Friday, September 3, 2021

Star Trek: Darmok

Episode: "Darmok"
Series: Star Trek: The Next Generation
Season 5, Episode 2
Original Air Date: September 30, 1991

The Enterprise encounters a Tamarian ship.  The Federation had previous contact with the Tamarians but had struggled to communicate with them, their language impenetrable for the universal translator.  Dathon, the Tamarian captain, kidnaps Picard and brings him along to the surface of a nearby planet where the two must face a monstrous adversary together.

"Darmok" is amazing.  The premise is deeply frustrating at first but as our friends unravel the puzzle of a purely idiomatic language, a beautiful story emerges: the patience of Picard, the self-sacrifice of Dathon, the exchange of narrative traditions.  In the end, it is quite simply the very best of everything Star Trek is supposed to be.

Is it the best episode of the series?  of the entire franchise?  There's a strong case to be made.  If ever a friend were to ask to watch one episode that exemplifies Star Trek, I would choose "Darmok" without a second thought.  The clear moral expression is one reason.  Just as importantly, "Darmok" is a perfect bottle episode.  Unlike the other likely choices for the Greatest Hits album, this particular installment requires no backstory.  All of the character establishment you need for the principals is achieved before the opening credits.  You don't have to "get" Data or Worf or even Picard.  You don't have to know about the Borg or Tasha Yar.  Instead, it's the entire concept boiled down to 42 minutes.

Fittingly, "Darmok" is in turn reduced to its own idiom: "Picard and Dathon... at El Adrel."

So say we all.  ;)

Acting Notes

Paul Winfield (Dathon) was born May 22, 1939 in Los Angeles.  Though some sources say March 7, 1941 in Dallas.  The acting career is better documented.  

Winfield hit the industry at a time when work for black actors was scarce indeed which makes his resume all the more impressive.  He made his screen debut on Perry Mason in 1965.  Other television credits included principal roles on The Charmings and 227, the narrator on City Confidential plus numerous guest appearances, miniseries and TV movies.  He won an Emmy for his guest role on Picket Fences.   Films included Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, The Terminator, Mars Attacks! and 1972's Sounder, for which he received an Oscar nomination.

Winfield was gay, though he lived discreetly.  He was with his partner, architect Charles Gillian, Jr., for 30 years.  Winfield passed away in 2004 from a heart attack.


  1. Lower Decks just did a hilarious tribute. I don’t know that I would count “Darmok” as a contender for best episode of the franchise. It’s very memorable, certainly.

    1. I stand by the assertion. I can understand how others might feel otherwise. But for me, in my quest for the deeper meaning(s) behind it all, "Darmok" is a treasure.

  2. I am off to tell son about this one.

  3. For me it's one of the best episodes of the franchise!