Star Trek: Voyager: Warlord   Rewatch 
June 29, 2017 4:03 AM - Season 3, Episode 10 - Subscribe

Hear now the decrees of Kes the Unconquerable, Kes the Immortal, Kes the Dread Lord of All! All subjects shall grow gardens! All Talaxians are to be forcibly deported to the offworld colonies! The infirm, the foreign, and the telepathic shall be heavily taxed! And all statuesque Nordic ex-Borg women are to be put to death immediately, that the Dark Prophecy may never come to pass!

Bow down before Memory Alpha the Infinite!:

- The initial idea for this episode, as suggested by writing partners Mark Gaberman and Andrew Shepard Price, involved Kes being unwillingly possessed by the spirit of an antagonist. "They pitched the concept of Kes being inhabited by this warrior spirit," reflected Lisa Klink, "and having to do battle with him in her own mind, which seemed like a great thing to do with Kes, who is the least warrior-like character you could think of."

- This episode features three past and future Star Trek: Deep Space Nine guest stars. Galyn Görg previously played Korena in "The Visitor", Brad Greenquist later played Krit in "Who Mourns for Morn?" and Leigh J. McCloskey went on to portray an illusory Joran Dax in "Field of Fire".

- Lisa Klink believed this episode was notable for concentrating on its villainous characters. "You spent the whole episode with the bad guys," she observed, "who were shooting each other and stabbing each other in the back."

- The role of the Tieran-possessed Kes in this episode took actress Jennifer Lien into unfamiliar territory. "I've never played any role quite like that before," she commented, "but I enjoyed being so strong and determined." Lien's unusual demeanor was the subject of some well-intentioned teasing, during this episode's production period.

- This episode introduces a holographic program of the Paxau Resort that continues to recur throughout the season, subsequently appearing in "The Q and the Grey", "Macrocosm", "Alter Ego", "Blood Fever", "Darkling", and "Before and After".

- While controlled by Tieran, Kes ends her relationship with Neelix. Even after Kes is restored, the couple's relationship never recovered and ultimately ends somewhere between the Season 3 episodes "Unity" and "Darkling", the latter of which involves Kes enjoying a brief relationship with Zahir. Neelix actor Ethan Phillips recalled, "In 'Warlord,' when Jennifer is taken over by that... other character and that character wants to do away with Neelix, it was our breaking up. And when she comes out of that place, she held onto that direction of not needing Neelix any more. The experience of being possessed broke us up. And we never really had a goodbye." Phillips also related, "The breakup itself, I thought, was muddy. Did they or did they not break up after 'Warlord'? We never got any closure on it. She was possessed by somebody and under a great deal of stress, and that's when her real feelings came out. That's OK, but there was no closure to let you know if she meant what she said when she was possessed." Additionally, Phillips remarked, "When we broke up, there was not any kind of an acknowledgment by the writers of that. And I remember approaching them and saying I really think that they deserve their closure. And their feeling was, 'No, let's just drop it, let's move on.'" Although the break-up itself is never shown, a scene scripted for "Fair Trade" but later deleted was to have brought further closure to the relationship.

"I know all about your life. I know about your suffering. It doesn't justify what you've become. You're a monster, Tieran, and I have no compassion for you."

- Kes, to Tieran in her mind

"I can't help wondering whether I could have fought harder."
"It was your absolute refusal to surrender which defeated him. You cannot ask more of yourself than that."

- Kes and Tuvok

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

- Kes and Tuvok

Poster's Log:
This one recalls DS9 in a couple of ways (the plot, as MA notes, resembles the Bashir/Rao Vantika plot, and Kes wears something right outta the Intendant's warlord-wardrobe). Likewise, the consciousness-transference hook puts "Warlord" very much in the category of VOY episodes that feel TOS-y, which hasn't always worked out in the past (but moreso for this show than when TOS was even more slavishly imitated by *gulp* TNG season one).

