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Discovery Season 3 Reviewed: Unification III


The writing team offer their individual thoughts on Episode 7 (‘Unification III‘) of Star Trek: Discovery which continues to offer quality episodes.

First up we have Vedran who feels that Burnham is continuing to be forced into situations by the writers.

And it happened. I mean, it is not that it was not expected. And that is probably the main issue I have with Star Trek: Discovery. It has some good moments. It has some great moments. But in the end, it seems to be a show that is not about the characters, or even a character. Instead, it is a show about THE protagonist. And that could be a problem. Forgive me for such an introduction. The explanation is forthcoming.

Let’s talk about this week’s episode, shall we? First, let us start with the good. From the moment the episode title was released, I knew that we are in for something special. And ‘Unification III’ delivered in that aspect. It was such a satisfying payoff to the iconic TNG two-parter to see the Romulans and the Vulcans united at last. Finally, we got some worldbuilding, something that was lacking in the previous episodes. Now we know that Vulcan, or Ni’Var (nice fandom nod), left the Federation soon after the Burn happened, and we also know that while united, there are still tensions between the two factions, Romulans and Vulcans and that there is a third one – mixed. Spock would be proud. We also got a nice commentary on environmental issues. It seems that dilithium got scarce, partly due to the overextension of the Federation, which resulted in the overconsumption of this precious space fuel. Now, there is an unresolved issue of the dilithium availability outside of the Federation space, but this could be explained in the future. What matters is that Ni’Var left the Federation, blaming the organization for forcing the unreliable and potentially dangerous project. The project that resulted in The Burn. Or so they thought.

The “imaginatively” named SB-19 project ended not to be the cause for The Burn, and unsurprisingly, this was proved by no one else than Michael Burnham. Which brings me to the first issue with the episode. Instead of being the episode about the legacy of Spock, this is the episode about the protagonist. Why the protagonist? Because, after the demotion of Burnham in the last episode’s finale, the writers had to find the reason to bring Burnham to the forefront, even if she is now removed from the chain of command. The easiest way is to make a call to her past, and thus, the visit to Vulcan/Ni’Var is a logical conclusion. The problem became even more apparent when Burnham’s advocate in the ritual of T’Kal-in-ket (which is basically a Vulcan viva voce) – the sister of Qwat Milat order (nice tie-in to Picard) was revealed to be no one else than her mother Gabrielle, only solidifying the small galaxy syndrome (which is another occurring problem). This led to the only possible direction for the plot. Instead of getting a science debate, we got the therapeutic session for Michael Burnham. With accompanying outpourings of emotions, which is for better or worse one of the main features of Discovery. Another issue with the show is playing it safe. Due to Burnham being the protagonist, it was clear that she will not leave the ship (even if the writers tried their best to signal that possibility). But there was a prospect that her decision will come with a heavy price. Namely the departure of Book. In the end, “Discovery” has once again proved that Burnham can have both. She stayed on Discovery, and she convinced Book to stay with her. Oh, and even if the science council did not permit to share the SB-19 data, Burnham got it anyway. The protagonist can have it all. Well, at least the Grudge is staying too.

Not to end on a bad note, it is worth to praise several elements of the episode, as well as the subplots. Tilly as the first officer was a predictable choice (after all, we barely know any other bridge crew), as well as the outpouring of emotions from the rest of the bridge crew. As Discovery is a special ship in a special situation, this can be chalked as a temporary battlefield promotion. The question remains open about Tilly’s experience and her acting under pressure. The crew shouldn’t get Saru incapacitated. The Ni’Var side-plot was nicely done, and I would like to see another meeting between Saru and the Ni’Var president. Book staying aboard is more than welcome, as his chemistry with Burnham is real. One of the rare emotional moments that felt earned. And I should not forget the best moment of the episode, the holo-appearance of no one else than Ambassador Spock.

As good those scenes are, the question remains. If the writers can tie in those important moments nicely, and they are respectful of the canon, then why they are constantly forcing the melodramatic moments? And why they are downplaying the galactic cataclysm, focusing instead on the protagonist’s issues and career? With Burnham getting everything, no matter how high the stakes are presented to be, there is no payoff. Instead of a captivating story, we are getting a hollow one.

