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Star Trek: Voyager – Fury (Review)

Normally, the return of an old cast member to an established show is a cause for celebration, akin to a belated family reunion.

The obvious examples involve the appearances of cast members from other shows on later spin-offs. Think of the reverence and sincerity with which Star Trek: The Next Generation treated Spock and Scotty in episodes like Unification, Part I, Unification, Part II and Relics. Think about the delight with which Star Trek: Voyager greeted Geordi LaForge in Timeless or Deanna Troi in Pathfinder. Even when Star Trek: Deep Space Nine subverted expectations with Jonathan Frakes’ appearance in Defiant, it was still joyful. If anything, Star Trek: Enterprise went too far in accommodating Troi and Riker in These Are the Voyages…

Self-control.

Even within individual shows, the return of long-absent cast members is often treated as an opportunity to celebrate that character, and perhaps even to acknowledge past missteps involving them. Yesterday’s Enterprise brought back the character of Tasha Yar, and used the opportunity to rewrite her mean-spirited and pointless death in Skin of Evil. When mirror!Bareil visited in Resurrection, the episode became a meditation upon how the character’s intrinsic decency was strong enough to transcend dimensions and to define even the worst version of himself.

This approach to the return of established characters makes a great deal of sense for a wide variety of reasons. Most obviously, the production team have gone out of their way to recruit these actors for this specific purpose; it makes sense that these episodes should serve as a celebration of their contributions to the franchise. Even beyond that, it is safe to say that almost any lead character on a Star Trek series has something resembling a fan base; think about the ominously-named “Friends of Vedek Bareil.” Why bring back a character, and attract in those fans, just to do something horrific?

That healthy blue glow.

All of this serves to make Fury all the more perplexing. Fury is an episode of Voyager that effectively resurrects the character of Kes, a regular on the first three seasons of Voyager who departed the series in The Gift at the start of the fourth season. The return of Kes is a strange choice, in large part because the production team often struggled with what to do with the character while she was part of the core cast. Still, there are any number of interesting possibilities. And there is the possibility that, like Yesterday’s Enterprise or Resurrection, the production team might use the occasion to say something interesting about Kes.

Unfortunately, Fury is a spectacular mess of an episode with half-developed character motivations and a highly surreal premise that undercuts a lot of the appeal of bringing Kes back in the first place.

Having its cake and eating it too.

To be fair, Fury is very much in keeping with the broad aesthetic of the sixth season of Voyager. In some ways, the sixth season of Voyager feels more like a final season than the seventh, so preoccupied is the season with questions of legacy and mortality. Repeatedly, the sixth season of Voyager asks the question of how Voyager (and perhaps Star Trek itself) will be remembered, whether as the aspirational object in Blink of an Eye or as the source of legend in Muse or as parodied by con men in Live Fast and Prosper.

Similarly, the sixth season has a recurring preoccupation with mortality, perhaps befitting a series heading towards its own preordained final season and a franchise that was clearly in decline. Barge of the Dead sent Torres into the afterlife; Dragon’s Teeth featured the resurrection of a dead civilisation; One Small Step had the crew discovering a floating museum piece with a mummified corpse; Life Line sends the EMH home to visit his dying father. As such, Fury makes a great deal of sense, focusing as it does on the return of a dying Kes.

Giving Tuvok a wide birth(day).

Indeed, this theme is suggested as early as the opening scene, before Kes attacks the ship. In this introductory sequence, Janeway surprises Tuvok by presenting him with a birthday cake. Birthdays serve as markers of time, and of mortality. They serve to remind people that time flows in one direction and towards one inevitable reality. “So, it’s not long before you hit the big three digits, huh?” Janeway jokes, a reminder that even a Vulcan like Tuvok is not immune from the ravages of time. Fury is very much invested in the idea of the toll that time takes.

To be fair, Fury hints at one of the many unfulfilled promises made with Kes as a character. In Caretaker, Kes was introduced as a character with a very short lifespan, with most Ocampans living until about the age of nine. This short lifespan made certain aspects of her character creepy and uncomfortable, such as Neelix’s possessiveness towards her in episodes like Twisted or Paris’ attraction towards her in Parturition. However, it also added an interesting premise to what might otherwise be a stock character.

Injecting a little drama.

As Kes was about two years old when she joined the crew, Caretaker seemed to tease that Kes would grow and age over the remaining seven seasons of Voyager, and that the audience would effectively get to see her live her entire life from beginning to end in the one-hundred-and-seventy-odd episodes that the production team could safely assume that Voyager would run. Much like the tension between Starfleet and the Maquis, and much like the challenges of surviving alone in a hostile region, the character of Kes demanded long-form plotting and serialised storytelling from Voyager.

