Kes (Star Trek)

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Star Trek character
A photograph of a young woman with short blonde hair wearing a maroon outfit, with a Star Trek pin attached.
Jennifer Lien as Kes
First appearance"Caretaker"
Last appearance"Fury"
Portrayed byJennifer Lien
FamilyBenaren (father)
Martis (mother)
ChildrenChildless (canon timeline)
Linnis (alternate timeline)
PostingUSS Voyager (field posting).
PositionMedical assistant, airponics gardener.
RankUnassigned rank.
PartnerNeelix (ex-boyfriend)
Tom Paris (alternate timeline)

Kes is a fictional character, portrayed by actress Jennifer Lien, on the American science fiction television series Star Trek: Voyager. Set in the 24th century, the series follows the adventures of the Starfleet and Maquis crew of the starship USS Voyager after they are stranded in the Delta Quadrant, far from the rest of the Federation. Kes is a part of the Ocampa species, and thus is telepathic and has an average life expectancy of nine years, she works as a medical assistant with the Doctor as well as actively developing her mental abilities. After leaving the series in the fourth season, she returns for one episode and features in apocrypha.

The Ocampa were originally envisioned as an androgynous alien species. Lien was cast as Kes due to her youthful appearance. Research was done on parapsychology to choose a way in which the character's mental abilities should be portrayed. Michael Westmore created the prosthetic for the Ocampa, although Lien developed an allergy to it during the show's third season. Michael Piller added Kes to make viewers more empathetic to the character of her boyfriend Neelix. Neelix's actor Ethan Phillips enjoyed his scenes with Lien, and Kenneth Biller wished he could have explored the couple's sexuality.

Lien was removed from the show to allow for Jeri Ryan's introduction as Seven of Nine. Critics believed Harry Kim's actor Garrett Wang was initially set to be cut during that period, but after his placement on a People list, Lien's character was removed instead. Members of the show's writing staff regretted removing Kes from the series, and Kathryn Janeway's actor Kate Mulgrew disliked the decision.

Kes received a negative critical response, although some critics were more positive about Lien's performance. Commentators frequently cited the character as underdeveloped. Although Kes's relationship with Neelix was panned, her friendships with Tuvok and Tom Paris received a more mixed to positive reaction, her storyline in "Elogium" received a mixed response, and her return for "Fury" was negatively received.



Born in 2369 on Ocampa – a planet in the Delta Quadrant – Kes is a member of the Ocampa species; as with other members of her species, she is telepathic and has a life expectancy of nine years. Prior the show's pilot episode, Kes lived with her people in an underground city constructed by a Nacene alien called the Caretaker. Feeling guilty about inadvertently destroying the planet's ecosystem and atmosphere, the Caretaker took on the responsibility of caring for the Ocampa who grew completely insular and dependent on him; the Caretaker had sealed the city away from the planet's surface to protect the Ocampa; however, Kes dreams of leaving the Ocampan enclave to explore the galaxy and develop her psionic powers, which her ancestors were rumored to have far more proficiency with. Finding a way to Ocampa's surface, she was captured and tortured by the Kazon who hope to gain access to the Ocampan city and its resources. Neelix rescued her, and they became a couple.[1]

When The Caretaker realizes he is dying, he abducts beings from the Alpha Quadrant in the hopes of finding a compatible mate with whom to produce an offspring in order to ensure someone can continue protecting and caring for the Ocampa. In the show's pilot episode, the Caretaker kidnaps members of a Maquis crew and the Starfleet crew of the starship USS Voyager. Kes helps the ships' captains, Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay, recover their missing crew members. Janeway destroys the Caretaker's vessel in order to prevent the Kazon from acquiring its technology; this destruction strands both the Maquis and Starfleet crews in the Delta Quadrant. Kes and Neelix decide to serve as guides to the stranded crews.[1]

Aboard the USS Voyager, Kes starts a hydroponics garden to provide vegetables and fruit for the crew's meals,[2] she also develops a friendship with the Doctor while studying to become his medical assistant.[3] She encourages him to develop a better set of social skills and pushes the crew to recognize him as more than just a hologram.[4] In "Phage", the Vidiians harvest Neelix's lung, and Kes donates one of her own to save his life.[5] During "Elogium", emanations from space-dwelling lifeforms cause Kes to prematurely enter the elogium, the Ocampa female reproductive state; this condition can only occur once during an Ocampa life cycle. Kes and Neelix disagree over the idea of having children. Neelix eventually agrees to being a father, but Kes decides against conceiving a child. After the ship moves away from the life forms, the Doctor determines that Kes has gone through a false alarm; she will be able to go through a true elogium in the future.[6]

