Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Voyager

"Before and After"


Air date: 4/9/1997
Written by Kenneth Biller
Directed by Allan Kroeker

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"So how does it feel to be a grandfather?"
"A lot better than it does to have you for a son-in-law."

— Harry and Tom

Nutshell: Now THAT'S more like it. Easily one of the best Voyager episodes of the season.

To put it as simply as I can, "Before and After" is solid entertainment. It isn't perfect, but it's a very good hour of Voyager—and after the unfortunate past month of dreadful Voyager offerings, this installment is, to be as fair but as honest as possible, a wonderful alleviation of pain.

In fact, if Voyager can do shows like this for the remainder of the season, we might be in good shape after all. I'm hoping in June I can look back and see this episode as the hour of Voyager that recharged my interest in the series—it certainly has that potential if the last five installments can follow suit.

"Before and After" is yet another Trek breed of the Time Manipulation Paradigm, but I'm not about to hold that against the show. This is a weird, effective story that uses its plot machinations as a springboard for some thoroughly enjoyable mini-stories. The episode is paced at a brisk speed and filled with sub-stories that contain humor and fascination, venturing into both hope and despair.

The episode begins shrouded in confusion and mystery, revealing pieces of its puzzle a little bit at a time. The story opens approximately six years in the future where Kes, aged to the final stage of her short nine-year life, lies in a bio-chamber the Doctor has manufactured in the hope of extending her life beyond its expectancy. Somehow, this device reactivates some residual radiation in Kes' body (which figures into the plot nicely later in the episode, but I don't really want to get into it here), and she begins jumping backward in time, landing in various points in her past for short periods of time—BUT without any memory of her true past and, rather, with the few memories of the brief times she was in the FUTURE. In other words, Kes begins living her life backwards for only hours at a time, with large gaps in the experience spanning anywhere from one day to three years.

Sound confusing? It is. There's no way I'm going to attempt to wrap this into a full synopsis. This is a show you have to watch to fully grasp, and even then you may not quite understand everything. I think I see what's going on, but the ending in particular is open to some interpretation. It's a credit to scripter Kenneth Biller that he was able to pull off such a complicated feat of plotting without totally losing the audience. And Allan Kroeker's direction is effective, moving the story forward with reasonable momentum while also making certain we always know where (er, when) we are.

It's not the fact the episode uses time travel that makes "Before and After" intriguing. In all honesty, the basic premise is standard Trekkian stuff. And there's a megaton of conjured technobabble that the actors are forced to endure in order to warrant the plot. Any reader of my reviews probably knows I don't consider technobabble to be true storytelling since it's usually just a device for explaining arbitrarily created circumstances. BUT if the story that exists outside the fantasy tech-plotting actually works, merely using the technobabble as a secondary device, then I'm likely to be more receptive.

"Before and After," like last season's "Deadlock," is an episode that fits the above description. No, I don't really find the specifics of Kes' time shifts all that plausible (though they were fairly convenient)—but I do care about what happens once Kes drops into each time period. I also like the way Biller's script and Kroeker's direction use these time travel elements: They pile confusion and urgency into the narrative, making us curious and interested, asking, "Just what is going on here?"

The relentless jumping through time makes the story interesting and fast-paced—as does the way Kes and the crew come to understand the nature of the mystery—but what really makes "Before and After" compelling are the "what if" implications. The story paints us one possible future of the starship Voyager, and it's in these details that the show gets truly inventive and entertaining.

For example, this is the first episode that really addresses the fact that Kes only has six years left in her natural life. This would mean marriage and children would have to happen soon—and then it wouldn't be too long before her daughter would marry and have a child. Although not directly addressed (it's only a one-hour show, after all), I liked the implications of how a human, with a life span ten times that of an Ocampa, would relate to an Ocampa. The story says there's a way.