Of course, this never actually materialised. As early as Parallax and Time and Again, the show retreated from the idea of telling extended stories and allowing its characters to grow or develop between episodes. As a result, the ambitious premise underpinning Kes would be largely cast by the wayside, outside of occasional nods in episodes like Elogium or Before and After. Like most of the rest of the cast, Kes seemed frozen in time once the end credits rolled in Caretaker, give or take a hairstyle and costume change in the middle of the third season.

Kes has repeated her frustrations until she was blue in the face.

Between Caretaker and The Gift, Kes spent three years on Voyager. Even accepting that the audience doesn’t know how Ocampa actually age, that accounts for a third of her natural lifespan. In human terms, that would be equivalent to about thirty years. However, in those three years, the character only physically aged the human equivalent of three years, with the production team never really emphasising her accelerated aging or her ticking biological clock. There was perhaps a cynical motivation at work here, a desire to keep Jennifer Lien looking young and conventionally attractive.

In its own weird way, Fury delivers on the basic premise of Kes by allowing the character to age and confront her mortality. Of course, it isn’t exactly what Caretaker promised, and it seems difficult to reconcile with her ascent to higher plane of existence in The Gift, but it still represents a more sincere attempt to deliver on this idea than anything in the three seasons that Kes spent as a regular character. The teaser establishes the toll that time has taken on Kes as horrific, Janeway taken aback at the lines and wrinkles on her old friend’s face. “Kes?” she asks, almost not recognising the former crew member.

Betraying her core values.

There is no small irony in this. Voyager is a series that has often seemed frozen in time, trapped in a particular moment. Counter-intuitively for a television series about a journey from one clearly demarcated point to another, Voyager often seems static. Characters rarely change or grow. Harry Kim spends seven years as an ensign. Torres spends seven years struggling with her anger issues. The EMH never picks a name that sticks. It is no wonder that Kes had be ejected from Voyager, her very premise was hostile to the show itself.

So in Fury, through the reintroduction of a vengeful Kes, time seems to intrude into Voyager. Not just in the time travel back to the early days of the first season, but time in the way that real people seem to understand. Time that changes people, time that brings regrets, time that erodes bodies. Fury suggests that once Kes left Voyager she was subject to the ravages of time, even as a being of seemingly incredible power. Even after ascending to another plane of existence, Kes cannot halt the flow of time as effectively as the crew of Voyager seem to have done.

Let them eat cake.

Fury suggests that the crew of Voyager exist outside the flow of time, an idea that Voyager has suggested repeatedly in episodes like Blink of an Eye or Timeless. It is telling that Fury positions Tuvok as the crew’s narrative counterweight to Kes, and not just because he’s another vaguely telepathic alien with pointed ears. Tuvok is the antitheses of Kes. Kes is vulnerable to the flow of time, her body aging ten times faster than that of a regular human. Tuvok is immune to such ravages, approaching one hundred years of age without a wrinkle to show for it.

Fury aligns Kes and Tuvok as two extremes. Kes represents the flow of time, the reality of entropy and decay. Tuvok suggests a more static pace of living, a character who is so insulated from the toll that time exacts that he can bridge literal generations of the franchise in Flashback. It reveals a lot about Voyager as a television show that Fury presents Kes as its villain and Tuvok as its hero, treating the intrusion of time into its narrative framework as an inherently hostile and subversive act that runs the risk of completely breaking the series.

The Vulcan time forgot.

It should be noted that this is not just a reading imposed from outside the episode looking on. On returning to the set after being away for two-and-a-half seasons, Lien herself noticed how time had seemed to stand still for her old friends on the set of Voyager:

Jennifer admitted that it was very exciting to come back and commented on how she dealt with returning to a show that she used to appear on a weekly basis. “Things pretty much still seem the same here,” she commented. “It just feels like [I’ve been gone] a day. It doesn’t feel like any time has passed, whereas in my own personal life, time has passed and I can definitely feel that.”

Time is something that passes out in the real world, but not on Voyager. This might account for how it could feel like shows like The X-Files, Babylon 5 and The Sopranos had all left Voyager standing in the dust as they marched with the times and Voyager remained in place.

An old familiar face.

There is something implicitly defensive in how Fury treats Kes, as if the production team are trying to justify the stale and static nature of Voyager. In this respect, it is very similar to the engagement with the concept of serialisation and long-form storytelling in The Voyager Conspiracy, where Seven of Nine’s attempts to fashion a singular over-arching narrative for the five-and-a-half season run of Voyager is treated as borderline psychotic and dangers to many of the core assumptions underpinning the series as a whole.

