Liz and Anika talk about Kes, a character we loved more than Voyager‘s writers did.
- Kes did not even get an entry in her own right in the Voyager character bible
- We swore we weren’t going to use Kes’s episode to talk about Neelix, but seriously: why is Neelix?
- In fact, why are all Kes’s stories about men?
- Anika’s home for wayward narratives
- How Soji is Kes 2.0
- Everyone is wrong about Elogium except Liz (okay, and Anika)
- We had to cut a long discussion about how great Tuvok is because THIS IS NOT AN EPISODE ABOUT THE MEN IN KES’S LIFE
- Any situation which can be compared with the end of Breaking Dawn is probably bad
- Fury hits REALLY differently now we know more about Lien’s departure
- COSTUMING, including our ’90s aesthetics and a terrible quote from costumer Robert Blackman
Episodes to watch:
- Elogium (an episode about Neelix deciding if he’s ready for Kes to have a baby)
- Cold Fire (an episode about a guy recruiting Kes for his cult)
- Warlord (a man possesses Kes’s body)
- Darkling (the Doctor is very concerned about Kes falling in love)
- Before and After (it’s actually about Kes! Just don’t think too much about Ocampa and human co-existence…)
- The Gift (an episode about Seven of Nine where Kes decides it’s time to leave Voyager)
- Fury (but don’t feel like you actually have to watch it to listen to this episode, Liz certainly didn’t bother)
Also, we are coming up on our 100th episode, and we’re
shilling for reviews promoting ourselves with a giveaway: leave a review on Apple Podcasts or the podcatcher of choice, let us know about it — on Twitter, on Tumblr, or at firstname.lastname@example.org — and you’ll go into a draw to win a wee prize. (The prize is a physical object, being an action figure or postcard or art or similar, so we will need a mailing address for the winning entity.) The review should be positive, but doesn’t have to be five stars, we’re not monsters.
Anika: Welcome to Antimatter Pod, a Star Trek podcast, where we discuss fashion, feminism, subtext, and subspace, hosted by Anika and Liz. This week, we are discussing Star Trek: Voyager‘s Kes.
Liz: But first, we have some exciting news. We have a website!
Anika: We do! A real one!
Liz: I’m happy with how it looks. It still needs some new tweaks, but the content is there. The content being the episodes, the show notes and the transcripts.
Liz: That’s antimatterpod.com for all of your Antimatter Pod needs.
Anika: You can also email us at email@example.com.
Liz: And I think that goes straight to our gmails. So we’ll see it, even if we forget to reply, which I often do. Also, just while we’re on the subject of a bit of housekeeping, we’re coming up to our hundredth episode in probably just a couple of months. And it would be cool if people did us a favor and left some five star reviews in iTunes or Apple Podcasts, or whatever you call it these days.
Anika: Maybe we’ll do a like a giveaway.
Anika: And, I have prizes like we’ve, we’ve discussed how I have a closet full of prizes that I would love to start handing out.
Liz: And I still have some of the original paper sketches that I’ve done while recording, if that’s of interest to anyone. The mail is broken, but I’m sure things will get to people eventually. So yeah, let’s, let’s do a giveaway. Leave a five-star review or a four star, anything above three, and go in the draw to win some sort of thing.
Anika: And because we are us, it’s absolutely open to everyone.
Liz: Oh yeah. We’ll wear that postage. That’s fine. Do we need any other terms and conditions? Oh, drop us an email or let us know on Twitter if you do leave a review, just because I have to log out of my Australian iTunes account and into my American one to see different reviews in different regions. And I don’t even have a UK one or a New Zealand one. So yeah, just let us know.
Anika: And we’ll be able to match you with it.
Liz: Yeah, yeah.
Anika: People can leave reviews under whatever they want, you know.
Liz: Yes. Drop us an email,
Liz: Drop us an email if you’re concerned about privacy, and yeah, just say something nice. It doesn’t have to be five stars. Just don’t complain about how–
Anika: Celebrate how deeply misandrist we are.
Liz: I was going to say, having said that, I read the Voyager bible entry for Kes, and I did some other research, and I’m feeling extra misandrist this morning.
Anika: So let’s get started. On that very exciting note.
Liz: Introduce us to Kes. For all those listeners who have never seen Star Trek, ever, in their lives.
Anika: I don’t know who among our listeners is not watching Star Trek: Voyager, but it’s possible. It’s one of the older ones, it’s not on currently. And Kes was only in the first three seasons. I don’t know if Voyager actually got a lot of new people in season four, but that was certainly their plan.
Liz: Yeah. And to this day, you have people telling new viewers, “Oh, you’re interested in watching Voyager? You don’t need to see the first three seasons. Just start with Scorpion.”
Anika: They skip over those things. And those people are wrong, cause there’s a lot of great stuff–
Liz: Oh yeah.
Anika: –in the early seasons. There’s absolutely terrible stuff, too. Like, don’t get me wrong. There’s bad – there’s trash. However, there’s a lot of really good stuff, too.
Liz: So definitely give the first three seasons a look, and definitely give Kes a look, because I think she’s a very underrated character, even in the show.
Anika: Yes. Absolutely in the show.
So Kes is one of the original cast. She’s in the pilot through to the second episode of the fourth season, The Gift. And then she comes back for one episode in season six. And when we did Caretaker on this podcast, I mentioned that it was pretty clear to me that there were three protagonists in Caretaker, Janeway, Tom Paris and Kes. She gets an arc in the same way that Tom Paris does.
Honestly, both Tom Paris and Kes get more of an arc than Janeway, but Janeway is the main protagonist and we were introduced to her, and she’s certainly the center of the show. So I have to count her, but the people who actually change and do things during Caretaker are Tom Paris and Kes.
Liz: I feel like Caretaker marks the catalyst for Janeway’s arc to begin, whereas for Kes and Tom, they sort of come to a new point in their story within the course of the episode.
Anika: That’s always interesting to me, because then Kes doesn’t even get a starring role in an episode until the second season.
Liz: No, although she’s a very strong presence throughout, particularly in the first few episodes.
Anika: She does a lot. And she actually has the most potential for growth. If you actually look at the bones of her character, and who she is and what she’s doing in relation to the rest of the crew, I don’t know why they couldn’t develop her. I relate her to Deanna Troi a lot.
Anika: They have the same problem with Deanna and with Kes, that they have this idea for a really amazing character, and they are completely incapable of bringing it to the screen or the page.
Liz: I feel like with Kes, this is a problem baked into it from the very beginning, because I’m looking at the Voyager bible, and you have entries for ‘Elizabeth Janeway’ and Chakotay and ‘Doc Zimmerman’. And then you have ‘Neelix and Kes.’
And we have one, two, three paragraphs on Neelix, one paragraph on Kes and then another on Neelix, another on Kes. And the two of them together. Kes is not really treated as a character in her own right in this very first iteration of the story that they want to tell.
‘Kes is Neelix’s Ocampa lover. She is delicate, beautiful, young and has a lifespan of only nine years. Neelix adores her, is protective of her, is insanely jealous of her. Kes doesn’t give him any reason for those feelings. She loves Neelix and is loyal to him, but she is inquisitive and eager to absorb knowledge about this starship and its fascinating crew. She is an innocent who sees humanity through a fresh perspective, and the crew of Voyager never cease to fascinate her.’
