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Star Trek: Voyager – The Raven (Review)

Seven of Nine is something of a mixed blessing for Star Trek: Voyager.

In some respects, the character is a transparent ratings ploy designed to refocus media attention on and attract young male viewers to a television series facing major audience attrition. The series already has enough trouble serving the under-developed members of its ensemble like Chakotay, Tuvok and Kim. The arrival of Seven of Nine only compounds this issue, with the character serving as a focal point in five of the first six episodes of the fourth season. Seven of Nine is a very cynical addition to the cast, an awkward band aid applied to a patient with a chronic condition.

Enlightening.

Enlightening.

However, there is no denying that Seven of Nine works as a character. Even is early in the fourth season, Seven of Nine is more intriguing and compelling than most of the primary cast. As early as The Gift, Jeri Ryan demonstrated that she was one of the strongest members of the ensemble. Seven of Nine might be an awkward combination of the Spock and Data archetype with blatant fan service, but she already has a stronger character and a clearer arc than the vast majority of the regular cast. The production team know what they want from Seven, which is more than can be said of Chakotay, Tuvok or Kim.

Indeed, The Raven further solidifies the character’s purpose and arc in the larger context of Voyager. Indeed, The Raven very cleverly and very literalises Seven of Nine’s character arc, doing so in a way that integrates her into the larger broader themes of Voyager. With The Raven, Seven’s journey to reclaim her lost humanity is rendered as a literal homecoming. Like everybody else on the ship, Seven is ultimately trying to find her way back home.

"I shall become a bat... er... a human."

“I shall become a bat… er… a human.”

One of the most common and persistent themes of the Star Trek franchise is one of exploration. The iconic voiceover to the opening credits of the classic sixties show promised “strange new worlds” populated by “new lifeforms and new civilisations.” That premise carried over to Star Trek: The Next Generation, which gradually altered its focus from new discoveries to new diplomatic communication. While Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was faced with a lot of criticism for unfolding primarily in a single stationary location, it also offered a glimpse of the fresh potential of multiculturalism.

Against this backdrop, Voyager is something of an oddity. While Star Trek and The Next Generation pushed outwards, and Deep Space Nine seemed to stop in place to contemplate what it all meant, Voyager consciously pushed backwards. It was not a show about a crew charting a new frontier and embracing the unknown, but instead a television series about trying to find away back to the familiar. It is a series about regression and retreat, about trying to return to idylised surroundings in the face of an alien universe.

There is a need to set boundaries.

There is a need to set boundaries.

This theme of regression was evident in other ways. In terms of style, Caretaker harked back to pulp westerns that had inspired the original Star Trek, casting the Kazon as an ugly “primitive” stereotype half-way between fifties portrayals of Native Americans and racist depictions of predominantly African American gang culture. Episodes like Phage, Cathexis, Faces, and The 37’s drew their influences from pulpy horror and science-fiction that consciously predated the original Star Trek series, suggesting that Voyager was regressing past its predecessors.

This retreat from the present and the future played out behind the scenes as well. While Deep Space Nine experimented with long-form storytelling and serialisation in keeping with the more cutting edge nineties genre shows, Voyager remained stubbornly episodic and traditionalist. A lot of the show’s potential was strangled in an effort to get back to more “traditional” franchise values and avoid conflict or consequences. Even the show’s politics were reactionary and regressive, with anti-immigrant and anti-refugee xenophobia on display in Displaced or Day of Honour, not to mention retrograde sexism in Alter Ego.

Keep it handy.

Keep it handy.

In some ways, then, Seven of Nine is the perfect character for this sort of Star Trek series. She is also a character trying to find her way back home, much like the rest of the cast. The stock comparison for Seven of Nine is characters like Spock or Data, but that is not entirely accurate. Spock never really indulged his human half on the series, outside of episodes like This Side of Paradise, and reconciling himself to that only came with Star Trek: The Motion Picture or Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home. Data was an android trying to become human, hoping to expand his consciousness in new directions.