The sixth season of Voyager occasionally grapples with criticisms of the show, acknowledging challenges that the production team have faced over the course of the show’s run. Sometimes these results are fascinating, as when Seven of Nine challenged Janeway’s conservatism in Child’s Play. Sometimes the results are awkward, such as Equinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II, which seem to present a challenge to Janeway’s rigid moral absolutism, only to unquestioningly reinforce her refusal to compromise to account for the ship’s unique situation.

Ayala good things…

Episodes like The Voyager Conspiracy and Fury read as defensive screeds, episodes written to acknowledge long-standing and oft-discussed issues with the storytelling on Voyager, only to introduce those elements and present them as monstrous and horrific. The Voyager Conspiracy reads as a defense of the series’ happy-go-lucky episode-to-episode plotting ahead of more up-to-date serialised plotting like that seen on Deep Space Nine. Similarly, Fury brings back a character who has experienced the passage of time denied to the Voyager ensemble, only to reveal that the experience has horrifically scarred her.

This anxiety is reinforced through the episodes fear of change. It is suggested that Kes’ psychological breakdown happened because she was not ready to change as much as she did. “In three years, I’m going to leave Voyager in search of higher things because you encouraged me to do it,” Kes tells Janeway. “I wasn’t ready for what I found. I couldn’t control it. It scared me. I had nowhere to go. I thought of returning home to Ocampa, but I’d changed too much. I knew they’d be frightened of me. I knew they wouldn’t accept me, but they’ll accept her.”

Engineering a redemption.

Even at the end of Fury, when Kes has reconciled herself with the crew and made peace with her existence, Fury still appeals for a return to the familiar. Kes ends the episode by setting a course for the Ocampan homeworld, which is more than thirty-five thousand light years away. It seems safe to suggest that almost everybody she ever knew on the planet will be dead, and those who are still alive will be dying. In theory, Kes’ family should be the crew on Voyager. Kes should be spending her last days with the people whom she loved, the family that she found.

Of course, contractual obligations make this impossible. Jennifer Lien could never return to Voyager full-time, although perhaps the production team could have made her a recurring guest star. Instead, Kes has to leave the ship again and return to a world on which she has spent very little time. Indeed, a significant amount of Kes’ time on the Ocampan homeworld was spent in slavery to the Kazon. As such, there is a strong reactionary subtext to Fury, one which rejects the open-mindedness of Child’s Play. Found family, Fury insists, can never trump biological family. Even if those biological family members are strangers.

Feels like going home.

It should be noted that Kes’ decision to return to the Ocampan homeworld in Fury mirrors Neelix’s decision to remain with the Talaxian miners in Homestead. As Voyager approaches the end of its run, there is a strong sense that its Delta Quadrant characters should go where they “belong” rather than making a new home on Earth with their found family. This is reflected in the way in which all the Borg children (with the exception of Icheb) are casually dumped off the ship in Imperfection. It’s not too hard to reconcile this with the reactionary politics of episodes like Displaced or Day of Honour.

Fury is interesting because it marks the return of a character who departed the series. These sorts of episodes are relatively rare on Star Trek, in large part because there’s relatively little attrition in the franchise. Star Trek only added cast members as it developed. The Next Generation lost both Tasha Yar and Wesley Crusher, although it did bring both Denise Crosby and Wil Wheaton back repeatedly in the years that followed. Deep Space Nine lost Jadzia Dax in Tears of the Prophets at the end of its penultimate season, and the writers could only include a voice cameo (via recorded material) in Penumbra during the final season.

Kes of death.

According to an interview with Cinefantastique, Rick Berman developed Fury around the idea of bringing Jennifer Lien back:

“Before we even sat down and worked out the story, we spoke to her and wanted to really be sure that she wouldn’t be uncomfortable coming back. We also, I think, convinced her that it was a terrific story, and thus a good reason to bring Kes back. She came in and did a great job.”

This is interesting, because it hints at a weird nostalgia within the series itself, where the desire was to bring Kes back as an end of itself.

She really picked herself up.

It is interesting that the plotting of Fury worked in this manner, with the story reverse-engineered from the desire to bring the long-absent character back. It is not as though the production team were developing a story and realised that Kes would be a good fit for it. Instead, they consciously decided to bring back the character of Kes and then built an entire episode around that premise. It is certainly an interesting approach, even if it makes the rather mean-spirited nature of Kes’ return seems especially vindictive.

It would be one thing to have awkwardly slotted Kes into a preexisting story template, the contours of her character arc shaped by decisions that the writers had made long before they decided that the character in question was going to be Kes. This is, after all, how the writers on Enterprise approached the character of Arik Soong in Borderland, Cold Station 12 and The Augments. The original plan had been to use the character of Colonel Green from The Savage Curtain, but the part was reworked when Brent Spiner suggested he would be open to appearing on the series.

What’s up, Doc?

