Ever since landing in the 32nd century, Star Trek: Discovery’s third season has been a wild ride centered on discovering what’s left of the once-mighty United Federation of Planets and its surrounding powers, and exploring the cause of “the Burn” that detonated most of the vital warp-drive resource dilithium and split the galaxy into disparate and newly distant enclaves. Today’s new Disco episode, “Unification III,” is both the next chapter of that quest and a sequel to “Unification I & II,” Star Trek: The Next Generation’s 1991 generation-bending two-parter that saw the return of Leonard Nimoy to the franchise as an older Ambassador Spock, seemingly going rogue but really engaging in some “cowboy diplomacy” in an effort to bring the riven Vulcan and Romulan cultures closer together.
But “Unification III” is also a follow-up to a more recent voyage, Star Trek: Picard, which explored the diaspora of Romulans at the twilight of the 24th century after their planet’s supernova destruction — the very event that sent an even older Ambassador Spock on his fateful journey back through time, creating the “Kelvin Timeline” of J.J. Abrams’ reboot movies Star Trek (2009), Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Trek Beyond).
“Unification III” is the new season’s seventh episode. While grappling with the fallout of her recent actions, and what her future might hold, Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) agrees to represent the Federation in an intense debate about the release of politically sensitive – but highly valuable – Burn data.
Rife with callbacks to all these examples of Trek old and new, the journey to a latter-day Vulcan (now called by a different name, and home again to the hot-headed Romulan race as well as their more logical and stoic cousins), challenges assumptions about what the state of the galaxy should be — a lot like its 1991 predecessors — but it’s a lot more than just a nostalgia trip. It is — to borrow Spock’s favorite word — fascinating to see how these iconic relationships have developed over nearly a millennium, along the way observing the Discovery-A crew’s interpersonal relationships evolving as this new universe and its key players begin to open up a little bit more to them.
Watching Captain Saru (Doug Jones), in particular, navigate the uncertain political and diplomatic space — and choose his new Number One after Burnham lost that role after the previous episode’s unsanctioned rescue mission — is almost as intriguing as Burnham’s own problematic reunification with the Vulcan people, and her discovery of her 23rd-century foster brother Spock’s grand destiny in galactic affairs. But there’s a much more personal revelation and reunion in store for the Disco’s busted-down chief science officer. With a major complaint of Discovery critics being this willful officer’s central role in absolutely everything, it’s been satisfying to see the series react by not giving into trolls but still addressing their concerns with a logical evolution (although not in ways they are likely to appreciate).
With all these close and extended Star Trek family reunions, it’s only logical that “Unification III” airs on Thanksgiving Day in the U.S., and also comes just a matter of days past the 29th anniversary of TNG’s “Unification I” and “Unification II” episodes.