors, mean people online w rude comments, wayyyyy ahead of time. Just thought I’d bring it up/ask…. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8d47381ac339dbd9a7cc675c2c872a28ad599825d642ce11f59668b80c0dda66.png

  16. Stanley F. Bronstein says:

    I loved this episode so much that when my wife and I got a dog 13 years ago, I insisted he be named Darmok. 2 years later when she wanted a companion dog, I told her fine, but he has to be named Jilad (at least that’s how we spell it). Most people have no clue what the names mean, but whenever we run across a Trek fan, they love it. Darmok’s on top and Jilad in the forefront.

  17. Stanley F. Bronstein says:

    Here’s a good glossary of the Tamarian language I found on the web:


  18. Jeff D says:

    Hey guys, just discovered your podcast recently and am really enjoying them! Had to wonder about how bright these Children of Tama really are – I mean, as an advanced space-faring race, I think it’s safe to assume that the Federation is not the first alien contact they’ve ever had, and therefore not the first time they would have run into this same communication problem. Yet they seem to get frustrated as though it’s a brand new experience for them. Do they get equally frustrated every time they meet someone new? Do they really expect alien cultures to recognize myths and characters from their own history? Has it never occurred to them that maybe ‘it’s not you, it’s me’? Heck, maybe that’s why they have such buku weapons – they needed them to prevent every one else in the galaxy from exasperatingly blowing the bejeezus out of them after ten minutes of futilely trying to say ‘hi’.
    Despite all that, still one of TNG’s best efforts. A well-crafted vehicle for illustrating the complexities and challenges involved in successful communication and understanding, as it pertains to our world. Language is about communication, but we can’t rely on that alone to achieve understanding. Aw, heck, you guys said it better than I am trying to. Anyway, Paul Winfield was terrific (as always!)
    And so are you guys. Keep it up!

  19. wry observer of folly says:

    Little trivia you guys seem to have missed:

    First appearance of the Type 6 shuttlecraft. Modified from the Star Trek 5 shuttle.

  20. John Anderton says:

    The dialog of this show was so repetitive and non-sensical that it drove me nuts. There are protocols to follow when people meet and don’t share a language. You draw, point etc… It is common in some literature.

  21. Eric Waldow says:

    This strikes me as one of the few episodes I can think of for which the viewers are on equal footing with the crew and can participate (vicariously, of course) in solving the mystery. I don’t have a warp field technobabble damper, so when it turns out that reversing the polarity brings the intersynchronous harmonics back into phase, I don’t slap my forehead and say “I should have thought of that”. But when Picard is trying to understand Dathon’s metaphors, we’re with him. As he gets it, we get it, And that’s part of why this is a great episode.

    How many others are like that? “The Devil in the Dark” somewhat; any more?