Thursday, October 20, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Ashes to Ashes"

As a longtime comic book fan, I accept retroactive continuity as a necessary part of keeping long running series interesting. There are comics that have run seventy years now--or at least there were until DC Comics’ latest cash grab--so ‘new’ things have to be revealed that have allegedly been there the entire time for the sake of new twists. But VOY has not been around for seventy years. It has only cursed the viewing public for six years by the airing of “Ashes to Ashes,” so when such a short history has to be altered for the sake of a single episode, it seems lazy and incompetent rather than necessary to keep things fresh. “Ashes to Ashes” throws continuity completely out the window while forcing another Hard Luck Harry in Love episode.

We meet Lindsey Ballard first the first time in “Ashes to Ashes.” Ballard is supposed to have been a member of the crew from the beginning. She is also a close friend of Harry’s since the Academy. Ballard died three years ago on an away mission with Harry. She was killed by the Hirogen. After her casket was shot in space, it was retrieved by the Kobali, an alien race who procreate by reanimating the dead and turning them into new people. Sometimes the new person retains more memory of his or her past life than others. Ballard remembers her old self enough to escape, track down Voyager, and return to her old life. Ultimately, she cannot resume her old life because there is too much Kobali in her, so she returns home, breaking Harry’s heart in the process.

The premise of reanimating the dead to make into a new person is intriguing. I am uncertain whether glossing over the existential and ethical issues of the process in favor of the identity crisis aspects is wise. Bringing back the dead raises questions of the afterlife that should bug both the religious and the skeptical in the way it is presented. If you are religious, VOY just smacked your beliefs in the afterlife right between the eyes. If you are a skeptic, VOY just ambiguously claimed there is some essence of humans that can live on in other after the body is dead. No one can be happy what ballard’s return either way. ’Ashes to Ashes” decides to skip all that and go straight for the emotionalism of a young woman trying to resume her life, but cannot. The emotional impact is minimal, though, because we do not know eho the heck Ballard is. She is a guest star to whom we have no attachment. We have to understand how meaningful her return is by the loving reactions of the crew, but those can only take us so far. Ballard is terribly forgettable.

The lack of connection between Ballard’s plight and the audience might be forgivable if there was a shred of continuity, but this episode is just throw together without regards to anything that has gone before. Part of Harry’s character is that he was na├»ve and alone on Voyager, so Janeway felt like she needed to look after him. Now we discover his first love from the Academy was assigned to Voyager from the beginning. He was still carrying a torch for her even though he had a fiancee. Ballard was killed by the Hirogen three years ago. Voyager did not encounter the Hirogen until two years ago, and they are now 30,000 light years away. How did Ballard cross 30,000 light years in six months to find Voyager, especially when all she had was a small shuttle? It is huge plot holes like these that ruin an episode.

The B-story involves seven having a difficult time playing nursemaid to the unruly former Borg children, but she solves the problem by becoming less rigid. Maybe she should have let Janeway randomly kill one of them like she apparently did the infant who has never and will never be seen or heard from again. Continuity, folks. The writers could at least be consistent for two episodes. Geez.

“Ashes to Ashes” has some flaws, but its heart is in the right place. As a standalone episode, it is watchable, though does not have the emotional impact one would wish for. Perhaps if Ballard had been a past, established character who really had died in an episode. 9Then again, maybe not. The return of Kes is fast approaching. It is not going to be much, either.) The episode really falls apart when it is taken as part of the whole. It is nothing but plot holes in that regard. I give it an unenthusiastic, but not panning rating.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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