A monument featuring children pushing two hemispheres into a globe

Disclaimer 🔗

In these posts, we discuss a non-“Free as in Freedom” popular culture franchise property, including occasional references to part of that franchise behind a paywall. My discussion and conclusions carry a Free Culture license, but nothing about the discussion or conclusions should imply any attack on the ownership of the properties. All the big names serve as trademarks of the owners, and so forth, and everything here relies on sitting squarely within the bounds of Fair Use, as criticism that uses tiny parts of each show to extrapolate the world that the characters live in.

Previously… 🔗

I initially outlined the project in this post, for those falling into this from somewhere else. In short, we attempt to use the details presented in Star Trek to assemble a view of what life looks like in the Federation. This “phase” of the project changes from previous posts, however. The Next Generation takes place long after the original series, so we shouldn’t expect similar politics and socialization. Maybe more importantly, I enjoy the series less.

In plain language, you shouldn’t read this expecting a recap or review of an episode. Many people have done both endlessly over nearly sixty years. You will find a catalog of information that we learn from each episode, though, so expect everything to potentially “spoil” a story, if you happen to have that irrational fear.

Rather than list every post in the series here, you can quickly find them all on the startrek tag page.

Unification Part 1 🔗

To begin with, I should note that this episode aired on 04 November 1991, Roddenberry having died on 24 October, hence the dedication title card. Also involving the timing, I should also mention that The Undiscovered Country would hit theaters on 06 December, maybe suggesting why this episode about Spock as a covert diplomat with a long-time enemy state might have looked particularly appealing to the producers.

Captain’s log, stardate 45233.1. Our terraforming mission to Doraf One has been cancelled, and the Enterprise recalled to Starbase two-thirty-four. Fleet Admiral Brackett would not discuss the matter on subspace for reasons she said would soon be clear.

One imagines that the admiral takes her name from Leigh Brackett, whose name you probably don’t know unless you have a specific interest in the history of women writing science fiction, but if you enjoyed The Empire Strikes Back more than the other two films in the trilogy, guess who set up a lot of the early drafts…

BRACKETT: Three weeks ago, one of our most celebrated Ambassadors, an advisor to Federation leaders for generations, disappeared. He left no word of his destination. Two days ago, intelligence reports placed him on Romulus and I assure you it was an unauthorized visit. Computer, initiate linkage between this terminal and starbase computer system alpha two nine.

I like how the hook to the episode bluntly assumes that any non-confrontational contact with Romulans must lead to bad things.

PICARD: Not as much as you’d imagine. Sarek and Spock. Well, sometimes, fathers and sons…

Based on what we’ve seen in the franchise, I’d say much more than “sometimes”…

RIKER: Possibly disassembled components, identified as Vulcan, recovered from a downed Ferengi vessel?

Ooh, this story will try to blame both the Romulans and the Ferengi for all the galaxy’s ills…

PERRIN: Mint tea. It’s been years since I’ve had it. Vulcans have some kind of strange concoction they call mint. You’d never recognize it.

You presumably remember Perrin from Sarek, whose title character also soon shows up for a bit.

PERRIN: Not between us. Between Spock and his father. They had argued for years. That was family. But when the debates over the Cardassian war began, he attacked Sarek’s position publicly. He showed no loyalty to his father.

Even though Perrin will try to quietly back-pedal and dismiss this as her personal foible, I need to stress that the logic-obsessed people stopped talking to each other over a difference of opinion, and hurt feelings over differing views on loyalty.

Granted, we would try to interpret Perrin’s words as meaning that her emotional reaction to their disagreement caused her to prevent Sarek from seeing his child and her step-son, but even I don’t think that this show hates middle-aged women enough to make that suggestion.

RIKER: The Vulcans haven’t figured out what these fragments are, but they’ve determined that the metal is a dentarium alloy.

LAFORGE: That pretty well indicates that they’re Vulcan. And dentarium also means that whatever this was, it was originally designed for use in space. From the look of the damage, it must’ve been a high speed impact.

