Monday, December 31, 2012

What If Death Was One Of Us? “Ashes To Ashes” Brings The Dead To Star Trek: Voyager!

The Good: Good acting, Interesting character development, Special effects, Basic plot
The Bad: Many of the details surrounding the plot and character elements in the episode.
The Basics: “Ashes To Ashes” is Star Trek: Voyager’s less-creepy Walking Dead episode that is smart and bold, until one looks closely at it.

As I go through the end of Star Trek: Voyager and find episodes that I either did not see or did not remember, I keep looking for episodes that are hidden gems. “Ashes To Ashes” might be the most compelling argument for an episode that was overlooked for one of the better ones of the series. It is, also, an unfortunate example of yet another episode of Star Trek: Voyager that has a great concept, but is sadly deficient on the details when one looks closely at it. “Ashes To Ashes,” in the larger context of Star Trek: Voyager makes less sense and resonates less than it otherwise should have.

Even so, the basic concept of the a-plot is one of the most original Star Trek: Voyager episodes – the closest in the franchise I could find for comparison was the brilliant “Hard Time” (reviewed here!) from Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. The b-plot threatens to overwhelm the force of the episode in the middle while the a-plot makes a transition between the original concept and the new direction it has to take in order to flesh out the full episode. When the a-plot reasserts itself as the primary focus of the episode, “Ashes To Ashes” follows the same usual “orphan” plot of all Star Trek episodes where the plot resolves with the easiest possible solution that ensures the viewer will never see the orphaned character again. Star Trek: Voyager’s entry into the “orphan” plot is actually the best of the bunch.

An alien woman in a mysterious shuttle works to contact Voyager. She gets through to Mezoti, who is not tall enough to transfer the message to Captain Janeway. She reveals herself to be Ensign Lyndsay Ballard, who died three years prior. Catching up with Voyager, the Doctor scans Ballard and discovers that her DNA has been altered by the Kobali, an alien race Voyager never directly encountered. Ballard explains that her dead body was found by the Kobali, who reanimated her corpse as their form of procreation.

While Seven Of Nine reluctantly adapts to parenting the four ex-Borg orphans, she finds the challenge of promoting their individuality more than she truly wants. Mezoti, especially, begins to push the borders of Seven’s rules. As Ballard struggles with being alive but having Kobali memories, despite increasing alterations that make her appear human, Voyager is pursued by her Kobali father, Q’ret. Q’ret wants his daughter, Jetlaya (Ballard as a Kobali), back and Ballard is torn between her burgeoning relationship with Harry Kim and the pull to return to her new family.

“Ashes To Ashes” is a surprisingly compelling episode and one of the best Harry Kim romance stories in the entire series. Instead of pointless defiance (“The Disease”), the usual pursuit of the unattainable, or just whiny, Harry Kim is characterized in “Ashes To Ashes” as harboring long-held feelings for Ballard and actor Garret Wang portrays that exceptionally well. While the episode completely neglects the whole idea that Harry Kim was in a long-term stable relationship at the outset of the series, as seen in “Non Sequitur” (reviewed here!), and Lyndsay Ballard is unique to this episode.

The main positive continuity element of “Ashes To Ashes” is the inclusion of “Collective” (reviewed here!). Unfortunately, the inclusion of the four ex-Borg children creates a serious character nightmare the moment one steps back and objectively looks at the episode. In fact, writer Robert Doherty seems to have absolutely no understanding or appreciation of the larger story of Star Trek: Voyager or the Voyager crew.

First, on the Borg children front, saddling Seven Of Nine with the Borg children is an easy response to the new characters, but makes no real sense. Seven Of Nine explicitly stated in “Collective” and “Ashes To Ashes” that she did not want to be responsible for them. Instead of promoting any sort of realistic interpretation of the Voyager crew after five and a half years lost in space, the producers stuck Seven Of Nine with the children. Far more interesting and realistic would have been that members of the crew fought amongst themselves to get custody of various children. Instead of Seven Of Nine being forced to care for children that she clearly did not want responsibility over (and whom Janeway cannot actually assert authority or appeal to her humanity or StarFleet training), a far more interesting direction might have been Neelix arguing with Ensign Wildman for custody of the twins while Paris and Torres try to get Mezoti as practice for when they have a child of their own. Right there, ideas that portray realistic character development without making an easy way out that just uses Seven Of Nine yet again and in a way that makes no real sense for her.

In a similar way, “Ashes To Ashes” would have been far more compelling if the audience or the characters had had an attachment to Lyndsay Ballard prior to the episode. An especially compelling twist would have been if the character resurrected was the dead woman from “Latent Image” (reviewed here!). In addition to providing a conflict for Harry Kim, it would have given the Doctor a far more compelling arc in the episode.

“Ashes To Ashes” also makes no explanation for how the Kobali could catch up with Voyager. If they possessed incredible technology that allowed the ship to catch up, despite the jumps Voyager has made in the years since leaving Hirogen space (Ballard was killed by a Hirogen trap), that there is no attempt to alter Voyager or barter for the technology seems incredibly sloppy.

All of those things that could have been done better in the episode pale in comparison to what was done right. Harry Kim complaining that he has never been invited to dinner in the Captain’s quarters is a great detail and Ballard using her moments with Janeway to try to ask why she was sent to her death is especially clever. Janeway acting casual is wonderful, though her replicator burning (not, as she says, “liquefying” her roast) makes no sense. As Ballard asks about the assignment that led to her death, it is a powerful and compelling moment.

Kim Rhodes plays Ensign Ballard exceptionally well and she and Garrett Wang have excellent on-screen chemistry. Wang has great body language in his performance in “Ashes To Ashes,” making this one of Kim’s best episodes from the acting front.

Easily one of the most compelling episodes in the Star Trek franchise to explore death, “Ashes To Ashes” is character-focused enough to make one ignore the many detail-related issues with it. Philosophically smart and wisely character-centered, “Ashes To Ashes” is one of the later-season gems of Star Trek: Voyager.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Sixth Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the penultimate season here!


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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