Star Trek: Voyager – 3×02 – “Flashback”

Star Trek: Voyager
“Flashback”
Originally Broadcast September 11th, 1996
Reviewed by Christina Luckings

The Story

Stardate: 50126.4

Neelix is trying to tempt Tuvok to try an experimental fruit juice blend, by telling him that Ensign Golwat (a lady Bolian) thinks it is delicious. This does not work, as Bolian tongues can survive drinking corrosive acids. Nevertheless, persistence prevails and Tuvok takes a sip. The rest of his breakfast is going to be eggs, and Neelix follows the Talaxian custom of giving the life story of every ingredient in the meal until a power overload cremates the dish. Then Captain Janeway summons the pair to the bridge.

‘Captain’s log, Stardate 50126.4. We have detected a gaseous anomaly that contains sirillium, a highly combustible and versatile energy source. We’ve altered course to investigate.’

The plan is to gather and store as much of this substance as possible, which will require Neelix giving up storage bay 3 – his pantry. However, the thought of adding the stuff into his galley systems to improve cooking times is a consolation to him. Torres scoffs at the idea. She’s planning to use it as a warp plasma catalyst, while Tuvok dreams of boosting deflector shield efficiency. They arrive at the anomaly and prepare to gather the gas with the bussard collectors when Tuvok suddenly feels dizzy and takes himself off to sickbay. On the way he has a vision of lying on a cliff edge trying to stop a girl from falling.

He relates the vision to the EMH as he conducts an examination, describing feelings of anxiety, fear and anger at letting her fall. Yet, although it seems like a memory, he has no knowledge of the event ever happening in his lifetime. They take his word for this, and speculate about parallel realities, the nearby nebula, or telepathic contact from another race. In the meantime, Tuvok is to wear a monitor in case it happens again.

In his quarters, Tuvok is building the Vulcan equivalent of a house of cards whilst repeating a mantra about control and structure. Just as it collapses, the doorbell chimes and Kes comes in to adjust the monitor. He explains to her about the ‘keethara’, how it’s final structure reflects the builder’s state of mind. She realises that he is having a struggle with his controls, and leaves him to it.

Next day, after 14 hours trying to find the source of the problem within himself to no avail, Tuvok is rather curt with Chakotay when he asks how he is. The first officer’s suggestion to stop thinking about it and let the answer come on it’s own is also pushed aside. In engineering, Kim reports that the sensors have found nothing about the nebula to explain Tuvok’s symptoms. It is a standard type 17. Tuvok’s suggestion to scan it for cloaked ships raises eyebrows, especially when he says that they are close to Klingon space and Torres has to correct him. Then the Vulcan has another vision and collapses on the floor, eyes wide and staring at something in horror.

The EMH has reached a diagnosis – t’lokan schism, or a repressed memory which is re-emerging and causing actual physical damage to the brain. The treatment is to mind-meld with a family member in order to bring the repressed memory into the conscious where it can be dealt with. That is why he has called Captain Janeway to the sickbay. Tuvok has considered asking one of the Vulcans on board Voyager, but decided that as it will be a very intimate meld, he would rather do it with his closest friend instead. Once they have established the meld, and Tuvok has accessed the memory, she will act as his pyllora or guide to help him reconstruct it and objectify the experience. In this way, he will be able to come to terms with it. He will be aware of her presence while she observes events and helps him. They will begin in one hour.

Under close medical supervision, the meld begins, but instead of the precipice, Janeway finds herself on a starship under attack. This is his first deep space assignment, on the USS Excelsior under the command of Captain Hikaru Sulu, stardate 9521. The battle with the Klingons was the result of events 3 days earlier, and suddenly they are in a group billet, with bunks and tables. Commander Janice Rand summons gamma shift to defend the Federation against gaseous anomalies and gives Tuvok a message from his father on the Yorktown. Then she teases him about making tea for the Captain in order to make Lieutenant in his first months when it took her three years to make Ensign. Janeway comments that he never made her tea, and leaves the room too. On the bridge, Tuvok pours a cup of the beverage for Captain Sulu, and it is pronounced outstanding, with a joke about giving him a promotion. Typically Vulcan, Tuvok protests that he was not trying to curry favour, and he is told to learn to recognise a joke, because Sulu knows that his race does have a sense of humour. Janeway comments that the Captain does not look like his official portrait as they go over to Tuvok’s science station, and that none of this is on his service record. That is because his current record, beginning with the Wyoming, is his second career, whilst this is his first. He is 29 years old and Praxis is about to explode. The results will include the first Federation-Klingon peace treaty, muses Janeway, just before the shockwave hits the ship and throws everyone to the floor. Forward two days to the moment when Sulu decides to try and rescue Kirk and McCoy from Kronos, and Ensign Tuvok steps forward to express his objection to this blatant disregard of official orders. Rand steps up to relieve him of his duties and apologise to the Captain. Sulu gives Tuvok a lecture on family and loyalty, says ‘Regulations be damned’ and sets course, while Janeway tells him that he did the right thing.

They move forward to the Excelsior’s approach to the Azure nebula, which bears a striking physical similarity to the one Voyager has encountered. As he stares at the viewscreen, the vision of the girl reappears and Tuvok breaks the meld. The EMH acts quickly to prevent him from going into a coma, and tells Janeway that if this memory keeps surfacing on it’s own, it will eventually kill Tuvok. He will be kept sedated for a few hours so the Captain leaves sickbay.

