Naturally, showrunner Ira Steven Beyr and his stable of writers crafted a handful of these ‘spatial relationships’ right out of the gate which would set the tone for what would, could, and should follow. After all, when the day-to-day environment of doing business in the Final Frontier wasn’t going to be all the ‘cake and ice cream’ of the original Star Trek and its immediate predecessor The Next Generation, these storytellers required a handful of tenuous if not treacherous avenues to develop: in this distant outpost, Starfleet was still more an idea than it was a reality … and as Councilor Chang once rather famously opined in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, “If there is to be a brave new world, our generation is going to have the hardest time living in it.” DS9’s inhabitants weren’t always at war, but as these early days proved, they weren’t always at peace, either.
The Bajorans? They didn’t trust the Cardassians. And those Cardassians? Why, they wouldn’t put an ounce of faith behind anything those Bajorans suggested. What’s this we hear about some omniscient aliens taking up residence in the nearby wormhole? Well, that can’t be good for business! Further ingredients added to this volatile concoction were mix were a scheming Ferengi barkeep and a station’s head of security who just happened to be from an unknown species – one that would prove pivotal in the show’s still emerging mythology. With occasional stopovers for the Romulans, the Klingons, and duplicitous freedom fighters of the Maquis, DS9 was forever a space-based powder keg in search of a fuse.
Still, Beyr and company weren’t content to stop there: before audiences knew it, these producers went where no one had gone before, crossing that bridge critics and scholars always caution to avoid … and they introduced religion.
Oh, dear God!
As fate would have it, these Bajorans were a highly spiritual people, and what courted greater controversy in the history of man (and aliens, it would seem) than ideas of faith? DS9 had already thrown politics into the mix, so what could hurt more than a little religion?
In her 2012 interview with StarTrek.com, actress Louise Fletcher said of her role as the Bajoran Kai (spiritual leader or priest) Winn Adami: “She wanted power and she was ambitious. She was sort of a Margaret Thatcher in space, or, as I used to say, I was the Pope in space … from old days when Popes were ruthless and powerful and exerted their powers and fought wars and did all kinds of naughty things.”
Naughty, indeed! Though technically Kai Winn appeared in only fourteen episodes of DS9’s incredible run of 173 hours, no visit was ever wasted on trivial moments. In her time as the high priestess of Bajor, this master manipulator butted heads with Starfleet and its officer – Benjamin Sisko – both as the Federation’s ‘regional manager’ as well as his newly-discovered role as ‘Emissary of the Prophets,’ an appointment he inherited from those wormhole aliens who confronted him not long after his arrival. Winn secretly backed a political uprising which sought to topple Bajor’s Provisional Government and oust the Federation from their sector of space; albeit unsuccessful, her actions showed she was no one to be trifled with. And ultimately in the build-up to the show’s war arcs, Winn succumbed to matters of the flesh, pairing up with the Cardassian Gul Dukat – now possessed by the spirit of a Pah-wraith (think Bajoran ‘spiritual deceiver’ or ‘demon’) – for some one-on-one that would eventually result in her own fiery death.
To bring Winn Adami to life, producers contracted Fletcher, an actress whose screen reputation showed she could play the ultimate tough cookie while maintaining a guise of institutional purity: in 1976, Fletcher won the Academy Award for ‘Best Actress’ with her work in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest. Her ‘Nurse Ratched’ is perhaps considered one of the silver screen’s most articulate, most cunning, and most patient evils, always appearing in crisp hospital whites with hair coiffed in perfect horn-like curls, speaking with an almost machine-like precision void of any true emotion yet filled with robotic compassion. She’s Alexa well before there ever was an Amazon, yet certainly lacking any medical or psychological schooling.
Though there are almost two decades of screen mileage separating the creation of these two powerful female characters, clearly Fletcher’s enduring cultural influence as psych ward matron serves DS9 almost as well as it does the 1975 film. The actress owns the small screen in her every scene, politely eschewing the Federation’s ethical position with one favoring her personal interpretation of Bajoran scriptures. She incessantly hammered Sisko with a civility bordering on cruelty, never once raising her voice (except to be heard) nor allowing a hair to fall out of place. As for those horns of hair? Well, they were cleverly hidden for Star Trek under any number of papal mitres the costuming department could devise! Winn was DS9’s ultimate cool customer.
Thankfully, Trek hasn’t been Fletcher’s only foray into Science Fiction and Fantasy. All one must do is peruse her IMDB.com profile to learn she’s been involved in several projects near and dear to our beloved genres. In 1983, she played a government employee secretly keeping tabs on some plotting aliens in Orion Pictures’ Strange Invaders. A scant three years later, Fletcher brought to life a body-snatched small-town teacher in Cannon Pictures’ 1986 remake of the 1953 SciFi/Classic Invaders From Mars. Roles aboard TV’s short-lived VR.5 and 1995’s Virtuosity may’ve given the actress a bit of room to flex into something different, but I suspect filmdom’s signature health provider and her singular nefariousness is never far behind where the actress travels.
But … was Winn a villain?
One man’s villain is another man’s freedom fighter; and regardless of outcomes both Ratched and Winn are presented as zealots to a fault. Perhaps neither intended any harm to befall their respective worlds, but there’s a fine line between selflessness and narcissism that Fletcher straddles with an uncommon grace. On screens big and small, she’s a wonder to behold … even if that consideration comes at your own peril!