There is a strong conceptual connection between Seven of Nine and Data. Writer Brannon Braga has argued that Seven was designed to fill a perceived hole in the Voyager ensemble, that of the “striving-to-be-human” character which he explicitly likens to Data. Certainly, the relationship between Janeway and Seven was clearly intended to mirror that of Picard and Data. Even the opening scene between Janeway and Seven in The Raven feels very much like character-building “Piller Filler” between Picard and Data in the teasers of episodes like The Defector or A Matter of Perspective.

"Picard said this sort of thing was a great team-building exercise."

“Picard said this sort of thing was a great team-building exercise.”

Even the primary plot in The Raven can be seen as a spiritual successor to any number of classic Data-centric stories. The focus Seven’s hallucinations recalls a similar interest in Data’s dreaming in Birthright, Part I or Phantasms. The plot in which a cybernetic character is overwhelmed by a homing beacon and proceeds to wreak havoc before hijacking a ship feels like a nod to Brothers. As such, even in the context of this individual episode, there is a strong narrative tie between Seven of Nine and Data. She is very much cast in a similar role to that iconic android character.

However, in contrast to Data, Seven of Nine was born human. Chakotay discovered that her birth name was “Annika” at the climax of Scorpion, Part II. Janeway dug deeper into her records to find the name “Annika Hansen” in The Gift, even offering the light outline of a back story involving her life with two scientist parents on the frontier. As such, Seven of Nine’s journey is not a journey outwards. Like the journey of Voyager itself, it is a return. Seven of Nine’s time on the frontier left her changed and traumatised, her arc is very much about trying to reclaim her lost innocence and humanity.

That healthy green glow.

That healthy green glow.

As Michael S. Burdett notes in Eschatology and the Technological Future, Seven’s journey is one of rehabilitation more than exploration:

As with Data, Seven of Nine is in pursuit of humanity, but for her it is remembering and regaining that humanity and individuality that has been lost through her forced assimilation. Unlike Data, she is still definitively human, but her time with the Borg means she is developmentally stunted. She has difficulty being on her own with her thoughts and has withdrawals from not being directly linked to the collective consciousness. She struggles with human inefficiency and, like Data, has difficulty with emotion. As part of her rehabilitation, she forces herself to take part in recreational activities on the holodeck to cultivate her imagination.

It is a subtle, but important distinction in the larger context of the character’s role on Voyager as distinct from her obvious antecedents.

A stunning betrayal.

A stunning betrayal.

The Raven very much literalises this arc. As Voyager approaches the space of a paranoid alien species intent on preserving their borders, Seven of Nine begins experiencing hallucinations. As those hallucinations intensify, her Borg implants begin to reassert themselves. Her body reacting to a Borg signal, she finds herself compelled to return home to the Borg Collective. That takes Seven of Nine on a journey to the wreckage of the Raven. The Raven was the old freighter operated by her parents, attacked and assimilated by the Borg.

This is a very interesting story premise, tying very neatly into the broader themes of Voyager. Of course, it is something of a coincidence that Voyager’s journey would bring it close enough to the Raven for the signal to activate Seven’s homing impulses, particularly given the jump in The Gift. It also seems strange that the Raven could get so far inside Bomar territory, whether under the supervision of the Hansen family or the control of the Borg. It also seems pretty convenient that Seven of Nine should pick up this exact signal at the perfect moment in her arc.

Something to chew over.

Something to chew over.

And yet, in spite of all of these contrivances and coincidences, The Raven makes perfect thematic sense. As Voyager moves close and closer to the Alpha Quadrant, Seven on Nine moves closer and closer to reclaiming her humanity. This is not just a journey backwards for the crew, it is an opportunity for Seven to retrace her own life and explore it in reverse. Voyager was a show that often struggled to live up to its potential, but there is something poetic in how The Raven ties Voyager’s journey home into Seven’s journey back towards humanity. It is very elegant.

