Star Trek Discovery: Unification III (S3E7)

A slow and thoughtful episode with a cheeky title and overt connections to both The Next Generation and Picard. The risk it runs is playing dangerously close to being dull and/or mawkish but I enjoyed it and the slower pace allows the strong cast to carry the emotional stakes. There are a few surprises, so I’ll put the spoilers after the fold.

Star Trek has done a number of episodes featuring trials and this episode is also a different kind of Trek staple: a Vulcan centric episode. For good measure, it is also a Romulan episode and lastly is a Discovery specific kind of episode where Michael Burnham gets written into existing Federation history.

Episodes featuring trials always have a flaw because time and audience patience is not going to accept look discussions about subtle points. So frequently, the opposing sides have to take absurd positions and the judge of the case inevitably ends up being swayed by an emotional speech. TNG’s Measure of a Man is a paradigmatic example and also an example of how attempts to create a plot point create a picture of both Star Fleet and the Federation as deeply ethically compromised institutions.

This episode is not strictly a trial. It is more of a case of an ancient Earth ritual called ‘defending your phd thesis’ but with space elves and more apostrophes. Michael has found evidence that the infamous “Burn” which ended easy warp travel, had a single point of origin. However, to find the specific location she needs more data. In Star Fleet archives is the implication of more data from a specific project that was being conducted around the time of the Burn. That data though is on the planet Ni’Var — a world that left the Federation shortly after the Burn.

Big twist! Ni’Var isn’t just any old planet, it is flippin’ VULCAN! OMG! The Vulcans left the Federation! Well, we already new Earth left the Federation, so not such a big surprise I guess. The name change is where Spock comes in. Ni’Var is no longer just the Vulcan home world but also the Romulan home world. Sometime, after the events in Picard, the Romulans rejoined with the Vulcans just as Spock had intended in the classic TNG two-parter Unification.

None of this is actually the plot. Instead we get a wider story about Michael and Tilly’s place on Discovery. This includes the return of Michael’s mother, who we discover found sanctuary after her time travelling japes among the Qowat Milat — the Romulan warrior nuns from Picard who are so utterly Romulan by pushing against the Romulan culture of deception by being overly and dramatically honest. The defenders of lost causes, the Qowat Milat are a designated support person for the ritual of defending-your-phd-thesis (or as they say on Vulcan: D’fending-Ur-Pe-Haych-D’e).

I jest, but I thought this was done well. Rather than try and pretend that there is an actual scientific debate, the trial cuts straight to the argy-bargy about motives and character. The story also makes the Ni’Varian position quite sensible. We learn that Federation expansion was already causing a severe dilithium shortage prior to the Burn and that the Vulcans were already becoming disenchanted with the Federation, partly for selfish reasons. Their experiments with other forms of faster-than-light travel may then have caused the Burn (Michael thinks she can prove they didn’t but still…) and the planet is still struggling with integrating two cultures that are all about being over-dramatic and theatrical.

The essence of the argument is whether Ni’Var can trust the Federation with the data. Michael says yes and that they should trust her. But…well we know that Michael and the Federation isn’t wholly trustworthy. Michael’s mum decides to unleash what I call the Picard-manoeuvrer after the repeated trope of the Picard series: launch a blistering attack on the integrity of a Trek protagonist by spelling out their flaws and arrogance. Michael does the right thing. Seeing that her request touches so closely on unhealed wounds among the Ni’Var she withdraws.

I really liked this outcome. The Ni’Varians had good reason to deny the request for data and good reason to be wary of trusting the Federation and Michael’s choice flipped the script of these kinds of trial episodes. The stuffy intransigent people were right and Michael saw the error of her ways an withdrew…which, by dropping her self-interested and manipulative (in a good cause) motives, demonstrated her trustworthiness. Neat. Yes, it is still a pit pat but I still thought the outcome was nicely done.

Meanwhile, Saru asks Tilly to be the the acting First Officer after Michael’s demotion. Stamets (who would probably fit in well with the Qowat Milat) is honest, he isn’t sure how it would be to take orders from Tilly. He also, wisely, sees what Tilly will need to actually take Saru’s offer and gets the Bridge Crew to let her know directly that they would support her.

Like I said at the start, this episode could have been dire and it could have been dull and it definitely came close to mawkish but it tread a fine line between those things and delivered a strong Trek tribute.

12 thoughts on “Star Trek Discovery: Unification III (S3E7)

  1. I admit the end of the trial was better than I expected it – after all, it would have been hard to have a real logical battle, written by mere humans.
    However Im a bit peeved that this is the 2nd time the sole leader of the planet makes the important choice without telling anyone. I dont know, I feel like the future should be less autocratic? I probably would have found it better if the Federation and Burnham would have had to work harder on the science in upcoming episodes (maybe eve -gasp- run some normal mission for the Federations not related to an arch) bfore gettig the cruscial data. But apparently were on the clock.

    Its nothing that I mind, but worth noting: Not only they know about Spocks sister, who nobody should ever mention again, apparently the culture and politcial divide hasnt changed in a couple of a hundred years. When did the Vulcans and Romulans reunite? They are still seperate people? Doesnt give me hope for my fellow Germans. And still ancient rituals, OK, Christianity does that as well I guess. Still 900 years is a lot of time. But again, to be a Star trek show there needs some winks to lder shows I guess, which means the “everything has changed” does not apply to everything we know.

