Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Flashback"

***

Air date: 9/11/1996
Written by Brannon Braga
Directed by David Livingston

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"Human fascination with 'fun' has led to many tragedies in your short but violent history. One wonders how your race has survived, having so much 'fun'." — 29-year-old Tuvok

Nutshell: Not bad. An interesting theme about the Federation and some good backstory of Tuvok. Unfortunately, the ending doesn't amount to much; the show really could've been much more.

Premises like "Flashback" are what make the Star Trek universe so immortal and endearing. If there is one reassuring thing about the way Star Trek sees itself, it's that it knows what it is and where it came from—and "Flashback" remarks on this. At the same time, "Flashback" is a decent story. Not great, mind you—sometimes the events of the story can barely live up to the impetuses behind them—but it's definitely passable and worth the effort.

While searching for energy sources, the Voyager ventures near a nebula. The nebula's visual appearance triggers the surfacing of a repressed traumatic memory in Tuvok's subconscious. Due to convoluted Vulcan mind workings explanations, the Doctor says the memory must be brought into Tuvok's conscious mind and reconciled, otherwise Tuvok's brain will be irrevocably damaged by the side effects. Tuvok must mind meld with Janeway (his closest personal tie on the ship) so they can search through his memories for the repressed culprit. In the process of the mind meld, however, Tuvok and Janeway somehow end up reliving Tuvok's first Starfleet mission aboard the USS Excelsior under Captain Hikaru Sulu (George Takei), some 80 years ago.

Does this sound like a Brannon Braga concept? Braga always seems to enjoy toying with mental states, reality, time, and the like. While Braga's script for "Flashback" is nowhere near as labyrinthine and interesting as his "Projections" was last year, "Flashback" does have its moments of character inspiration and inevitable nostalgia.

Part of the fun of the episode is how it bases its story on "actual" past Star Trek events (that is, Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country from the Excelsior's point of view). For example, remember the cup of tea Sulu was drinking in the opening scene of Star Trek VI? Well, I took great enjoyment in finding out it was a Vulcan blend that a 29-year-old Ensign Tuvok gave him—perhaps "trying to make Lieutenant in a month" Commander Rand (Grace Lee Whitney) observes.

Ah, I suppose only a true fan of the franchise could find such fun in such a simple little detail. But for that matter, I also found the recreation of the Praxis explosion shock wave scene from Trek VI to be interesting (if, for no other reason, because of the technical and directing implications).

I also appreciated Braga's attempt to show Sulu in action. For the attempted Trek VI rescue of Kirk and Bones from Kronos, Sulu takes the Excelsior through a nebula to avoid a confrontation while illegally venturing through Klingon space. The evasive techniques are not completely successful, however, and Sulu runs into a Klingon ship commanded by Kang (yes, everybody is popping up here), which leads Sulu to claim he wandered in and got "lost"—a claim he can't even keep a straight face through.

Superficialities aside, the real reason this works is because it makes some statements about both Tuvok and the Federation in the process. When Sulu announces his intentions to violate Starfleet Command's orders and venture through Klingon space, Tuvok speaks up—he points out that it is a willful violation of regulations, and that he must formally protest his captain. "A pretty bold statement for an ensign with only two months space duty under his belt," Sulu remarks, not happily. Sulu's subsequent comments about how duty and loyalty to fellow officers sometimes warrants bending or even breaking the rules makes a lot of sense, and seems credible given what we know of the character.

This further confounds Tuvok, who, fresh out of the Academy, has not had pleasant experiences with human behavior. As Tuvok and Janeway probe through the memories, the flashbacks take us to a scene after Tuvok's confrontation with Sulu, when a discussion between Tuvok and his bunkmate Valtane (Jeremy Roberts) reveals a Tuvok who did not particularly like the presumptions of humanity. "You believe that everyone in the galaxy should be like you, that we should all share your sense of humor and your human values," Tuvok tells Valtane. Russ' performance is good, as usual, creating a young Tuvok who was not pleased with human arrogance and narcissism—in fact, if we didn't know Vulcans better, we might sense some actual anger here. Tuvok's subsequent discussion with Janeway on the topic is one of those Quiet Dialog Scenes, but one of the better Quiet Dialog Scenes on Voyager's record—it was nicely performed and directed, and there was some genuine impact and character backstory development here. By the time the scene was over, I felt like I understood much more about Tuvok than when the scene began.

