The passing of the torch; but is this Spock at his worst??
On this episode, Jeff Akin reviews Star Trek The Next Generation, Unification Parts 1 and 2 (Season 5, Episodes 7 and 8). He will examine the leadership approaches of Captain Picard, Commander Riker, Ambassador Spock and more.
Welcome, everyone! Thanks for joining me. I am beyond excited for the episodes we’re reviewing today. In some ways, the passing of the torch between the Original Series and The Next Generation. Episodes 7 and 8 of the 5th season of TNG, Unification.
This episode aired November 4, 1991. Gene Rodenberry passed away on October 24th that year. The episode begins with a simple title card commemorating him with the theme to the Original Series playing behind it. Well done, and rest in peace.
Picard meets with Fleet Admiral Brackett in person. She shows that Ambassador Spock is on Romulus and they believe he may have defected, which would be devastating to Federation security. Back in the 3rd season, Picard shared a mind meld with Sarek, Spock’s father, so this hits him particularly hard.
After the meeting, Picard confers with Riker as they head to Vulcan. Sarek is quite ill so Picard will meet with his wife. Picard explains the troubled relationship between Sarek and Spock, which Riker understands well (we’ll explore that in the season 2 episode, The Icarus Factor). Long story short, Spock essentially sees Sarek as a colleague and does not seem to hold him in any kind of regard as a father – we learn more on this later.
Picard assigns Riker to investigate the remains of a Vulcan ship that were recovered from a Ferengi Vessel. So far we have the Federation, the Vulcans, Romulans and Ferengi. We’re branching out all across the galaxy!
Picard meets with Perrin, Sarek’s human wife; his 3rd overall wife and 2nd human wife; Amanda Grayson being the 1st human he married. Amanda raised Spock and Michael Burnham. Perrin says Spock wrapped up all his affairs and that he planned on going. She explains the tension between Spock and Sarek and shares that Spock attacked Sarek’s position on the Federation-Cardassian War. She also explains how sick Sarek is. Picard asks to see him and she agrees, based only on the relationship between the two because of the mind meld.
Sarek is in bad shape. He’s speaking nonsense and rolling around, restlessly on his bed. He looks tired and worn out. He comes to a state of lucidity once he recognizes Picard and shares that, at the Khitomer Conferences, Spock met Senator Pardek, a Romulan senator. Over the decades, they had connected and Sarek believes Spock has gone to see him. As quickly as he became lucid, he slips out of it again. Picard helps him back to his bed and he says that he has secretly admired his son and his courage. They share a touching moment <Peace and long life, live long and prosper>. If you’ve ever experienced this decline with a loved one, this was a well done, and hard to watch scene.
Back on Enterprise, Picard is attempting to get on touch with Gowron, the Chancellor of the Klingon High Council. Picard was instrumental in getting Gowron into that position. After trying to reach him for 3 days, they are contacted by a Junior Adjutant to the Diplomatic Delegation. A serious insult. Picard attempts to negotiate for access to a ship with a cloaking device, but the adjutant just isn’t hearing it. Picard shifts tactics, masterfully, and gets access to the ship.
Picard has the luxury of representing a galactic superpower; not all of us have that luxury in our organizations. We do, though, regardless of what level we are at or our organization is at, to, well, throw our weight around a little bit. I call it swinging a hammer. It’s something heavy – in this case the “gratitude” of the Federation – that can be very effective in driving the nail in that you need, but it also runs the risk of destroying whatever is in range of your swing. So keep in mind, swinging the hammer should bever be your first course of action.
In this segment, Picard swings the Federation hammer, gracefully. He basically threatens Gowron that they will support another Great House if he doesn’t come through for them.
I had a, sort of, similar situation before that you might be able to relate to. The program I was leading had been providing a service that was above and beyond what we were asked to do. We were highly efficient in our standard work, thank to applying lean principles and eliminating wasteful, non-value-added steps in our processes. This allowed us to provide a higher level of service than was expected. Until a new government regulation changed some of the rules for us. Now we had additional, non-value-added steps that we couldn’t eliminate because they were required by law – we call those non-value-added but necessary – those are my absolute least favorite steps! Because of these, we had to scale back what we were providing. Now, a change, at the executive level, to our compensation structure would have given us the resources to continue the high level of service, but that was a tall ask.
