Kes: dumped for a younger sex symbol

This post contains spoilers through the early fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager.

When I first started watching Star Trek: Voyager on DVD, I found I really liked Kes (Jennifer Lien). She was unfailingly kind and good and innocent and brilliant and all that Mary Sue stuff, but it worked for two reasons: the character’s background supported those traits, and Jennifer Lien played her part very low-key. Then the character developed: she chose to become The Doctor’s assistant, she worked to develop her innate telekinetic and telepathic abilities, and she formed relationships with everyone on the crew.

Then, during the third season, she broke up with her longterm beau and immediately switched to a wardrobe of skintight cat suits. But that wasn’t enough: they wrote a complicated episode in which she traveled backward through time, the entire point of which seemed to be to return her to the present with a full head of Miss Piggy hair instead of the short elfen cut she’d worn before that. I have read that Jennifer Lien was allergic to the adhesive used to attach her prosthetic alien ears, so the ear-hiding wig may have been out of consideration for the actress, but it was a really bad wig, and combined with the cat suits, what came across was that the character was being changed into a glamour girl sex kitten because she was no longer interesting as just… well, a character.

And then she leaves… and Jeri Ryan begins her infamous stint as Seven of Nine. I’ve only seen a few episodes with Seven of Nine so far, but she has the potential to be a truly interesting character. But when every show tried to copy Seven of Nine, they focused more on the unbelievably skintight cat suit and heels (I’m sure heels are a constant throughout the galaxy).

While I can’t be sure exactly why Kes was eventually written out of the show – and let’s face it; the average viewer isn’t going to investigate – what comes across is a sense that the show needed a sex kitten, so they tried to turn Kes into it, and when that failed for whatever reason, they brought in Seven of Nine.

I don’t have a problem with interesting female characters also being sexy. Particularly if they’re also sexual on their own terms – whether that means celibacy or kinky orgies. But men don’t get the same treatment on Voyager. As badly as Stargate treated Sam from Season Four on, they also put Daniel and Teal’c in ridiculously tight clothes and gave the female fans the “arm porn” they clamored for.

Comments

  1. Lex says

    If you’ve only seen a few episodes with Seven so far then I’ll be interested to see how long you keep your initial view. I managed to be interested in Seven for a while despite the blatant sexist nature of the outfits she was constantly put in. But after a while it seemed to turn into the Seven of Nine show, and I just couldn’t bear to watch any longer. The character and the focus on the character turned me off completely, which is a great shame as I used to love Tom, Belana, Chakotay, the Doctor and Janeway in particular, but the whole tone of the programme changed after a while and I just switched off, never to return.

  2. Lex says

    One more thing. I’ve just realised what your title must mean – Jeri was *younger* than Jennifer? I’m stunned. I would have put Jeri at least five years older. Weird.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    I was thinking in terms of the character’s ages – Kes is an adult by her species lifespan, while there’s been a lot of emphasis so far on Seven’s youth.

    I’m sure I’ll report on what I think of her later. Adding her to the cast certainly does nothing for the real problem: the writing is somewhat weak and inconsistent, IMO. (I’ve heard that’s because of network interference, so I’m not criticizing the writers per se. I’m just sayin’.)

  4. MaggieCat says

    I remember that at the time I figured writing Kes out made sense from a technical perspective- her race normally lived for what, only 9 years? The show ran for 7 so they would have had to start aging her with prosthetics and make-up at some point (or come up with some reason why she wasn’t aging) and tv has never been particularly kind to older women.

    I only watched the last two seasons intermittently because 7 of 9 annoyed me. (Well, that and UPN and the WB were sharing a channel in my area long before the CW came about, so it was nearly impossible to figure out when it was on.) I had been surprised when I ended up liking Kes, since she drove me bonkers at first- it seemed like such a cliche to have an extremely young female character who was the quiet sensitive one, but they made it work somehow. I thought it was lovely how they played Kes, the character who was emotional and passive, against the typically Vulcan Tuvok. They tried to recreate that mentor dynamic with Seven but as she was pretty much the anti-Kes it just didn’t work.

