The body of Kes is taken over by the spirit of an ancient warrior who wants to use her mental powers to retake control of his planet.
Plot Summary: While Neelix shows off his new holographic resort, the senior staff are summoned to the bridge, where the crew has discovered a damaged ship with three people on board. Kim manages to beam them to sickbay before the ship explodes, but Kes and the Doctor fail to save the badly injured Tieran, the leader of the group. Kes comforts his widow but soon begins to act strangely, telling Neelix that she wants more space from him. With the assistance of Tieran’s wife Nori and physician Adin, Kes fires a phaser at the visiting son of the Autarch from Tieran’s world, Ilari, and steals a shuttlecraft to set Tieran’s power play into motion. Janeway learns from the Autarch’s son Demmas that Tieran once ruled Ilari and spent much of his reign learning to transfer his consciousness into another body, this triumphing over death. Tieran-as-Kes kills the Autarch and becomes engaged to his other son, Ameron, promising Nori to care for her always. Meanwhile, Janeway works with Demmas on a plan to break into Tieran’s stronghold and use a synaptic stimulator to allow Kes to regain control of her body. The plan does not succeed and Tieran-as-Kes takes Tuvok hostage, first threatening the Vulcan with torture, then trying to seduce him. Tuvok is able briefly to access Kes’s thoughts and urges her to keep fighting for control of her body. When Tieran’s supporters express fear that their leader has become weak for refusing to retaliate against Voyager’s crew, Tieran uses Kes’s mental powers to make them suffer. Demmas leads Voyager’s crew into the stronghold, where Neelix is able to force Tieran from Kes’s body with the synaptic stimulator. Tieran tries to take over Ameron’s body but is forced from there, too, and Demmas becomes Autarch as he was meant to upon his father’s death. On Voyager, Kes tries to come to terms with her new knowledge about what her mental powers can make possible.
Analysis: “Warlord” is a fairly weak episode among many Star Trek stories in which a normally trustworthy crewmember is taken over by a hostile, power-hungry being – think Kirk in “Turnabout Intruder,” Deanna Troi in “Power Play,” Jake Sisko in “The Reckoning,” Tuvok in “Cathexis” – which is a polite way of saying that “Warlord” recycles a tired sci-fi trope that offers little suspense and serves mostly as an excuse to let a regular cast member play something other than the same character we see every week. Just about everything that works in this installment can be credited to Jennifer Lien, who proves here as she did in “Cold Fire” that she can make even the silliest of dialogue sound convincing and the most generic of storylines compelling. Part of the pleasure of “Warlord” is that Lien really seems to be enjoying herself, chewing scenery with gusto as Tieran while at the same time providing subtle hints with her gestures and the pitch of her speech that Kes remains a force to be reckoned with inside her small body. The Ocampa has been written as so soft-spoken and eager to please that it’s a real pleasure to hear the range of voices inside her, and this glimpse of her mental powers without her usual control and ethics tamping them down suggests that so much more could have been done with the character had she remained on the series, particularly after the breakup with Neelix that’s this episode’s major consequence. It’s painfully obvious in “Warlord” that the writers – including executive producer Jeri Taylor as well as Lisa Klink, who wrote the teleplay from a story by two men – have been under orders to bring some more feminine wiles and sex onto the show, an emphasis that will ultimately wind up bringing aboard Jeri Ryan in a catsuit and heels. It drags down this storyline as well as all the female characters.
Just look at how the story starts, in Neelix’s holographic version of Baywatch, where we discover that stereotypes about Caribbean music and tiki bars continue into the 24th century. It’s like a parody of Risa, which is already a silly fantasy in which Ferengi men can get their ears rubbed and human men can get other parts rubbed all day long, though in a Talaxian’s case it’s apparently the feet imbued with erogenous zones. We’re supposed to feel badly for Neelix when Tieran-as-Kes proposes a separation even though we’ve just seen Neelix being massaged by gratuitous girls in swimsuits. Paris doesn’t think there are enough hot babes, so he programs in some more, to which Torres responds by adding a man in a tight swimsuit that shows off his wax job about as well as B’Elanna’s suit shows off her own. This kind of superficiality about sex is pervasive in all of Star Trek from Kirk’s bimbos to Quark’s holograms for hire, but at least it’s mostly cosmetic, like the ridiculous high heels that Janeway’s still wearing even when she’s leading an away team to storm a warlord’s stronghold. The bigger problem is that Tieran-as-Kes also goes striding around in stilettos, though Tieran has no need to seduce the passive Ameron, who agrees to marry the leader just to stay alive, and isn’t doing much to impress Nori, who misses the big burly man Tieran used to be. In an episode that’s all about Kes’s inner strength, we get lots of visual emphasis on her breasts and hips and collar and shoes. Tieran makes it very clear that a menacing warrior spirit doesn’t feel intimidated in Kes’s smaller body, which Tieran knows is capable of greater feats of strength than the macho one the warlord last inhabited. So she’s not wearing those heels for height. She’s wearing them for TV ratings. How are we supposed to take a female captain seriously as a leader when there’s such an emphasis on a woman’s value calculated by her attractiveness?
I know sex sells, but it’s a big problem when selling sex gets in the way of storytelling and characterization, especially on a science fiction show which presumably viewers are watching to see futuristic ideas rather than soap opera interactions. One of the first ways to tell that a female character has gone bad is when she starts enjoying her sexuality: see Crusher in “Sub Rosa,” Dax in “Fascination,” Intendant Kira in the Mirror episodes, Winn in the arc with Dukat. Naturally we get to see Kes almost kissing Nori, though being interrupted before any homophobic viewers can get upset, then kissing Tuvok against his will, and coercing Ameron into an engagement he doesn’t really want while suggesting that both Ameron and Nori will come to appreciate their threesomes. How much gratuitous titillation must be packed into an episode that’s ostensibly about how the crew works together to stop an alien menace from threatening an entire planet as well as one of their own? Is there ever a plot-dependent reason to suggest that all evil people are sex fiends and vice versa, particularly women? All sorts of rumors continue to circulate about why Jennifer Lien was let go at the start of the fourth season, some fairly nasty (and Lien’s recent behavior hasn’t done much to make those go away); the one the producers themselves have acknowledged is their desire to bring on some serious sex appeal that they couldn’t figure out how to get from Kes. Instead we get Seven of Nine, who is simultaneously sex-on-legs and asexual, a woman with repressed emotions and the social education of a teenager, yet the body of a Barbie doll displayed in skin-tight fetish clothing and heels. Imagine if they’d simply let Kes become the woman Neelix feared she was already: an independent explorer just beginning to understand the range of her desires and the mental powers at her command. A fearless, aggressive Kes would have been sexy no matter what she was wearing.