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Star Trek Voyager: Warlord

"Who would have imagined that such fierce determination existed within that deceptively frail body?"

An alien dies in sickbay, and Kes starts behaving very oddly...

I've always had a great fondness for body-swap episodes of all types. The most fun are those where the regulars swap with each other, but episodes like this, in which a regular character is taken over by an outside influence, are really good fun too.

Jennifer Lien has a blast here, playing a character diametrically opposed to Kes with confidence, charisma and a wonderful swagger (not hurt by the rather fabulous black leather gear either). The smirk on her face as she considers torturing Tuvok is great - Tieran is a rather more fun character than poor old Kes can be, much as I am very fond of Kes. Though to be fair, Kes herself shows some serious strength and guts in her mental confrontation with Tieran, where she can meet him threat for threat.

Like other Kes-centric episodes, this story states that she has powers she has no idea of and has not yet worked out how to access, though Tieran, despite never having met an Occampan and knowing nothing of their biology, is somehow able to access them easily. I rather like the idea that Kes is sitting on a powder-keg of telepathic power - the only problem is finding a way to use it without making her too powerful for effective story-telling. Here, the focus is on her determination and strength of personality as she constantly fights her possessor and refuses to give in, so her apparent ability to kill people and make them bleed from the eyes with only her mind is rather skimmed over.

This is a deeply traumatic experience for Kes, who has been violated in body and mind and forced to murder others, and while the show does not revel in the angst the way other shows do (Buffy, Farscape, Battlestar Galactica, really anything else from the last twenty years), it does take that seriously and address it. I love the way episodes of Voyager nearly always end with a reflection of what has just happened and that's especially important in this episode; nothing can make it better, but Tuvok has some very wise advice for Kes (quoted below).

This kind of quiet, introspective conversation is another reason I will never understand all the complaining about how Voyager always presses the reset button and nothing ever changes. Sure, this won't be mentioned in the next episode - these characters are in the military, and they have jobs to get on with. But that doesn't mean to imply they aren't changed by experience, and the show always takes the time to allow them a chance to reflect before moving on.

There's one somewhat bizarre and major long-term consequence of this episode. Kes breaks up with Neelix while under the influence of an alien possession, and after the end of the episode, the break-up remains firmly in place. It may be that the intended implication was that a lot of what she said were things Kes was really feeling, about wanting to spend some time apart and never having been with anyone else. There are implications elsewhere that Kes' personality is influencing Tieran, making him spare Voyager and try to give everyone a garden, so he could be accessing her real feelings here. However, Kes was hosting an alien personality throughout the episode, and even if he allowed her to speak for herself briefly, the episode really needed a scene between Kes and Neelix at the end, explaining that these were her true feelings, and she just hadn't known how to express them before.

On a lighter note, this episode also introduces the new holodeck hang-out for the crew, a bright and sunny programme. Theoretically, it's a combination of a Talaxian holiday resort, Caribbean music, Hawaiian touches and Kim's volleyball programme. In practice, it's basically a permanent Hawaiian luau that exists as an excuse to put an endless stream of young, beautiful and mostly blonde extras in bikinis and swimsuits. On the plus side, B'Elanna's response is to throw on a swimsuit and program a gorgeous, ripped young man in tight swim trunks. As long as the exploitation remains equal, it's not too bad, and the programme does have the advantage of being rather brighter than Sandrine's bar, though that very brightness does show up how fake the set is.

A great showcase for Jennifer Lien, this episode also provides a rather effective portrait of a man crumbling under psychological pressure just as he's achieved all his goals. Tieran is a vicious dictator but a fascinating character, demonstrating love for his wife at the same time as a willingness to cheat on her for political purposes and slowly cracking under pressure from Kes. I actually wouldn't have minded seeing more of him, he was a good antagonist, and the portrait of his character is what makes this a really compelling episode.

Bits and pieces

 - Poor Neelix looks like a kicked puppy when Kes dumps him.

 - We nearly got a female on female kiss as Tieran reassures his wife of how important she is to him - that's as far as network television was likely to go in the mid-1990s but considering Star Trek's track record in representing LGBTQ+ issues is nowhere near as good as its records in the representation of women and people of colour (and even there it's not perfect) it's at least an attempt at doing something, if rather half-heartedly.

 - Kes and Tuvok is one of my favourite relationships on the show and this episode demonstrates their father/daughter dynamic very well - when Tieran insists Tuvok must have had sexual thoughts about Kes, it's completely icky and wrong.

 - The costume and set design is rather good throughout this episode - my favourite bit of set design is the huge portrait of Tieran and his Beard of Evil on a red background that dominates the main room in his home.


Tieran (on Tuvok and Kes' relationship): All those intimate moments touching each other's - minds...

Neelix: I had basic combat training on Talax. All right, very basic.

Kes: You may have my body but you'll never have my mind.

Paris (watching Tuvok do a Vulcan nerve pinch): Someday you're gonna have to show me how to do that.

Tuvok: Your thoughts are a turbulent ocean. Visualise yourself floating about them.

Kes: How can I go back to my normal life as if nothing ever happened?
Tuvok: You cannot. This experience will force you to adapt. You are no longer the same person, and the course of your life will change as a result. Where that new course leads is up to you.

A traumatic experience for Kes, taken seriously. Three and a half out of four equal opportunity exploitative holodeck programmes.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

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