Star Trek Discovery "Unification III" Detailed Analysis & Review


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By Adam David Collings. Discovered by Player FM and our community — copyright is owned by the publisher, not Player FM, and audio is streamed directly from their servers. Hit the Subscribe button to track updates in Player FM, or paste the feed URL into other podcast apps.

In Unification III, Star Trek Discovery gives us a conclusion to the classic beloved Next Generation Story. But can this episode possibly live up to its name? Michael Burnham travels to Ni'Var (formerly Vulcan) where the Vulcan and Romulan people live in peace, thanks to the efforts of her brother Spock. Can she convince them to provide the data that could help understand the source of the burn?



Welcome to Nerd Heaven.

I’m Adam David Collings, the author of Jewel of The Stars

And I am a nerd.

This is episode 44 of the podcast.

Today, we’re talking about Star Trek Discovery Season 3 Episode 7. Unification III.

The description on Memory Alpha reads

While grappling with the fallout of her recent actions, and what her future might hold, Burnham agrees to represent the Federation in an intense debate about the release of politically sensitive – but highly valuable – Burn data.

The episode was written by Kirsten Beyer

It was Directed by Jon Dudkowski

And it first aired on the 26th of November 2020.

So this is the big one we’ve all been waiting for, ever since the episode titles were released a while back.

Here’s an important guideline for life. If you’re going to name an episode after one of the most beloved and iconic episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, one that brought Spock himself into the 24th century, you had better make sure the episode lives up to the name.

So...did this episode do that? Let’s talk about it and find out.

In the wake of her demotion from first officer last week, this episode opens with Michael struggling to understand whether she still fits in here. I was talking about this last week. Wondering how much longer Michael is gonna stay in that uniform. She’s asking herself the same question. She believes in the ideals of the Federation, no question. But struggles with the chain of command. She’s the kind of person who wants to get things done. She sees something that needs doing, she’s just gotta do it. Regardless of who tells her not to.

But there’s another aspect to it as well. As much as she wants to be with her family on Discovery, she’s grown close to Book, and she wants to be with him too. He has no interest in joining Starfleet. She’s caught between two worlds who don’t want to collide.

I like how this season is continuing to call out Burnham on her need to take responsibility for everything. They’re kind of portraying it as a character flaw. I’d say this does help to alleviate the whole “everything is about Michael Burnham” problem that the show will probably always suffer from.

So Michael and Tilly have an awkward catch-up. It’s a good scene. It gives some character consequence to the events of the previous episode. Nothing is really resolved, because sometimes things can’t be easily resolved, and Michael has a lot of soul-searching to do at the moment, so Tilly takes them back to the task at hand.

With three black boxes, they have proven that the burn had an origin point. But it’s still not enough data points to fully pinpoint the location. Tilly says the three data points would be enough to triangulate in two dimensions, but in three-dimensional space, they’d need more. I found myself wondering if this was just nonsense, or based on real science. I did a quick look, and according to Wikipedia, Triangulations of a three-dimensional volume would involve subdividing it into tetrahedra (which are triangular pyramids) packed together. So Tilly is actually correct. But the big question remains if Michael is senior science officer, how come she doesn’t know basic geometry? The answer to that, is they need to explain things to the audience. It’s basically a glorified “as you know Bob” conversation.

And we learn the name of the first ship, whose black box Michael got her hands on. The USS Yelchin. This, of course, is a nice tribute to Anton Yelchin, the actor who played Checkov in the Kelvin-verse movies. Who was tragically killed way too young. I appreciate these little moments.

Michael has found a record of an old Federation experiment, SP-19, which had a front-row seat to the burn. They must have valuable information, but they never shared their findings.

Admiral Vance says we don’t have access to their information, because it’s on Ni’Var, a planet that was once called Vulcan.

And this is the part of the episode where we get lots of goosebumps. It turns out, it’s not just the Vulcans who live there now. They share their planet with the Romulans.

Saru and Burnham have heard of the Romulans, but know of them only as the enemy who fought a war with Earth in the 22nd century. Vance quickly breaks the news to them that Romulans and Vulcans were two tribes of the same species that went their separate ways. Correct. Discovery came from a time before Balance of Terror, so they shouldn’t know this.

But Burnham’s ears perk up when Vance mentions that Ambassador Spock helped bring them back together.

