Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Ashes to Ashes”

“Ashes to Ashes”
Written by Ronald Wilkerson and Robert Doherty
Directed by Terry Windell
Season 6, Episode 18
Production episode 238
Original air date: March 1, 2000
Stardate: 53679.4

Captain’s log. A Kobali shuttle manages to escape from a larger Kobali ship and then seeks out Voyager. After speaking entirely in the Kobali language, the pilot, Jhet’leya, suddenly speaks English when she contacts Voyager.

For reasons that are not made clear, the communication from Jhet’leya doesn’t go to the bridge, but to astrometrics, where Mezoti is standing around unsupervised. She takes the call, but when she tries to reach to the higher part of the console that will enable her to transfer it to Janeway, she accidentally cuts the transmission off.

Tuvok discovers her, and chastises her for being there without permission, though he says he’ll let her off with just a warning, as it’s her first offense. Seven arrives moments later with Icheb, Azan, and Rebi. Seven left them unsupervised in the cargo bay, and Mezoti wandered off on her own. Seven’s complaining to Tuvok about how hard it is to be their caretakers is superseded by Mezoti mentioning the woman she was talking to.

When communication is reestablished, Jhet’leya recognizes Tuvok’s voice, and congratulates him on his promotion to lieutenant commander. She identifies herself as Ensign Lyndsay Ballard—a member of Torres’ engineering staff who was killed on an away mission almost three years earlier.

Kim is visibly disturbed by Jhet’leya’s claim, and asks to be in sickbay when she beams there and is examined behind a level-ten force field. Kim and Ballard were at the Academy together, were good friends, and were together on the away mission when she died.

Star Trek: Voyager "Ashes to Ashes"

Screenshot: CBS

The EMH examines Jhet’leya, and says that, while she is mostly alien, there are remnants of human DNA that matches that of Ballard. Jhet’leya explains that the Kobali found her corpse after she was shot out into space following her funeral (as she had requested in her will) and reanimated the body, transforming her into a Kobali, indoctrinating her in Kobali ways and being placed with a Kobali family. This is apparently how the Kobali reproduce. But while Ballard pretended to be Jhet’leya to keep up appearances, she longed to return to Voyager, and finally was able to do so.

Janeway decides to trust her, despite the many ways she could be deceiving them (Ballard lists some of those ways herself), and finally welcomes Ensign Ballard back on board.

The EMH can’t reverse the process that made her Kobali, but he can alter her appearance, at least, so she’ll look human. Kim gets her stuff out of storage (Tuvok encouraged him to recycle her belongings, but he couldn’t bring himself to do it) and she gleefully tosses it around her quarters messily. She and Kim play catch-up, including the revelation that Kim delivered the eulogy at her funeral.

Seven begs Chakotay to take her off Borg kid guardian duty, as they are rebelling against her instruction, even though she has scheduled them for learning and recreational activity. However, the latter is awkwardly handled, as Azan and Rebi cheat in the game that the four of them play with Naomi, and when Seven punishes them for cheating, Icheb quits the game in disgust. Chakotay, however, doesn’t let her off the hook, and points out that rigid scheduling of activities they all do together isn’t that much different from what they did in the Collective, and to maybe loosen up a little.

Ballard has made a list of what she wants to do now that she’s back on Voyager, one of which is to impress Torres by showing up on time for a duty shift, something she never managed during her three-and-a-half years on the ship. She, in fact, shows up early, and solves an engineering problem in half a second that had been vexing the staff for weeks. When she does so, she uses a ton of Kobali terms without even thinking about it. She also finds that the Jiballian berry salad that she’s been looking forward to for three years tastes horrible to her. Kobali don’t have any concept of cuisine, as they just use food for fuel, and she’s lost her appreciation of fine food, apparently.

Kim approaches Ballard about going skating on the holodeck, but she has to decline, as she’s having dinner with the captain. That dinner gets awkward quickly, as Ballard asks about why she was picked for the away team when others were more qualified. Janeway bluntly asks if Ballard blames the captain for her death, and Ballard insists she doesn’t, saying that she was taught never to harbor anger toward those who brought you death, as they gave her the chance to live again. Realizing that that’s a tenet of Kobali philosophy, she leaves the dinner early, appalled and frightened.

