Thursday’s episode of Star Trek: Discovery is titled “Unification III.” This title appears to be tied to the 1991 season five Star Trek: The Next Generation 2-part episode “Unification” arc about Vulcans and Romulans. So before you dive into the new episode of Discovery, it’s worth looking back at those episodes and the complex history of Vulcans and Romulans.
Distant warring cousins
Vulcans are the quintessential aliens in Star Trek, introduced in the first pilot with Mr. Spock. The logic-bound race is a founding member of the Federation, and it was Vulcans who made first contact with humans in the 21st century, opening up Earth to the galaxy. Romulans were introduced halfway through the first season of Star Trek in the classic episode “Balance of Terror,” where they were revealed to have been the unseen enemies of a war with Earth in the 22nd century that ended with the establishment of the famed Romulan Neutral Zone. And it is in that TOS episode that we learn the Romulans are distant cousins of the Vulcans.
The Romulans had left their home planet two millennia prior during a violent war that ended with the remaining Vulcans embracing their logical philosophy. They settled on a new planet (Romulus) and established the Romulan Star Empire. Unlike their Vulcan cousins, the Romulans are passionate and have a penchant for subterfuge and duplicitousness. Relations remained icy between the Federation and the Romulans even a century later. They were reintroduced at the end of the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation in “The Neutral Zone,” and appeared periodically as cold war adversaries.
Spock tries for “Unification”
And it is into this context that Spock returns in the 24th century in “Unification I” and “Unification II” during the fifth season of Star Trek: The Next Generation. Captain Picard is summoned to investigate the disappearance of Spock (who is now an ambassador), with the only clue that he has been seen on Romulus. Picard is tasked with infiltrating Romulan space (with the help of a cloaked Klingon ship) to figure out what’s going on. When Picard and Data finally locate Spock on Romulus, they find him leading a splinter band of Romulans who have come to embrace Vulcan logic and principles.
Spock’s ultimate goal is to move Romulan society towards reestablishing relations with Vulcan and the eventual reunification of the two. He believes he has found allies, including a prominent Romulan politician, but the Romulan Tal Shiar secret police had infiltrated his group and tried to turn his movement into a Trojan horse invasion with the occupation of Vulcan as its goal.
Of course, the good guys put an end to the elaborate Romulan plot, but it still meant that Spock’s plan to unify Romulans and Vulcans remained unfulfilled. However, the episode ended with Spock choosing to remain on Romulus in the underground movement. He feels they are heading towards Vulcan philosophy and struggling for enlightenment, and that it may take decades or even centuries, but he must help.
The Romulan diaspora
The 2002 film Star Trek: Nemesis picked up the story of the Romulans a few years later: After a Reman coup took over the Romulan Star Empire and its leader Shinzon was killed by Jean-Luc Picard and the USS Enterprise-E, relations between the Federation and the Romulans thawed a bit. About a decade later, Spock was still working to save his Romulan cousins as he took on the mission of trying to save the Romulan star from going supernova. His attempt failed, resulting in the creation of a black hole that pulled him into the past, where he emerged into the “Kelvin Timeline” established by the 2009 Star Trek movie.
The story of the Romulans is picked up in Star Trek: Picard. Around the time Spock was trying to save Romulus, Jean-Luc Picard, then an admiral, was leading the Starfleet’s mission to save as many refugees as possible. They were successful in resettling many Romulans; however, after the synth attack on Mars which decimated the fleet, the Romulan rescue mission was canceled. This resulted in Picard’s resignation from Starfleet. A Romulan boy that Picard had befriended during this period, who was raised by the order of Qowat Milat warrior nuns on the refugee planet Vashti, later became bonded to Picard.
By the end of the 24th century, the Romulan Star Empire had been supplanted by the smaller Romulan Free State, which had better relations with the Federation. But many Romulans (particularly those on refugee planets) felt betrayed. The Tal Shiar remained active in this period and were successful in infiltrating Starfleet Intelligence with their mole, Commodore Oh, who was a Romulan/Vulcan hybrid. Also, at this time the Romulans had control of a Borg Cube, but that was eventually taken over by freed Borg, with the help of Seven of Nine. Season one of Picard ended in 2399 with a Romulan Tal Shiar fleet attack on the synth homeworld thwarted by the Starfleet.
Michael Burnham, Spock and “Unification III”
And of course, Star Trek: Discovery’s Michael Burnham has a bit of connection to all of this as she grew up on Vulcan as Spock’s sister. In season two, after a long period of estrangement, the brother and sister reestablished a bond. The first thing Michael did when she reached the 32nd century in season three was to send back her Red Angel time travel suit so it could send the final red burst signal, which was seen by Spock in the season two finale.
Based on some of the screenshots from the Discovery “Unification III” preview, we will be seeing some Vulcans (and likely Romulans) again.
And it looks like Michael will be involved in some kind of Vulcan ritual on board the USS Discovery.
You can watch the full preview below
“Unification III” predictions?
What remains to be seen is the current state of the Vulcans and the Romulans In the 32nd century. And perhaps more importantly, what does a visit with them have to do with the various arcs and mysteries of season three.
What do you think is coming in Thursday’s episode? Let us know in the comments below.
New episodes of Star Trek: Discovery premiere on Thursdays on CBS All Access in the U.S. and on CTV Sci-Fi Channel in Canada, where it’s also available to stream on Crave. Episodes will be available on Fridays internationally on Netflix.
Keep up with all the news and reviews from the new Star Trek Universe on TV at TrekMovie.com.