During the fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager in 1997, the character Kes was suddenly written off the show. At the time, very little was said about actor Jennifer Lien’s departure or why her character had been abruptly axed.
Two of Voyager’s showrunners said her character had reached “a creative dead end,” Screen Rant reported, but little explanation was given. Lien didn’t clarify why she left the show either. The lack of information led to rampant rumors about Lien’s exit within the fanbase.
The Rumors About Lien’s Departure
Some fans theorized that in order to bring on Jeri Ryan as Seven of Nine, an actor had to be cut from the show. According to this theory, because Kes’ storyline hadn’t played out the way the showrunners intended, she was cut to make room for Seven of Nine. This was by far the most circulated rumor.
Other fans said that when contract renewals came up and money had to be saved, she was fired instead of Garrett Wang. These rumors suggested that though Lien was better-liked by the cast and crew, Wang had just been named one of the year’s sexiest men by People magazine. So, they kept him instead of Lien because of his higher profile.
A less circulated rumor claimed that Lien had actually been fired from Voyager because she had a drug problem. Though this rumor continued to pop up for years, fans didn’t want to believe it was true.
Lien’s Co-Stars Said Her Personal Life Interfered With Her Acting
Only one of the rumors came close to the real reason that Lien left the show, according to authors Ben Robinson and Mark Wright. Their 2020 behind-the-scenes book Star Trek Voyager: A Celebration revealed what they say is the real story behind Lien’s exit. They say it had nothing to do with contracts or budget restraints, and it definitely didn’t have to do with Ryan’s addition to the main cast.
Robinson and Wright spoke to each of the main cast members for the book except Lien. She stopped giving interviews after she retired from acting, which happened shortly after her exit from Voyager. Each of her costars described Lien in the book as a talented actor who was able to access a deep well of emotion and bring that into her character effortlessly. They also said that the emotional well she was tapping from seemed to be filled with dark waters.
Her costars, the writers and the producers got to see those dark waters in the rare scenes where her character, Kes, got upset or angry, they told Robinson and Wright. Many said they saw glimpses of Lien’s inner pain in the episode Warlord, when a warrior entity possessed Kes’ body.
After a few seasons on the show, more of Lien’s troubled waters began to seep out, Robinson and Wright reported. It became apparent to her costars and the producers that she was struggling with mental health issues and possibly addiction, they said, and her personal issues started impacting her ability to truly show up for her performances.
Showrunner Jeri Taylor told Robinson and Wright that she tried to provide Lien support.
“We knew that there was something going on,” Taylor said. “But she wouldn’t talk or let us offer to help.”
Though they didn’t want to, Robinson and Wright reported, the showrunners decided to terminate Lien’s contract and write Kes off the show. The abrupt departure of the actress and the character wasn’t what the showrunners wanted at all, they told the authors. They’d intended to explore Kes’ character over the entire six- or seven-season run of the show. Though the writers admitted they were having trouble realizing the concept they’d had for Kes at the beginning, they were hoping to have the chance to bring the character back on track, they said. However, Lien’s personal issues prevented that from happening, according to Robinson and Wright’s exploration.
Lien Faced a String of Arrests in Tennessee
My six degrees of Star Trek is kind of sad. Jennifer Lien who played Kes on Voyager lives one county over and I also work with an officer that has arrested her many times…as has her husband who works at another Dept in another adjoining county. So sad what has happened to her.
— Holden Mcshay (@HoldenMcshay) May 5, 2020
Lien’s life continued to spiral out of control after she left Voyager, according to media reports. In 2015, she made headlines when she was arrested in two separate incidents; in April she was charged with evading arrest, resisting arrest, reckless endangerment and aggravated assault after police say she rammed into a cruiser; and in August she was charged with indecent exposure, the Roane County News reported at the time. According to Variety, Lien had a confrontation with a neighbor in Tennessee, during which she revealed her buttocks and breasts while children were present. In October 2015, Lien was court-ordered to undergo a mental health evaluation, according to the Roane County News.
In November 2016, all charges against Lien were dismissed after she paid more than $2,000 in restitution and “managed to go several months this year without any further incidents,” the Roane County News reported. She “was ordered to continue complying with her mental health treatment,” the outlet said.
In March 2018, Tennessee ABC affiliate WATE 6 reported that Lien was arrested for driving after losing her license. The outlet noted that she’d been arrested a week prior for the same charge and that she’d lost her license after a previous DUI.
The same year, a Reddit user shared a picture from their local newspaper, which showed a report about Lien being arrested for DUI and assault. In January 2018, the Tennessee Roane County News reported that Lien was arrested in December 2017 and charged with DUI and simple assault after police said she was driving erratically, admitted she was drunk and spat on the arresting officer.
Lien has stayed out of the news for the past few years. She doesn’t appear to have any public social media accounts, so it’s hard to know how things are going for her now.