Warning: SPOILERS for Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 7 – “Unification IIII”
Commander Michael Burnham (Sonequa Martin-Green) voyaged home to Vulcan in this week’s Star Trek: Discovery, but she found her adoptive planet has undergone unthinkable changes in the last 930 years. While nothing in the year 3189 is what Burnham and the crew of the U.S.S. Discovery expected to find when they time-traveled to the 32nd century, Vulcan’s new reality is even more shocking than what they encountered when they visited United Earth. For starters, the planet Vulcan changed its name to Ni’Var, which is now the shared homeworld of the Vulcans and Romulans.
Star Trek: Discovery season 3, episode 7, “Unification III”, is a monumental hour that follows up major plot lines from Star Trek: The Next Generation, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek movie, and Star Trek: Picard. “Unification III” is a direct sequel to the TNG two-parter “Unification, Parts I and II”, which saw Ambassador Spock (Leonard Nimoy) meet Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) and Lt. Commander Data (Brent Spiner), and revealed Spock’s underground efforts to reunite the Vulcan and Romulan peoples. “Unification III” also explains what became of the Romulans, whose homeworld and empire was destroyed by their sun going supernova, which Spock tried to prevent in the 2009 Star Trek film. Star Trek: Picard dealt with the aftermath of the supernova, explaining the United Federation of Planets’ aborted attempt to rescue the Romulan people in the 2380s, and how that failure ruined the life and Starfleet career of Admiral Picard.
But it’s the profound ways Vulcan has changed that provide the most seismic shifts in the Star Trek universe, including how and why Ni’Var left the Federation. While they are still the familiar races Star Trek fans know, the Vulcans and the Romulans now live together in the 32nd-century’s post-Burn reality, and how all of this came to be in Star Trek: Discovery‘s new canon is truly fascinating.
It was in the Star Trek TOS season 1 episode “Balance of Terror” when Spock – who was serving aboard Captain James T. Kirk’s (William Shatner) Starship Enterprise – first learned that the Vulcans and Romulans came from common ancestry and that the Romulans left Vulcan millennia ago to forge their own secretive empire. Despite being longtime enemies of the Federation, there were elements within Romulan society that were pushing for reunification with their Vulcan cousins. When Ambassador Spock learned of this in the 24th century, he traveled to Romulus and spent the remainder of his life in the underground working towards the goal of unifying the Vulcan and Romulan peoples.
In TNG‘s “Unification Parts I and II”, Starfleet feared Spock had defected and sent Picard to infiltrate Romulus and find him, which is when the Captain of the Enterprise-D learned of Spock’s true intentions. “Unification Parts I and II” directly led into the events of Star Trek 2009, when the Romulan sun went supernova and destroyed the planet. Spock, who was still on Romulus, tried to stop the supernova using red matter but instead, he was sent back in time to the 23rd century, but also into the alternate Kelvin timeline created by the Romulan Nero’s (Eric Bana) own time travel. The Federation in the Prime Universe assumed Spock was dead and never learned his true fate; sadly, the aged Vulcan Ambassador passed away a few years later in the alternate timeline.
However, Spock’s work on Romulus achieved its desired effect, though it happened centuries after his death. After the Federation in the 2380s reversed course and abandoned the rescue mission led by Admiral Picard, the Romulans were scattered throughout the Alpha and Beta Quadrants when their homeworld was lost. Inspired by Spock’s example and his teachings, Vulcan opened its doors to their Romulan cousins, and the Qowat Milat and their philosophy of “absolute candor” were instrumental in smoothing over initial relations between the Romulans and Vulcans. As a result, the Romulans “came home” to Vulcan and fulfilled Spock’s dream, beginning an uneasy co-existence that continues into 3189.
To further the cause of unification, Vulcan changed its name to Ni’Var in order to represent the fact that it was now a united world of Vulcans and Romulans. However, by the late 31st century, the galaxy was dealing with a dangerous shortage in dilithium. The Federation ordered every member worlds’ best scientists to find an alternative means of warp propulsion for its thousands of starships. Ni’Var invented a project called SB-19, which was a system that apparently creates artificial wormholes to allow starships to instantaneously travel thousands of miles, not unlike the U.S.S. Discovery‘s spore displacement hub drive.
However, SB-19 was unstable new technology, and Ni’Var wanted to scrap it because of the danger it represented. But as the best solution available to the dilithium crisis, the Federation ordered Ni’Var to continue work on SB-19. When The Burn happened, Ni’Var believed SB-19 was the cause and blamed the Federation for forcing their hand and provoking the catastrophe. The SB-19 incident was the last straw for Ni’Var, which already had numerous prior issues with the Federation. Ni’Var took back all research into SB-19 and voted to withdraw from the Federation, although, surprisingly, the Romulans objected and wanted to remain.
Regardless, Ni’Var’s break from the Federation is a stunning turn of events considering that Vulcan was one of the founding member worlds of the Federation. Factoring in United Earth also withdrawing and banishing the Federation from its homeworld, plus the Andorians joining with the Orions to form a galactic syndicate known as the Emerald Chain, it means three of the original founding worlds quit the United Federation of Planets, with only the Tellarites’ 32nd-century status unaccounted for on Star Trek: Discovery.
Like United Earth, 32nd-century Ni’Var is an isolationist planet that maintains no diplomatic ties to the Federation. However, Ni’Var deals with constant internal strife from within, with various factions of Romulans and Vulcans vying for political influence and maintaining a degree of mutual mistrust, which makes the Qowat Milat an important peacemaking presence. Overseeing Ni’Var’s fragile society is President T’Rina (Tara Rosling), while the influential Romulans and Vulcans Michael Burnham faced in her quorum were N’Raj (Oliver Becker), a Romulan elder who advocates for greater self-governance, V’Kir (Emmanuel Kabongo), the leader of a sect of Vulcan logic purists, and Shira (Stephanie Belding), who represents the planet’s Romulo-Vulcan hybrids striving to maintain the unity between the two peoples.
While Ni’Var is formidable and forbidding, Michael Burnham was, at the very least, able to impress President T’Rina enough for her to trust Michael and the Federation with the SB-19 data. This is a significant leap forward for a possible unification between Ni’Var and the Federation as well as for Burnham’s quest to solve the riddle of The Burn. Ni’Var’s future remains in its own hands and it’s not clear if the Romulans and Vulcans will ever seek to rejoin the Federation in Star Trek: Discovery season 3. However, it’s heartening that Ni’Var reveres the teachings of Ambassador Spock, whose legacy is now manifest, and the Vulcans and Romulans fittingly hold Spock up as the shining example that made their unification possible.
Star Trek: Discovery streams Thursdays on CBS All-Access and Fridays internationally on Netflix.