Star Trek: Voyager "Ashes to Ashes"

Screenshot: CBS

Ballard then has a nightmare about attending her own funeral, and then goes to Kim for comfort. He offers to help her adjust any way he can, at which point he explains why he always rearranged his class schedule and learned to ice skate at the Academy: he’s crazy about her. (No mention is made of his fiancée…) They smooch and sleep together.

Seven has the Borg kids sculpt geometric shapes out of clay. The twins do cubes that are exactly 1/1000th the size of a Borg Cube. Icheb does a polyhedron consisting of various shapes. But Mezoti makes a very crude sculpture of Seven’s head. Icheb expects her to be punished for not following directions, but Seven takes Chakotay’s words to heart and encourages them to continue being disorderly.

A Kobali ship arrives with Q’ret, who identifies himself as Jhet’leya’s father, and he wishes her to come home. Ballard refuses, and Janeway respects her wishes. Q’ret says he won’t give her up without a fight, and he’ll bring backup for that fight.

Kim and Ballard talk in the mess hall, where the latter is eating the tasteless mush that Kobali prefer, and Kim’s outrage at Q’ret calling himself her father leads to the realization that Ballard has absolutely no memory of her human parents whatsoever. Then she doubles over in pain, her face starting to revert to her Kobali features.

The EMH checks her over and says he’ll need to up the treatments to twice a day at least to allow her to keep her human appearance. Ballard reacts badly to this, including some Kobali curses. She then runs out of sickbay.

Kim tracks her down in the Kobali shuttle. Kim urges her to stop the treatments—he doesn’t care if she looks Kobali or not—but it’s more fundamental than that. She doesn’t fit in on Voyager anymore. The woman Kim fell in love with died three years ago. She’s Jhet’leya now.

The Kobali return in force and attack Voyager. Ballard comes to the bridge and urges Janeway to give her over. Janeway won’t let her sacrifice herself like that, but Ballard insists it isn’t a sacrifice—she wants to go back to be with Q’ret.

Everyone says their goodbyes, with Kim being the last one. He beams her back, with her assuring him that Lyndsay Ballard died three years ago—but at least now they get to say a proper goodbye to each other.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? Despite the dozens of times we’ve seen medical professionals do cosmetic surgery on people to make them appear like a different species (from simple stuff like what we saw in the original series’ “The Enterprise Incident” to more complex stuff in TNG’s “Homeward” and DS9’s “Apocalypse Rising“), it’s not at all clear why the EMH can’t do that with Ballard, instead being forced to resort to injections of stuff. 

There’s coffee in that nebula! Ballard is of the impression that Janeway barely knew who Ballard was when she was on board—to make up for that, Janeway invites her to dinner, though it goes badly from both a conversation and culinary perspective: the replicator liquefies the pot roast. (It does provide one of the funnier lines in the episode, as Janeway mentions that Tuvok has found thirty-seven different ways to defend themselves against the Kobali, and Ballard asks if the pot roast is one of them.)

Star Trek: Voyager "Ashes to Ashes"

Screenshot: CBS

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok recommends that Seven try meditation to help discipline the Borg kids.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. After restoring Ballard’s hair, the EMH comments, “Hair is one of my specialties,” then adds ruefully, “despite evidence to the contrary.”

Half and half. Torres is impressed by Ballard arriving early for her shift, and again by her easy ability to fix the problem Torres assigns her.

Forever an ensign. Kim had the hots for Ballard at the Academy, and you gotta wonder what Libby thought about that. Also, he now plays the saxophone, and has twice had a fellow ensign die when he was on an away mission with them.

Resistance is futile. Seven is struggling with parenthood. It’s kind of hilarious.

Star Trek: Voyager "Ashes to Ashes"

Screenshot: CBS

What happens on the holodeck stays on the holodeck. One of the items on Ballard’s list is to make Tuvok laugh, and to that end, Kim has modified a Vulcan program called The Temple of T’Panit so that the monks recite Ferengi limericks.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Kim and Ballard smooch and sleep together, granting Kim a wish that goes back to his Academy days. 

Do it.

“Vien’ke debala, Jhet’leya. 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’.”

–Kim saying goodbye to Ballard

Star Trek: Voyager "Ashes to Ashes"

Screenshot: CBS

Welcome aboard. Kevin Lowe guest stars as Q’ret, while Manu Intiraymi, Marley McClean, and Kurt & Cody Wetherill establish themselves as recurring in this episode, appearing as Icheb, Mezoti, Azan, and Rebi following their introduction in “Collective.” They are joined by Scarlett Pomers, appearing as Naomi.