The other thing "Flashback" gets right is its observation of differences between time periods. After an unsuccessful meld, Janeway goes to her ready room to study up on the Excelsior—only to discover the mission she's looking for was never logged because of its illegality. Kim is astonished—a Federation captain falsifying his logs? It was a different time for Starfleet, Janeway explains, and Sulu belonged to a different breed of Starfleet officers. "They were a little slower to invoke the Prime Directive and a little quicker to pull their phasers." This is a good point, and it's well said. It's nice to see the newest of Treks acknowledge is heritage, and it's intriguing to note the differences between the 23rd and 24th centuries. It shows that in 80 years there has been significant progress in the Federation, and that people do notice such progress. Nice work.

But what does all of this have to do with the repressed memory? Actually, not a whole lot. One big problem with "Flashback" is how the repressed memory figures into the equation. The main goal for Janeway and Tuvok is to hunt down this memory, but they can't figure out why they keep ending up in Tuvok's memories of the Excelsior. In a plot move that is all-too-typical, the repressed memory turns out to be a parasitic sort of "virus" that hides itself from the immune system by disguising itself as a traumatic memory. Apparently Tuvok has been carrying this virus since Valtane's death on the Excelsior, when it "migrated" hosts—that is, from Valtane to Tuvok. (No, I won't delve into the inevitable implausibilities of this idea.) The ending, in which Doc and Kes kill the virus by irradiating it, is a somewhat effective mishmash of jarring visuals and sickbay technobabble (and a decent score by David Bell), but it has no lasting emotional impact. If the repressed memory had actually been a real repressed memory with some sort of character significance instead of a quasi-red herring, the show could have had much more lasting impact.

Oh well. I'm inclined to ignore the entire repressed memory portion of the show. It's little more than an excuse to launch the flashbacks of Tuvok on the Excelsior, anyway. Fortunately, between the character backstory, the comments on change, and nostalgia for the 30th anniversary of Trek, the ends justify the means.

Previous episode: Basics, Part II
Next episode: The Chute

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22 comments on this review

gretchen - Thu, Nov 22, 2007 - 10:13pm (USA Central)
In Star Trek VI, TWO MONTHS pass between the explosion of Praxis and Gorkon's assassination.
In this episode, TWO DAYS pass between those two events.
That alone ruined the episode for me.
Dirk Hartmann - Thu, Apr 3, 2008 - 4:02am (USA Central)
I thought this episode would become a real snooze-fest until suddenly the Excelsior part was brought into play. From then on I loved it!
Nick - Sat, Aug 23, 2008 - 9:21am (USA Central)
I just rewatched this episode and it reinforced to me that the whole "repressed memory virus" was a huge waste of time. How about this - Janeway is discussing the Prime Directive with her command staff (you know, mentoring her subordinates???) and Tuvok uses the story as an example of doing the right thing even when rules state otherwise. Just a thought, but then I guess all the medical technobabble would never have been used.
Jay - Sat, Aug 1, 2009 - 11:57am (USA Central)
Does Tuvok being 29 here jibe with his turning "almost triple digits" in "Fury" in Season 6.