Anika: Thanks. I hate it.
Liz: Yeah. And then the last paragraph on Kes is, ‘Kes helps Neelix cook and serve, but she’d much rather be roaming the ship, getting to know the people. Neelix can never seem to find her when he needs her, and he’s always sure she’s standing up in a closet with a sailor.’
Anika: Big yikes.
Liz: Big yikes.
Anika: And big yucks.
Liz: Yeah. Yeah. I know that the Greatest Gen guys have had a lot of comedic mileage out of ‘standing up in a closet with a sailor’, and I don’t think that I can be any funnier than they are, but I’m just so puzzled that this is how they approach their third female lead. That she’s not really a person in her own right–
Anika: I mean, the whole description goes a long way to explain why I really dislike Neelix.
Anika: And I have friends, and people that I know and respect, who have told me that they relate to Neelix. That’s like a huge red flag to me. And there’s like this cognitive dissonance between, “I know you and you’re not this person. And yet, you relate to Neelix?”
But there’s a lot of people who relate to Barclay, too. And that also squicks me. I think that what they’re going for in these characters is, like, awkward and he doesn’t fit in with the normal Starfleet group, and has to try harder, or insert themselves, or learn how to speak the language or something. I don’t know. But the way it’s actually [portrayed] in the story. It’s not that. It’s creepy. I don’t like how you have no boundaries and don’t believe people when they tell you what’s going on.
And so it doesn’t come off that way to me at all. And I just really don’t – Neelix is a hundred percent better when he is no longer dating Kes, and even better when she’s off the show. But Neelix never gets up to a level where, like, he’s a character that I like. He’s just never quite a character that I like, because he’s introduced so terribly. And he does get better. He still treats Tuvok in the same way that he treats Kes. And I don’t like that.
Liz: Yes. I do identify with that. If I lived on a ship with Tuvok, I would desperately want him to be my friend, but I like to think that I would go about it with a little bit more respect than Neelix shows.
It’s also interesting [how] in the bible, a few pages later, there is a page of character descriptions. This time, Janeway has the correct name, but the Doctor and Kes are excluded entirely. And Jennifer Lien doesn’t get an actor bio at all.
Anika: Just very strange.
Liz: It really is! Because by this point in her career, she had more credits and experience behind her than Garrett Wang. She had done years on a daytime soap.
Anika: Daytime soaps, you know, women like those, so they don’t count as acting.
Liz: Oh no, no, no. Of course, of course.
Anika: I mean, Kate Mulgrew started on a daytime soap, but that was a fluke, right? Ha.
Liz: Also, Ryan’s Hope wasn’t like those other soaps. It was a realistic soap about the working class. (I’ve never watched it. I’m sure it’s great. It’s not really my genre.)
Anika: I mean, I’ve watched [enough] soaps to have an opinion about them. And I love like, you know, people are complaining that SVU is, quote unquote, a soap opera now, and those people are wrong. SVU has always been a soap opera. So I don’t know what show they’ve been watching.
Liz: Did they watch original Law and Order from the nineties and think, oh yeah, that’s SVU?
Anika: Yeah, they’re confused. They’re very confused. Because literally the first episode of SVU is extremely operatic. But anyway, this is not an SVU podcast, despite my attempts…
Liz: You have this list of character beats for Kes here. ‘Short lifespan, psychic powers, the Doctor’s apprentice and advocate.’
And then I’ve added, ‘not like other girls’, because this is something that comes up a lot in reviews of Caretaker. A lot of new viewers are like, “Wow, Kes is not at all what I expected, she’s young, but she has this really husky voice and this great old soul presence.”
And it’s true. I love that. And I too was surprised when I heard Jennifer Lien’s voice for the first time.
But then it sort of gets into, “She’s not like a normal teenage girl character.” And then there was Lien herself in 1995, saying, “I’m not playing a teenager in this. I’m playing a young mind, spirit, body. So much that is associated with being young has to do with things that this role doesn’t really encompass. No sort of cynicism, or precociousness, or pretentiousness or sarcasm. None of the usual female … It’s good.”
Anika: Another yikes.
Anika: Because, first of all, that’s not true. Maybe that’s what she was playing. And I agree with the, “I’m not playing a teenager in this.”
Liz: Kes is very much a grown adult woman.
Anika: No sort of cynicism, or precociousness or pretentiousness or sarcasm? What?
Liz: I feel like, given her age, Lien was probably getting a lot of roles for, you know, the smart ass teenage girl in the sitcom, who is always sarcastic, and doesn’t really have a lot of depth to her persona beyond that.
And it just bugs me that we go, “Wesley Crusher, he’s a normal teenage boy, Jake Sisko, he’s even more of a normal teenage boy. Kes is not like other girls.”
Anika: Right. yeah. It’s, it’s, no.
Liz: I do wish that they had been much clearer in stating that Kes was an adult of her species, because people, I think, interpret the Neelix relationship as pedophilic. And I think that’s inaccurate, and also in poor taste. And I don’t want to have to defend Neelix, but, you know…
Anika: It was a choice to do this whole lifespan thing, and then to sort of suggest that her nine-year life span in the delta quadrant is the same as a nine year lifespan on earth, which they didn’t have to do.
Liz: Jeri Taylor was really pushing for this character, and described her as a mayfly because I think mayflies have a really short lifespan? I don’t know insects.
Anika: They live for a day.
Liz: Yeah. And I think that’s a really interesting and compelling idea. I think where they made the mistake was in making her look like any old Star Trek alien, being a pretty girl with weird ears. Had they given her antennae or, like, vestigial wings, done something to make her look more insectoid, I think we would really struggle less with this idea.
Anika: And they sort of did that in Elogium, she has the sack on her back, where she’s giving birth, and, yes, if they had leaned into that more, I think – Elogium is a terrible episode that I love.
Liz: I have a lot of opinions about Elogium, starting with the fact that everyone but me is wrong about it. But we’ll get to that.
Anika: The issue with the short life span is, yes, that it sets her up to be treated as a child, when she’s not a child, and they didn’t do a good job at all of making it seem like there wasn’t something –they could have cast Neelix younger.
Anika: That would have helped. Because Neelix is very childish. He’s super childish. He’s more childish than Kes. But just the fact that Ethan Phillips is, like, 15 years older makes it look weird. Again, there’s that cognitive dissonance between what you’re watching and what you’re being told.
Liz: I think that’s it exactly. And if they had cast someone Jennifer Lien’s age as Neelix, maybe the whole thing would have worked out better. Maybe his jealousy would have seemed less like an ingrained toxic personality trait, and more like something that a young person in their first serious relationship has to learn to deal with.
Anika: So if you read the Game of Thrones book, the first book, Jon Snow is so likable in that book. But then you watch the first season of the TV series, and I’m just like, “You are a grown man. Stop acting like a 12-year-old.” But he is a kid, he’s like 14. And so he comes across as that precocious, really good guy who’s trying to figure out his life. But he’s 14. And he’s supposed to be. But the fact that they cast a full-grown man with a beard in the show makes it very difficult.