In fact, Seven’s visit to the damaged husk of the old vessel brings on a very literal regression. Studying the bridge, Seven finds herself remembering what it was to be a child during the Borg attack. “My cake had six candles on it, and one more to grow on,” she reflects. “And then the men came. Papa tried to fight them but they were too strong. I tried to hide.” Seven even climbs underneath the helm console, emulating her own failed attempts to hide as a six-year-old girl. She is reliving the trauma.

"I'm sorry Seven, but Voyager just cannot afford to lose any more shuttles."

“I’m sorry Seven, but Voyager just cannot afford to lose any more shuttles.”

Interestingly, The Raven was initially developed as a very different story about the character’s Borg nature reasserting itself. Brannon Braga outlined some of that basic concept in an interview with Cinefantastique:

That story started out as a much more shallow, action-oriented story. In fact, Bryan Fuller wrote a draft in which she was captured by aliens, and they exploited her abilities, and turned her into unstoppable, drone, Terminator-woman. When we got the draft in, it was evident that it was a soulless, empty kind of show, and that it had to be about something. I was struck by the Citizen Kane image of ‘ Rosebud. ‘ At the end of this strange journey of rebellion she makes a shocking discovery and faces her past in a Citizen Kane-type way. The raven image actually turns out to be the name of the ship when she rubs off the dust.

There are traces of that earlier story to be found later in the season. Living Witness images a version of Voyager in which Seven of Nine leads a team of Borg commandos. Retrospect finds Seven of Nine accusing an alien of trying to exploit her Borg technology. Both episodes have writing credits for Bryan Fuller.

Say it, don't hypospray it.

Say it, don’t hypospray it.

It is interesting that The Raven developed in such a strange way. That early story feels very different to the tale that made it to screen, much more of a high-stakes action-adventure than an introspective character piece. Of course, The Raven still features an extended sequence of Seven of Nine going berserk and hijacking a shuttle craft before crippling the Bomar. However, the final version of the episode feels more personal and specific. That final sequence of Seven of Nine on board the eponymous ship carries an emotional heft that would have been lacking in a simpler “Borg on a rampage” story.

The teaser seems to hint at the episode’s unlikely development life. Visiting Da Vinci’s workshop, Seven of Nine and Janeway reflect on the strange act of creation. It is a process that can be a mystery even to the creator. “I mean you can’t concern yourself with making a mistake, or whether the image you had in your mind is what’s taking form in front of you,” Janeway urges Seven. “You just have to let your hands and the clay do the work.” In some ways, it reflects the philosophy of creativity espoused by Tom Paris in Worst Case Scenario, a willingness to follow the story rather than dictate it. Perhaps it reflects the Voyager writing staff’s philosophy.

Tuvok and load!

Tuvok and load!

The Raven is notable for offering writer Bryan Fuller his first screenplay credit. The young writer has made quite an impact on the Star Trek franchise over the past season, pitching the stories for fifth season Deep Space Nine episodes The Darkness and the Light and Empok Nor. This season finds Fuller more actively involved with Voyager. He helped to develop Kes’ subplot in The Gift, but missed out on writing the teleplay. He would be credited on three more teleplays over the fourth season; Mortal Coil, Retrospect and Living Witness.

The Raven is quite an effective debut for Bryan Fuller, who had already distinguished himself as a talent to watch. Indeed, one of the great tragedies of the Rick Berman era was its reluctance to let writers like Bryan Fuller and Michael Taylor truly take flight. In time, the same might be said of the post-Berman era. The Raven is a very impressive script from a first-time television writer, a fairly simple story with a minimal amount of clutter that has some good character work and a strong emotional core.

Nevermore...