Instead, Fury was built around the idea that bringing back Kes was a desirable end of itself. As Bryan Fuller explained to Cinefantastique, the writers then tried to design a story that justified her return:

“Rick Berman wanted to bring her back. Rick made a phone call to Jennifer and said, ‘Would you like to do the show again?’ and she said, ‘Yes.’ He put it in the writing staff’s hands to come up with an idea for her to come back. Brannon spearheaded the story, so it came out quite nicely.”

Ignoring the surreal decision to tell this precise story to mark the return of a long-absent cast member, it is an interesting approach to storytelling. It suggests that perhaps Fury was driven by a high-concept more than a single narrative idea, a criticism that might be levelled at other episodes like Tsunkatse.

There’s a face to remember.

To be fair, the desire to bring Kes back fits with a broader nostalgia that permeates the final few seasons of Voyager, a renewed engagement with the show’s earlier seasons. This is somewhat surreal, given the turbulence that was taking place behind the scenes during the production of those seasons. More than that, it seems highly unlikely that any fans honestly looked back on the first couple of seasons of Voyager as some long-lost golden age for the franchise. Even the better episodes from that stretch, like Projections or The Thaw, tend to be highly divisive.

Nevertheless, the final seasons of Voyager repeatedly reach back towards the past. Relativity finds Seven of Nine jumping back to the early years of the series, to immediately before the ship’s launch and then forward slightly to the Kazon attacks from around AlliancesEquinox, Part I and Equinox, Part II suggest how the show might have evolved differently from Caretaker. The Voyager Conspiracy found Seven of Nine analysing footage from Caretaker in an attempt to construct a larger meta-arc. Shattered sends Chakotay back to Basics, Part I and Basics, Part II.

Fresh from the pilot.

Voyager is a television series rooted in nostalgia. After all, it is the story about crew of explorers who find themselves thrown into unknown territory and immediately chart a journey home. Voyager is the Star Trek series that marks the boundary of the final frontier, defining a point at which the franchise begins to double back on itself. Focusing on a journey towards a romanticised and idealised familiar status quo, Voyager paves the way for the more literal nostalgia of Enterprise. Indeed, with its emphasis on space as a wild western and mad science-fiction frontier, Voyager is chasing a more abstract nostalgia.

In hindsight, it is easy to see why Voyager would yearn for the comforts of those early seasons, particularly given several years to insulate the production team from the trauma of the arguments between Jeri Taylor and Michael Piller. In fact, most of the writing staff working on Voyager during its final season had not been present for those early struggles; Rick Berman and Brannon Braga were turning their attention to Enterprise, Joe Menosky was on his way out the door, only Kenneth Biller provided a meaningful connection to those troubled early years.

“Trust me, this sort of thing will appear a lot less unusual once you’ve spent a couple of years in the Delta Quadrant.”

In short, the living memory of those troubled years was fading, replaced with a broader sense of longing. When Voyager premiered, it was a triumphant success. It was a television series that carried an entire network upon its shoulders. It was propelled by the momentum established by The Next Generation, and was undoubtedly the greatest success of UPN’s troubled early years. More than that, Voyager premiered at a point when Star Trek was rushing towards its thirtieth anniversary, and when it seemed that the franchise could do no wrong in the eyes of the public.

Those were truly golden days, even if Voyager never appreciated them at the time, even if the production team never leveraged the opportunities afforded them by that success and that goodwill. By the time that Voyager reached its sixth and seventh seasons, Star Trek was in a much more precarious situation. There was only one Star Trek series on television, the last movie starring the Next Generation cast had bombed, and the media seemed to smell blood in the water. It is no surprise that those early seasons seemed to offer comfort and reassurance.

The EMH will be brief.

This might even explain the bizarre characterisation of Kes in the episode, who makes a surprise return in the teaser and proceeds to attack the ship crewed by her former friends. She murders Torres and travels back in time, where she plots to surrender the entire crew to the Vidiians and make her escape back to the Ocampan homeworld. All of this seems incredibly vindictive and bloodthirsty, with the emotional catharsis of revenge as important to Kes as any attempt to liberate her past self from the ship. Kes never considers trying to sneak off the ship and leaving the crew alive.

Fury is decidedly fuzzy on Kes’ motivations for this attack and this vindictiveness. When the Vidiians ask why Kes would betray her crew, she responds, “They’re not my crew. They abandoned me a long time ago.” Janeway receives some elaboration on this point during a confrontation towards the episode’s climax. “I won’t let you hurt her again,” Kes insists. “You took her from Ocampa, her home. She’s a prisoner on this ship.” There is a sense that Kes is embittered by how things have turned out, and is trying to force a reset by destroying Voyager.

Getting past it all.

