Star Trek: The Next Generation – Unification I [5.7]

Picard is informed that the famed Ambassador Spock has abruptly and mysteriously left Vulcan to go to Romulus.  Concerned that he may have defected, Picard and Data go after him.  They meet briefly with Spock’s father Sarek shortly before Sarek’s death of his debilitating disease.  Meanwhile, Riker and the crew investigate the presence of some mysterious Vulcan debris found on a Ferengi ship, tracing it back to an enigmatic ship that is stealing items from a space junkyard.  Arriving on Romulus (and disguised as Romulans) Picard and Data are taken by Senator Pardek, a friend of Spock’s, and brought to Spock himself…

Teleplay by Jeri Taylor. Story by Rick Berman & Michael Piller. Directed by Les Landau.

Previous Episode: The Game • Next Episode: Unification II

Comments:
It was supposed to be the big one – the episode that would feature, after over four years, an honest to goodness full-blown guest appearance by one of the beloved regular cast members of Classic Star Trek.  Sure, we’d had Dr. McCoy make a brief cameo in Encounter at Farpoint, and we’d had Original Series guest character Sarek turn into Next Generation guest character Sarek in  Sarek, but this was going to be different.  Spock’s appearance in this special two part story (the first Next Generation two-parter that wasn’t part of a season cliffhanger) was well-publicized in advance, and we all tuned in especially that week to see Star Trek history in the making.

Unfortunately, what we got was basically episode-long filler, with lots of to-ing and fro-ing, and so-called “character” moments, building up to the final moment, a cliff-hanger that was of no surprise to anyone, when Spock finally shows up.  We couldn’t help but to feel ripped off in the initial viewing.  We had been eager to see Spock, but then it had turned out that the episode  was basically a commercial for the next week’s story, which again attempted to lure us in with the promise of seeing Spock.

As such we get a lot of semi-enjoyable but otherwise purposelessness such as Troi having to charm a stuffy salvage yard manager, with the Enterprise poking around one spot of empty space after another looking for various junked ships.  Or the little scenes of Geordi’s technical investigations over the wreckage he’s found, which leads to the salvage yard scene.  Or the filler-scene in a whole filler episode with Picard trying to sleep on board the Klingon ship.  It’s not that these scenes are badly done – it’s just very obvious that the script is having to work a lot harder to keep the plot afloat without moving forward and actually getting Picard and Data to Romulus.

The saving grace for all this is the scene with Mark Lenard as Sarek, who once again does not fail to kick butt.  Sarek’s scene is the most engaging of the whole episode, and a fitting follow-up to his prior appearance.  It’s regrettable, of course, that the plot of the story dictates that he can have no scenes with Spock, but the script takes advantage of this by highlighting the distance between the men (as does the next episode, if memory serves). In spite of dying here, he played Sarek one more time in Star Trek VI (which for all I know was already filmed by the time this was done) but never in all of the Star Trek movies did he ever get to be as interesting as see him in his two Next Generation appearances.

Another good moment is Picard’s confrontation with the Klingon bureaucrat in his attempts to secure a ship, as noted in my dialog pick below.  I don’t know if Gowron was unavailable to appear or not, but either way the script makes good use of the situation with Picard’s offense at being slighted.

However, in spite of these moments, and an overall strong production value (as is the norm), the episode cannot help but to give the impression of twiddling thumbs until Part II.

Guest Cast:
• Stephen Root plays Captain K’Vada.  He’s many credited roles, including speechwriter Bob Mayer, who worked for the Arnold Vinick campaign toward the end of the The West Wing.

• Graham Jarvis appears as Klim Dokachin.  He also had many credited roles, including Bob Dyrenforth in the TV series Fame.

• Malachi Throne plays Senator Pardek in both parts of this story.  He also has many credited roles, including in a two-part episode of Electra Woman and Dyna Girl and the two part episode of The Six Million Dollar Man that introduced Jaime Sommers, the Bionic Woman.  He is best known to Star Trek fans as Commodore Mendez from the two-part original series episode The Menagerie.