Nevermore…

In the years following his work on Voyager, Fuller would develop a distinctive televisual style that bled through series like Dead Like Me, Wonderfalls, Pushing Daisies and Hannibal. Fuller has a very dream-like aesthetic, an interest in evocative and abstract imagery. Television drama had historically been treated as a spiritual successor of radio and stage through most of the twentieth century, exceptions like Miami Vice notwithstanding. In contrast, although he has yet to be credited as a director, Fuller embraces television as a richly visual medium.

Although Voyager was a very conservative series in terms of visuals and storytelling, there are elements of Fuller’s sensibilities to be found in The Raven. Most notably, the first half of the episode is dominated by Seven of Nine’s hallucinations and visions. She imagines herself being chased by the Borg and pursued by a large black bird. While these are hardly the most abstract representations of Seven’s fears, they are effective visual shorthand for her deep-seated anxieties and those fears she cannot bring herself to face.

Drone warfare.

Drone warfare.

The visions are so essential that they provide the sting at the end of the teaser. Seven stares at Leonardo Da Vinci’s model plane and imagines it as the eponymous raven coming right at her. These dreams even prove vital to Janeway in tracking down her missing crew member. “It sounds like she’s describing a member of the corvidae family like a crow… or a raven,” Janeway reflects, reading Seven’s personal log. “She’s describing a raven.” Kim wonders, “Why is that important?” Janeway responds, “Because now I know what to look for.” Only a Bryan Fuller Star Trek script could hinge on decoding dream imagery.

Even the tone of the episode had a very slight horror twist to it, in keeping with Fuller’s pitches for The Darkness and the Light or Empok Nor. Seven imagines herself chased by monster, driven by forces that she cannot understand. There is a macabre fairy tale quality to Seven’s memory of her assimilation. “Papa tried to fight them but they were too strong,” she tells Tuvok. “I tried to hide. Maybe they wouldn’t find me because I was little, but they did. And Papa said we were going to crash and the big man picked me up, and then suddenly we weren’t on the ship anymore. We were somewhere else.”

Hide and seek.

Hide and seek.

Even Seven of Nine’s personal log entries have a slightly gothic feel to them. “When it looks at me, I am paralysed,” Janeway reads. “I cannot move. It seems to know me, but I don’t understand how that’s possible.” She talks about how when she sees the bird, “the sight of it fills [her] with fear.” It is evocative imagery, every bit as memorable and effective as Jeri Taylor’s experiments with the gothic form in scripts like Persistence of Vision. Although there are obviously limits on how far Voyager is willing to push this story into genre territory, there are definite traces of Fuller’s later work to be found in the script.

While The Raven does emply some of Bryan Fuller’s favourite narrative elements, the episode undoubtedly belongs to Jeri Ryan. There is a debate to be had about whether shifting the focus to Seven represented a betrayal of the rest of the ensemble, but there is no denying that Seven of Nine is among the show’s most compelling characters played by one of Voyager‘s strongest actors. Although early scenes like the one set in sick bay suggest Ryan is still finding her character’s voice, she does an excellent job portraying Seven of Nine as both an unstoppable killing machine and as a lost child. That is an impressive range.

Homecoming.

Homecoming.

At this point in the season, the production team are still trying to figure out their new character. The writers and producers are still trying to get a sense of how Seven of Nine fits on the show. As a result, there are a lot of episodes probing Jeri Ryan’s range. The Gift and The Raven assign the actor some dramatic heavy lifting so that the writers know she can handle a big emotive drama. The subplot to Revulsion allows Ryan to play broad comedy, so they know she can work with lighter fare. However, introducing a new character to an existing show involves more than testing their individual proficiency.

When a new character is introduced, the writers need to figure out how that character plays off the existing cast. After all, actors have different chemistry with one another, while certain character concepts bounce off other character concepts. Deep Space Nine did something similar with the character from its third season onwards, pairing him with lead characters other than Julian Bashir. Improbable Cause and The Die is Cast teamed him with Odo. In Purgatory’s Shadow and By Inferno’s Light placed him with Worf. Empok Nor squared him off against O’Brien. In the Pale Moonlight has him assist Sisko.

