Star Trek: The Next Generation: Unification I   Rewatch 
April 8, 2021 5:31 AM - Season 5, Episode 7 - Subscribe

Picard and Data must go undercover as Romulans when Starfleet assigns the Enterprise to the search for Spock.

Memory Alpha and MetaFilter. Both proud, both stubborn, more alike than either of them are prepared to admit:

• "Unification" originated with a suggestion by Frank Mancuso, Sr., the then-chairman of Paramount Pictures, during the early planning of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country [FanFare previously --ed.]. Noting that 1991 would mark the 25th anniversary of Star Trek first airing, Mancuso proposed to Leonard Nimoy that the Star Trek: The Original Series film series and Star Trek: The Next Generation should find a way to work together to mark the occasion. Accordingly, TNG Executive Producer Rick Berman met with Nimoy and Nicholas Meyer. Following these discussions, Nimoy and Meyer inserted several references to TNG into the film script. In return, Nimoy agreed to appear in TNG. Berman recalled, "We structured a deal with him: he got very little, a little more than scale [union salary minimum]. But with Leonard as executive producer of Star Trek VI, what you had in essence was a cross-promotion. It made everybody happy."

• This was not the first time that Nimoy considered appearing as Spock on TNG. Before the 1988 Writers Guild of America strike, there were proposals for him to appear in an episode of the second season, to be written by Tracy Tormé.

• Rick Berman and Michael Piller then brainstormed ideas to bring Spock into the show. According to Berman, Nimoy didn't like the first idea presented to him. It was during discussions with Nimoy that Berman and Piller came up with idea of Vulcan-Romulan reunification. Berman recalled, "It became more of a show that dealt with a peaceable as opposed to a warlike element, and Leonard felt strongly about that."

• Star Trek VI was inspired by the collapse of the Soviet Union. The "Unification" two-parter, too, drew on contemporary real-world events, namely German reunification.

• To Michael Piller, the title had further significance. He remarked, "We're really telling the story of the unification of The Original Series and Next Generation, symbolically closing the gap that had always been in the fans' minds, if no one else's, between the two shows." Rick Berman had similar thoughts. "It's a validation of our series from The Original Series. There has been so much talk about the two series, in a competitive way. This is a union, a joining of the two. And that's very positive for the fans."

• Mark Lenard recalled, "They only sent me part of the script. I read it and thought, 'Well, I'm only in one scene, but it's a good scene – a bit like King Lear. So I did it." He only realized that his character had in fact died when first watching the episode at a convention. Lenard thought that the death was a bit "chintzy" and disrespectful of the character. However, James Doohan told him at the same convention that as the death occurred off-screen, there was always a possibility for it to be later reversed.

• "Unification I" and "Unification II" were the highest rated episodes of TNG since "Encounter at Farpoint".

• While conversing with Picard, Sarek mentioned the many times that Spock would disobey him and travel to the mountains. This was shown in TAS: "Yesteryear" [FanFare previously --ed.].

• In terms of airing order, "Unification I" is the first time any Star Trek episode (or movie) visited Romulus.

"Sarek and Spock. Well, sometimes, fathers and sons..."
- Picard and Riker

"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."
- Sarek

Poster's Log:
I was worried, going into this for the first time in a while, whether it would still hold up—whether it would be too much setup, like Redemption I, or otherwise just feel slow or weak. Not so! It's still gripping even though the plot itself has the same halting pace as those RPG sessions where everybody's getting ready for the adventure but it can't quite start yet. And you almost don't want to blink during the Sarek scene. I really wish Mark Lenard had had more screen time throughout the franchise.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
I found the "Greatest Gen" for this one to be better than average. It's noteworthy in that Ben and Adam comment on Gene Roddenberry's mixed legacy.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (14 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
It's still gripping even though the plot itself has the same halting pace as those RPG sessions where everybody's getting ready for the adventure but it can't quite start yet.

That's a great way of putting it.

I have a great deal of affection for this episode, as it's the one that brought me back into TNG--I may have mentioned at one point that I'd kind of dropped out of the series very early on, because of those dreadful S1 episodes. I'd still been following the movies, so while this may have been intended to promote STVI, it also effectively got me back into the TNG groove. Not only was Lenard great in his last Trek scene, but I found out that he'd been in a previous episode, so eventually I had to look that up. This was before streaming services, of course, and I did some of that catching up via VHS cassettes.

