In the pilot episode of "The Americans" Elizabeth has a flashback to something that happened twenty years earlier. Seeing her reflection triggers the flashback, but a reflection seems to have no earlier reference in the plot line. The flashback makes sense once the scene is over, but that is after the fact.

Is it an accepted technique for the protagonist to have an internally logical flashback, even if the audience doesn't know the reason for the flashback?

2 Answers 2


I'd argue that most flashbacks make sense only later in a story, exspecially in visual media, so yes, it is an accepted technique.

A lot of times a flashback is used as a for of foreshadowing: it is somewhat implied that what is being showed will make sense at a later time. You can still run into trouble if the flashback is out of place (e.g., the reason doens't become clear later on, or is not a strong reason). But that's a whole other topic.

  • I understand that a flashback might only make sense later on in the story, but the triggering of the flashback, without a clear reason why the protagonist had the flashback, seemed very strange.
    – Bob516
    May 17, 2019 at 13:00
  • 1
    Yet in most cases (that I know of) it's the case. The audience might infer a reason for the flashback, but rarely the "internal logic" of a character gets explained. You'd need to use an internal narrator, showing the characters stream of consciuosness, to acquire that.
    – Liquid
    May 17, 2019 at 13:12

The flashback is informing the audience; both literally and metaphorically she is looking at herself, and the flashback is about her past. Yes, it makes more sense later, but by showing us the flashback the author is telling us the woman is not just who she appears to be. Not to herself, and later, not to us.

That is my take on it, others may disagree. The fact she is looking in the mirror is important.

  • Yes, her reflection is important, but what about the reflection triggers the memory for her? Why did seeing her reflection at that moment cause her to think about something from 20 years earlier. As a viewer I want to understand how her thoughts brought her to that memory.
    – Bob516
    May 17, 2019 at 21:48
  • Seeing her reflection means seeing an actor or impostor, and the flashback is about who she really is. It is like not recognizing yourself. Of course that doesn't mean she has this flashback every time she looks in the mirror, it can be just once in a while when she is for some reason more acutely aware she is an impostor or fraud. We don't have to justify that, it is plausible she HAS a flashback for some reason, and the flashback shows the audience there is more to her than they might think just looking at her; more to her than her outward appearance.
    – Amadeus
    May 17, 2019 at 22:37

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