The Kelvin Universe and the Prime Universe are blending. Well, if not literally, then they certainly are inching closer spiritually. In the latest episode of Star Trek: Discovery, there are at least three overt references to the sideways alternate Trek dimension that exists right alongside the "regular" canon of Trek. And while critics of the J.J. Abrams-produced "trilogy" of Trek films might find these connections to be superficial, there are actually some signs that the 32nd Century of Discovery Season 3 is cozier than ever with the world of Chris Pine's Captain Kirk.
Here's how Discovery's big Vulcan episode — "Unification III" — didn't just reference The Next Generation, but the reboot movies, too.
First, as most fans are probably aware, although all the new Trek shows since 2017 take place in the "Prime" canon, none of it would be possible without the reboot films. The current Star Trek boss — who oversees all the new CBS shows — is Alex Kurtzman, probably better known to Trek fans a decade ago as the guy who co-wrote both Star Trek 2009 and Star Trek Into Darkness. Regardless of what fans think of those films, or Benedict Cumberbatch's version of Khan, without any of these movies, the era of Discovery wouldn't have happened. Obviously, the continuities are very different. In the Prime Universe, Burnham left the year 2258 and emerged in 3188. But the Star Trek 2009 reboot actually occurs in an alternate 2258, and that's the year that Old Spock arrived from 2387. Basically, Spock and his human sister, Michael Burnham, were more than ships passing in the night: They were time travelers going in opposite directions, stopping over in the same year, but in totally different universes.
That said, Spock is actually the focal point of the basic existence of the Kelvin Universe in the first place. And, in "Unification III," this fact is vaguely referred to in one quick scene.
Spock's "death" references the Star Trek 2009 reboot
At the beginning of Discovery's "Unification III," Admiral Vance mentions that Spock worked to help unify the Vulcans and Romulans up until his "death." What Vance didn't say was that part of that work also involved Spock trying to slow-down a supernova that eventually destroyed the Romulan Homeworld. Vance also didn't mention that Spock didn't die in the 24th century, but instead, fell into a Black Hole, and traveled back in time to the Chris Pine-version of 2258. Vance didn't mention this, because there's no way he could know about it. But we do! This small nod to the reboot movies is interesting, if only because it's a reminder that although the Prime Universe and Kelvin Universes have different continuities, they're both real-deal Star Trek canon.
Tilly's promotion references Kirk in Star Trek 2009
Although it's not the main plot of "Unification III," the fact that Tilly is promoted to First Officer of the USS Discovery is fairly significant. Not only does this put her one step closer to becoming Captain, but it's also the exact path Kirk (Chris Pine) took to becoming the Enterprise Captain in Star Trek 2009. The technical detail is all about how although Tilly doesn't outrank several crewmembers, she could be granted a position that gives her greater authority. In Trek 2009 Captain Pike makes Kirk "acting first officer," even though he's technically only a cadet at the time. When Spock is relieved of command for freaking out and going off the rails, Kirk becomes captain by default, even though most everyone on the ship has a higher "earned" rank than him. By making Tilly the new "Number One" of DISCO, Captain Saru has done the same thing Pike did with Kirk. (Which is funny, since Saru used to be the First Officer to the Prime Universe Captain Pike.)
Tilly kind of comments on this idea when she tells Stamets that she would have authority "not in rank, but in position," and also tells Saru, "I'm an ensign!" Interestingly enough, Tilly has a higher rank and more experience than Kirk did when he was in a similar spot in the first Trek reboot. Still think Tilly won't be the Captain eventually?
Discovery tipped its hat to Anton Yelchin
Perhaps the sweetest reference to the reboot films came in a quick Easter egg, uttered by Tilly early in the episode. One of the Starfleet "black boxes" that Michael has been trying to track down, apparently, belonged to the USS Yelchin. This is clearly a reference to the actor Anton Yelchin, who played Chekov in all three reboot Trek movies. As many fans know, Yelchin was killed in a tragic car accident in 2016, shortly before the release of Star Trek Beyond.
The fact that Discovery is honoring Yelchin in this way is not only endearing, it's also telling. Even across different dimensions, it's all Star Trek. If Discovery has a starship named after Anton Yelchin, and Tilly can get promoted the same way as Chris Pine's Kirk it seems like the possibilities for a real crossover might not be so far-fetched.
Star Trek: Discovery is streaming now on CBS All Access.