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Star Trek: Voyager – Before and After (Review)

Before and After is an episode that should be more interesting than it ultimately is.

There is no small irony in the fact that the one future constant suggested by Before and After would be gone by the third episode of the following season, while the generic tone of the episode’s future flashes would prove entirely accurate. In some ways, Voyager was a paradox. It was generally quite professional and sleek, the show’s polished exterior seeming a little too lifeless and sterile at times. However, this was all an elaborate and well-rehearsed illusion. Behind the scenes, Voyager was a turbulent and chaotic piece of television.

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Those conversations and would tweak some of the future suggested by Before and After. Jennifer Lien would depart, and Kes would be retired. Jeri Ryan would be hired, and Seven of Nine would join the crew. Much like what had happened with Deep Space Nine, the planned third season cliffhanger would be thwarted and pushed into the fourth season to make way for a much more bankable story. On Deep Space Nine, Homefront and Paradise Lost were shunted for The Way of the Warrior. On Voyager, Year of Hell, Part I would be brushed aside for Scorpion, Part I.

At the same time, it was clear that Paramount was wary and uncertain of what the future might hold for the franchise. Viewing figures had begun a decline that would continue until the end of Enterprise. The writers on Deep Space Nine had been instructed by the studio to add an existing character and focus on the Klingons early in their fourth season, hoping to shore up viewers. Similar discussions were taking place behind the scenes on Voyager, with the network and producers looking to spice things up on the series.

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Of course, plans change. One of the more interesting aspects of Voyager is the relative stability of the show in spite of the chaos unfolding behind the scenes. The Star Trek franchise had just celebrated its thirtieth anniversary, a huge cultural milestone that cemented its place in popular culture. To many outside observers, things appeared to be relatively stable. Deep Space Nine and Voyager were both chugging along as though it were business as usual. Both shows would run to the end of their seven seasons without generating too much controversy.

Before and After seems set up to tease the looming two-parter Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. Of course, that two-parter developed from Brannon Braga’s fascination with the use of the phrase “Year of Hell” within Before and After. However, the version of events teased in Before and After is markedly different story than those which eventually unfold during the fourth season. According to David McIntee’s Delta Quadrant, the original plan was that Year of Hell, Part I would serve as the third season cliffhanger, setting up a rougher fourth season.

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There is an added layer of irony to the stable future of Before and After in that it demonstrates that Voyager is much more unstable than its own future claims to be. Before and After offers a fairly accurate glimpse into the future of Voyager, in that it promises that things will remain relatively stable and that nothing too major or shocking or traumatising will occur. However, the episode is built around the only lead character who will not remain on the show through to the broadcast of Endgame. As such, Before and After gets the big idea right, but misses the details.

Voyager seems to insist upon a stable status quo that will stretch from the present day towards eternity. The central point of Voyager is a single long journey from the Delta Quadrant towards the safe haven of the Alpha Quadrant. For that journey to seem compelling, there needs to be a sense of progress and change. Voyager might exist at the end of history, but the show has its own very clear end point. This is a show about people getting home, so there is something surreal in seeing a future where they appear to be exactly where they were when the show last left them.

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However, it is also revealing how little has actually changed over the intervening years. Before and After suggests that Voyager is a very reliable and consistent. Tuvok might be a “commander”, but he has not even swapped his gold uniform for a red costume. Kes is the lynchpin of what appears to be the ship’s only family unit. Nobody has changed their hair style, and no male characters have even bothered to grow beards. Indeed the EMH has even grown hair on the top of his head, hardly an indicator that time has passed.

Voyager‘s attitude towards the stability of the future is reflected in the fact that Before and After begins at the very end of the tale. The episode suggests that everything ends up working out reasonably well, that six years have not rendered Voyager unrecognisable. There is a recurring suggestion that the ship has continued on its present trajectory with no real changes. Despite aberrations like the “Year of Hell”, the ship and its crew have prospered. Kes has a family; Neelix has a uniform; there is now a implied to be a functioning medical staff on the ship.

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(This certain and stable should be contrasted with Star Trek: Enterprise. The first Star Trek show of the twenty-first century, Enterprise believed in a much less stable future reflecting the anxieties of the War on Terror era. Although Enterprise was technically a prequel, the show frequently suggested that even that long-established future was unstable and subject to changing temporal winds. In Enterprise, it seemed like the future hand become balkanised in episodes like Cold Front, Shockwave, Part I and Shockwave, Part II.)

