the story: Kes keeps jumping backward through her life.
what it's all about: I think in the final analysis, Jennifer Lien was miscast as Kes. The same went for Denise Crosby's Tasha Yar in Next Generation, so it wouldn't have been a franchise first. Lien made Kes such a warm figure, it was tough to view her as the yearning girl she was meant to be. She ended up feeling a little like Janeway Junior (Lien and Kate Mulgrew speak much the same way), too confident in a role where doubt ought to have been a defining factor. Except where Janeway had a whole crew to draw on and use as an excuse to mask her limitations, Kes went almost immediately to a sheltered corner of the ship, where she never really emerged, certainly not in the way her one-time beau Neelix did. While it did wonders for the Doctor's self-confidence, it left Kes herself at a constant crossroads. A character meant to live for about the lifespan of a Star Trek series (at that time) thusly had nowhere to go, because she'd already gotten there, and far sooner than the rest of the crew. Even Chakotay had two full seasons to shine before shrinking backward.
All of which is to say, if you like Kes anyway, "Before and After" is one of the episodes that defines her legacy. It starts in the future, and clearly an alternate one in hindsight, in which she married Tom Paris (who in reality marries B'Elanna, a relationship that had actually begun five episodes earlier in "Blood Fever," so that was an odd choice, certainly) and attempted to have a procedure performed to expand her lifespan. Except things go wrong and she, well, as I said above, starts jumping backward in time. It's a little like Next Generation's "Parallels;" both Worf and Kes keep jumping into their own bodies, but with everything shuffled around them.
It's the one episode that really focuses on Kes's lifespan, even though that was written into the character's biography at the start of the series; surely if the crew is concerned about getting home, and Odo in Deep Space Nine from the start obsesses over his origins, Kes would have been looking for ways to expand her biological and not just mental potential all along. She's set up in the pilot as challenging every norm of the Ocampa. But we never really see that. Finally experiencing it here is another sign that the third season was a reboot for the series, going back and looking at what have been neglected previously. Ironically, the serialized storytelling of the first two seasons switched to episodic material in the third, but that seemed to bring greater focus to most of the characters.
Anyway, the real series draw for fans has nothing to do with Kes at all, but rather a big fat hook for a future two-part episode, "Year of Hell," which occurs in the fourth season. "Year of Hell" is basically what some fans expected Voyager as a whole to look like, and what Ron Moore later delivered in his Battlestar Galactica remake, in which conditions progressively deteriorate. While Kes is traveling back, she mentions this event as something the crew ought to look out for, but of course, much like "Year of Hell" itself, "Before and After" ends basically with a reboot. It's all a massive tease. With Kes, it's a chance, as it turns out, to see what might have been, had she actually stuck around the whole series. With everyone actually paying attention to her, things look beter than they ever had or would again...
franchise- This is a Voyager affair, best enjoyed by its fans.
- series - An extremely clever way to set up the later "Year of Hell."
- character - The most direct spotlight Kes ever had.
- essential - Everything that Kes never got to experience, in any sense, happens here, so if you like the character, it's a can't-miss.