During the first two seasons, Kes slowly develops her psionic powers, she has visions of a planet's destruction in "Time and Again"[7] and is able to resist a psychoactive trance to save the crew in "Persistence of Vision".[8] When the USS Voyager discovers a second Ocampa colony in "Cold Fire", Kes is tutored by its leader, Tanis, on how to expand her mental abilities, she had previously been trained by Tuvok, though he took a more cautious approach. Under Tanis's tutelage, Kes develops pyrokinesis, but she is unable to control the power and almost kills Tuvok by boiling his blood. Kes discovers that Tanis is collaborating with the Caretaker's mate, Suspiria, to destroy the ship, and she subdues him with her powers. Kes is disturbed by the harm she can do with her abilities, though Tuvok reminds her that she must learn to control, rather than fear, such darker impulses.[9] In "Warlord", Tieran takes control of Kes's body and uses her mental powers to stage a coup against his planet's dictator. While under Tieran's influence, Kes breaks up with Neelix; the crew eventually free Kes from Tieran's control and kill him, though she is traumatized by the experience.[10] When the Doctor grafts other personalities into his program in "Darkling", he develops an evil alternate personality and kidnaps Kes after injuring her suitor, Zahir. Kes considers leaving the USS Voyager to be with Zahir, but later decides against this.[11]

In "Before and After", Kes lives short periods of her life in reverse order, starting with her death and ending with her birth. In this alternative timeline, she is romantically involved with Tom Paris, and they have a daughter, Linnis, who marries and has a son with Harry Kim. In this timeline, Kes participates in Voyager's year-long battle with the Krenim during the "Year of Hell", becoming infected with particles from a chronoton torpedo; the Doctor helps Kes return to normal temporal sync, and she documents information about the Krenim and their future attack.[12] During "Scorpion", the USS Voyager becomes entangled in a major conflict between the Borg and Species 8472. Partially due to her exposure to the powerful telepathic influx of Species 8472, Kes begins to evolve into a different state of being.[13][14] In "The Gift". she realizes she can no longer remain with the USS Voyager as her powers threaten to destroy the ship. She uses her newly acquired powers to hurl Voyager and crew safely beyond Borg space, 9,500 light-years closer to Earth before turning into living energy.[15]

Kes revisits the USS Voyager in "Fury", in which she is near the end of her life cycle and experiencing memory loss, she mistakenly believes that Janeway kidnapped her from Ocampa, and she travels back in time to negotiate with the Vidiians, promising to help them access the ship to harvest the crews' organs if they take her younger self home. After this plan is stopped, Kes creates a hologram to remind her future self about her affection for the crew and how much they had cared for her. After seeing the hologram, the older version of Kes says goodbye to the crew before taking her ship back to Ocampa.[16]

Literature and merchandise[edit]

Kes appears in Star Trek: Voyager apocrypha. In the novel trilogy Dark Matters, she is known as the "Entity" and gathers mutated dark matter, she had forgotten about her past on the USS Voyager due to her ascension, but slowly regains some memories over the course of the series. She does not contact the crew and is told she is a parallel universe version of herself, separate from the one featured in "Fury". However, Tuvok does briefly sense her presence before her departure.[17] In the 2012 novel The Eternal Tide, Kes resurrects Janeway with Q Junior's help. Janeway was assimilated by the Borg and the Borg Cube she was on was destroyed. Kes restores Janeway to her most perfect state when Q teaches her how to pull her body back together.[18]

The character also features in Evolution, the third installment of the trilogy String Theory, in which she gives birth to an Ocampa-Nacene hybrid with the assistance of the Doctor and Q; the novel retcons that Kes from "Fury" was really the manifestation of her dark side, caused as a side effect during a confrontation with a renegade Nacene. After giving birth to the child, Kes returns to Ocampa, where it is hinted that the ecosystem is beginning to recover due to a rainstorm.[19] In the short story "Restoration", included in the 2001 anthology Strange New Worlds V, Kes sacrifices herself to revive Ocampa's ecosystem.[20] A mirror universe version of the character is included in several publications,[21][22][23] and an action figure of Kes was released.[24]


Creation and casting[edit]

