Star Trek: Voyager: Ashes to Ashes   Rewatch 
April 19, 2018 3:32 AM - Season 6, Episode 18 - Subscribe

Harry and his crewmates encounter an unfamiliar face on a familiar name: Ensign Lyndsay Ballard. (Well, okay, familiar to THEM.)

Memory Alpha giveth and Memory Alpha taketh away:

- Ensign Ballard's original "death" was not shown on screen or mentioned in an episode around the time it happened, only in this episode. Ballard mentions a date of death as stardate 51563, which would have placed it between the episodes "Hunters" [FF link --ed.] and "Prey" [FF link --ed.], from 2374 in Season 4. When unpacking with Kim, though, she mentions being gone for three years – leaving a year of death in 2373. Also, she did not remember Tuvok being promoted to lieutenant commander, which happened in early 2374, on stardate 51186.2, long before "Hunters". The story she originally tells Captain Janeway, including six months of travel in a shuttlecraft, adds up to approximately 2.5 years – all of these are before the crew met the Hirogen for the first time.

- To date, Lyndsay Ballard is one of two Starfleet officers to be re-animated after a lengthy postmortem (the other being Spock).

- This episode was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Makeup for a Series.

"Fun will now commence."

- Seven of Nine

"Hair is one of my specialties, despite evidence to the contrary."

- The Doctor

"Commander Tuvok finished his analysis of your shuttle and presented me with 37 different ways of repelling a Kobali attack."
"Did he include your pot roast?"

- Kathryn Janeway and Lyndsay Ballard

"Vien'ke debala, Jhet'leya. (beat) I taught myself to speak a few words of Kobali."
"That's very sweet of you, but you just told me 'The comets are tiresome.'"

- Harry Kim and Lyndsay Ballard

Poster's Log:
Followers of these threads will have noticed that, a lot of the time, when we regular commenters complain about shortcomings of episodes, the complaints are often echoes of previous complaints—suggestive of patterns of problems that some of us have with the series. What's fascinating about "Ashes to Ashes" is how it's really good in an unusual way. (Kind of the inverse of that axiom about how all happy families are the same, but unhappy families are each unhappy in their own way.)

I mean, consider previous examples of episodes like this—which is to say, episodes where a non-antagonistic one-shot character with lots of screen time is (A) the entire focus of the plot (e.g. TNG: "True Q" or the lousy DS9: "Melora") and/or (B) is purported to have had a noteworthy relationship with one of the regulars (e.g. the much better DS9: "Profit and Loss"—NOT "Profit and Lace"—or TNG: "Identity Crisis"). In terms of how fully-realized any of those characters are (Amanda Rogers, Melora, Natima Lang, and Susanna Leijten, respectively), or others like them who I can't quite think of, I feel like Lyndsay Ballard is a vastly more well-realized character. tl;dr, I can't think of another Trek episode like this that's more effective.

Writing-wise, it feels like they (correctly) decided they needed to put in the time and heavy lifting to make Ballard engaging. It makes all the difference, taking what could have been a filler episode and giving it some heft and rewatchability.

Credit should go in large part to Kim Rhodes (Ballard), whom you might remember from such series as As the World Turns, Becker, and Supernatural. Also, the story for this episode is by one Ron Wilkerson, who gave us a couple of earlier above-average VOY outings: "Learning Curve" and "Fair Trade" (and the damn good TNG: "Lower Decks").

Poster's Log, Supplemental:

PARIS: Oh, now, let's see. For those of us keeping score, Harry Kim has fallen for a hologram, a Borg, the wrong twin, and now the dearly departed.

ME: And a mantis-woman, don't forget her.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (7 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Since none of the details of what Ballard remembers versus the events on Voyager she was and wasn't around for add up, we must conclude that this whole plot is part of a greater scheme involving false memories and a trojan horse manchurian officer aboard Voyager as part of an espionage plot. The Kobali spy got away in the end with all kinds of new information about Voyager. Major mistake, Tuvok! Where was ship's security?
posted by Servo5678 at 7:13 AM on April 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

"Fun will now commence."

- Seven of Nine

This has to be counterbalanced with her later quote, "resume your disorder". I loved the dry delivery on that.
posted by traveler_ at 7:45 AM on April 19, 2018 [4 favorites]

So... I love continuity in Star Trek. Part of the delight I get from this show, Discovery and the other rewatches is seeing references to other events, people, places and times slowly build an entire universe to play with.

I liked this episode's story. I liked Ensign Ballard a lot and completely agree with you, Cheeses, that she is a vastly more well-realized one-off character than we find elsewhere in the Trek universe. It's a compelling story and she makes it believable. I especially liked her bucket list of things to accomplish, which added a wonderful layer of realism and depth.

Two problems with this episode:

1) Pesky continuity errors.