There is something very loaded in this, with Kes perhaps speaking for something more than just her character; reflecting a broader anxiety about Voyager and Star Trek. Certainly, her plan to go back in time and destroy Voyager only “fifty six days, seventeen hours” into its journey suggests a type of reset appreciably harder than that in Deadlock, Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II. It isn’t even that Kes is trying to cancel Voyager. She is trying to stop it from existing in the first place.

In some ways, this is a variation on the existential threat posed by Captain Braxton in Relativity, when the time traveler places a ticking time bomb on Voyager during its construction and before the events of Caretaker. There is a clear desire to not only destroy Voyager, but to doom it from the outset. There is something very raw and very primal in all of this. It is worth noting that neither The Next Generation nor Deep Space Nine ever told stories like this about negating their entire existences.

Kes has really blown this reunion.

There is an argument that Voyager was the show that killed the Berman era of Star Trek, even if the franchise limped on through four seasons of Enterprise. In his interview with the Archive of American Television, Berman himself conceded that Voyager might have marked a point of Star Trek over-saturation:

Both Michael and I were excited about creating a show, but we felt that they were pushing it a bit; that there’s just so much you can do, and it all seemed a little quick. Because at that point, The Next Generation was ending, Deep Space Nine was in the middle of its run and a movie was about to be released. And a new television series? But the studio was very emphatic about it.

As Berman and Braga were effectively being strong-armed into creating another new Star Trek series to follow Voyager, it is perhaps revealing that episodes like Relativity and Fury were toying with Voyager‘s self-negation, imagining a version of Star Trek where Voyager was doomed almost from the outset.

Window of opportunity.

There is another reading of Kes’ rage towards Janeway and the rest of the crew. Fury repeatedly suggests that Kes has become violent and embittered, that the past few years have turned her into something monstrous. Indeed, Fury presents Kes as something akin to a force of nature. The title of the episode alludes the Greek goddesses of vengeance, of sheer and unrelenting anger channeled in a particular direction. In this case, Voyager itself is the target, the ship and crew murdered by somebody who had once loved them dearly.

In some ways, this could be read as a commentary on the increasingly tense relationship that existed between the production team and the fans, particularly in the era of the internet. Modern studies suggest that rage and anger travel faster through social networks than joy and love, but this was obvious even during the early days of the medium. This was particularly true of Star Trek fandom. While Voyager was on the air, groups of fans were scripting vicious “parodies” of the production teams working on the series, mocking Berman and Braga personally and by name.

“A candle for every year did seem impractical.”

There was a palpable tension between the fans and the production team during Voyager and Enterprise. Brannon Braga has acknowledged as much in interviews about his time on the franchise:

I’ll take my share of the blame. I can’t specify to you exactly what that is. I think, always, that I could have done better creatively, but I thought back in the TNG days, too. Also, there just are some real haters out there. There are some people who will go back and says, “Well, look at Braga’s work on TNG. If you really look at it, that sucked, too.” That’s when I feel like I just can’t win. There are just contingents of people who didn’t like the work I did on the shows.

Braga has had a particularly tumultuous relationship with certain sections of fandom, deriding certain strands as “continuity pornographers” and talking about the outsized reactions of “some unpleasant fans.”

Kes is her old self, once again.

As such, Fury reads as something approaching a commentary on a particularly destructive breed of fandom. Kes once loved Voyager, now she wants to destroy Voyager. Indeed, it’s very pointed that the episode ends with a reconciliation rather than defeat, with Janeway killing Kes in the past and then redeeming her in the second time through the loop. “You asked me to help you, to help myself,” Kes recalls. “You wanted me to remember who I was. These years were so filled with confusion and anger. I buried the memory. I’d almost forgotten.”

There is a sense that Voyager is itself trying to reconcile with a fanbase that claims to love Star Trek and seems to vehemently hate Voyager. This was a fan base that took the opportunity of Ronald D. Moore’s departure earlier in the season to attack Voyager, and specifically to malign Brannon Braga. Those links just point to the stuff happening about the line on the major websites, and cannot capture the aggression that was felt on message boards and in comments sections. That fury makes Kes’ rampage seem almost logical and even-handed.

Putting the matter to rest.

Of course, there is something rather uncomfortable in the use of Kes to make this point in Fury, something that feels mean-spirited and ill-advised. Most obviously, there’s no real reason why Kes should have gone psychotic. Even Bryan Fuller struggled to articulate the logic to Cinefantastique:

Actually the reason I got brought in to Voyager in the first place was to come up with a way to kill Kes off. I came up with the story for The Gift. Her whole evolution into a different phase of Ocampan life was my idea. It was kind of fun that we decided to twist that. [It turns out that the transformation] wasn’t all that it was cracked up to be. She evolved, and she just wasn’t ready. It drove her a little crazy.