So, much like Picard, I looked for my hammer. I had learned that this extra bit we were providing had come to be relied on internally by a few other programs. That gave me the hammer I was looking for. “If you don’t change our funding and compensation structure, it’ll cost these three other programs x amount of dollars extra to do what they need to do. I’m going to eliminate these extra steps in a week, to comply with the new regulations unless we have the resources we need.”
My choices really were to (a) comply with the new regs and try to continue providing superior service, (b) comply with the new regs and degrade our service, or (c) not comply with the regs. I think most people, like me, would want to do (a) but I had to convince others to make that happen. Do the work; understand the impacts of your work, both upstream and downstream, and then you can leverage that into a value-statement, like I did, and then await the decision. Ultimately, in this case, it was someone else’s call, but I had to do everything I could to do what I believed was right. So, maybe it’s not so much swinging a hammer as it is providing the right value-statement, but, either way, you need to be sure the decision makers have all the information necessary to make their decision, and knowing those impacts up and downstream, is critical information. And, once again, remember that swinging a hammer can break things too, and should be used as a last resort.
Picard did essentially the same thing. Right now, Gowron is enjoying the support of the Federation. His failure to reciprocate that support will result in the Federation backing someone else. Picard has the grace to call this gratitude, but the message is crystal clear.
Data, in the meantime, confirms Spock was meeting with Pardek from the photos sent from long range sensors. He has determined what district they are in, the Krocton Segment, and Pardek’s normal schedule.
Dr Crusher is working with a small team to make prosthetics for Picard and Data so they can pass as Romulans. Riker calls them down to the cargo bay for an update on the Vulcan ship when they’re able.
Geordi has identified the remains of a navigational deflector array in the wreckage. He confirms the vessel is Vulcan, the T’Pau, which was decommissioned and sent to a surplus depot years ago. Also a super cool throwback as T’Pau was the name of the priestess presiding over Spock’s presumptive wedding in Amok Time. Looking forward to watching that one!
Records indicate it should still be there. Worf informs Picard that a bird of prey, compliments of Gowron, has just arrived. Well played, Picard! He and Data prepare to beam over as Riker and the Enterprise head off to Qualor 2 to investigate the depot.
On the bird of prey, Captain K’vada is “welcoming” them. Picard and Data get to share a room with no amenities, they are to take their meals with the Klingons and they will live as the crew does. Picard leans into it and makes it sound as if this is how he prefers to live.
Oh, what a great example from Picard here! How often are you given an assignment, or conditions on an assignment, that are just awful? “Hey, I need you to save the world and I need it done by next Tuesday. Oh, and there are some security concerns so I’m going to need you to work in a locked room with a paper ledger and a calculator.” Ok, maybe that was a ridiculous example, maybe it’s something more like, “We’ve had a shift in the budget to get us through Q4. We need a 2% up in our year-to-year margins and we need it by the end of the month.” Yikes, right! Instead of arguing a losing battle, or justifying your current state, just lean into it. “Absolutely! We’ve been waiting for a challenge like this!” Then, of course, you have to figure out how to do it, which might not turn out as well, but it may be easier to get needed support if you start off from a place of possibility than a place of defending impossibility. We’ll see how this turns out for Picard shortly.
Riker and the Enterprise arrive at the depot. They communicate with Klim Dah Kah Chin who is the consummate bureaucrat. Riker is offended but Troi suggests a change in tactics. “He is the king of his hill.”
Riker invites him onto the ship. He’s impressed with the condition of it. Troi works with him and helps convince him to help out. There are two ways to look at this exchange. The first, is that Riker is playing to strengths and having Troi work with DahKahChin because she is friendly and is able to gently convince people to help out where they normally may not want to. And then there’s the other way, where Riker is taking advantage of a co-worker’s physical appearance to encourage a minor quid pro quo. Despite the evidence to the second way <Handsome women> I’m going to assume positive intent and go with the first.
As a manager, you assign people to accomplish tasks and do work. As a leader you do so with an eye towards highlighting strengths and developing people’s weaknesses. Riker here, quickly acknowledges that he is not the right person for this job; he’s too to the point for one mired in bureaucracy. Troi, though, understands how to make a person like this feel important, and to help them feel like they want to help. So, recognizing his weakness and her strength, he steps out of the way and lets Troi work her magic.
And magic it is! He locates the ship, and they head to it – and it is gone! DahKahChin is shocked!! They follow some clues and find another ship, the Tripoli, missing. This is a ship the depot regularly beams materiel onto. They go silent running to watch for the next scheduled beam over to see what happens. It’s a Galaxy-Class stakeout!