Liz: Imagine a young Doug Jones as Neelix.
Anika: Aw, that’s kind of sweet.
Liz: I think he’s in his late fifties now, so he’d still be a fair bit older than Lien, but he has a youthful face even in his fifties.
Anika: Even now. Yeah.
Liz: Yeah. I think he conveys youth in a way that Ethan Phillips did not.
Anika: And Ethan Phillips is a good actor, and he well – I just can’t stand [Neelix]. Nothing against Ethan Phillips.
Liz: No, it’s not Ethan Phillips’s fault.
Anika: We have the same problem with the Doctor because – I like Kes and the Doctor’s relationship more than Kes and Neelix. And if you think about it, she’s older than the Doctor in many ways. And yet it’s another, you know, 40-year-old man, who’s macking on her and it’s like, come on, what’s going on here?
Liz: I like their relationship better than I like the Doctor’s with Seven, because, yes, Kes is the older and more experienced person. And she very much pushes the Doctor. He is teaching her medicine, but she is teaching him how to be a person. And I think in a lot of ways, that’s her most reciprocal relationship.
Anika: Yes. And it’s sort of her legacy. When she leaves, what she’s changed is the Doctor.
Liz: And in a sense, he goes on and shares her lessons with Seven of Nine.
Anika: I will forever be sad that we don’t get Kes and Seven of Nine. Forever, Sad
Liz: I have been sad about that since, what, 1997, I’m going to get over it soon. I’m sure.
Anika: So Kes’s psychic powers are very undefined,
Liz: Conveniently vague.
Anika: Conveniently forgotten when they would be a problem and remembered when they would be useful to the plot.
Liz: Very much like Deanna Troi in that regard.
Anika: Exactly. I could not explain her powers to someone who hasn’t seen Voyager, or someone who has seen Voyager, right now. Sometimes she senses things. Sometimes she can, like, use telekinesis. Sometimes she can completely destroy things with a thought.
Liz: It’s difficult to find the rules for Kes’s powers, but it has just occurred to me that that’s because she’s in the wrong universe. Kes is Force sensitive and should have been a Jedi.
Anika: Kes should definitely have been a Jedi. I’ve also described her as Jean Gray.
Anika: The mutant X man who starts out with just telekinesis and telepathy, but ends up with the power to destroy the universe.
Liz: And it’s sort of the same story as Kes, this warning about women getting too powerful in their minds. They’ll kill us all!
Anika: Eye roll.
Liz: You’ve made a list of her notable relationships. Neelix. I don’t want to discuss Neelix anymore. Can we move on? I know he’s going to come up again, but I don’t want to talk about Neelix.
Tom, who is in love with her. The Doctor, who is in love with her. Tuvok, who I think sees her as a daughter, and is not in love with her. And Janeway who also sees her as – oh, she’s Janeway and Tuvok’s daughter!
Anika: Oh, that’s really sweet. I love it. I’m keeping it. But I want to say, when I wrote this, I put Janeway on it–
Anika: –she’s last for a reason. It was very much, does Janeway count as a notable relationship for Kes? And I decided, yes, that they do have enough scenes that Janeway has real feelings towards Kes. And Kes does certainly look up to Janeway. And so I decided that yes, they have that same sort of relationship as she has with Tuvok, as you mentioned. But compared to the men…
Anika: It’s sort of secondary.
Liz: Kes goes to Janeway when she’s in a crisis. When she’s in the elogium, or when Tuvok has been transformed into Tuvix, that’s when she interacts with Janeway. But they don’t hang out. They don’t have a casual friendship or even a non-casual friendship the way [Kes does with] Tom.
Anika: Part of that is that Janeway is the captain, and she doesn’t have that kind of relationship with almost anyone.
Anika: But B’Elanna is right there, and they never interact!
So let’s talk about Tom, because there’s this really uncomfortable love triangle with Neelix and Kes and Tom. Tom is sort of the little black dress of Voyager, where he’s set up with all three women at some point, and is also Harry’s best friend, and stands up for Neelix. Like, when Tom leaves to be a spy, Neelix does that little tribute on his YouTube channel.
Liz: And he has this adversarial relationship with Chakotay. Of all the men, Tom is the most shippable.
Anika: So, it’s interesting that they definitely do have this love triangle thing where they set up for Neelix and Tom to be adversarial about Kes. And again, that adds to the whole young adult, you know, teen paranormal romance of the situation. You didn’t have to do that, Voyager.
Liz: No. The problem for me and this is no shade on Robert Duncan McNeill, but I do not at any point believe Tom really easy in love with Kes. I think he likes her a lot. I think he thinks he’s in love with her, but I also think he’s been emotionally isolated for so long that he has forgotten how to be friends with a woman. I don’t see love, I don’t even see attraction in their interactions.
Anika: It’s oh so high school. And it’s just poorly written. It’s poorly written so that the actors are sort of stuck with this, “Oh, we have to do this stupid, you know, 90210 plot.”
Liz: I think that’s enhanced with the weird asexuality of Kes and Neelix’s relationship, where they rarely kiss, they rarely touch, they don’t seem to share quarters. Are they actually a couple? Is Kes capable of having intercourse outside of the elogium? Again, I think she is too humanoid.
Anika: They definitely never talk about any of this. And, again, Kes is also stuck in sort of a love triangle between Neelix and the Doctor. All of her development should not be equated with the relationships that she’s having, and the relationships that she’s having with men. Like, she even kisses Tuvok that one time.
Liz: Oh, I forgot. Yes.
Anika: They seriously don’t know how to write her as a young adult woman who has her own story, her own plot line going on. Even when she does get episodes, like the closest I’d say that she has to her own – it being about Kes, is Cold Fire. And there’s still an older man–
Anika: –who is going after her and trying to convince her to leave Voyager for him, and is mentoring her in order to convince her that she can be useful to him and his purposes, instead of, “You could be more powerful for you.”
Liz: You mentioned earlier that she doesn’t really have a relationship with B’Elanna, and I’d never thought of that, but it makes me really mad. Because one of my pet peeves is that the show completely forgets that B’Elanna and Seska were best friends in favor of pushing the Seska/Chakotay thing. I kind of wish that Kes had filled that gap that Seska’s betrayal created.
And I think B’Elanna would have really benefited from having a friend who is outside of the Maquis-Starfleet dynamic, who understands her temper, and respects her, and who takes her for what she is.
I love this idea in the bible that Kes wants to learn about the Starfleet and the alpha quadrant people, the same way they want to learn about the delta quadrant. You know, she is exploring us. And I think a friendship with B’Elanna would have been a great way to express that. But the writers just weren’t interested in relationships between women.
Anika: And they are peers, or they would be peers. That would be a relationship, a friendship between two adult women, neither of which is in a position of power over the other. And neither of which is trying to mentor anybody.
Liz: They’re very close in developmental age, if not literally
Anika: Right. It would have helped see Kes as an adult, and it would have given B’Elanna – yeah, absolutely, someone who doesn’t have expectations on her, the way literally everyone in her life does.