Voyager has a very nineties perspective, rooted in the assumption that Western liberal democracy had emerged as the victor in a political battle royale. With the fall of the Berlin Wall, the future was safer than it had ever been before. The United States was the sole survivor superpower. There was very little indication that any of this would change. The relative peace and prosperity of the nineties seemed assured, promising a temporal continuity reflected in the stable futures that Voyager projected in episodes like Before and After, Relativity and Shattered.

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Then again, the dullness of the future in Before and After ties back into Voyager‘s recurring fascination with the future. Voyager is a very nineties television series, reflecting the attitudes and concerns of the decade. Most notably, the series seems to genuinely believe in “the end of history.” The show tends to treat the future as a relatively stable and fixed point, a destination that can be reached by proceeding on a straight line from the present. After all, Voyager latches on to the idea of a twenty-ninth century Federation protecting the timestream from manipulation.

Again, The Visitor is a useful counter-example here. The episode never delves too deeply into the particulars or the mechanics of what happens following the death of Benjamin Sisko. The Klingons take control of the station, and the Bajorans undergo a crises of faith; these ideas are suggested without being heavily dealt upon. The Visitor suggests the rich life that could take place between these time jumps, the dissolution of Jake’s marriage that takes place off-screen or the finer details of Jake’s literary career.

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This is a reasonable approach to writing. These references are all variations of Chekov’s Gun, and the audience would feel somewhat cheated if they did not get to see a few of these important beats play out on screen. After all, the “Year of Hell” proves to be particularly important in explaining why Kes is leaping through time and how she might possibly get back. At the same time, Before and After ties everything up far too neatly. There is never a sense that life continued on Voyager between Kes’ jumps through time, or that anything happened that wasn’t depicted on screen.

There is a lot of that over the course of the episode. Most notably, in the way that the story insists upon showing pretty much most events suggested by the early (or later) scenes. It is not enough for Paris to reference the “Year of Hell”, the episode must jump back into the middle of it. It is not enough for Chakotay to be Captain, the episode must depict the death of Kathryn Janeway. It is not enough for Paris to allude to the death of Torres, the moment must play out on screen. Even pictures and snapshots are treated as set-up to be inevitably paid off.

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Instead, Before and After condescends. It is as though the episode is afraid that audience will be too stupid to follow along or figure things out. As a result, the dialogue is overly-elaborate and heavy-handed. When Chakotay arrives in Sickbay, he is identified as “Captain” twice before speaking to Kes, ensuring that the audience knows how much has changed. When Paris arrives in Sickbay, he introduces himself by assuring the confused Ocampan, “Kes, it’s me, Tom. Your husband.” Nobody actually talks like that. Star Trek has never been naturalistic, but it is distracting.

Before and After‘s issue with exposition extends even beyond the techno-babble itself. Part of the pleasure of Before and After should lie in being thrown into the deep end of this potential future, trying to piece together all of the pieces to form a cohesive sense of what the future is actually like and how it relates to the present. Before and After should be mysterious and playful, teasing viewers with possibilities and probabilities while occasionally subverting expectations in interesting ways.

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It is worth contrasting the use of time travel on Deep Space Nine to the use of time travel on Voyager. In some ways, Before and After feels like an analogue to The Visitor. Both are stories about families affected by time travel, and about a traveller who is trying to get back home. However, The Visitor never gets bogged down in techno-babble in the same way that Before and After does. It understands that the core of the episode must be anchored in a relatable emotion. These stories do not connect because of actors spouting words, but because of their underlying power.

That is all absolute nonsense, designed to fill airtime by over-explaining a concept that is fairly absurd at face value. Delivering belaboured exposition about Kes’ time leaps does not make them any more plausible or logical, it just takes time away from what should be the focus of the episode. This is not just a dialogue problem. As with Favourite Son, the episodes that techno-babble to provide a rather bland and unsatisfying resolution. Kes’ ability to solve this problem hinges upon her ability to read three digits on the screen of a tricorder. It is not particularly compelling.