But what makes this one a solid outing IMO is the fact that they gave the story to Kes, then focused on her for most of the running time. I've seen other "body snatcher episodes" where there were too many scenes with the non-body-snatched allies trying to solve the problem, when what the audience really wants is more time with the body-snatcher/snatchee! Smart writing, in that regard. Likewise, pitting Evil-Kes against Tuvok makes for a good bit of tension. So as far as I'm concerned, "Warlord" ranks highly among the various Cast-Regular-Turned-Evil Trek episodes.

Looking ahead, Ethan Phillips is totally right above where he says the end of Kes and Neelix's relationship happened in a muddy fashion. On my recent rewatch of "Darkling," I was like, "Wait, the breakup happened already? Did we skip something?", and this is like my third time through the series. This muddiness actually has ramifications later, in that the show's creators attribute the decision to axe the Kes character in part on their own clumsy handling of the Kes-Neelix relationship.

Poster's Log, Supplemental:
Maybe it's just me, but I was completely floored to learn that Joran #2 is the same actor as Tieran.

The TVTropes name for this variety of body-snatching is Grand Theft Me.
posted by CheesesOfBrazil (11 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
So, I've started to watch the new Netflix show GLOW. (Slight spoilers for the first scene of the first episode; it's relevant, I promise.) It starts off with Alison Brie's character talking to someone about how her family started and built up this business, and no one is going to take it away from her; pretty standard the-line-must-be-drawn-here monologue. Then it's revealed that the character is actually auditioning for a part, and moreover, is reading the guy's part, because it's got more (well, any) meat to it; the part that she's actually auditioning for is the guy's secretary, and the entirety of the part is "Your wife is on line 2." One of the themes of GLOW is that, as horrible as most of the wrestling stereotypes that the women assume are, they're still better than the vast majority of the sort of parts that are available to them in capital-A acting gigs.

So Jennifer Lien gets to do something with a lot more heft than empathetic space pixie nurse, and boy does she sink her teeth into it. I nearly got out a stopwatch app to see if she literally got more time in scenes than she has in the series to date put together, because it seemed like it. Not only does she seem to be enjoying herself quite a lot in general, there seemed to be a bit of an edge in her break-up scene with Neelix. (That may be my own internal biases at work, but when she told off Neelix for his chronic jealousy, I was like, fuck yeah, preach it sister!) And, yeah, it does say something about the series and its own inherent biases that the body-hopping warlord is male; there's no real reason why Tieran couldn't have been female, except for the implicit titillation of the gender swap. (For all of its many faults, it's interesting that the new season of Game of Thrones is going to be dominated by strong women, some of whom have taken direct power.) The network even used the promise of the Depraved Bisexual in its promo for the episode. Stay classy, UPN! Although I will say that Lien also sells that I-will-get-down-in-a-threesome-with-you-two-and-you-will-enjoy-it-because-I-say-so entitlement of Tieran's. There's even some hints that there might be lingering aspects of Tieran's personality left in Kes, and that the reset button would not necessarily be employed, although sadly she won't be on the series long enough to really work with that.

Other things: I thought that the political aspects of Tieran's takeover of the planet were well portrayed, with him cutting deals and making strategic alliances in a, well, very Game of Throne-ish fashion. I was kind of amused by Leigh J. McCloskey doing another part in which he tries to tempt a young woman who he's currently possessing in a sinister seductive manner. (Lean over her shoulder, whisper in her ear: haven't you always secretly wanted this?) And even though it's not a great episode for B'Elanna in which her role is mainly to show up in a bathing suit, it was nice to see her flip that fanservice right around.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:22 AM on June 29, 2017 [3 favorites]

This weeks d'oh: the actual promo for "Warlord."
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:43 AM on June 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

Growing up watching Voyager I loved Kes. On this rewatch, she hasn't really stood out to me, and despite the awe and admiration for Jennifer Lien on these threads, I haven't been impressed by the acting either.