Liz: I love Voyager so much, but I really just wish I could go back in time and infiltrate the writer’s room and go, “Hey, hey. Guys, have you considered…?” And they’d be like, “Who are you? Call security, get this woman out of here.” But in my fantasy, I make Voyager a lot better.
Anika: I’m going to do something crazy for us on this podcast. Voyager and Picard are very similar.
Liz: In that the central character is incredibly inconsistently written, they don’t completely understand their own premise, and Jeri Ryan turns up halfway through and steals the show?
Anika: Yes. And for me personally, that I inexplicably loved them the most. I’ve come to this conclusion in the past, you know, month or so, where I’ve been paying more attention to Picard than Discovery. And it’s sort of like how I pay more attention to Voyager than Deep Space Nine, in that Discovery doesn’t need my help, it doesn’t need me to do anything to make it better than it is. I do this about Star Wars, too. Empire Strikes Back is great. And it’s not my favorite, because I don’t have to help that movie.
Liz: You’re not a passive viewer.
Anika: I love Attack of the Clones. It’s so good. It needs a lot of my help, but when I help it, it’s an amazing movie and everybody should watch it with me.
Liz: No, this makes perfect sense to me. But also, I realized, as you were talking, that Soji is Kes 2.0.
Anika: I can see that. Yes. She has the same problems, in that she’s stuck being sort of passed around among the men.
Liz: And doesn’t get to drive the story in her own right. And in fact, when she does, or when Sutra does, she’s villainized for it
Anika: Yes, absolutely. Same as Kes.
Liz: Like Kes, she is also much, much younger than she seems. We don’t know exactly when Soji and Dahj were created, but probably they’re about as old as Kes, one or two years old. Wow. Thanks. I hate it.
Anika: I just want Soji and Kes to be friends. Kes needs friends.
Liz: She does need friends. I don’t see Jennifer Lien returning to acting anytime soon, but. Yeah. Please write that fic though.
Liz: Where Kes, having recovered from the incidents of Cold – Cold Fire? No, Fury, and achieved emotional equilibrium, meets Soji, and they hang out.
Anika: That’s right.
Liz: Do you want to hear my theory about why everyone is wrong about Elogium?
Anika: Oh yes, I do.
Liz: Okay. So it’s the teen pregnancy episode, right? Kes experiences puberty and thinks maybe she should have a baby, but she’s very, very young, right? But Kes is a grown woman.
Liz: This is actually a story about premature menopause, and the situation that many women in their twenties and thirties find themselves, where they realize that their opportunity to have a child is much more fleeting than they realized. And they have to decide now whether they want to have children, whether or not they’re in a place for it with their career, whether or not their relationship is right for it, this is their only chance. That is Elogium.
Anika: Interesting. I can definitely see that. People don’t talk about premature menopause. I mean, people don’t talk about anything to do with any of this because–
Anika: –women’s ickiness isn’t just not something that we ever see in movies or in mainstream…
Anika: Or even over the dinner table. Like, it’s not something we talk about at all.
Liz: And I should say that I only realized that everyone is wrong about Elogium except me because I listened to the Women at Warp episode about it the day after a friend of mine posted about being told she was about to enter premature menopause, and she was having to decide whether she should have a baby right now.
So this is not even my experience. It’s just something I’ve seen a couple of friends go through. And I actually think Elogium works much better as a story when you look at it in this light, except for the bit where it’s all about Neelix.
Anika: I cannot defend what Neelix does in that entire episode. It’s horrible.
Liz: It’s really a story about a guy finding out that his girlfriend is going into premature menopause and wondering if he should have a baby with her.
Anika: And then at the end, he’s upset that she didn’t have the baby. And it’s just like, you know what? You are not in charge. You were invited into this situation, and I am angry at Kes for doing that, because you have proven to be the wrong person.
Liz: It’s sort of interesting, I recently re-read Barrayar by Lois McMaster Bujold, which was published, I think, in 1992. And that also has a couple who experience a pregnancy scare and then mourn the child that never existed. And so maybe that was just a very nineties trope?
Anika: I mean, maybe that’s what they were trying to do, was [that] he’s mourning the idea, but it came across as, “I’m angry for you making this decision.”
Liz: I am prepared to say that Jeri Taylor is not nearly as good a writer as Lois McMaster Bujold.
Anika: I like Elogium because it deals with this, and I just said that no one ever deals with this.
I was on an episode of Women at Warp that was about Trek episodes for girls, like specifically for young women. You know, I’m a mom, how do I share Star Trek with my child, with my daughter? And I suggested Elogium because it is a really good conversation starter. Absolutely, watch Elogium with your nine-year-old and be like, so in the next couple of years, you’re going to get your period. And this is what that means, and this is how it’s going to change your body. And this is how it’s going to affect the rest of your life.
Liz: And good news, you won’t have a sack on your back!
Anika: Yeah. Like, even the imagery that they use, it’s blatant and ridiculous, and I laugh every time, but it’s a really good learning tool. My mother died before we had this conversation. So the extent of my knowledge about any of it was my fifth grade health class, which was slides, like, “These are the fallopian tubes.”
Liz: Oh God. I’m so sorry.
Anika: There was no actual discussion of anything that’s like, how this is going to affect your body, or this is what people do about it, you can take Advil, you know, or this is how to buy a pad. None of that was included. And so I didn’t have any of that knowledge. I had to make it up. And the internet was in its infancy.
Liz: There was no Scarleteen for you!
Anika: I was stuck. And so Elogium is special to me as this idea of, hey, they briefly cared about the women’s reproductive system in Star Trek. Never to be seen again.
Liz: No, I think that is completely valid. And I hadn’t thought of that it from that perspective. Not everyone is wrong about Elogium. But I do think that the premature menopause interpretation deserves more attention.
Anika: I think it’s a good one.
Liz: Thank you.
Anika: I think that’s, I that’s great.
Liz: Then we have Cold Fire.
Anika: Okay. So Cold Fire is where we meet another Caretaker
Anika: Just as terrible as the first Caretaker. We meet more Ocampa, one of whom is 12 years old, which is older than we are meant to believe Ocampa can be. And he’s played by Gary Graham, and he’s the creepy dude I was talking about, that is trying to steal Kes away from Voyager by basically telling her that she’s better than them, and he can make her good, and he can make her powerful and she’ll never gain that level, and she’ll never live to be 12 if she stays with Voyager.
Liz: Real cult leader vibes.
Anika: Yes. The good part of that episode is Tuvok and Kes. They have a relationship. It doesn’t start in cold Fire, but we see Tuvok helping her with her psychic abilities in a healthier way, that’s about helping her figure out what they are, and how they can be used, and how she can have control over them, instead of them controlling her.
Liz: Her relationship with Tuvok is so healthy. It just gives me so much joy.
Anika: Oh my gosh.
Tuvok is best Vulcan. We’ve already addressed that Tuvok is the best Vulcan. Tuvok is a wonderful mentor.I absolutely believe that he’s a great father. Tuvok does not get enough screen time. And every time he does, I just love him.
Liz: He is great.
Anika: But with Kes, he definitely sees her as a daughter, as someone who he can help grow into the person that she was meant to be, not by forcing anything on her or telling her how to do it, but just by sort of providing the support, like the foundation for her, and then she can grow herself. It’s so healthy.