Sonequa Martin-Green’s facial expressions during this scene are fantastic. Once again, I’m in awe of this thing called acting. Michael has deliberately not looked her brother up to see what kind of man he became. I’m not entirely sure why.

But now she’s learning just what a legend he was.

There’s so much packed into these couple of sentences.

Burnham is shocked to learn just how instrumental to history her little brother was, but then her face turns to joy as she realises, and we realise, that Spock was ultimately successful. It took centuries after his death, but the Romulan and Vulcan people eventually re-unified.

This made me very emotional.

We all remember that scene at the end of Unification, where Spock talks about the growing awakening he’s seeing in the Romulan people. “It may take them centuries to achieve it, but they will achieve it. And I must help.”

This actually ties nicely into Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Picard. Spock helped get the ball rolling, some of the enmity between the Romulans and the Federation faded as they worked as allies during the Dominion War. Then Romulus was destroyed, and the Romulan people became refugees. They had no home. Where else, logically, would they end up, but on their ancestral home with their genetic cousins.

I’m thrilled that Star Trek has now canonised the fact that re-unification was successful. Spock’s dream has been realised. He never lived to see it, but his sister did. And that’s just so heartwarming. I love it.

But it’s not all roses. Ni’var left the Federation over 100 years ago. It seems there’s still a little work to be done.

Okay. So even before the burn, The federation was running out of Dilithium. And that makes sense to me. It’s a finite resource. You may have many planets to draw on, but you also have many many ships using it. SP-19 was Ni’Var’s contribution to solving the problem. An alternative propulsion system that would allow instantaneous travel, much like the spore drive. Yes. Good. This is the far future. They should have been developing stuff like this.

But they felt their technology was too dangerous, but it was so promising, the Federation ordered them to continue. They believe the Federation forced them to cause the burn.

Wow. That’s an interesting development.

This is one of those many theories Vance said are floating around.

But Michael quickly jumps on this. She has proof the origin point of the burn was not Ni’var. They would want to know this. It could not only alleviate all their feelings of guilt, but rebuild the relationship between Ni’var and the Federation. Vance doesn’t think any evidence will convince the Vulcans and Romulans, but then he gets this little smile as he realises he has Spock’s sister.

If she comes bearing that news, they might just listen.

And that’s when we get another really touching scene. Michael views a holographic recording of Spock during the events of Unification. It was recovered from the files of Admiral Jean-Luc Picard.

Now you might ask, was Picard actually filming this encounter that happened in a cave under Romulus? Where did this footage come from? Actually, I think it’s conceivable that Picard did make a record of all this for Starfleet. He wasn’t holding a camcorder, but maybe his com badge was able to record it. Or maybe Data was standing just off-screen with a tricorder. Who knows. But I’m more than willing to suspect a little disbelief on that because it’s just so touching to see Michael watching this.

I was kinda hoping for a scene just like this, actually. They even picked the exact clip that I would have picked.

I find myself having the exact same emotional reaction to Burnham during all this. Kinda half crying, half smiling. Michael is so proud to see what became of Spock. When she last saw him, he was just a junior science officer on the Enterprise. A man full of internal conflict. He was nothing special. Except to her. He hadn’t yet become the legend we know him as.

This is just so satisfying to see.

One of the first things that I thought about, when we learned Discovery was going to the far future, was “I wonder if Michael will look up her brother and see what he became.”

I like how Book is just standing with her as she watches the recording. He knows how important this is to her. It speaks volumes of their relationship that she chose to watch this in his presence.

And I laughed when he said “You guys are chronic over-achievers.”

I’m really liking the Michael/book relationship. So much more that I ever liked her with Tyler.

This is not the kind of shallow relationship you often see on TV, that is based on nothing but sex appeal. This is a bond formed over a year of friendship. That’s the foundation great relationships are often built on. I can see these two spending their lives together. I could never see that with Tyler.

Now the episode introduces an interesting subplot. Saru asks Tilly to be his acting first officer while he decides on Michael’s permanent replacement.

I have mixed feelings about this.

Tilly is shocked. I love how she says “Sir…...what?” She didn’t even complete the command training program.

But she’s had enough real-world experience that Saru thinks she’s already exceeded the parameters of that training. Possibly true.

But she’s just an ensign. Only a year out of graduating. She was a cadet in season 1.