On the Klingon ship, Data says he does not require sleep and will stand while Picard attempts to sleep. Remember when I said we’d see how “leaning in” worked out for Picard? Well, here we see it didn’t work out too well. Man, just watching him is uncomfortable! That bed it terrible.
An incredible back-and-forth between him and Data. Picard is a little creeped out that he’s just standing there, apparently cataloguing, reviewing and analyzing data around the Romulans so he can better impersonate one. Finally, Picard gives up. They review the data together until K’vada calls him up and shares a communication stating that Sarek has died.
A small, highly armed combat vessel shows up and positions itself where the Tripoli would have been. It’s full of cargo, mostly weaponry. They intercept the package meant for the Tripoli and Riker tries to hail. They fire on the Enterprise and, in the return fire, is destroyed. Worf was targeting their weapon systems but their cargo was so volatile it exploded, taking the ship with it. Looks like they’ve hit a dead end.
Picard and Data have their Romulan makeup on; looks good. It’s weird seeing Data with normal eyes and seeing Picard with a full head of black hair! Picard shares his feelings about Sarek’s death with Data. He is apprehensive about now needing to share this news with Spock in addition to their original mission.
Data comments on the tension between Spock and Sarek. He offers a real commentary on human interactions. We have a limited time to live, and Data finds it discouraging that people cannot resolve their differences in that time.
Tone changes quickly as K’vada starts hassling them about their prosthetics. He clarifies that his orders do not include rescue missions as he beams them to the surface.
We see Senator Pardek meeting with Pro Consul Neral. He asks Pardek if he knows Picard; showing him a picture on an early 90’s prototype of the colorful iMac. Romulan security knows Picard is likely on the planet and disguised as a Romulan.
Picard and Data are walking through the streets – more fun back-and-forth between the two. They find a spot they believe they can reach out to Pardek. He’s not there so they head into a local diner. We get a glimpse of the culture here; the server is paranoid and very secretive. She all but accuses them of being spies for Romulan Security – would be interesting to see what this would have looked like if the Tal Shiar were already a part of this universe.
They attempt to enjoy their soup, but Data sees Pardek. As they go to meet him, two Romulan security officers arrest them.
They are taken into a cave where Pardek is waiting for them. The security officers were in disguise; it was all a rouse to get them off the street. From the shadows, we hear a voice that reveals itself as Spock.
And that’s the end of part one. Aargh! I need more! I can’t wait a whole week for the next episode!! I, wait, we don’t have to!
Part two kicks off with a direct continuation of part one. Spock and Picard are discussing why they’re on Romulus. Spock is adamant that this is none of Starfleet’s business and that he’s on a mission of peace. Picard keeps pushing; he won’t accept Spock just pushing him away. He drops the “with all due respect” line. I hate that line. Like, it literally means the next thing I say to you will be mean and probably insulting. I’d love to hear someone, someday say, “With all due respect, you did a great job and I appreciate you.” But that phrase has been so weaponized that even saying that I feel like I’m passive aggressively insulting someone.
Well, when he’s speaking with all due respect, he calls this action “cowboy diplomacy.” We hear this again in Face of the Enemy when Spock calls on Picard for help!
Picard, as a representative of Starfleet, says Spock must discuss the plan with him and not take action without first consulting him. Spock replies with what I have so often either said or wanted to say to people when I want to do something: “This is exactly what I wanted to avoid.” Like, just let me do the thing! I know this is for the best and slowing down to tell you about will, best case, slow everything down and, worst case, derail the whole plan!
In reality, though, it is rarely a good thing to run off on your own to do something. Controls, governance, chain of command are generally there for a reason. It’s when they’re there for the sake of having them that they become a problem. Identifying when there is, or isn’t, a value-add to the step is the key.
For example, year ago, when working in the public sector, I was directed to apply for a grant. After I wrote the grant application I had to have it approved by my leadership. Once they approved it, I had to get it approved by their leadership. Once they approved it I had to send it our governing, administrative agency to get their permission to send it to our legislature for their approval. Now, it took me a month to write the grant – that is a complex body of work!! The approval process to get it to the state house took just over 3 months. No changes were recommended and it was approved at each step.
Now, here’s the kicker. It went across to our Ways and Means committee, the committee that holds the purse strings. They put about 99% of all grants on a consent calendar that they just wholesale approve. So all of those levels of “review” and approval for a blind, blanket approval.