I don’t like The Gift as an episode, but the final seconds where Tuvok lights a candle, he’s alone, his quarters, and he lights a candle for Kes. And he just looks devastated in a very Vulcan way. I just want to cry. I want to sob. He is the one, more than anyone else on this ship, who mourns her. Like everyone else is sort of like well, “Kes left, that’s sad and we’re going to miss her, but it happens.”
Liz: Like. Janeway is very sad, but she also has this brand new Borg to take her mind off it.
Anika: She’s like, “I got a new one, I can start over from scratch.”
Liz: That sounds very callous, but I think everyone else feels like Kes is going on to something better, and Tuvok agrees, but he’s also mourning for what she left behind.
Anika: And I think that that is very Vulcan. It’s devastating to me. I just love their relationship. I love their relationship more than I do Kes and the Doctor or Kes and Janeway. I don’t like her relationship with Neelix, and I sort of tolerate it with Tom.
Liz: I think also, Tuvok, as you say, wants nothing specific for Kes. Even Janeway has expectations, whereas Tuvok – he doesn’t treat parenthood as creating a bonsai plant, where you snip and you shape and you force something into the form you want it to take. Tuvok is more free form. Which is really delightful in a Vulcan. It’s hard for a human parent to be that way.
Anika: It’s delightful in a Vulcan. And he does it with everyone. He mentors Seven, he mentors B’Elanna. He has a very rich relationship with Janeway. He evenly treats Lon Suder as a person, you know, he’s going to help him. And obviously, he judges his actions, but he doesn’t judge the person.
Liz: Yeah. But this is not an episode about Tuvok!
Anika: I know I was going to say, we’d have to stop talking about Tuvok ’cause we’re supposed to be talking about Kes. Let’s talk about Warlord, where she totally kisses Tuvok.
Liz: I mean, she’s possessed at the time. She does suggest that she knows on some level that Tuvok has always wanted to kiss her, which is fair, she’s very pretty. And to be honest, if I saw Tuvok in that tactical Starfleet turtleneck, I would maybe want to kiss him, also. But this is the quintessential Kes episode, in that she’s possessed by a man for most of it. It is literally about a man controlling her.
Anika: It’s about a man controlling her, and the men who save her.
Anika: Also, Chakotay, Tuvok and Neelix all go on this mission to save her. Maybe even Tom. It’s like, why is the entire bridge crew–
Liz: I know, I know! I just want to point out that Janeway saves Paris and Harry single-handedly in The Chute, and so if she had led this away mission, it would have been over much faster.
Anika: So, yeah, that episode is not about Kes at all. She befriends the aliens, which is, according to the bible, her thing.
Liz: She is an explorer.
Anika: That’s her job. And it results in her being possessed. And the brother of the warlord, I think, is the one who’s like, “We’ve been trying to get rid of him for, generations and we failed. So you’re not gonna get her back, you know, you should just give up now.” And they are like, “No, she’s Kes, we care about her.” So it’s like, in theory, Kes is important, but…
Liz: There are the scenes that take place in Kes’s head, where she, as herself, is fighting with the dude who is possessing her body. And I think those are great. They really highlight her strength of will, and that she does not need to be a 90s-style ‘strong female character’. She is always soft-spoken. She never resorts to violence, but she is absolutely powerful. And I think that power without resorting to the styles of the nineties is kind of why they struggled to write her. But it’s also just a disappointing and exploitive episode around. So. Yeah.
Anika: I mean, and that’s really all you need to say about it … but I have one more thing to say about it. It’s the episode where Kes breaks up with Neelix.
Anika: While being possessed, but then they’re broken up anyway, which is great to me.
Liz: If someone could possess me just to have the awkward conversations that I would prefer to avoid myself, and then I get to take control of my body and go about my life with those awkward conversations in the past, I’d be okay with that.
Anika: That’s a reasonable exchange.
Liz: I do also think Warlord begins the pattern in season three, where they’re trying to sex her up. She’s wearing a black leather version of her usual type of costume, she almost kisses the warlord’s wife. It’s very much, “Look, we do have a sexy girl, honest, please watch our show, men!”
She actually has a number of focus episodes in season three. It feels like they’re making a last-ditch effort to prove that the character was valuable before they gave
Anika: Mm. So then there’s Before and After.
Liz: No, there’s Darkling, which is–
Anika: I forgot about Darkling.
Liz: –an episode about the Doctor where Kes falls in love.
Anika: Yes. Again, it has really nothing to do with Kes. She has a romantic relationship with another alien. This one treats her, well.
Anika: There’s nothing wrong with this guy.
Liz: He’s sort of one of your milquetoasty Star Trek male love interests, but he’s also a bit of a manic pixie dream guy. And that seems to be something Kes is into.
Anika: Yeah, so, you know, go for it, Kes, get that.
Liz: He’s like a more age appropriate Neelix.
Anika: Right. And she’s also exploring, what she likes, what she wants, which, if Neelix was my first boyfriend, I would be ready to explore as well. But her relationship bothers the Doctor, because the Doctor is very codependent.
Liz: Yes. The doctor is almost as bad at boundaries as Neelix.
Anika: Yes, absolutely. And he’s also like playing with his algorithm. Like you do. And so he becomes sort of evil Doctor, and he kidnaps her, and basically she talks him down.
But it doesn’t really work and they leap to their death. But they get transported, and somehow that fixes everything. None of it makes sense. The end of that episode makes zero sense. They set it up, and they get to the kidnapping and then they’re like, “Oh no, we have to end this episode, what if we leap to our doom, but don’t die and everything’s fine?”
Liz: I sort of took it as, they effectively switched the Doctor off and back on again. But yeah, it doesn’t really hold together. It’s notable that Kes falls in love with this flaky manic pixie dream guy, but then decides she needs more stability. I think that’s a useful journey for her, but it’s not really about her so much as–
Anika: It’s not really about her.
Liz: It’s about her being an object in the Doctor’s life.
Anika: And she wouldn’t have come to that conclusion if she wasn’t kidnapped by the person that she has the most screen time with.
Liz: It’s like the Doctor does terrible things and gets what he wants because of it.
Anika: Absolutely, I think that’s what I ended my recap with.
Liz: I actually think Darkling was the point in my rewatch where I was like, maybe I don’t like the Doctor anymore.
But then we have Before and After, which is actually one of my favorite Voyager episodes, my favorite of season three, next to Worst Case Scenario, in which Kes travels back her life from her death to her birth.
Anika: It is well plotted. It is well paced, it is well acted. Jennifer Lien shines in this one. And she has a whole bunch of different relationships. There’s a through line to both the past, the previous episodes, and a through line to future episodes, because she sees things that are going to happen. So it’s really, interesting. I, too, I’ve always liked that episode.
There’s a podcast that I’ve started listening to called That Aged Well, where they watch movies from the eighties and nineties, and they talk about how, you know, they wouldn’t be made today because of XYZ or, you know, what the problematic parts of these movies are. And I have to say that Before and After has some of the same…
Liz: Do you mean the bit where she marries Tom and has a child with him, and then a couple of years later, Harry Kim marries that child?