The alien metal seems to take its name from certain forms of the Latin dentarius, an adjective describing something related to teeth. More importantly, only Vulcans seem to use it, which seems like an oddity.

LAFORGE: This is going to be like putting together a big jigsaw puzzle when you don’t know even know what the picture’s supposed to be.

I mean…that simile doesn’t go particularly deep. They literally need to match the jagged edges, though one imagines that the computer could do the overwhelming majority of the work involved, making the gloom seem a bit overly theatrical…

PICARD: Who is Pardek?

Picard does a terrible job, here, trying to get information from a sick friend.

SAREK: He is a Romulan Senator. Spock has maintained a relationship with him over the years. I don’t know how they met. At the Khitomer Conference, I’d imagine.

This gives us our first hint of The Undiscovered Country, which ends at the conference.

The conference also shares its name with the colony where Worf’s parents died in a Romulan attack enabled by Ja’rod1, making me realize that every Klingon episode really re-litigates that one event…

SAREK: No. I never knew what Spock was doing. When he was a boy, he would disappear for days into the mountains. I asked him where he had gone, what he had done, he refused to tell me. I insisted that he tell me. He would not. I forbade him to go. He ignored me. I punished him. He endured it, silently. But always he returned to the mountains. One might as well ask the river not to run. But secretly I admired him, the proud core of him that would not yield.

While it doesn’t tell the same story, this anecdote seems to at least gesture at Yesteryear, where young Spock ran off to the mountains in secret to subject himself to the would-you-really-call-that-logical desert survival ritual.

Captain’s log, stardate 45240.1. To cross the Neutral Zone, I will require a cloaked ship. To that end, I have set a course for the Klingon home world. After all we did for Gowron during the recent war, I am certain he will be happy to return a favor.

Have I mentioned Picard’s self-obsessed nature, before? He actually fled a critical battle and loitered on the border, claiming victory in Redemption, part 2, but he still feels like Gowron owes him a personal favor.

DATA: Captain, I have a visual identification of Senator Pardek of Romulus. This is a Barolian record of a trade negotiation in which Pardek participated four years ago.

You might recognize Pardek as Malachi Throne, who played Commodore Méndez—and the voice of the Keeper—way back in The Menagerie, among a richer career.

B’IJIK: Greetings, Captain. I regret to inform you that Gowron and the High Council are quite busy and won’t be able to speak with you today.

You might recognize B’ijik as Erick Avari, and goes on to a much more successful career, including a couple of future Star Trek appearances.

PICARD: Yes. And please add that if he is unable to provide a ship, then I am sure there are others in the Klingon Empire who would be willing to help me. And then, they would have our gratitude.

I’d like to note that Picard casually threatened to enable a coup against an allied government, if he doesn’t get what he wants. He goes through all this to call in a personal favor that he thinks somebody owes him, instead of having Starfleet go through official channels to get the ship for him.

LAFORGE: Yes, sir. Metallurgical analysis confirmed that and by running a molecular pattern trace, we were actually able to identify the ship as T’Pau. It was decommissioned years ago and sent to the surplus depot at Qualor Two. As far as anybody knows it’s still there.

We met T’Pau in Amok Time.

K’VADA: I know my duty, Captain. When I am given orders, I follow them, but I do not like secrets. I want to know why we are going on this mission.

You might recognize K’vada, now, as Stephen Root, who has gone on to a highly successful career, mostly in comedy.

PICARD: Quite nice. Thank you.

I loathe this whiny “I can portray Klingon culture better than the Klingons” routine. Imagine, as a thought experiment, a Klingon showing up on the Enterprise and loudly asserting that, yes, he will happily sit in a comfortable chair, sip tea, and talk about archaeology. Even here, even after threatening to help overthrow the government that has made him their guest on this trip, he wants to make sure that everybody understands that he considers himself superior to the Klingons.

DATA: Captain K’Vada, is this the Captain’s quarters, or my own?

