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52[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Ashes to Ashes"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Mar 20, 2000
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      Foreword: My apologies for the lateness of these reviews. I spent my last
      two weekends out of town (and nowhere near a word processor) and I got
      pretty busy during the week. Once I knew I'd be really late (I didn't get
      back to writing until midway through last week), I decided I'd just hold off
      and post all three reviews at once--that way I'd at least have plenty to
      offer with my return. As you can see, I'm back on track. Enjoy!

      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's "Ashes to
      Ashes." If you haven't seen the episode yet, beware.

      Nutshell: Not a bad yarn, but not a great one either. And continuity is the
      most lost of lost virtues.

      Plot description: An alien woman seeks refuge on Voyager, claiming she was a
      member of the Voyager crew who was killed three years ago and later revived
      by an alien society.

      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Ashes to Ashes"

      Airdate: 3/1/2000 (USA)
      Teleplay by Robert Doherty
      Story by Ronald Wilkerson
      Directed by Terry Windell

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      "Fun will now commence." -- Seven

      "Ashes to Ashes" is another perfect example of the quandary that this series
      builds around me. How in the world can I review this episode objectively
      without wanting to review the series in the process? And how can I be fair
      to this episode for what it intends to be while also scanning my
      scrutinizing eye across the larger scope of the series, something that I've
      always considered to be part of my job?

      I vote that "Ashes to Ashes" is an okay show if accepted on its terms. But
      what about those terms? They require complete suspension of memory of
      continuity, or, better yet, practically mandate that you have no idea what
      came before this episode. If you're a person who cares deeply about
      continuity, you will probably not like "Ashes to Ashes."

      I certainly don't consider continuity to be the end-all-be-all of Trek. But
      I do appreciate continuity and I think it's an important aspect of
      television writing. If you're not going to use continuity, then don't use
      it. But don't blatantly contradict it and pretend we aren't going to notice
      when history is being rewritten on the fly. Maybe I'm just too close to the
      series; the casual viewer probably wouldn't know or care, and I'm guessing
      the casual viewer is the intended audience.

      That said, "Ashes to Ashes" is simultaneously a stand-alone show, a
      reset-button show, a stew of continuity contradiction, a show that has a
      subplot that hints at a future evolving storyline, and a decent (albeit
      unrealized) human drama. What we have here is a story that works reasonably
      if you accept it at face value. But this is also an episode that helps the
      credibility of Voyager as a series cave in upon itself. If Voyager is
      supposed to be a believable fictional universe, this isn't helpful to the
      bigger cause. (What bigger cause?)

      The premise is actually a pretty good science fiction concept: What if you
      died, but were only dead enough that you could still be revived by an alien
      society with the ability to reanimate the dead? If you remembered your past
      life, would you want to regain it?

      That premise brings Ensign Lyndsay Ballard (Kim Rhodes) back to the starship
      Voyager, having been revived by a race called the Kobali, who subsequently
      transformed her into one of their own. The Kobali propagate their species by
      collecting and reusing the dead (or, I suppose, the
      just-dead-enough-to-be-revived). Ballard was killed by a Hirogen weapon
      three years ago on an away mission. Of course, we hadn't even met the
      Hirogen three years ago, but who's counting? (One might assume *not* the
      Voyager creators, but co-executive producer Joe Menosky was quoted recently
      as saying the writers are aware when they break continuity and do so simply
      to suit their needs.) Really, if you want to nitpick, there's a much bigger
      plausibility issue here for you: How would Ballard catch up with or even
      find Voyager? In the past three years, Voyager has jumped through the
      quadrant to the tune of 40,000 light-years. Are you telling me that Ballard
      took her shuttle and found Voyager half a quadrant away in only six months?

      Never mind. If you want this story to work, you'd better forget the past.
      That might also be helpful since Ballard is a character invented via
      "retrocontinuity"--filling in past blanks with new made-up material (played
      as if we had never seen Ballard because her presence was simply all
      off-screen). Major invented characters are a mild annoyance, but nothing I'm
      not willing to look past. Ballard has a history with Ensign Kim that grounds
      the story in terms of one of our regulars: Ballard and Kim were close
      friends before her death--and we sense that Harry had hoped their friendship
      would've been more. (More broken continuity, by the way--Harry had a
      girlfriend named Libby that took him the first couple seasons to get over.
      Knowing that, his retroscripted interest in Lyndsay as presented here seems

      Ballard's dilemma turns somewhat interesting as Doc is able to make her look
      more human, although he's unable to restore her DNA structure on the account
      it has been too extensively altered. (This is the same doctor who was able
      to change Janeway and Paris back into humans from salamanders? Okay, sorry I
      brought it up.) Much of "Ashes to Ashes" is about Lyndsay's attempt to
      regain her former life. We follow her through a series of little adventures
      as she tries to settle into her old routine. There are some nice touches,
      like the idea of Ballard's "list"--things she vowed to do when she finally
      tracked down Voyager. And the character's backstory and her friendship with
      Harry is sensibly written. Kim Rhodes creates a likable character in
      Ballard, though the actress pushes a tad hard at times.