• Daniel Roebuck plays Jaron.   Amongst other roles, he was a regular on Matlock and played Dr. Leslie Arzt, a castaway who ends up blowing himself off on Lost.

• Erick Avari, like just about everyone in this episode, also has tons of roles to his name.  This includes parts in Deep Space Nine, Enterprise, SeaQuest, and both the movie and TV series Stargate (as the same character, Kasuf).  Here he plays B’iJik.

• Of course, Leonard Nimoy plays Spock.  In addition to co-starring on the original series of Star Trek and in all of the Star Trek movies up until that point (and in more of them than anyone else up until now), Nimoy had also appeared on Mission: Impossible for a couple of years, and was the voice of Galvatron in the animated Transformers movie.  He also directed Star Trek III & Star Trek IV, as well as Three Men and a Baby, and more recently had a recurring role on the TV series Fringe.

Shout Out to the Past
• Of course, Spock was a major player over the entire Star Trek franchise prior to Next Generation.  Indeed, he is the only character who had appeared in ever episode of the Original Series (including the unaired pilot), the Animated Series, and the Original Series Movies.

• Sarek had appeared in one episode of the Original Series, three of the movies (up to this point) and in the Next Generation episode Sarek, when his illness was revealed.  Similarly, Perrin, his wife, had also appeared in Sarek.  The mind-meld that between Picard and Sarek which formed the heart of that story is mentioned more than once here.

•  There are referencse to the Cardassian war, Khitomer (where Worf is from), and Mr. Mott the barber.  Also, the Zakdorn race was last seen in Peak Performance.

• There are also references to Gowron, K’Tal, and the events of Redemption.

• The Vulcan ship, T’Pau, comes from the Vulcan priestess who presided over Spock’s “wedding” in Amok Time, and who later appeared in an episode of Voyager as a hologram, and in several episodes of Enterprise.

Setting Up the Future:
• Of course, things carry on in Unification II.

• There are also a couple of references to events that were to be revealed in Star Trek VI:  The Undiscovered Country, with a reference to the Khitomer conference.

Observations:
• There is a little text dedication to Gene Roddenberry at the start of the story, who had died not long before this episode aired.

• Spock is revealed at the end of the opening teaser, which is sort of cool–but not a big deal when you know all about it.

• This is the first episode in Star Trek history to identify itself as Part 1 of a story.

• Picard says he’s met Spock once before.  In Sarek, he said he met Ambassador Sarek at his son’s wedding.  It’s left ambiguous whether this is the referring to the same event or not.

• Riker does understand the separation between fathers and sons

• Perrin says that “if it were anyone else…” he wouldn’t let Picard see Sarek.  Pretty obvious line, really.

•  It’s pretty brutal to see Sarek dying like this

• Data is a bit alarmed at the idea that his ears my come off

Troi’s reaction when she is given the job of dealing with Dokachin is priceless

• OK, I don’t know if I’ve not been paying attention or not, but I have never noticed big cushy chairs at the back of the Bridge before.

• It’s funny when Data refers to the Klingon bed as a shelf.

• The scene where Data stares at Picard is pretty pointless.  But the bit where he turns around maintaining his odd stare at Picard is hilarious, though random

• Cool looking ship in the junkyard, though easily destroyed.  It’s hard to see how the story is advanced, but presumably this will be revealed in Part II.

• Interesting reflection from Picard, “Father and son. Both proud, both stubborn, more alike than either of them were prepared to admit. A lifetime spent building emotional barriers. They’re very difficult to break down. And now the time has come, it’s too late. It’s a difficult moment. It’s a lonely one.”

• Funny bit from Data, trying but failing to be inconspicuous:  “It is a misconception that all Rategs speak with a particular inflection. In fact, there are twelve different–”

Dialogue High Point
Without doubt, the finest moment comes after Picard tells the Klingon bureaucrat that all he has to offer Gowron for his assistance is his gratitude.

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.

Previous Episode: The Game • Next Episode: Unification II

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