That's why I greatly enjoyed the rather amusing notion that Kes is married to Tom with a daughter who later marries Harry and has a son—all within maybe three years' time. The line about Tom having Harry as a son-in-law was absolutely hilarious. It just goes to show how much mileage can be milked out of a premise if a writer is brave enough to exercise non-restraint and go straight for the bizarre. (Doc's inability to choose and keep a name—Dr. Van Gogh in one time period, Dr. Mozart in another—was also amusing.)

Most compelling, however, is the future of Voyager's fate—a starship that will venture into a region occupied by an aggressively hostile race called the Krenim, leading to what the crew ultimately comes to call the "year of hell." As Paris explains in the future, the ship almost didn't make it. Many people died in Krenim attacks, including Captain Janeway and Lt. Torres. Further, we find out that Tom and B'Elanna were intimate before she died. Tom's somber line, "When she died I felt like I wanted to die," really rings true, and as the show ventures back in time, the tone turns progressively darker and even plunges into despair. Eventually we're allowed to witness the battle where Janeway and Torres are killed—and the site isn't pretty. There's a seriousness to the situation that reminds me of what I used to think Voyager as a series was all about: that of a lone starship having to cope with difficult or even extreme circumstances.

There are subtle touches here: the site of a Voyager hull battered by months of Krenim attacks; the mention of the Doctor's program being off-line for a year; Chakotay's urgency when under attack, and Tom's compliance to duty even after he has just seen B'Elanna die before his eyes—these touches are very well realized and, as a result, the drama comes off quite strong. (The hypothetical situation of war reminded me of TNG's "Yesterday's Enterprise" at times, though this is admittedly not quite on that scale of drama.) True, this "what if" situation is all within a fantasy world that never really happens. But it works because it uses the true emotions and reactions of the Voyager crew, and it all feels credible and real. The Krenim seem like an ominous threat, and that inspires me to believe perhaps the writers are thinking about large, consequential events to come. I sure hope so.

The movement backward through time also works well to foreshadow (or would that be post-shadow?) the events, which was interesting. And the way the episode demonstrates—in reverse chronological order, no less—the eventual return of hope after all the death and despair of "the year of hell" is a truly inventive dramatic device. Using Kes as point of view is perfectly appropriate—it spans Kes' hypothetical life while giving Jennifer Lien another vehicle, which she carries respectably well. (Michael Westmore's aging effect makeup was very well done, but Lien should be commended for making the character seem realistic.)

Returning to the time travel aspects, the ending is also quite inventive and labyrinthine—although there are a few facts that don't quite fit together. If I'm understanding the plot's intentions correctly, Kes' time shifts really began in the present, that is, third season Voyager from our point of view—because it seems the bio-chamber is something Doc of the present is also trying to experiment with. From this reading of the ending, Kes' trips through time were all within her own consciousness, jumping her to the end of her life, and then taking her backward to the beginning (and then forward to the present again). If this is the case, why does Kes "vanish" from Paris' point of view in the future when she makes her time shift? It doesn't seem consistent with the fact that Kes was (apparently) lying in the bio-chamber the whole time in the present, where the crew's unawareness to Kes' time jumps indicate that she never "vanished" here. The whole issue of moving through time always brings up the question of where one exists in physical form and where one's physical form goes when traveling out of a time period. Maybe I shouldn't ask such questions.

I also don't quite understand where the time paradox began (but that may simply be because it's a paradox)—did it begin in the future with Doc's experiment or in the present with Doc's other experiment? Was the bio-chamber of the present an attempt to extend Kes' life or was it truly intended as the corrective measure to Kes' time shift? The story seems to hint at several possibilities, but it's never really certain. I'm really trying to be helpful here, but I think I've confused things more than I've clarified them, so I think I'll just shut up now. I'm a fool for trying to dissect events that, by nature, cannot be dissected.

