Monday, October 24, 2011

The Next Generation, Season 5: Unification I

The Next Generation, Season 5
"Unification I"
Airdate: November 4, 1991
107 of 176 produced
106 of 176 aired


A startling discovery by Starfleet Intelligence threatens the security of the entire Federation. Spock, a Starfleet legend, an officer, adviser, and diplomat for two generations, appears to have defected to the Romulan Empire. Captain Picard is tasked with going to Romulus to find out the truth about what has happened. The mere idea that Spock is a traitor seems absurd, but what possible reason could Spock have for an unauthorized trip to Romulus?
Don't you two look sweet!


Kevin: The danger of pulling in a previous series' character is that the episode will ultimately feel forced and inorganic at best, a cheap ploy for ratings at worst. Happily I think neither is the case here. I think the fact that despite focusing on a TOS character, the episode is still heavily anchored in TNG characters and stories. We get dozens of small references to establsihed Trek lore. As soon as Picard finds out about Spock, he immediately thinks of Sarek and his unique relationship with him. It was not absolutely critical, but it rewards long time viewers without requiring having seen the previous episodes to enjoy this one. We get references to the events of Redemption, Mott the Barber, the Zakdorn, the list goes on. I think it plants the episode firmly in the TNG universe. The end result is that by the time that Spock appears in the final scene, it is clear that he is the guest here. Even in the second episode where he features more heavily, he doesn't consume the episode, he is a natural part of it.

Matthew: I agree of course on the continuity. I totally love all of the references, and they do not bog down the episode at all. It shows a deftness and a care for previous work that marks a lot of the best Berman-era Trek. Presumably Jeri Taylor and Michael Piller deserve credit for this as well. So, overall, does this episode's story overcome the worry that it is stunt casting? Certainly this part does, given that it is driven by Spock but not dominated by him, and that the world itself is as much the star as any element of plot. The references to the Cardassians and the Khitomer Conference are really nice too. So I'll put it this way - there isn't a lot of science fiction going on here, nor is the plot startling or amazing in any given way. Indeed, most of this episode is setup, moving characters from one place to another. Instead, this is a political tale that develops and expands the backdrop of the post-TOS Trek universe. As that, it succeeds.

Kevin: Another part of the episode that I really enjoyed was the emotional through lines the episode had. Perrin's protectiveness of Sarek, Picard's sense of sadness ar Sarek's condition, even the little banter between Riker and Troi about dealing Mr. Dokachin all played very well because it grounds the larger plot in terms of the emotional stakes of characters I care about. It makes the larger plot more interesting and relevant. Little touches like discussing Gowron rewriting history are nice, too. It expands and is consistent with his characterization from Redemption, and it's all done without ever having the character on screen.

Matthew: Sarek's scene is really the heart of this particular show. It delivers all of the relevant expository dialogue, as well as paints the characters in vivid, emotional color. I particularly loved the oblique reference to the events of the TAS classic "Yesteryear," with Spock absconding to the Vulcan wilderness against Sarek's wishes. It's a risky scene to write, because it could be seen as boring and talky. It depends quite a bit on the actors, and the writers had to trust them implicitly. Luckily, their trust was rewarded.

Kevin: In terms of negatives, you could argue the trip to Vulcan and the Klingon Empire are a little superfluous and all of that could have been arranged by subspace, but I enjoyed the slow build to the dramatic reveal. I will say at least in this instsnce Picard's diplomatic skills plus his unique relationship to Spock make Picard a logical choice to send on this mission, unlike the set up in Chain of Command. I was also bothered by the idea this ship we have never seen before is as powerful as the Enterprise. I would have accepted less powerful, but more maneuverable or something. Also, the longstanding UT issue comes up on Romulus. Are they speaking Romulan? Shouldn't they stand out as non-natives?