And this is my big issue with it. It kinda reminds me of Star Trek 2009, when Kirk went straight from cadet to Captain. No Ensign, Lieutenant, Commander. It’s like going from kindergarten straight to university. This isn’t as extreme as that, thankfully, but it still feels like an unnatural jump.

Don’t get me wrong. I love Tilly’s ambition to be a captain. And I absolutely want to see her get there.

But it’s a process. She needs to work her way up there.

I think Saru should at least be offering her a promotion to Lieutenant along with the job (which frankly she has probably earned at this point.) It would be a weird situation. Almost the entire crew would outrank their first officer. There’s a difference between position and rank, but the first officer of a ship usually holds the rank of commander, and is outranked only by the captain.

But rank aside, Tilly is also concerned because she would be responsible for a lot of lives. And that makes good sense. I like this. The feeling of inadequacy, when responsibility is offered to us, is a very common human reaction.

Saru is right about one thing. Unlike Michael, he knows Tilly will always put the needs of Starfleet and the Federation above her own wishes.

And then Tilly asks another very good question. “Are you asking because I’m qualified or because I’m compliant?” I like that. She’s concerned Saru just wants her to be a puppet.

But he believes this is in the best interest of the crew.

And Saru wisely sees she needs a day to think about it.

When Tilly talks to Stamets about it later, he is kinda weirded out. He admits the notion of her being his superior, of him taking orders from her, is deeply deeply weird. Almost disturbing.

I’m pretty sure that statement was going to be followed by a “but” but he never gets it out because he’s interrupted by something.

So they jump to Ni’var. And Statements gets to use the new Gel interface for the first time.

When we see discovery emerging from the shield that hides Starfleet headquarters, I thought this was a new spore jump effect. It seemed a disappointment. Then I realised my mistake. The jump looks basically the same, but it is faster. They don’t sit there for ages spinning the saucer. Makes sense. Same technology, but with a 32nd century upgrade.

They meet the president of Ni’var. She is honoured to meet the daughter of Sarak and the sister of Spock. But she makes it very clear right from the start, that there is no chance of sharing the SP-19 data.

She explains the delicate political and cultural balance that exists in this post-unification world. The burn only made that more delicate and digging into this stuff could reopen old wounds.

We don’t fully appreciate what she’s trying to tell us here, but we’ll gain more insight as the episode progresses.

So Michael, in a last-ditch effort, she invokes an ancient vulcan custom that will allow her to un-earth deep truths. She forced the president’s hand. A little more of her impulsive and insubordinate nature coming out. But Saru is willing to go along with this.

We see that Discovery has now been upgraded with 32nd century transporters. So the old pre-tos effect will no longer be seen.

This ceremony is kind of like a trial. It’s Burnham’s assertions that are on trial. She gets an advocate. But only members of the Quowat Milat may serve as advocates. So that’s a connection to Star Trek Picard. This order of Romulan warrior nuns were first introduced into Star Trek canon by Picard season 1. Apparently, they were instrumental in helping the Romulans and Vulcans trust echo there during the early days of reunification. Which makes a lot of sense to me.

This episode really is bringing a lot of things together. I like that.

As soon as the president says one of the Qowat Milat sisters has taken a particular interest in Burnham’s case, we know it’s likely somebody we will recognise. When she says Michael may have an interest in her as well, it’s all but confirmed.

And then when she beams aboard with a hood over her face, we know they’re setting us up for a reveal.

So who is it?

It’s Gabrielle Burnham. Michael’s mother. That’s an unexpected development.

Gabrielle never made it to terralysium. She arrived in the future on Essof IV. That’s the planet where they captured the red angel. So she travelled in time but not space. (and yes, I know, galactic drift.)

But that still doesn’t explain why Michael and Discovery ended up on that random planet when they got here. I wonder if we’ll ever get an explanation for that.

We learn that even within Starfleet, it is not widely known that Discovery is from the past. Given the temporal accords, it could be a controversy that Vance doesn’t need. Interestingly, this also helps to explain the A designator on Discovery, even though it’s just a refit and not a new ship. They’re portraying the illusion that it is a new ship.

Okay. I’m with that now.

The quorum is made up of a Romulan, a Vulcan purist, and a half Romulan half Vulcan.

Michael assumes the Vulcan purist will be the one they need to appeal to. He’ll listen to logic.