There is a potentially interesting story their about the Lovecraftian horror of omnipotent awareness and the mind’s incapacity to handle it, which would tap into a rich vein of Star Trek pulp.

The spaces between.

After all, Star Trek has never been afraid of horror, dating back to The Man Trap, the first episode of the franchise to air. The original series embraced abstract horror storytelling in episodes like What Are Little Girls Made Of?, Operation — Annihilate!, Obsession and The Immunity Syndrome. In fact, Voyager itself has hinted at that sort of storytelling before, with its reliance on weird “anomaly of the week” storytelling in episodes like The Cloud or Bliss. More than any other Berman-era Star Trek spin-off, Voyager was willing to go weird, and Kes losing her mind because of what she had seen would be a nice weird narrative.

Unfortunately, this is not the story that Fury chooses to tell. This is not a story focused on Kes. The Ocampan has very little agency within the confines of the narrative, which makes the return of Jennifer Lien seem pointless. Her older and younger selves never really interact, which would seem to be the emotional crux of an episode like this, the emotional catharsis delivered by a pre-recorded message that. Kes is not presented as a character in Fury, but as a force of nature. This is perhaps best illustrated in the closing shot of the teaser, with Kes marching forward as the ship explodes around her.

“Look, we even have a spare!”

This is disappointing. Most episodes of Star Trek that bring back a former cast member tend to at least focus on the characterisation of that cast member; Wesley lying to Picard in The First Duty, figuring out something is wrong in The Game, deciding to leave Starfleet in Journey’s End. Even in episodes not nominally about those characters, they tend to get at least some development or closure. Tasha Yar is not the only focal character in Yesterday’s Enterprise, but she arguably gets more character development than she did at any point when Denise Crosby was a series regular.

In contrast, Jennifer Lien’s return gets less fanfare than that of Barclay in Pathfinder. What is Kes’ arc in the episode? She comes back, wants to destroy the ship, then is killed; her younger self records a heart-warming message that ensures that she doesn’t destroy the ship when the loop repeats. There’s never any sense of Kes making any important decision that affects the outcome of the plot. Even the idea to record the message that stops Kes’ rampage comes from Janeway rather than Kes herself. The machinations of the plot are very obvious, and Kes’ characterisation seems very shallow.

Out of time.

The issues with the characterisation in Fury have become something of a punchline for Voyager fans, to the point that some of the licensed tie-in writers have effectively found themselves trying to “fix” it. In Voyages of Imagination, Heather Jarman explains her motivations for writing the String Theory trilogy:

We had a long list of continuity bugaboos and complaints about episodes and characters that we felt were never adequately addressed. For example, why is Janeway such a nutcase at the beginning of season five? Where did B’Elanna’s self-inflicted pain/suffering come from? How did Tom get into Captain Proton? Why does Seven of Nine act like she runs the ship and can tell people what to do? Don’t get me started with the problems with Fury!

Voyager had never been as good at characterisation as Deep Space Nine or even The Next Generation; Chakotay’s “hobbies of the week” are a great example, with episodes like The Fight, One Small Step or Tsunkatse allowing Chakotay to be interested in whatever the plot needed him to be interested in that week.

However, even allowing for how fickle and flaky the characterisation could be on Voyager, the transformation of Kes from a benign young elf into a vengeful spectre feels like too much of a leap to make in too short a time. These issues are compounded by a rake of other issues that are baked into the premise. How did Kes just happen to find Voyager after travelling more than thirty thousand light years in episodes like Hope and Fear, Night, Timeless, and Dark Frontier, Part I and Dark Frontier, Part II? Why does Kes even need a ship after The Gift? Why can’t Kes use her powers to steal her younger self home without a shuttle?

None of these issues would be a big deal if the episode actually worked in any meaningful sense. However, the fact that the actual story doesn’t work just draws attention to the various contrivances at play. This is an underwhelming return for Kes, which seems to be a disappointment given that the audience understands that this will likely mark the last appearance for the character. In some ways, Fury aggressively undercuts the ending afforded the character in The Gift. There were any number of issues with The Gift, but it was a far more satisfying conclusion for Kes’ journey with Voyager than Fury is.

For her part, Jennifer Lien is not particularly impressed with her performance in the episode, although it is not as though the writers gave her the best material:

There were a lot of poor acting choices on my part. I wasn’t really thinking as creatively as I could have with my acting choices. So I’m not really proud of that one, but I was very grateful that they asked me back and that I got to see everyone I’d worked with. But I hadn’t been acting for such a long time and to pick up with a character I hadn’t been with, and to try to have continuity with a character who was so different from what I’d played and to act so out of character – with the other characters, who had developed so much (in her absence) – it was hard. But everyone did their best to work with me.