Assuming Tuvok turns 99 then, that would be late 2376, which means ST VI took place sometime after 2300, which I believe doesn't jibe with the TOS era timeline.
Nic - Tue, Dec 1, 2009 - 7:53am (USA Central)
I think this episode is a stroke of genius. DS9 was already using the tired plot device of time travel for their 30th anniversary show, so Braga came up with something more original. The two days/two months continuity glitch is a problem (like the fact that Tuvok only has two months' space duty under his belt VS. the Exselsior returning froma THREE-YEAR mission in the Beta Quadrant), but it doesn't prevent me from enjoying the episode. And I actually thought the concept of a virus masquerading as a memory was fascinating.
charlie - Thu, Feb 11, 2010 - 7:55pm (USA Central)
Since the Beta Quadrant is relatively close to the Alpha Quadrant, the Excelsior could've had occasional stops at starbases just like Kirk & Picard's Enterprises did.
Jay - Fri, Jan 28, 2011 - 1:58pm (USA Central)
^ Definitiely possible...the Federation straddles the Alpha/Beta line. Actually, a line connecting the center of the galaxy and Sol is the marker between Alpha and Beta (and Gamma and Delta), so Earth spends half of each solar year in Alpha Quadrant and half in Beta.
Destructor - Tue, Apr 19, 2011 - 8:08pm (USA Central)
After a second viewing, file this under 'disappointment'. If only they could have made the Excelsior story integral to the plot, instead of totally irrelevant- then it could have been a classic.
Joe - Sun, Nov 20, 2011 - 10:47am (USA Central)
I couldn't help but laugh at Janeway commenting that Sulu and Kirk would be thrown out of modern Starfleet for a stunt like rescuing a friend they've known for decades and going on to secure peace talks with Klingons leading into a new era of peace.

This is of course the episode after Janeway tried to rescue a test tube baby of the traitorous Seska in the very previous episodes, Basics parts 1 and 2. This mission was also a failure and a complete waste of Voyager lives, time and resources.
Paul - Mon, Dec 5, 2011 - 11:47am (USA Central)
@Gretchen: Excellent point. The problem with the flub is that it gives no time for Spock to make overtures to Gorkon -- which is a big thing in ST6.

This episode was terrible. Voyager is my least favorite series (by far) but it was at its best in isolated episodes that didn't need to reflect a larger continuing storyline (Living Witness, Timeless, etc.). This was another instance where it could have been good because it didn't need to have long-last effects.

I understand that time travel was overused in Star Trek around this point, but a plot about some sort of brain bug was just ... weird.
ineffable - Wed, Aug 8, 2012 - 12:24am (USA Central)
Way to kill the franchise, Takei!!!!

This Tuvok story concept is awesome, but it got campy w/ Georgy Takei Boy. This episode could have been way more involved in Janeway/Tuvok history... Which we don't f@#cken know about anyways...

Takei is awesome, tho. He's a funny guy. They should have brought him on as an observer/scientist interacting with Neelix making chemistry food and outfits.

The scene with Takei and his "buddy" Klingon on the view-screen ...that grunt between Takei and the Klingon. Failed innuendo.

Down for the Dr. telling Tuvok immediately to wear that sh*t on his neck. Cuz that was logical.

Down for the Dr. telling Janeway to calm down and fucken wait for Tuvok to recover from drain bamage before waking Tuvok's ass up to ask god damn questions.

Dr. is. the. Win. Voyager.

DS9 NINE BIATCHES!!!!! Fuck Enterprise. Don't make me slap you TNG. Voyager... Thanks for not ruining it like that motherfucking ENTERPRISE.


Firefly/serenity should have been Enterprise.

I damn swear. Firefly would have been the way better Enterprise. Enemy sword dude, could have been a corrupt vulcan or some whatever Enterprise tried to do. Whatevers.

Fuck -- I'ma hit this comment section for a minute. Talk back or talk shit...dont care...

STARTREK FOR LIFE
Jo Jo Maestro - Fri, Mar 1, 2013 - 8:53am (USA Central)
I agree with Ineffables' point about Takeis' performance being a bit overly camp and almost approaching panto level, no offense to the guy he is seriously awesome but his acting isn't the greatest (sorry Sulu!).

And I was quite bored watching this episode. I love old era Star Trek and this really had the potential to be excellent. I had high hopes. But I was far from impressed, it was simply an average affair and I was left bored half way through. DS9 did it much better with their nostalgia trip to the original series *sigh*.

Perhaps I shouldn't have expected as much, then I might have enjoyed this one a bit more. After all, I am the guy who thinks Threshold is under-rated :).
Patrick - Mon, Apr 15, 2013 - 10:33pm (USA Central)
This episode is filled with so many sloppy continuity errors, which is par for the course in Star Trek Voyager. But, what really, really hurts this episode is that this is supposed to take place in Tuvok's mind, then why are we seeing outside shots of the Excelsior, the Praxis explosion and Kang's ship? Huh?
Even in the reviled ENT finale, "These Are the Voyages...", we didn't see any outside shots of Enterprise or Shran's ship, because it was a holodeck simulation. We don't see the outside of Enterprise until the very last flashback scene.

