Star Trek Guide

Star Trek Voyager: Why Kes Actress Jennifer Lien Left The Series

Why did Kes have her Star Trek: Voyager stint cut short? Premiering in 1995, Star Trek: Voyager set sail hoping to usher in a whole new space-faring generation after Picard's time on the small screen had come to an end. In a unique twist, Captain Janeway's Starfleet vessel finds itself lost in the Delta Quadrant, meaning the Voyager crew are not searching for new worlds and new civilizations, but simply trying to find a way home. Among Star Trek: Voyager's main cast was Kes, played by Jennifer Lien. A member of the Ocampa species, Kes possessed telepathic abilities and was romantically involved with Neelix initially, before ultimately breaking off the entanglement in season 3. In a further alien quirk, Kes was tragically destined for a short life of only 9 years.

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As a young but prodigiously talented member of the crew, Kes arguably shares certain traits with The Next Generation's Wesley Crusher, and although fans didn't react with quite the same disdain as they did for poor Wes, Kes certainly wasn't among the most popular of Star Trek: Voyager's cast, and her exit duly came in season 4's "The Gift." After an encounter with Species 8472, Kes' psychic abilities spiral out of control and threaten the very crew mates the Ocampa had come to love, so she decides to leave the ship, evaporating into pure energy, and leaving Kes' ultimate fate somewhat ambiguous. Although she might not have been the most popular figure among fans, Kes' Star Trek: Voyager exit wasn't without controversy, as both viewers and fellow cast members had praised Lien in the role, if not necessarily the development of Kes as a character. The telepath was also among the first major characters to exit the show.

There are two main reasons why Kes was written out of Star Trek: Voyager. Firstly, the writers recognized they had dropped with ball with the character. Rick Berman and Jeri Taylor (Star Trek: Voyager showrunners) have admitted in interviews that the Neelix/Kes romance angle didn't work and, despite Lien's best efforts, Voyager had reached a creative dead end when it came to developing stories for Kes and her unique biology. Simultaneously, the idea to introduce a new main crew member called Seven of Nine had arisen. With Lien's position in Star Trek: Voyager already under scrutiny and budgets not becoming any kinder, the decision was taken to replace Kes with Seven. Clearly, the Voyager wasn't big enough for two women for short, blonde hair.

Given how regretfully writers and producers have spoken about Kes' Star Trek: Voyager departure over the years, it's no surprise that the character was soon brought back for season 6's "Fury." In this time-twisting adventure, an older Kes attacks her former ship for supposedly abandoning her and then travels back in time to prevent her younger self from ever joining the crew. When the older Kes is killed in the past, the timeline is changed, allowing Janeway, Tuvok and Neelix an opportunity to peacefully send Kes home to be with her own kind. Although Lien would appear in American History X and a number of animated TV shows, she quit acting soon after leaving Star Trek: Voyager and pursued an entirely different career away from the entertainment industry.

Writing Kes out of Star Trek: Voyager became a double-edged sword in the sense that the character had so much potential that went largely unrealized through poor creative direction. On the other hand, producers were correct in their assessment that Kes was one of their less successful crew member creations, whereas the introduction of Seven of Nine proved to be an inspired choice, with the former Borg making a huge impression not just in Voyager, but upon Star Trek as a whole. In an ideal scenario, Star Trek: Voyager would've been able to retain Kes while still introducing Seven of Nine, but then the packed-out cast might've hampered both.


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