Darkmok and Jalad at Tanagra

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Or, TNG at 33.

Last Monday, Star Trek: The Next Generation turned 33.

A couple of days later, my favourite episode turned 29.

“Darmok”, the second episode of the 5th season of TNG, first aired on 30 September 1991. The Children of Tama, an alien species with an alien language, want to establish a dialogue with the Federation, and the Universal Translator seems to have no problem with the language, but it also gives the Enterprise crew what seems like gibberish. At least until they figure out that the Tamarians speak in metaphor and allegory. Of course, without the common cultural references, talking to each other is still hit and miss at best.

As Picard and the alien captain Dathon learn to work together against a dangerous beast while marooned on a random planet, they also slowly learn to talk to each other, and we start to get a few pieces here and there.

“Temba, his arms open.” A gift, an offering, tell me more.

“Shaka, when the walls fell.” A failure. (I use this once in a while. It confuses nearby people but it’s moment of great joy when someone understands.)

“Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.” Work together.

“Sokath, his eyes open.” I understand.

There are plenty more, but you get the idea. While they eventually manage to talk to each other, in the process, it costs Dathon his life.

It’s an episode ripe with depth and meaning and it does what Star Trek does best: exploring and expanding what it means to be human while demonstrating that we’re at our best when striving to be more than we are. It’s TNG at its peak, as was a lot of 5th season, and I remember watching that first airing with friends on an old TV in student housing. Nostalgia, perhaps, but if I watch the episode now, I get the same feeling of wonder even though I know what’s going to happen.

Live long and prosper.

Mirab, his sails unfurled.

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