Saturday, August 4, 2012

A Nod To The Star Trek Fans When Star Trek: Voyager Presents A Listless "Flashback"

The Good: Good acting, Enjoyable for fans, It's nice to see Sulu . . .
The Bad: Ridiculous/tedious plot construction, Minimal character work, Harbinger of poor writing
The Basics: In a surprisingly lackluster tribute to Star Trek, Star Trek: Voyager concocts a reason to present Captain Sulu's Excelsior for an episode.

When Star Trek: Voyager entered its illustrious third season, it was the thirtieth anniversary of Star Trek and the stewards of the franchise set out to pay tribute to the original series. On Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the writers conceived of a time travel adventure that put members of the Deep Space Nine crew into a situation alongside Kirk, Spock and the Tribbles in "Trials And Tribble-ations" (reviewed here!). Over on Star Trek: Voyager, where the proverbial wheels were wobbling off the creative wagon and the show was limping along without any real sense of direction, the writers and producers decided to go another way. Like the Star Trek: The Next Generation episodes "Unification" (reviewed here!) and "Relics" (reviewed here!), Star Trek: Voyager took the simple route of having a member of the original series appear on the show. The character that pops up is Captain Hikaru Sulu and the episode is "Flashback."

While exploring a nebula, Lieutenant Tuvok begins to hallucinate and becomes unable to function in his post as Chief of Security. Janeway, ever compassionate to her good friend, offers to help and the unlikely solution of a Vulcan mind-meld comes into play. Janeway journeys with Tuvok back to his first StarFleet mission aboard the U.S.S. Excelsior in his mind. There, they realize that the nebula Voyager is exploring bears a resemblance to a nebula the Excelsior explored. Soon, while Tuvok hallucinates of a girl falling to her death repeatedly, it becomes clear there is a repressed memory or other force at work here and Tuvok's true condition puts his life in jeopardy.

Sadly, what afflicts Tuvok is an unexciting as it is unmenacing. Its existence within Tuvok after some eighty years is as improbable as it is ludicrous. In order for the episode to work, it hinges on a fairly common reversal and a plot device that is disappointing to see any series in the Star Trek franchise utilizing. Even fans of general science fiction will find the resolution unsurprising and dull. Sadly, "Flashback" marks the first of several episodes in the third season that will employ similar . . . entities that utilize memories. At least this episode is the first and therefore is not derivative.

But outside that, the episode is just a tribute to Star Trek that is little outside itself. In short, a retrospective look at Star Trek has about as much original content and enthusiasm working for it as "Flashback." This is a thinly-veiled tribute worked around a plot that is weaker than . . . well some of the social issues disguised as aliens of the week in Star Trek. My point here is that while "Trials And Tribble-ations" strove to create something in its own right within the Star Trek universe, "Flashback" seems to just regress to an acknowledgment of itself.

That said, Star Trek fans are likely to find quite a bit to enjoy in just seeing Sulu again. Following up with the role and position Sulu achieved in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (reviewed here!) as the Captain of the U.S.S. Excelsior, "Flashback" finds Sulu on a mission and Ensign Tuvok along for the ride (with Janeway as well). Sulu is a worthy character to focus on and one who there's enough in the series (especially including the films) to suggest he had quite a life and history to him outside the paltry role he played as the helmsman of the U.S.S. Enterprise.

What "Flashback" does exceptionally well, then, is to present Sulu as a legitimate character in his own right as opposed to a tool of Captain Kirk's. Sulu here is seen as authoritative, clever, independent and self-actualized, something he almost never was on the original Star Trek. In the '60s, Gene Roddenberry got points just for having a multiethnic cast. In the 90s, the novelty of seeing an Asian flying the ship was not enough; we need our cast doing things, working as equals, having a personality. While Sulu had more footnotes than Scotty, Chekov or Uhura, he was still never on par with the credited three Star Trek actors. In "Flashback," Sulu gets real character and actor George Takei gets a real role.

Takei steals every scene he is in and while it's a pleasure to see him, this feels more like a sales pitch for the next Star Trek spin-off (in retrospect, "The Adventures Of Captain Sulu" seems like a far better idea than the execution of Enterprise!). At Star Trek conventions for years afterward, Takei proudly declared that "Flashback" reunited the entire Excelsior bridge crew from Star Trek VI. Takei wanted this to lead to something and honestly, it would not have been so bad if it did.

Sadly, the episode is a one-shot and Tuvok and Janeway are simply plot devices used to enable the producers to do something other than Star Trek: Voyager for a week. Fans are likely to enjoy seeing Grace Lee Whitney (Yeoman Janice Rand in the first few episodes of Star Trek, now a Commander and the Excelsior's Communications Officer) in a scene where she dominates the screen. But again, it's pretty obvious and pretty much in place of any real content.

My point in all of this is that "Flashback" is a decent tribute and as a fan of Star Trek, I recommend it solely for the novelty viewing (it's not worth more than one spin) and the chance to give a fitting sendoff to another member of the original Star Trek cast. Taken as a loving tribute to Star Trek, it is entertaining and it is what it is. It is, sadly, not much more.

This is more of a side trip away from Star Trek: Voyager and there's not enough plot to even suggest that Tuvok's quest to find why he's hallucinating about a girl dying and that the result is brain damage is at all compelling or even interesting. But hey, it's a chance to see a character from Star Trek in action one more time. That's worth one viewing, even if that's all.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the entire season here!


For other Star Trek reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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