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Star Trek: Discovery Review – ‘Unification III’ – Back to Vulcan!

Discovery goes all in on the Burnham/Spock connection this week, giving us a quasi-sequel to the Next Generation two-parter “Unification” from, ahem, 29 years ago (I was never that young) while also actually depicting Leonard Nimoy onscreen as the character. And it’s all done in service of Michael’s bigger arc, finally answering the question of how she fits into That Starfleet Life now… if at all. Unfortunately, the episode is very talky and — while it offers several satisfying surprises — doesn’t quite come together as cleanly as one would hope.

Star Trek: Discovery – Season 3 Photos: “Unification III”

Perhaps one issue here is that it has become increasingly difficult to get behind Burnham’s dilemma. While Sonequa Martin-Green is consistently excellent in the role, the bottom line is Michael isn’t the only one who has gone through some s#!t on the Disco. We’ve reached a like-it-or-lump-it moment for the character, or maybe we’ve already gone beyond that point and that’s why this thread has started to grate.

Fortunately, it seems that the events of “Unification III” finally bring some closure to this matter. As Michael and Tilly’s (Mary Wiseman) investigation of The Burn continues — in a nice scene that sees them working the science while also hashing out Burnham’s sketchy actions from last week — they are drawn to Vulcan, or what used to be called Vulcan anyway. Now known as Ni’Var, Michael’s former home has undergone quite a few changes over the past 930 years.

For starters, Spock’s attempt at unifying the ancestrally common races of the Vulcans and the Romulans finally came to fruition “centuries” after his death. Also, the world is no longer a part of the Federation, despite having been a founding member, and as a result its people are reluctant to share their research regarding The Burn. Indeed, the Vulcans and Romulans blame the Federation for ordering them to conduct the scientific research which they believe caused that devastating event. So yeah, a lot has changed.

The best scene in the episode comes when Burnham accesses the classified files of some guy named Admiral Picard, by which she is able to see her brother, now about a century older than when she last knew him — and played by the late Leonard Nimoy! — as he explains his plan for unification of the two races. Martin-Green’s reaction to seeing her more seasoned brother, who died hundreds of years earlier, is perfect (“I never let myself look back to see what he became”), as is Book (David Ajala) remarking that Spock and Michael are both “chronic over-achievers.”Unification III

Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) and Tilly (Mary Wiseman)

But things start to slow down when the Discovery jumps to Vulcan… er, Ni’Var. One thing hasn’t changed there, and it’s the propensity for Vulcans (or Romulans for that matter) to be jerks, and so in order to get the data the Federation needs for Burnham’s investigation into The Burn, she is forced to invoke an ancient Vulcan process designed to “unearth deep truths.” Michael must face off with a trio of Ni’Var residents in a trial-like setting (which disappointingly takes place on the Discovery rather than the planet’s surface, no doubt for budget reasons). Oh, and Michael’s long-lost mother, Gabrielle (Sonja Sohn), has been living on Ni’Var it turns out, and she’ll be serving as her daughter’s advocate during this process.

The resulting debate and back and forth is surprisingly inert and lacking in any real tension, but the episode is so invested in these sequences that it can’t help but bog down everything else. It’s an interesting twist when Burnham’s mom seems to turn on her, though this development doesn’t last for very long before we realize that Gabrielle is simply trying to get Michael to come to terms with her personal fears. Which, you know, maybe doesn’t need to happen in front of a bunch of Vulcans in a formal setting?

Meanwhile, Tilly is given the unlikely promotion to First Officer by Saru. As she struggles with whether or not to accept the gig or not, Anthony Rapp gets to do some good wide-eyed Stamets stuff in response. He’ll suddenly be taking orders from his former underling? Not great… but the crew are all doing much better than they were just a few weeks ago at that dinner from hell, and so everyone bands together behind Tilly. She’ll make captain yet!Questions and Notes from the Q Continuum:

  • So where does this all leave Book?
  • Why hasn’t the Discovery crew switched over to the 32nd century Starfleet uniforms yet?
  • The Memory Alpha wiki tells us that “Ni var” was a term coined by Dorothy Jones, who wrote Trek fan fiction in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The term “means ‘two form’ and was an art form practiced on Vulcan in which a subject was examined from two different viewpoints.”
  • The Nimoy footage of course is from Next Generation’s “Unification.”
  • Did you spot the play and rewind buttons Michael uses during the Spock footage? We don’t usually see that, but it makes sense they’d still exist in the 32nd century!
  • Burnham’s mom is now a member of the Qowat Milat, who were the warrior nuns introduced on Star Trek: Picard who Elnor was raised by. Absolute candor!

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