44 – Flashback

Grade: C

Flashback (1996) on IMDb


Tuvok waits for Neelix to cook his eggs for breakfast (wait, I thought Vulcans were vegetarians – do they eat eggs?), but is suddenly called to the Bridge. It appears that the ship has come across a strange nebula that may hold some serilium, a compound that is needed to improve the ship’s efficiency. But then Tuvok recalls a painful event that he doesn’t even remember happening.


This was another average effort, based on a flimsy idea. Why does it seem like so many of these episodes are based on previous ones from films or other series? Star Trek has dealt with memory losses before – like when Mrs Troi finally admits Deanna had an older sister who died when Deanna was an infant. And it has also dealt with crazy nebulas before. I wonder if they’re ever going to do something truly original in this series, like for example, they go to a nebula and collect what they need, and then they go off on their way, and nothing really happens. The setup for this episode takes such a “by the numbers” approach that it’s annoying. They have run out of ideas. From this point on in the series, everything is going to be recycled from previous productions.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s bad. Just re-telling the same story over and over again doesn’t mean it has to be boring or tedious. Once I saw that they were going back in time to the events of Undiscovered Country, I was pretty excited. That is a very underrated Star Trek movie, and in my opinion, it’s every bit as good as Wrath of Khan or First Contact. So of course I was excited to see Sulu on the Bridge of the Excelsior. I was hoping we would see more about this event from Sulu’s point of view.

Unfortunately, however, I don’t feel like this episode lived up to its potential. The setup didn’t seem very organic; in fact, I felt a manipulated. I’m not even sure if that’s what I mean, but Flashback really feels like an episode that was created to help capitalize on the 30th anniversary of Star Trek. In fact, I looked it up later, and found out that’s exactly what it was. Paramount wanted an episode that would remind people of the Original Series and somehow promote the anniversary of their #1 product of all time.

It helped a lot that they used a lot of the same actors from the movie. I’m so glad they picked this movie instead of the awful “Final Frontier” film that should be forgotten forever. But that’s another story. I also really liked seeing Michael Ansara reprise his role as a Klingon. Even Grace Lee Whitney (Janice Rand) is along for the ride. Star Trek usually does flashback-style stories pretty well, and they’re usually a lot of fun to watch.

But there are several things that killed this episode for me. First of all, the ending was extremely anti-climatic. Sorry if you haven’t seen this yet, but it’s been well over 15 years since this was on TV. Tuvok actually has a virus that lives in his brain and hides itself as a repressed memory so that it can escape detection. But this particular virus really doesn’t do anything terribly bad. Tuvok doesn’t seem to have suffered any ill effects from picking it up 80 years ago. How bad can a virus be, if it doesn’t even make you feel sick for 8 full decades?

Anyway, sometime before we knew this was caused by a virus, the Doctor provided all the artificial tension we need when he explains that in Vulcans, repressed memories actually cause brain damage. Oh ok, so now we simply must find out why Tuvok is suddenly remembering having allowed a friend of his to fall to her death when he was a young boy. Not only are we curious, but we certainly don’t want Tuvok to suffer irreversible brain damage.

Now maybe it’s a little more clear why I said this episode is manipulative. Nothing seems very organic here. Everything is spelled out for us and we don’t discover any clues on our own. Star Trek usually does a lot of things very well, but in its latest productions, it tends to be inorganic and manipulative. When that happens, my critical light usually turns on, and I have a harder time just enjoying the show.

But I have a few other problems with this episode as well, and many of them were critical flaws that prevented me from enjoying it very much. First of all, and most importantly, the events in this episode are not exactly like the ones depicted in the film. Let’s start with the fact that Tim Russ played a human character in the movie. If they had picked a completely different event that took place 80 years before, and one that was completely made-up, I would have felt much less manipulated.

Second, in the movie, there were several weeks (and perhaps months) between the day the moon exploded and the assassination of Gorkon. In the episode, these two events happened only a couple of days apart.

Third, in the movie, the Excelsior was returning back to Federation space after a 3-year mission in deep space. But in the episode, Tuvok has only been assigned to the ship for 2 months. I suppose he could have come over to the Excelsior from some other transport ship or something, but this was never explained.