Indeed, the presentation of Kes in Fury is retroactively tainted further by the real-life issues with which Jennifer Lien has struggled in the years since.

There is an interesting nostalgia that runs through Fury, particularly in the context of its engagement with the early season of Voyager. There is a tangible sense of longing for those early seasons, a conscious desire to recapture some of the spirit of those earlier adventures. Fury features all the markers of an early Voyager episode; it features the Vidiians as antagonists, it rebuilds the airponics bay set for Kes, it even features a number of small (but meaningful) appearances from characters associated with those early years of the show.

Tuvok consults with Samantha Wildman on the bridge about the best way to incapacitate the Vidiians. This marks the character’s final appearance on the show. Wildman had appeared five times during the show’s first two production seasons as the first mother on board the stranded starship, but appeared more irregularly in later years; she had small roles in both Mortal Coil and Once Upon a Time following Kes’ departure. Similarly, Joseph Carey makes a brief appearance in the cargo bay. Carey appeared in four episodes of the first season, and only three episodes of the remaining six.

“Thanks for asking. I’m working on a radical approach to parenting. It’s like the opposite of helicopter parenting.”

Fury makes a repeated and concerted effort to remind its audience how much has changed in the intervening years. However, it is telling that those changes are often just shifts in how the show is produced rather than a reflection on how the characters have evolved. There is a notable shift when Kes jumps back in time to the first season, but that shift is often reflected in production and scripting details like Janeway’s hairstyle and desk, the references to the “neural gel packs” that were of such interest to the writers in the first season and so little after that, or the presence of long-absent recurring players.

Very few of these touches represent any real change within the world of Voyager. There is absolutely no reason why Samantha Wildman and Joe Carey could guest star in Fury, but not in The Haunting of Deck Twelve, outside of the fact that they have – through lack of focus – become physical representations of the show’s history. None of the changes between the first and sixth seasons suggest meaningful character growth or development. The EMH still hasn’t picked a name, Paris still feels more at home on Voyager than he would on Earth, Tuvok’s psychic abilities are still a handy narrative crutch.

Pregnant with foreshadowing.

This only serves to illustrate how Voyager is a television series frozen in time with little sense of material progress. There would be a marked difference where characters from the penultimate seasons of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine to encounter earlier versions of themselves. (The same can even be argued of Enterprise, due to the fundamental changes made to the series in its penultimate season.) Picard, Riker, Data, Sisko, Kira, Bashir, Odo, Quark; these characters all change over the run of their shows, growing and evolving. There is no tangible difference between the iterations of Janeway in Fury.

At the same time, there is a sense of revisionism that runs through the portrayal of the early first season in Fury, as if the production team are not just revisiting the early season, but are instead rewriting it. This is how memory works, after all. The very act of remembering changes the memory. When Kes visits the past in Fury, removed by more than half a decade, the past has been subtly changed. There is a sense that the writers are remembering the first season as they would want to remember it, rather than remembering it as it was.

The Vidiians’ organs of government had all but fallen apart by this point in time.

This is perhaps most obvious in the decision to cast the Vidiians as the primary antagonists of the early years, completely marginalising the ill-judged and misbegotten Kazon. This makes a great deal of sense. The Vidiians were a much more interesting opponent than the Kazon, but were also relatively under-exposed. Casting the Vidiians as the antagonists of Fury seems like another tacit acknowledgement from the Voyager production team that the Kazon didn’t work, much like Seven’s dismissal of them as unworthy of assimilation in Mortal Coil.

While Voyager could not wait to get rid of the Kazon, it seems to feel a certain nostalgia towards the Vidiians. The aliens appeared as an element of Janeway’s hallucinations in Coda, received a happy ending to their story through exposition in Think Tank, and were cited among the ship’s most brutal opponents in Good Shepherd. In fact, a character who might be a healthy Vidiian (or simply a recycling of the same prosthetics) even appears in Critical Care during the seventh season. There is a sense watching the later seasons of Voyager that the show knows that it bet on the wrong horses with the Kazon.

“You know, we never really talk about the Kazon this much.”

Fury even makes a point of articulating the cultural anxieties underpinning the Vidiians in a way never explicitly stated in early episodes like Phage or Faces. “Remember the old story?” Janeway asks Chakotay. “Man goes to Risa, where he meets a beautiful woman who invites him over for an evening of passion?” Chakotay finishes the tale, “He wakes up in the morning, feeling wonderful, until he discovers he’s missing a kidney.” Janeway continues, “Every cadet about to go on his first shore leave hears that cautionary tale. Doesn’t seem so outrageous anymore, does it?”