  5. says

    I remember hearing rumours about the switch being because the male viewers wanted someone hotter and didn’t like Kes. I can’t vouch for their tenacity, but that it was pretty much accepted in my friendgroup says something about, at the very least, how the switch was perceived.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    On the Stargate commentaries, Peter DeLuise talked about bringing in Anise (Vanessa Angel’s little-loved character in early Season 4) because they thought they needed a “sexy female alien like Seven of Nine” to bring in “young male viewers”. Then they decided their ratings were fine as is, and dumped Anise.

    Which seems to indicate what the industry thinks characters like Seven are for.

    Seven also started out very non-threatening to boys – she had no personality. Kes in a catsuit was still mature and intelligent – uh-oh! Of course, Seven’s lack of personality AND her offer to copulate with Harry in her third or fourth episode were well-supported by the story. But you can see how essential those traits must be considered for the “sexy female alien” character, because Stargate repeated them in a rather heavy-handed manner: Anise totally lacked personality for no apparent reason, and yet she was hitting on Jack while discussing her attraction to Daniel.

    What’s so successful about centerfolds in girly magazines? They just sit there, personality-free, and want you (in your mind). It seems that’s the vibe TV shows are striving to hit when they create sexy female characters to bring in young men.

  7. Ultor says

    Edited by  BetaCandy, because this comment violates one of our discussion guidelines:

    Don’t question the entire purpose of the site, or someone’s motive for writing an article. We don’t come to your site to tell you it’s a waste of time.

    Please also note that only relevant and politely phrased criticisms of actors’ skills are acceptable on this site.  This comment is neither of those things.

    Eh? Who cares about Kes being dumped and Seven being brought onto a Trek show that was God awful to begin with? Kes was an insipid character and Jennifer Lien was a dreadful actress who never brought much to the show anyway, while Seven of Nine was the only interesting character outside of the EMH and Jeri Ryan was far more talented than nearly most of the hacks that pass for actors in Star Trek (in my opinion). And putting down Jeri Ryan due to her costume always struck me as hysterically lame (plus Jeri Ryan looked in her early twenties when originally, despite being six years older than Lien).

  8. Ultor says

    Sorry, I never came here to directly criticise the author of the article nor am I criticising this website as a whole, per se. However, what I do criticised is the ridiculous flack directed at Jeri Ryan – all too she is cited as the downfall of Voyager, when the series was on the decline long before she was casted in the series.

    And Kes was a rather boring character played by an annoying actress with limited screen presence. What is wrong with telling the truth?

    But Seven of Nine, on the other hand, was a far less annoying character and Jeri Ryan was a very capable actress that carried the series successfully (unlike the rest of mostly risible cast who were floudering badly in the first three rather mediocre seasons – although the later seasons were terrible as well, but Jeri Ryan made the show bearable).

    Why blame the plumber for the toilet backing up with gunk that was there to begin with? I thought Jeri Ryan did an excellent job and her compelling Seven of Nine character was one of the few redeeming aspects of a busted flush sci-fi series.

  9. Jennifer Kesler says

    I don’t know if Jeri Ryan was blamed for anything but anybody anywhere else, but that’s not what was said here. Did you actually read my article, or did you just skim the first paragraph and decide, “Oh, it’s another one of those” and spout off?

    This is a site about how women are portrayed in film and TV, and how producers think they should be used to sell sex. This is an article about how one character was sexed up in ways that were irrelevant to her role, and then dumped for someone with a more traditional Barbie beauty standard body to continue the sex appeal.

    I like Jeri Ryan. I think she does well. But I also think she was brought in primarily to make young boys pant with lust, and whether she worked as a character was a very secondary thought for the PTB of the show.

