Saturday, August 24, 2013

Jennifer Lien Turns 39: A Portrait Of Kes

                               Within the vast world of Star Trek characters,I cannot think of one particular character more under-appreciated then that of Kes. She was portrayed by Jennifer Lien,a former daytime drama actress who showed tremendous range and versitility in a role that was somewhat unique even in the history of Star Trek: a character whose lifespan would only extend for nine years. At first Kes seemed to be written in to be a romantic foil for Neelix,who was predicted long before Star Trek: Voyager actually aired it's pilot to be the shows break out character. When that concept for Neelix didn't pan out,the character of Kes grew in more ways than one.

                             The crew of the U.S.S. Voyager first encountered Kes during Neelix's attempt to barter with the Kazon Ogla for water in order to facilitate her release from the Ogla's servitude on the Ocampa home world from which she came. Following Captain Janeway's destruction of the Caretaker's array, Kes managed to help convince Neelix that they should stay on and help the crew that had rescued both of them in their long journey home. While attending the crews first conference after being stranded in the Delta Quadrant,Kes suggested that an hydroponics bay be constructed in order to grow fresh fruits,vegetables and grains to amend their shortened food supply. She also subsequent became a student medical assistant to the ships EMH doctor.

                               During her time on Voyager, Kes made some very unexpected discoveries. For one,an alien influence was almost able to induce premature labor in her years before expected. Not only that but,following an encounter with an array of Ocampa under the influence of the Caretakers partner Susperia, she began to learn of her unused and advanced psychokinetic abilities.  Weary of her lover Neelix's jealousy towards her friend Tom Paris,Kes broke off their relationship following an evil alien warlords manipulation of her emotional thought processes. She began to develop her own life and experiences-at one point even living backwards from the moment of her own death. Following her encounter with the Borg and Species 8472, Kes found her psychokinetic abilities evolving to the point where she decided to leave the Voyager crew and evolve to a higher level. Although this resulted in a revelation that left her vengeful to Janeway and her crew,an encounter with her past self changed her mind in the end as she returned to her home world.

                              Though characters leave shows all the time, the outing of Jennifer Lien's Kes character was far from happy or willing. Speaking strictly as an outsider reading what was said in various publications at that time, Voyager was not fearing particularly well critically as a series in it's second and third seasons. And the character of Kes was constantly blamed as one reason. Lien portrayed the character with a sweet,gentle manner and a quiet intellect. Someone who was often the voice of reason when some of the different characters on Voyager were in conflict. Despite all this and a character who was full of surprises,fact is she just didn't quite fit the criteria of the shows presumed 18-35 year old male viewing demographic. She was rather unceremoniously replaced by Jeri Ryan's Seven Of Nine-originally intended seemingly to up ratings as a cat suited half human chanteuse  Though Ryan's equally strong acting acumen made her more than a worthy addition to the show, Kes remains by far one of my personal very favorite Star Trek characters.

1 comment:

  1. I can't say I was that much into Voyager. Most of the characters on the show were as you described them to me, "wallpaper." I think Kes was one of those characters that I really couldn't get attached to because she didn't seem to belong there. I think part of the problem was the fact the writers just didn't know what her role would actually be on the ship for a whole season. Was she just a sidekick to Nelix or a sidekick to the Doctor or a love interest to Tom Paris...etc., there just didn't seem to be a need for a Kes. Of course, when Seven showed up, they built two sets for her character to inhabit and they wrote episodes that just centered around her. So they established right off the bat that 7 of 9 was needed and there to stay. I think if they had done as much for Lien's character, things would have been different.