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Consider, for example, the repeated debates about the Kremin “chroniton torpedoes” that dominate the episode. “I’m detecting high level chroniton radiation in your cells,” boasts the EMH. “But Kes was inoculated along with the rest of the crew over three years ago,” protests Paris. “Yes,” acknowledges the EMH. “However, everyone was left with trace amounts of the radiation in their bodies. For some reason, those residual chronitons have reactivated in Kes.” Paris asks, “Why?” Kes responds, “The bio-temporal chamber.” The EMH agrees, “My thinking exactly.”

Unfortunately, Before and After is not especially interested in these big and interesting questions about time-shifting and memory. Instead, the episode gets bogged down in meaningless techno-babble and exposition, over-explaining everything to ensure that the audience is both up to speed and assured that there is some pseudo-scientific reasoning for what is happening. Despite the fact that Before and After is constructed around snapshots of Kes’ life, the episode effectively amounts to pages of meaningless dialogue about the Kremin torpedoes.

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After all, these were recurring concerns of the nineties. There are obvious parallels to be drawn between Kes’ jumping through time and a number of the decade’s cult hits. As she travels back in time, Kes repeatedly finds herself in strange situations with no idea of how she came to be there, recalling the central premises of movies as diverse as Dark City or Memento. There are any number of intriguing possibilities that Before and After could explore, using that central hook. After all, identity and continuity were recurring cultural fascinations in the nineties.

However, Before and After never does anything particularly smart with its time travel premise. Kes travels back through time, jumping from scene to scene without context or memory. As with Darkling or Favourite Son, there is a sense that the story might be able to tap into something fundamental about the nature of memory or identity through this device. Is Kes the sum of her memories? Can a person just slot into a particular social situation? Is life the result of choices made? Is continuity of self necessary for identity and is it disturbed by these leaps?

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For producer Kenneth Biller, the time travel elements of the script were among the most challenging and rewarding:

One of the writer’s favourite episodes, Before and After, has Kes (Jennifer Lien) travelling back to the time before she was born. “I like that one because it’s a pure high-concept science fiction show,” says Biller. “It really was a challenge to try to figure out the plot of that one and how to tell it backwards.”

This seems reasonable, given that time travel can be very difficult to properly plot in mechanical terms.

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However, there are a number of very serious issues with Before and After that undercut an episode that might otherwise have been a season highlight. These issues are very much part and parcel of Voyager in its third season, a result of how the Voyager writing staff have chosen to construct their scripts rather than problems unique to this particular story. Before and After might be the touching story of a life fully lived, but it is also very much a standard time travel episode. And that means techno-babble.

Although the production team had not decided to hire Jeri Ryan and release Jennifer Lien by the time that Kenneth Biller began working on Before and After, the episode feels very much like a fond farewell to the core premise of Kes and the potential inherent in her character. In an ideal world, Jennifer Lien would have been given the opportunity to play all of this growth over seven whole seasons. However, this is not an ideal world. Instead, Before and After offers snapshots of a life that might have been. The episode is surprisingly poignant in retrospect.

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Over the course of Before and After, the audience are invited to witness a life lived in miniature. The teaser opens with Kes approaching her death at the tender of age of nine, before she begins jumping randomly back in time. The result offers the sketch of a life well-lived. Kes becomes a wife and a mother, a doctor and scientist. She gets to watch her daughter grow up, and becomes a grandmother herself. She finds contentment, watching the people around her grow and evolve as time passes. Before and After distils the core premise of Kes down to one episode.

In some ways, the premise of Before and After feels like a pre-emptive eulogy for Kes. It is a very clear attempt to condense the core premise of the character down into a single episode, compressing what would otherwise have been a seven year arc into forty-five minutes of television. After all, this is Voyager. The show is far more interested in episodic storytelling than it is in serialisation. If Voyager were ever going to tell the story of Kes’ life, it would be more likely to do that within a single instalment than as part of a larger arc.

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Some of the writing staff were frustrated at the missed opportunity presented by Kes. In Braving the Unknown, Kenneth Biller contended that Kes was an intriguing and singular character in the ensemble:

I was a little bit regretful when Kes left the show, because I thought she was an interesting character to write for – from a science fiction standpoint – because she had certain… she had telepathic abilities, she had this very compressed lifespan, she had things about her character that often lent themselves to interesting storytelling [….] We lost something in losing the Kes character.

