Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 7, 'Unification III' Recap & Spoilers
WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 7, "Unification III," now streaming on CBS All Access.
For as long as it's been around, Star Trek: Discovery has suffered a bit of an identity crisis. Initially taking place in the The Original Series days, there's been a question as to how much it must rely on existing canon versus creating new things. This has presented further complications as characters interact with decades of people, places and things from Trek series past. That identity crisis manifests itself in "Unification III," as the series continues to put familiar characters in unfamiliar situations.
"Unification III" opens with an emotional log entry from Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green). After her rogue mission in last week's episode earned her a demotion from First Officer, she's beginning to feel like Discovery is no longer the home it was when she went through the wormhole. She finds solace in Book (David Ajala), who is subtly encouraging her to leave the ship and travel the stars with him. Michael's thoughts then drift back to the past, as she remarks about her brother, Spock, and their shared ability to take responsibility for everything.
For Michael, that responsibility specifically applies to finding the cause of "The Burn," which she continues to investigate alongside Tilly (Mary Wiseman). Though her BFF is unhappy about the position Michael put her in, she still diligently works on analyzing the black boxes from various ships destroyed in "The Burn." And she's able to confirm Michael's suspicions: The ships in question did not all combust at the same time, meaning there must be an origin point. What could help them further is a classified project called SB-19, which spread sensors across subspace and would be the key to tracking the launch of "The Burn."
Michael and Saru (Doug Jones) take this information to Admiral Vance (Oded Fehr), who is stunned by the discovery. He reveals that SB-19 was a project from the planet Ni'Var. Though a new name, it's a familiar planet, previously known as Vulcan. Vance fills them and the audience in on how Vulcan became Ni'Var, the result of the unification of Vulcans and Romulans finally happening. Years after Spock's efforts from The Next Generation "Unification" two-parter, the warring peoples came back together, and were tasked with creating alternate sources of energy with dilithium supplies drying up. Ni'Var invented a system to transport ships in an instant (SB-19), but warned it was too unstable. The Federation persisted with SB-19 despite their caution, making Ni'Var believe they caused The Burn. As a result, the planet lost faith in Starfleet, pulling out of the Federation a century ago despite Vulcan being a founding member.
Vance sees a golden opportunity in front of him, and it revolves around Spock's sister. Despite Michael and Saru both insisting that she not represent the Federation, he tasks them with traveling to Ni'Var with this new information to try to convince them to re-join Starfleet. It's complicated emotions for Michael, but Book convinces her that her complex history with the future makes her the perfect envoy. Meanwhile, Saru pulls Tilly aside, offering to make her his number one. The ensign is stunned, but the captain is confident that, despite her rank, her growth and dedication to Starfleet makes her a prime candidate for command.
As Tilly marinates in the offer, Discovery jumps to Ni'Var, where they're greeted coldly by President T'Rina (Tara Rosling). Much like their trip to Earth four episodes ago, the ship is immediately denied their request for data and turned away. But Michael jumps in with her Vulcan knowledge, invoking "t'kal n'ket," a philosophical forum where she must defend her theory in front of the Science Institute. As the Ni'Var residents beam onboard, T'Rina reveals a new Romulan caveat for the ceremony. Michael is given an advocate, in this case a representative from the Qowat Milat, a group of warrior nuns previously seen in Star Trek: Picard that shroud themselves in "absolute candor." But the advocate's literal shroud gets dropped to reveal a surprising face: Michael's mother Gabrielle Burnham (Sonja Sohn).
The time-traveling Gabrielle reveals that she never made it to the intended target of Teralysium, instead being taken in by the Qowat Milat. She notices her daughter seems to be "between placed," and Michael tells her about her recent feelings of not fitting in. Elsewhere, Saru and T'Rina tour the ship, as he gives her the soft pitch on rejoining the Federation. T'Rina reveals that the dilithium shortage came from the Federation supporting too many member planets at once. Ni'Var's unification process has done away with many Vulcan proverbs and credos, including the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. And in this moment, it's clear that T'Rina is far from convinced to fall back under the umbrella of the many.
Romulans, Vulcans, and crew members alike gather for the t'kal n'ket, as Michael faces a tribunal of a Romulan elder, a Vulcan purist, and Romulo-Vulcan attempting to forge a new path. The Vulcan -- the mouthpiece of the group -- immediately dismisses Michael's claim, not convinced of her motives. But the trio is at an impasse, and they take a recess, where Gabrielle warns her daughter about not opening up fully. Meanwhile, Tilly tells Stamets about her offer to gauge his feelings. And his response is not ideal, as the lieutenant commander calls the idea of taking orders from her "weird and honestly disturbing."
When the t'kal n'ket resumes, Gabrielle takes a heel turn and digs into Michael. She says her story is incongruous to the Federation, mentioning her mutiny on the Shenzhou from Season 1, her recent demotion, and her feelings of not belonging. She accuses her daughter of insinuating herself in these situations to fill an emotional void, which allows her to be manipulated by the Federation. Heartbroken, Michael shoots from the hip reflexively. She may question and she may fear, but the Federation has always given her a mission, a place, and most importantly a family. Now it becomes clear that Gabrielle pushed her daughter to the breaking point to get her into that state of "absolute candor."
Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily help their situation. Things come to a tense standstill when the Romulans and Vulcans disagree about offering the SB-19 data. Michael resolves the tension by withdrawing her request, invoking her brother's name and saying she cannot see a planet break apart due to her actions. But despite the tribunal not agreeing, Gabrielle reveals to Michael that one person did see appeal in her appeal: T'Rina. The Ni'Var president has allowed her access to SB-19, seeing how much Spock's great action has been influenced by his sisters. Gbrielle follows up the good news by revealing that she must stay to serve the Qowat Milat. But despite their short reunion, she gets to tell her daughter something she's waited years and years to say: "You always know where to find me."
The heartwarming scenes continue as Tilly enters the engine room to find the entire bridge crew assembled. Stamets told everyone about her offer, and they all offer their encouragement for her to take it. Even Michael offers her support for the ensign to fill her vacancy. Overcome with emotion, Tilly can finally visualize herself in the position with the backing of her crew. Everyone crowds in for a group hug, in between joking requests for upgrades and time off from their new number one.
Saru sends T'Rina off, as she thanks him for his support and reveals she may even consider re-entering the Federation in good time. Meanwhile, Michael and Book come back together, and he immediately senses she not only got the data, but doesn't want to leave Discovery. She has a renewed sense of purpose, saying she belongs with the crew. Book is not sure where that leaves him, though for the moment he's happy to stay, as Michael "feels like home." She reciprocates the emotion, and the two look out of Book's ship as we zoom further and further out to the space that surrounds them.
"Unification III" is a perfect episode to echo American Thanksgiving, the holiday on which it premieres. The prevailing truth, whether it be from the history of Ni'Var or Michael's struggles to find her place within Discovery, is singular. Families certainly have their disagreements and differences in ideals. But there are moments to come around the table together and see what you have in common. And that's the time to share, whether it's a turkey leg or highly-classified data.
Streaming on CBS All Access,Star Trek: Discovery stars Sonequa Martin-Green as Commander Michael Burnham, Doug Jones as Commander Saru, Anthony Rapp as Lt. Commander Paul Stamets, Mary Wiseman as Ensign Sylvia Tilly, Wilson Cruz as Dr. Hugh Culber, David Ajala as Cleveland "Book" Booker, Blu del Barrio as Adira, Ian Alexander as Gray, Tig Notaro as Chief Engineer Reno and Michelle Yeoh as Philippa Georgiou. New episodes of Season 3 air on Thursdays.