This is the first episode she has really intrigued me, and she impressed both as an actress and as a character.
posted by 2ht at 9:50 AM on June 29, 2017

Particle of the Week: Didn't notice any. I was too distracted by Jennifer Lien being awesome.
Pointless STO Comparison of the Week: Kes' abilities as wielded by Tieran actually mirror how psychic races tend to work in the MMO: some minor offense, defense against ambushes and so on. Everything Tieran did to his subordinates here would actually fit right into the game.

Ongoing Counts: Rolling forward again.
* Maximum Possible Photon Torpedoes: 23.
* Shuttles: Down 3.
* Crew: 143.
* Other: 47 bio-neural gelpacks remaining, maybe 25-50% of the escape pods should be gone at this point.
* Credulity Straining Alpha Quadrant Contacts: 8.
* Janeway's Big Red Button: 2 aborted self-destructs, 1 successful.

* I like this one.

I have less to say about this one because I feel like it really clicked. I like Jennifer Lien's work a whole lot on rewatch, I wanted her to get more stories: here she is, having a whole show basically to herself.

But what makes this one a solid outing IMO is the fact that they gave the story to Kes, then focused on her for most of the running time. I've seen other "body snatcher episodes" where there were too many scenes with the non-body-snatched allies trying to solve the problem, when what the audience really wants is more time with the body-snatcher/snatchee! Smart writing, in that regard. Likewise, pitting Evil-Kes against Tuvok makes for a good bit of tension. So as far as I'm concerned, "Warlord" ranks highly among the various Cast-Regular-Turned-Evil Trek episodes.

Agreed. I feel like that's a really good observation: we got just enough B-plot to have an idea of what was going on, then right back to the interesting side of the story. (Since we already more or less know what Janeway and the gang are going to do.)

I also wanted her to dump Neelix, and we've got that going on too. The circumstances of it are indeed muddy, and I think Ethan Phillips was right about it wanting closure later, but the scene itself was pretty good.

I think my favorite scene with their internal battle was Tieran mandating gardens for all of his people because he 'loved plants.' I also loved Tuvok's advice that an experience like this would stick, but that Kes would be able to learn and grow from it. That was a shockingly healthy perspective from this show.

About the gender dynamics:

Although I will say that Lien also sells that I-will-get-down-in-a-threesome-with-you-two-and-you-will-enjoy-it-because-I-say-so entitlement of Tieran's.

I agree with the critique of this, and the promo is especially cringeworthy. The other thought I had about it though - I got the impression it wasn't Tieran's first time in a female host. He was entirely too comfortable in Kes for it to all be new, IMO. I thought that was interesting, even though they went with the whole Depraved Bisexual thing.

* The club stuff in the opening was sort of dire, but not because of Neelix.

Well, okay... seeing Neelix's face in the opening couple seconds of the episode will haunt me for the rest of my life. However, the rest of it showed off more human cultural centrism - like, they couldn't just hang out at the stuffy Talaxian club, they had to Earth it all up.

No real complaint or anything there, just thought it was interesting to see it laid out so explicitly: 'we don't like this, we want it to be Earth-like.' (I mostly find it strange in that it doesn't seem to go with the kind of people who would become explorers - like, I get wanting stuff to be like home sometimes, but it seems like people who want to seek out new life and new civilizations would be fascinated by other cultures in a way that the Voyager crew aren't.)

Anyway, sorry for the late and comparatively short post, but like I said: I pretty much just enjoyed this. My only real complaint is that I wanted Jennifer Lien to stick around longer on the show itself.
posted by mordax at 9:33 AM on June 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Interesting episode, more so even in rewatch than on first viewing. They really let Lien go all out in this one. It has to be one of the most over the top performances they've done for the series, and purposeful rather than miscalculation I think. I think Lien is pretty good with this overall, some really fine moments, lot's of variation in character and effect, although there were also some moments where Lien's vocal control isn't quite up to the task, being a bit off from the effect sought in those few moments, but that's not at all uncommon for many screen actors.