Now, of course that blanket approval speaks to the faith they have in the internal reviews, but that is one broken process! I can easily see 2-3 of the 4 layers of approval being eliminated. And I imagine Spock has had similar experiences, so he just went straight to his solution.
Now here’s an example of a value-add. I worked with a large company doing some consulting. I found they were tracking their records inventory in an Access database that one of their team members developed, on their own, and they retired awhile ago. Yikes, right. So I recommended a records management system to them. They initiated the procurement process and this company had IT governance in place, so procurement requests for software went through them first. They got our request and let us know the company already owned a system and all they had to do was purchase more licenses. Saved a ton of money and got them the solution as quickly as possible.
I don’t think something the scale of Vulcan and Romulan reunification falls into that level of review in Starfleet, at least in Spock’s experience.
Picard chooses not to argue this with him. In fact, he takes a turn that I found kind of shocking. Immediately after Spock says he wants to avoid this, Picard tells him about Sarek.
He accepts the news stoically and walks with Picard into a private part of the cave. They talk about Sarek and Spock essentially discounts much of what Picard shares. “emotional disarray”
He then describes his mission. There has been a growing movement of Romulans that want a reunification. People tied to this movement have been declared enemies of the state and Spock is here to protect them and to move the discussion, with Pardek, to the apparently sympathetic Pro Consul, Neral. Picard asks, bluntly why he didn’t take this to the Federation, or at least to the Vulcan government.
Spock has an interesting answer. He references the danger he put Captain Kirk and the Enterprise in when he committed them to the peace mission to support the Klingons as outlined in Star Trek 6, the Undiscovered Country. <STVI BRIEFING> Picard counters with an argument rooted in logic. Spock answers with his experience with “cowboy diplomacy.” He compares Picard to Kirk, in a way, and seems to agree to include Picard in his activities.
Data, on the Klingon ship asks K’vada for access to their computer so he can hack the Romulan info security net. He also has a plan to piggyback Romulan signals to communicate with the Enterprise. K’vada agrees as long as he shares any info on the Romulans; Data agrees and gets to work.
On Romulus, Spock and Picard are meeting in the open at what looks like a café. Spock is trying to convince Picard that this is all a possibility. “a closed mind, captain.” A young Romulan, D’Tan approaches them and shares an ancient book that tells the story of the Vulcan separation. Pardek comes up, shoos D’Tan off and takes Picard and Spock to a more private location.
Pardek talks about the generational shifts in society. D’Tan and the youth are no longer accepting the distrust and hostility in their culture. He says his generation will have no choice but to come into line with them. He goes on to say that meeting Spock, a real Vulcan has inspired them to new levels. He says Neral has agreed to meet him, a huge step in his plan.
Riker, continuing his investigation at Qualor 2, finds himself in a seedy, dive bar. He’s looking for the former wife of the pilot of the ship they destroyed.
He’s ALL Riker in this! “New face – same as always.” He’s back and forth with her, and she’s great! Gives a little, not enough, and then straight asks for a bribe. Riker reminds us he lives in a post-scarcity society, and offers to jam with her instead. She’s into it, and lets loose that a fat Fernegi, Omag, is the guy he wants to and that he’ll probably be in the bar in a few days.
Great stuff from Riker here, I mean fantastic! Besides earning the reputation many of us know him for, he also teaches a valuable lesson here. When you don’t have what they’re asking for, offer something they’d want. She wants some cash, which Enterprise crewmembers are too cool to have, so, after getting to know her a little, takes a risk and offers something he thinks she’d still appreciate. Jazz. Lucky for him, she’s all about it and it pays off.
Spock is meeting with Pro Consul Neral. He’s shocked at how interested and sympathetic he seems to be to the cause of reunification. They agree to meet and speak more and Neral says he will publicly endorse the opening of talks between Romulans and Vulcans. Spock leaves, and does not appear to fully buy in to what just happened.
To put a point on that feeling, we see Commander Sela emerge from a closet having overheard everything. Sela has been scheming to tear apart the Federation, and the Klingon Empire, actually, for quite some time. She praises Neral for his performance.
In the caves, everyone is excited but Picard and Spock are very skeptical. Spock says he intends to meet with the pro consul as it will advance his mission of exploring paths to reunification. He tells Picard this is the most logical course as he must see this through. If the Romulans have an ulterior motive, he believes this the best way to learn what it is. And there is also the chance Neral is being honest and this is will be exactly the next step he and the Underground have been hoping for.
