Jennifer Sisko may be one of the only characters in Star Trek who is “fridged” in two different universes.
Instead of being a traditional redshirt death, where a character dies to prove how dangerous the situation is, Jennifer Sisko’s death becomes a prime example of the women in refrigerators trope, because the main impact of her death is on Ben and Jake, her only confirmed male relatives. The audience has no prior relationship to her so everything about her is linked to Ben and Jake. Even worse, the series took time to establish personalities for Ben and Jake, yet Jennifer got none of that. Take Ben’s love of Cajun food and baseball or Jake’s coming-of-age journey from a young teenager to writer, Jennifer has nothing comparable – the audience never learns about her parents/siblings or sees them, there are no scenes of Ben and Jake discussing a dish they are cooking that she loved, there are no holosuite adventures they go through that Jennifer made, or anything else. This leaves Jennifer with less personality than many one-off characters in the franchise.
This lack of personality is part of how Jennifer becomes a prime example of the “women in refrigerators” trope. The term, first coined by comics writer Gail Simone, was inspired by a Green Lantern comic produced in the 1990s where Kyle Rayner, newly appointed Green Lantern, comes home to find his girlfriend, Alexandra DiWitt, literally shoved into a fridge. Much like Jennifer, Alexandra’s death was used as a way to motivate her male partner’s actions, without allowing either woman to have deeper characterization or significant roles in their series. Both become plot devices rather than characters. This trope can also be seen as making female characters more disposable than their male counterparts, implying that characters like Alexandra and Jennifer only have value when sacrificed to advance other’s stories.
Jennifer’s death during the Battle of Wolf 359 does set the stage for Ben and Jake to grow very close and hammers home how the brief existence of Locutus destroyed so many lives (“Emissary”). However, the impact of Jennifer’s death is slightly tempered by the fact that as an audience, we are not allowed to know her before she is killed. Her first scene is Ben finding her dead body and Jake crying. Later discussions about Jennifer between Ben and Jake never once reveal if she died trying to save Jake, trying to help fight the Borg, or helping others escape the ship. A few lines about that would easily have shown the audience more about Jennifer – did she help save other crewmembers or help injure Borg soldiers invading the ship before she died? While novelizations and other written works add details about Jennifer, these facts are never shown on-screen. We are left to care about her death by seeing the impact it has on her husband and son.
The writers did return to Jennifer in later seasons, but still within the framework of how her death impacted Ben and Jake. When Ben falls for a woman, Fenna, who is later revealed to be a projection of a visitor to DS9, Ben admits it is the first time he has felt something since Jennifer (“Second Sight”). This establishes that Ben is still mourning years later, allowing the audience to infer he truly cared for Jennifer, yet he never describes his relationship to Jennifer. Does he miss Jennifer’s sense of humor? Does he miss having deep conversations with her? Did they dance or go sightseeing together? While setting up the two women as rivals would have been disrespectful to both characters, it would have taken only a few tweaks of dialogue with Jadzia or Jake and Ben to flesh out Jennifer. Jadzia could easily have admitted she missed Jennifer as Curzon would have had memories of Jennifer and talked to Ben about fond memories of Curzon and the Siskos spending time together. Jake could easily have mentioned how he missed doing certain things with Jennifer that they bonded over that was something they shared that Ben did not enjoy participating in, allowing to show that Jennifer had a personality outside of being a wife and mother.
Jake’s career as a writer could actually have been the perfect vehicle for exploring Jennifer’s character. A few lines of dialogue saying Jake was inspired to write by Jennifer reading to him when he was growing up or how he, during the timeskip from Wolf 359 to Ben accepting the posting to DS9, read some of Jennifer’s favorite books to feel closer to her could have done so much to characterize Jennifer. There could even have been a scene in a later episode where Jake was struggling with writer’s block and Ben offered him some of Jennifer’s favorite books and they discussed them or how much she liked certain genres or authors.
Even the flashback to Ben and Jennifer meeting for the first time is more focused on Ben than Jennifer. Seeing Ben’s enthusiasm about seeing Jennifer again is very touching and establishes he still cares for her, but the audience is still left in the dark about Jennifer herself. While Jennifer says her mother told her never to get involved with an ensign, we never learn why she decided to date Ben in the first place – was it his wit? His culinary skills? Something else? Also, what attracted Ben to Jennifer? Her wit? Her dedication to Starfleet? The audience is not privy to this knowledge, which could easily have been revealed with a small scene of them learning about each other’s likes and dislikes or sharing personal stories while on a date.
Jennifer Sisko may have survived the Battle of Wolf 359 in the Mirror Universe, but this unfortunately does not end well for her. Her first appearance in the Mirror Universe casts her as the only moral person in a world of backstabbing and torture. Her relationship with Ben from the main universe does seem to set up her final appearance, but again this hinges on her relationship to Ben. In the Mirror Universe, Ben was unfaithful so the two are no longer together and never had Jake. Jennifer does get some more character development here as she is established as a scientist working for the Terran Empire, but her final appearance is based around her bond with Jake, not her desire to end all the killings happening around her.
Ben and Jake are very excited when Jennifer shows up in their universe, but their happiness is cut short as she ends up sacrificing herself by blocking a phaser shot that could have killed Jake. Seeing the two laugh and bond in the prologue to the episode is a slightly better version of what happened in “Emissary,” but again, the audience is asked to relate to Jennifer via her relationship with Ben and Jake. Ben’s expression when he sees Jennifer again is very touching, yet that is based on how the audience has seen him mourn Jennifer, not based on Jennifer herself. Seeing Jake trying to matchmake his father with Mirror Jennifer has a very bitter undertone as he never existed due to Mirror Ben and Mirror Jennifer separating; it almost feels like he’s determined to recreate his family.
Deep Space Nine brought us wonderful multi-layered female characters, including Kai Winn and Moogie. Jennifer Sisko may be in a class all her own as her death was literally her first scene in the show and she was only given any real character development in the Mirror Universe, only to die once again. This situation leaves Jennifer very underdeveloped, personality- wise and puts her on a pedestal for Ben and Jake, as a mother who died once through circumstances beyond her control and once by sacrificing herself. We as the audience were also never given the chance to view her outside of her relationship to her male family members. Jennifer could have truly been a meaningful character if she hadn’t been fridged instantly or with some mild tweaks to dialogue that would have let her personality show.