Sunday, January 31, 2021

Character Damage Control: Kes

If you know me or if you've read this blog for long enough, you know that I love Star Trek. I have since I was a little kid and even though most of what the franchise has crapped out lately has been...well, crap-I still enjoy the older series nonetheless.

I have a friend who also is a big fan of the franchise and at least once a day will send me a text message with a question or comment about an episode or something from the franchise because he knows I'm big enough of a savant that without context, I'll know precisely what he's talking about.

"Star Trek: Voyager premiered on January 16, 1995 and ran until May 23, 2001 across seven seasons and 168 episodes, four of which are feature-lengthed."

Recently he completed what one might call "A Trek Through Trek" and re-watched all episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation, after quickly moved onto Star Trek: Voyager. A lot of the times we'll talk about how we would improve on an episode or expand on ideas that began in it.

We agree that characters not named "Janeway" "Seven of Nine" or "The Doctor" didn't get enough character development and that there was always more that could have been done with them. So one day we started doing some brainstorming about how we would improve one character from Voyager and more importantly, how she departed the show.
That character was Kes.

Like a lot of the Voyager crew, she was introduced in the pilot episode, "Caretaker". We see that she's a prisoner of the Kazon-Ogla on her homeworld, one of the Kazon sects in that part of the Delta Quadrant where Voyager becomes stranded.

It's a bit of a long story so I'll try to summarize it as best I can: 500 generations ago, Kes' people, the Ocampa, had strong psychic and mental abilities. However after some advanced alien technology nearly destroyed their atmosphere, the planet has virtually become a desert & is now incapable of producing rain.
The Ocampa begin living underground and are protected by an entity known as The Caretaker-one of the aliens who was responsible for the damage to the atmosphere. They become so dependent on the Caretaker that the Ocampa eventually lose the cognitive abilities to the point where they've become fabled at best and considered exaggerations at worst.

I, too, know what it's like to live underground but admittedly not this nice

Another thing to know about the Ocampa is that they don't have a very long lifespan; they live only nine years and Kes was only a year old when she was rescued by her Talaxian boyfriend, Neelix, and the crew of Voyager. We later find out that the Caretaker is dying and that he's leaving the Ocampa an energy surplus to last them for five years. Once that's gone they'll be forced to the surface and he knows they won't survive.
Kes was always curious and decided to go to the surface but she was captured and became a slave to the Kazon.

Go to 'Epstein Alert'!

First off, congratulations if you made it this far; I know me talking about Star Trek isn't the most fascinating thing out there. However, I think know what you're thinking: The Kazon-Ogla have these things called "starships". Why are they on a desert planet trying to get to water that's kilometers beneath the surface when they can just MOVE to another planet that has water?
Neelix explains this in the pilot.

The Ocampa planet was originally going to be named "Arizona".

So because of those deposits, the Kazon-Ogla use that as barter to get what they want.
So the pilot ends, Kes and Neelix decide to stay onboard with the crew on their 75 year journey back to Earth.

Kes stays on the ship, eventually starting a hydroponics bay and also becoming the ship's nurse as well as an advocate and friend to The Doctor, who is a hologram.
Along the way, those cognitive abilities that were previously mentioned begin to develop in her. She can move things with her mind, sense things throughout the ship. And in the latter half of the third season she even got a new haircut.

Down, boys, she's only three years old. 

However...all that changed with Season 4.
I don't know the specific details, I don't know if there were any backstage problems with Jennifer Lien, the actress who played Kes, nor do I know if she ever saw this coming. Only the people who were there know the truth.

When you've been bumped from the main credits into a post-intro "Also Starring" credit, it's no surprise as to who's leaving the show.
In the second episode of Season 4, Kes' powers were growing faster than she could control them. She was not only a danger to herself but the crew and she decides to leave. She escapes in a shuttle but as she does so, she has one final gift for the crew. Using her abilities she propels Voyager almost ten-thousand lightyears in a matter of seconds.

Now you'd think that's the last we'll see of Kes but you'd be surprised. She turns up in the Season 6 episode "Fury" and...well, that's an appropriate title.
The years were not kind to Kes and she wasn't kind to Voyager in return.

In this episode, Kes returns to the ship bent on revenge. She uses her abilities combined with the power of the warp core to go back in time to when Voyager was still new to the quadrant and return her and her younger self to their home-world and sell out the crew to a species of organ harvesters.

So older Kes ends up getting killed and now the younger Kes has knowledge that one day she'll leave the ship and come back later seeking revenge. So now that her Janeway & Tuvok know this, they've taken preemptive action in this new timeline in the hopes that they can stop her. They use a holographic recording to make older Kes reconsider her actions
It works and Kes decides that she will make the journey back to Ocampa.
"Organ harvesting? Come on, just hit the Self-Destruct and run like hell!"

This is an episode that has a good idea-the return of Kes-but a bad execution.
She shouldn't be bent on revenge. If anything she should have been thankful to Janeway and the crew for letting her go because of the risk she posed to everyone.

So how would my earlier-mentioned friend and I have handled Kes and given her a proper ending?
Well, let's go back to "The Gift" in season 4. She's getting ready to leave the ship. Destruction is imminent, explosions are all around them. And what's worse, they can't get to the shuttlebay.
"That's coming out of your allowance, young lady!"

This is where Kes' now ex-boyfriend, Neelix will come in. He'll tell them to take his ship and tell Kes that it'll be, "Something to remember me by."

So as Kes uses her powers to propel Voyager across Borg space, she also uses them to get back to Ocampa and we see that things are not going well at all. The energy surplus that the Caretaker left the Ocampa with is dwindling quicker than realized and the Kazon-Ogla are stepping up their attempts to get to her people. She can also sense how frightened her people are because they know they can't protect themselves.

This is where Kes really unleashes a fury. I don't know a lot about science admittedly, but I'm going to say that she becomes so powerful that she's able to fix the damage the Caretaker & his people did to the Ocampan atmosphere and now rain starts to fall on the entire planet.

The Kazon-Ogla are initially puzzled but pleased as now they have water but quickly this turns into a massive storm that is threatening their safety. All of a sudden, a booming voice, that of Kes, is heard over the surface of the planet. She warns all of them to leave as this storm will continue up until they've all left or died and to let everyone know that this planet belongs to Ocampa and that she is now their new Caretaker.
With the Kazon now gone, she makes herself known to her people and begins to help them develop the abilities that their ancestors once possessed and that she now has in abundance.
Her gift is that of an angry God.

And that's how I would have handled Kes. I know that after giving her an ending like that in season 4 there's not much room to return in later seasons but at the same time, there'd be no need. Her story was complete; she was someone who didn't want to live underground, she wanted to see the sky and eventually got to see so much more than that. Now that she had seen all of that she would want to share that same gift with her people.

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