Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

They fought in the temple. They fought in the streets.

Why not a nostalgia moment? Twenty years ago -- the years add up -- Star Trek: The Next Generation aired the episode "Darmok" (written by Joe Menosky, directed by Winrich Kolbe). The Enterprise-D makes contact with a race called the Tamarians...or tries to, because the Tamarians' language flummoxes the universal translator, so that to the Enterprise crew, the Tamarians seem to be speaking in nonsense references -- "Mirab, his sails unfurled" -- almost as if their language only barely uses verbs. Picard (the great Patrick Stewart) is surprised to find himself teleported to the surface of the planet which the two ships are orbiting, where the other captain, Dathon (the late, great Paul Winfield), has teleported there as well. It takes a while, including the two captains' fight with a glowing and sometimes invisible creature, for Picard to understand that A) Dothan is not trying to fight with Picard, but alongside him and B) the Tamarian language is entirely built on the use of imagery and metaphor: the equivalent of saying "Judas, his kiss to Jesus" to refer to the story of Judas betraying Jesus to the authorities.

The episode takes chances: creating a more-alien-than-usual-for-Star Trek alien race mostly through language, which could have been silly but which led as big a language lover as author Ursula K. LeGuin to praise the episode. Also, one scene, 7 minutes long, is this single attempted dialogue. Dathon, mortally injured by the creature, is resting. Picard joins him and tries to learn more about the stories Dathon has been citing to him since the two crews met. The two captains come to a further, deeper understanding. And Picard gets to tell a story.

Later, in the episode's final scene, Picard reflects on the encounter. What he says still gets me, 20 years later: "The Tamarian was willing to risk all of us, just for the hope of communication. Connection. Now the door is open between our peoples. That commitment meant more to him than his own life."
Tags: language, star trek

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