  10. Gategrrl says

    Hmmm…Kes vs 7of9…

    Kes was a “soft” character – I didn’t see her in many conflicts, either between herself and someone else, or within herself…all they saddled her with was “sexual tension” between Tom Paris and Weevil, or whatever that alien boyfriend of hers was named. It was ridiculous. It was clear that the writers came up with her, and as usual, were limited by their own views on the Female Stereotype – in that nurturing-types aren’t intrinsically interesting.

    As a replacement, we got 7of9. I’ll be honest and say that I DID find her more interesting than Kes. I liked the character, until I started realizing how she’d taken over the show because the writers were overly fascinated with her. She fell into that slot of the anti-nuturing female attempting to re-femalize herself to the new cultural standards she found herself in, after having come from a culture that minimized sexual characteristics and personalities to almost nothing. She had a Spock or Data like aura to her, coming inbetween them in the “DO I want to become human?” question. Spock’s answer was “Screw being human, I’ll stay a Vulcan”; Data’s was “I want to be HUMAN!” while 7of9’s answer was, “Um…well…I’ll let you know.”

    Because she’s female, 7of9’s ambiguousness of wanting to become human again fit. After all, who’d want to become a resexualized woman in a sexist culture? (although Star Trek’s universe sexism purportedly doesn’t exist)

    Unfortunately for Kes, there was very little soul-searching. She was already grounded.

  11. Gategrrl says

    Oh – and I forgot to mention –

    One of the things that did turn me off was when behind-the-scenes Real Life news leaked out about Jeri Ryan and Brannon Braga, one of the producers. Apparently, they’d dated and started living together for a few years.

    It made the all-encompassing focus on Ryan’s 7of9 suspect for me. Was it because she was sleeping with one of the producers that her role was so enlarged? Or did it really have something to do with her talent, and the way her character was structured? (aside from her superstructure)

  12. Ultor says

    “I don’t know if Jeri Ryan was blamed for anything but anybody anywhere else”

    Yes she is and quite often – she often blamed for supposedly “sexing” up Voyager and ruining it, even though it was a big pile of cr@p to begin with and she only replaced the dull as dishwater Kes. She was widely blamed for supposedly making Boston Public “Jump the Shark”, even though it was typical David E. Kelley claptrap.

    Late comers to a problem make easy scapegoats by people already there. Some people couldn’t see the writing on the wall for the two already declining shows.

    “This is a site about how women are portrayed in film and TV, and how producers think they should be used to sell sex.”

    Sex sells I’m afraid, in millions upon millions of TV shows, movies and advertisements. I’ve known many men and women in my personal life who were very physically attractive and present themselves in a somewhat provocative manner.

    “This is an article about how one character was sexed up in ways that were irrelevant to her role,”

    It’s been widely noted that Kes had improved her appearance immensely but I don’t think Kes looked that demeaning in her final few episodes.

    “and then dumped for someone with a more traditional Barbie beauty standard body to continue the sex appeal.”

    A dull and underwritten character played by actress who didn’t care was replaced by an exciting and better written character played by a actress who did care.

    “I like Jeri Ryan. I think she does well. But I also think she was brought in primarily to make young boys pant with lust, and whether she worked as a character was a very secondary thought for the PTB of the show.”

    If you got no problems with Jeri Ryan, why complain about her very appearance? And in comparison to the rather disgusting, casual sex displayed by much of today’s media, a assertive female cyborg in a spandex bodysuit is fairly tame.

    “Kes was a “soft” character – I didn’t see her in many conflicts, either between herself and someone else, or within herself…all they saddled her with was “sexual tension” between Tom Paris and Weevil, or whatever that alien boyfriend of hers was named. It was ridiculous. It was clear that the writers came up with her, and as usual, were limited by their own views on the Female Stereotype – in that nurturing-types aren’t intrinsically interesting.”

    I agree there about Kes being a rather uninspired character from the start.