Some of the interesting elements of the show are, first, in terms of the series overall, each time they have an episode centered primarily around Kes, it's one where she has lost control or otherwise isn't "normal" Kes as we'd think of her in her usual state with the crew. Her three big episodes so far are the pregnancy scare one, where she loses control of herself, the one where she parbroils Tuvok and isn't able to control her mental abilities entirely, while also fighting the desire to be something more than she is via Suspiria's Ocampan lackey pushing her towards leaving, and this one, where she once again loses control of herself only to regain it in the end as before.

This suggests, in part, that they never really had a handle on her character to begin with, having nothing much to do for her in her normal state, so they have to keep finding new ways to "make her interesting", which is, if true, more than a bit of a failing both in the initial development of the show, which we've talked about a great deal before, and also a failing in the way they view the series or sci-fi or women or all of the above, that they required some sort of abnormality to make her character interesting rather than simply examining her unique characteristics and perspective more, being only two-four years old and, presumably able to take in information and adapt quickly given the nature of her race, and simply in being a generally kind and concerned character, but one who isn't afraid to challenge herself or others.

They likely failed in part due to not being able to think of good reasons to get her more involved on away missions or whatnot, but that's pretty weak given how loose they are with credibility in those circumstances anyway, and even weaker once she became the mobile medic for the crew. It mostly seems like they just couldn't find a voice for the character, which is why "all of the above" seems a pretty reasonable answer for their failings.

That's the larger series issue, one which they do improve on a bit in many ways with Seven, but also show their biases more clearly too. The more interesting aspect of this particular episode, from my perspective, is in how it can be read as a sort or meta-commentary on Kes's time on Voyager, particularly in regards to Tuvok and Neelix. It's an episode about Kes and what she's had to deal with thus far, told by analogy in a sense.

From this perspective, the break-up with Neelix, rather than being underplayed, is the animating event of the episode, where his jealousy and desire to control is balanced against Tuvok's lessons in finding her own strength, played out via Tieran. So the episode opening in Neelix's sexy holoprogram getting a footjob, which others have rightly noted as containing some Earth-centric elements also crucial to getting a read on the ideology of the show, sets the stakes for what is to come, which is then played out further by Kes breaking up with Neelix before we know she's been taken over by Tieran. In that way, the Tieran takeover reads as consequence of her breakup in a structural sense and can be seen as Kes working through some of the emotions associated with Neelix and her time working with Tuvok.

Who can Kes be? Who is she now? What is it that she wants? These things play out, in a way, through her embodiment by Tieran, where his attempts to control her echo that of her complaints about Neelix's jealousy and, obviously, fit our own history of understanding their relationship. Tieran's interest in different partners fits the tone of Neelix's holoprogram and Kes's mention of not having had any partner other than Neelix, something that should also fit our thinking about her character's history on the show, especially regarding Paris perhaps.

At the same time, Tieran's desire to control, his use of her largely unused and underexplored powers might suggest Kes's confusion over her strength and desires viewed in part through her work with Tuvok, and thus the importance of Tuvok's roll in her freeing herself from Tieran's control. The internal battle between Tieran and Kes might be seen as much as simply that of Kes at war with herself, save for the story devices regarding the planetary politics. (What is the deal, by the way, with Voyager constantly using really small numbers to suggest huge forces or movements? Tieran led a 400 person army and was regarded as a major threat? 400 people? C'mon... This isn't the first time for this sort of thing either, planets in Voyager seem to hold no more than a few thousand people most of the time judging from their weird claims of damage, populations and so on. Their idea of scale is downright nutty.)

The episode works well for me because Kes's battle with Tieran fits so well with what we've seen, or actually haven't much seen, from or about her throughout the show. The quote about Kes being the "least warrior-like" character points, in a way, to why her finding her strength, which we did see in the premiere episode, can work as an analogy, even if that wasn't entirely the intent. Tieran's anger, his feeling of injustice being done to him, his open sexuality, and his attempts at compromise and negotiation can all be seen as having parallels for Kes, where the "good" ones are those of the Kes we've seen, and the "bad" ones are those of Kes seeking to find something more for or of herself. The end of the episode, as was also pointed out earlier, provides a way to bridge the divide and allow Kes both the considered kindness we've always seen while making way for further growth in areas only touched on before.

