Friday, April 25, 2008

Star Trek 504: Flashback

504. Flashback

FORMULA: The Undiscovered Country + Violations + Dark Page + Trials and Tribble-a-tions


WHY WE DON'T: Everything aboard Voyager.

REVIEW: It's Star Trek's 25th Anniversary, and while DS9 went off exploring the TOS era, Voyager opted for the Movie era. Given that Sulu (and Janice) weren't featured in Trials, but were conveniently on the Excelsior together in ST VI, it seems a perfect opportunity to include them. Sulu's Excelsior was one of my favorite things about The Undiscovered Country, and seeing a few more details about their adventure while Kirk and McCoy rotted in prison, is a highlight of this episode. And unlike Trials' CGI manipulations, Flashback can use the actors and create whole new scenes. Great!

The conceit here is that we're really in Tuvok's head, witnessing his memories of being an ensign on Excelsior (so any discrepancies can be attributed to faulty memory). Tim Russ wasn't actually in ST VI, but his station is out of the way enough that he might have been, and there are enough recognizable bit parts from the movie to make this feel really part of the movie. Tuvok is not only mentored by Rand (some have been mean and mentioned how much weight she's gained, but I can't be bothered to notice that when her acting is so atrocious), but made the tea Sulu drinks at the start of the film. He's also Valtane's roommate (that's the guy who gives the Praxis info-dump).

The untold adventure of the Excelsior includes the appearance of Kang, always played with gravitas by Michael Ansara. There's a little skirmish in a nebula, some nice effects (including movie-style torpedoes) and that's pretty much it, but it's fun. Other good bits include Sulu's hero shot coming out of the steam, the (I think) new idea that Rand was First Officer, and Sulu's speech about loyalty, duty and family. Very TOS. Very good.

Not so good is the premise and how it plays out. A virus hiding in a memory (or as a memory) is a Brannon Braga idea to be sure. Not too bad, but it requires a lot of set-up, and because we're exploring a memory, the action tends to repeat a couple times. And when it all goes wrong, it seems that it's just to force Janeway to steal Rand's clothes and dress up in a baggy old uniform (what, Tuvok can't remember a single locker?). It's a highly ridiculous sequence to get some interaction between Janeway and the older characters.

And there's a lot of padding besides. Neelix talking about cuisine in his culture is interesting, but has only the slimmest thematic link to the rest of the episode (telling the story of your ingredients). There's an over-long scene where Tuvok builds a puzzle, a lot of starring at screens and nebulae, two mindmelds, and Janeway acting like a cabbage head who doesn't know her own best friend's personal history. And Janeway musing that the TOS gang would have been booted out of Starfleet "today" is borderline insulting and has no place in such a homage. It certainly lacks the humor of "the man was a menace" from Trials.

LESSON: That an Excelsior series would have been very cool indeed. (You think Christian Slader would have accepted TV work?)

REWATCHABILITY - Medium-High: Sulu easily carries the Excelsior scenes and it's great to return to that era, but Flashback could have used a tighter script. As it is, it only made Voyager look bad in comparison to the Movie era.


Doctor Mi said...

Watched this one about a month back. It's on one of the Fan's Choices collections. Its good TV entertainement, but yeah, it lacks brillance.

Another Why we like it: Janeway as a fat redhead girl.

Definitively not as great an hommage to TOS as Trials and Tribbulations.

jayunderscorezero said...

Interesting that you should complain about the "breakfast" and "building blocks" scenes in particular, when - according to Memory Alpha - both of those were added at the last minute to make up for scenes that were supposed to feature Nichelle Nichols, who of course opted out.

As for the "Fan Collective" DVD collection, I love how the episode that directly follows this one on that collection is "Judgment", which is ALSO a transparent STVI homage/rip-off. After watching those two back to back, there was no choice, I had to go out and get myself a copy of STVI.

Siskoid said...

I haven't really been checking the behind-the-scenes information when writing these reviews, but that certainly explains it.

I wonder how Uhura would have tied in at all...

De said...

I saw Grace Lee Whitney a few weeks before she started filming this episode. Sure, she had gained a little weight since Star Trek VI but it wasn't an abnormal amount. She looked like a normal person that you'd see on the street. Unfortunately, the movie-era costumes aren't very forgiving.

LiamKav said...

This episode actually violated one of Trek's most consitently held directing-rules: "No space shots when thing's are not real". It was always a good way of spotting if it was "all in the mind" or holodeck or whatever.

Of course, that would mean not seeing the Excelsior, which went from one of my most hated designs to one of my favourites.