I guess the time travel aspects of "Before and After" aren't any more implausible than any other paradox that other similar time stories create, so let's just call it a day. Although I could've done without some of the extraneous technobabble, "Before and After" is one of the best hours of Voyager yet produced, and if I can get this much enjoyment out of being baffled, so be it.

Let me wrap up with a comment on Kes' new hairstyle: I like it. Much better. For those wondering how Kes could grow her hair from its previous length to its current length in the matter of weeks that seems to have transpired between this episode and the previous one, I pose the following as one possible explanation: Since Ocampa have shorter life spans, it would stand to reason that Kes also has accelerated biologic functions, which could include how fast her hair grows. Hey, take it or leave it.

Previous episode: Favorite Son
Next episode: Real Life

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34 comments on this review

Bob - Tue, Nov 6, 2007 - 3:00pm (USA Central)
Kes' new hairstyle in this episode actually looks like crap. I preferred the old one, even on a bad wig day. This is the episode that Kes, as a character, jumps the shark.
tyronen - Thu, Feb 28, 2008 - 3:18pm (USA Central)
The paradox begins in the future. Kes is sent back from the moment of death to continually jump backwards. The cure takes place in the present but not before Kes is sent back to her conception.

Since, of course, that future never actually takes place, it follows that a hypothetical future can reach back in time and erase itself.
Stefan - Fri, Feb 29, 2008 - 4:27pm (USA Central)
I look at this as a "what if." What if Captain Janeway and Lt. Torres were killed? What if Seven of Nine hadn't replaced Kes?

Also, note that this episode layed the foundation for the Year of Hell two-parter. In that episode Seven of Nine and Tuvok take the place of Kes in finding the frequency of the stuck Krenim torpedo.
David Forrest - Wed, Mar 26, 2008 - 8:02pm (USA Central)
I totally agree with your review Jammer. This is a teriffic episode of Voyager and I really enjoyed Lien's performance. This is the one episode in which I really wished that Kes had stayed on through the rest of the show. I thought the writers never paid enough attention to her character, and she a lot of potential, especially with Seven of Nine coming aboard.

As for her new hairstyle, I loved it. I thought it should have been done a long time ago as Lien looked fabulous with the new style. The actresses on Voyager had terrible hairstyles the first few years.
Dirk Hartmann - Sun, Apr 20, 2008 - 5:50am (USA Central)
The review is spot on. I think it would have deserved a 4 star rating. I'm beginning to think that over time you've raised the bar regarding ratings. For example, there is a host of (enjoyable, but in the end) rather conventional episodes in DS9's first season that got 3 stars. The margin of distance to the 3 1/2 stars we've got here seems rather too small for me.
And by the way: I'm with those who like Kes' new hair style.
Occuprice - Fri, Jul 4, 2008 - 1:38am (USA Central)
I hate the term "jump the shark". More often than not its applied to an episode that simply marks a turning point, not a bad turning point, but just a regular turning point. It seems that a show "jumps the shark" when it changes what The Viewer knows, trusts, and loves, regardless of whether it actually did something good or bad. But I suppose everyone is entitle to their opinions. I just think that the phrase "jump the shark" is use ad nauseum to the point that it holds no meaning any more and actually makes a person sound like they're just rattling off a catchphrase rather than actually dissecting WHY this "jumped the shark"

I suppose I'm really venting my anger about "jump the shark" in relation to BSG (so I don't mean this as a total slam against you,Bob), but it's still valid here.

Great episode.
Jake - Mon, Oct 13, 2008 - 11:17am (USA Central)
I agree with you, Occuprice, that the term "jump the shark" is used way too often, & often for the most inane reasons. In the case of Voyager, I felt it jumped not with Kes's new hairdo (which I thought was beautiful) nor with 7 of 9's arrival, but when the show itself basically became a strict 'adventure' show, instead of the tale of survival & hardship that we were promised when the show premiered (this jump, I'd say, truly occurred with the "Basics" two-parter when NOT ONE member of the crew turns against Janeway when the Kazon strand them on the planet, as it was her behavior in her prior dealings with the Kazon which eventually led to their abadonment on that world).
Mike - Fri, Oct 31, 2008 - 2:37pm (USA Central)
It's kind of entertaining that Jammer--who spent a lot of time on these excellent reviews--cannot QUITE handle the time travel narratives. Clearly Kes' jumps weren't 'within her consciousness' but actually happened, starting in the future when the Doc activated the bio-temporal chamber to keep ancient Kes alive; the characters state this a number of times.