Early development of Star Trek: Voyager began in July 1993, during which producers initially imagined the Ocampa as an androgynous alien species. In later meetings, they further expanded the Ocampa as having a short lifespan similar to a Mayfly. Kes was intended to live for only seven years with changes in her appearance planned for each season to emphasize her age progression;[25] the androgyny concept was dropped as the first cast description identified Kes as a female. The character was initially named Dah.[26] Producers proposed a second Ocampa, shown near the end of his lifespan, as part of the main cast, though this idea was abandoned in favor of the character Neelix, who was a late addition to the series.[25] Kes was initially created as a scout for USS Voyager's journey through the Delta Quadrant,[25] before Neelix assumed the role instead.[26] Kes was reimagined as a medical intern.[26] In an August 1993 memo, series creator Jeri Taylor suggested Kes have a superhuman ability and be caught in a war between two factions.[27][28] Producers debated the nature of the character's psychic powers, leading them to ask production associate Zayra Cabot and the Joan Pearce Research to gather information on parapsychology,[29] they then agreed to portray Kes with "some measure of telepathic ability" for the pilot episode ("Caretaker") with the intention of addressing it further in future episodes.[30]

A 1995 promotional image, featuring Lien (right) with her Star Trek: Voyager co-stars Kate Mulgrew (center) and Roxann Dawson (left)

When casting Kes, "Caretaker" director Winrich Kolbe looked for an actress that was "fragile, but with a steely will underneath"; the casting call specified only women in their early-twenties or younger were considered for the role.[31] Producers hired Jennifer Lien based on their belief that she could embody the character's "somewhat childlike and fragile" qualities and short life span.[32] Lien was one of the first cast members hired for the series,[32] and at the age of nineteen, she was its youngest actor.[32][33] Author Stephen Edward Poe attributed her discomfort during promotional interviews to her age.[32] Lien only had a basic understanding of the Star Trek franchise prior to receiving the part,[32][34] she said this allowed her to approach her performance without anxiety. She had auditioned for the show due to the opportunity to play a new alien species, and explained "it meant that anything could happen, offering me the chance to learn and grow as an actress".[34] Jennifer Gatti was considered as a runner-up for Kes,[35] and she would later guest star in the episode "Non Sequitur".[36]

Regarding Kes's role in "Caretaker", series creator Michael Piller said she was supposed to encourage the audience to care about Neelix.[37] Piller was concerned the pilot was too "passionless" due to its focus on an action-adventure storyline over individual character development;[37][38] he explained: "The biggest danger in the pilot was in creating a story that nobody cared about."[38] In June 1994, Robert Blackman created the costumes for the episode,[39] he cited Kes's clothing as a challenge since producers were still unclear about the character and Lien was very introverted. Despite his difficulty with Lien, he said that the cast and crew enjoyed working with her, he had presented a pastel colored costume based on a sprite, but producers rejected it following a wardrobe fitting.[40] Michael Westmore developed the Ocampa makeup.[39] While the early scenes of "Caretaker" were filmed, Lien tested various combinations of wigs and ear prosthetics; cinematographer Marvin V. Rush filmed each version for series creator Rick Berman to receive his final approval.[41] For the show's first two seasons, it took Lien three hours a day to get into her character's hair, make-up, and wardrobe;[34] as the series progressed, Lien developed an allergic response to the ear prosthetics. Starting with the episode "Before and After", Kes was portrayed with longer hair that covered her ears to accommodate this.[42]

Characterization and relationships[edit]

The "Caretaker" script stated Kes was a "dazzling, ethereal beauty, waifish and fragile", with a "dignity – her bearing, an alertness in her look, that suggests a being of powerful intelligence".[43] On the Star Trek official website, the character is described as a "tough survivor and a bit of a rebel".[44] In a 1996 interview, Lien characterized Kes as "strong and curious and intelligent" despite still being "a child in a way with the same fears and inhibitions and worries that we all have",[45] she saw the character's lack of "cynicism or precociousness or pretentiousness or sarcasm" as different from typical young female roles.[46] Despite finding "this kind of diversity in a character" difficult to play,[45] she enjoyed the process and said: "It's a joy to pretend to be this extraordinary creature, so open and everything so new."[46] Author Paul Ruditis summed up the role through the phrase "fragile power", which he identified as a paradox.[43] During filming, Lien was not given information about her characters' future storylines prior to receiving the final copies of the scripts. Unlike the show's other actors, she did not campaign for changes to Kes, explaining "I felt my contribution was more in the acting, and not in the writing".[47] Discussing the character's developing mental abilities, Lien felt "it displays another side of Kes which is her confidence in being able to choose a path for her life"; she identified temptation as a key part of her character's arc.[48] Comic Book Resources' Angie Dahl cited Kes as one of the top twenty most powerful Star Trek characters based on her powers.[49]

A headshot of a man looking toward the camera.
Neelix, portrayed by Ethan Phillips (pictured), was Kes's primary relationship on the show.