Operation: Borg Drone Transformation.

Operation: Borg Drone Transformation.

The fourth season of Voyager does something similar with Seven of Nine. The subplot to Revulsion pairs her off with Harry Kim. She plays a supporting role to Neelix in Mortal Coil. The EMH gets to spend a lot of time with her in Retrospect. In The Raven, the writing staff have Seven of Nine embark upon a road trip into Bomar territory with Lieutenant Commander Tuvok. In fact, early in the fourth season, it seems like the writers place a lot of emphasis on this potential relationship. The two share a close relationship in Year of Hell, Part I and Year of Hell, Part II, with Seven tending to a blinded Tuvok.

In some respects, this is a pragmatic experiment. After all, as the closing scene in The Gift demonstrated, the character of Tuvok lost one of his strongest interpersonal relationships with Kes departed the series. Tuvok has a long-standing friendship with Janeway, but none of his other dynamics have ever really gelled. Resistance teased a mentor-mentee relationship with Torres that never materialised, and Alter Ego briefly suggested he might play the same role to Kim. while the character’s rich history with Chakotay went completely ignored. Tuvok could use a strong interpersonal relationship, and Seven offers potential.

To dine for.

To dine for.

Indeed, there are a lot of interesting angles that the writing staff could play between Seven and Tuvok. In an interview with Cinefantastique, Tim Russ suggested that he had put more thought into the matter than the writers:

He was always somewhat hostile towards the fact that we had a Borg on the ship. He never liked the idea to begin with because he is in charge of Security and Tactical. He warned that this is probably not a good idea.. He is always on the lookout for her to mess up, and in The Raven she did. He was the one that ends up having to go to get her, and in the process of doing so he ends up learning about what happened, and understanding what happened. They form a bond at that point in time.

Sadly, that bond never actually went anywhere. Seven of Nine never developed a lasting relationship with Tuvok, who would become even more marginalised and isolated as the show went on.

"You still have not acknowledged my Facebook Friend Request."

“You still have not acknowledged my Facebook Friend Request.”

There is some logic to this. Jeri Ryan and Tim Russ do not share a natural chemistry. As the fourth season bled into the fifth, the writers began playing to relationship with characters played by actors who shared obvious chemistry with Ryan. Naturally, these actors tended to be the stronger players in the cast. Jeri Ryan would spend a lot of time interacting with Kate Mulgrew and Robert Picardo, the performers who had already established themselves as the actors with the most screen presence of the ensemble. This meant that the rest of the cast were left to fend for themselves.

There was just one problem. Kate Mulgrew absolutely loathed the addition of Seven of Nine to the cast. Mulgrew saw the addition of the catsuit-clad former Borg drone as a harsh dismissal of the series’ feminist potential. She was quite overt about her dislike of Seven of Nine as a character in interviews and press statements, although it reportedly bled into her treatment of Jeri Ryan as a performer. There were various rumours and disagreements between the two actors on the set of the show, with both their co-stars and the production team frequently caught in the crossfire. Mulgrew was vehemently opposed to the presence of Ryan.

Things fall apart.

Things fall apart.

In The Fifty-Year Mission, Robert Beltran suggests that Mulgrew actively attempted to coral the cast into opposition against its newest member:

I remember the actors trying to get together a meeting with Rick to complain about Jeri. I wasn’t going to have anything to do with that, because they didn’t want Jeri to be at the meeting. So I called Rick and said, “I know you guys are going to have that meeting, but I’m not going to be there.” He asked why not, and I said, “Because Jeri is not going to be there and I don’t think it’s fair. I think it’s all bullsh!t, because if anybody wants more publicity, all they have to do is hire a publicist and they can get all the publicity they want. If they’re not paying for the publicity, then they’ve got no room to complain.”