The discussion devolves into another discussion of Spock and Sarek’s relationship. Spock believes Picard is being influenced by his memories of Sarek, and Picard believes Spock is acting from emotion and not logic – just as Sarek believed for so long. Picard sticks to his message though and owns it as is own.
Spock has the self-awareness to see the irony in the fact he is hearing his father, now, through Picard, only after he died. He acknowledges that he has brought his arguments with Sarek to Picard, and that he will miss the arguments as they were all they had.
They head up to the bird of prey. This leads to a scene we Star Trek fans had been waiting for since TNG first aired: Spock and Data working and talking together. They discuss Picard almost as an allegory to the different paths the two have taken. Spock says there is an almost Vulcan quality to Picard – which is hard to argue! While Data says he has served as a role model of what it means to be human – also hard to argue! They dive into their personal goals: Spock to be more Vulcan and Data to be more Human. Short, but satisfying exchange.
While they are discussing this, they are working on breaking the Romulan encryption, and they are successful.
Back in the dive bar, Work gets the piano player to sing Melota, of Klingon Opera. Man, Worf is something else here! He ends up in a weird, weird place. That’s put to a quick end, though, as a fat ferengi comes in and demands his song is played. This brings Riker back. Omag is cracking jokes and not taking Riker seriously at all.
He gets in Omag’s face and strong arms his way to information. He sends them to Galorndon Core, near the neutral zone. Through Spock and Data’s work they’re able to get an update from Picard and then they head off towards the neutral zone.
Spock’s on his way to the pro consul’s office and is interrupted by D’Tan. He shares some children’s toys that teach the Vulcan language. He says many generations of his family have used these as they’ve wanted to reconnect with their Vulcan cousins.
Intelligence picked up by Data shows that Neral has been deceiving Spock. A code in a transmission gives info on, and the time, of a subspace transmission where Spock was going to announce the talks between the two peoples and Neral was going to endorse them. The intelligence shows that he was leaking that information to stolen, Vulcan ships near Galorndon Core. As they discuss and further question the intelligence gathered, Sela and a crew of security officers arrive and detain them. This furthers Spock’s realization that they have been deceived; this time by none other than Senator Pardek! He runs down the actions Pardek had taken and shows he was the only one with the means and motivation to do all of this. <Curse your inevitable betrayal>. Then, in classic Bond Villain fashion, Sela tells them the whole plan. Reunification will still happen, but not through the diplomatic or peaceful means Spock was working through. No, they will reunify through the Romulan conquest of the planet Vulcan.
Sela has taken the group back to the pro consul’s office. She continues the Bond villaining. She writes a speech for Spock, saying she enjoys writing but doesn’t get to do it much in her job <perhaps you’d like another job.> Spock will communicate that a peace envoy of 3 Vulcan ships is on its way to Vulcan. That envoy will, in fact, be an invasion force. The Vulcans will welcome them with open arms allowing for a quick victory, entrenching the Romulan forces.
Spock refuses to read the statement so Sela shows the hologram they’ve programmed to do it without him. The office has been set up with holoprojectors to handle this. She heads out, locking them in the office, to launch the “peace envoy.” Data and Spock get to work to create a diversion.
The plan seems to be working. Enterprise picks up the Vulcan ships heading across the neutral zone and making their way to Vulcan. Riker is skeptical so he orders the ship to intercept.
Sela returns to her office and finds 2 Enterprise security officers and Riker, with too much conditioner in his hair, waiting for them. She shoots at them and it turns out they’re holograms! Spock emerges from behind a holographic wall and nerve pinches one of Sela’s guards while Picard punches the other in the face. Spock gets Sela to stand down (cowboy diplomacy) and Picard praises Data’s holographic work (Riker’s hair.) Sela, though, is overly confident, saying the plan is in motion and there is nothing that can be done to stop it.
Enterprise picks up a message from Romulus – it’s Spock, or, hologram Spock based on the speech. No! Wait! It’s the real Spock! He’s going off script warning of the invasion force!! They’re 14 minutes out from the Vulcan ships, the invasion force, so they hit warp 8.
On Romulus, Data explains he’s disabled security and cleared a path for their escape. To get moving, he nerve pinches Sela who drops to the ground! (Not bad)
Enterprise sees the Romulan force retreating back to the neutral zone, except one warbird that uncloaks. It blasts the Vulcan ships, destroying them! The bridge crew is stunned into near silence. They just watched over 2,000 Romulan troops get killed by their own military. Destroyed instead of captured.