      There's also the omnipresent sense of Second Chances and the New Lease on
      Life, which are filtered not only through Lyndsay's experiences but also
      Harry's. Harry seems to get precious few chances for good human interest
      stories (usually he's stuck spouting technobabble or, more rarely, having
      sex with the wrong aliens), but here he gets some nice scenes. Nothing
      remotely groundbreaking, but pleasant. He finds that his long-held feelings
      for Lyndsay (which go all the way back to the academy days) are suddenly no
      longer rendered useless by her death. She's back, and he has the rarest of
      second chances. Is this the newest story under the sun? No, but it works

      Probably the most interesting issue in "Ashes to Ashes" is the question of
      where Lyndsay believes she belongs. She clearly has changed. She thinks in
      Kobali terms and language, can't remember facts of her human life, and food
      doesn't taste the way she remembers. And her body doesn't take too well to
      the treatments Doc administers to make her look human. The issue is forced
      when her Kobali "father" (Kevin Lowe) comes looking for her (he too
      apparently crossed 40,000 light-years of space) and tries to convince her to
      return. He also says that he doesn't intend to give up his daughter so
      easily, and promises to return with reinforcements. (This will inevitably
      lead to the week's action quota, which exists for the sake of gratuitous
      phaser fire, despite characterization being what the story is about.) The
      father's appeal to Lyndsay works because the guest actor delivers the lines
      with conviction, further proving that guest actors can easily make or break

      Ballard's dinner with the captain is ... kind of strange. The idea was
      interesting, I suppose, but it didn't seem to go anywhere with a real
      confidence. The sense of seeing the captain from a different perspective
      from a lower-ranking officer (like the central idea of TNG's "Lower Decks")
      is a fresh perspective, but it's hard to understand that perspective because
      the series on the whole completely ignores that anyone outside the regular
      cast even exists--and puts everyone in that regular cast (even the ensigns
      and cook) on virtually the same level. The dinner scene ends just when it's
      getting interesting, as Ballard asks Janeway why *she* was sent on that
      deadly mission. Then Ballard suddenly runs out of the room distraught and

      I'm a sucker for the identity crisis storyline, and I liked elements of this
      story, but I also think what was attempted here was carried to full
      realization (and with one of the regular characters) earlier this season in
      "Barge of the Dead." The reset-button ending where Ballard chooses her
      Kobali existence over her previous human life isn't handled too badly, but
      it's hard to get particularly excited about it. (Would someone in Ballard's
      position search six months for Voyager only to change her mind in the course
      of what seems like 15 minutes? I'm not so sure, but the treatment isn't
      exactly the deepest as to make me care one way or the other.)

      There's also a B-story here, involving the latest adventures of the Borg
      children. While I'm glad to see these children will be a new evolving
      storyline (actual continuity?), I must also point out that this B-story is
      generally handled with the depth of a sitcom. I liked it--not because it was
      particularly interesting, but because it was often downright funny. The
      moments that are played for laughs work, even if some moments played for
      seriousness are inept. A perfect example is the scene where Seven brings all
      four Borg children to play a game with Naomi Wildman, and informs them with
      classic Seven-ness that "Fun will now commence." And when the twin kids,
      Azan and Rebi (Kurt and Cody Wetherill), cheat by using their neural
      connection, Seven orders "punishment protocol nine-alpha"--a "time-out."
      This is outright comedy. But when Icheb (Manu Intiraymi) rebels by dumping
      the game pieces to the floor, the music comes in with far too much
      seriousness, while the idea itself is predictable and ham-handed, hardly
      dramatic. (And the mystery of the week: What happened to the Borg infant
      from "Collective"?)

      Still, this subplot is mostly enjoyable, and reveals a few interesting
      naunces, like the fact that the little Borg girl, Mezoti (Marley McClean),
      has some creative impulses. While the other kids are molding cubes and
      polyhedrons out of clay, she's going against her instructions and modeling
      Seven's face. Upon inspecting the work, Seven tells her, "Resume your
      disorder." Cute.

      Perhaps the final scene underlines this show's overall sense of decency that
      doesn't add up to much of anything important: Harry, having lost Lyndsay a
      second time, bonds with the young Borg girl for reasons that aren't really
      realized to any point of viewer satisfaction. Okay, so he's a nice guy and
      will accompany her to play in the holodeck. So, is this telling me something
      relevant, or is it a desperate last-minute attempt to link the A-story and
      B-story in a way that pretends to add up to something greater than the sum
      of two parts? One could maybe argue that the characters in both plots are
      searching for their places in life, and that's the connection. But let's
      face it--that's a stretch.

      Next week: More Borg. Apparently the writers' resistance of the Borg, if
      any, is futile.

      Copyright (c) 2000 by Jamahl Epsicokhan, all rights reserved. Unauthorized
      reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...