That was my feeling about it. I told Kate that I wasn’t going to be there and she said, “You think it’s every man for himself?” And I said, “That’s the way it’s always been, Kate. That’s the way it is in this business. It’s every man for himself. I’m not going to be part of any kind of ‘Let’s Get Jeri’ meeting. It’s not her fault that they’re spending all this time on her and her character and the way she looks. They brought her on for that specific reason, so let’s go with it.” Basically the meeting was cancelled and it was never brought up again.

It should be noted that the fourth season ends any hint of a possible relationship between Janeway and Chakotay, and that Mulgrew showed a willingness in later interviews to make broad asides at Beltran’s dramatic abilities.

Captain of her own destiny.

Captain of her own destiny.

With that tension playing out behind the scenes, it is worth noting that the fourth season of Voyager makes an effort to isolated Jeri Ryan and Kate Mulgrew from one another. The Gift demonstrated the chemistry between the two performers, but the rest of the season makes minimises their time in each other’s company. They share scenes in Day of Honour and The Raven, but those scenes are kept quite short in the larger scheme of things. It could be argued that the attempts to generate chemistry between Jeri Ryan and the rest of the cast represented a conscious effort to write around Mulgrew’s disdain for her co-star.

Looking at the fourth season as a whole, it is striking how little time Janeway and Seven of Nine spend in one another’s company. In terms of episodes built around their shared interactions, only The Gift, Prey and Hope and Fear rely upon Janeway and Seven ahead of any other combination of castmembers. Given how much time Seven and Janeway would spend together during the final seasons of the show, it is strange that the writing team took so long to construct episodes that played to that power pairing. However, it makes more sense if the writing staff were letting the two actors get used to one another on set.

A model relationship.

A model relationship.

For her part, Ryan came to dread working with Mulgrew. In an interview with Aisha Tyler, Ryan acknowledged how difficult it could be to work on the series with a given actor given that animosity:

There’s no avoidance on a set, and most of my scenes were with this person.

Oh, god.

I mean, there was no avoidance, because it was the richest relationship. They really wanted to capitalize on that.

I’m not going to ask you… I’m sure people can deduce [who it is] if they spend some time Google-ing.

Right, yeah.

I have had friends who have been in situations… where they had a very close co-star, sometimes their love interest, and they really did not like each other off-camera. I know someone who went through this, and they were just not even on speaking terms, and they had to kiss on camera. How was that for you — did you develop mental tricks? Like, what did you do?

There was nothing I could do — literally I would be nauseous when I knew these scenes were coming up. When there were a lot of scenes with this person the next day, I was sick to my stomach all night, just miserable. It was so unnecessary and just so petty; things like, oh my God…

Although Ryan is classy enough never to directly name her antagonist, there is only one candidate from the primary cast. More than that, fellow cast and production team members have openly acknowledged Mulgrew’s anger at Ryan.

Heated arguments.

Heated arguments.

However, it should be noted that The Raven does represent at least one small improvement in Jeri Ryan’s tenure on Voyager. It marks the first costume change for Seven of Nine. In the earlier episodes of the fourth season, the character wore a distinctive skin-tight grey catsuit that was heavily publicised and promoted. However, that grey uniform only appeared in three episodes; The Gift, Day of Honour and Revulsion. In fact, given that it only appeared in the final scene of The Gift, Jeri Ryan only had to wear it for two of the episodes in the fourth season.

The Raven sees Seven of Nine wearing a brown fabric catsuit instead. It is still designed to highlight and emphasise Jeri Ryan’s curves, but it looks a lot more functional than the grey catsuit. While it is still obviously intended to present Seven of Nine as a sex object, it is at least closer to the design of the catsuit that Nana Visitor wears on Deep Space Nine. It seems like an outfit that has designed for a person to wear, rather than something better suited to a mannequin or model. It is still highly gratuitous and unnecessary, but less so than its predecessor.

Getting into character.