D’Tan leads Picard, Data and Spock to a location Pardek isn’t aware of. They say they will do what they have always done: teach and pass the ideals down to each generation hoping, one day, for reunification. Spock tells Picard that he will be staying, continuing his mission. He sees, more than ever, that he is needed on Romulus. He says it may take decades or even centuries but he must invest the time now.
He then acknowledges Sarek’s role as father and that their arguments were helpful, just as his arguments with Picard. Spock expresses regret that Picard likely knows Sarek more than he does. So Picard, in selfless generosity, offers to mind meld with Spock to share what he has of Sarek. The episode ends with Spock feeling the loss of his father, mind melding with Picard, softly crying.
Oh, this was so good! These came out in November 1991, just a few weeks before Star Trek 6, the Undiscovered Country was released in theaters. As a young man in my early high school days, I remember the ramp up to these episodes well; Spock!! Spock was going to be on TNG…it was the stuff of nerd dreams!
And then, it kind of wasn’t. At first. I remember watching this when it first aired, on KPTV out of Portland, Oregon, anxiously awaiting my hero’s arrival. And I waited, and waited, and then, in the last 10 seconds of the first episode, he walks out, and fade to credits <CREDITS MUSIC>. WHAT?!? Are you kidding me??
Just a week later, we were all relieved and treated to an episode that featured Spock well and frequently. But back then, a week was an eternity!!
They did a couple of small things in this episode to tie TNG to Star Trek VI: Sarek references the Khitomer Conference from 2293. This was the climax of the movie and a place that, additionally, ties Deep Space 9 into the conversation as Curzon Dax was there too – Curzon was Dax’s host before Jadzia. Oh, and Worf’s grandfather was also there! Pretty cool confluence of individuals!
Spock, when defending his “cowboy diplomacy” references the peace mission he roped Kirk and the Enterprise into, again, straight from Star Trek VI. These were cool moments of continuity not just because they connect the two series, but also because, in real life, the movie hadn’t come out yet. So this gave a tiny preview, without giving anything away, for those of us that were eager to see the film, and it shows foresight and coordination between the two vehicles – something we’re finally seeing more of in Trek, but was missing for much of its 90’s run.
A little more obscure seed was planted in this episode as well. While D’Tan, the young Romulan whose parents taught him the Vulcan language, is a prominent figure in a lot of the non-canon Star Trek material out there. He’s referenced in a number of novels and, most remarkably, at least for me, is his pivotal role in the epic online roleplaying game, Star Trek Online. Spoiler alert, if you haven’t played the game – go ahead and skip ahead a few seconds – but, in the game, during the Romulan War arc, he becomes pro consul of the Republic and joins an alliance with the Federation and Klingons. Pretty cool – in fact, it took a moment to make the tie. I heard his name and thought it was familiar and then it hit me! Those STO writers have done an incredible job pulling from the various series and advancing the storylines. If you don’t play, I highly recommend giving it a shot; it’s free and totally worth at least checking out.
Mark Lenard is so great as Sarek; he always has been. He inhabits the character and is so natural in the role. He plays, with relative ease, the plight and pain of someone that is aware of the mental decline. It is a real shame that he died off screen, only mentioned in a communication to Picard.
This is our first episode with Sela, even though I think it’s her last episode in Star Trek. I love Sela! Her very existence is a super Star Trek thing but I won’t get into all that now; we’ll see her a few more times in our look at TNG. I will say, though, and I know this might fire some people up, but this is one of the many reasons I’m glad – oh, spoiler alert, again, if you haven’t watched through the Next Generation – but one of the many reasons I’m glad Tasha Yar died. I just think she was a terrible character, worse than Neelix, but didn’t last long enough to rival his ranking in my book. But with Sela, Denise Crosby gets to rock it. She gets to bite into a deep and complex character and is amazing.
This was fun too because we got to see the Klingons pulled in and one of Star Trek’s attempt at a Star Wars-type atmosphere! That bar Riker ends up in was kind of like if someone described the cantina in Star Wars to a 4th grader and asked them to replicate it. Not bad, but not that great either. I did really enjoy the musician, though. She was a lot of fun. She had a great personality and gave Riker a chance to shine.
The way Picard pulled the Klingons in was fun, but so was their response; putting him and Data in a single room with a shelf to sleep on. I loved the scene when Picard was trying to sleep; the stuff with Data here was golden.