As such, it makes sense that Biller would write Before and After, a late third season episode that focuses on what makes Kes unique within the larger pantheon of Star Trek lead characters.

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Kes is one more element of Voyager‘s original promise to be cast out from the show as it was remodelled into a more archetypal and traditional Star Trek narrative. After all, there had never been a Star Trek character with a premise similar to that of Kes, but she would soon be evicted from the show to make room for what Brannon Braga has acknowledged as a “special science-fiction character like Spock or Data, the striving-to-be-human character.” Kes was just another unique aspect of Voyager removed to make room for something more generic.

Still, the loss of Kes represented the removal of one more thing that had made Voyager seem unique. Following the disastrous experiments with the Kazon and long-form storytelling in the second season, Jeri Taylor made a conscious decision to scrub away all of the bold and provocative aspects of Voyager, in favour of crafting a more generic Star Trek show. Any hint of Maquis conflict (or conflict in general) was stripped out, any suggestion of angst about the crew’s predicament was downplayed, any attempt at long-form storytelling downplayed.

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Years after the fact, Brannon Braga acknowledged that the concept of Kes proved too much for the writers working on the series:

To my recollection it was a creative decision and it was failure of imagination on the writers’ part. We were running out of things to do with Kes. We had to make room in the budget for a new character in the cast so there was a pragmatic reason but it was primarily a creative decision.

This is not a surprise. The third season of Voyager has a very weak writing staff, particularly when it comes to matters of characterisation and development.

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Reportedly, a number of candidates were considered, with various actors finding themselves facing the axe. Eventually, driven by a variety of factors both internal and external, the production team would settle upon Jennifer Lien as the actor who would have to leave. There were a number of details that contributed to that decision, but members of the production team have always been careful to frame it in the most creative of terms. Quite simply, the character of Kes had not worked and the writing staff could not conceive of a way to fix her.

As such, Kes was in a very precarious position towards the end of the third season, when various other concerns were aligning behind the scenes. The production team would add Seven of Nine to the primary cast at the start of the fourth season, and so had to adjust the budget accordingly. Unlike the production team on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the writers were not able to simply keep the existing cast and add an extra actor. Instead, tough decisions had to be made and one member of the primary cast would have to leave at the end of the third season.

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Kes’ age makes any romantic entanglement seem especially creepy. The relationship between Neelix and Kes was one of the most nauseating romances in the history of Star Trek. There are even elements of that in Before and After, when it is revealed that Harry Kim will start a family with Kes’ daughter Linnis. That is super creepy, especially considering that Kim has known Linnis since she was a baby. Even outside of relationships, the show’s attempts to sexualise Kes in episodes like Warlord or by putting her in a catsuit seem distasteful.

While Voyager has never quite capitalised upon the potential of Kes as a character, it has made a number of decisions that hobble her development. In terms of basic plotting, the details of Ocampan biology as outlined by Elogium make no sense. The Ocampans are apparently the Delta Quadrant equivalent of pandas, with a reproductive cycle that will (in the best case) cut their population in half with each generation; it also requires them to give birth standing up, which does not seem like a logical evolutionary advantage.

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As such, Kes was quickly forgotten. By the end of the third season, Kes should be approaching middle age. However, Voyager has shown little interest in having her grow up or develop. Kes is not really maturing, caught in a perpetual adolescence to the point that she is only experiencing the first hints of teenage wanderlust (and also just plain lust) in Darkling. The show does not seem particularly interested in treating Kes as a woman who should be approaching forty in Ocampan years; the third season has started putting Kes in catsuits designed to make her look sexier.

However, that was not to be. Early in the first season, it became clear that the writers were not particularly interested in developing or exploring the concepts baked into the premise. The most frequently cited example of this is the way that the Maquis were efficiently folded into the crew following Parallax. From its earliest episodes, Voyager seemed disinterested in what made the show distinct from its fellow Star Trek series. It squandered premise after premise as it whittled itself down to the most generic Star Trek show imaginable.

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Caretaker informed audiences that Ocampans only live nine years. Kes was almost two years old when she arrived on Voyager. As a result, the show’s seven-season run would allow Kes to live out her life to the full. The audience watching at home could watch Kes grow from a teenager into a young woman, to perhaps start a family or have a career or both, to age gracefully, and to eventually move on. It was a bold idea, the promise of a long-form narrative that would encapsulate an entire life in the space between the first and final episodes of the show.

