Thursday, January 8, 2015

Voyager, Season 3: Flashback

Voyager, Season 3
Airdate: September 11, 1996
44 of 168 produced
43 of 168 aired


Tuvok begins to suffer debilitating flashbacks to a traumatic event he suffered as a child that appear to not actually have happened. To solve this mystery, Captain Janeway mind melds with him, and the result is a walk through Tuvok's memories on USS Excelsior under the command of Captian Sulu eighty years ago.

The best part of waking up is Tuvok in your cup!


Kevin: So there are two ways to analyze this episode, much as there is whenever we take a trip down memory lane or have a Very Special Guest Star. Matt summarizes it with the blunt, but not inaccurate "Does this episode have a right to exist?" Using that rubric, in the balance I think it does, but it's not the smoothest ride. Let's start with the set up. First, we get another nebula with yet another heretofore unknown element that might solve Voyager's ill-defined energy problem. It's not a big deal, and yes, they do use it at the hook for connecting the timelines, but still. It's a crutch. Second, and this is a more significant problem. is the set up of Tuvok's condition. This just doesn't feel like a real condition. Every step of its onset and progression felt too much like the artificial framing sequence it was. It also brings back one of my least favorite tropes, the Vulcan mind meld as catchall and cure-all. The list of things it can do, and the dramatic way it functions, again, always seems to perfectly serve the needs of the script. Particularly when we get the "walking around in someone's mind" stuff, it starts to really feel like magic.

Matthew: I am in agreement that this episode does have a right to exist. For me, it's not even that the sci-fi idea (virus disguised as traumatic memory) is terribly bad, in fact it's pretty good. The Vulcan-ey stuff is pretty hokey, as you say. My issue is that the present predicament has very little to do with the flashback scenes themselves. I think they maybe needed to punch up the mystery elements within the Excelsior flashback, to make a solution there have a bearing on a solution in the present. Frankly, they could have dispensed with Janeway's presence altogether, and had it be a self-contained vision for Tuvok. Anyway, they should have had to do some investigative work in the past to determine that it was Valtane who had the virus initially.

Kevin: The second half is the fan service of bringing back Captain Sulu. In the balance, this is a fair amount of fun without too much of the downside that can accompany the stunt guest star. We learned something about both a lead character and fleshed out the events of Star Trek VI. What the Excelsior was up to on their way to help the Enterprise is left untold in the movie, so we, happily, are not contradicting the established movie. It was fun to see Kang again, as well. I do find it a little hard to believe that even indirect fire in such an incendiary political environment would destroy the nascent peace process, let alone an all out battle. Kang seems unconnected, like it's like he doesn't even know a pair of Federation officers were convicted of assassinating the Chancellor. So my overall criticism of this part is that it doesn't connect the story with the same enjoyable political tension of Undiscovered Country, and instead treats the peace treaty as a bit of a foregone conclusion. It doesn't contradict or upend the story of Undiscovered Country, but I don't feel it quite fits in either.

Matthew: Yeah, I pretty much turned my brain off and enjoyed the ride, for the most part. That's not to say they did a bad job of respecting continuity - in fact, they did. What I mean is, when they get he tone right, and don't do anything egregious, I can just kick back and let the "let's have fun!" part of my brain take over. And to this episode's credit, that's exactly what happened here. As I say above, my only regret is that the whole episode isn't just set in the flashback.

Kevin: The character work is far more satisfying. We see that Tuvok has taken a similar path in his relationship to humans as Spock, at first dismissing their differences before coming to value them. The rapport with Janeway is nicely portrayed and the conflict with Sulu serves as a nice counterpoint. I also really liked Janeway summarizing the differences between the two eras. And the tea joke was pretty nicely achieved.

Matthew: You're totally right, and the Janeway-Tuvok scenes both added to their relationship and set the stage well for a potentially uninitiated viewer. So I guess Janeway can stay after all. What I really appreciate this script for is the stuff it gave Sulu to do and say. It really built his character in a way that prior appearances (even the STVI movie) hadn't. Say what you want about Brannon Braga, he can write character material.