Matthew: That was easily the biggest negative for me. The notion that a human and an android could pass for native Romulans, in a local diner no less, was frankly ludicrous. I would have much preferred it if they had been shown being given intensive intelligence training (perhaps via some science-fictional means a la The Matrix and "I know kung fu") in order to pass, and tried to avoid chatting up the locals. Unless the universal translator is essentially a mind control machine, it seems utterly impossible that Picard and Data could pass. The best spies today practice for years to even get by, and usually we just recruit a local instead. The notion that a Galaxy class starship could align itself to look like "junk" was also ridiculous. I also found the CSI-style "enhance!" moments to be silly. Where was this long-range scan being taken from, anyway, and why did the Admiral wait until she was on board to photoshop the image? A more global negative for this episode, as well as the two parter, is that nothing really happens. Nobody is unified, or even torn further asunder. I actually view this as less of a sin, though, because the continuity plate dressings are so delectable.


Kevin: There were several guest stars in this episode, but fortunately, the episode never felt crowded. Everyone from Admiral Brakcett to the Klingon captain really brought and invested their characters with credibility and energy. I particularly liked Stephen Root's performance as the Klingon K'vada. It felt of a piece wtih Vaughn Armstrong's performance in Heart of Glory. Mark Lenard gave an excellent performance that was the perfect balance of restraint and explosion. I also liked that Perrin also feels similar too, but still distinct from Amanda. It amkes sense that Sarek has a type, but it's good that they are still different characters.

Matthew: Mark Lenard really conveyed the sense of being lost in one's own interiority during his scene. I can imagine similar scenes playing out in nursing homes across the country, with Alzheimer's patients. My favorite guest star had to be Graham Jarvis as Klim Dokachin. His deadpan delivery was really good, and having him in this episode really makes the Zakdorn seem like less of a caricature.

Kevin: The main cast does a great job as well. The scenes of Picard and Data on the Klingon ship were really funny, and abrent Spiner did a perfect job making sure his "Data gestures" shone through. And though he only has one line, you have to hand it to Nimoy. Even wheh he only has one line, he delivers it like he meant it.

Matthew: Something about Marina Sirtis' performance in this episode gave her a very radiant, sexy appeal.Maybe it was that she looked particularly svelte while still curvy in her gray jumper, perhaps it was her coyness with Dokachin. But it really worked.

Production Values

Kevin: We get to see a lot of different places in this episode and its pretty cool. We have Sarek's bedroom, which looked very Vulcan-y. I couldn't tell if the Klingon sets were reuses from Redemption or not, but they looked nifty. The streets of Romulus looked a little too much like a set. I understand it is supposed to be claustrophobic, but they went a shade too far and ended up making it look like it wasn't a real place.

Matthew: Yeah, after as beautiful as the Romulan matte painting was (and it constitutes our first real look at that planet), the Krocton Segment was a real letdown. The art staff on TNG is really a cut above anything else that had ever been on TV to that point (and most things afterward as well):

Kevin: The smuggler ship looked neat, and the modified reuse of the Wolf 359 graveyard was awesome. I also really liked the makeup jobs on Picard and Data. They looked really good, as if they had been cast for those characters in the first place. The cloaks were very bulky and shoulder pads on shoulder pads, but it works with what we've seen of TNG Romulan fashion before.

Matthew: For as hot-rodding as it looked, I was disappointed that the smuggler ship bought the farm so quickly. We rarely get such bad-ass designs in Trek (well, real Trek, that is). The graveyard had a lot of nifty things in it, added to the original BoBW image. There were Klingon vessels, Miranda class ships, among many others.


Kevin: This is a 5 for me. Everything really fires on all cylinders here. The drama and story build well, and they really take advsntage of the space of a two-parter to allow the scenes more time to flourish. The story itself makes countless references to the canon in organic, natural ways, and it helps me care about the story. The acting is top notch and production effects were varied and well executed. Combined the episode certainly rises above any accusation of gimmickry for the sake of a TOS guest star.

Matthew: This is a 4 in my book (due on store shelves in 2018). There is just not enough "gee whiz" going on here, whether it be science fiction, action, or even really heavy politics. It's a lot of buildup leading to the cliffhanger. But it's quite enjoyable for what it is along the way. Had there been a really interesting way around the universal translator issue, I could have enjoyed this at a level consistent with the top decile of shows. I could see an interesting B-plot regarding imprinting Romulan memory engrams onto Picard and Data, with all the psychological and cultural repercussions that might entail, really livening things up. Anyway, it's still above average. Our combined ratings make it a 9 overall.

Here's the podcast. Enjoy, everyone.

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