Kes (Star Trek)

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Star Trek character
First appearance"Caretaker, Part II" (Voy)
Portrayed byJennifer Lien
FamilyBenaren (father) Martis (mother)
ChildrenChildless (canon timeline)
Linnis (alternate timeline)
PostingUSS Voyager (field posting).
PositionMedical assistant/student, airponics gardener.
RankUnassigned rank.
PartnerNeelix (ex-boyfriend)
Tom Paris (alternate timeline)

Kes is a fictional character, portrayed by actress Jennifer Lien, who appears in 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 was born on stardate 2369 on the planet Ocampa in the Delta Quadrant. As part of the Ocampa species, she has telepathy and an average life expectancy of nine years. The Ocampa live in an underground city created by an alien known as the Caretaker, who had inadvertently destroyed the planet's atmosphere and ecosystem. The Caretaker provides food and water for the Ocampa, who become dependent on his care. Kes hopes to develop her psionic powers, which her ancestors were rumored to have possessed with great proficiency. After finding a way to the planet's surface, she is captured and tortured by the Kazon for access to the city and its resources. Neelix rescues her, and the pair become romantically involved. The Caretaker realizes he is dying and abducts beings from the Alpha Quadrant to find a suitable mate so he can reproduce and pass the responsibility of caring for the Ocampa to his offspring.

In "Caretaker", he kidnaps Maquis members and the Starfleet crew of the starship USS Voyager. Kes helps their captains Kathryn Janeway and Chakotay recover their missing crew members. Janeway destroys the Caretaker's vessel to prevent the Kazon from acquiring the technology, which strands both the Maquis and Starfleet crews in the Delta Quadrant. Kes and Neelix decide to help them as guides.[1]

While aboard USS Voyager, Kes starts a hydroponics garden to provide vegetables and fruit for the crew's meals. She develops a close friendship with the Doctor while studying to become his medical assistant. While helping the Doctor develop a better bedside manner and overall set of social skills, Kes pushes for the crew to treat him as a human instead of just a hologram. The Vidiians harvest Neelix's lung in "Phage", leading to Kes donating one of her own to save his life. 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 a 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 leaving the lifeforms, the Doctor determines Kes had gone through a false alarm and would be able to go through the elogium in the future.[2]

When 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 was also being trained by Tuvok, though he took a more cautious approach focused on control. Under Tanis' 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.[3] In "Warlord", Tieran takes control of Kes' 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.[4] When the Doctor grafts other personalities into his program in "Darkling", he develop an evil alternate personality and kidnaps Kes after injuring her suitor, Zahir. Kes considers leaving USS Voyager for Zahir, though she later decides against this.[5]

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 Tom Paris, and they have a daughter, Linnis. Linnis marries Harry Kim, and they have a son. 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.[6] During "Scorpion", USS Voyager becomes entangled in a major conflict between the Borg and Species 8472.[7][8] Partially due to her exposure to the powerful telepathic influx of Species 8472, Kes begins to evolve into a different state of being. In "The Gift". she realizes she can no longer remain with 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. Kes revisits USS Voyager in "Fury", in which she is near the end of life cycle and experiencing memory loss. She mistakenly believes that Janeway kidnapped her from Ocampa, and travels back in time to negotiate with the Vidiians; she promises to help them access the ship to harvest the crews' organs if they take her younger self home. After stopping this plan, Kes creates a hologram to remind her future self about her affection for the crew and how much they had cared for her. The older version of Kes says goodbye to the crew before taking her ship back to Ocampa.

Literature and merchandise[edit]

Kes is featured in the novel trilogy Dark Matters, where she is primarily shown gathering mutated dark matter. Referenced as the "Entity", Kes forgot portions of her past and slowly regains her memories over the course of the trilogy by returning the previous locations from the show. She decides to not contact the USS Voyager crew after being told she is an alternative version of Kes, different from the one present in "Fury". Despite this decision, Tuvok senses her presence before her final departure. The novel trilogy String Theory reveals the Kes from "Fury" was really the manifestation of her dark side, caused as a side effect during a confrontation with a renegade Nacene (the same species as the Caretaker). Kes reappears to help the Doctor and Q with the birth of a Ocampa-Nacene hybrid, where she acts as a surrogate mother for the child. In the 2012 novel The Eternal Tide, Kes assists Q Junior in resurrecting Admiral Janeway after she is assimilated and the Borg Cube she was on was destroyed; Kes' actions restored Janeway's body to its most perfect state after Q was able to teach her how to pull her body back together. For the short story "Restoration", Kes sacrifices herself to revive Ocampa's ecosystem. A mirror universe version of the character is also included in several publications. Aside from these literary appearances, an action figure of Kes was also released.