What this tells me is that in their haste to create a homage to an excellent film, they ignored essential facts because they didn’t fit their story. As I’m sure you can tell, I wasn’t very happy about this, myself. I loved the movie – and I still do, in fact. But this episode missed the mark and blew off the details that would really have made it seem much more natural, and it would have been much easier for me to accept.

I was actually impressed by one thing, however. There’s a scene in which Janeway discusses the history of Starfleet with Harry Kim. She tells him that Kirk, Spock and McCoy were a different kind of Starfleet Officer and that things are much different now. The implication is that things were too loose and free-wheeling back then, and that changes in protocols have made things better. She obviously is nostalgic for the adventures of the past, but just as obviously, she prefers the stiffness of the present day.

I thought it was a very interesting scene, but the longer the scene went and the more I thought about it, it started to make me feel sick. I couldn’t help but think that Janeway was basically quoting words that Brannon Braga might have said. Janeway’s commentary is a reflection of the change in episodes and series. It’s nostalgic, but the way she dismisses the past and the adventures of Starfleet back then, it seems like a condemnation of the original series and praise for the new Star Trek productions. I had the feeling this was Braga patting himself on the back, and that makes me sick. He was obviously proud of his creation, and he thought it was better than what Gene Roddenberry made in the first place.

Obviously, the technology has improved and the stories are often much more appealing to adults. But on the other hand, there are some things that are much worse. The characters tend to be shallow. The stories are often peppered with inconsequential fluff, whose only purpose seems to be to appeal to the lowest common denominator and increase ratings. I don’t think Braga should be patting himself on the back so much. After all, if the Original Series wasn’t that good, why is it constantly shown on TV somewhere in the world? Voyager would be lucky to have the same fate.

Still another problem was Janeway’s moralizing about Sulu’s decision to disobey Starfleet orders and help rescue Kirk and McCoy, when in the very previous episode, she actually allows Chakotay to take the ship and the entire crew into a Kazon stonghold to rescue a son he didn’t even know he had. Janeway’s actions are often in conflict with her words, and this is usually because of the inconsistency of the writers. This is obviously not an improvement over the characters in the Original Series.

Finally, one last complaint, which is really just a nit-pick. Janeway goes into her office and retrieves Sulu’s ship logs from 80 years ago, to get some insight on his decisions and the events she is witnessing in Tuvok’s mind. Why do I have a problem with that? Well, why would Voyager have these logs stored in the ship’s database? How convenient for her that out of all the logs that could have been stored on the ship’s computer, it just so happens that Sulu’s logs are among them. What are the odds that his logs would be on the ship, ready to be found? Remember, Voyager is not at all connected to Starfleet, being 65,000+ light years away from Federation space, so she couldn’t have connected to a network and downloaded the logs. That means they must have been stored on the ship’s computer before they left Federation territory. Gee, how convenient. Now I really feel manipulated.

Of Note

Tuvok says he was 29 years old when he began his Starfleet career, and that the events in his history happened 80 years ago. So that makes him 109 years old now. How old he really is, however, is never consistently handled during this series, and in fact, several episodes seem to give contradictory information about his age.

This episode was created because studio executives at Paramount wanted to have an homage to the original series for the upcoming 30th anniversary of Star Trek. It was interesting that they chose an event that was depicted in film only 5 years earlier, however. Somehow, it doesn’t seem like much of an homage to the Original Series when the movie that is being referred to came 25 years later. Oh well.

Back when this episode aired, there were rumors circling around that this could be the start of a new series – one that would detail Sulu’s adventures as captain of the Excelsior. I don’t know why that series was never produced, but seeing how they botched Enterprise, I’m glad they didn’t make Sulu’s series after all. Maybe someday, they’ll make it – but at least it won’t be from Berman and Braga.

Last item – this episode reminded me quite a bit of a Hitchcock movie called Spellbound. In it, Gregory Peck plays a psychologist who has a repressed memory of a horrible event he witnessed in his childhood. The repressed memory may be making him go crazy. I didn’t really care for that movie, by the way.