July 6, 2016

Star Trek: The Next Generation: "Unification II"

It is 11 November 1991, and time for another episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy), assisted by Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Data (Brent Spiner), works to establish a new relationship between Romulus and Vulcan - but there is a traitor in their midst. Meanwhile Riker (Jonathan Frakes) continues to investigate the theft of a Vulcan starship from a Federation salvage depot.

"Unification II" finally sees characters from both the original Star Trek and The Next Generation team up for a 25th anniversary adventure. It is a busy, relatively talky affair, which tries to squeeze a little too much narrative into too short a time and suffers somewhat as a result. It is tremendously enjoyable stuff, primarily to see Spock's scenes opposite Picard and Data, but there is a sense of a missed opportunity too. With a third episode to flesh out this storyline it could have been something truly remarkable.

Scenes on Romulus are rather effective. It seems as if peace truly is in the offing as Spock is invited to meet with the Romulan Proconsul, and a growing underground community is building of pro-Vulcan Romulans. It is a trap, of course, and before long Commander Sela (Denise Crosby) is revealed as the power behind the scenes, and a full-scale Romulan invasion of Vulcan is in the offing.

These Romulus scenes work because there a a bunch of well-developed characters to throw against one another. You could tell the worst story of all time, but if it allowed for scenes between Spock and Picard, or Spock and Data, it would still be must-see television. Midway through the episode, Spock and Data share what is one of my favourite scenes in the whole of the Star Trek universe. Spock is intrigued by Data who, despite being essentially the ideal of what every Vulcan aspires to be, is obsessed with emulating human emotion. Data, in turn, is intrigued by Spock's pursuit of logic at the expense of his own half-human nature. 'As you examine your life,' Data asks, 'do you find you have missed your humanity?'

'I have no regrets,' replies Spock drily.

'"No regrets",' says Data. 'That is a human expression.'

'Yes,' says Spock, who then pauses. 'Fascinating.'

It is outstanding to think that 25 years after the character was created, and 80 episodes and five feature films later, Spock is still getting insightful, funny and thought-provoking writing. It is stunning work from Michael Piller.

Sela is a less successful element in the episode. The character, the daughter of early Next Generation character Tasha Yar, was introduced in late Season 4 as a new semi-regular antagonist for the Enterprise crew. After a pseudonymous cameo in "The Mind's Eye" and a cliffhanger reveal in "Redemption", she turns up here for her final appearance. Basically the character doesn't work. Denise Crosby's performance does not add any depth or complexity to the role, and her time-travelling origins make the character feel more muddled than interesting.

Over on the Enterprise, Riker (Jonathan Frakes) continues his investigation, which involves chatting up an alien lounge singer and roughing up a Ferengi. It's basically Riker in his prime, and very enjoyable to watch. He soon gets to the bottom of the theft of a Vulcan starship: it is one of three stolen ships being used by the Romulans as a "Trojan Horse" for their invasion attempt. It does tie the two halves of this storyline together quite neatly, but it has to be said the invasion attempt is a little weak and unbelievable. It is brought up very suddenly, and it is resolved just as quickly. As I noted above, a third episode detailing the invasion attempt - Riker and the Enterprise fighting at Vulcan, Spock and Picard working undercover on Romulus - would have shifted this storyline from mostly good to a potential masterpiece.

So all in all this is an imperfect episode with some absolutely beautiful scenes. It does not entirely live up to the promise of its first part - a common problem in The Next Generation - but there's more than enough here to entertain, and the meeting of Spock and Picard feels like a major event for Star Trek as a whole. More than ever it feels as if it all belongs together as one big story. There are even deliberate references thrown in about the plot of Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which opened in American cinemas a few weeks after this episode was first broadcast.

Eight episodes into Season 5, and six of them have been good: the quality ratio rises to 75 per cent.

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