Anika: Yes. That’s what I mean. And again, if Voyager portrayed the Ocampa better, where we as the audience understood their lifespan and their physiology and their growth cycle, then this wouldn’t be as problematic. But the way that Voyager does portray it, it’s a little disturbing that like, you know, Harry was probably that kid’s godfather?
Liz: It’s definitely a bit, you know, the end of Breaking Dawn, where the werewolf falls in love with the baby. It’s better than that. And because I am a Star Trek fan, and I am accustomed to suspending disbelief, I can absolutely buy, “Oh yeah, for the Ocampa this is a totally normal thing. And it’s probably a bit weird for Tom and Harry, but clearly they’re working around it and I can buy it.” But I also don’t want to think about it.
Anika: They have her grandson, who is Harry’s son. And he’s like, I don’t know, like 12 human years. And I spend a lot of the episode trying to figure out how old he is, in Ocampa years.
Liz: I don’t know, like, six months?
Anika: Exactly.. Isn’t that weird, that he’s been around for like three months, but he has a better relationship with Kes than literally anyone else on the ship.
Liz: I guess if Before and After was more than 45 minutes long, I would definitely want to get into that more. But because, through Kes, we only catch glimpses of these relationships, and because to her, this is a normal growth period, and a normal age span, I am prepared to go along with it.
Anika: Okay. Again, I love the episode, it’s really well done. I just, if I think about it too much, I start to be a little worried about things.
Liz: What you should think about next, or not, if you prefer is, Tom and Kes’s daughter Linnis being friends with Naomi Wildman, and then a few months later being old enough to babysit her.
Anika: Exactly. It’s interesting. I mean, Naomi Wildman, to be fair, goes from infant to 11-year-old in about the same span of time.
Liz: You know, I think the greatest thing Discovery ever did was drop a baby off on a time travel planet, and then come back and he’s Ken Mitchell. Like let’s just admit to that Star Trek is not good at children and aging, and–
Anika: Just skip that entirely.
Liz: To be honest, if I could skip the less interesting childhood years and go straight into adolescence, I would be totally up for that. If I had kids.
Anika: Again, I wish that we got to know more about the Ocampan lifespan and how it works. I’m interested in that. And I feel like if I had that–
Anika: I wouldn’t be disturbed by this,
Liz: It bugs me because I know that just a few years later, with Enterprise, they have viable remote control antenna, and had they made Kes less pink and human looking, and had they given her little antenna, maybe establish that she lays eggs instead of giving birth through a sack in her back, which I still don’t fully understand … I feel like I would’ve had a lot fewer questions if Kes looked like Mantis from–
Anika: I was just going to say, when you first mentioned antenna and Kes, I pictured–
Anika: And Mantis is very childlike, but very much an adult woman.
Liz: Yes. To the point where they sort of go with the Born Sexy Yesterday trope for her, which they really avoid with Kes in an interesting way, but mostly by not giving her a sexuality at all?
I am normally weirdly squicked out by re-imaginings of Star Trek aliens. Like, there’s a lot of fan art where Cardassians have tails, and I don’t know, it just squicks me. But I would be up for a more insectoid redesign of the Ocampa.
Anika: Hmm. I like it.
Liz: Then we have The Gift, which is mostly about Seven of Nine, but–
Anika: I think every episode we’re like, oh, this is actually about this other character, but I guess it’s a Kes episode.
Liz: The B plot is that Kes, having been psychically in contact with species 8, 4 7 2 in the Scorpion two-parter, it sort of triggers an evolution into another state, maybe.
Anika: This is another one that I can’t explain what happens. It is very much, “We’re going to write something to get rid of Kes.”
Anika: It does not hold up to any scrutiny
Liz: It follows Star Trek logic, which is that some species evolve into light and we just don’t ask too many questions.
Anika: That happens a lot. She sort of has the same arc as John Doe from that one episode on Next Generation.
Liz: And then it’s parodied by Lower Decks, because it really is sort of hilarious if you think about it too much. I don’t hate this ending for Kes. I like it much more than killing her off or marrying her off to some dude, or really any other way of getting rid of her.
But then there’s Fury, when she comes back and she’s angry, and I just hated that episode and repress its existence. I saw it on your list of Kes episodes and I was like, wait, what? Kes came back? Then I remembered how angry I was.
Anika: I hate that episode. It is horrific. So basically, Kes comes back and tells Voyager that they shouldn’t have let her leave.
Anika: And then they talk her down by showing her a hologram of a younger Kes on Voyager, basically telling her, “Yeah, you learned a lot here and then you went on to your own destiny, and it was great and you shouldn’t be angry.”
So Kes is her own manic pixie dream girl, which is bad. I want to live in the place where Kes is so angry that Voyager didn’t fight for her that she’s destroying the ship. I’m way more interested in that than I am in, “We knew this was going to happen, and so we made this you for you.” That’s such a terrible retcon, it’s such a terrible concept. I hate it.
Liz: I hate both of these things. And I remember I’ve only seen this episode once and it was when it came out, but I remember feeling like being angry that you were allowed to leave, just felt so unhealthy. And so antithetical to the Star Trek ideal of growth and exploration.
Anika: It is absolutely unfair of her.
Anika: But Kes isn’t allowed to ever have those emotions. So I I’m interested in it, if that makes sense.
Liz: No, that’s true. And also, at the time, I felt like it was unfair to Jennifer Lien to make her play that ‘you shouldn’t have let me go’ plot line. And then, knowing now what we do about her mental health, it just seems even worse.
Anika: Oh, the meta-story is horrific. That should never have happened. If they were going to bring her back, it should have been a happy story.
Anika: It should have been a good thing for both the character and the actress. I feel like it just exacerbated the whole situation, and it shouldn’t have happened. It shouldn’t have happened the way it did and it it’s just painful to me.
Liz: No. So I bought the book Star Trek: Voyager — A Celebration, which came out last year. I bought it entirely because the reviews said it had new information about Jennifer Lien’s departure and it does. Let me read to you.
‘The rest of the cast had a sense that Lien’s family life had not been easy, but as Robert Duncan McNeil explains, she rarely, if ever, talked about herself. “There was always a bit of weight that she seemed to carry that you couldn’t quite put your finger on. There was a seriousness that she carried all the time personally, and in her performance,” said Robert Duncan McNeill.
As time progressed, that emotional weight became an issue and the cast and crew started to realize that Lien was suffering with personal, and many assumed addiction, issues that had a serious effect on her. Those issues started to affect her reliability, and as a result, the producers reduce the amount of screen time devoted to her.
“We knew that there was something going wrong,” Jeri Taylor says, “but she wouldn’t talk or let us offer to help. She just shut down.”
The situation became so serious that, reluctantly, the producers decided to drop Lien’s character during the fourth season. At the time, everyone felt it was inappropriate to discuss the real reasons in public, but her problems later in life have been well-documented.’
So first, I don’t believe the bit where they tried to reduce her screen time, because we were just talking about how many episodes she has focused on her in season three.
Liz: But it does seem like she had fairly profound issues, whether that’s mental health, or addiction, or a combination of the two. And I think they were not obliged to keep her employed through that time, if she wouldn’t accept help, but they also didn’t have to bring her back the way they did.
