[6.5/10] A good premise goes a long way in Star Trek. Despite fits of character development and hints of serialization, the franchise is mainly an anthology, plopping our heroes into one situation or another each week with little connection to the one before. The natural consequence is that if you can come up with a neat idea, it can carry the hour as the comedia dell’arte figures on the show act out the story.
Even without the fan service, “Flashback” has a good premise. The notion of Tuvok being physically pained by a repressed memory, and Janeway Inception-ing her way into his memories to help him deal with it, is a setup with tons of potential, and the chance to do the sort of nested storytelling that can make an episode feel unique even when it doesn’t have guest stars from The Original Series.
But that’s certainly meant to be the highlight of “Flashback.” We get to see Sulu in command of the Excelsior, Commander (nee Yeoman) Rand as his number one, and a couple of other crewman from Star Trek VI on the bridge who, through the usual bit of mind-trickery, get to interact with Tuvok and Janeway.
That’s both a thrill and something that gets in the way of the episode. The titular flashback takes place in the midst of Star Trek VI, and so is stuck trying to both connect this story to the one told in The Undiscovered Country while grappling with the fact that the Excelsior was basically sidelined during the major events of that film. It makes the connections -- like Tuvok bringing the cup of tea that shatters in the film’s opening scene -- feel forced and a little cheesy. Hell, the very fact that Tuvok was even on the Excelsior comes off as a bit strained and requires a clumsy retcon or two.
“Flashback” also wants to take the occasion of Star Trek’s 30th anniversary as a chance to reflect on where the franchise started and where it is now, but seems to only be able to do so in what amount to spoken essays that would be better served if Brannon Braga just wrote them under his own name and posted them on StarTrek.com. There’s plenty of ruminations on the rough and tumble early days of the Federation, how comparatively primitive and lawless things were, with Janeway in particular waxing rhapsodic in stilted, high school composition class compare and contrast format about it.
And don’t get me started on the cheesy closing colloquy between Janeway and Tuvok, where they talk about those reflections and Tuvok says to Janeway “maybe you’ll be nostalgic for both of us.” I think I pulled a muscle groaning.
There’s a similar on-the-nose speech from Sulu (presumably the big moment they mean to give George Takei), where, after Tuvok questions their decision to flout Starfleet regulations and go after Kirk & Co. anyway, Sulu explains, in clunky fashion, that there’s more to being in Starfleet than just following regulations, and that there’s a loyalty to friends that can override. It’s a nice attempt to pay tribute to the camaraderie among The Original Series cast, but it plays disconnected and overly grandiose.
Still, the best thing in the episode is how it uses this memory to dig into Tuvok’s personality and backstory a bit. It’s a shame that most of that comes from monologues where Tuvok simply describes things that have happened in his past and essentially announces where his changes of heart led him. But it’s still interesting to see a young, semi-officious Tuvok, who bristles at both his parents’ insistence that he join Starfleet and the rule-bending Captain he’s serving under. It’s the closest thing to rebellion we’ve seen from the character, and it deepens him a bit.
Still, the nuts and bolts writing and dialogue is generally middling-to-weak, which means even the episode’s best material falls somewhat flat. There’s a few amusing smart remarks (Janeway’s “You never bring me tea” is a good laugh line) but overall this one is filled with those essay-like oratories and cornball remembrances. Kate Mulgrew is a champ, but even she can’t sell the unnatural discussions between her and Harry Kim about what Starfleet used to be like, and the benefits and drawbacks of exploring the galaxy in those wilder times.
“Flashback” does gain strength from its reveal. The idea of a virus that fabricates a memory to be repressed where it lives in the brain, and passes that false memory on from host-to-host, is a cool one, that frankly feels a little wasted here since the episode is more focused on everyone enjoying the Original Series era excitement than fully exploring the premise. Still, the cleverness of it wins out.
The episode just has trouble keeping up the excitement. We’ve got multiple levels going on here, with little Tuvok trying to hang onto a girl at the edge of a cliff in one, he and Sulu trying to stave off Klingons and rescue Kirk in the main flashback, and The Doctor trying to maintain Tuvok’s and Janeway’s vital signs in the real world. Balancing all of those is tricky, and “Flashback” never quite gets it right.
But at its best, it blends together those three layers and has them speak to one another. The image of a nebula, the death of a friend or colleague, the lessons from a captain can draw lines between the past and present that put Tuvok, and to a lesser extent Star Trek as a whole, in an interesting light.
“Flashback” just never finds a way to synthesize it all. It wants to be part tribute to and reflection on The Original Series, part character story about who Tuvok was and who he’s become, and part crazy sci-fi premise. All of those parts are good ideas, and there’s no reason they couldn’t work in tandem. But “Flashback” only intermittently realizes that potential, more enjoyable as the sum of its parts than a more complete and cohesive whole.
DS9 feels like their 30th anniversary episoded was 80% TOS - Voyager was only 25 % TOS . nobody cared about the stupid memory engram .Felt cheated and teased rather than forfilled