Remembering Louise Fletcher and the Importance of Kai Winn

Vedek Winn with the Bajoran schoolchildren on the Promenade in "In the Hands of the Prophets"

Louise Fletcher’s recent passing means another Trek great is gone. This is especially striking because she held the distinction of playing one of the most notable female villains in Star Trek and one who was almost more hated than the main antagonist—Gul Dukat—of the same series, Deep Space Nine. Yet she managed to do that through sheer ruthlessness and lack of morals, without the lecherous murderous nature of Dukat. This truly makes her terrifying. Winn is the ubiquitous evil—the neighbor who spreads intolerance and hate through a smile, a type of villain that can be found everywhere in modern society.

Louise Fletcher as Kai Winn became a true threat to Benjamin Sisko, not only in his role as a Starfleet officer, but as the Emissary of the Prophets. Her disdain for Benjamin Sisko led her down a very dark path that she kept going further down as the series progressed—near the final battle she was even turning to the Pah-Wraiths, the evil spirits Bajoran religion says are the enemies of the Prophets. Even as the finale drew near, Winn was driven from her own religious beliefs to seek out forbidden knowledge in sacred texts due to how much she resented that a non-believing non-Bajoran like Sisko had been chosen by the Prophets over herself. She claims that she deserves the visions that Sisko has had for years due to her faith and how she suffered for it during the Occupation. We can understand her resentment even if we disagree.

Throughout her fourteen appearances spread across seven seasons, Winn Adami had one of the most incredible character journeys from minor annoyance to distrusted religious figure who embraced extreme measures to achieve her goals, and even accidentally sided with Gul Dukat, who was once the main oppressor of her, her people, and possibly Bajoran religion.

Following the unplanned permanent residence of the previous leader, Kai Opaka, on the only planet that could provide the needed spores to save her life (“Battle Lines”), Winn became one of the main figures of the religious community of Bajorans, later to become Kai, the religious leader of her people. Winn’s less than respectful treatment of Sisko showed her true nature. For example, both Kais tug on Sisko’s ear when talking to him, yet the viewer is always under the impression Winn is holding herself back from twisting or pinching Sisko’s ear like a stern teacher or principal, speaking to him with a barely veiled edge of “Why is this non-Bajoran the Emissary?” to her voice. By contrast, Kai Opaka seemed to do it playfully, like a doting maternal relative. Opaka truly respected that the Prophets had chosen Sisko to lead Bajor, to the point that when a Bajoran stepped forward, proclaiming himself as the True Emissary, a shadow orb version of Opaka told Sisko that the other was an imposter, that Sisko was the True Emissary (“Accession”).

The entire story behind Opaka being left on the planet proves a key difference between herself and Winn—Opaka came to the station so that Sisko could take her through the wormhole, so she could learn about it. Sisko kept telling people that the Prophets existed in discernible forms in the wormhole, but only Opaka was willing to travel into the wormhole to view them for herself.  Opaka died in a self-chosen mission to learn more about the Prophets, whereas Winn never acknowledges Sisko’s insistence that she could see the prophets too. She distrusts the messenger too much.

Louise Fletcher as Vedek Winn in "The Siege"

Even before she was elected Kai, Winn proved to be a fickle and power hungry person, more concerned with power than religion. When she associated herself with the Alliance for Global Unity, a group dedicated to removing the Federation from Bajor and overthrowing the provisional government, she only stayed loyal as long as they could help her become Kai. Turning on one of her main allies from the Alliance for Global Unity did not stem from her disgust or outrage that the Cardassians were supplying weapons for the Alliance, but to avoid damage to her own reputation by association. She used this alliance only when it benefitted her and turned on them to save herself (“The Circle” and “The Siege”).

Winn was so driven to prove the superiority of Bajoran beliefs that when Keiko O’Brien, acting as as a much-needed teacher on the station, tries to teach the class the science of the wormhole, Winn interrupts the lesson to try to silence Keiko, saying if Keiko won’t follow the teachings of Bajoran religion, maybe the Bajoran parents shouldn’t let their children attend school under Keiko (“In the Hands of the Prophets”). Shortly after this confrontation a Bajoran, Neela, sets off a bomb in the school. Whether Neela was directly ordered to do so by Winn is not revealed in the episode, but certain real life parallels can be drawn between a leader—political, cultural, religious, or otherwise—who uses their oratory skills to convince their followers to do dangerous and harmful things in the name of religion. Winn even scores a victory after this as soon only Jake Sisko and Nog are left as students, forcing the school to close down. Winn won.

Winn and Dukat in his Bajoran guise in "Strange Bedfellows"

The multi-episode conclusion to Deep Space Nine proves just how dark Winn’s ambition was and how much it shaped her. Gul Dukat, now appearing under the plastic surgery-enhanced persona of Bajoran, Anjohl Tennan, and working for the Pah-wraiths, presents himself to her and using his skills of deception and persuasion, convinces Winn that he is sent by the Prophets—to help her overthrow Sisko and lead Bajor forward on the ‘right path.’  He plays his part so well the two become lovers and he uses this to further drag her away from the Prophets and to the Pah-wraiths. She literally stabs her own servant when he tries to warn her that Anjohl Tennan is really Dukat. When Dukat reveals the truth, Winn is disgusted and horrified, throwing him out of her quarters. Yet, when she goes to Kira for advice, admitting how hollow she feels, Winn refuses to step down as Kai, her position meaning more to her than any last shred of a chance for salvation. Even if she is damned, she will die as Kai.

Kai Winn was a truly unsettling antagonist in Deep Space Nine because of the talent of Louise Fletcher.  She was, and still is, one of the most ruthless and self-serving villains of the entire franchise. Her resentment towards anyone who stands in her way is unsettling and the fact she chose power over her own salvation makes her a force of nature. Female villains in Trek are very diverse, but Kai Winn stands out as one of the ones we love to hate the most.

 

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