the story: The crew goes in search of the missing Spock.
similar to: "Blood Oath" (Deep Space Nine)
my thoughts: "Unification" as a whole is about as important a Next Generation story as there ever was. At once acknowledging the ongoing significance of the recent "Redemption" crisis, it's the next great serialized chapter of the series, further signaling the approach Deep Space Nine would take and what viewers in general would come to demand of their favorite TV shows, even ones formerly most comfortable in and indeed known for their episodic format like Star Trek.
It's the first great Next Generation Romulan story since "The Defector," and, like another third season episode, bridges the gap between the series and its classic predecessor in a meaningful way. Speaking of which "Unification, Part 1" features the death of Sarek, who previously appeared in the series in the namesake episode, a moment that had original series fans take Next Generation seriously for the first time, and in an even bigger moment, Spock expanding his presence in the franchise.
Ever since McCoy's cameo in "Encounter at Farpoint," crossover characters became a franchise staple. Scotty would later appear in "Relics," and of course there's Star Trek Generations, which saw Picard meet Kirk, plus a plethora of others from throughout succeeding series (most controversially, Riker and Troi in Enterprise's final episode, "These Are the Voyages..."). Yet Spock is a seismic member of this club, duplicating his "Unification" impact in Star Trek and Star Trek Into Darkness as he helps launch a new version of the franchise.
Outside of "Unification," however, only Deep Space Nine's "Blood Oath," in which three actors who portrayed Klingons in the original series return to reprise their roles, features a scenario that feels organic, suitably dramatic, and true to character.
As for the episode itself, besides the Klingon references, there's also Riker investigating a Zackdorn shipyard. The Zackdorn are a Next Generation alien species previously featured in "Peak Performance." They fall below the Benzites as early attempts to create distinctive new aliens with any kind of staying power, mostly because "Performance" presents a thoroughly unappealing version of the species. The effort in "Unification" is better, with a better-defined bureaucratic nature that puts them in unique, distinctive footing. Even if this is still the Zackdorns' last appearance, it leaves plenty of room for further exploration.
The episode features a cornucopia of notable guest-stars, which I point out in advance of the usual feature, just to give you a head's up. It's a whopper of an episode, but everything's better in the second part...
criteria analysis: franchise - series - character - essential (all criteria met)
Leonard Nimoy (Spock)
Mark Lenard (Sarek)