Getting into character.

While Seven of Nine’s costume choices are impossible to justify in terms of taste, at least the redesign is more comfortable for the performer. There are lots of reasons to object to the silver catsuit, but chief among them is the suffering that it inflicted upon the actor inside. It seems ridiculous that a person was put through this:

Co-star Ethan Phillips says those tight costumes make working with Ryan a little “complicated.” Ryan says, “For the first costume, if I would do anything other than have my head straight ahead, it cut off my carotid artery. It was so tight that I passed out four times,” says Ryan, interviewed on the Voyager set in a new costume that she says is looser but still takes an hour to climb into. The old suit forced her to lie down between scenes to regain her composure. But she didn’t complain. “That was my nice Midwestern girl upbringing,” she says. “They would bring nurses to the set with oxygen, and I wouldn’t say anything. But after the fourth time passing out, I spoke up.” Producers quickly refitted the suit. But the new costume has problems of its own. “Forget vanity, throw vanity to the wind! And you can forget anything about privacy, because it ain’t gonna happen. Anytime I have to go to the bathroom, everybody has to know about it. It’s announced over the P.A. system, because production stops for a half-hour. ‘We can’t roll a shot. Jeri’s not here.’ ‘Why not, where’s Jeri?’ ‘Jeri has to go 10-100.’ It’s just a whole procedure.”

To be entirely fair, Jeri Ryan is far from the only Star Trek cast member to suffer for her art. Alice Krige had similar issues (particularly around bathroom access) while working on Star Trek: First Contact. There are regular cast members who spend their time in makeup which takes hours to put on and can feel claustrophobic.

Facing up to each other.

Facing up to each other.

Of course, pretty much all of the narrative issues and a lot of the more problematic aspects of the original catsuit are carried over to the new design. There is no explanation given for why Seven of Nine cannot be issued a Starfleet uniform like the Maquis characters, or who she would not wear more comfortable clothes. In fact, the repeated changes to the colour and design of her costume underscore these issues. How come Seven of Nine changes the colour of her uniform, but never wears anything less conspicuously crafted to flaunt her curves?

It is a jarring detail in the broader context of Voyager. Why were all the Maquis put in Starfleet uniforms so quickly if Janeway is so tolerant of Seven? Why are some of Seven’s costumes different colours given her disinterest in aesthetics? Why does the costume change so frequently? After all, so much of the show is built around this idea of normality and order that it seems strange that Seven is allowed to stand apart from it all. It is all very cynical and distracting, which makes the creepiness of it all the more transparent.

More like Starfleet (In)Security, am I right?

More like Starfleet (In)Security, am I right?

Ryan acknowledging this in her own discussion of the costume, conceding that the transition from the initial grey costume to this brown model was a result of her willingness to finally acknowledge her discomfort:

“The entertaining part was that the writers kept trying to make up reasons for why the costume was so tight,” she said. “Their reasoning was that it was skin-regenerative fabric. But then by season two [season five], my costume’s a different colour. So I’m like ‘why am I now changing clothes?’ And they’re like ‘oh well, it’s a different type.'”

But the catsuit paled in comparison to the rigors of the Borg costume. “The original costume when I was a Borg – I had a bigger rubber suit and a big rubber bald cap that went down my neck. It was a pretty look, it was really nice,” Ryan quipped. “But that costume was really tight around the neck and if I did anything other than look straight ahead it would press on my carotid artery. Which is a bad thing, so I would sort of black out.

“I would get faint, but I never actually fainted. But they did call oxygen to the set for me. But it was funny, because I was trying to be a martyr, I didn’t want to make waves. And then finally the producer came up to me and said ‘You’re not really doing us any favours if we have to call oxygen to the set.’ Then they realised it was a problem and they cut the neck and it was okay.”

Although the colour of the costume changes in the years ahead, the fabric and design of the costume introduced in The Raven is a lot closer to what will remain Seven of Nine’s costume for the rest of the run.

