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Star Trek: Discovery - Unification III - Review: "Spock's Legacy"

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Unification III was as very exciting episode of Star Trek: Discovery that once again hit home with the right number of emotional beats across the board. Kristen Beyer’s script pulled the audience into a new planet and a new world with a new mission: Vulcan, which has been renamed following the joining of the Romulans and the Vulcans, emerging as Ni’Var from the shadows. It's a straight up epilogue to the classic Unification duology right from the off: A log of Jean-Luc Picard addresses the legacy of Spock and what his unification of the civilizations meant to the future. It’s a fantastic way to honour the success of Spock with a brilliant fan-service moment, by having his sister pick up the torch of reuniting the people of Ni’Var with the Federation, as the Vulcans and the Romulans blame Starfleet for the Burn. However: Michael is convinced that the Federation wasn’t responsible, new technology from the SB-19 experiment could prove their theory. However, the welcoming is hostile from the start.

Michael Burnham’s presence in the future is enough to get Ni’Var to open diplomatic channels with the Discovery crew who face a frosty reception, no Federation crew has made contact with them in years and Ni’Var are already unwelcoming to the transport capabilities that Discovery has. President T’Rina objects to Michael’s request for SB-19, and Michael’s forcibly able to invoke the T’Kal-in-ket, a philosophical process that makes her able to defend her theory against The Burn in front of a scientific court. Michael has an unexpected ally waiting for her in the form of her mother, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham, who herself in turn was also flung into the future rather than landing on Terralysium as planned. This acts as a way for Star Trek: Discovery to introduce the concept of the Qowat Milat for those unfamiliar to Star Trek: Picard, further linking the two shows especially when you consider that Picard’s narration also showed up in this episode, albeit repurposed. Given the bond that Picard and Spock shared in Unification, this also raises an interesting point: does Picard know of Michael already? It’d be interesting to theorise possibilities of a Discovery and Picard crossover at some point, no matter how separate their timelines, and I’m sure the idea hasn’t crossed over the minds of the Star Trek writers’ room.

Michael is able to bring her ideas to the scientific court but she is believed to have been corrupted by her human self (not the first nor the last time that her involvement in the Battle at the Binary Stars is brought up again and her status as Starfleet’s first mutineer comes round full circle) as Gabrielle tries to make her more honest about her current status on board Discovery and how she feels out of place among its new crewmembers. From Michael’s perspective it’s clear that that the Burn started somewhere else than Ni’Var and she’s desperate to prove it to the Vulkans and the Romulans, but in doing so creates a split in the factions as the two species find out that they aren’t quite as united beneath their original front – their interpretations of Spock’s teachings having been warped by time. Michael, representing the troubles that come with her being present, reluctantly withdraws her challenge: seemingly giving up hope on getting the SB-19. But it’s just enough to convince T’Rina, who admires Michael’s determinedness to finding out the truth and hands it over. The scientific court is a thrilling staging ground for a battle of words rather than action, and although this meant Discovery may not be able to utilise its gung-ho approach as it has done in the past, that is no bad thing: as someone who has seen both episodes of Unification and counts them among my favourites of The Next Generation, I really felt that Unification III did a good job honouring them: from the title we all knew what this episode was going to be about and it did more than a good job reintroducing the Vulkans and the Romulans in a way befitting of Spock and the legacy that he would have wanted. It turns out that both siblings come from a family of overachievers, after all – and the writers made a smart choice in bringing Gabrielle to the future as well giving Michael someone she could connect with on an emotional level at Ni’Var, giving her an option on the planet as well.

The other big thing that happened in this episode was Saru appointing Tilly to the rank of First Officer: criticised by more than a few fans but as a temporary decision, Tilly’s more than earned it. Even though she’s been an ensign for a while, Discovery has been through hell over the course of the two previous seasons and she’s found herself in the thick of the action more than once. The biggest disappointment that I have with Tilly being moved to her First Officer post is that it breaks up the dynamic that Stamets, Tilly and Reno had together that was so perfect – but that allows Adira more space to develop her dynamic with Stamets in turn and play more of a role in engineering in Tilly’s place. Either way: all the best characters are in/have come from Engineering, and I can very much get on board with that. One of the biggest conflicts that Michael has in this episode is between who she is as a person now and her role in Discovery, and whilst Book wants to stay with her, she’d rather stay with the crew for now, even if she did end up being late to that big inspiring Spartacus-moment that saw Tilly earn the rank of First Officer in the eyes of her peers was a touching moment that earned its sincerity.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Tilly get more involved with the Bridge growing forward, and the valid point about Saru needing a “yes man” after the independent Michael was raised, but Tilly seems to embrace the role with all the honour it deserves. I love that so far Discovery hasn’t been given a guest captain or first officer of the season this time out: one of the downsides of having so much attention on Spock and Pike was that it robbed the rest of the crew of their core focus, and it’s allowed to slowly flesh out the core group as a response. Even the simple group interactions, like the big Spartacus moment, help make the bond between these characters feel more real and authentic, even when some may only have a small part to play.

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