— Star Trek: Discovery (@startrekcbs) February 5, 2018
This question was intended to start twitter conversation, but it deserves so much more attention and care than Twitter would really allow. It’s not a simple yes/no question.
On the surface of it, you might think it’s simple. If you believe in the Federation ideal, then the answer should be unreservedly yes, shouldn’t it? Even if you can’t separate Ash from Voq, if both are so connected that they are one and the same, everyone should be given a chance at rehabilitation and restitution for what they do. It’s people who unreservedly believe this who keep Starfleet and the Federation in check, especially when things get messy enough to make it impossible to walk that righteous path, because these idealists challenge us to cut a path as close to it as we can. But even though we need these idealists, life is never that simple.
If you look closer, one thing that the Discovery crew seems to have mostly decided is Ash Tyler isn’t Voq, even though the two minds shared the same physicality. So, if you take it as fact that Voq has been banished from their shared body, and that Voq’s consciousness controlled what happened without any influence from Ash’s consciousness, here stands a man who is not responsible for what happened but wears the same face as the one who is. This would seem to lead us to a conclusion that he can’t be held accountable for what happened. He also can not be easily trusted though, as the previous crimes occurred as a result of Voq’s consciousness being hidden behind the facade of Ash’s. How can we be sure that L’Rell really did banish Voq from the shared body, could it be possible that she sent Voq into hiding again?
Now, here’s where the conversation gets particularly messy. Let’s go ahead and accept that Voq and Ash are independent entities, and that Voq’s actions within the shared body could not be in any way tied to Ash. Even if you mistrust L’Rell’s actions or you think that Ash and Voq can’t be separated, please take this hypothetical walk with me.
Where does Ash’s path to regain trust and seek forgiveness hit a hard impasse in favor of the safety of those most hurt by the actions of Voq within the shared body? Though what happened could easily be seen as harmful to a number of people, three people bore the weight of it: Hugh Culber, Paul Stamets, and Michael Burnham. Sadly, Culber was the one most harmed: he was murdered (and my broken fangirl heart is clinging to Wilson Cruz’s promises which have covered social media and PR since that episode: there’s more to come—but that’s not relevant for this conversation), so as things stand, he can’t be harmed more than he already has been. That leaves Stamets, who now has to see the face of the man who killed his husband stalk the corridors of the ship, and Burnham, who had been in love with Ash only to have him nearly kill her. To both of them it doesn’t matter who’s consciousness is in control of the body, simply his presence is enough to bring those horrific memories rushing back to them.
So, how do we align protecting those harmed by Voq’s actions with allowing Ash to move forward in his life and rebuild? When currently he doesn’t have anywhere else to go but Discovery, and especially with him being tactically useful in the war effort because of the knowledge of the Klingons he has, by way of his access to Voq’s memories? It’s hard to reach a consensus on such things: arguments could be made the burden belongs to Ash to see that his presence doesn’t cause harm to others, or that Stamets and Burnham are responsible for self protection. It’s easier to put the weight upon the source of the harm when their actions lead to the harm, even if they weren’t intended to be harmful, but if we accept that Ash was unable to control these things Voq did, he shoulders none of that responsibility. However, in a just society, justice should include care of the victims, which means that even if Ash bears no responsibility, he still needs to make an effort to do no further harm.
The conclusion I come to is that Ash deserves a chance to rebuild and hopefully even repair some of the relationships he’d built, but I also think that Burnham and Stamets (and FSM willing, hopefully eventually Culber too, if we get some sort of Star Trek miracle resurrection 😭) should not have to bear the emotional weight to allow it to happen. Ideally, Ash should be assigned somewhere else, but with the state of the war that’s not currently an option, so efforts should be made to minimize the chance of his path crossing with Burnham and Stamets.
Sadly, stepping out of the context of the show’s universe, I’ll be surprised if the writers make this choice. There’s more tension in continuing to make Ash interact with Burnham and Stamets, and all actors involved are doing a fantastic job with the material being given to them. And while I think it would be healthier for Burnham and Stamets if Ash was relocated elsewhere, Shazad Latif leaving the cast would be a loss.