Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 7 recap – “Unification III”

November 26, 2020
Jonathon Wilson 1
TV Recaps


“Unification III” isn’t just the best episode of the season thus far, but a really wonderful bit of serialized television by any standards.

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“Unification III” isn’t just the best episode of the season thus far, but a really wonderful bit of serialized television by any standards.

This recap of Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 7, “Unification III”, contains spoilers. You can check out our thoughts on the previous episode by clicking these words.

If you were wondering how much of an effect Michael Burnham’s demotion from First Officer would have on the show’s damaging on-going insistence on making her the focal point of every single episode, you might be surprised to learn it made absolutely no difference whatsoever. But I’ve still got egg on my face nonetheless, as “Unification III” used that current and historical overuse of Burnham to craft what was quite simply a wonderful episode of television, by the standards of both Star Trek and serialized drama in general. It tied together all kinds of Trek lore with nods and winks to both current and old continuities, it advanced the season’s overarching plot, it deeply interrogated Michael’s character and recent spate of illogical decision-making, and it built to a profoundly moving and on-brand payoff that was almost strong enough to retroactively undo all the damage that this ropey, inelegant outing has wrought on Discovery. And all without an action scene in sight.

Of course, doing this requires the show to bend over backward to put Michael front-and-centre once again, leveraging her family history which is, 900 years in the future, somehow more important than ever. After discovering the latest black box courtesy of Book – who she’s now living with in Discovery’s shuttle bay – proof of the Burn’s origin has been discovered… sort of, anyway. There is evidence, at least, that it didn’t occur where everyone thought it did, which is the renamed planet of Ni’var, formerly the Vulcan homeworld where the Vulcans are now living in testy peace alongside their old enemies the Romulans thanks to – wait for it – the diligent diplomatic efforts of Spock, now revered as one of the most influential Vulcans of all time.

The cause of the Burn is tied into highly classified intelligence on SB-19, an experimental technology that everyone on Ni’var would really rather not talk about, thanks very much, but Admiral Vance, paying no mind whatsoever to Saru’s reminders that Michael has been demoted, reckons Spock’s sister would open some doors despite the Vulcans no longer being part of the Federation.

In order to negotiate for the intel, Michael has to invoke an ancient ceremony that’s basically a court case, a classic Trek device, and this turns out to be one of “Unification III”’s brilliant decisions since it forces Michael not just to argue on behalf of logic and reason but to also confront her own deeply-held misgivings about Starfleet, her role within it, and the state of the ruined future she has found herself in, where nothing makes sense and she’s not entirely sure she fits. Michael isn’t on trial, per se, but it certainly feels like it, as she’s made to reckon with and answer for all the dumb decisions she has been making recently.

This would in all likelihood have worked on its own terms, but there’s another little development – a bit of a narrative cheat, all things considered, but let’s not worry too much about it – that ups the ante considerably: Michael’s mother, Gabrielle, is on Ni’var, is appointed as Michael’s advocate during the deliberations, and has become a member of the painfully honest Romulan sect of warrior nuns, the Qowat Milat. Thus, her devotion to the “Way of Absolute Candour” means she gets to stand in front of Michael and ask her terribly uncomfortable questions in order to force her to reveal her deepest feelings and motives. It’s part courtroom drama, part therapy session, but it’s all fantastic human drama.

And it’s a success, at least in part because Burnham decides to not be the hero for just a moment, long enough to allow others to make a decision that isn’t immediately overridden by her determined individualism. In the process, she doesn’t just acquire the SB-19 data but recognizes her place in this new reality – aboard the Discovery.

This is perhaps just as well since there’s plenty of work to be done on the recovered data, which will be the responsibility of Michael and also newly-promoted First Officer Sylvia Tilly. How much sense does this actually make given the chain of command and such? Very little, but don’t worry about it. “Unification III” acknowledges the relative ridiculousness of Tilly bossing everyone around, but it also – in a lovely little scene where she’s encouraged to take the job by her crewmates – reinforces why Tilly is so valuable among the crew. She’s honest, she’s empathetic, she’s intelligent, and she’s fundamentally good. She’s just right in the Number One slot. Sending her on away missions might not be the best idea, but giving her a just reward for her talents is a good one in an episode chock full of them.

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1 thought on “Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 7 recap – “Unification III”

  • November 28, 2020 at 9:19 am

    An absolutely terrible episode. Where to start? Can these children go one episode without tears, intense whispers, earnest stares, melodramatic speeches, and group hugs? The gall to name this “Unification III.” Using Leonard Nimoy was such a cheap, shallow attempt to exploit nostalgia for an infinitely superior work of Star Trek.

    Group hugs. This is what the franchise has become? And by the way, for a show that is supposed to be soooo feminist, the two main female characters can’t keep from crying every other episode. And for gay representation? Stamets and Culper are barely on screen together. You wouldn’t even know they were friends, let alone lovers.

    “Say yes!” “Say yes!” “Say yes!”

    How about, “Say bullshit!”

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