Nutshell: A corny, pedestrian plot, but Jennifer Lien makes it entertaining enough to chew through an hour—and has energy to spare.
First things first—I have to get something off my chest that's somewhat off the topic. I need to say that I'm quite tired of Voyager's advertising campaign. It's smug, self-important, hokey, and it never does justice to any episode it advertises. Week after week we're fed lines like "Voyager is better than ever!" and "You won't believe what happens!", and every fourth show seems to come advertised as a "special" episode. Enough already. Can't the promo producers be a little more low-profile and just tell us what the episode is about—like, say, the way the DS9 previews function?
The trailer for "Warlord" made it look like the epitome of silliness and triviality. And while this admittedly isn't the deepest episode to hit the screen this year, it's certainly not bad. In fact, there are some virtues here that prove quite entertaining.
Among these virtues is not the plot. The premise is pretty tired and dull—yet another alien who takes control of the mind and body of a Star Trek character. It happened on DS9's "The Assignment" just a mere three weeks earlier, and was done there with much better dramatic effect. On the other hand, "Warlord's" take on body snatcher milieu is another Voyager example of silly, fast-paced fun—and displays more energy than "The Assignment" could muster even with its textured Colm Meaney performance.
In "Warlord," the Voyager beams injured Ilari survivors off a damaged ship. One of the Ilari dies, but before he does, he transfers his mind (using a mysterious, concealed device) into Kes' mind and then steals her body, claiming it as his own. After escaping Voyager with the assistance of his faction of followers, he begins harnessing Kes' undeveloped mental abilities to his advantage, sometimes to manipulate his own followers (like any villain would). As it turns out, this man is a tyrant named Tieran, and he's been transferring his mind from host to host for centuries. Now he wants to reclaim an ancient Ilari throne and rule the world forever! (Pardon the tongue-in-cheek factor.)
Who cares about the plot? I sure don't. The internal politics of this world have about as much ultimate relevance to the series as what I ate for breakfast yesterday, and are about as interesting. The scenes between Janeway and the Ilari official on the Voyager who wants to see Tieran stopped are the same old standard negotiate-and-plan scenes that I'd expect in any random episode.
What makes this show worth watching is its hyperkinetic pacing and attitude. This is without a doubt the biggest show Jennifer Lien has had to carry to date, and by far Lien's most interesting performance. I'd say the best way to describe this performance is "Jennifer Lien in crazy mode." Her performance is gleefully over-the-top and stylized at times, but it's gutsy, engaging, and so full of energy unlike anything she's ever done on the show. What can I say? I liked it—a lot.
One thing Lien really has going for her is that wonderful, throaty voice—I just loved that voice in this episode, because she commands it so well. Another thing I enjoyed was Lien's use of expressive body language. She darts around the room, throwing herself into the role with such exuberance and energy that at times I was able to overlook the hokiness of the plot.
For forty minutes, Lien is Tieran. And Tieran is seductive, manipulative, power-hungry, and ruthless. What the writers have Tieran do is hardly important compared to how Lien conveys Tieran's actions. Did I care whether the evil Tieran would keep his throne? Not really. Did I enjoy watching Lien attempt to seduce two people in two minutes, and threaten to kill five others in five? You bet.
This type of show sometimes demands looking at the superficial qualities while ignoring what little lies beneath. Actually, in all fairness, there are a few, isolated subsurface elements here. The idea of a mental battle of wills proves to be the show's most effective story point. You see, Tieran may have control of Kes, but somewhere in the back of her brain, Kes is fighting back—fighting to regain her stolen mind. Tieran scoffs at her and dismisses her—in a dream he tells her that no little girl is going to beat his superior strength. The point here, however, is that this is a fight that isn't won by brute strength or weapons—it's won by the superior will. And Kes, despite her quiet, fragile outer appearance, has the determined strength to see that this villain does not escape.
The scenes between Tieran/Kes and Tuvok also work pretty well. Tieran attempts to use Kes' mental connections along with some seductive intentions against Tuvok, but Tieran fails. Here is revealed a man who thinks he is bigger than he truly is. He's not up to the challenge of superior intellects.
Other than the mental battles and the impressive Lien performance, there's not much else to scrutinize here. I really could've done without the hopelessly-dumb-and-transparent-as-usual Neelix holodeck scenes. If there's a more pointless teaser in the history of Voyager than the one that opens "Warlord," then I've missed it (and I'm positive that hasn't happened). And as far as the scene where Neelix and Kes "break up" goes, it hardly matters. I doubt it "really" happened; the writers never make it clear, but it seems to simply be a side effect of the Tieran-takeover plot. That's too bad; I for one am sick of Kes and Neelix fawning over each other. It's trite, it's annoying, it goes nowhere. At least separating them for a while could've had story possibilities.
Fortunately, such annoying sequences are few and far between, and as compensation the episode supplies a reasonable amount of thin but entertaining moments, mostly fueled by Lien's respectable energy.