"You've never brought me tea."
A nebula triggers a repressed memory - or something like one - lurking in Tuvok's subconscious, which takes him back to his time serving under Captain Sulu on the Excelsior.
'Flashback' is Voyager's celebratory anniversary episode, marking thirty years since the first season of the original series aired.* This is its biggest problem, because Deep Space Nine's 30th anniversary episode was 'Trials and Tribble-ations', which is a work of genius. 'Trials and Tribble-ations' is hilarious, affectionate, bathed in nostalgia and shows off some impressive splicing of old and new film, a technique people were still pretty excited about in the mid-1990s following the release of Forrest Gump. Because poor 'Flashback' is none of those things, it tends to be rather poorly represented in the collective memory.
*i.e. this episode aired in 1996, thirty years after the original in 1966. We are now less than two years away from the fiftieth anniversary. Enjoy freaking out for a moment, all of you who remember watching this episode when it first aired. Or the original series. Also potentially of interest: the thirtieth anniversary is the only one to get special commemorative episodes, because for most major anniversaries there hasn't been a Star Trek show on the air and for some reason the twenty-fifth just got a computer game - though when I googled 'Star Trek The Next Generation 25th anniversary' just to make sure, I got a lot of results relating to the 25th anniversary of The Next Generation. Enjoy freaking out again.
Taken on its own merits, 'Flashback' is a perfectly nice Tuvok episode (and you all know how much I love Tuvok episodes). The retcon allowing him to have served on Sulu's ship, in which we discover that he left Starfleet and came back and none of his original service was reflected in his record, is pretty daft, and probably unnecessary since I'm not sure we knew that much about Tuvok's service record anyway. But otherwise, the story is a little bland but provides some sweet moments between Janeway and Tuvok, one of my favourite relationships on the show. And I like the idea that repressed memories are much more dangerous to Vulcans than to humans, that makes sense somehow.
As an anniversary episode, it's also perfectly fine. Like 'Trials and Tribble-ations', the episode highlights some of the ways Starfleet had moved on since the 23rd century, i.e. how American society had moved on since the 1960s (plus some observations about replicators). The story is slotted into the plot of the last - and one of the best - of the original crew films (Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country) and brings in special guest stars George Takei and Grace Lee Whitney, so it celebrates a moment that's important in Star Trek history and incorporates two original Enterprise crew-members (plus, we get to see those awesome red uniforms again).
Perhaps the most satisfying touch is the focus on the cup of tea that Tuvok brings Sulu when he's sucking up - the opening scene of Star Trek VI focuses on Sulu's tea cup shaking as the shockwave from Praxis exploding comes towards them, so the focus on the tea provides a solid visual link with the film - you can re-watch the film and contemplate the fact that Tuvok brought him that tea (just don't look for him in the background, for obvious reasons!). The moment when the mind meld goes wrong and Janeway has to put on the uniform and interact with characters who are technically figments of Tuvok's imagination pushes things a bit too far, and feels like an unnecessary twist to get the captain involved in the action, but otherwise the scenes on-board the Excelsior are a nice change of pace and a pleasant homage to the original movies - which makes me especially happy because it was the original movies that made me fall in love with Star Trek as a child.
Tuvok's difficulties with Sulu's command style are very nicely portrayed as a conflict between the 23rd century/1960s/1980s and the 24th century/1990s, as well as an illustration of the classic conflict between intuition/emotion and logic that Mr Spock and the Vulcans were created to explore. Tuvok's problems highlight the flaws in the 'cowboys in space' attitude as well as digging into issues of cultural conflict, with Tuvok feeling that humans are only accepting of other races if they behave like humans. Janeway's presence as an observer allows the characters to comment on these differences, which is a bit obvious as a narrative technique, perhaps, but it works.
This is a perfectly nice little Tuvok episode and a perfectly serviceable anniversary episode. Just try to forget about comparing it to 'Trials and Tribble-ations' and enjoy the ride.
Bits and pieces
- Tuvok's expression when the meditative building blocks thing he's working on collapses is my expression when I try to do pretty much anything.
- Just before Valtane dies, Tuvok calls him 'Dimitri' and sounds almost emotional.
- Christian Slater had an un-credited walk-on part in Star Trek VI. To my eternal disappointment, he does not appear here.
- On Talax it's apparently a tradition to share the history of a meal before eating. There's a song about that...
Tuvok: Asking female officers for their clothing could lead to misunderstanding.
Tuvok: As usual, Captain Kirk provided his own means of escape.
Tuvok: I do not experience feelings of nostalgia... perhaps you can be nostalgic for both of us.
I really like this one - it is a Tuvok episode after all. Three out of four significant cups of tea.
Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.