Kes is a deeply flawed character, but an interesting concept. The Ocampans are a clever idea, in theory. They are very much a twisted reflection of the Vulcans, a race of pointy-earred aliens with latent telepathic abilities, albeit with a lifespan noticeably shorter than the lives of humans rather than much longer. Whereas the character of Spock lived long enough to serve as an ambassador to an entire generation of Star Trek shows set almost a century after his time on the Enterprise, Kes will most likely be dead by the end of Voyager.


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On paper, Before and After has all the ingredients for a stand-out episode of Voyager, playing to the spin-off’s interests and strengths. However, the episode ultimately becomes a showcase for the production team’s weaknesses.

In fact, Before and After weds these ideas together. It uses time-travel to chart a life lived, playing out Kes’ existence in reverse across forty-five minutes of television from her death through to her conception. This is a wonderful science-fiction concept, one that fits very neatly inside the series’ episodic format. In fact, the production team will employ something similar with Blink of an Eye during the sixth season, when a temporal quirk affords the crew the opportunity to watch an entire civilisation develop right in front of their eyes.

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The episode is packed with things that Star Trek: Voyager does relatively well. It is a time travel story, which is a subject of particular interest to the series and which results in some of the series’ best episodes like Future’s End, Part I, Future’s End, Part II and Timeless. It is also a high concept science-fiction idea that plays well as a metaphor for exploring the human condition, much like Remember used the concept of memories to explore holocaust denial and Distant Origin uses dinosaur aliens to comment upon creationism. Quintessential and archetypal Star Trek.

Before and After should be a slam dunk.

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10 Responses

  1. I think I am fonder of this episode than you are. For me, it is just so silly and fast paced that it ends up being fun. The audience never really has much time to breathe before some other zany thing is happening, and in a season that has been so slow and dull for much of the time, this episode felt like a breath of fresh air. Much the same way, later Voyager episodes, Relativity and Shattered, are. I do think it suffers, however, from being a bit too much of a poor man’s version of All Good Things, but since Voyager is a poor man’s version of TNG, it doesn’t hurt the episode too badly in my opinion.

  2. I have to say I liked this episode quite a bit more than you. It’s flawed certainly but I think it did have some genuine emotional beats that, of course this being Voyager weren’t returned to. It does make me baffled as to why Kes was dropped when the supremely useless Harry Kim was kept on.

    Regarding the age factor, I’m not so sure its that much creepier that Sarek marrying a woman from a species who is absolutely certain to be dead of old age when he is very much in the prime of life. Its true we’re not used to seeing the ‘mortal loves an immortal’ relationship from the side where humans seem so long lived to be effectively immortal (I’m remind of that haunting scene from the film version of ‘The Two Towers’ where Arwen, looking as young and beautiful as ever stands at the mausoleum of Aragorn.)

    • “It does make me baffled as to why Kes was dropped when the supremely useless Harry Kim was kept on.” Harry Kim was supposed to die during the second part of Scorpion, which is why he was attacked in the first part, but then I believe Garrett Wang was voted one of the most beautiful 50 people alive by People magazine.Therefore, Harry got a last minute reprieve. Why they opted to Keep Neelix over Kes, however, is still mystifying.

      • Beat me to it!

        I believe that there were some issue with Lien that made her a logical choice when they couldn’t fire Wang. Her reaction to the makeup is the most obvious example, I think; Lien has longer hair here because she wasn’t responding well to the makeup in the third season.

    • Harry was saved, I believe, by his agent securing him a place on People’s 50 Most Beautiful list. Which is ridiculously shallow, but hey… this is Voyager.

      And it’s a fair point on Sarek. But I do think it’s a bigger issue where you’ve known your partner since they were a child (and you were an adult). But I’m willing to accept I might just be being prudish here.

  3. I quite enjoyed this episode, and found it to be quite memorable when it originally aired. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a work of fiction structured so as to start at the end of someone’s life, moved backwards till conception (while the character moves forward), and jumped back forward to the middle of life. Not to mention a mystery entangled in this mess that needs solving. That and the ending doesn’t bring about the Status Quo. After all, the Kes from this episode is not the same Kes from the previous episode. She ends the episode as the same brain damaged grandmother with no memories as from the start, only with the ravages of age removed. In a way, this is my only major criticism of this episode, in that Kes’s mind was effectively wiped by a future version jumping into her body, which reminds me of the treatment of Uhura in The Changeling. Both lose their memories and have to start over reading datapads, and apparently have no problems by the next episode. It’s weird to think the Kes in Scorpion has very little idea about who Neelix is.