As for the episode itself, in some ways it seems like it's killing time until Nimoy shows up, but there are still some great bits: the Sarek scene, the bits with Klim Dokachin (who is almost precisely the exact opposite in personality from his fellow Zakdorn, Sirna Kolrami in "Peak Performance), and even the scenes aboard the Klingon ship. I wish they'd given Stephen Root more to do as the Klingon captain; he's one of my favorite character actors, and it would have been fun to have explored whether he was given the unenviable task of sneaking Picard and Data onto Romulus--this, after the Romulans helped escalate and interfered in the Klingon civil war--because it was a crap detail, or because he was the sort of baller captain who could pull it off, or both. Also cool to see Malachi Throne, whose previous role (aside from voicing the Keeper in "The Cage") was in "The Menagerie", where he played Commodore Mendez, who (seemingly) was court-martialing Spock for... illegally going to a forbidden planet. Time is a flat circle, folks.
posted by Halloween Jack at 6:42 AM on April 8, 2021 [3 favorites]

Move over Discovery Season 2, this is the original Spocktease. To me, the obvious comparison is with those classic Doctor Who serials where the title of episode 1 is 'blah blah of the Daleks' and they don't appear until the last five seconds.

I love this episode though. All of the guest actors do good work, and we get two moments of quintessential Picard: not-so-subtly implying that he could put his support to another Klingon faction when confronted with a minor bureaucrat, and his enthusiasm for Klingon hospitality. Come to think, all of our regular characters get a moment in this one, which isn't always the case.

The Playmates action figure line went all in on this episode, featuring Ambassador Spock, Sela, Romulan Picard, and Romulan Data.
posted by StarkRoads at 8:18 AM on April 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

I remember this episode and the follow-up being big deals at the time. When one of the episodes was airing I remember rushing from my house to a friends house with the friends and my older brother and we were joking that if a cop stopped us at the speed trap near our house we'd tell them we had to make it in time to see Spock. Thankfully we didn't have to test if that would work.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 12:02 PM on April 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Of course this is a fun pair of episodes--and you always gotta suspend disbelief--but I was a little more frustrated than usual with this one...

Firstly, I don't quite see why they think they have to go to Romulus. It's like: c'mon guys, it's Spock. Of course he would only go there for the good of all life everywhere. You know he won't succumb to torture. I think you're just going to have to trust him on this, especially since...

I completely don't see how they thought they were going to pull it off. We're worried about Spock being captured by the Romulans, so let's throw in MVPs Data and Picard for almost certain capture? When the restaurant lady says "You don't sound like you're from Chicago", it only underscores the real point: how can they not sound like two complete weirdos from outer space? I know the words "Universal Translator" were briefly mentioned in the Darmok episode, but I don't remember getting any kind of explanation of it. Do Starfleet folk have some kind of babelfish implanted in them so that whatever they say, the Romulans will hear Romulan language?

I'm also confused how they got from the Klingon ship down to the planet. And cloaking technology or no, if the Klingons are just hanging out in the neighborhood, I say they get detected before too long. And since I'm on a roll, I think the Federation has been exposed to this cloaking technology for over a generation now--how have they not reverse engineered it? I say go capture some of the frog people from episode "Identity Crisis" (wear some protective gear for once, if that's what it takes) and figure out how it works!
posted by polecat at 1:31 PM on April 8, 2021

Cards of the episode in the Star Trek CCG:

First and least is a boilerplate Espionage card, after all, Romulan spies are everywhere. Klim Dokachin will slow things down, a semi-counter to the uniquitous Red Alert! Romulus arrived as a Klingon mission in Premiere, later made the seat of the Office of the Proconsul. Originally, you'd play via an Outpost planted whereever in the universe, later on it was much more normally to score some free plays via your affiliation's homeworld HQ. They scrambled to find ways to allow swathes of existing personnel to play at this one, so they included several ranks from the lore boxes of existing Romulan personnel, and then just called out Tomalak and Sela by name. You do what you must.

B'iJik isn't even a Diplomat, what a burn. K'Vada didn't even get a ship, what a burn. U.S.S. Enterprise didn't have Jean-Luc Picard as its commander per the original rulings, what a burn. Who didn't shell out for this pricey(in dollars) could always zip around in the common Combat Vessel instead, it's generically delicious. The standout contribution to 1E is Data and Picard. Yeah, it's Bridge Crew Time! Your Romulan deck now has a 6 skilled personnel with a combined 16 integrity, 20 cunning, and 18 strength. Rezonkulous.