Unification III

Next is Dave who enjoyed this episode but had issues with Tillys promotion.

I just want to start off by saying how very polysemic the title was for this episode. ‘Unification III’ was not only the continuation of a story first played out in Star Trek: The Next Generation 29 years ago which saw Spock laying the foundations for both the Vulcans and Romulans to rejoin after millennia’s apart. It was also a story about a unification within Michael Burnham herself. Over the course of season three, it has become very apparent that Burnham had become distant and detached from her colleagues onboard the USS Discovery. It was heading to a point that could see Michael Burnham leave the ship and Starfleet and start a new adventure with Book, something touched upon during scenes between the two. This all changes when her Mother returns as a member of the warrior nuns first introduced in Star Trek: Picard, the Qowat Milat. To try and gain more information on the Burn, Burnham and the Discovery is ordered on a diplomatic mission to Vulcan in the hope that being Spock’s sister might open some doors that have been closed to the Federation for over 100 years, ever since Vulcan split from the Federation.

Upon arrival, we learn that the legacy of Spock has been fulfilled. Romulans and Vulcans have indeed been unified. A very touching sequence in which a digital recording of Leonard Nimoy’s Spock is played out and as always, its fantastic to see the original and greatest incarnation of Spock on our screens again. As you can imaging, things are a little different since the 930-year jump as Vulcan is now called Ni’Var. The purpose of this diplomatic mission is to obtain information that could relate to the cause of the Burn namely data held by the Vulcans/Romulans called SB-19 which was collected during a failed attempt at alternative space travel, something that the Vulcans and Romulans believe was the cause of the Burn. So, as you can see, they do not want to just hand this information over as it could be politically damaging. However, having been raised on Vulcan and a former candidate for the Vulcan Science Academy, Burnham has a solution as she invokes an age-old ritual called T’Kal-in-ket. This basically translates to an open forum in which Burnham can plead her case to gain access for the information. This is where Gabrielle Burnham comes back into the fray. Appointed as her advocate and seen as the perfect choice due to the Qowat Milat’s dedication to absolute candour, or to always speak the truth.

This brings me back to the multiple meaning behind the title of the episode. In one instance Burnham has been reunited with her mother. There hasn’t been much emphasis on finding Gabrielle as a story point during this season so far so her arrival on Discovery in this episode was a surprise and now we know where she is, no doubt her character can be reintroduced or utilized at any point going forward. The other aspect is the re-unification of Burnham and the Federation. As pointed out above Burnham is on the cusp of leaving Starfleet and is fighting her own internal battle, her desperation to find out the cause of the Burn is evident and could be a swansong in her career with Starfleet. However, during the ritual, it’s clear that she is struggling and losing her arguments. Up steps, Gabrielle with her new absolute candour training and basically calls Burnham out on all her issues in front of not only her crewmates but the members of the Vulcan / Romulan committee as well. This is a wake-up moment for Burnham who gives one of those motivational speeches she has become famous (or infamous depending on your point of view) for, delivering with passion the purpose and ideals of the Federation. This reaffirms her faith in the organization and in that moment, you can see her commitment coming back.  

A secondary plot of this episode is a very strange one for me. The appointment of Tilly as acting first officer. I love Tilly as a character and Mary Wisemans portrayal is great. But I do have issues with an ensign making such a leap to first officer when there are maybe more experienced or dare I say it, better options on board. Tilly is one of the few secondary characters who has shared a lot of screen time with Saru and Burnham during the 2 and a half seasons we have seen so far, and she has gone through a fair bit. I only hope that they are not building her up to know her down. She may have a great relationship with her crewmates (seen at the end when they all come together to give their approval at the appointment) but can she cope in extreme situations. Yes, she pretended to be a Terran captain, but would she hold up in the pressures of a combat situation? I can help but feel this will be Burnhams ‘in’. With a confrontation with the Emerald Chain just around the corner, a conflict is bound to take place soon. I can see a ‘rabbit in the headlights’ moment for Tilly in which Burnham will have to step in and take command. This would of course lead to a change in first officer but what impact would this have on Tilly? I am only speculating and it could be that in fact, Tilly turns out to be a badass as a first officer but with Burnham reaffirming her commitment to Starfleet, I can only see one person being the first officer.