Kolbe interpreted Kes as the alter ego to Neelix, citing them as bringing romance and comedy to the series.[31] Lien and Neelix's actor Ethan Phillips said they enjoyed filming their scenes together.[43][50] Describing the couple as having a "traditional young love", Ruditis found Kes to be the more dominant partner due to her ability to dispense emotional guidance.[43] Although the relationship was introduced in the pilot, he referred to it as "somewhat undefined as the series progressed".[51] Writer Kenneth Biller wanted to establish the pair as living together and sexually active, but Taylor and Berman thought Kes looked too young for those storylines. Biller proposed scenes in which the character talk about sex for the first time as a way to explore "the weirdness of alien sexuality"; this discussion led to dialogue being included in the episode "Elogium".[52] Phillips requested the writers provide closure for the couple following their break-up; they denied his request, saying: "No, let's just drop it, let's move on."[51] Phillips viewed the break-up as "muddy" as it occurred as part of Kes's possession.[53] Producers had planned a scene for the episode "Fair Trade" in which Kes and Neelix discuss the end of their romantic relationship, but it was removed due to time constraints.[51] Berman discussed the couple during a 1997 interview, saying: "There was a relationship with Neelix that didn't work out that well."[54]

Kes has a more parent-child relationship with Janeway and the Doctor, portrayed by Kate Mulgrew and Robert Picardo, respectively. Ruditis identified Kes's trust in Janeway as representing her desire to explore the universe.[43] Picardo viewed Kes as the Doctor's "sounding board" and "emotional confessor" as she mentored him on being human. Following the removal of Kes, Picardo was concerned the Doctor would be relegated to the role as the comic relief, he suggested producers invert the Doctor's relationship with Kes to show him teaching Seven of Nine about humanity.[55] Alternatively, a darker relationship between the Doctor and Kes was planned for the episode "Darkling". According to writer Joe Menosky, the Doctor's evil alter ego was intended to be "perversely sexual and sadistic" with a "psychosexual" attraction to Kes. Menosky had planned a scene in which the Doctor interacts with holograms of Kes on the holodeck, including performing surgery on one.[56] Since B'Elanna Torres had few scenes with Kes, the character's actor Roxann Dawson requested for further interaction between the two.[57]

Departure and return[edit]

Lien was removed from Star Trek: Voyager during its fourth season to accommodate the introduction of Jeri Ryan, who plays Seven of Nine.[58] Chakotay's actor Robert Beltran said changing a lead character mid-season was unusual for the Star Trek franchise,[59] though Taylor believed it was typical for a show in its later seasons.[60] Media outlets believed Harry Kim's actor Garrett Wang was going to be replaced instead, but felt he was kept due to his appeal to a specific demographic and placement on People's "50 Most Beautiful People in the World" list. Wang said: "The timing of that, right during our hiatus, certainly couldn't have hurt me in terms of them keeping me on the show."[61]

A headshot of a man in front of a microphone.
Bryan Fuller (pictured) contributed to Lien's final two episodes, "The Gift" and "Fury".

Berman and Taylor choose to remove Kes since they felt the character was not properly developed over the course of the show.[60] Executive producer Brannon Braga regarded this decision as a "failure of imagination on the writers' part".[62] Braga requested freelance writer Bryan Fuller develop the concept for Kes's departure.[63][64] Receiving a positive response during a pitch meeting,[65] Fuller helped to rewrite the character's final episode "The Gift",[63] he said he had "really bonded" with Kes during the episode's production.[65] Juliette Harrison of Den of Geek! listed Kes's exit as part of the franchise's frequent depiction of a character ascending to a higher plane of existence; Wesley Crusher and Benjamin Sisko were cited as other examples.[66]

Some of the series's writing staff were sorry that the Kes character was removed; Kenneth Biller stating: "I was a little bit regretful when Kes left the show, because I thought she was an interesting character to write for—from a science fiction standpoint—because she had certain... she had telepathic abilities, she had this very compressed lifespan, she had things about her character that often lent themselves to interesting storytelling [....] We lost something in losing the Kes character.[67] Mulgrew was also disappointed by Lien's departure, describing it as a "great sorrow to me on many levels" and "fracturing of an ensemble cast that was extremely special to me".[68] Tim Russ, who portrays Tuvok, referred to the character's exit as "gracious" and "poignant".[69]