As a huge Kes fan, my review is almost unnecessary. This is one of Voyager best episodes, an episode that proves definitively that a Kes episode can work (unlike, say, a Harry or Neelix episode). Great acting from Lien, who finally comes into her own as a talent in this season, as well as from the other actors. A fascinating glimpse at Voyager's future...a glimpse which of course gets virtually ignored later on during the 'Year of Hell' episodes.

I also agree with Jake's comments above re: Voyager-the-adventure-show. Adventure+7of9 just isn't as interesting as thought-provoking+Kes, even if some of those season 1-3 episodes didn't work.
Bob2 - Fri, Jan 9, 2009 - 3:45am (USA Central)
Yeah, the time travel certainly starts with the doctors experiments in the future to try and prolong Kes' life. The whole episode is a great big rewind to the present Voyager. It's nicely done, and they end used the Year of Hell concept in the next season which was a nice touch. Clearly Kes' travels through time had an impact on the timeline since she's gone by then in the new timeline.
Jaespol - Sat, May 9, 2009 - 4:18am (USA Central)
One of my favorite all time Voyager episodes.
It just infuriates me to think they fired Lien when they could have fired Wang or Beltran.
I mean half the characters on the ship never had a good an episode as this. I also thought that Kes ended up totally sexy by the end of this episode and the show would have been much better if we had Seven and Kes on the show at once!
Obvious - Mon, Dec 14, 2009 - 2:11am (USA Central)
I propose that the reason Kes grew her hair is cos she was told she fired and she went "oh fuck it" and decided to have her hair the natural way (if any of you have seen American History X). That's just what I'm guessing...
Greg - Mon, Feb 15, 2010 - 4:24pm (USA Central)
I still remeber the joke my brother made about this episode.

"Help! I'm a single-celled organism! Put me in the biotemperal chamber before it's to late!"
Greg H - Mon, Feb 15, 2010 - 4:36pm (USA Central)
@Obvious- The reason her hair was longer was because make-up was no longer on her ears.She was developing an allergy to the gum asthetic used in the make-up; therefore, the wig covered her ears. That was information posted on either the Wikipedia or Memoery Alpha websites for a time. I can't find that information anymore.
Jay - Sun, Feb 21, 2010 - 1:59pm (USA Central)
Well, if Kes ages a decade for every year humans do, and she was "20-ish" when the show started, by this point she'd be "50-ish", so the middle aged hairdo makes sense from that standpoint.
Nic - Tue, Nov 16, 2010 - 10:59am (USA Central)
This was certainly an enjoyable episode with lots of great scenes. But I can't get over the implausibility of the situation: it's basically only Kes' "consciousness" (or "soul" if you prefer) that is travelling backwards in time, because she always ends up in the body of her younger self... But somehow she also takes the time-travel-causing radiation with her? It makes absoloutely no sense. I also got a little tired of Kes having to re-explain the cause of her jumps to every 'new' time period she encountered. It's also too bad some of the things we saw of that future never came to pass... it seems like the writers knew they would be getting rid of her very soon and they wanted to cram all of her remaining story potential into a single hour.
Elliott - Mon, Mar 14, 2011 - 2:46am (USA Central)
Far be it for me to think you should give a VOY episode a lower score, but this was just awful. it seems to me they had given Lien the news that she'd be leaving, because she just doesn't seem to care anymore. Couple that with the guest actors (that kid made me want to get a vasectomy) and you've got a performance cesspool.

