Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Episode Review - Darmok (Next Generation Season 5)

For those who are new to my episode reviews, you can find the post where I establish my point criteria here

Overview – The Enterprise is sent on a mission to the El-Adrel system to make contact with the Tamarians, a mysterious race that the Federation have made several unsuccessful attempts to establish relations. Upon arrival, Picard and his crew are at a loss at the difficulty in communicating with the Tamarians, whose words are heard but their meaning is impossible to decipher. The Tamarian Captain beams both Picard and himself to the planet’s surface, where the two commanders find themselves in a battle against a strange beast. As the crew try to break through the interference that the Tamarian ship has set up around the planet, Picard tries to learn how to communicate with the Tamarian captain before it is too late.

Score: 9/10 – Such a great episode. The premise is original and gives the crew a real challenge in trying to communicate with a species that the universal translator will not help much with. The Tamarians speak in metaphor, and without a suitable knowledge of their lore and legends one cannot truly know the meaning of their words. Daithon, the Tamarian captain, is portrayed by Paul Winfield, whom Trekkies will remember as Captain Terrell from “The Wrath of Kahn”. He gives a strong performance here and conveys a sense of honor to his character. Patrick Stewart again shows his strength as an actor, showcasing Picard’s strong diplomatic skills. The best part of this episode is the writing. The script is wonderfully crafted by Joe Menosky, and the Tamarian dialogue has been a hit with the fans ever since. I dare you to go to a convention and not hear “Shaka, when the walls fell” when someone makes a mistake. In fact, those were neighbor categories on an episode of Jeopardy this past summer. 

Relevance – 3 points. I wish I could use the Tamarian language as being relevant. As I mentioned before, at a convention if you yell “Darmok and Jalad” and someone doesn’t respond with “at Tanagra”, then you are in the wrong convention. Sadly, this is not touched on again in the series, so I cannot give it a point. However, we do score a few points here. One is for introducing Lt. Robin Lefler, played by Ashley Judd. She will become a more important character in a future episode “The Game”, which brings back Wesley Crusher for the first time since leaving for the Academy. We also score a point for the debut of Picard’s new jacket uniform, which only he will wear throughout the remainder of the series. This is also the debut of the type 6 shuttlecraft, which was one of the nicer looking designs of shuttlecraft.

Continuity – 3 points. Character continuity works. Picard uses every tool at his disposal to communicate with the Tamarians, and when they all fail he is able to improvise and eventually is successful. While he is cautious of Dathon at first, Picard keeps an open mind to him as he tries to figure out how to connect. Story continuity and universe continuity also are maintained. I especially liked how the universal translator was practically useless to the crew as it gave the words but could not convey the meaning.

Character Development – 2 points. This is a strong Picard episode, but really it is just that. While the rest of the crew do there best to rescue their captain, this episode is all Picard. He is able to crack the puzzle that is Tamarian communication under extenuating circumstances. While his new friend falls to the attacks of the beast, Picard is still able to bring peace to his crew and the experience has left its mark on him.

Social Commentary – 3 points. I think in today’s technological world, the ironic issue facing many of us is communication. Too often we assume too much about those who we are different from. I loved how Picard and Dathon had to work in order to understand one another, and by learning how to communicate they learn that they were not all that different from each other. Imagine how different our society would be that instead of attempting to challenge and combat each other with our words and ideas we focused instead on understanding each other. It is a very poignant reminder for us in our ever-polarized world.

Cool Stuff – 3 points. One point for the Tamarian make-up. Michael Westmore gives us a cool looking species. They look a bit like a dinosaur in many respects. Of particular note, and I only came upon this recently, their thumbs are elongated and with a sucker-like tip. Their language is also very cool, and seeing how it has had such an impact on Trekkies with a single episode, it also scores a point. I give a final point to the beast of El-Adrel with it’s Jem’Hadar like cloaking abilities. A very cool creature effect.

Rank – Admiral (23 points). As with the other TNG episodes I have been doing to celebrate their 30th anniversary, this is one excellent sci-fi episode. It shows that even with our technology we have to rely on our intuition and instincts to succeed in contact. I would say that the message of the importance in seeking understanding is universal and always necessary. If anything, we need this message today more than ever.

If you would like to read other reviews from the Next Generation, click this link.

If you would like to read an episode review from any of the Trek series, click the following link to get to the series catalog. If the episode you want reviewed has not been done yet, then feel free to request it in the comments and I will see what I can do. 

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