Date: April 23, 2020
Season 5, Episode 2
Musical Accompaniment: A YouTube mix of The Piano Guys
Interstellar News: I made a rice ball casserole, enough to feed 12 people in our house of 2, and it was delicious. I also made a run to BJ’s for 2 pounds of minced garlic, the important things in life during this crisis.
Troi: All our technology and experience, our universal translator, our years in space, contacts with more alien cultures than I can even remember.
Data: I have encountered one thousand, seven hundred fifty four non-human races during my tenure with Starfleet.
Troi: And we still can’t even say hello to these people.
Troi: A single word can lead to tragedy. One word misspoken or misunderstood. And that could happen here, Data, if we fail.Troi and Data understanding the scope of their mission and Troi further pointing out how damn important communication is. For the two people that I know read every one of my posts, please note that I believe communication is one of the most important things in any relationship.
Picard’s Poetry: Riker: “New friends, Captain?” Picard: “I can’t say, Number One. But at least they’re not new enemies.”
The Enterprise is in the El-Adrel system to try and communicate with the Tamarians, which has never had a successful attempt in over 100 years because they are “incomprehensible”. They keep repeating the same set of phrases, similar to “Samaritan Snare“, but they seem much more intelligent. The other captain, Dathon, has a fight with his first officer but eventually wins and suddenly he and Picard are beamed down to the planet.
Riker, of course, does everything he can to get Picard back, but none of it works. He gets Troi and Data to start working on decoding the language and he has La Forge work on a way to get the transporter working. Meanwhile, on the planet, Picard and Dathon try to communicate and make a little headway. Suddenly there’s a dangerous, mostly invisible, beast headed their way and they fight it together. Dathon is hurt but he and Picard make a lot of progress understanding each other as the Tamarians speak in metaphors and examples. Dathon dies and Picard is beamed back, just in time to speak to the Tamarians and explain what happened. Both ships depart with a little better understanding of each other. Temba at rest.
I’m going to start off by saying a dear friend told me this episode is one that is usually either loved or hated, and I can see why. I am firmly in the “loved” category, so let me tell you why. I’m not sure why but I do like Picard’s new fancy jacket and shirt, they suit him well. Picard makes such an effort to understand his fellow captain and is brilliant at figuring it out, it was so impressive to hear him speak at the end to the new captain. Picard also understands how important it is to share stories with Dathon and doesn’t even find out his name until the end of the episode. I was also blown away by Picard’s reverence in the last scene before the credits, what a tribute to a fallen comrade!
Riker, even though he’s more like Worf in thinking everyone is a threat and not working on figuring out how to communicate with the Tamarians, does a very good job at problem solving his way through each thing. Let’s try a shuttle, let me set Data and Troi on the language aspect, let me put La Forge and O’Brien at the transport, let me consult Worf on my battle strategy… he puts all the people exactly where they need to be, which wasn’t always the case in TOS and I’m glad TNG makes better use of the whole cast. I also saw a bit of Kirk peek out when Riker demands La Forge have something done more quickly, and it was a good homage. Of course it’s ridiculous that it’s always the main cast on a ship so large, but whatevs, and also ASHLEY JUDD made an appearance as an engineer… and one who gives good side eye too!
There are a few things that don’t make sense, or didn’t quite work, but they are all very minor. Troi and Data only listen to the first few of the 47 entries on darmok, and then only the first three on tanagra and decide there’s got to be a connection… when I’m sure there could have been a lot more crossover between the two lists if they kept listening and comparing. The Tamarian language is a great use of abstraction (a concept I teach in one of my classes), but you have to understand the example in order to use it as Dr. Crusher points out. So how to Tamarians first learn what the phrases mean? Are the children taught in one language similar to ours and then as adults they move to the abstract, or do perhaps they learn by others acting out the scenes? If there are new stories do new phrases come into existence, or do thee just keep repeating on a loop? Maybe there’s a planet bard who sings the songs of yore and everyone else just speaks in metaphor? I’m so interesting in this topic, but you know how I get when there are too many questions and not enough answers. I like this episode enough for it to go on my “Rankings” page, but I can only assign it a litter of 9 puppies.
What they really needed, in my opinion, was a translation line: