In season 2, when Spock was still having troubling reconciling his emotional distress surrounding the visions of the future he was shown by the Red Angel, Michael suggested they play a game of 3-dimensional chess, to return to logic and find his grounding again. In season3, episode 7, Star Trek: Discovery takes us and the crew back to Vulcan, where Burnham was raised, to find that it’s no longer Vulcan.
“Unification III” which aired on Thanksgiving was the culmination of a number of canon, legacy Trek stories that was also as Vulture said, “the best episode of Star Trek: Discovery to date. No holds barred, no caveats. I’m a recapper, not a doctor, but any self-respecting Trekkie who isn’t completely leveled by this episode should probably get that checked out, like, medically. By its conclusion, I was so worn out from various types of crying, I had come back around and started to resent the show again for how ruthlessly and ceaselessly its creators seem to be working to redeem every annoying choice they made in previous seasons. We know the Spock-and-Pike thing was a lazy shortcut that drove CBS All Access subscriptions and viewership. But now, Spock’s presence in absentia and Michael’s relationship with him has created a future with undeniably richer dynamics.”
In “Unification III”, the search for the cause of The Burn brings Burnham and the USS Discovery to Ni’Var, the planet formerly known as Vulcan, now the home world of the Romulan and Vulcan people who exited the Federation over 100 years ago.
Searching for the data from a project called SB19, Admiral Vance cuts her short, saying its inaccessible. “It’s Ni’Var,” he says as she and Saru take a moment to absorb this new information. SB19 was a faster than light way to travel that Vance says was “not unlike your spor drive.”
When Ni’Var’s scientists expressed grave reservations about using the new technology, which they deemed dangerous, they came to believe that the Federation had forced their hand and SB19 caused The Burn, although Burnham now has evidence proving it couldn’t have originated on Ni’Var.
Vance then realizes that he has Ambassador Spock’s sister, a legend to the people of Ni’Var, and the perfect person to re-open diplomatic relations. “Send news to Ni’Var: Michael Burnham is coming home.”
And Michael is treated as royalty.
“I am Michael Burnham. Daughter of Sarek. Sister of Spock,” Burnham tells T’Rina, the president of Ni’Var. But she is Immediately denied to view or request the SB19 data, as it’s a matter of political stability on Ni’Var.
Burnham then asks T’Rina if the people of Ni’Var follow the old ways, particularly in Scientific Inquiry?
“They do,” T’Rina responds.”Then as a graduate of the Vulcan Science Academy I respectfully invoke the T’Kal-in-Ket,” Burnham says.
Burnham explains to Saru that the Vulcans had practiced T’Kal-in-ket since the time of Surak, and it was credited as one of the engines that drove early Vulcan scientific advancement.
Michael’s advocate is a sister of the Romulan Assassin Nun Creed of the Qowat Milat, and none other than her mother, Gabriel Burnham.
Vulture again: Kirsten Beyer, who penned this episode, and the writers room were out for blood from the start: “Unification III” is, in name and spirit both, the third installment of a two-part fifth-season episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Firstly, “Unification” and “Unification Part II” were already crossover episodes, featuring returns for Leonard Nimoy and Mark Lenard as Spock and Sarek, respectively, as well as for Denise Crosby, who plays the villainous half-Romulan daughter of mirror-universe Tasha Yar. Secondly, these episodes were already doubly meaningful, because the first “Unification” aired just 11 days after Gene Roddenberry’s death in 1991; both parts are dedicated to the Trek creator. Thirdly, making it a part of this arc hammers home the point that while Michael might be a rogue who hurts her friends’ feelings all the time, it kind of runs in the family. That “cowboy diplomacy” Jean-Luc Picard accuses Spock of when he finally tracks him down on Romulus, after the guy appears to have defected from the Federation in order to finally bring Romulans and Vulcans back together again? That is the perfect way to describe what Michael does on a regular basis. In other words, Spock pulled a Michael Burnham, and now she and Discovery get to see the fruits of that choice, even if it’s from a Federation that currently does not include Vulcan.
Gabrielle goes to town. Systematically, she brings up Michael’s first mutiny, her recent insubordination and demotion, and her confession earlier that she was struggling to fit in. How can she say she speaks for the Federation when her actions repeatedly suggest otherwise? Finally, the kill shot: “She may have grown up here, but she was never Vulcan. She is human, through and through. And being human, she is governed by emotion and a desire to insinuate herself into certain matters of import to fill that emotional void. I maintain that that void has made her vulnerable to manipulation at the hands of the Federation.” Can you imagine? Is this what it’s like to have a therapist for a mother?
Despite practically vibrating with rage and shame, ultimately Michael does see where her mother is going with this and responds with her own monologues. She demands that her mother confirm all the good the Federation has done for her, and all the good she and her crew have achieved for the Federation, not to mention all sentient life in the universe. Why, then, does she still have doubts? “I don’t know. Maybe because the stakes are so much higher now. Everything is different. And every day there’s this fear that I’m doing it wrong, like I’ll destroy the people I love. What if I lose everything and everyone, after all we’ve sacrificed?”
Alas, this emotional prostration changes exactly nothing for the quorum — N’Raj goes as far as to threaten to give her the data himself if the council declines — but now it’s Michael who has had a breakthrough. No knowledge is worth shattering centuries’ worth of peace on Ni’Var, not even about the Burn.
“The Burn nearly destroyed the Federation. I will not add the peace of Ni’Var to its list of casualties.” Michael Burnham
She withdraws her request and simply resolves to find more data herself, offering to send it to the Science Institute to use as they see fit. “I ask you for nothing,” she says. “But I am giving you my trust. As a member of Starfleet.”
She’s a cowboy, but when it works, it works. Later, when Gabrielle visits Michael in her quarters, she comes bearing the secret backup plan (would you call that sort of duplicity “absolutely candid,” Gabs?): President T’Rina also wanted to know who Michael really was, and when she saw it, she decided she could trust her with the data after all, and passed it along via Gabrielle, adding that “she wondered how much of the man Spock became was a result of who his sister was.”
Interestingly, the name NI’Var comes from Trek Fan history!
Star Trek says, “Fans of Star Trek: Enterprise might have recognized the name “Ni’Var” from a specific Vulcan ship sent by the Vulcan High Command in 2151. And yet, that’s only the tip of the space iceberg when it comes to the deeper meaning and significance of this word. The origins of “Ni’Var” actually go all the way back to 1968, and the very first Star Trek fanzine, Spockanalia.”
The writer of Discovery’s “Unification III” was none other than Kirsten Beyer, a longtime Trek writer and producer, and co-creator of Star Trek: Picard. When asked about why she choose the name “Ni’Var” as the new designation for the Vulcan homeworld, Beyer said: “In researching what little we have of Vulcan language, I came across a reference to a Vulcan art form, “Ni var”, which essentially meant “two forms”; an object was examined from two different viewpoints or as having two different natures. It was coined by a linguist named Dorothy Jones, who wrote for some Star Trek fanzines in the late 1960s. I just thought it was beautiful, and captured perfectly what would be happening on Vulcan should they truly attempt reunification with the Romulans.”
The next prominent appearance of the concept of “Ni’Var” was in the short story of the same name written by Claire Gabriel, and most famously published by Bantam Books in the 1976 short-story anthology Star Trek: The New Voyages. Although sold in bookstores as an official tie-in Trek book, The New Voyages was, very much an outgrowth of the fan fiction culture, and the fact that a short story called “Ni’Var” was the first story in the collection is proof. In his introduction to the short story, Leonard Nimoy praised the concepts of duality presented by the notion of “Ni’Var” and wrote of Spock: “I was warmed by the fact that I could walk anywhere wearing the face of an alien from a far place and be greeted only with love. We could still use more love for different faces from closer to home, but we have made a start.”
His real-life quote from Nimoy fits in pretty perfectly with the flashback footage we see in Discovery of Spock from The Next Generation episode “Unification II” in which he tells Picard that the peace between the Vulcans and the Romulans “will be achieved.”
Star Sonequa Martin-Green told Will Wheaton on The Ready Room how important and pivotal this episode is to the series going forward.