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 2 🔗

Gene Roddenberry has not, in fact, come back to life since the last episode. And decades later, a technical accident led to some set of his and James Doohan’s ashes drifting through space, in a story that I can only assume ends with V’Ger showing up…

PICARD: On the contrary, it is very much Starfleet’s concern. You’re in a position to compromise the security of the Federation.

It occurs to me that Picard and Starfleet might mean this damage as more of a propaganda issue than anything else. Spock did have a long career in Starfleet, where he learned a bunch of things that he probably shouldn’t have, but he then died, resurrected without his memories, and presumably retired with his friends, decades ago. We can guess that he stayed in contact with McCoy for at least long enough for the doctor to still hold his racist grudges in Encounter at Farpoint, and they talk about him as having done some ambassadorial work, but nobody has any examples of that work happening during the crew’s lifetime, instead only citing examples overlapping his Starfleet career.

I go through all this to make the point that Spock probably can’t hurt Federation security directly, but as the son of an influential Vulcan family who helped lead the original Enterprise and literally came back from the dead in time to help save the Earth from the whale-aliens—or whaliens, I guess?—a defection of his social value would grab attention.

PICARD: And I will not return without a full explanation. Ambassador, with great respect for all that you’ve achieved on behalf of the Federation, this sort of cowboy diplomacy will not easily be tolerated anymore.

Ah, hypocrisy. Picard calls out cowboy diplomacy, a dismissive term for taking risky measures, particularly intimidation, to resolve international conflicts.

First, Picard misuses the term, here; Spock does act recklessly, but people generally mean it in the sense of Teddy Roosevelt’s “speak softly and carry a big stick,” neither of which Spock has really done. More importantly, though, Picard does do this routinely, threatening every political opponent with implied or demonstrated violence, if they don’t accept his demands. Hell, Picard did exactly this only last episode, in threatening to back one of Gowron’s political opponents.

That said, at least from the perspective of someplace like the United States, the government would probably have the authority to prosecute Spock under something like the Logan Act, which forbids citizens from getting involved in the country’s disputes with foreign powers without prior authorization.

PICARD: Reunification? After so many centuries? After so many fundamental differences have evolved between your peoples?

It occurs to me that we’ve never really seen the initial schism between the Vulcans and Romulans, or gotten any real indication of differences. Whenever we’ve seen the Romulans, in fact, the show has mostly positioned them as mirrors of the Federation, starting with Balance of Terror taking that premise fairly literally. It has characterized them as significantly less powerful and largely isolated from the rest of the galaxy, but the franchise generally seems to want to make the point that the Romulans look quite a bit like the Federation.

Even so, the myth persists that Vulcans and Romulans have insurmountable differences, because of…something about logic, maybe.

Anyway, I won’t quote it, but the episode delivers us some quick previews of The Undiscovered Country, in case you’d like to know how the show tried to convince fans to return to theaters after The Final Frontier debacle…

PICARD: Ambassador, your logic escapes me. If I didn’t know better, I would say that your judgment is influenced by your emotions.

SPOCK: You speak as my father would if he were here, Picard.

PICARD: I speak as a Starfleet officer, and I cannot ignore the risks to you.

You know, it occurs to me that, for all the times that I’ve pointed out Picard “saving the day” by destroying the reputation of a senior citizen with less institutional power than he holds, this exchange, specifically how he suggests that attacking Spock personally comes from his duty to Starfleet, makes me wonder how deeply that runs.

K’VADA: Piggy-back?

DATA: A human metaphor, pardon me. We would use a Romulan signal as a carrier for own one, thus disguising its origin.

I have three issues with this exchange.

First, and maybe most important, super-pedantic Data gets this wrong. As far as anybody can tell, the term comes from a corruption of pickaback, carried over the shoulders or on the back. And that sounds far more reasonable than the alternative, because it doesn’t make any sense as a metaphor, pigs not known for carrying things on their backs nor for riding other animals on their backs.