Liz: With that context, it feels a Fury was a punishment for her for not being able to stay on the job.
Anika: I don’t know how Fury came about. I don’t know who decided that was a good idea. Because I just think it was a bad idea. I think that Kes had a good ending. If we had to write her off, she had a good ending. She had a – again, a Wesley ending.
Anika: You could imagine her traveling, you know, voyaging through the galaxy on her own, doing what she was doing on Voyager, but, for herself, and that’s interesting. And that’s compelling. Bringing her back and making her angry about it destroys that. It destroys the good ending. It makes it feel painful. It punishes of us. It punishes, Kes, it punishes the Voyager crew, and it punishes the audience.
Liz: None of us deserved that. That was not a good way to spend 45 minutes.
Anika: Why did that happen? I just don’t want it. And if it was meant to be an olive branch to Jennifer Lien to say like, “Maybe we didn’t support you in the way that we could have…”
I mean, I believe that she wouldn’t talk or let us offer to help, she just shut down. Like, I’ve seen that. I know what that is. And I believe that that’s valid representation of what happened.
But it’s pretty rough, also, to think that you see this person who is clearly struggling, who is clearly disintegrating in front of you, and you let them go. That’s reasonable business decision and they’re not responsible for her.
Liz: Fury just seems like a slap in the face.
Anika: Yeah. What are you trying to say with that? I don’t know what the point is.
Liz: It doesn’t feel good. I just think Lien’s story is so sad, and I really hope that she is in a better place now. And she doesn’t owe it to us as fans to ever let us know how she’s doing, but I hope she’s doing well.
Anika: I’m pretty sad about this first sentence, ‘The rest of the cast had a sense that her family life had not been easy, but she never talked about herself.’ Like, I’m upset.
Anika: I feel a lot of empathy for that person.
Liz: I actually cut that quote down quite a bit. It was McNeill and Ethan Phillips talking about how she was incredibly smart and extremely artistic, and she read a lot of poetry, but she would never, ever talk about herself. And she was the sort of person who had that gift of asking you questions and engaging you in a conversation about yourself. And then you walk away and realize that she didn’t reveal anything of herself in turn.
Anika: I have experienced that, and it feels very – again, I just feel so strongly for her. I don’t want to say I pity her or, like, have sympathy, because I don’t think that’s the right reaction.
Liz: I have a lot of compassion for her. And I think that strategy of asking about others and never revealing anything about yourself, I think that is a very common way for women with traumatic pasts to hide in plain view.
And yeah, I – I just want her to be well. I’m I used to be very angry that they fired her instead of just dropping Kes back to a recurring role. And I’m still sad about that, but maybe that was untenable.
Would you like to talk about costumes?
Anika: I would, because I really enjoyed doing the Kes Fashion Project. I was really able to understand what was happening with her costumes, because it was a short period of time. Like Uhura – I mean, now that we’re getting more Uhura –
Liz: Oh God. You’ve gotta update!
Anika: There’s all lot of Uhura, so there’s a throughline, but it changes with the time period, it changes with the storyline, and it changes with the actress. So there are changes that are not related to the character and that’s fun for me, because then I have to think about how it does relate to the character.
But Kes was simpler and I was able to come up with what Kes’s aesthetic is. And it doesn’t change. Even T’Pol, who is in about the same amount of episodes – a few more. But T’Pol was impossible. She changed her costume more than anyone of the other regulars, and all of the choices were made based on the show and not on the character.
Kes made sense, even when you could definitely tell that they were trying to sex her up, make her more girly.
Anika: It still made sense because the character was also going through changes, and the character was opening up and there were reasons. It was not the same as, “We’re going to make T’Pol sexy now.” As if Jolene Blalock could be not sexy, but whatever.
Liz: Yeah, like, you hire Jolene Blalock, you don’t need to put her in a catsuit for her to be remarkably attractive. And Jennifer Lien was also very, very beautiful and they really had a very coherent aesthetic for her. You know, she was Tinkerbell. She had the pixie cut, a variety of bad wigs before they found a good one. And the little pointy ears, and the costumes in layers, which–
Anika: I loved it.
Liz: I’m so fascinated by these costumes, because I desperately wanted to dress like this at the time, as a teenage girl. And yet, it wasn’t really fashionable. Like it was the nineties and, layers were–
Anika: Maybe it wasn’t fashionable for you. I one hundred percent dressed like that all the time. But to be fair, I was a dance major. So I was allowed to wear leggings as like a regular thing.
Anika: I was a theater kid and I was a dance major. And so I could wear matching tights, and I could wear leggings, and I could wear cute little skirts. And my hair was always up in a bun. You know, I was very much the Kes, because I also wanted to be Tinkerbell. I mean, I’d call myself Pixie.
Liz: Yeah. You and she are coming from similar places.
Anika: And I agree that it wasn’t the norm. I mean, I remember when grunge became a really big thing, and it was all the plaid shirts and ripped jeans. And then the baby doll dresses. I would do grunge, but I would still be like dancer grunge–
Liz: That is adorable.
Anika: –where I would wear a baby doll dress, but then I would wear, like, the footless tights, too. I remember that time period very well and very fondly.
Liz: I was 13 when I first encountered Kes, and that Christmas, I got Caretaker on VHS, and I got a pair of wide legged black pants and a baby doll t-shirt, and one of those necklaces that’s like a little pewter pendant on a black thread.
Liz: That was basically my aesthetic for the next few years. But I really wanted to wear cute pink layers, like Kes, and little boots. And frankly, I actually own a lot of jersey dresses that I pair with leggings and undershirts and ankle boots these days.
Anika: So can I read this quote from Robert Blackman?
Liz: Please! Because I might have a rage stroke.
Anika: I am very disturbed by this entire thing. So this is, I guess, from Star Trek Costumes.
Anika: ‘“Kes was likable yet, for some reason,”’ for some reason, ‘“she represented a deficit for a certain segment of the audience,”’ as we will see in the next quote, an important segment of the audience. But okay. ‘Something was missing, and it was all too clear to Robert Blackman. Sex appeal.’ First of all, I’m going to comment while saying this, and then I’m going to let you go.
Anika: But the idea that Kes is not sexy … like, I’m sorry that she’s not sexy to you, but she is wearing cute little dresses, and she’s very attractive. And I think plenty of people would be attracted to her. And I also think that women count as people who can be attracted to women. It’s just gross to me that all of this is even happening.
‘He relates, “I kept saying to my crew,”’ his costume crew, I guess. Okay. Here’s the money line. ‘”Where’s the gal that’s going to attract the 14-to-43-year-old males to the show. I don’t see where the fan base is in this equation. Jennifer Lien was a very good actress, but Kes was too sweet, too clean, too whimsical. Her wardrobe reflected that too. It was the type of fashion they would appeal mainly to young girls.”’
Now I just said that that’s true, it totally did appeal mainly to young girls. However, I need to zero in on the 14-to 43-year-old males, and how they are the fan base. First of all, the idea that this same woman is going to appeal to a 14-year-old and a 43-year-old upsets me multiple levels.
Liz: I know that 14-year-old boys were very into Kes because she was the girl next door. Like, you can have different types of female sexuality.