Surprisingly, he is the most hostile to her cause. And it’s the Romulan who is most sympathetic.

From his perspective, carrying the weight of guilt for the burn has been a hard thing for the Romulan people. They would welcome evidence that they are not responsible.

There’s a big question of who’s interests Michael is representing. Her own, or those of the Federation. Her mother feels she needs to be truthful with them about her feelings of misgiving concerning remaining on Discovery. She also points out the quorum are not the only audience in the room. That’ll be important later.

The Vulcan representative says that the SB-19 data conclusively proves that the burn started at Ni’var. So I’m very curious to know the specifics of that data. If Vulcans, who are purely logical, are that convinced of its accuracy, it’s going to be very difficult to disprove. Is it possible they are right?

So then Michael’s Mum, who is supposed to be her advocate, rips into her really bad. Attacking her position and everything she’s saying. Michael won’t be honest about her misgivings, so Gabrielle makes them public for her.

This leads to a great scene where Michael is finally honest and shares her heart with everyone in the room. I don’t have much to say about it, other than it’s great stuff.

A lot of this becomes more about Michael’s dilemma and less about the SP-19 data. It’s a time of reconciliation between mother and daughter.

This is when everything starts to fall apart. The Vulcan is as determined as ever to keep the information secret. But the Romulan advocates are seriously considering sharing. And we begin to see the tenuous fabric of re-unification falling apart. The Romulans are openly opposing the Vulcans.

The peace, so hard-fought by Spock, and others is breaking apart.

This is what the president was afraid of. All those old feelings are coming to the surface and it’s threatening to put a rift between the Vulcans and the Romulans.

Michael points out this is the last thing her brother would have wanted. If they truly honour Spock’s memory, they can’t tear their family apart again.

And so, Micahael withdraws her request. It turns out that unification is more important to her than the data. She demonstrates the purity of her motives to everyone in that moment.

This all works beautifully on so many levels.

Michaels helps to recement the relationship between Romulus and Vulcan. In a way, she does help to finish the work that Spock started.

And by helping to re-connect, in a small way, Ni’var with the Federation, she is still doing the work of reunification.

But, there was another audience in that room. The president. And she decided to trust Michael with the data.

There’s a touching moment between Gabrielle and Michael. “You always know where to find me. For the first time since Michael was a little girl, she has her mother. They may not be living close to one another, but she’ll always be here on Ni’Var if Michael needs her.

And that’s wonderful.

So then we get the scene where most of the crewmembers that Yilly all know tell her to accept the job as first officer.

As Stamets says “We know you, and knowing you, we’d follow you anywhere. Saru made the right choice.”

It’s very touching.

It gets even more touching when Micahel tells Tilly that she’s not leaving Discovery. She’s here for the duration. So Michael has made a firm commitment.

And Tilly’s first order is for Michael to analyse the SP-19 data, solve the mystery of the burn and rebuild the federation.

She doesn’t even have to tell Book she’s not leaving Discovery. He knows. So what does this mean for them? They’re not sure yet. But I have no doubt he’s gonna stay close. They each feel like home to one another.

So that brings me back to my original question. Does this episode live up to its name? Is it worthy to be called Unification III?

Well, after thinking about it for a while, I have to say yes. This episode pays homage to Unification in a profound way. It shows the end result of Spock’s work. It demonstrates that his greatest hopes and dreams for the Vulcan and Romulan people have been realised.

But this episode pays homage in a way that feels natural and not forced or overly fan-service-ey.

This is more than just a nostalgic callback to Unification. It’s also its own thing. It’s very much its own story.

So I say a hearty well done to Kirsten Beyer and all those involved in the making of this episode.

I think it’s a triumph.

It certainly made me feel, which is the goal of any story.

I think Unification III will be remembered among the classic episodes of Star Trek.

We’ve now passed the halfway mark of season 3. I wonder what the rest of the season will bring. It’ll be interesting to find out.

So, next week, we’ll be celebrating the one year anniversary of Nerd Heaven. I can’t believe we’re there already. Thank you to all who are listening. I know there’s not many of you, but I appreciate that even a single person would take time out of their day to listen to me yabber about Star Trek and other nerdy things.

I’ll try to make it special somehow. I have a week to think about how.

In the meantime, have a wonderful week.

Live Long and Prosper.

Make it so.

56 episodes