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    1. “However Im a bit peeved that this is the 2nd time the sole leader of the planet makes the important choice without telling anyone. ”

      True but this was a smaller scale decision (although with big implication) and by a more senior person.

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    2. “When did the Vulcans and Romulans reunite? They are still seperate people? Doesnt give me hope for my fellow Germans.”

      Though it’s interesting that in this case, it was the Vulcans who formed the Pegida/AfD equivalent, not the Romulans.

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      1. The Vulcans and Romulans were separated for much longer than the Germans (close to three millennia). Given the longer lives of the Vulcans and Romulans, unification might be within living memory for some of the people we meet in “Unification III,” so they’re not doing all that badly.

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    3. Technically, the leader of the planet government made the decision not to give Michael the data when Discovery first arrived, so that was clearly within her authority. Michael pulled the defending your dissertation trick, which would possibly reverse the leader’s decision or let it stand. But Michael then withdrew her petition. So the tribunal or whatever you want to call it did not render a final decision for or against giving Michael the data. The leader then reversed her own decision on giving Michael the data, which since she could refuse it in the first place, she was clearly allowed by the planet’s law to do. And it wasn’t necessarily done in secret either. It was handed off to Michael’s official advocate in the tribunal, who was serving as an official representative and guide to her on Ni’Var.

      That could be considered autocratic but our democratic governments do the same thing with regards to sharing intelligence and other data with other countries or not. It’s seldom an issue that is voted on by a legislature. So I think this one was fair.

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  2. I really liked this. “Forget Me Not” was my favorite episode so far, but this one just bettered it.

    About Tilly: It’s interesting that she asked Saru straight out if he picked her because she was compliant. I don’t think she’ll be as compliant as all that, especially as she grows into the position, but she will respect Saru’s authority and the chain of command. That’s the sort of first officer he, and Discovery, needs. Michael Burnham doesn’t fit that role and never did, and this episode (and the previous one) shows that clearly.

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  3. Yeah Burnham is too questioning for a Number One. She’d make a great intelligence officer. It’ll be interesting to see how they write Tilly in her new role. I’m enjoying Discovery a lot this season.

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  4. Cat, the word I have from career military officers is that you want and need questioning in your second-in-command officer, but that one who is impolitic and outright insubordinate is, by contrast, a deal-breaker.

    I must say, Tilly’s line (that Bonnie McDaniel just cited) was one of the ones that brightened me right up, with heightened expectations for the scriptwriters: It shows them actually thinking about the characters and their circumstances — just like (IMO) some of the thoughtful and subtle lines of dialogue for Dr. Hugh Culver and others in “Forget Me Not”.

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    1. I think she’ll make a fine First Officer though I though I think think she’s due a promotion if the assignment is ongoing.

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  5. Excellent idea posting “It is more of a case of an ancient Earth ritual called ‘defending your phd thesis’ but with space elves and more apostrophes” so artfully close to year’s end — because it’ll be difficult to top, this year, and you’ll have thoughtfully shortened any period of competition.

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  6. The Ni’Var stuff was fun. Michael’s reunion with her mother was kind of abrupt and could have used a little more discussion of what happened in Season 3, but her mother is a lot of fun.

    I did not like the Tilly story line which was done purely due to the structure of t.v. shows. I mean I love Tilly and the scenes surrounding her ascension were all lovely, but it was a painted ourselves into a corner situation. Tilly should definitely be promoted to Lt. after all she’s done (single-handedly negotiated a treaty with the mycellium people, solved countless dire science problems for Discovery, etc.) It would even make sense to make her chief science officer as part of her promotion, if Michael hadn’t been demoted to that role, though it’s a bit of a leap.

    But there are like 50 officers on Discovery who are all ahead of her in experience and rank, including the entire bridge crew. Lt. Nilsson has been put in charge of Discovery at least twice now when Saru and Michael weren’t there. Logically she should become Saru’s next Number One. Or, alternatively, Saru could ask for a Star Fleet officer to be second in command and better integrate Discovery with the current Star Fleet.

    But Tilly is a main character on the t.v. show, paid at a certain level. If they made one of the bridge crew, paid at a lower level, the Number One, they’d have to bump that person up in credits and pay and feature them more, which they clearly decided they didn’t want to do. And they got rid of Cmdr. Nhan, for budgetary or other reasons, so they couldn’t do what was also logical and put her in that position. If they’d made Tilly a Lt. once they got to Star Fleet, it might have worked a little more smoothly in this episode, but it just came off as weird. Tilly’s question to Saru about compliance, he basically sidestepped with platitudes. However, it remains another niggle that is minor in what’s been a really strong season. Plus, it’s Tilly, so I suppose she can be given the Captain Kirk treatment.

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    1. In my own review, I said that Discovery has painted itself into a corner here, because the show is too focussed on Michael to the expense of all other characters. Logically, someone from the bridge crew, probably Lieutenant Nilsson, should have succeeded Michael as first officer. However, the bridge crew are still underdeveloped and they don’t have title credits status. And of the character with title credits status, Tilly was the only possibility left, since Stamets and Culber already have other jobs and N’Han was written out.

      Of course, they could also have skipped the whole unnecessary “Michael goes on an unsanctioned mission and gets demoted” drama last episode and either have Saru or Admiral Vance sanction the mission or have Discovery wait for 48 hours and go on the mission then.

      I also agree that Tilly definitely deserves to be promoted to Lieutenant and that she would make an excellent science officer.

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