Thursday, August 30, 2012

All Good Kes’s . . . “Before And After”

The Good: Engaging concept, Decent execution, Decent performances
The Bad: Some of the make-up, Light on character development
The Basics: As Kes experiences her life backward from the moment of her death, Star Trek: Voyager creates an episode that becomes irksome to try to follow up on.

One of the few, best episodes of Star Trek: Voyager that I only saw in its first run before rewatching now as part of my current run through the series to review each episode was “Before And After.” Ironically, after seeing it only once fifteen years ago, I have now watched the episode four times within the course of twenty-four hours. “Before And After” is an episode I was very tempted to pan based on the continuity issues it has within the overall Star Trek: Voyager series, but the more I watched and rewatched the episode, the more I became truly convinced that the problem was not with “Before And After,” but with the fundamental changes that came with the show at the outset of the fourth season.

In many ways, “Before And After” is a prequel to the popular, yet utterly ridiculous fourth season episodes “Year Of Hell.” “Before And After” is the last true Kes episode for almost the entire series (she is featured in “Scorpion” at season’s end, but the Kes sendoff episode “The Gift” is robbed of truly being a Kes episode as it focuses a tremendous amount on Seven of Nine); her true swan song is in “Fury,” but “Before And After” is really the last episode with a recognizable Kes as protagonist. Ironically, as the “finale” of Kes, “Before And After” utilizes a similar technique to the Star Trek: The Next Generation series finale “All Good Things . . .” (reviewed here!).

Moments after an aged Kes is put in a bio-temporal chamber, she meets her grandson and begins a frustrating process of relearning experiences and about people in her life as she moves backward through time. Doctor Van Gogh, the EMH with hair, tells Kes that her end of life phase, the morelogium has set in and he came up with a revolutionary treatment which apparently had an odd side effect. But Kes’s husband, Tom Paris, quickly realizes that Kes is moving backward in time and he and Kes discover exactly how the process is working.

The result of a resurgence of chroniton particles in her system resurging following a disaster at the beginning of the Year Of Hell, Kes is set on a mission as she jumps back in time to find the specific temporal variance of the torpedo that corrupted her cells. In the process, Kes journeys through the years of Voyager under Captain Chakotay until she meets Janeway and continues slipping even further back in time! In each time, the Doctor begins radical procedures to try to save Kes’s life, but the timestream has different ideas for Kes!

Just as “Favorite Son” (reviewed here!) marks the end of the real trust between Harry Kim and Janeway, “Before And After” recharacterizes Janeway (in her very brief presences in the episode) as one who implicitly trusts Kes. Beyond that, the show is very consistent in the character aspects, largely because the episode keeps a pretty tight focus on Kes, Paris, and the Doctor. So, characters like Neelix as a security officer and Captain Chakotay are much more a novelty than actually-developed characters. The net result is “Before And After” feels a lot like an “alternate universe” style episode.

But “Before And After” works quite a bit better than most of the novelty alternate universe episodes because it gives Kes a clear mission and focus and there is a sensibility to both her shifts through time and the rectification of that mechanic. “Before And After” is an episode deeply concerned with consequences, which is something Star Trek: Voyager has problematically avoided being for much of its run. While it makes sense for Star Trek: Voyager to be serialized, the show avoided long arcs and enduring consequences (not to mention consistent extras for the background) supposedly because the executives did not want two serialized Star Trek series’ on the air at the same time. “Before And After” paints a different picture of Voyager, presenting large stretches of time where Chakotay is captain, the main computer has been virtually destroyed and the EMH was off-line for years.

While the make-up at the beginning of the episode on the aged Kes is a bit shaky, it is great for Kes’s daughter Linnis and grandson, Andrew. The make-up gets progressively better as Kes moves further back in time. “Before And After” also has some very cool effects with the appearance of the Krenim ships and their impressive armaments.

The real special effect in “Before And After” is Jennifer Lein’s acting. This is the episode where Lein illustrates just how incredible an actress she was and that makes her being replaced the next season in favor of the sex appeal represented by Jeri Ryan even more tragic. Lein plays the confusion of the older Kes masterfully and as she becomes younger, she infuses her performance with more energy and confidence, selling the “hook” of the episode exceptionally well.

Guest stars Jessica Collins (Linnis) and Chris Aguilar (Andrew) hold their own with the rest of the cast and Aguilar especially manages not to fall into any of the negative stereotypes of young actors. Collins has a moment to make Linnis actually seem vital as she has an emotional issue with her relationship with her son and Collins plays that one moment exceptionally well.

But ultimately, “Before And After” is a novelty episode and a simple one at that. As soon as Kes actually is given her mission, the attempt to achieve her goals becomes remarkably hassle-free and that does rob some vitality from the episode. Even so, “Before And After” is one of the hidden gems of the series and well worth a second, third, or more, viewing!

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Third Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the entire season here!


Check out how this episode stacks up against others by visiting my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2012 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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