In the seventh episode of the third season of Discovery, Burnham invokes an obscure quorum in order to retrieve key data on the Burn. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to watch Star Trek.
HELLO, FRIENDS, EVERY SECOND OF THIS EPISODE RULED, I AM IN AWE.
Throughout this episode, the writers tie an integral plot point within one of the most vulnerable stories told this season. So I appreciated that this episode opened with Michael Burnham in a vulnerable state, while also communicating to us that she felt comfortable seeking out Book in the aftermath of her demotion. There is so much communicated to us in this dense episode, and so I wanted to start with this. Michael’s actions at the beginning of this episode are an example of some of the non-verbal storytelling present in “Unification III,” and there’s a whole lot more of it throughout. We now know how safe she feels with Book, something that’s revisited in the final scene. Where does she belong? What feels like home to her? How does this all relate to “messianic complex” that others have observed in Michael?
Many of these questions are answered in this episode, but not without one hell of a journey to that final scene between Book and Michael. Indeed, this feels like such a huge episode in practically every regard because it deals with large ideas and Michael’s ongoing Discovery arc, but I, for one, am deeply appreciative of what this all culminated in.
So, after Michael’s demotion, I understood why she was reluctant to represent the Federation in any way. As Michael later admitted to both her mother and the quorum, she was deeply unsure what her place was on Discovery or in the Federation. Her quest to determine the origins of the Burn was too important to her. How could she continue to ignore pursuing it? I saw Michael as being aware that she would most likely defy the Federation if it meant obtaining something that would ultimately help them. That’s what her year away from everyone had taught her. It was what she became accustomed to! In a sense, she experienced a freedom she never had before, and now, it was hard to make herself fit within the confines of her own world.
Yet Michael’s ties to Spock pulled her back into this conflict. I loved the way all the worldbuilding surrounding Ni’Var was revealed here. We learn most of it from dialogue, first from Admiral Vance, then from T’Rina, but then in-person from the three members of the T’Kal-in-ket quorum. Without ever stepping foot on Ni’Var, the history of this unification between the Romulans and the Vulcans is given to us, and that’s an incredible feat as far as I’m concerned. I never once felt like I was in over my head during the episode. I had a grasp on the main points of this history, and the quorum itself helped me to understand the core issues between the three main factions within Ni’Var.
I think what really helped is that the worldbuilding never got in the way of the story. Ni’Var and its struggles were deeply complicated, and I’m sure there’s tons more to explore if we ever return to it. But Michael remained firmly in the center of this struggle, and that made this a cohesive, compelling story.
President T’Rina and Saru
I made this comment on video that in a way, Saru’s conversation with T’Rina felt like a lowkey version of T’Kal-in-ket, in the sense that it was about trust, logic, and honesty. Saru approached his conversations with the President of Ni’Var with optimism, despite that T’Rina was (understandably) much more concerned about even considering the idea of communicating at length with the Federation. I hesitate to say that she was cynical here, because I don’t think that’s the right way to approach her positions. It’s more that she was exceptionally cautious. The balance on Ni’Var was precarious, and it was completely legible that her hesitation was based not in anything irrational, but a very real concern that the peace on the planet could fall apart if she didn’t make the right choices.
For a subplot that amounted to two people walking around a ship and talking, I was completely mesmerized by what Doug Jones and Tara Rosling were able to accomplish. I loved how philosophical their conversation was; I loved how emotional it was, too. In many ways, it felt like a test run for what an eventual act of diplomacy between Ni’Var and the Federation might look like. I don’t want to discount the immense implications of what Michael Burnham achieved, but I think it’s also important to acknowledge that Saru had his own hand in changing President T’Rina’s mind, too.
The Qowat Milat
Before the quorum actually started, though, Discovery dropped an enormous plot twist on us: Michael’s mother had not only survived the trip home, but had been taken in by a Romulan faction known as the Qowat Milat. I’m fascinated by the contrast they had to the Vulcans, given that the Qowat Milat swore by the “precept of Absolute Candor.” (Don’t know if that’s capitalized in canon, but they way it was spoken led me to believe it had an official designation.) Instead of a commitment to logic, they exercised a commitment to emotion, namely in their honesty. Honesty is an emotional component of our humanity, right? So they live their life by telling the truth, to put it bluntly. AND WHAT A WAY TO UTILIZE THIS THROUGH THE RETURN OF GABRIELLE BURNHAM. Holy shit, I genuinely did not see this coming, but it fits so, so well. I think back to Gabrielle’s appearance last season and how even then, she was brutally honest with Michael about her role in the universe and her relationship with her daughter. There’s far more affection here, of course, especially since Michael and the crew of Discovery were able to free Gabrielle of her mission to end Control. Still, as Michael made her way through the T’Kal-in-ket, her mother increasingly pushed her toward the terribly uncomfortable truth behind Michael’s pursuit of the Burn. From a storytelling perspective, though, this was a BRILLIANT invention. An in-universe means to push a character to an emotional truth? IT’S SO SATISFYING.
Defending the Truth
The actual T’Kal-in-ket sequence is easily one of my favorite moments from both this season and from the show itself. Not only do both Sonja Sohn and Sonequa Martin-Green give the performance of a lifetime, but look how fantastic the other actors were, too! Saru and T’Rina don’t say a single word during it, and yet their facial expressions alone communicate so much to us. (As I said in the beginning, there’s a lot of non-verbal storytelling in “Unification III.”) Then, we have the three actors playing N’Ral, Shira, and V’Kir, whose acting has to convey not just their character’s journey, but the entire faction of Na’Vir that they represent. Again, this could have been convoluted and illegible, but the quorum ends up being electrifying and tense.
Of course, at the center of it is Michael Burnham, who must reckon what she wants with what she needs. She must reckon with what is best for her and what is best for the Federation. And, as she’d been warned, Michael’s entire character is called into question, often times by the very person who warned her how personal and painful this process was going to be. At times, it felt like Michael Burnham herself was on trial, but wasn’t that the point? Absolute Candor required the truth, even if that truth was inconvenient or painful. As Michael bore her soul to the quorum, she approached her own realization: Her actions could tear apart the very thing Spock fought for years to make a reality. For me, I saw Michael’s story as one where she accepted that she had approached this the wrong way. She’d found a way to acquire the three black boxes in the first place without the Romulans and the Vulcans. Who’s to say she couldn’t still do that? This is why T’Rina came around on the SB-19 data that Michael had asked for: She realized that the risk was probably going to be worth it.
Which felt huge coming from a Vulcan, right? Handing over that data was an act of faith. It was an emotional choice. But perhaps this is why T’Rina’s conversations with Saru were so important: He helped her see another perspective.
I AM JUST SO HAPPY FOR TILLY. Even if her subplot doesn’t get as much screentime as Burnham’s, I do think it’s also a culmination of three seasons worth of storytelling. Even if Tilly only remains a temporary Number One, I do believe she really was the best choice here for Michael’s replacement. We’ve seen time and time again how caring and thorough Tilly is as a part of this crew, but she’s also demonstrated a willingness to make difficult decisions under pressure. Her advice to Saru in the previous episode was a good example of that. Despite that Michael is LITERALLY her best friend, she knew it was better that Admiral Vance learn of Michael’s insubordination from Saru than anyone else.
There’s a theme of faith across “Unification III,” of characters deliberately imagining better futures despite everything to the contrary telling them not to. And I love that Saru—and then the whole crew!!!—offers Tilly their faith: They believe that she is the best person for the job. I personally can’t wait to see how she adjusts!
The video for “Unification III” can be downloaded here for $0.99.
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