In her ready room, Janeway is browsing old ship’s logs when Kim comes in to report that the only thing the two nebula have in common is trace amounts of sirillium. It may be only the apparent visual similarity that has triggered this repressed memory after all, but why they went back to the Excelsior instead of his childhood is still a mystery. Captain Sulu chose not to enter the journey to the Azure nebula in his logs, and they comment on how different is was for that generation, with the Alpha quadrant largely unexplored. ‘They were a little slower to invoke the Prime Directive, and a little quicker to pull their phasers. Of course, the whole bunch of them would be booted out of Starfleet today. But I have to admit, I would have loved to ride shotgun at least once with a group of officers like that.’ Janeway confesses to her operations officer. The EMH calls to inform her that he is ready to revive Tuvok.

Once again, Tuvok initiates a meld with Janeway, to take them to that precipice, and once again they are at red alert on the Excelsior while the Klingons attack. They go back a few hours to when Dimitri Valtane wanted to discuss the situation with Tuvok. Dimitri thinks it is courageous, while Tuvok considers it reckless. He clearly expresses his dislike of the way humanity thinks every other race should see things as they do, and announces that he will resign his commission at the end of this assignment. Then he tells Janeway that during the following fifty years he tried the kohlinar, entered pon farr instead, married T’Pel and raised a family. During this time he came to appreciate the decisions his parents had made for him which he had originally rebelled against, and eventually reenlisted in order to learn from other species. Then a Klingon cruiser attacks them within the nebula and they return to the Excelsior’s bridge.

On the viewscreen, Kang is exchanging ‘pleasantries’ with Sulu who is claiming a navigational malfunction has taken them across the border. He accepts the Klingon’s offer of an escort back to Federation space, then asks Tuvok about the nebula. On being told about the sirillium, he asks for ways to ignite it. They modulate a positron beam and fire it just as they leave the nebula, blinding the Klingon ship and disabling it. They set off for Kronos only to be intercepted by three cruisers who fire photon torpedoes at them. This causes an explosion at Valtane’s console and Tuvok rushes to his colleagues aid only to experience the moment at the precipice again.

The EMH is concerned about the readings he is getting, and tries to end the meld but is unsuccessful. Tuvok has twenty minutes before he suffers brain death, and in the meld, Sulu demands to know who Janeway is. Something is going horribly wrong and Tuvok offers to break the meld, but Janeway stops him. The death of Valtane is a key to his problem and she wants him to discover some detail about it that he isn’t yet aware of. He warns her that her mind will be damaged if his neural structures collapse while they are linked but she wants to take the risk, in which case they will have to make her inconspicuous to the other players in this drama. So they go back to Rand’s call to duty, neck-pinch her and Janeway takes her uniform.

Meanwhile, the EMH decides to bombard Tuvok’s telepathic cortex with thoron radiation to break the meld. The treatment brings surprising results on the monitor. As the two brainwaves begin to separate a third memory engram appears, which is impossible. The EMH concludes that it must be a type of virus that disguises itself in this way and that if the radiation has made it appear, then a bigger burst should kill it. On the Excelsior, Valtane dies again and Tuvok summons the last of his mental strength to take them to the precipice as the virus migrates to the Captain’s mind and she experiences the girl slipping from her grip to her death. The EMH switches the treatment to Janeway. As it dies, the virus shows Dimitri and other people at the precipice until it is gone for good.

Afterwards, the EMH explains his understanding of this strange parasitic life form. It lives on brain peptides and uses the ‘memory’ of the falling girl to hide itself in the host’s brain, moving on when they died.

Out in the corridor, Tuvok tells Janeway that the Excelsior never rescued Kirk and McCoy. Instead, Kirk provided his own means of escape, but they did play an important role at Khitomer. He is pleased that he was a part of that era, and, as Janeway also feels that she was there, she can be nostalgic for the pair of them.

Review

While Voyager was playing with George Takei and a remake of a small moment from ‘Undiscovered Country’, DS9 was remaking ‘Trouble with Tribbles’ with a mix of the original show and excellent special effects. They got the best show for the 30th anniversary of Star Trek. Which is a shame, as it was a fair idea, but centring such a show on just one (or two) characters is a cheat when you are celebrating something so important to the fans. Having got that out of the way, this is a strange story about Vulcan mental disorders and weird viruses that disguise themselves as repressed memories. Apart from the movie connection and Tuvok’s back story, the whole thing feels basically pointless.

Yet, if you go back and watch the film, you will notice that apart from Sulu’s cup breaking, nothing in this story matches what we saw back then on the screen. It makes you feel that the Voyager episode was written as a second-best anniversary tribute, without a lot of thought for context, just as an excuse to get one of the original cast on the set somehow without breaking the budget. It is nice to hear George’s deep rolling tones again, and hear Grace whinge about Yeoman Rand taking 3 years to make Ensign, but their performances feel a tad strained, apart maybe from Sulu’s speech about family and loyalty.

Tim Russ does a good job to give Tuvok some stress and slips seamlessly between narrating to us (and Janeway) as the older, wiser Vulcan and interacting with the crew of Excelsior as the young man just starting out in the universe. The differences are subtle but there, especially in his attitude towards the ego-centricity of humanity. I thought that was an excellent point. Janeway’s wistful musings on the ‘old days’ to Kim were just slightly off-key, especially the comments about the Prime Directive and how Kirk and Co would be thrown out of Starfleet in the 24th Century.

All in all, pretty average, with just a slight plus for reminding us how much more rebellious the Original series attitude towards higher authorities was than is currently the case (even 70 years away from home)

Grade: 6/10

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