But, beyond even the sloppiness, does this episode have any cogent, dramatic point? Or is it just a bunch of stuff that happens? The virus is incidental and it could just as easily been contracted to any other point in Tuvok's personal history.
Shane - Fri, Jun 28, 2013 - 5:44am (USA Central)
This episode is so screwed up. Apparently the writers confused Tim Russ' human character on the Enterprise B for Tuvok on the Excelsior. They missed the fact that the Excelsior had been in Beta Quadrant for 3 years (Tuvok said he was new to Starfleet) They missed the fact that Praxis exploded two months before the Khitomer Conference in 2293. And finally, Voyager killed Fontaine but we freakin' see him alive at the end of Star Trek VI when Sulu says goodbye to Kirk! Oh, and there's no Tuvok/Tim Russ on the Excelsior in that same shot!

If they HAD to put Tuvok on the Excelsior it would have been better for him to tell a story about some unseen adventure rather than trying to jam it into the continuity of Star Trek VI. It's just sloppy. Braga does this again with Enterprise's finale trying to shoehorn itself into TNG's Pegasus episode. It just doesn't fit!
T'Paul - Sun, Sep 8, 2013 - 4:43pm (USA Central)
Not that it deserves a response, but really "ineffable", keep your homophobia to yourself.

As for the timeline issues... no one said that Tuvok's memories were chronological... maybe he skipped days or months as he was reliving them.

I think this was a great glimpse into Tuvok's and Star Trek history.
DPC - Sun, Sep 15, 2013 - 2:01pm (USA Central)
In 1996, I saw the preview and decided to give it a chance. Shoehoring in Tuvok was a joke and the acting of everyone on the Excelsior felt like they were reading their lines off of cue cards as if they were bored.

Fontaine being killed was an obvious gaffe.

Janeway discussing Kirk and the gang felt like a slam against TOS.

The precipice stuff was nothing.

I felt the episode made a mockery of Trek VI.


1 of 4 stars


Fast forward to 2013:



The Excelsior acting: It felt like a rehearsal at least up to the point where Sulu sees Janeway, when Sulu really comes alive. It's as if they all read the script and decided they were supposed to play it out like a dream as well. Noting the difference, I do wonder how much better the Excelsior scenes had been if the director (who had some great shots of an ailing Tuvok) had reminded the Excelsior crew to try to act as if the events really happened. Takei in particular steals the show the moment Tuvok's meld goes awry and he can see Janeway.

Kang's appearance is a cute bit of continuity, and Michael Ansara (RIP) puts in some flair - good to see him again. Sulu's jibing with him feels very TOS-like. More was desired (good f/x in the nebula, too.) Though, without oxygen, there would be no big explosion...

In 1996, I did NOT watch the story to the end - when Tuvok and Janeway discuss the veracity of those memories, it is a very brief scene but does adequately write off the inconsistencies with Tuvok's memory, and Tuvok makes it come across like they did turn around and head back home in the end - because the Excelsior looked pristine when it battled General Chang at the film's finale.

As with 1996, Janeway and Tuvok hopping back between memories to re-live things differently was cornball and convenient.

But at least they're not doing time travel (yet again).

I liked the sci-fi revelation of a virus that lives in a memory, preferably one that the host doesn't want to remember. That was clever. Kudos.

When the virus jumped from Fontaine to Tuvok, there appeared to be physical touch. But not between Tuvok and Janeway. That was an eyerolling moment.

In both viewings, then and now, I did miss out on continuity fluffs (e.g. 2 days vs 2 months re: Kirk being captured, etc). However, this does tie into the end where it's said that we really don't know what happened thanks to how the virus was acting. Given Tuvok's loose associations with the nebula, Klingons, etc, the virus was probably using the Trek VI memories and its effects were distored by Tuvok's attempt to remember. It's woolly, but it's the only way to make the story work. Especially as it's a throwaway line at the end. But it was said; if it wasn't then the whole piece would be a turkey.