    From what I read, the reason Jen had to leave was because the actress was allergic to the smoke caused by the exploding consoles on the bridge. Effectively, she couldn’t be in any action scenes where Voyager is getting shot at, which is a shame because I really liked Kes as a character. She seems like a Roddenberry enlightened induvial that had a passion for learning and exploration, without that horrid smugness. She was the one that jump-started the Doctor’s character arc and development because of her open mind. Plus, the cast really got along well with Jen, and it seem to cause quite a bit of turmoil behind the scenes when they had her leave the Voyager family. It seems originally that Garrett Wang was going to be axed since the writers for sure as heck didn’t know what to do with his character, and his acting was incredible wooden. Even in the good Kim episodes, his character goes nowhere, if he had a life snapshot episode like this, I’d think we’d all be put to sleep. But he was saved because he ended up a list of 50 most beautiful people in the world. This is a shame really since Ensign Kim and Seven were so awkward and uncomfortable together when they shared scenes, I think Jen and Jeri could have had shared some great scenes together. Kes had a strong compassion to her, and being a sheltered alien, wouldn’t harbor the same Borg prejudice shared by most everyone else on the ship…or the entire galaxy for that matter.

    Another thing I found very interesting about this episode, we have time travel from the future, which actually brings information from the future that would actually manifest itself later in the show. As far as I can remember, this is the only time travel episode to do so as every other episode it seems just ignores the future prediction. The Klingons never were the big threat of the future The Visitor predicted, even though they were the big enemies of the season. I suppose if Year of Hell was the season ending, the prediction would have been far less impressive, but the fact that there’s significate space between the foreshadowing/spoilers of Before and After and Year of Hell, that I was suitably impressed. I never expected to see the Krenim again and thought them as off-screen throwaways, like with any other time travel alien shenanigans. I also think this episode actually builds tensions at the start of Year of Hell, since we see the Krenim that they are wrong, too weak to be a threat that would trash Voyager and kill some of the main cast.

  4. Thinking about it, Kes left at almost the exact right moment before she became too complicated from a production standpoint.

    Assuming 9 years equal to 9 human decades, with some fudging, she spends her late teens to 40s on the show, when she left was the point most shows would have to think about her becoming older, budgeting for age makeup for every episode, playing wiser etc.

    I don’t for a minute think they’d have actually gone through the care of thinking about and doing all this, they’d probably have her stay the same till the last season then rapidly age out of nowhere, or find some technobabble way to give her increased longevity etc.

    • Ha, that’s a fair point.

      After all, Voyager was never a show willing to follow its conclusions to their logical conclusions if those conclusions involved even mild discomfort for the writing staff.

  5. Yeah, I like Before and After too Darren, although admittedly I didn’t warm up to it right away. It’s funny that you likened it to Memento because it reminds me of that classic movie too (even though it took a while for me to warm up to Memento as well!), and the DS9 episode Visionary, which was a rare example of a high-concept SF idea working on that show. Before and After does ask a lot of its audience though, and you can only truly appreciate the skill that went into it after multiple viewings.

    I liked the way the narrative is shaped by Kes’s experiences. She begins the story at the end of her life, a total innocent with no past or future memories. With each leap in time she finally ends the story at the beginning of her life. Particularly clever is the way Kes is introduced to people and experiences both new to her and the audience, her time shifting fills in the blanks, accumulating her more and more memories until eventually she becomes the Kes we’ve gotten to know over the past three years.

    There are one of two iffy ideas like the Doctor’s toupee, Harry becoming Tom’s son-in-law and yeah, Harry marrying Linnis made me a bit squeamish as well, but Before and After is an excellent combination of great writing and storytelling, all anchored in place by a terrific performance from Jennifer Lien, who has to run an entire gamut of emotion within the space of 45 minutes. This is the episode Coda could have been, but with the benefit of a much tighter script and more of an idea of where it wanted to go and what it wanted to achieve.

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