Then, given that this only means “ride on top of something else,” do they actually speak English to each other, here? It seems like Data would have an easier time learning Klingon, for the most part, and presumably they still have their translation systems.

Finally, regardless of whether they speak English or mediate in some other way, why would Data cram in a word that he believes doesn’t carry the required precision and presumably understands won’t translate well? Sorry, why would he do that other than forcing a foreigner to do the “please define this word for me” time-waster that he usually does…?

SPOCK: I sense you have a closed mind, Captain. Closed minds have kept these two worlds apart for centuries. In the Federation, we have learned from experience to view the Romulans with distrust. We can either choose to live with that enmity or seek an opportunity to change it. I choose the latter.

Death seems to have done Spock a lot of good. Remember the early days of the franchise, when shouty-Spock would demand that they kill everything? Or maybe he only appears more reasonable by pointing out Picard’s narrow-mindedness.

PICARD: I will be the first to cheer when the Neutral Zone is abolished. But I wonder if this movement is strong enough to reshape the entire Romulan political landscape.

If you’ll pardon—again—the look into the future of the franchise, when the Federation does abolish the Neutral Zone, Picard-the-show shows us that exploits the refugees for manual labor. Oh, and he awkwardly tries to seduce his Romulan housekeeper whose résumé includes decades of intelligence work.

I don’t believe that we ever hear if that warranted a cheer.

NERAL: Good. Jolan tru, Spock. Oh. Live long and prosper.

Oh, hey, it looks like I spoke to soon in Redemption, part 2’s post, when I said that we’d never see Sela again. Not that she makes a great showing, here…

ROMULAN 1: I believe it’s the Federation that fears an alliance between Romulus and Vulcan.

More evidence of how people view the Federation from outside its borders.

PICARD: But your fight with Sarek is over, Spock, and you have none with me.

Wow. Spock has apologized twice, now, but Picard continues to hammer at him to make him feel bad about imagining that Picard has some agenda, here, even though Picard literally has a mission that fully motivates his trip here.

SPOCK: Remarkably analytical and dispassionate, for a human. I understand why my father chose to mind-meld with him. There’s almost a Vulcan quality to the man.

Picard does remind me a lot of early Spock, as I hint above in the contrast, but I wouldn’t remotely consider that a compliment.

DATA: Interesting. I have not considered that. And Captain Picard has been a role model in my quest to be more human.

That explains a lot about Data, I guess…

RIKER: As soon as I heard this Barolian ship was at the Galorndon Core, I started to think Romulans.

That, and the episode revolves around Romulans, and they see Romulan plots around every corner. But mostly, the name of the place tipped him off…

PARDEK: Spock, we’ve been friends for eighty years.

This gives us at least a rough time-frame for The Undiscovered Country in comparison to the original series.

TROI: Perhaps his reunification talks were successful.

They seem absurdly credulous, here, only reluctantly breaking the transparently fake orders from “Picard” when they have no other choice.

SPOCK: I’m afraid I don’t know too much about Romulan disruptor settings. Cowboy diplomacy?

Notice that, now that he got to participate, Picard fully approves of his version of “cowboy diplomacy.”

RIKER: Doctor, contact Dulisian Four and confirm this distress call. I have a feeling it may prove to be a false alarm. Mister Worf, how long before we intercept the Vulcan ships?

This line feels telling, to me. Riker assumes that the super-sneaky and hateful Romulans only faked a distress call, rather than sabotaging the system that would genuinely endanger lives. He doesn’t believe that the Romulans would endanger the lives of civilians, despite the constant attempts to expose them as evil.

SPOCK: The reason for my coming here has never been more clear. The union of Vulcan and the Romulan people will not be achieved by politics or by diplomacy, but it will be achieved. The answer has been here before us all along. An inexorable evolution toward a Vulcan philosophy has already begun. Like the first Vulcans, these people are struggling to a new enlightenment. It may take decades, even centuries for them to reach it, but they will reach it. And I must help.