The only character-related element to the story (other than perhaps Paris' reïgniting his interest in Kes) is Kes' age and how the generations of the Ocampa work within a mostly human crew. That's not enough to sustain an episode, so what we get a lot of is rehashing the same technobabble and seeing people treat Kes like an idiot.

The plotting episodes of VOY (like this one) which are TNGesque don't really work for me; this show is about characters and all we get at the end is Kes running hurriedly off camera to go plant a flower or something.
Destructor - Fri, Jun 17, 2011 - 12:59am (USA Central)
Amazing episode- definitely one of the season's best, and a very fitting last swansong for the Kes character.
Nathan - Wed, Nov 2, 2011 - 1:30pm (USA Central)
Not bad in general, but the going back to before birth is just silly and probably the worst reset button of the series. R.L. Stine did it better in The Cuckoo Clock of Doom :)
Jay - Sun, Jan 1, 2012 - 9:40pm (USA Central)
Newborn Kes had very human ears...
TDexter - Thu, Jan 19, 2012 - 5:09pm (USA Central)
I know that this is a Trekkie fan site, so not everybody is familiar with reproduction or female genitalia. :P

But -- a whole review, tons of comments, and no mention of the BACK VAGINA? That's right -- in the birthing scenes, the Ocampa newborns appear to come out of their mothers' backs.

I don't even want to begin to imagine what Tom had to put where for that to happen.
Karabo - Fri, Feb 3, 2012 - 3:36pm (USA Central)
@TDexter I was thinking the same thing! That was kind of weird. I would loved to have seen the kinds of positions Tom and Kes had to get into for conception!

Then there's the annoying fact that humans can apparently breed with any species in the whole universe which is just downright silly. That's always been one of my gripes with Trek. Somehow species from the Alpha quadrant are physically compatible with species from the Detla quadrant. Total bull.
Justin - Mon, Apr 2, 2012 - 3:11pm (USA Central)
Is it just me or was the decision to give The Doctor a bad hair-plug-do in the opening scene intentional? Even in the 24th century...even if you're a freaking HOLOGRAM they just can't find a cure for baldness? Hilarious!
Jay - Sun, Oct 28, 2012 - 11:36pm (USA Central)
It was a bit strange that a human/Ocampa hybrid would age as fast as an Ocampan...surely Kim's son, being 3/4 human, wouldn't age as fast as a pure Ocampan...Ocampa must have mighty dominant genes.
Lt. Yarko - Wed, Jun 19, 2013 - 2:11am (USA Central)
I loved how Kes' doings at each stop in time affected the future that she had already seen. This was truly one of the most cohesively imaginative episodes of all trek and kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. And I usually hate time travel stories because they are usually so dumb.
DLPB - Sat, Mar 8, 2014 - 1:51pm (USA Central)
Kes' whole arc was ruined by the ridiculous decision to make her age so young. There is literally no way that she would behave, and know what she knows, at that age. And apparently, she looked and behaved like an adult at around one year old. Come on, what the heck were the writers thinking??

A species that gets old that quick would never have become a dominant species. This episode with her daughter exposes how daft this idea is.

DLPB - Sat, Mar 8, 2014 - 2:01pm (USA Central)
Also, while this episode was entertaining, it was flawed and had absolutely no believability factor whatsoever. It's easy to write when you don't have to think about your story making any internal logical sense.
Trekker - Thu, Mar 20, 2014 - 7:47pm (USA Central)
Did the Time Traveller's wife steal the idea from this episode?

I just realized that this episode was created prior to both The Time Traveller's wife and Benjamin Button movies.

Good episode though and probably the best Kes episode

K'Elvis - Mon, Mar 31, 2014 - 9:05am (USA Central)
The Ocampan lifespan is plausible, they just have to grow up very quickly. They also need to be highly fertile. It's plausible that they reproduce only once, but in that case, it has to be a litter. They also would have to be in a real hurry, they don't have time to waste. Yet Kes is languid, almost sleepy, like she has all the time in the world.