Even in an episode that effectively uses the Vidiians as the muscle behind Kes’ vindictive plans to destroy the ship, Fury makes a point to humanise the Vidiians. “The Vidiians are more than just your garden variety monsters,” Chakotay muses. “I’ve been studying their culture. They were a lot like us before the Phage.” Janeway responds, “Do I detect a note of sympathy?” Chakotay concedes, “Makes you wonder what we’d do under the same circumstances.” Of course, this is all abstract. Fury never bothers to humanise the Vidiians. It never even bothers to name the officer played by Vaughn Armstrong. Still, this is a nice gesture.

“I mean, I have a name. And hobbies. I’m not just a convenient one-dimensional antagonist. I have dreams!”

However, there are other more subtle examples of revisionism at play in Fury. Perhaps the most obvious is in the way that the episode portrays the relationship between Neelix and Kes. As portrayed in episodes like Phage, Twisted and Parturition, the relationship between Neelix and Kes was one of the most toxic things on television. Neelix was temperamental, jealous and paranoid. Although the show spent very little time with the two characters alone together, the dynamic seemed almost abusive. This aspect of the relationship became even creepier when Kes’ age and relative inexperience were factored into the equation.

Fury brushes aside that characterisation, instead presenting Neelix as a genuinely decent human being who respects his partner’s boundaries and would certainly never dream of intruding into her personal space. When Neelix sees that Kes is having a bad day and wants to be left alone, he respects that. He makes her dinner, but allows her to eat it alone if she wants some space. “Hello, Sweetie,” his message states. “I took the liberty of preparing one of your favourite meals. It’s under replicator programme Neelix One. Call me if you’d like some company. Miss you.” Aw. How sweet. How unlike first season Neelix.

However, this element of revision runs a lot deeper than just the Vidiians and Neelix. The episode plays as something of a time loop; future!Kes travels back in time, Janeway kills future!Kes, past!Kes records a message for herself so that the next time future!Kes attacks she does not go back in time. This plot has all the usual logical headaches involving time travel. After all, if future!Kes doesn’t go back in time, how can past!Kes possibly know to record the message. However, those plotting issues are easily brushed aside with an understanding that time travel is a flexible concept in the Star Trek universe.

The bigger reveal is that Kes traveling back in time in Fury essentially rewrites the history of Voyager. This means that Janeway, Tuvok and Kes had a very rough understanding of how the future would unfold based on what they had witnessed. This knowledge obviously has profound consequences. Just within Fury, it allows Janeway to redeem the wayward Kes using a well-timed message from her younger self. However, it has much more profound implications outside the narrative of this individual episode. In effect, Fury represents a soft reboot of Voyager, a complete rewrite of the show’s earlier seasons.

Holo promises.

The implications are massive. If Tuvok and Janeway know what Kes will become, it fundamentally changes their relationship to her. It is impossible to imagine, for example, Cold Fire unfolding in the exact same manner if Tuvok is aware of what Kes will become when she taps into the full extent of her powers. Similarly, it’s difficult to imagine Kes’ response to having her body hijacked in Warlord or to the temptation to leave in Darkling, once she knows what her future self will become. Indeed, how would The Gift work, if three of the major players in the episode know that Kes will effectively become a monster?

These are just the smaller examples that directly involve Kes. If Janeway and Tuvok know that Kes travels back from the future to try and destroy the ship, then she knows that the ship has a future until at least this point. This means that Janeway must rarely believe that her ship and crew are in tangible danger, because the future must still be ahead of them. How is Janeway supposed to take the Kazon hijacking seriously in Basics, Part I or Basics, Part II? More than that, what happens in cases where the ship is destroyed but the timeline is reset, like Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II?

This is obviously one of those “it’s best not to think about” sort of things, but Fury effectively rewrites the entire history of Voyager, such that only a handful of very early episodes could actually conform to what the audience had watched on screen. It is a fascinating example of how loose the continuity was on Voyager, that the writers could essentially rewrite one-hundred-and-forty episodes of television. In its own way, it is as big a reboot as anything that JJ Abrams did with Star Trek, however the implications of this reset are largely ignored in discussions of the franchise.

There is something wry and ironic in all of this, in the manner in which Fury was quietly and so subtly negates so much of the history of Voyager, particularly the earlier seasons. It is a more subtle and less aggressive act of negation than those initially planned by time travelers like Captain Braxton or Kes, but it is no less profound. The characters that the audience encounters at the end of Fury are not the characters that the audience has been watching for six years, they are as alien as the doppelgangers featured in episodes like Living Witness or Course: Oblivion.

There is something very revealing in all of this, suggesting that perhaps the anger and frustration that drives Fury is directed inwards.

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2 Responses

  1. It’s reminds me of hollow man. Although the story is different and at some places I felt I m watching something similar.

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