While grappling with the fallout of her recent actions, and what her future might hold, Burnham's analysis of the black box data yields uncertain conclusions. She and Tilly discover a Starfleet scientific project called SB-19 which may augment their findings, but cannot access it: SB-19 is located on the planet Ni'Var, formerly known as "Vulcan," which left the Federation after — as far as Vulcan scientists could tell — SB-19 caused the Burn. Burnham agrees to represent the Federation in an intense debate about the release of valuable, but politically sensitive, data.
Tropes in this episode:
- 2-D Space: Averted. Tilly notes that a triangulation of the Burn's origin based on the three black boxes would only give its location in two dimensions, leaving a wide arc above or below that point that would take several lifetimes to search. The SB-19 data would allow them to narrow down the search to a specific location.
- Ascended Fanon: The term "Ni'var" was first coined in 1968 by linguist Dorothy Jones; it's a Vulcan word that means "Two forms" and is used for works of art which contrast two sides of the same subject. This episode marks the first time the term has been used in canon.
- Borrowed Catchphrase: Burnham tells the President of Ni'Var that Spock would find the current state of their society "fascinating."
- Brutal Honesty:
- Saru mentions how he knows Tilly will put the needs of the Federation above her own. After what happened with Burnham, Tilly asks if Saru is offering her the position of acting XO because she's qualified or because she's compliant. He insists it's because her actions demonstrate that she'll put the good of the ship and Starfleet over her personal feelings.
- Brutal honesty is also the policy of the Qowat Milat, and therefore of Gabrielle, as she demonstrates when calling out Burnham in the middle of the quorum.
- The Qowat Milat from Star Trek: Picard were integral to the eventual reunification of Vulcan and Romulus.
- Burnham watches a holo-recording of Spock from TNG's "Unification", which came from the personal logs of Admiral Jean-Luc Picard.
- Burnham tells Book about the time Spock called her out for burdening herself with too much responsibility.
- Canon Welding: This episode combines elements of TNG: "Unification, Parts I and II," Star Trek: Picard and even the Back Story of the 2009 pre-boot.
- Cruel to Be Kind: Gabrielle calls out Burnham's Conflicting Loyalty because Burnham is reluctant to be honest in front of the quorum, and they're unlikely to be cooperative as long as they sense ulterior motives. Burnham catches on after a few objections, and lampshades after the fact that her mother could have chosen a better opportunity to do some parenting.
- Distant Sequel: To TNG's Unification two-parter, showing the fulfillment of Spock's efforts to reunite the Vulcan and Romulan peoples.
- Ensign Newbie: Tilly becomes the latest such character in the franchise with her acceptance of the role of Acting Number Two.
- Eureka Moment: Vance is unsure of how to persuade Ni'Var to hand over the data on SB-19 until he looks at Burnham and realizes that if anyone can open that door, Spock's adopted sister can.
- I Am X, Son of Y: How Burnham introduces herself to the President of Ni'Var."I am Michael Burnham. Daughter of Sarek. Sister of Spock."
- If You Won't, I Will:N'Raj: If the Vulcans won't share the SB-19 data, the Romulans will.
- Incompletely Trained: Tilly says she hasn't finished the Command Training Program, but Saru says a 900-year wormhole jump pretty much waives the rest of it.
- Irony: The Vulcans were one of the founders of The Federation, largely to oppose the Romulans. When the Burn happened, the Romulans had not only joined the Federation but wanted to remain so, and it was the Vulcans who chose to secede.
- Internal Reveal:
- Vance gives Saru and Burnham a brief history lesson on the Romulans and Vulcans between their jump and the present day. In particular, they learn that the two sides are "two tribes of the same species", a fact that came to light a few years after their jump to the future, and Spock's efforts at reunification.
- T'Rina then tells Burnham and Saru about the Qowat Milat and their philosophy of "Absolute Candor".
- Modesty Bedsheet: Not as extreme as most different-sex couple cases, but Burnham's chest still manages to be completely covered while Book has the sheet low enough for his nipples to be visible.
- The Needs of the Many:
- Inverted. Ni'var split from the Federation because they felt that the Federation's concern with maintaining interstellar travel in an era of dwindling dilithium supplies came at the expense of the member worlds it was attempting to help. When SB-19 was thought to be responsible for the Burn, Ni'var broke away and classified the data. Saru lampshades that the Vulcans seem to have forsaken a tenet they're known for popularizing, but the President retorts that they've grown wise enough not to yoke themselves to old sayings.T'Rina: In its desire to serve the needs of the many, the Federation ignored the needs of the few.
Saru: Did your ancestors not coin the phrase "The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few"?
T'Rina: When the people of Vulcan welcomed the Romulans home, we were forced to confront centuries of mistrust and brutality on both sides. Over time and with much effort, we earned the wisdom to know when to let go of maxims and proverbs.
- Burnham withdraws her challenge because getting the data would come at the expense of the tenuous peace the Vulcans and Romulans have spent centuries building.