Anika: Yeah, you can have different types of female sexuality, and also a 14-year-old and a 43 year old should not be attracted to the same woman. Like, I’m sorry. I feel like this should be obvious. But a 14-year-old should find, like, maybe a sixteen-year-old attractive, whereas a 43-year-old male shouldn’t find Kes attractive if we’re child coding her. Which I would argue against, however…
Liz: I think that she is an appropriate crush object for a 14-year-old fan and not for a 43-year-old fan.
Anika: I am so upset. And it’s also, why is it 43?
Liz: This is just one of those particular demographic boxes that television was into.
Anika: I am so upset by this. Just that one part. ‘“Where is the gal,”’ gal? Like that is such a gross word too, in this context. So you couldn’t say ‘woman’? But fine. ‘“Where’s the gal that’s going to attract the 14-to-43-year-old males to the show? I don’t see where the fan base is in this equation.”’ The only fan base they care about is the 14-to-43-year-old. And the only gal that’s going to attract them is a sexy gal who is not sweet, clean, or whimsical, or appeals to young girls. Everything about that is horrible.
Liz: So first of all, I read this quote in the bookshop, and I bought the book purely because I knew one day I was going to want to have a good rant about this.
Second, the entire section about Kes’s costumes and the deficit she represents for a certain segment of the audience is actually about Kes’s relationship with Neelix. And at no point does Blackman think, “Hmm, maybe the ugly guy who’s way too old for her is the reason people don’t find the Kes and Neelix relationship attractive.”
Anika: Oh, my gosh.
Liz: I know.
Anika: What is wrong? Like, that is a tried and true Hollywood trope.
Liz: I know. I know.
Anika: The older man and the pretty little girl.
Liz: And it never, ever crosses their mind that maybe Neelix is the problem. Which is wild to me, because he is famously the most unpopular character in the show. Particularly with male viewers! I have seen more female fans of Neelix than I have seen men.
Anika: Because women tend to give a character a break. I shouldn’t speak for all women, but I tend to give a character a break, because I’m used to that. I’m used to men being terrible, and in order to enjoy whatever it is I’m trying to enjoy, I have to convince myself that they have positive qualities.
Whereas women characters are forced to only have positive qualities. And if they have any negative qualities, they’re immediately coded as a villain or a problem or a bitch.
Liz: Or they have no negative qualities, and then they’re ‘too sweet, too clean, too whimsical.’
Anika: It is impossible. Women cannot win. I am so upset by this entire–
Liz: No, no it’s terrible. And the word that really jumped out at me as you were reading was ‘clean’. Kes was too clean.
Because this was the mid-nineties and it was the era of FHM and Maxim magazine. And that was sort of what Jeri Ryan was famous for. She did a little bit of acting and she did a lot of sexy, not nude, but suggestive modelling in men’s magazines. And that was almost the entirety of Jolene Blalock’s career. I feel like Blalock leaned into it even harder than Jeri Ryan did.
And it was really the sort of … I’m always torn because I don’t want it to seem like I’m shaming them for doing these modelling shoots. It makes me personally uncomfortable. That’s all.
Anika: They got to be on Star Trek because they did that.
Liz: Yeah. The fact that they are very talented actresses was secondary.
Anika: Wasn’t going to get their attention. In order to get the opportunity to audition for a role that – I mean, Seven of Nine is an amazing role. T’Pol is, too, but Seven of Nine is next level. There’s a reason that she was brought into Picard, and it’s because people care about that character, there’s a hundred different stories that you could tell with that character. And Jeri Ryan owns it.
Anika: I mean, we’re going to have a Seven of Nine episode sometime, and I’m looking forward to it. But the fact that Seven is so well written, despite her catsuits, the very distracting way that she is presented, and T’Pol too, it’s a testament to how well it can be done. But they didn’t even try with Kes, because she wasn’t the right kind of woman. They didn’t want to attempt to make the girl next door interesting.
Liz: And there are plenty of people who would find Kes or Jennifer Lien deeply sexy. And I think that there are ways to be sexy without putting someone in a cat suit, which they did for Kes’s final third of the show. They put her in a very cute velvet one piece catsuit!
Anika: Very similar to T’Pol’s season 3 clothes.
Liz: Very, very similar. Better made, I think. HDTV really reveals how cheap Enterprise‘s costumes were.
Anika: They just stopped putting any money into that show.
Liz: Yeah. I just think, as you say, they did not even try with Kes. And it’s really sad. And clearly Jennifer Lien’s problems probably didn’t help, but…
Anika: But also, if you don’t give someone a good enough reason to care about what they’re doing on the show and on the sets – you know, I’ll say it about my job. If you don’t give me something to go to my job to do, that I want to do, that I feel like is worthy of my time, then I am not going to be as good at it, and I’m not going to care as much. And I’m going to go home when I’m done and have a glass of wine or three.
I have to care about what I’m doing. I have to feel like I’m respected, that I am adding to what’s happening. And if I was playing Kes, I can imagine feeling like I was the ninth person on the list, that I was always going to be the last person that they cared about and that they were trying a bunch of different ways to make me interesting, but didn’t really care to put in the effort to actually do it.
Liz: No. And you look at Jennifer Lien’s other roles, she was doing indie movies, she played a punk in SLC Punk, which is a very well-known cult movie. She was in American History X playing a white supremacist. She was really drawn to crunchy and complicated characters, and Kes simply wasn’t that. And I think it is very possible to have a character who is sweet and intelligent and kind, and the girl next door, who is also very complicated. I think letting Kes work with Seven of Nine could have really leant into that
Anika: So as it is, I’m going to say – the conclusion most of our episodes that we have about women characters in Star Trek – a lot of potential. A lot of misuse.
Liz: Yeah. And I think what’s particularly tragic about Kes is that she is still very underrated by fans. She doesn’t have a renaissance, the way other female characters do when they get reassessed.
And because of Jennifer Lien’s personal problems and her retirement, she’s not going to come back in Picard. She’s not going to turn up in Prodigy. She’s gone. And in Star Trek: Voyager — A Celebration, Kenneth Biller says, you know, he loved the character and he feels that just as Kes had a really short lifespan, Jennifer Lien’s presence in the community was fleeting. And he really mourns for that.
Liz: Justice for Jennifer Lien. Justice for Kes. And as usual, if IDW or Pocket Books want to commission us to write tie-in fiction of some kind about Kes…
Anika: We’re ready. Oh my goodness. So the post-Voyager life of Kes is just sitting there, waiting to be at least a comic book mini-series. Like, come on. Eight episodes, give me eight issues.
Liz: I would be willing to acknowledge the existence of Fury to depict the adventures and the difficulty that Kes goes through after she leaves Voyager, and then how she recovers afterwards and how she finds a balance between being a person and being an energy being.
Liz: Call us! Our lack of experience is no bar!
Anika: Hey, I’ve taken classes.
Liz: It’s more than I’ve done. I read a lot.
Okay. Thank you for listening to Antimatter Pod. You can find our show notes at antimatterpod.tumblr.com, including links to our social media and credits for our theme music. But we need to update our outro text because you can actually find our show notes at antimatterpod.com
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