    ” As a replacement, we got 7of9. I’ll be honest and say that I DID find her more interesting than Kes. I liked the character, until I started realizing how she’d taken over the show because the writers were overly fascinated with her. She fell into that slot of the anti-nuturing female attempting to re-femalize herself to the new cultural standards she found herself in, after having come from a culture that minimized sexual characteristics and personalities to almost nothing. She had a Spock or Data like aura to her, coming inbetween them in the “DO I want to become human?” question. Spock’s answer was “Screw being human, I’ll stay a Vulcan”; Data’s was “I want to be HUMAN!” while 7of9’s answer was, “Um…well…I’ll let you know.” “

    I’m not so sure Seven was really that overused in comparison to the EMH Doctor in later seasons (the EMH Doctor stole the show very early on over the bland ensemble anyway, so it was expected). I get the impression that TOS, TNG, DS9 and VOY had relatively dull human supporting characters that were sidelined by the alien or semi-human “freaks” – the Trek writers were often infatuated with Spock, Data, Odo (arguably Quark) and Seven.

    “Because she’s female, 7of9’s ambiguousness of wanting to become human again fit. After all, who’d want to become a resexualized woman in a sexist culture? (although Star Trek’s universe sexism purportedly doesn’t exist)”

    You know I thought Seven was pretty asexual, inspite of looking like a overgrown Barbie doll in a silly bodysuit – but I’m puzzled why some people whine about Seven’s character, actress and even appearance like nearly TEN YEARS after she joined the series.

    “Unfortunately for Kes, there was very little soul-searching. She was already grounded.”

    Well maybe I’ve been far too hard on Jennifer Lien in my last posts, since her character was intrinsically awful from the onset – I’ve got a fresh perspective after seeing Voyager again on the Spike TV marathon and then recognised Lien on American History X on DVD. Lien was not as bad as I remembered her – I heard that Berman wanted the cast members to “act” in a wooden way to make the aliens more “vivid”. That could explain why Jennifer Lien was not truly shining in her rather boring Kes role, despite being a solid actress on paper.

    I think the ensemble was very weak because the characters were written and directed in a Lord awful manner, not because the actors playing these Lord awful characters were Lord awful themselves – however Robert Picardo and Jeri Ryan’s excellent performences are all the more incredible inspite of everything, EVERYTHING, stacked against them on the series.

  13. Jennifer Kesler says

    AGAIN. I’m not critiquing her appearance: I’m critiquing the attitudes that lead to her being in a catsuit. If you don’t get that, then you don’t get this site, and I recommend you visit others which are more to your taste.

  14. Ultor says

    I felt putting Jeri Ryan in that ridiculous catsuit was nothing more than cynical demographic marketing, but nothing unique I’m afraid; just look at Michelle Pfeiffer in Batman Returns and Lucy Lawless in Xena: Warrior Princess earlier on in the 90s (and that did not prevent Pfeiffer and Lawless from being excellent actresses playing reasonably strong and dynamic characters, despite their obvious and almost shameful objectification). And I thought Enterprise was slightly worse as well, even though there was male beefcake featured (although Enterprise turned a out a better show than in the long run).

    Anyway I’m still puzzled why Jeri Ryan was blamed for Voyager‘s downfall, even though the series had already declined into mediocrity long before she joined the cast and she was only replacing the mostly uninspired Kes, with the put upon Jennifer Lien (the actress who played Kes) leaving the series anyway.

  15. Jennifer Kesler says

    Your points have absolutely nothing to do with this article. You’d understand that if you took the time to read it or listen to my comments. I have given positive reviews to Batman Returns and Xena specifically.

    Try to get it through your head: it’s not the catsuit.

    This is not a fandom site. This is an analysis and criticism site, which is obviously not what you’re interested in.

    Several of your comments have violated our guidelines. I’ve been tolerant despite the fact that I pay the bills on this site: it’s my hosting bandwidth you are wasting with irrelevant (and in the case of Jennifer Lien, intolerant) comments.

    I asked you politely to stop posting at this site. I guess that wasn’t clear enough for you. Move on. Further comments from you will be deleted.

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