Voyager rewatch 3.21 – “Before and After”

People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually, from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly, time-y wimey … stuff.

One of my very favourite tropes in science fiction or fantasy is the prophecy or flash forward. It’s why my favourite episode of Babylon 5 is “War Without End (part 2)”, and why I love “Before and After”. We get a glimpse of Voyager‘s future — a future which, by season 4, we know won’t come to pass, but that’s okay. Like Tuvok says, Kes has wreaked adorable havoc on the timeline, and in any case, it’s all about the journey, not the destination.

Voyager comes of age

Popular opinion has it that Voyager “became good” in season 4, when Seven of Nine joins the cast — but I disagree. Season 3 has seen a tremendous leap in quality compared to season 2, even taking into account clunkers like “Warlord” and “The Q and the Gray” and the weaker entries like “Favorite Son”.

With “Before and After”, we begin a run of episodes equally as good as anything in season 4. It’s as if something clicked for the writers, and everything came together.

Consider: Voyager has always been wary of serialisation. But here, we have a standalone episode which nevertheless was intended to foreshadow the season finale. (The addition of the “Scorpion” two-parter, and the ensuing cast changes, were relatively last-minute changes, and “Year of Hell” was moved to a mid-season position instead.)

And this is an episode that builds on what has come before: our knowledge of Ocampan biology, Kes’s donation of a lung to Neelix, her relationships with Neelix, Tom and the Doctor.

There’s a confidence here which Voyager has sometimes lacked. This episode takes Kes, widely (and wrongly) considered the series’ weakest character, and builds the story around the traits which make her unique.

In some ways, this makes me sad — think what we could have had if Jennifer Lien had stayed, and been part of Seven’s journey. But this episode is about appreciating the present while anticipating the future, so I guess I’ll … cope.

Who thought it would be a good idea to have a character who only lives for 9 years?

Answer: Jeri Taylor.

My confession: as much as I love Kes, I’m not convinced the Ocampa were a good concept.

For one thing, from a purely pragmatic perspective, you’ve gone and locked yourself into a finite story. And a short one. Nine years might be a full lifespan for an Ocampan, but it’s a tragedy for a human, and Kes is so human-like that it’s difficult to make the leap.

If she had stayed for the full series fun, Kes would have been approaching old age by the end of the series. Imagine it: “Wooooo, Voyager’s home! Oh, Kes only has a couple of years to appreciate her new adventure, and then she carks it!”

Bummer.

The other problem — and I ranted about this in detail in my “Elogium” post — is that, well, the Ocampa are so human-like that if you start thinking too hard about their biology, it gets a bit … you know. Icky.

Kes being in her single digits is one thing, but she was physically an adult when we met her. But then we see her family, and that Harry knew Linnis as a baby, and four years later they’re married and have a kid.

No offence to Stephenie Meyer, but Voyager was way ahead of you on the creepy age gap/super-fast child aging and hooking up with an adult friend of her parents thing.

I’m always in two minds about this. There’s the part of me that goes, “Okay, those are the rules of the Ocampa, and it’s weird but everyone accepts it.”

And then there’s the other part, that goes, “Oh nooooooo.”

In between, there’s a third part of me — I am vast, I contain multitudes, etc — that goes, “Well, wouldn’t it have been interesting to see how the humans in the situation deal with it, and how people address the weirdness?”

And yes, yes it would have. But do I trust this writing team, in this era, to do that well? Absolutely not! This is one for the realm of fan fiction.

Nevertheless

I realise the weirdness of the whole Tom ‘n’ Kes ‘n’ Harry ‘n’ Linnis thing makes this episode difficult to enjoy for a lot of people, but I still love it. And that’s not because I’m in any way a better fan, I just love time travel to a possibly worrying degree.

But also!

This is a Kes story, but it’s also full of great moments for other characters. For example:

  • Six years in the future, Tuvok is still sarcastic and wonderful (and also still wearing yellow even though he is the first officer — is Tim Russ just allergic to the red uniforms?)
  • We don’t see much of Captain Chakotay, but he seems captainly and dashing, but also gets to Grieve Stoically over Janeway’s body
  • This is an excellent episode for Tom Paris; I understand some Paris/Torres shippers hated it at the time — even though I think it does a good job of showing his love for B’Elanna and grief at losing her — but we see his best qualities here.
  • Neelix bakes a cake and otherwise stays out of the way. EXCEPT in the flashback to “Caretaker”, when he starts talking about Kes as if she’s a disobedient pet. On the other hand, way to capture that early Neelix vibe, I guess!
  • I would dearly love to know more about Harry’s marriage to Linnis — dodgy son-in-law jokes aside — but they’re a cute couple so I approve on aesthetic grounds if nothing else.
  • The Doctor looks rather handsome with hair! And his rotating series of names-of-artistic-geniuses is … faintly amusing.
  • But seriously, his love and respect for Kes are on display here, it’s great.

Unfortunately, Janeway and (particularly) B’Elanna are sidelined. And that’s disappointing, because I don’t think we have a single incidence of those three just hanging out.

But we do get a brief, hilarious moment of Janeway and B’Elanna giving Kes simultaneous, identical looks of “Wha?” when Kes busts out some technobabble.

Other observations

  • This episode marks the debut of Jennifer Lien’s real hair and the end of the pixie wig. It’s lovely! And covers her ears, which was the reason for the change — Lien was suffering an allergic reaction to the glue used for the prosthetics. Poor timing, though — it’s not initially clear when she has landed in the contemporary period. If only the new hair had come a week earlier, or later.
  • For Discovery-related reasons, I no longer enjoy scenes where characters approach unexploded photon torpedos embedded in a ship, even when I know how it ends.
  • The child actor who played Andrew was … not amazing, but had some good moments. This was his first big acting gig! According to his IMDB page, he’s still working intermittently, but mostly doing short films.
  • (I assume he also has another job. I kind of dislike the idea that a person is a failure if they end their acting career, or regard it as a sideline or hobby. People change careers all the time! I’m not a “failed retail assistant” just because I stopped working in shops, I simply moved on to something else!)
  • I hope Jennifer Lien is okay.

In conclusion

A controversial episode, but one that I love a lot. Not just for the time travel, but for its confidence and complexity. A stand-out of the early seasons. Five time travelling manic pixie dream girls1 out of five.

  1. Kes is more of a really chill pixie dream girl

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