There was this weird theme when people were talking about big, important stuff where they would just be looking off into the distance. It was pretty distracting at the very start with the Admiral and later with Captain K’vada. I’m sure it was supposed to import something, but it just came across kind of weird.
Every now and then, Star Trek goes big and epic; this was one of those times. While the pacing, in my opinion, made it feel a little smaller than it was, it still felt like it had galaxy-wide implications. A fun, and mostly well done set of episodes that echo Star Trek VI very well, and set up future events in other Star Trek series.
While this was a great episode, essential Star Trek, really, there was surprisingly little leadership occurring here. We’re going to look at 4-ish people, though here: Picard and Riker, of course, but also Spock and Pardek/Neral.
Picard, in addition to the pieces we discussed earlier – knowing how and when to swing a hammer, and leaning into difficult and unpleasant situations – demonstrates, through both episodes, what it looks like to put the mission ahead of himself. He is in danger as soon as he crosses into the neutral zone and is met with a Spock that is not willing to comply with Starfleet. He persists, putting himself in more danger, by walking openly through the streets, well, openly in disguise, and interacting with Romulans he’s never met before. He understands the mission, and how critical it is to the Federation, and he never backs down from it.
When Spock offers him nothing more than resistance, he remains persistent. Even when he doesn’t get the agreement he was wanting, even expecting, he continues and ends up with a compromise that works out well for all involved. By sticking to the mission and accepting Spock’s compromise as being better than just getting shut out of participating, he’s able to connect him to Data, and they are able to accomplish amazing things. In fact, that’s the ultimate value-add Picard offers: getting out of the way and enabling experts to do what they can. He connects with, and ultimately manages Spock and then lets him do his thing.
I think we can all learn a valuable lesson here; and for some, it might be a difficult one. Picard’s goal here isn’t to solve the problem himself, but to determine what Spock is doing on Romulus and to proceed in the best interests of the Federation. There’s a version of that where he tries to do it all himself; where he tries to be the hero. But when we see what it takes just to open communications on top of the Romulan signals, it’s clear he would have failed. Instead, he gets out of the way and enables others to be the heroes.
When do you handle a problem when there is likely someone else on your team that should be handling it; that would arguably be better than you at handling it? Or, when does a member of your team present an idea and you immediately look for an opportunity to involve yourself?
I’ve seen this countless times. I’ll be in a meeting and some other executive presents an idea or a report that their staff did. Often, they even go so far as to claim the idea as their own, or just not offer that it came from their team. When they’re questioned or pushed on it, they eventually start answering with, “good question. I’ll confer with so and so and then get back to you.” Now, if they’re giving an executive report out on something, that’s one thing, but if they’re going to be asked questions and people are expecting answers, why didn’t they at least bring their staff person with them? Why not share the glory and give this staff person a chance to shine in front of the executive team? At the very least, have them there to answer questions. Bottom line is that the leader in this case chose to take the spotlight when it could have been shared. But why?
Well, here’s the answer. That leader’s insecure and is afraid that sharing that spotlight will diminish their value. The reality is, though, that while the spotlight is being shared, it shines equally on both people: the staff person for doing well, and the leader for developing and highlighting the talent on their team. In most organizations, leaders and managers are in their position to lead and manage, not to be a subject matter expert; that’s for the staff. So, do like Picard does: connect to people, manage expectations, counsel, advise, remove barriers, enable people, and then step out of the way. As we learn in season 3 of Discovery, spoiler alert – this all eventually pays off.
We talked about Riker managing to strengths, and not objectifying members of his team at all or in any way… But another great thing he does, that I want to dive into a little more, is when he’s negotiating with the piano player, Amarie, in the dive bar. At one point, she asks for a bribe for info. Not having any money, he opts to jam with her instead. She enjoys it and shares the information. What this teaches us is that the thing someone says they want is not necessarily the thing they actually want; or the only thing they want.
Specifically, this makes me think of motivating your teams and staff. How quick are we to look at salary increases or cash bonuses as methods of motivating or rewarding staff? This has been a go-to for just about as long as we’ve paid people to do work. But is it effective? Well, just look at your employee engagement metrics to answer that question. And if you don’t have those, just DuckDuckGo employee engagement rates. Here, I’ll save you the time; they’re not great. But how can they not be great when we offer them more money?? Well, money isn’t what they really want.