Overall ‘Unification III’ was a great episode and I really enjoyed how they are linking Discovery to the greater Star Trek universe, something they couldn’t do as a prequel series. We are continuing to get some wonderful world-building and seeing more and more of the state of the Federation and its members (or former) in this future.

Unification III

Finally we have Jack who offers his highest rating for an episode so far this season.

At the time of writing, it is the day after Thanksgiving. While recording a podcast last night, I found myself discussing (at length) what the ultimate S – Tier dinner would contain. That part of the recording resulted mainly in us salivating more than anything. I expect this was also the reaction of around 90% of the Star Trek fan base when it was discovered that a potential follow up to 1991s excellent ‘Unification parts 1 and 2’ was on the cards.

This reaction was certainly mine, along with well ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ has already used archive footage of Leonard Nimoy as Spock, I wouldn’t bet against them doing it again. I have heard some say that after a great start, Disco of late has been very average (Senna at the start but Bottas the last few outings). I’ve heard the show is now too focused on the Holier than thou aspect of Michael Burnham, well in the coming words I hope to show if this either is or is not the case.

Firstly, I 100% agree that Michael gets more than the lions share of screen time in ‘Unification III’. I also agree her performance is much more stoic than we’ve been used to in the last few episodes where she was likely to shoot first and then ask questions …. eventually. I personally think this speaks volumes about her versatility as an actor. I have theorised with a friend that perhaps Michael and Book will be leaving the show at this rate. I have only limited experience scripting for shows (and not even half as successful as Star Trek), but with Discovery in its current 32nd Century setting and a Section 31 show in development, I sure would do. Not least to stack the cast further with more talent than it already is. In addition, this will leave the remaining Discovery show with a high level of talent, something I want to cover in the next paragraph.

If I were to borrow a phrase from a wrestling podcast it would be ‘performer of the night’. That would definitely be Mary Wiseman as Ensign Sylvia Tilly. One of my very gripes with the JJ Abrams’ first two Star Treks was its seeming disregard for the chain of command (incidentally also a great TNG two-parter) where Ensign Chekhov is suddenly Chief of Engineering following Commander Scott’s departure and worse, how Cadet Kirk is Captain of the flagship following Pike and Spock’s departures. Much less how he came to keep the rank and posting. Thankfully, while arguably skirting the issue, Discovery completely avoids the pitfall by explicitly saying Tilly is only an interim XO and her having a crisis of confidence about taking on the role despite her relatively low rank.

The scene towards the end of the regular cast encouraging Tilly to take the new role on echoes a very similar scene in the season one finale well, I dare say is stronger for it. Above all, I believe we now have a great first officer in Tilly (I’d guess for now at least, Michael is still in the first officer’s quarters) and on a personal note, I’d love to have had anything even half as positive and optimistic during my last promotion.

Chef’s kiss to whoever decided to use archive footage of Leonard Nimoy from Unification II uses. Whoever it was, if I come to power soon, I want to offer you a job for life on Star Trek. I mean no disrespect to Messers Quinto or Peck (I’ve met the latter – lovely man), but this just made me happy inside as Discovery is now writing an extension to this epic tapestry but not without paying homage to its forbears.

Overall, I’d argue vehemently that while it has had some more ropey moments, season 3 of Discovery has been excellent so far, not only has it kicked Discovery well and truly into the metaphorical mycelial network after 2 years at warp, but it keeps me wondering if this is now something of a soft reboot and more or less perfect jumping-on point for new fans to Star Trek Discovery and lapsed Trekkies alike. A firm 4.75 out of 5.

Spock’s legacy has been fulfilled, Vulcans and Romulans rejoined. What did you think of this weeks episode and the unification of the two races? Jump over to one of our social media outlets and let us know.

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David Milburn
David Milburn
Illustrator and writer, David Had plans for world domination at the age of 17 then discovered recliner sofas and then became too comfy for all that nonsense. Powered by his love of all things Star Trek.

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