Netflix UK TV review: Star Trek: Discovery Season 3, Episode 7
Leonard Nimoy! Vulcan!10
Warm Tilly subplot9
Ian Winterton | On 27, Nov 2020
Warning: This contains spoilers. Not caught up with Star Trek: Discovery? Read our review of the last episode here. New episodes arrive on Fridays within 24 hours of their US broadcast.
After several weeks of multi-strand storytelling – in which Star Trek: Discovery was in danger of becoming a soap opera in space – this week’s episode homes in both on Michael and, in part at least, her quest to discover the origin of The Burn. And, in picking up the unification storyline first started in 1991, it delivers some first rate continuity thrills.
Kicking off the episode’s narrative is Tilly’s discovery that her analysis of the three starship black boxes confirms show their dilithium drives all exploded a few millionths of a microsecond before all the others in the galaxy – thus backing up the hypotheses that The Burn has an origin point. They’re not able to triangulate from this limited data, though – that would be too easy, give ‘em til the latter portion of the season. There was, however, SB19, a Vulcan programme to discover an alternative Faster Than Light drive (maybe, if they really want to mix up the Kelvin and Prime timelines, we’ll discover SB19 was concerned with Red Matter, as used by Spock in the 2009 reboot movie). Michael hits on the idea that this data, and the timestamp of each exploding starship, could be vital.
And so to 32nd-century Vulcan – and all that means for Michael and the Trek universe in general. The episode’s title – Unification III – is a loving callback to the Star Trek: The Next Generation two parter – Unifircation I and Unification II – notable for bringing Captain Picard and his crew into contact with a certain Vulcan named Spock. Michael’s reaction to seeing a recording of her long dead brother – centuries after Discovery left for the future, but (unspecified) centuries before the year 3188 – is genuinely emotional, both because of star Leonard Nimoy’s own passing five years ago, and Sonequa Martin-Green’s moving performance. It reinforces again that shifting the character of Michael to a more human, less Vulcan-y, place is a wise move, playing as it does more strongly to Green’s gifts as an emotionally tuned-in actor.
As well as engaging with Michael’s character at a personal level, the episode also gives us a lot of world-building. Brilliantly building on the TNG episodes, we get to discover that Spock’s legacy is of the Vulcans and Romulans unified, and Vulcan renamed Ni’Var to reflect this shared identity. But, although Spock is revered, both the organisations he held so dear – the Federation and Starfleet – are no longer held in high regard; Ni’var left the Federation not long after The Burn – for reasons hinted at here, but not fully explained. A remark from Ni’vari president, T’Rina (little known Canadian actress, Tara Rosling, whose performance is outstanding), to Saru – seeming to suggest the Federation cannot be wholly trusted – is intriguing (and perhaps feeds into the narrative we’ve seen in Picard, of a Federation losing its grip on its core values).
Of course, it doesn’t take a genius to see that Michael’s own struggles with Starfleet – she’s still unsure how she still fits in after her gap year as an outlaw – are writ large in Ni’var’s own relationship with the Federation, of which Vulcan was one of the founder members. They don’t rejoin this episode, of course (that would strain credulity too far) but the seeds are sown for, somewhere down the track, the Federation welcoming Ni’var back into its galactic family.
A big part of mending bridges is down to Michael, who, as Spock’s adopted sister and a citizen of Vulcan, cites T’Kal-in-ket – a sort of trial by debate – in order to argue that Ni’var shares the SB19 data with the Federation. As is (newly) tradition, Michael is given an advocate, a sister of the ultra-truthful Qowat Milat nuns (first seen in this year’s Picard series) – who turns out to be her mother, Dr. Gabrielle Burnham (played once again by The Wire’s Sonja Sohn).
This huge character moment is dealt with brilliantly, the writers tying the personal with the political; to win over President T’Rina, if not her adversaries in debate, Michael is cajoled by her mother to peel back her layers of denial and to face the truth of who she is, and how she feels about the Federation.
In the end, of course, she discovers she loves the Federation, even if she doesn’t feel part of it – just as Spock did during his later years. And it gives us a solid and convincing reason for Michael to put aside her uncertainty and to leap back, fully, on board the Discovery. She has closure with her mother, too, who, though insisting she has to stay on Ni’var, delivers a line with the beautiful sentiment: “I finally get to say something,” Gabrielle says to Michael, “that I’ve wanted to say for a long time: you always know where to find me.”
The only fly in Michael’s ointment is Book, whom she is clearly head-over-heels in love with. She’s re-confirmed herself as a “true believer”, while he’s living in his ship parked in Discovery’s docking bay. In other shows this would be an excuse for Book to look a bit sad and blast off to his old life, but Discovery’s writers are more sophisticated storytellers. Book doesn’t know what to do, only that being with Michael feels “like home”. And Michael feels exactly the same way – so odds on something horrible is going to come along and wreck it all.
Aside from Michael we have a minor subplot involving Tilly’s ascension to becoming Saru’s First Officer. It’s unremarkable (who would, after all, object to her promotion?) but lovely and warm-hearted, just as Tilly is herself. It’s a perfect counterpoint to the heavy drama elsewhere, and only contributes to making this the best episode since Season 3’s opener.
Star Trek: Discovery Season 1 to 3 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £9.99 monthly subscription.