Although this type of story doesn't do much for me personally, and thus I am not terribly enthusiastic to write this review, I must acknowledge that this was a well-produced, well-acted, effective story in the Voyager style.
Find the story summary at Memory Alpha's episode page.
There is a type of person who, damaged by the ravages of a seemingly unending conflict and the losses he has personally endured in wartime, finds the end to such a conflict to be disturbing to the point of madness. A man who fight with every ounce of strength he has for a cause that, when it ceases to exist, robs him of his reason to go on fighting (and thus, his reason to live). This is not a new concept in science fiction. This particular episode follows a stunning TNG episode called "The Wounded" in which a formerly celebrated Starship Captain goes rogue and attacks Cardassians, believing them to be arming for another war. And that follows Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, in which peace between the Klingon Empire and the Federation is so alarming to some on both sides of the conflict that they ally themselves with Romulans in a plot to frame Kirk for the murder of the Klingon Chancellor and thus set the two sides at each other in open war once again. The added element of a madman trying to beat back death to the great detriment of his sanity is not new either. And I have to say that there are stories that work those angles better than Warlord did.
But I am not a believer in reviewing something relative to competition. I must ask the question: how does Warlord stand on its own merits. And, I believe it holds up rather well after a second viewing (fifteen years after my original viewing). The characters and their motivations are fleshed out nicely (though they relied on the exposition fairy a little too often for my taste - in this case, the son of the murdered Artok, who sits in the magic meeting room to tell the story of Tiran. The episode is a little on the slow side considering how much they have to explain and explore in forty five minutes. But the off-tempo pacing does make room for a number fo compelling psychological battles. Between Kes and Neelix (I don't believe Tiran was entirely calling the shots at the lunch table break-up, as that break-up is permanent and Kes explains in a later episode that those feelings were genuine), then between Tuvok and Tiran, then between Kes and Tiran (in their shared mind), and finally between Kes and Tuvok after the dust has settled.
Between the excellent acting of Jennifer Lien and the stunning direction of David Livingston (the way he chose to block out and shoot Kes/Tiran's dream conflict was top notch, e.g.), this episode overcomes a frequently melodramatic script (Tiran's hollered ranting was distracting on several occasions - I blame Lisa Klink, with whom I am not impressed) and manages to be basically solid entertainment. Nothing fancy, but I am giving it significant credit for three reasons:
- The show's producers left their comfort zones and allowed a character to evolve and grow in a way that requires continuity. Here, Kes is growing up and realizing that Neelix is holding her back. It's sad for Neelix, but necessary. He's still immature and fundamentally not prepared for a life lived in the Ocampan fast lane, and Kes has been sensing it for some time. They also have been delving further into the power (and menace) of Kes's telepathic abilities and that is one of the only ongoing plot threads that I found remotely interesting at the time of this episode's original airing.
- The denouement of the story makes it clear that it will have lasting repercussions for Kes personally. In many Trek episodes, we see someone get possessed by an evildoer, kill people, and then get that evildoer removed from their minds, and most of the time, they shrug, say it was beyond their control and go right back to being happy. This script recognizes that such an outcome is unrealistic in the extreme. Like Picard with the Borg, once you've been used as an instrument to kill, it's going to impact your psyche from then on. Period.
- During Kes and Neelix's break-up, although Neelix is obviously hurt by Kes's decision to leave him, and by some of her accusations, his responses are shockingly mature and heartfelt. This fits in with a series of stories in which Neelix shows his desire to be something more than what he has been, from Investigations to Warlord to Fair Trade to Rise. They're really trying with some of their non-human characters to show real character development (and even with humans like Paris and, later, Seven of Nine). When they do these sorts of things, they invariably have more success than when they try to contain changes and write "bottle" shows where consequences are limited or erased.
My only suggests for improving this story would have been to ease off on the exposition and let Tiran himself give his back-story (while rallying his people or while arguing with Kes), and to give Kes/Tiran dialogue less purple-shaded and let her play her madness in a subtle, creeping manner until the big climax, rather than leaning on insane shrieks and bizarre sex-play. DS9's mirror universe episodes had the same problems...most of the evil among us is subtle, alluring and, once exposed, creepy...not bombastic and hyper-emotional. Tiran screaming "STRONGER THAN EVER!!!! STRONGER THAN EVER!!!! STRONGER THAN.....EVER...." is not compelling drama. Sorry.
Bonus points to pitch-artists Andrew Shepard-Price and Mark Gaberman for selling Voyager's staff on a good story concept...take some of those points back for the known hackery of Lisa Klink...wind up a little above par thanks to quality direction and stage blocking.
Jennifer Lien is obviously the star of this show, but I also want to throw some props to Ethan Phillips and guest stars Brad Greenquist (Demmas) and Galyn Gorg (Nori), both of whom did some good work interacting with the mainstays.
Actions have consequences, even if they cannot fully be controlled. And life is built on continuity and change. This episode does a better job than most of the Voyager canon at recognizing those fundamental truths.