To an Ocampan, humans must seem as unchanging as statues. An Ocampan goes through an entire lifespan in 9 years, while over 9 years an adult human doesn't change all that much. Kes's descendants seem to have inherited the short Ocampan lifespan. Would you really want to marry someone you will outlive your great-great-great grandchildren? I do suppose marrying an Ocampan would be great for someone who didn't want to commit to a long-term relationship. Then again, we know that the children grew up as quickly as an Ocampan, but we don't know that their lifespan was as short. It's plausible that they could grow up quickly, but live a long time.
HolographicAndrew - Wed, Aug 6, 2014 - 5:11pm (USA Central)
I have to knock a couple points off this episode for that eye-roll worthy last line. "If I learned anything there's no time like the present" Barf! What is with Voyager ending episodes on cheesy lines like that.

The only things I enjoy about this episode are Jennifer Lien's performance and the info drops about the future. I don't think it stacks up well against other time travel conundrum episodes. I thought it was too repetitive - once you've seen one jump backwards you've seen them all.
Vylora - Mon, Aug 25, 2014 - 9:28pm (USA Central)
Very interesting take on a time paradox plot. Some repetition in the pacing but it is unavoidable in a plot such as this (TNG's "Cause and Effect" is loaded with repetition but is generally a highly-regarded episode). The direction and nicely done performances help to move things along at a decent clip. It was also endemic of how woefully under-utilized Lien was in this show. She could've been one of the great Star Trek characters, quite frankly, had the writers given a damn.

Really good job all around save for an overly-sappy final few frames. One of the seasons highlights.

3.5 stars.
M.P. - Thu, Oct 30, 2014 - 1:33pm (USA Central)
About the Ocampan lifespan:

It is -not- plausible the way it is now. I cannot remember the exact math but a quick Google search would find it. Essentially, with a 9-year lifespan and only one reproductive cycle, the starting number of Ocampans would have to have been greater than the total number of atoms in the entire universe.

The way around this is to make fact the insinuated idea that the Ocampans are a dying species. Most likely, before the disaster, they lived much longer lives with many reproductive cycles. Time has seen each generation deteriorate to the point where their species is now at an end.

Sad, really. The Caretaker wasn't trying to protect them; he was trying to make comfortable their final years of existence as a species.
Dave in NC - Sun, Nov 2, 2014 - 6:02pm (USA Central)
Fun fact I learned from this episode: Kes's normal temperature is 16 degrees. Whether that's Fahrenheit or Celsius, she's definitely on the chilly side.

Anyways, I really enjoyed this look at the Voyager that might have been. It's really an interesting plot, and Jennifer Lien shows that she can out-act Garrett Wang any day.

Side notes: it'd be interesting to see this episode recut in chronological order (past to future).

Also interesting is that a Voyager under Chakotay's command was still decades away from the Alpha Quadrant two years after the show ended.

Overall, I give this three and a half stars.

(BTW, the comment box is really tiny for some reason. It's kind of hard to self-edit when you can't easily read what you wrote).
Dave in NC - Sun, Nov 2, 2014 - 6:12pm (USA Central)
Oh, and I must admit, the thought of the Ocampan back vagina was definitely distracting. Not to be crass, but if I remember correctly Ocampans get pregnant by holding hands. Do they even have sex?

Last thought: Am I the only one who thinks it is extremely weird that Harry would marry Tom's daughter? It's probably just me, but seriously, I totally get the vibe that Harry has a secret crush on Tom.
HotLanta - Wed, Jan 21, 2015 - 10:07pm (USA Central)
I agree with everything Dave said. Back vagina! Lmao!
Also, Kathy & B'Elanna dead? No Seven? This time line is beyond lame!

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