Synopsis: “Unification III” sees Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) pursue essential data. Crucially, it’s related to “The Burn”. Those in possession of it are not enemies, though not friends either. The desire to get obtain it clashes with sensitive cultural and socio-political associations. So, Burnham must tread carefully. Fortunately for her, help is at hand from a truly unexpected source . . .
An altogether different feel to last week’s episode. “Unification III” draws heavily, and expands upon events from Star Trek: The Next Generation. Specifically, the episodes “Unification Part I” and “Unification Part II”. A very smart way to do a sequel. Of course, events in this “sequel” do not follow on directly. But that’s why the episode works so well. Of course, it also must deal with the current timeline. Having analyzed the black box, Burnham finds out that the data reveals a possible root cause. The final co-ordinates of three ships are essential to the investigation. Turns out they are Vulcan in origin. But, all is not what it was on the planet Vulcan. far from it, in fact . . .
We learn that The Vulcans and The Romulans are now much closer to a single culture. The events started in TNG by Spock Prime (Leonard Nimoy) have evolved. They all now reside on the planet Ni’Var. However, before the implications of that are further explored, a new twist is unearthed: there was a dilithium shortage before the events of “The Burn”. Quite simply, demand was outstripping supply, as The Federation member states became so huge in number. Consequently, the Vulcan science academy were working on an experimental drive, that would help allow warp travel without the need for dilithium. A feasible storyline, given the advanced technology of the Vulcans. To tie in with the The Federation of the future being far from an idyllically utopic outfit, a revelation lands. The Federation may have pressured the Vulcan/Romulan scientists to advance research. This may have caused The Burn. Certainly, that’s what they feel. And that matters. They left The Federation as a result. But now The Federation needs their help.
Burnham Back in the Driving Seat
Whilst in some ways it feels a little forced making “Unifications III” a “Burnham episode”, it did work. The driving force of the episode couldn’t be anyone else. Mostly, because of the Spock connection. Which was a great way to create the dynamic of the episode. What’s important though, is that it’s Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr) who insist on this. It shows that he is desperate to solve “The Burn”. Always was. Just because he didn’t do things the way Burnham wanted, it doesn’t mean he completely disagrees with her. Vance realizes that Burnham is in a unique position to reestablish relations with Ni’Var. But Burnham doesn’t get the answers she wants. So, she invokes T’Kal-in-ket. A trial of logic, so she can prove the case to get the data required. But more than that. What’s matters is that it can’t be denied to her. A part of the process involves being assigned an advocate. Burnham gets a Qowot Milat nun. But not just any. It’s her mother, Gabrielle (Sonja Sohn). At least we know where she turned up and what happened to her. And so does Burnham.
Burnham’s mother gives her what Burnham needs, and not what she thinks she does, from her. We know the Qowot Milat’s doctrine of absolute candor, from Star Trek: Picard. In many ways it’s the polar opposite of Vulcan Kolinahr. Seeing them both exist in the same space is a clever way of showing the difficulty of uniting Vulcan and Romulan ideologies. Even now, 900 years on. It also makes Burnham engage with that aspect of her Vulcan history. It’s what allows her to make emotions count, as she ultimately decides to withdraw from T’Kal-in-ket. The deeply spiritual side comes out. This makes so much more of her actions and behaviours make sense. She’s forced to confront the truth that she may not be destined for the future with Starfleet that she had in mind. At least not the way she planned it. Vitally, she does obtain the data. That it’s offered to her willingly, is a sign of her true success and trust in diplomacy.
The “B-plot” in “Unification III” is Tilly (Mary Wiseman) replacing Burnham as First Officer. Saru (Doug Jones) chooses her, and explains why. Earlier this week, we published Tilly – Time for Promotion? We specified that her becoming First Officer was too much, too soon. It is. We’re not writing about this here, at length, due to the huge impact and canonical tie-in of main events. But we will . . . Frankly, it’s absurd that an Ensign would go to Number One. That said, hopefully they’ll do good things with the decision, now it’s been made. This series has been great, so we’ll allow it. What jarred was that such a huge event being tagged on to another episode.
Another big week for Sonequa Martin-Green. Much was asked of the character. Martin-Green provided. The way she did that was to really capture existing in contrary emotional states. No words can portray that. Only actions. They are absolutely nailed by Martin-Green. The perfect episode to show the two sides of her personality, human and Vulcan, sees Martin Green gives the perfect performance. The character’s sense of loss and frustration come out powerfully, due to the skills of a fine actor rendering them so well.
Despite how we feel about the promotion, Mary Wiseman still deserves credit. She made Tilly feeling scared and not ready, believable. Whatever else may be true, Wiseman knows the character and brings out the qualities in an endearing manner.
CGI & Effects
Not a massive week for effects in “Unification III”. They’re more for “big action” week episodes. More of a general feeling of being in the future, present. Really though, that’s what makes for truly plausible world-building. The subtleties. The overall feel. What helped to make that possible was the way the computer made the scene for the T’Kal-in-ket. The ceremonial candles and such looked like a more advanced version of Holo-deck technology. But that was only a small part of it. What looked really impressive was the way that the Vulcans and Romulans appeared. They looked different, but not so much it jarred (like the Klingons in Season 1 – sorry, had to!). Great conceptual evolution. The fans notice these details. We certainly did and are glad that the show-runners got it right this time.
An important week for Star Trek, overall. There are those who believe that William Shatner is and always will be “Mr Star Trek”. Maybe none more so than the man himself. We’re not amongst them. For us, it’s Leonard Nimoy. Always. It’s never anything less than a seriously emotional affair to see him become a part of the show again. Especially since his passing. It must be said, the way it was done was smart and helped further sure up Discovery as canonical. It didn’t feel a token gesture. More of a lasting tribute to the character.
Michael Burnham also had a huge development this week. Using the Spock story seemed right. It’s easy to forget that Spock didn’t always do things the Starfleet way. What was particularly significant was her looking back at Spock. And then her hearing that she had influenced him. A great way to keep the two characters tied together. At the same time, the events in Picard were also referred to. We can assume that Romulus being destroyed was influential in the forging of Ni’Var. Due to the writing of the episode we now have significance of Spock in the past, Burnham’s influence on him, present, by events in Star Trek (2009) and in Picard, and in the future. Nothing makes a series Star Trek in quite the same way as a full on reference to its beloved Patron Saint – the one and only Mr Spock.
- CGI & Effects9.6