"The Gift"

Season Four, Episode 2
Written by Joe Menosky
Directed by Anson Williams
Main Cast:
Kate Mulgrew as Captain Kathryn Janeway
Robert Beltran as Chakotay
Roxann Dawson as B'Elanna Torres
Robert Duncan McNeill as Tom Paris
Ethan Phillips as Neelix
Robert Picardo as The Doctor
Tim Russ as Tuvok
Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine
Garrett Wang as Harry Kim
 

Guest Cast:
Jennifer Lien as Kes

Synopsis:

Seven of Nine awakens aboard Voyager, and demmands to be taken back to the Collective but Janeway decides that she is not yet ready to make that decision. She believes that Seven must be allowed to experience her humanity and gives the Doctor consent to remove her Borg implants when her body starts to reject them. When the operation starts to go wrong it is Kes who comes to the rescue, using her mind to perform highly advanced surgery. Her powers have been dramatically escalating, possibly as a result of her recent contact with Species 8472. Soon her powers prove to be a danger to the ship and the crew and Kes volunteers to leave for the safet of her friends. Once she leaves the ship she undergoes an amazing transformation into pure energy, but as a gesture of love to her friends, she sends Voyager spinning across the galaxy. They end up in a far region of space, beyond Borg territory and ten years closer to home. As Tuvok pays farewell to his friend, Seven reawkens a new woman -- literally. Gone are most the implants and she already starts to open up to Janeway, revealing a personal detail about her long-forgotten childhood.


Review: 
 

Aha. This is one of the more mature, sophisticated character dramas Voyager has ever done...it's such a pity they had to botch the ending. It's basically a two-hander, the first plot deals with Seven of Nine, the Borg that was left aboard Voyager, disconnected from the Collective, at the end of the last episode. The second resolves the fate of Kes, who basically has to go because Jennifer Lien got the sack (or so I believe, I don't think anyone knows exactly what happened there).

I was sad to hear about Ms Lien's departure from the series as I've always had a bit of a soft spot for her and her character, Kes. For a while now it would seem that the writers had pretty much given up on the character and most of the time she's had any prominent role it's been as a plot device rather than an actual character. But Ms Lien is a superb young actress and she's always instilled a wonderfully calm, ethereal charm into the role (and she has one of the loveliest voices I've ever heard). She's been an (untapped) asset to the series but hey, a contract is a contract and without one an actor can't work. And so Kes must go. Thankfully the writers have come up with a terrific, touching farewell which does justice to the character.

Since day one we've seen evidence of Kes' telekinetic powers although it's mostly been used as a plot device to service the story rather than the character (see "Persistence of Vision", "Warlord" and "Scorpian" in particular). But it was enough to make this story, her rapid growth into a higher being, have resonance and meaning. It's a storyline that doesn't actually get the time devoted to it that it needs (particularly towards the end) but we're treated to an absolutely beautiful performance by Jennifer Lien. She makes it clear with her every nuance that Kes is starting an incredible journey of self-exploration and yet she is going to really miss her friends of three years. But she can no longer remain on the ship, for her powers threaten to tear it apart. She doesn't want any harm to come to her friends so she must go. I liked the way the writers chose to have her depart but I wasn't quite happy with her "farewells" or lack thereof. We did get a reasonably good scene between Kes and Neelix, finally acknowledging their relationship -- and about friggin' time, too! And there was a beautiful exchange between her and Janeway in my favourite scene of the episode.

But I'm afraid the writers chose to force in a dreadfully misguided "action" finale where Kes has to be rushed off the ship ASAP. This is just way over-the-top, with exploding bulkheads and it rather spoils a storyline that had been beautifully developed up to that point. Did we really need it? And worse, Kes doesn't get to say goodbye to anyone, particularly the Doctor (who I'd always assumed was her best friend). She's just rushed off the ship and well, that's it. I was left pretty peeved. There was a nice closing scene where Tuvok lights a candle for his departed friend but it just wasn't enough. She's been a main character on the show for over three years and she deserved more of a send-off (though it was handled better than Dax's death in DS9, I might add). I might have forgiven this had we been given just a scene where the crew pay their respects to her in a subsequent episode, but no. To the best of my knowledge she's only received one mention since this episode. But that just seems to be the way it goes. Has anyone noticed that all three of the Trek spin-offs have had a female member of the cast depart only to have their exit handled shakily and been promptly forgotten thereafter?

The Seven of Nine storyline seems to get precedence over the Kes story, which seems a bit odd but luckily it's pretty strong. Before I say anything about Seven herself, I'll first tackle the "Janeway issue". Once again her actions are um, controversial at best. At first I didn't know what to think. She basically denies Seven free-will claiming that she is unable to make up her own mind. Now we all know that the Borg are the bad guys but Janeway's decision that she won't allow Seven to return to the Collective (even thought that's what she desperately wants) is morally debatable. At one point I again found myself asking "who made her God?". I think she made the right decision -- and of course Seven had to stay aboard anyway because she's our new cast member -- but it would have been nice to see her question whether she was making the right decision. She seems to think that every choice she makes is unquestionably right, hence the God complex. If the writers had just shown her think before she acted and actually debated the moral underpinnings then it would have been kinder to he character.

But apart from that glaring problem, Janeway was actually portrayed quite well. She came across as the Big Momma and I liked the way she supported both Kes and Seven (which is just as well, because she is responsible for Seven now). Kate Mulgrew did a super job and made her concern seem genuine and real. The final Janeway/Kes scene (apart from the silly race-to-get-her-off-the-ship stuff) was very touching, almost like a mother saying goodbye to a daughter, coming to realise that she's grown up and has to move on in life.

As for Seven herself, her adjustment to coping without the Collective was pretty much as expected. What did surprise me was the strength of Jeri Ryan's performance. She does an absolutely tremendous job, beautifully conveying the turmoil of losing her identity and projecting a wide range of turbulent emotions with exceptional skill. It's easy to feel sympathy for her as she has her very identity stripped away from her. It's just captivating to watch and due in no small part to Ms Ryan.

The only problem with the Seven plot is that it skilfully builds up only to be slightly undercut by the unbelievable transformation that occurs at the end of the episode. I'm talking about her change from being a slowly dismantled Borg to being a drop-dead gorgeous catwalk model. God, the uniform!! Jeri Ryan is obviously a very beautiful woman, but that silver catsuit severely over-emphasises her...um, womanhood. OK if it was a few episodes down the line (and even then the costume is OTT) but my point is this -- she's undergone a painful, traumatic transformation. She ought to look like hell! Instead she looks like a super-model who's just spent the week at a beauty salon. Not realistic, people. Still, on a purely aesthetic level...blimey, it's getting hot in here! (:-)

Another thing about the ending that got me was the decision to (via Kes's new magical powers) send the ship ten thousand light years further home, safely away from Borg space. Can I just say "what a cop-out"! When we learned in "Scorpion" that Voyager was about the enter the vast heart of Borg space I let out a cry of joy! What potential, I thought. This might finally give the show the focus and drive it so desperately needed. Part of the reason I've enjoyed the past two epiosde is that they've felt almost like a story arc, which I like. But here we get the big, dreaded "reset button" and hey presto, we're back to safe (aka boring) territory. I won't pretend to be overjoywed about it.

I think that just about covers it. The two character pieces were beautifully done up until the rushed ending. There are certain aspects I'm none too happy with, as I've detailed above, but overall this is definitely a strong episode for Voyager. The hits definitely exceeded the misses. 

Rating: 8


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