This feels…extremely sleazy. Spock leaves no room for the possibility of value in Romulan culture. He views them as children to mold into pseudo-Vulcans, rather than a people of their own.

Anyway, this story continues in the prologue of 2009’s Star Trek, occasional gestures in Picard, and Discovery’s Unification III.

Quick Commentary 🔗

Can somebody explain Sela’s plot to me? Because as much as I try to envision the plan coming together, it keeps falling short. I see it as follows.

  • Launch three Vulcan ships from Romulus at Vulcan. Hope that nobody asks how the Vulcan ships got to Romulus and crossed the Neutral Zone without anybody noticing. Also hope that nobody asks why Romulan peace envoys would fill three Vulcan ships. Pack those ships with ground troops.
  • Have a cartoon Spock call the ships “very legal & very cool,” and assume that everybody recognizes and respects the actual Spock enough that they’ll ignore the fact that he had no authority to bring any peace envoys to Vulcan.
  • If anybody tries to stop the three ships, make a prank phone call to pull anybody in authority away from them. Don’t actually cause distress, even though that would maximize the chances of this step succeeding. Hope that nobody scans the ships for life signs and finds out that the “peace envoys” stand packed shoulder-to-shoulder by the thousand.
  • Escort the three ships with a hidden Warbird, which doesn’t actually have a role in the plan, other than to destroy evidence—specifically, by slaughtering the ground troops—in the extremely likely event that either of the previous two steps fails miserably. The actual plan doesn’t get further than this point, so the rest relies heavily on speculation.
  • Land the ships on Vulcan, assuming that the Warbird didn’t need to commit ritual mass-murder because people realized that the Vulcan ships never would have gotten to the Neutral Zone in secret, Spock couldn’t have authorized any part of this peace process, Spock didn’t actually read the statement, and/or the peace envoys looked a lot like a small army. Using your few-thousand ground troops, conquer a planet that presumably has a population of billions, a military of its own, participation in a coalition presumably bound to defend it, and a culture that centers on (now mostly ritualized) violence and toughness.
  • Turn the conquest into a legitimate-looking unified Romulan-Vulcan government…somehow.

And assuming that it gets through all those highly improbable steps…what then? Does the Romulan Empire now consider itself part of the Federation, by its claim on Vulcan? Do they continue to hate the Federation and demand that the Neutral Zone now stretch between the two distant solar systems, so that their ships can travel safely? I don’t get it.

Conclusions 🔗

Since the story splits its time between Romulus and non-Federation installations, we don’t see a lot of Federation culture on display.

The Good 🔗

We find at least one person pushing back against Picard’s hypocrisy and bigotry.

The Bad 🔗

People seem to believe that political schisms lead to fundamental incompatibilities between two groups over thousands of years.

We find that, at least to Picard, an officer in Starfleet apparently has the right to personally attack the elderly to undermine their credibility. Similarly, Data seems interested in luring a Klingon into revealing his ignorance, eventually citing Picard as an inspiration to him.

In fact, we see some bigotry in this episode, from trying to push Klingons and people of other ethnicities around—sometimes physically—to trying to intimidate Spock, to the quiet admission that the Romulans probably wouldn’t actually endanger civilian lives while still trying to pin unsubstantiated accusations on them, to the assumption that a Vulcan-Romulan unification would erase Romulan culture entirely.

We continue to see that the Federation has a rotten reputation beyond its borders, presumed to need certain official enemies.

The crew shows its authoritarian streak in following implausible orders, because they carry the signature of the boss, only breaking them when they see no other choice.

Next 🔗

Come back in a week, when a skinny guy burglarizes the Enterprise, in A Matter of Time.

🔗


Credits: The header image is unification statue 011 by Christopher John SSF, made available under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.

  1. 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.