And then we have our Robert Knepper moment, as I was overwhelmingly thrilled to see Kim Rhodes—best known these days for her magnificent recurring role on Supernatural as the great Sheriff Jody Mills—plays Ballard/Jhet’leya.

Trivial matters: Ballard’s death, based on the stardate she gives, took place between “Hunters” and “Prey,” which fits with her death coming at the hands of the Hirogen. However, she is surprised by Tuvok’s promotion, which happened prior to that in “Revulsion.” Having said that, Ballard also doesn’t remember her own father, and memory loss is established as part of the reviving process the Kobali perform.

The Kobali appear again in Star Trek Online’s Delta Rising expansion, set thirty-four years after this episode. It’s established that they developed this method of reproducing after genetic engineering experiments rendered them sterile. In the game, the Kobali also find and reanimate the corpse of the duplicate Kim from “Deadlock” and make him a Kobali named Keten, who starts a relationship with Jhet’leya.

Paris points out that Kim has previously fallen in love with a hologram (Marayna in “Alter Ego“), a Borg (his fourth-season crush on Seven), and the “wrong twin” (Megan Delaney in “Thirty Days“). Paris made a similar speech to Kim in “The Disease.”

Tuvok’s holodeck program with the monks of T’Pranit was previously mentioned in “Riddles.”

There are now either twenty-two or twenty-three confirmed deaths on board Voyager (confusion due to it being unclear whether two or three died in “Equinox, Part II“), plus however many died in “The Killing Game, Part II.” The crew also has a net total of nine people added to it, between the five Equinox crew and the four Borg kids. (The addition of Seven and Naomi are offset by the subtraction of Seska and Kes.)

Star Trek: Voyager "Ashes to Ashes"

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “Fun will now commence.” Okay, if you’re gonna do a Voyager episode called “Ashes to Ashes,” it seems to me it should involve Paris become a drug addict, starting to obsess over the music of George Clinton, and no longer paying attention to personal hygiene. So we could say: “Ashes to Ashes,” funk to funky, we know Ensign Tom’s a junkie…

I’ll show myself out…

But seriously, folks: This is actually an excellent episode for many of the same reasons why TNG’s “The Bonding” is an excellent episode: it reminds us that there’s an entire crew on board. Dramatic television in general and Star Trek in particular are really lousy at treating characters who are dramatically background personnel as people, even though from the internal perspective of the show, they’re just as important as everyone else. So many one-off characters have died on this show whose deaths had little to no meaning, and this episode pushes back against that nicely.

What especially sells it is the great Kim Rhodes. Ballard is charming, funny, tormented, brilliant, confused, delightful—Rhodes imbues her with such a complete personality that it heightens the tragedy of her situation. (I’m still bitter that the proposed Supernatural spinoff Wayward Sisters starring Rhodes as her superlative Sheriff Mills didn’t go to series, as that would’ve been so fantastic…)

It comes with some issues. Kim had a fiancée in the Academy, as established in “Non Sequitur,” so his Academy crush on Ballard feels weird. Either they’re ignoring Libby or they forgot about her, neither of which really works. Also it’s repetitive: Ballard’s death follows the exact same beats as Jetal’s in “Latent Image.” You’d think Kim would be suffering some serious PTSD, having two people die on him on an away mission like that (especially since he wasn’t allowed to talk about one of them).

And then there’s the timing of her death, which creates more issues. The stardate of her death is right after “Hunters,” which means that Ballard probably got a letter from home in that episode like everyone else. And then she died, which means that the information Voyager sent through in “Pathfinder” likely included news of her death. Some of the conversations with Kim should’ve been about Voyager’s renewed contact with the Alpha Quadrant and ability to talk to her family—which would’ve heightened the pathos of the moment when we realize she has no memory of her human family even more.

Still, these are minor nits. The struggle Ballard has to find her identity is a compelling one, and makes for a powerful episode.

The subplot with Seven and the Borg kids is completely paint-by-numbers, and is only worth mentioning because it establishes that, unlike the Equinox crew, the Borg kids will continue to appear on the show.

Warp factor rating: 8

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