Whether one buys all that or not, I think it's a solid episode either way as even if those suggestive elements are ignored, the story literally plays out the dilemma, making it true for the character even if only as seen as inhabited by another.
posted by gusottertrout at 12:46 AM on July 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I buy your interpretation, gus, to the extent that it is a coherent and intriguing lens through which to interpret this particular episode. And I would buy it as an overall character arc (intentional on the part of the writers or not) if we ever got any clear indications of Kes's newfound strength in the episodes that follow this one. Even the breakup with Neelix (an indication of strength, I think it's fair to say) is totally elided; it was more unfair to Lien than Phillips that they did that. She spends most of the latter part of the season almost as an extra—right around the point where her hair goes down so they don't have to do her ear makeup as often. Which is, as has been amply discussed, unfortunate. (The ball-dropping with the character, not the new hair. I like the new hair.)
posted by CheesesOfBrazil at 3:36 AM on July 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, sure, it is yet another time they throw some interesting character ideas out there and then more or less abandon them, preferring to stick more to their individual takes on the franchise, some for the good of course, but not always so great as a path to a coherent whole. Kes's departure and return though carry some further suggestion of her inner struggle, but we'll get to that in time.
posted by gusottertrout at 5:00 AM on July 3, 2017

They likely failed in part due to not being able to think of good reasons to get her more involved on away missions or whatnot, but that's pretty weak given how loose they are with credibility in those circumstances anyway, and even weaker once she became the mobile medic for the crew. It mostly seems like they just couldn't find a voice for the character, which is why "all of the above" seems a pretty reasonable answer for their failings.

Heh. Well said. (And fascinating essay overall, thank you.)
posted by mordax at 9:09 AM on July 3, 2017

Ongoing Counts: Rolling forward again.
* Crew: 143.

Following the attack in the transporter room, Tuvok reports that Ensign Martin is dead.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 6:41 PM on January 13, 2018

I really like this episode. As a completely unthreatening woman I love it that sweet little Kes gets to be a scary badass. I was really excited when she dumped Neelix and bummed when it seemed to be the result of Tieran's possession. But they stay broken up so ... although it's more likely that Tieran wanted Neelix out of the way I'd like to think that there was a silver lining to Tieran's possession and that access to his strength, selfishness - and memories and knowledge*, possibly of better relationships - Tieran's been around for centuries and who says a warlord can't be a thoughtful SO - enabled her to see she needed to end it, and carry through.

[I'm not sure how this works exactly - if an alien warlord possesses you, do you have access to their memories?

Agree that it's weird that the crew wants to make Neelix's club more earth-like. I love steel drums but ... I'd expect at least some members of the crew to be as intrigued by other cultures (maybe even obsessed) as Tom is with 20th-century Earth. When Starfleet crewmembers go on shore leave they seem to go to resorts or stroll around. When I travel i want to find 1) museums and 2) food that I can't get at home. And if 3) I know the language I want to talk to locals. When you can apparently create a holodeck program for just about anything you know about already, I'd think there would be more curiosity and more of a drive to have new experiences.

Maybe if you're constantly having new experiences there's a need for the familiarity of home, especially if stranded far from friends and family with only a slim hope of seeing them again. But then wouldn't crew members create holodeck programs to simulate family gatherings or hanging out with friends ... at least in addition to sexy clubbing programs...
posted by bunderful at 7:36 AM on January 20, 2019

Right now, somewhere in 1996, Peter Jackson is watching this episode, noting the ridiculous prosthetic feet on Ethan Phillips, and saying to himself, “Yes. Yes! It can be done!”

As soon as they go to the opening credits, he starts making phone calls, and five years later, the world gets The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring.
posted by Naberius at 11:18 PM on June 9

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