In short, there were many interesting points but there was some sloppiness and missed opportunities. :(

3 of 4 stars
Caine - Sat, Oct 19, 2013 - 8:33am (USA Central)
I really enjoyed most of this episode.

I found the "trip" back to Excelsior fresh, charming and very interesting. Janeways take on Starfleet officers then and now was both fun and right on the money, I thought.

Ultimately, though, the episode was ruined for me by two things:
1) Horrible dialogue. Janeways incessively explaining everything that's going on ... I half expect her at any monment, to look into the camera and say "is everybody following this? Good!" and then continue the toe cringing exposition. I found this to be a problem throughout most Voyager episodes. Teu, all Trek shows are very "talky", but to me that's just fine as long as the dialogue is good. On Voyager it was very often just plain bad.

2) With something like four minutes left of the epiosde The Doctor suddenly goes "oh, it's a virus!" and hings quickly get rapped up with a bunch of medical babble that just doesn't make any sense (the IDEA of a virus impersonating and copying memories might seem great, but trust me, it's a concept worthy of quite a few facepalms - especially the way it's explained here). It just seemed liked such a "we don't have time to go into that repressed memory thing, let's just wrap it up with a quick excuse" thing to do. Boo hiss!
Jack - Mon, Nov 18, 2013 - 3:38pm (USA Central)
Wasn't it Valtaine?

Fontaine was the excruciating hologram from DS9.
inline79 - Mon, Jan 6, 2014 - 4:48pm (USA Central)
Wow, you folks are a tough crowd to please!

I was blown away by the eye candy in this episode. I mean these people rebuilt the ENTIRE set of the Excelsior bridge for us, then brought in George Takei, and sent us on a nice little side trip from ST:VI that included Michael Ansara! Even Grace Lee had a few lines! This wasn't just our people Forrest-Gump'ed into an old episode, this was all new scenes from an old adventure!

Totally campy, and totally memorable for the 30th Anniversary.
Dave in NC - Mon, Feb 10, 2014 - 12:07pm (USA Central)
People can be really harsh!

I thought this was an enjoyable romp of an episode. About the only thing I wasn't completely crazy about was Commander's Rand's delivery of the line about gaseous anomalies and Sulu's vogueing/posing before the commercial break. The rest of it was amusing and revealed a lot about Tuvok's character.

Other than that, I dug the episode.

Side note #1:

Someone above griped about the exterior shots of the Excelsior not belonging in the episode, but I would disagree: it is well established Vulcans have exceptional memories and are capable of extrapolating many things through logic and reason. It is entirely possible third-party Points Of View are part of the way Vulcans sort out their memories and purge their emotions. (If anything, the fact that the visual stimuli of the nebula triggers his flashbacks renders credence to this idea.)

Side note #2: The musical scores of Voyager seem to be much more engaging than the dreadfully boring stuff that plagued the last years of Next Generation. I'm noticing a definite improvement in musical quality the further this series progresses.




Corey - Fri, Mar 7, 2014 - 6:37pm (USA Central)
I thought this episode was a huge missed opportunity. Sulu's plotline should have been weaved into the mainstorm better. The notion of Janeway "walking into Tuvok's head" and "interacting with his subconscious" was also totally rediculous. I thought the core idea of a virus which embeds itself in false repressed memories was great. It's just the execution which doesnt quite work (the girl falling to her death was both cliched and bad FX work).

Still, loved seeing Sulu's bridge. When I was a kid, the Excelsior was always my favourite ship.

"The musical scores of Voyager seem to be much more engaging than the dreadfully boring stuff that plagued the last years of Next Generation."

Agreed. TNG's scores became very bland (ALL GOOD THINGS broke this trend).
Robert - Tue, Jun 10, 2014 - 9:19am (USA Central)
Just saw the last half of this episode after reading the review and comments above, and it seemed to me to be a pretty good episode - 3 stars anyways I would rate it. The action moved along, enjoyed seeing Sulu and Kang and Janice, thought the virus and falling girl angle was believable and effective. Would agree that the DS9 "Tribble" episode was superior.

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