In 2E, a Romulan player got some control over the opponent's draw with Romulan Intelligence Network. It might help you set up that Security Sweep. Fed players got a sort of mind meld card with Forever Linked, also not bad. Again, we get Green versions of some of our bridge crew with Data, From the City of Rateg and Jean-Luc Picard, Bearer of Ill Tidings. At 5 and 4 cost respectively, they're not unbalanced, but like the 1E Data and Picard, they were pretty much auto-include for Romulan players thereafter. You can never have too much Intelligence.
posted by StarkRoads at 2:59 PM on April 8, 2021

And since I'm on a roll, I think the Federation has been exposed to this cloaking technology for over a generation now--how have they not reverse engineered it?

They actually have a treaty with the Romulans (the Treaty of Algeron) that prohibits them from doing so. What the Treaty actually says, and what the Federation got in return for giving that away, is left unstated, but it comes up a couple times in the future, once in this show and once in DS9. As for being able to detect it, I assume that there's always a sort of stealth arms race, where the the Federation is always improving its sensors to combat Romulan and Klingon cloaking tech.
posted by Halloween Jack at 3:08 PM on April 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

The Treaty of Algeron comes up in PIC, too, and there it appears to have some sections that deal with how the two powers can claim undiscovered worlds. I think it also governs the rules around the Neutral Zone?

There’s some discussion of it at the Daystrom Institute subreddit, which exists entirely to nerd out about questions like this (and also try to come up with coherent explanations, sometimes surprisingly convincing ones, for a pretty patchwork continuity).
posted by Kosh at 6:43 PM on April 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Thanks, that sets me at ease about one thing. I think that treaty has already been named as the basis for the current borders. I'll happily head-canon that the Romulans either gave up some territory for it, or else it was just a non-negotiable part of their hard bargain.
posted by polecat at 7:55 PM on April 8, 2021

There's not a lot that actually happens in this episodes, but it does have a lot of little moments, Picard when Sarek asks how he knows about Pardek, the Klingon captain gleefully trying to make Picard uncomfortable, Troi when Riker suggests she deal with Dokachin.

Every Zakdorn we've met so far is kind of a jerk, and also not as effective as they believe themselves to be.

The sensor/cloaking arms race is a bit of a plot point in this episode's tie-in movie, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, and the most in-depth we'll get about the Treaty of Algeron is probably Season 7's "The Pegasus"
posted by ckape at 10:02 PM on April 8, 2021

The cloaking ability as presented in this episode is amazingly power, Picard gets some off the shelf, low-prestige Klingon cruiser, and can fly it into the heart of the Romulan empire, hang-out in orbit around Romulus, and beam operatives into their capital. Given this ability, they could bring the federation to its knees with a few ships and a few fusion bombs. it seems the only explanation for the Romulans (and the Klingons) to not rule the entire quadrant is that they are either completely incompetent, or only play-acting.
posted by skewed at 8:44 AM on April 9, 2021

It's also canon that the ships can't fire while cloaked. There was one ship--one--that could ever break that rule:
a single Bird of Prey in Star Trek VI, presumably a prototype with the person who designed the cloak on board when it was blown up.

Also, the recently-watched "Redemption" two-parter showed that Romulan ships can be detected by a tachyon grid; I'd assume that similar grids are in place around main Federation worlds and Starfleet facilities.
posted by Halloween Jack at 9:10 AM on April 9, 2021 [1 favorite]

This has nothing to do with the episode, but the "We Hate Movies" podcast started a series at the beginning of the pandemic where they reviewed episodes of "Melrose Place". An early episode of the show featured Malachi Throne, and the hosts were so enamored with that name that they used it in a running bit about a demon that lives at the bottom of the Melrose Place pool claiming the souls of those that visit there.

Suffice to say, it's an actor's name I had never heard of prior to the podcast but is now in my top ten cool actor names alongside Thurl Ravenscroft.
posted by AlonzoMosleyFBI at 1:35 PM on April 9, 2021 [2 favorites]

Perrin is no Amanda, for sure.

I will never understand the little “pulling out of my parking space” back-and-fill the Enterprise does before she and the Klingon ship part ways.

Stephen Root as the Klingon captain is a wonder to behold.
posted by hanov3r at 1:04 PM on April 10, 2021

Every Zakdorn we've met so far is kind of a jerk

If Michael Dorn has a brother named Zachary, you'd have to wonder if there's bad blood between him and the writers.
posted by pykrete jungle at 9:52 PM on April 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

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