We first meet the Hirogen in the middle of season 4, in the episodes Message in a Bottle and Hunters. By the continuity timeline, that's 2 years ago, not 3. Why they didn't simply say Ensign Ballard was killed two years ago is beyond me. More frustrating: They got the Stardate right! Stardate for "Hunters" is 51501.4. Ballard says she and Harry were "on our way to a class M planet in the Vyntadi Expanse to recover dilithium ore we'd detected a few days earlier. When we landed, we realised it was a trap set by a Hirogen hunting party. They'd reconfigured a power cell to give off false dilithium readings." On Stardate 51563.

So fine, let's assume the writers screwed up amount of time she's been dead. Annoying, but okay.

We can measure the big jumps Voyager has taken since they met the Hirogen. Since the events of Season 4, episode 2, The Gift, (where Kes tosses Voyager through Borg space, for a total of 9,500 light years,) happen before Voyager encounters the Hirogen, we'll leave them out of the following calculations:

- Season 4, episode 26: Hope and Fear: Voyager adapts Arturis' quantum slipstream drive to travel 300 light years.
- Season 5, episode 1: Night: Voyager uses the Malon's subspace vortex to quickly travel the 2,500 light years across the void, cutting 2 years off of their journey.
Season 5, episode 6: Timeless: Harry Kim destroys the ship, saves the ship and they travel 10,000 light years using a quantum slipstream drive.
- Season 5, Episode 15 and 16: Dark Frontier: Voyager steals a transwarp coil from a borg sphere and travels 20,000 light years.
- Season 6, Episode 7: Dragon's Teeth: Traveling a Vaadwaur subspace corridor travel takes 200 light years off their journey.
- Season 6, episode 9: The Voyager Conspiracy: Graviton Catapult sends Voyager 600 light years along her journey. Passes Go. Collects 200 bars of gold pressed latinum.

Voyager started Season 1 with 75,000 light years to go. Between the time they met the Hirogen and now, they've traveled 33,600 light years.

Nitpick: Ensign Ballard caught up with and found one small federation ship using a Kobali shuttlecraft. Why isn't Torres immediately stripping that thing for spare parts?

2) The Science. Ye gods, the science.

In addition to shuttlecraft that can travel 33,000+ light years in six months that no one thinks to use to get home quickly....

I have ranted about the way Voyager treats DNA as a magical plot point before. The Voyager writers are not scientists and a certain amount of willing disbelief is to be expected when watching a science fiction show. But you can't completely rewrite someone's DNA to turn them into an entirely different alien race. DNA does not work like that. Including Threshold and Favorite Son, this is now the third time (at least) that the Voyager writers have based episodes around this concept. TNG also used this concept in the episode Identity Crisis, written by Brannon Braga. (Ashes to Ashes was not written by Braga. He co-wrote Threshold and Lisa Klink wrote Favorite Son, which gave Harry a genetic homing beacon to... *sigh* oh, what's the use?)

Once again, this is something that could easily have been avoided. Just don't use DNA as the plot point. Use technobabble rather than a known biological process. This also helps the writers avoid the stupidity of having the Doctor be able to transform Janeway and Paris back to their old selves from Sexy, Sexy Salamanders in Threshold, yet only be able to cosmetically restore Ensign Ballard (albeit temporarily) back to her old appearance (with the six lobed brain of a Kobali underneath) here.

Every time this happens, it drives me up a wall. Just don't say "DNA." Don't do it. People know what DNA is! Call it something else! Make something up!
posted by zarq at 8:24 AM on April 19, 2018 [5 favorites]

The Kobali spy got away in the end with all kinds of new information about Voyager. Major mistake, Tuvok! Where was ship's security?

Mezoti answered the comm in Astrometrics without a security code, too. That scene was adorable, as was their interaction: "Are there any grown-ups I could speak to?"

She was played by Marley McClean, whom a quick google search shows is now a lawyer in California. It's nice to see a child actor doing well.
posted by zarq at 8:57 AM on April 19, 2018 [3 favorites]

I thought that it was very good as well, for a number of reasons; even with the problems with the concept of the Kobali (about which more in a bit), there's a big and very affecting message at the heart of it, and Kim Rhodes and Garrett Wang work very well together. The problem with the Kobali paradigm would seem to be two-fold: one, they don't seem to be very well prepared to deal with recent reanimees trying to rejoin their original race, and are oddly defensive about their practices; at least the Vidiians are aware that their organ-snatching ways make them unpopular with other species, whereas the Kobali not only insist that Ballard was "abandoned" but that she belongs to them and only to them. They must understand that, to any species that doesn't have their resurrecting tech--which is just about all of them, even though the Federation has extended the time in which death can be reversed, and Seven's nanoprobes (in "Mortal Coil") has pushed that back even further--they have a certain amount of emotion invested in their funerary rites, whatever those may be. Even Klingons, who don't care about what happens to the body (except in Disco Trek, but anyway), might be a bit perturbed about someone whom they had hoped would be in Sto'Vo'Kor walking around. The other odd aspect of this is that you would think that other races would generally want the Kobali around, because they can, you know, resurrect people, even if that means that they end up Kobalized. (Inevitable Mass Effect comparison: My theory for why Cerberus, the human-supremacist organization in the original trilogy, was so well-staffed and funded in the third game was in part because they resurrected Commander Shepard, the games' hero(ine), in the second game, and that impressed a lot of people.) Their insistence that Ballard/Jhet'leya return to them makes a bit more sense if they have a general feeling that they'd be hated and feared by most people the way that the Vidiians are/were, and maybe the Kobali do have cultural imperatives (i.e. that they feel the need to resurrect people even if that person's culture has countermanding imperatives to not disturb the dead) that still alienate other races, but I'd expect the situation to not be so cut and dried.