Creation and casting[edit]

Early development of Star Trek: Voyager began in July 1993, where 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.[9] The androgyny concept was dropped, as the first cast description identified Kes as a female. The character was initially named Dah.[10] 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.[9] Kes was initially created as a scout for USS Voyager's journey through the Delta Quadrant,[9] before Neelix assumed the role of the ship's guide.[10] She was then reimagined as a medical intern instead.[10] In an August 1993 memo, series creator Jeri Taylor suggested Kes have a superhuman ability and be caught in a war between two factions.[11][12] Producers debated over the nature of the character's psychic powers, leading them to ask production associate Zayra Cabot and the Joan Pearce Research for information on parapsychology.[13] 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.[14]

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 "could be fragile, but with a steely will underneath". The casting call specified only women in their early-twenties or younger were considered for the role.[15] Producers hired Jennifer Lien based on her youth and their belief she could embody the character's "somewhat childlike and fragile" qualities and short life span.[16] Lien was one of the first cast members hired for the series,[16] and at the age of nineteen, she was its youngest actor.[16][17] Author Stephen Edward Poe attributed her discomfort during promotional interviews to her age.[16] Lien only had a basic understanding of the Star Trek franchise prior to receiving the part.[16][18] 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".[18] Jennifer Gatti was considered as a runner-up for Kes,[19] though she would later guest star in the episode "Non Sequitur".[20]

Regarding Kes' role in "Caretaker", series creator Michael Piller said she was supposed to encourage the audience to care about Neelix.[21] Piller was concerned the pilot was too "passionless" due to its focus on a action-adventure storyline over individual character development;[21][22] he explained: "The biggest danger in the pilot was in creating a story that nobody cared about."[22] In June 1994, Robert Blackman created the costumes for the episode.[23] He cited Kes' clothing as a challenge since producers were still unclear about the character and Lien was very introverted. He had presented a costume based on a sprite and featuring pastel colors, though this was rejected by producers following a wardrobe fitting.[24] The Ocampa makeup was developed by Michael Westmore.[23] 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.[25] For the show's first two seasons, it would take Lien three hours a day to get into her character's hair, make-up, and wardrobe.[18] 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.[26]

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".[27] On the Star Trek official website, the character is described as "a tough survivor and a bit of a rebel".[28] In a 1996 interview, Lien characterized her 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".[29] She saw the character's lack of "cynicism or precociousness or pretentiousness or sarcasm" as different from typical young female roles.[30] While referring to "this kind of diversity in a character" as difficult to play,[29] she enjoyed the process and said: "It's a joy to pretend to be this extraordinary creature, so open and everything so new."[30] Author Paul Ruditis summed up the role with the phrase "fragile power", which he identified as a paradox.[27] 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".[31] 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 associated temptation as a key part of her character's arc.[32] Comic Book Resources' Angie Dahl cited Kes as one of the top twenty most powerful Star Trek characters based on her powers.[33]

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

Kolbe interpreted Kes as the alter ego to Neelix, citing them as bringing romance and comedy to the series.[15] Lien and Neelix's actor Ethan Phillips said they enjoyed filming their scenes together.[27][34] Describing the couple as having a "traditional young love", Ruditis found Kes to be the more dominant partner do to her ability dispense emotion guidance.[27] Although the relationship was introduced in the pilot, he referred to it as "somewhat undefined as the series progressed".[35] 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 lead to dialogue being included in the episode "Elogium".[36] 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."[35] Phillips viewed the break-up as "muddy" as it occurred as part of Kes' possession.[37] Producers had planned a scene for the episode "Fair Trade", in which Kes and Neelix discuss the change in their relationships, but it was removed due to time constraints.[35] Berman discussed the couple during a 1997 interview, saying: "There was a relationship with Neelix that didn't work out that well."[38]

Kes has a more parent-child relationship with Janeway and the Doctor, portrayed by Kate Mulgrew and Robert Picardo, respectively. Ruditis identified Kes' trust in Janeway as representing her desire to explore the universe.[27] Picardo viewed Kes as the Doctor's "sounding board" and "emotional confessor", as she mentored him on being human. Following the removal of Kes from the show, Picardo was concerned the Doctor would be relegated to the role as the comic relief. He suggested producers inverse the Doctor's relationship with Kes to show him teaching Seven of Nine about humanity.[39] 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.[40] Since B'Elanna Torres had few scenes with Kes, the character's actor Roxann Dawson requested for further interaction between the two.[41]