Producers invited Lien to return for the episode "Fury" as they wanted to use her character "to move the story forward".[47] Berman promised Lien that the episode would be "a terrific story, and thus a good reason to bring Kes back",[70] she retained her "also starring" billing from season four.[71] Braga developed the concept for "Fury", which was written by Fuller and Michael Taylor. Anna L. Kaplan of Cinefantastique described Fuller's involvement as "ironic" given his participation in the character's exit.[70] Lien requested that the script be rewritten as she was uncomfortable with it, she did not have the same allergic response to the ear prosthetics since she did not have to wear them for the same length of time.[47] Prior to the episode, Lien had stopped acting to pursue an associate degree in health; when discussing her approach, she said she felt it was difficult to play a different version of Kes and interact with the other characters who had changed since her last appearance. Lien preferred her performance in "The Gift" over "Fury", saying she made "a lot of poor acting choices" in the latter.[72]

Critical reception[edit]

A headshot of a woman smiling toward the camera.
Some critics responded positively to Lien's performance, though others were more critical of Kes as a character.

Lien's performance received some positive feedback. In a review of "Caretaker", Variety's Kinsey Lowe praised Lien's performance as a "beguiling blend of naive wonder and fierce dedication".[73] Michelle Erica Green of Trek Today wrote the actress could "make even the silliest of dialogue sound convincing and the most generic of storylines compelling"; Green praised her performances in the episodes "Cold Fire", "Warlord", and "Before and After" as standouts.[74][75] Screen Rant's Alexandra August wrote that Lien "did her best with what she was given" though she felt that the actress could not make the character "dynamic" enough.[76]

Kes's removal in season four was praised by critics, who believed the character was poorly developed.[77][78] Describing Kes as "forgettable", Chris Snellgrove of Screen Rant cited her as an example of how certain characters were underused.[79] Other contributors to the publication felt Kes had potential if storylines were created further exploring her short lifespan and mental powers.[76][80] August wrote that Kes was "an interesting character on paper",[76] and Thompson cited the Ocampa as one of the more fascinating species introduced on Star Trek: Voyager.[80] Larry Bonko of The Virginian-Pilot was disappointed by Kes's exit, as he felt the character "gave the series heart".[81]

Kes's relationship with Neelix was the subject of criticism.[82][83][84] Matt Wright of panned the couple as "borderline gross",[83] while Thompson cited them as having the worst chemistry on the series.[84] Thompson and Gizmodo's Tom Pritchard felt Kes would have benefited as a character if Neelix hadn't been included.[82][84] August was critical of the frequency in which Kes's storylines revolved around her love life.[76] On the other hand, Thompson praised Paris's attraction for Kes as "a good setup relationship to guide him into being a better and more responsible man for B'Elanna".[84] Kes's relationship with Tuvok received a more mixed response.[85][86][87] During her review of the episode "Cold Fire", Green praised their bond as striking a "balance between her youthful optimism and his mature logic".[86] August wrote their "mutual respect for and a natural curiosity about one another" could have led to an ideal romance if Tuvok were not already married.[87] Alternatively, English literature professor David Greven criticized the characters' difference in race and age as uncomfortably, he compared their relationship to Uncle Tom's friendship with Little Eva in the 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.[85]

Critics had a mixed response to Kes's storyline for "Elogium". Green and Bustle's Marie Southard Ospina praised the episode's depiction of a woman choosing to not have a baby without receiving judgement.[88][89] On the other hand, writer David A. McIntee criticized the elogium as a poorly-done metaphor for puberty, PMS, teenage pregnancy, abortion, and menopause.[90] Commentators questioned the plausibility of an Ocampa woman only giving birth once as it would cause an inevitable decrease in the species population.[91]

Kes's return for "Fury" received negative feedback from reviewers who found her characterization to be disappointing.[71][92][93] John Andrew of Den of Geek! cited the episode as a "sad yet compelling character study", though he felt it had a "fairly pat resolution" to Kes's change in morality.[92] Trek Today's Edward James Hines felt it would difficult to watch previous episodes with the knowledge that "[Kes's] levelheaded, peaceful, inquisitive demeanor is only setting itself up for a terrible shock down the line".[71] August criticized the writers for "undermining [the character's] entire journey after leaving Voyager" to "capitalize on a demonized Kes".[93] Trek Today contributors questioned why the episode did not change the timeline further, such as correcting Janeway and Tuvok's inaction in changing Kes's future decline.[71][94]



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