- Inverted. Ni'var split from the Federation because they felt that the Federation's concern with maintaining interstellar travel in an era of dwindling dilithium supplies came at the expense of the member worlds it was attempting to help. When SB-19 was thought to be responsible for the Burn, Ni'var broke away and classified the data. Saru lampshades that the Vulcans seem to have forsaken a tenet they're known for popularizing, but the President retorts that they've grown wise enough not to yoke themselves to old sayings.
- Nice, Mean, and In-Between: The three quorum members form this dynamic. The Romulan, N'Raj, is open to Burnham's ideas; the Vulcan, V'Kir, doesn't want to entertain the debate at all for fear of the disruption it could cause; and the Romulo-Vulcan, Shira, is cautious but willing to hear her out.
- OOC Is Serious Business: When shown actual proof of the Burn having a definite origin, Admiral Vance becomes almost as gung-ho about solving the mystery as Burnham herself, willing to authorize whatever resources Discovery needs to get the SB-19 data, brushing off Burnham being removed as XO and her own recalcitrance at representing the Federation in an official capacity.
- Please Select New City Name: After the Romulans rejoined the Vulcans, their homeworld was renamed Ni'var.
- Rank Up: Saru offers Tilly a temporary assignment as his First Officer, at least until he can decide on someone permanent. With some encouragement from her shipmates, she decides to take it.
- Reasonable Authority Figure: Vance, once again. Even though he probably hasn't forgiven Burnham for going rogue last episode, he still supports her efforts to solve the mystery of the Burn and, as he had suggested, authorizes a mission to help her do so.
- Sadistic Choice: If Burnham fails at the T'Kal-in-ket, not only will she not get critical data about the Burn, but she will blacken Spock's legacy. But, as she watches the three members of the quorum argue, if she wins she gets the data at the expense of undoing all of her foster brother's lifelong work. She chooses to Take a Third Option and withdraw the challenge, choosing The Needs of the Many. The quorum never comes to a consensus; the president delivers her the data, believing the Federation can be trusted.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right!: N'Raj threatens to give Burnham the SB-19 data in spite of the quorum's decision, because he sees V'Kir as being needlessly intransigent when Burnham could absolve them of the responsibility for the Burn. The argument that results from that convinces Burnham to withdraw her challenge in order to maintain the peace.
- Sequel Episode: To the "Unification" two-parter in Star Trek: The Next Generation.
- Shout-Out: The U.S.S. Yelchin is named for Anton Yelchin (Chekov in the movie reboot).
- Stereotype Flip: After unification, the Romulans have become more open and willing to listen to reason, with the Vulcans becoming more insular and suspicious.
- Throwing Down the Gauntlet: Burnham invokes the right of T'Kal-in-ket, which is a philosophical debate designed to unearth deep truths. The challenge can only be invoked by graduates of the Vulcan Science Academy (or Ni'Var Science Institute), and once invoked it cannot be refused. The President is thoroughly annoyed that Burnham is using their traditions to open old wounds.
- Wham Line:
- Vance hits Burnham and Saru with one Wham Line after another regarding the planet Ni'Var.Vance: You'd know it by its former name: Vulcan.
Burnham: The Vulcans — the Vulcans changed their name?
Vance: Well, it's not just the Vulcans who live there now. They share the planet with the Romulans.
- And then there's the same Wham Line spoken in an earlier episode, by the same character:Michael: Mom?
- Vance hits Burnham and Saru with one Wham Line after another regarding the planet Ni'Var.
- Wham Shot: Gabrielle Burnham is still alive, and she joined the Qowat Milat.
- What the Hell, Hero?: Tilly gives Burnham a very subdued rebuke regarding Burnham running off on an unsanctioned mission and leaving Tilly to try and explain it.Tilly: Hey, um, you put me in a really horrible position with Saru and the admiral when you went off on your own.
Burnham: It would've been so much worse if I had told you.
Tilly: My choice. Not yours.
- You Are Better Than You Think You Are: When Tilly expresses her doubts about being Saru's acting First Officer, he says that of all the crew she has handled the transition to the 32nd century the best and she can help keep the crew together.Saru: I would like you to serve as my Acting First Officer until I find a permanent replacement.
Tilly: Uh, sir, what? I...I never completed the Command Training Program.
Saru: You traveled through a wormhole 930 years into the future. I am confident in saying your experience now exceeds the parameters designed for the Command Training Program.
Tilly: Sir, I'm an ensign. I...I would be responsible for lives.
Saru: Part of leadership is the acknowledgment that one is suited to it. Many members of our crew have struggled with all that has changed. I have watched you rise to the occasion. I believe you can help them rise, as well. And I believe you will always put the needs of Starfleet and the Federation ahead of your own wishes.
Tilly: Sir, are you asking me because I'm qualified or because I'm...compliant?
Saru: I'm asking because I believe this is in the best interest of our ship.