Title drop.

Title drop.

While this costume is still problematic, Ryan acknowledged in an interview with Starlog that it was at least much more comfortable than her original suit:

Ryan has also gotten used to the disparate elements so unique to Star Trek – the technobabble, her costume, the makeup and the fans. “I don’t get all that much technobabbles. Some of the other actors have much more of it than I do,” she stresses. “My makeup only takes a few minutes to do. The costume they have me in now is much more forgiving. In the silver costume, if I got goosebumps, you could see them. The brown costume is a thicker, stronger fabric. It’s not quite so clingy, so the waist doesn’t have to be cinched in. The corset has been perfected now in all the various permutations of the costumes. We’ve removed things that were unnecessary, like the vertical bones. Now I can bend, which is helpful. So it’s infinitely more comfortable that it used to be.”

Of course, it still took a lot of time to go to the bathroom and her heels still caused her a lot of pain, but it was a lot easier to bare than the grey jumpsuit had been.

All work and no clay...

All work and no clay…

It is nice that the production team are acknowledging these issues with the costume. However, the fact of the matter is that the staff had an entire summer to figure all of this out. It is very clear that Jeri Ryan’s comfort was a secondary concern (at best) in terms of designing the outfit. Was the awkward adolescent sex appeal worth it? Did a costume with a custom-designed “breast mounds” justify putting an actor in a situation where she could not do anything but look straight ahead?

Still, The Raven represents a significant step forward for the characterisation of Seven of Nine on Voyager. It is a very emotional story rooted in a compelling character played by a strong performer. More than that, it suggests that the writing staff have a firm grip on the character and what makes her a good fit for Voyager. There are larger debates to be had about how the production staff went about introducing the character of Seven of Nine, but there is no denying that she has a stronger sense of purpose and definition than most of the rest of the cast.

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6 Responses

  1. I just don’t get what is the point of putting Seven of Nine, or any of the Star Trek female characters for that matter, in those ridiculous catsuits. A beautiful woman is a beautiful woman no matter what she is wearing. Furthermore, why do men get to consistently get to look any way they want on film and television, but woman must be beautiful and in fit condition all the time? Why do the creators feel as if they have to degrade women? Are teenage boys really that shallow or do focus groups just think boys and men are that shallow? I strongly suspect it is the latter, as focus groups often seem to think that boys are not willing to watch shows about women, and thus action shows with women in the lead are rarely greenlit. I don’t know if you’re familiar with Legend of Korra, but the creators told the following story: “Some Nickelodeon executives were worried about backing an animated action show with a female lead character. Conventional TV wisdom has it that girls will watch shows about boys, but boys won’t watch shows about girls. During test screenings, though, boys said they didn’t care that Korra was a girl. They just said she was awesome.”

  2. I’m torn. On the one hand yes the costume is ridiculous (Ryan is a very beautiful woman but so is Terry Farrell and she wore a normal uniform) and it is hard not to feel sorry for Mulgrew, let alone the other actors who found their characters even more pushed down by the introduction of Seven of Nine. This wasn’t even the first show Jeri Ryan essentially took over from the original cast – she did the same on ‘Dark Skies’! (Like I said before I’d love to hear your thoughts on that series Darren given everything you’ve written about the perception of the 1960s from the point of view of the 1990s.)

    On the other hand I think Jeri Ryan is really good and this episode shows what potential she has as a character.

    • It’s not Jeri’s fault if the rest of the cast is shit.

      At least now, Mulgrew has to share screen time with someone capable of matching her talents. There was nowhere else to go but up.

    • Oh yeah. It’s hard to complain about Ryan’s addition given that the character is one of the strongest on the show and the fact that her arrival does represent a significant improvement in quality. The fourth season is probably the show’s strongest single season. But, at the same time, divorced from all that and examined in isolation… there is something discomforting about Seven of Nine.

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