April 24 2024

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Retro Review: Flashback

2 min read
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Disturbing visions cause Tuvok to risk a mind-meld with Janeway, making them both relive Tuvok’s time serving under Captain Sulu on the Excelsior.

Plot Summary: As Voyager approaches a particle-rich nebula, Tuvok has an incapacitating vision of a child falling to her death. The Doctor decides to monitor him for future incidents and receives disturbing data when Tuvok has another vision, this time in Engineering, moments after Tuvok warns Torres about being too close to Klingon space. To help Tuvok regain control of his memories, Janeway enters into a mind meld with him. When Tuvok tries to retrieve his recollections of the falling girl, he and Janeway find themselves on the bridge of the Excelsior, serving under Captain Sulu just before the explosion of the Klingon moon Praxis and the assassination of Chancellor Gorkon. During the incident, a crewmember named Valtane was killed on the bridge right next to Tuvok. Each time Tuvok recalls Valtane’s death, he sees the girl falling from the cliff and disrupts the mind meld. When Janeway looks for information about the incident in Sulu’s logs, she discovers that he failed to report his violation of Starfleet regulations when he and his crew set out to rescue Leonard McCoy and James T. Kirk from the Klingons. When Tuvok attempts to meld with Janeway again, he loses control of his neural pathways, making Janeway visible to others in his memories. She steals Commander Rand’s uniform to blend in, advising Tuvok to concentrate on Valtane, since his death seems to be the key to Tuvok’s repressed memories. Meanwhile, the Doctor discovers that he can’t break the mind link and realizes that what he had thought was a memory engram is in fact a virus disguised to behave like a memory. He uses radiation to push the virus out, but it moves from Tuvok’s consciousness into Janeway’s, just as it moved from the dying Valtane into Tuvok. Janeway sees herself as the one who let the child fall to her death until the Doctor purges the virus, ending a long chain of hosts. Janeway tells Tuvok that she enjoyed her glimpse into Sulu’s era.

Analysis: If there’s a flaw in “Flashback” – which was produced in honor of Star Trek’s 30th anniversary along with Deep Space Nine‘s “Trials and Tribbleations” – it’s that the VoyagerStar Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which isn’t on par with the trilogy of films about Spock’s death and resurrection, makes me painfully nostalgic for Star Trek as it once was. Janeway’s speech to Kim about what life must have been like in Kirk’s era, ending with her concluding that Kirk’s whole crew would be booted out of Starfleet in Voyager’s day, says as much about Janeway’s shortcomings as it does about the “different breed of Starfleet officer” that she labels Sulu, McCoy, and Rand. Plus Tuvok could learn quite a bit from the more famous Vulcan of Sulu’s era, the one whom Kirk and Sulu rescued from Genesis at great cost to themselves; it’s never explicitly stated in canon, but I always assumed it took so long for Sulu to be promoted to captain because of his involvement in stealing the Enterprise, which also got Kirk demoted. “Imagine the era they lived in. The Alpha Quadrant still largely unexplored. Humanity on verge of war with Klingons. Romulans hiding behind every nebula…their ships were half as fast,” says Janeway. “Space must have seemed a whole lot bigger back then. It’s not surprising they had to bend the rules a little.” She fails to mention that it was the era in which those rules were honed and expanded – we see a far more comprehensive, detail-oriented Starfleet bureaucracy in Picard’s era than in Kirk’s – and I have some trouble believing that if Janeway got to ride shotgun with the original Enterprise crew, as she claims she’d love to do, she wouldn’t react much like Tuvok and start citing regulations.

It’s always a pleasure to see Sulu, particularly now when George Takei has become a pop culture icon to the millennials who were babies when “Flashback” first aired. We only get to see him as the captain of his own ship for a few minutes in earlier canon, so what a delight to have an incident seamlessly edited into the events of the last original cast movie, with such moments as Sulu’s teacup crashing to the floor (here given added meaning because it’s Tuvok who provides the tea) and an extended sequence of the crew at work as the energy wave from the explosion of Praxis wreaks havoc on the Excelsior. Plus he gets to snark at Klingon Commander Kang! Apart from the fun of seeing the old uniforms and panels, it’s lovely too to see Janice Rand finally given a substantial role on a ship and in the franchise. I’m still aggravated that she’s the one Tuvok and Janeway corner to Vulcan-neck-pinch and divest of her uniform. Apart from the ludicrousness of Kate Mulgrew fitting perfectly into Grace Lee Whitney’s clothes and the fact that, since this is essentially a dream sequence, Tuvok should be able to get a uniform out of storage with the same ease as he can sneak Janeway around the ship undetected, it means that we don’t get to see Rand contribute further ideas about Excelsior’s crew or the attempted rescue of Kirk and McCoy, a topic on which Rand certainly would have strong opinions. How far she has come from the yeoman in “Miri” who was always trying to get Kirk to look at her legs. I’m sorry to say that it seems perfectly in character for Tuvok to snark at Sulu for violating regulations in order to save Starfleet’s finest – not very logical, even if he resents his parents for pressuring him to join Starfleet in the first place, so quite the inverse of Spock’s experience in which his parents tried to stop him from going to the Academy. Tuvok is still awfully quick to cite regulations at the expense of logic as well as compassion.

Yet I find myself really liking Tuvok’s explanation of why he did not complete Kolinahr training, choosing instead to raise a family and alter his youthful ambitions. People are often scoffed at if they admit that wanting to have children made their priorities shift – women are still plagued by questions of if and when they want children and how to balance that with career choices, yet often men are judged even more harshly when they decide that spending time with family should take precedence over whatever had previously been labeled their life’s work. We can see why Tuvok insists that it must be the captain with whom he performs a mind meld despite the risks to her. He speaks casually about pon farr and his relationship with T’Pel, even though we know from other Star Trek shows that these are deeply personal matters to Vulcans, not meant to be known to offworlders except those considered family. And it suggests that there’s no lingering resentment from Janeway’s separation of Tuvix, though I’m curious whether Neelix retains any memories from the mind he shared with Tuvok, which would make them akin to family in an even more intimate way. We get to experience both the friendship between Janeway and Tuvok (“You’ve never brought me tea”) and its limits (the fact that he never discussed his first foray into Starfleet with her). It’s interesting that someone who had trouble adjusting decided to become an Academy instructor, yet also that he seemed so insensitive while training Maquis recruits suffering from even greater culture shock than Tuvok must have experienced…and unlike him, they couldn’t quit to do something else. I like this Tuvok, and I like the Janeway who’s excited by the frontier-pushing boundaries of space exploration even if I don’t like her scornful dismissal of the previous generation’s need to push the limitations of Starfleet as well. Janeway has done enough rule-bending that she has no business judging a Kirk protege during his glorious confrontation with Kang and rule-bending rescue mission. I wish she’d love exploring the Delta Quadrant for its own sake, the way Kirk would have done.

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