Regardless (and I should emphasize that the Kobali thing isn't a deal-killer, just an area that's fascinating and could have been explored more), it's a great, great episode, because it works both on the level of Harry and the other crew dealing with Ballard's loss and on the level of Ballard/Jhet'leya realizing that she really can't go home again. In that aspect, it reminded me of this great film, Truly, Madly, Deeply, with Juliet Stevenson and Alan Rickman. They're not exactly the same, since the emphasis in TMD is on the survivor and in this episode it's on Ballard, but in both cases the process is neither automatic nor easy. I felt a bit of that about a year and a half ago, when I went on a trip that, among other places, passed through the city where I lived until I got divorced; I felt like a bit of a revenant, sorting between what was different because it had actually changed and what was different because I had changed and remembered it differently.

A few more things: While, as zarq points out above, it's terribly unlikely that Mezoti would be able to answer comms, the idea of a kid picking up the phone on a starship is too funny; imagine if she'd been on the other end of a first contact. In general, the Rule of Funny [TVTropes] excuses the questionable decision of giving the care of the Borg Babies over to Seven. Bernd points out that they could have done this episode as a sequel to "Latent Image" and simply had Ballard be Ensign Jetal; whether or not that actress was available, I'm glad that they went with Kim Rhodes, who did just a bang-up job. (I also think that the Kobali makeup was great--it's sort of a cross between the Borg Queen and Trills.) Bernd also noticed that the Kobali ships make a number of appearances in the series. Finally, do you remember a guy that's been in such an early song? Bowie's sequel to his own song tells the story of a space traveler who can't go home, either.
posted by Halloween Jack at 10:30 AM on April 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Particle of the Week: The Kobali pathogen.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: This is a doozy: Kobali Prime is a location with quests and an open are PvE zone, under siege by the Vaadwaur with Harry Kim* acting as the Starfleet liaison.

Ballard herself is still around and involved in the plot, which has a pretty complicated story arc (spoilers here).

* By the time a player can reach the area, they will outrank Harry even though he's been in Starfleet almost 40 years longer by this point. Not even the MMO can resist torturing Harry Kim.

Ongoing Counts:
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: -8.
* Crew: 140 due to the retroactive loss of Ballard, the problems with which have been well covered above.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 14.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful, 2 games of chicken, 1 ramming speed.

* It's That Gal!

Kim Rhodes has been in a bunch of stuff, including playing one of my very favorite recurring characters on Supernatural, (and should soon be starring in their spinoff). She's great here, same as everywhere else. I thought her performance was excellent, showing off how she was 'off' without overselling it.

* The Kobali are completely nonsensical.

This has been well covered already, and I'm not surprised everybody pounced on it: their method of reproduction doesn't make any sense at all, their culture doesn't handle this stuff very well, there are all sorts of ethical and diplomatic issues at play that they basically just ignore, etc. etc. etc. Also, Jack's point about their resurrection tech being potentially incredibly valuable is well taken.

(They are, if anything, even creepier in the MMO. I found the whole 'family' thing super extra offputting.)

* Seven's adventures in babysitting are pretty funny.

As referenced in the post and elsewhere, her delivery's excellent. I also liked Mezoti here, even if the comm call was way too contrived.

* Despite its problems, I really like this story.

In terms of how fully-realized any of those characters are (Amanda Rogers, Melora, Natima Lang, and Susanna Leijten, respectively), or others like them who I can't quite think of, I feel like Lyndsay Ballard is a vastly more well-realized character. tl;dr, I can't think of another Trek episode like this that's more effective.

This is my overall feeling about the episode as well. Trek has gone to this well a number of times, but I also feel this is an especially good example of the form, on the weight of how well realized Ballard is and her chemistry with Harry.

So... yeah. I actually really liked this despite it having such a laundry list of plot issues.
posted by mordax at 1:44 PM on April 19, 2018 [2 favorites]

Between the time they met the Hirogen and now, they've traveled 33,600 light years.

Thanks Zarq!
This was exactly the bit of the episode which bothered me the most.
It's something that Voyager often messes up. Like, sure it makes sense that there are Borg basically everywhere, but there are still people who recognise Talaxians knocking about for goodness sake.
posted by Just this guy, y'know at 3:59 PM on September 20, 2023

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