Departure and return[edit]

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

Lien was removed from Star Trek: Voyager during its fourth season to accommodate the introduction of Jeri Ryan, who plays Seven of Nine.[42] Chakotay's actor Robert Beltran said changing a lead character mid-season was unusual for the Star Trek franchise,[43] though Taylor believed it was typical for a show in its later seasons.[44] Media outlets believed Harry Kim's actor Garrett Wang was going to be replaced instead, but was kept due to his appeal to a specific demographic and his 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."[45] Berman and Taylor choose to remove Kes since they felt the character was not properly developed over the course of the show.[44] Executive producer Brannon Braga regarded this decision as a "failure of imagination on the writers’ part".[46] Braga requested freelance writer Bryan Fuller develop the concept for Kes' departure.[47][48] Receiving a positive response during a pitch meeting,[49] Fuller helped to rewrite the character's final episode "The Gift".[47] He said he had "really bonded" with Kes during the episode's production.[49] Juliette Harrison of Den of Geek! listed her 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.[50]

Producers invited Lien to return for the episode "Fury" as they wanted to use her character "to move the story forward".[31] Berman said he promised the actress that the episode would be "a terrific story, and thus a good reason to bring Kes back".[51] Lien retained her "also starring" billing from season four.[52] 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.[51] 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.[31] Prior to the episode, Lien had stopped acting to pursue an associate degree in health. When discussing her approach, 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.[53]

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".[54] 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.[55][56] Screen Rant's Alexandra August wrote that Lien "did her best with what she was given" though felt the actress could not make the character "dynamic" enough.[57] Kes' removal in season four was praised by critics, who believed the character was poorly developed.[58][59] Describing Kes as "forgettable", Chris Snellgrove of Screen Rant cited her as an example of how certain characters were underused.[60] Other contributors for the publication felt Kes had potential if storylines further exploring her short lifespan and mental powers.[57][61] August wrote that Kes was "an interesting character on paper",[57] and Thompson cited the Ocampa as one of the more fascinating species introduced on Star Trek: Voyager.[61] Larry Bonko of The Virginian-Pilot was disappointed by Kes' exit, as he felt the character "gave the series heart".[62]

Kes' relationship with Neelix was the subject of frequent criticism.[63][64][65] Matt Wright of panned the couple as "borderline gross",[64] while Thompson cited them as having the worst chemistry on the series.[65] Thompson and Gizmodo's Tom Pritchard felt Kes would benefited as a character without Neelix.[63][65] August was critical of the frequency in which Kes' storylines revolved around her love life.[57] On the other hand, Thompson praised Paris' attraction for Kes as "a good setup relationship to guide him into being a better and more responsible man for B'Elanna".[65] Kes' relationship with Tuvok received a mixed response.[66][67][68] During her review of the episode "Cold Fire", Green praised their bond as striking a "balance between her youthful optimism and his mature logic".[67] August wrote their "mutual respect for and a natural curiosity about one another" could lead to an ideal romance if Tuvok was not already married.[68] Alternatively, English literature professor David Greven criticized the characters' difference in race and age as uncomfortably similar to Uncle Tom's friendship with Little Eva in the 1852 novel Uncle Tom's Cabin.[66]

Critics had a mixed response to Kes' 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.[69][70] On the other hand, Writer David A. McIntee criticized the elogium as a poorly-done metaphor for puberty, PMS, teenage pregnancy, abortion, and menopause.[71] Commentators questions the plausibility of an Ocampa woman only giving birth once as it would cause an inevitable decrease in the specie's population.[72] Kes' return for "Fury" received negative feedback from reviewers, who found her characterization to be disappointing.[73][52][74] 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' change in morality.[73] Trek Today's Edward James Hines felt it would difficult to watch previous episodes with the knowledge that "[Kes'] levelheaded, peaceful, inquisitive demeanor is only setting itself up for a terrible shock down the line".[52] August criticized the writers for "undermining [the character's] entire journey after leaving Voyager" to "capitalize on a demonized Kes".[74] Trek Today contributors questioned why the episode did not change the timeline further, such as Janeway and Tuvok's inaction in changing Kes' future decline.[52][75]



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