Does Data need a room at all? Personally, I always assumed that he got the cat to justify having a room on the Enterprise

RIKER: Who does he think he is?

It disappoints me that nobody asks Riker the same question. Like a mini-Picard, he vapidly assumes that his questions should come before any other work.

RIKER: Counselor, this feels like a perfect job for you.

Notice that Riker chooses to minimize the value of both Dokachin and Troi by pairing them off, instead of tolerating the possibility that some non-human might have authority over him for a moment.

LAFORGE: Can you tell us what happened to its navigational deflector?

DOKACHIN: It was routed to the Tripoli, a holding vessel on the outer rim of the shipyard.

Other places and things exist with the name, but generally, we mean the Tripoli in Libya—in the United States, largely because *The Marines’ Hymn calls it out as an implied extent of their influence—though the United States has also had a couple of ships by that name.

DOKACHIN: In all the time that the Zakdorn have operated this depot, nothing has ever been lost. Never.

Wait, do governments contract with the Federation to run installations, farming the jobs out to their people?

PICARD: I’m sure the Klingons found it amusing to put us in here together.

Did they decide to run with a vaguely homophobic joke? Or express their own homophobic discomfort?

RIKER: If you do not respond to our hails, we will take that as evidence of hostile action.

Notice that, if they couldn’t respond, Riker would have no qualms about killing them with no actual warning. And…I guess that pretty much happens.

K’VADA: Don’t you two look sweet. Be careful, android. Some Romulan beauty might take a liking to you. Lick that paint right off your ears. You. Do you know what the Romulans will do to you if they discover who you are?

Yep. They went for homophobia, here.

NERAL: I have received intelligence indicating he’s on his way here. Perhaps here already.

Hilariously, the show tries to use this to make the Romulans look paranoid, even though Neral has it absolutely right. By contrast, we treat Picard as doing a natural thing, even though everybody in power has fabricated this story of Spock defecting to a terrifying enemy state.

PICARD: Where were they standing? Data, you’re moving about in a very, well, android way.

They also seem to speak loudly enough that someone will notice them long before they wonder about Data’s style of walking.

WOMAN: Doesn’t matter to me. I don’t know when he opens. Eat your soup, courtesy of a loyal establishment. Jolan tru.

Notice that they’ve gone for the “people find alien food disgusting” trope once again.

Conclusions 🔗

This episode has more trivia to discuss than social commentary, but we still see a bit, here and there.

The Bad 🔗

Most prominently, this episode revolves around the Federation’s paranoia. Starfleet can’t imagine any productive dialogue with the Romulans, and throwing in a mention of the Ferengi has them in a complete panic. The episode tries to balance this by exposing the Romulans as similarly paranoid, but their version only mentions facts.

Once again, we learn that the Vulcan obsession with “logic” ends at shutting down arguments, because they actually live their lives around petty grievances.

We also continue to see a broad entitlement culture, with both Picard and Riker insisting that lesser people, such as bureaucrats and heads of state, need to do their bidding without hesitation. Picard even goes so far as to imply that he plans to overthrow an allied government, if they resist his demands. Picard also tries to act the part of an expert in Klingon culture among Klingons.

The Data/Picard scenes show them expressing some homophobia.

The Weird 🔗

Despite the fact that we’ve yet to meet a close-knit family—other than maybe Worf with his adoptive parents, the crew has trouble imagining a father and son who don’t speak to each other regularly.

It appears that governments make trade agreements with the Federation to provide labor for certain installations, with people classifying those installations as under the control of that government.

Next 🔗

Come back in a week, when we wrap up the adventure on Romulus in Unification, Part 2.


Credits: The header image is unification statue 012 by Christopher John SSF, made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

  1. I can’t get away with a “the Romulans went to Jared/Ja’rod” joke, here, right? Right? Nah… 

  2. Investigating as much as I could, you can apparently find this monument at the north end of the so-called Third Tunnel of Aggression, in Panmunjom. If anybody has more information on the sculptor and date of creation, I’d like to know the former for completeness, and the latter for strict adherence to copyright.