FORMULA: The Undiscovered Country + Violations + Dark Page + Trials and Tribble-a-tions
WHY WE LIKE IT: Star Trek VI.
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.