Monday, August 13, 2012

Wow! Star Trek: Voyager Gets Unspeakably Bad With "Warlord!"

The Good: Jennifer Lein's acting
The Bad: Everything else, seriously.
The Basics: When Kes is possessed by an out-of-date warrior . . . oh, who cares?!

Consistency is not one of the hallmarks of Star Trek: Voyager. As the series floundered in its aimless third season, it became clear that the producers did not have much of a game plan for the show or many of its characters. Following an impressive two-part episode, it appears the writers were tapped out, because they resorted to one of the tried and true stories in the Star Trek franchise; the bodyswap/psychic invasion story. This could be "Generic Trek Plot #5," and in the hands of Star Trek: Voyager, with the episode "Warlord," it sure feels that way.

While Voyager aimlessly meanders home, it encounters a damaged ship with the Ilari leader Tieran, a deposed leader who dies shortly after Voyager encounters his ship. Voyager brings his wife and body back to the homeworld, where Kes soon begins acting up. Kes beams down to the planet where she begins to assemble Tieran's old armies and essentially attempts a coup on the peaceful, unified government. It becomes evident immediately that Kes is housing Tieran's mind and he's pretty much only suited for wartime thinking. He poses a danger to Kes . . . and his entire planet.

If the beginning sounds awfully familiar, it ought to be to Star Trek fans. The episode is structured so similarly to Star Trek Deep Space Nine's "The Passenger" (reviewed here!) that one might have guessed the creative staff simply went through the old script and changed the names. All right, it might not be that much of a rip off, but it certainly feels that way. Star Trek did similar episodes, including its series finale, Star Trek: The Next Generation did the same thing with an ambitious episode called "Power Play" (reviewed here!) and so did Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

The problem with a possession story is that it has to hold the interest of the viewer and it cannot be based solely on the reversal, the understanding that a character is possessed. If it is to hold up over multiple viewings, it needs to be able to make a statement that brings the viewer back more than once for more than the simple novelty of "Hey, look what X-character is doing!" Unfortunately, "Warlord" does not do that. We get the reversal, it comes up early and it just feels cheap. Perhaps it feels especially cheap because the writers use the opportunity to have Kes kiss another woman in one of the least erotic kisses in the Star Trek franchise. Usually, a lesbian kiss, like the one in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine's "Rejoined" (reviewed here!) is worth a few extra share points, some attention and some boycotts by Southern affiliates. "Warlord's" kiss merited none of that.

A large part of the problem is the "simple problem, simple solution" mentality of the episode. Kes is possessed by Tieran and when the time comes to try to expel him, the result is ridiculously simple and uncomplicated. Usually, I'm pretty careful about not ruining the end, but let me just say the ease with which Tieran is defeated is ridiculous. It's almost a wonder the writers bothered to infest Kes at all when the solution is essentially to yell "Hey Kes!" and she gets control back.

Beyond that, the problem extends to the fairly typical "possession" story problem which is that the episode fails to enhance any character on the show. Instead, the episode is hijacked by Tieran's story and it's not a terribly interesting one. Tieran was a warlord who is unable to live in peaceful society. Okay. We get that; now what about the rest of forty-three minute show? Oh, he's going to do his same old "I'm a warrior" thing like when he was a warlord. Meh. It inspires one to switch the channel.

The problem, of course, is that Tieran is an issue and not a character. He appears on the show to make a social statement about the role of the military in a peaceful society, a point made almost a decade prior on the far better Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Hunted" (reviewed here!). The episode, which could have been about Kes fails to be and instead it simply degenerates into mush, like so many episodes of Star Trek: Voyager.

And more than not advancing any of the regular characters from Star Trek: Voyager, the actors seem pretty bored throughout much of the episode, like they know its a plot that has been done to death and this is doing nothing terribly new for the show or the franchise. The performances a lackluster and none of the guest cast stands out as even remotely interesting or independent of this particular plotline.

The only reason I ever go back to this episode is to see Jennifer Lein. This is one of the last episodes Kes was highlighted in and I found I missed them, so I would go back and watch any of the episodes she appeared in, no matter how bad they were. This one is probably the worst one to focus on her. Lein does a fine job with her performance, though there is not much she's called upon to do other than yell and strut around looking angry. She pulls it off fine, though it's not the superlative performance of her career.

In short, there's not enough to entertain even novices to science fiction/fantasy and certainly not enough to keep the attention of seasoned veterans, nor those who are more into straight dramas. No, "Warlord" is best left on the shelf to cover dust until one has forgotten about it, an episode even distance cannot intrigue a viewer to watch again.

[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!


For other Star Trek reviews, be sure to check out my Star Trek Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2007 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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