Tuesday, September 11, 2012

So Long Kes, Hello Breasts! . . . Er, Seven Of Nine. "The Gift"

The Good: Moments of character, Jennifer Lein
The Bad: Jeri Ryan's initial acting
The Basics: Kes is written out in an episode that minimizes her transformation until the very end when her gifts are finally revealed!

As part of a transition between Jeri Taylor's vision of Star Trek: Voyager and Brannon Braga's version of the show, a transition needed to be made on-screen as well as behind-the-scenes. While the stated reason for getting rid of Jennifer Lein's Kes was the ridiculous notion that her make-up would have to be changed every three or four episodes given how the character was aging, it seems awfully coincidental that when Taylor was ousted as an executive producer, the only character removed from the show was the one she created. That meant that when Jeri Taylor was out, so too was Jennifer Lein.

Kes's departure from the series came in "The Gift," an episode that worked to make Seven Of Nine a more permanent member of the Voyager crew and lessen her full-Borg status. In other words, the point of the episode was to get rid of a character of substance and replace it with sex appeal. "The Gift" follows "Scorpion, Part II" (reviewed here!) and it almost immediately begins to do away with the idea that Borg space was so small that two episodes would find Voyager through it. As Voyager finds the Borg threat still very real, Seven Of Nine is made into less of a Borg and Kes is written out.

When Janeway cuts Seven Of Nine off from the Borg Collective, the alienated Borg begins to reject her Borg implants. As Annika Hansen's human DNA begins to reassert itself, her immune system begins to combat her Borg implants. After Kes exhibits extraordinary telekinetic powers, Janeway starts making the medical decisions for Seven Of Nine. In trying to remove the implants, Seven Of Nine comes close to dying and Kes starts to using her newfound abilities to disconnect Seven's failing technology.

As Seven Of Nine reluctantly aids Voyager in restoring the ship to optimal efficiency, Kes explores her new powers. Taking advantage of an opportunity to try to contact the Borg, Seven Of Nine reveals her duplicitous and obsessed nature and she is easily thwarted by Kes. Squaring off with Janeway, Seven Of Nine resists becoming human as Kes moves beyond being a simple Ocampa.

"The Gift" is an episode that is basically a series of excuses for Star Trek: Voyager. Kes was getting written out, so the entire Kes plot makes for a sensible exeunt for the character. Kes, though she makes a cameo in one future episode, is written out, essentially, as a god and that is very cool. The Star Trek franchise does not usually know what to do with superpowerful characters - like Wesley Crusher witlessly appearing in Star Trek: Nemesis after being granted godlike abilities in "Journey's End" (reviewed here!). The Kes half of the episode is interesting and worthwhile. In addition to including important scenes between Kes and the Doctor and Kes and Tuvok, "The Gift" devotes a few moments to a final real Kes and Neelix scene and that is refreshing.

The other half of the episode is less-than wonderful. First, the Borg technology continues to disrupt Voyager. Why this is occurring is not at all satisfactorily explained. The technology should be fine in Voyager and it would have been much more interesting on one level to leave Voyager enhanced. Given that the first thing Chakotay mentions being worked on is the removal of Borg armor on the hull, it seems like a cheap excuse to restore Voyager to its original configuration.

Second, the big purpose of the Seven Of Nine plot is to reduce her make-up. Seven Of Nine rejecting her Borg implants allows the character to shed her physical armor and walk around the rest of the series in a skintight catsuit with her breasts hoisted up. The make-up in "The Gift" actually is more noticeable in its changes on a high-definition television. I never noticed how subtle the changes in the make-up were before seeing the episode in HD and the make-up is a big part of the point of the episode.

Still, though, the character of Seven Of Nine makes little real sense. After a lifetime of being essentially a braindead drone, Seven Of Nine exhibits duplicity and cunning that are not at all characteristic of the Borg. Chakotay is quick to reveal that Annika Hansen was assimilated at a very young age and has only known life as a Borg. Given that, Seven Of Nine might reasonably want to return to the Borg, but the creative methods she employs do not "read" as right.

To try to salvage some of the ridiculous nature of the character, writer Joe Menosky creates an interesting philosophical difference between Janeway and Seven Of Nine. The result of their difference in opinion is that Janeway essentially takes Seven Of Nine in as her charge. While Kes is explicitly written out, "The Gift" is also the final nail in the coffin for Harry Kim's character. Watching the early seasons of Star Trek: Voyager, Janeway has an almost parental role in Harry Kim's life. That niche is now filled by Seven Of Nine and Harry Kim goes quietly as a result.

The special effects in "The Gift" are decent and the episode employs minimal effects. The make-up is better than in the prior episode and Kes's visions are very well-rendered. Director Anson Williams has a few visible issues on the basic lighting front (in the first act, there is a shot of Tuvok that looks like it was lit with the same lack of sophistication as most of "Encounter At Farpoint" was!).

Ultimately, "The Gift" is a "necessary evil" episode and given my love of Kes, it is impossible for me to entirely write the episode off. Kes gets a good exit and there are moments when Seven Of Nine is not horrible, making the episode worth watching, at the very least.

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


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

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

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