Most employees want things like recognition, privileges, opportunities and, more than anything, meaningful tasks and work. Riker knew this. He could have easily told Amarie to hold on while he returned to the ship, replicated some cash and dropped it in her cup. Instead, he knew that she valued experiences and diverse music. So he gave her exactly that. In the post-scarcity society that Riker lives in, that may have been more a matter of convenience. But for us, where we most certainly do not live in a post-scarcity society, this differentiation is much more practical. You can choose to throw money at your staff and hope for increases in productivity and profitability, or you can actively work on their engagement, which rarely means money – unless they aren’t being compensated fairly or competitively; that’s before even step one – and usually means you engaging with them to determine what motivates them. It’s like Seattle Seahawks coach Pete Carroll once said, "I spend 98% of my day sitting in my office and thinking about what I can do to get my team to play just 1% better."
And this brings us to Spock. In other episodes of the Starfleet Leadership Academy, I’ve praised him as a highly effective executive officer. I don’t know that I can say the same of him here. These episodes came out just a few weeks before Star Trek 6, where the Federation began its path to peace with the Klingons; this story echoes that with the Romulans. In the movie, Spock uses a crisis, the explosion of the Klingon moon, Praxis, to bring the Federation Council together and embark on a peace mission. In Unification, he unilaterally decides to do this and heads out on his own.
Bluntly, this wasn’t his choice to make. Is the Federation a massive bureaucracy that likely wouldn’t see things the same way he did? Yeah, absolutely. But that doesn’t justify his approach; his cowboy diplomacy. When Admiral Brackett first talks to Picard, they’re thinking defection; they’re preparing a security response!
The point, and it kills me to say this, is that you have to work in the system to change the system. It kills me, because I so identify with Spock here! I cannot abide massive bureaucracy; I have zero patience for it! But I’ve also learned that you can work within it. You have to have clear vision, be persuasive, and push the fringes of the edges of acceptable behavior, but that’s how you must do it.
As of the time I’m recording this, there is very little follow up on this storyline. We already talked about one, Face of the Enemy, and the other comes in third season of Discovery. But what those lead us to believe is that Spock has been doing this work mostly in a vacuum; little to no support from the Federation or the Vulcans. Had he worked within the system, yes, it would have taken longer to get started, but, arguably, it could have been more effective.
All that being said, his vision and his courage were enviable. He believes, unequivocally, that reunification is not only possible, but inevitable. He has long term vision: he talks in terms of decades and centuries, but he has supreme confidence in the outcome. It would be inspiring and exciting to work with someone like this.
Finally, I want to talk a little about Pardek and Neral, even Sela. Why, you ask? Well, because they show some leadership traits here – specifically traits that I recommend you avoid. They also have a vision – the military conquest of Vulcan and then, likely, war with the Federation. Vision’s great, and maybe that vision is culturally appropriate for them, but it’s how they execute that vision that is problematic. Lies, deception, trickery.
Between Neral working to convince Spock that he believed in reunification and Pardek’s long-term con of Spock, I felt like I was watching an episode of House of Cards! They are telling people what they want to hear just to get them to behave in a way that advances their own purposes and goals. They actually have the intention of disposing of these people when they’re no longer useful.
Have you seen this in the workplace? Man, I sure have. Dangling promotions in front of people to get them to take on assignments or even take accountability for things they shouldn’t need to; building someone up so they apply for a position outside of your program so you don’t have to deal with them anymore. I’m sure you can think of examples here too. Using and taking advantage of people in a clearly dishonest way to advance your own goals is sad. It’s pathetic. And it’s a trait of a poor and likely very insecure and incompetent leader.
I bring Sela into this because she shares the vision, but she never pretends to be anything she isn’t. She uses Neral and Pardek, but they know what’s going on. While she’s the real, big bad in this story, I suppose I have to give her credit for authenticity. And that’s something, right?
Let me know what you thought of these episodes. Did you see them when they first aired too? Were you as upset as I was when Spock was barely in the first part? Tell me about it! I’m on all the social media @jefftakin Jeff, t as in Tripoli, a k i n. And it would be mighty cool of you to tell a friend or colleague about the Starfleet Leadership Academy.
Now let’s see what we’re going to watch next time….
Looks like we’re sticking around with some more of the Next Generation! Season 3, episode 8, The Price! This features some really good work from Troi and plants some seeds for a cool episode of Voyager. But we’ll get to that one, another time.
Until then, Ex Astris Scientia!