Kevin: I'm going to discuss here the odd choice to kill Valtane given that we see him standing with the crew around the bridge of the Excelsior at the end of Undiscovered Country. Given the virus jumps to Janeway, it's clear it can happen at near death and not just actual death, so the choice to kill him is just...strange, when even just the same actor playing him should remember he was not inexplicably dead at the end of the film, And before anyone volunteers an explanation like he was later resuscitated or Tuvok's memory is faulty, the latter is silly, and the former should have been clarified on screen.

Matthew: Yeah, they could have just said it was a near death experience or something. Can I just say... the "Azure Nebula?" Why not just call it "The Blue Cloud Where Stuff Happens?"


Kevin: Russ did a very good job giving Tuvok's history some depth. He really had a stick up his ass, even as a Vulcan, didn't he? The rapport with Janeway is always nice as well.

Matthew:  I think Tim Russ more than anything else is what reminds us that Voyager is Real Star Trek, fit to inhabit the same universe as TOS and TNG. The care with which he portrays Tuvok is exceptional. He threaded the line between pain/emotional disquiet and Vulcan stoicism superbly.

Kevin: Takei seemed to be having a lot of fun, and he really inhabited the role. I got the impression he was still acting like it was a movie based on TOS and not VOY. Staging and acting decision have changed over the decades and for better or worse, there's a reason TOS reads as over the top to a modern audience. It's not a criticism; just an observation. I liked that he kept the theatrical intensity of the original.

Matthew: I didn't see it as over-the-top at all. Sulu is a flamboyant... swashbuckler. I thought his line readings were excellent, especially his mini-speech about loyalty. He had good humor, too. Really, this might be his best work in the role, which is both really cool and kind of tragic. Come to think of it, the same can be said of James Doohan in "Relics."

Kevin: Getting so many guest stars back from ST: VI was a bit of coup, really. It really added some nice verisimilitude to the episode. I certainly would have accepted other actors in the part, but it was nice to them all back again.

Matthew: It made me wish that Sulu's Excelsior spinoff show was a thing.

Production Values

Kevin: The effects I have almost nothing but praise for. The uniforms and sets are gorgeous, and the nebula scene with Kang's ship was great. The Excelsior model is one of our favorites and it was fun to see it again. The explosion in the nebula was not my favorite, but the model work on the Klingon ship moving as a result was top notch.

Matthew: The bridge redress was superb, I'm sure in great part a credit to the Okudas and their wizardry both with archives and with display panels. The uniforms were nice. The effort put into finding extras from more than 5 years prior was commendable. And yeah, both the space model work and the energy effects in the nebula kicked some serious tookus.

Kevin: My only complaints are that the flashback scenes on the cliff side looked like a soundstage to a distracting degree and the cut to the Praxis wave was a bit of a jarring change in the film stock. I guess it would have been insane to redo the effect, but I remember it being a little distracting.

Matthew: It was totally distracting! We're picky nerds. The precipice didn't do it for me, either, since I couldn't picture any real topology that could possibly look like that. It looked like they were floating over the valley, not on a real rock. But I guess that suits the dream-like nature of the false vision. But then, why was the girl white and wearing the same dress regardless of the time period and culture of the host being?


Kevin: In the balance, this a 3. The framing sequence was designed to justify having Sulu on the bridge. That's not great. That being said, once we got there, goshdarnit, it was fun, wasn't it? The actors all were having such a great time, and the story was sufficiently engaging if not earth shattering that the final product is solid, if not as transcendent as it should have been giving the occasion the episode should be.

Matthew: Yeah, I want to give this a 4, but I don't think I can. "Relics" was a 4, because it did more in the way of tying the periods together, and integrating the sci-fi story. This one was a bit more scattershot. The present-day stuff just wasn't terribly compelling. But the flashback was tres magnifique! So I'll have to agree with the 3, albeit the warmest possible 3, for a total of 6.

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