Ambassador Spock had a mission: the unification of the Vulcan and Romulan people. Divided for centuries, it was a seemingly impossible task; the Romulans and Vulcans could not have been more divided. However, Spock refused to give up his dream of unity. Undaunted, accused of treason, he committed his life to this cause, ultimately risking everything to save the Romulan home world.
Nearly a thousand years later, Michael Burnham learns that the Federation has fallen, no longer united. She, too, is determined — committed, along with the crew of the Discovery, to reunite the divided and devastated peoples of the Federation.
In modern Western culture, we too have become a divided people. Tribalism reigns supreme. Every issue has become divisive. It used to be that religion and politics were not to be discussed, but now, seemingly every topic is cause for anger, division, and disunity. “United we stand, divided we fall,” no longer seems a motivating motto but a cynical prognostication. How do we stand?
For Spock and Burnham, the idea of reunification was mastered through a lifetime of internal struggle. These siblings, both children of two worlds, learned how to reconcile within them their dual identities. They grew, evolved. One of Spock’s final messages, given to his younger self in the Kelvin timeline, put a fine point on it: “Spock, in this case, do yourself a favor: put aside logic. Do what feels right.”
Beyond their struggles with self, Michael and Spock each found themselves in a divided family that they were able to unify. Spock and Michael reunited. Michael and Amanda found renewed unity. Despite never fully enjoying the intimate closeness of father and son, even Spock and Sarek were able to reconcile and work together for a common cause.
It’s no wonder, then, that Spock and Michael felt a determination to rebuild and reunite the fractured societies they witnessed. Like them, millions of us have observed the anger and disunity plaguing countries and cultures all over the world. Like many, I have wondered how we recover, how we reunite. Many a political candidate has promised to be the one who will reunite us. But that’s not how it works. Unification simply cannot come from the top down. It must come from the bottom up.
Even Captain Kirk’s hero, Abraham Lincoln, who has long been heralded as “The Great Unifier” recognized that the power to unite comes not from a single leader, but through the collective impact of individual action. “When the people rise in masses in support of the Union…truly may it be said, ‘The gates of hell shall not prevail against them.’”
Spock knew this. In his quest to reunite the Vulcans and Romulans, he rejected political influence, abdicating his official role as the Vulcan Ambassador to the Federation. Instead, he joined with the small group of Romulans who sought reunification with their Vulcan cousins. As the movement grew, it attracted the negative attention of the politicians and military, with Sela swearing, “Your dream of reunification is not dead. It will simply take a different form; the Romulan conquest of Vulcan.”
Indeed, too often our efforts to reunite are contingent upon one side conquering the other. Beginning from such a divisive stance is counterproductive to the ultimate goal. Spock understood this well:
SPOCK: There are groups in every populated area. I've personally spoken to members from four provinces. It has become a serious concern for the Romulan leadership.
PICARD: Serious enough for the leaders to suddenly embrace a Vulcan peace initiative? I have some difficulty in accepting that.
SPOCK: I sense you have a closed mind, Captain. Closed minds have kept these two worlds apart for centuries. In the Federation, we have learned from experience to view the Romulans with distrust. We can either choose to live with that enmity or seek a way to change it. I choose the latter.
PICARD: I will be the first to cheer when the Neutral Zone is abolished. But I wonder if this movement is strong enough to reshape the entire Romulan political landscape.
SPOCK: One can begin to reshape the landscape with a single flower, Captain.
Of course, we mustn’t suppress fights for justice in the name of a perceived, though false, unity; that is oppression. True unity requires equality across racial, gender, sexual, social, and economic lines. Climate change is an existential threat to equality and unity. In short, unification requires 24th century morality.
Each of us has a chance to be the landscape-changing flower spoken of by Spock. Michael Burnham is one. A “True Believer” in the ideals of a fallen Federation, Michael is an example of growing to change the landscape. She shed her “reflexively supportive” nature, overcame fear of her would-be enemies like Book, celebrated the arrival of her friends on the Discovery, and persuaded them all to join with her in reuniting the Federation. Likewise, in our personal lives and spheres of influence, we can fight for the proper future filled with equality, justice, and harmony.
It takes one to start. It takes a Rosa Parks. It takes a Greta Thunberg. It takes a Harvey Milk. It takes each one of us. Each one a flower. Each one changing the landscape until there is a worldwide garden filled with Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.
It won’t happen immediately. It will take work and persuasion, especially in the small, intimate reunifications of each of our lives. But, as Star Trek has always shown us, the dream of unification is worthy. On the surface, Spock failed. The Vulcans and Romulans were no closer together during Admiral Picard’s Romulan rescue mission than before the reunification effort. But Spock inspired young people who took upon them the collective mantle to bring about change. Michael Burnham is a “true believer” in the Federation and Starfleet, helping grow a garden. To achieve the dream of unity, it takes one — and each one of us can be that one. I hear Gene Roddenberry looking at those of us who believe in his vision of the future, saying “That hope is you.”
Jake Black (he/him) is a writer whose credits include Star Trek: Starfleet Logbook, Star Trek Magazine, and works for DC Comics, Marvel, WWE, and many more. An eleven-year cancer survivor, he lives in a quiet Connecticut town with his wife, son, and twin daughters. Found online @jakeboyslim.
Star Trek: Discovery streams on CBS All Access in the United States, airs on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and streams on Crave in Canada, and on Netflix in 190 countries.