Ace Up Our Sleeve
Star Trek TV
SIGNOFF; Intergalactic Generation Gap
By JOSEPH HANANIA | Published: February 7, 1999
When Jeri Ryan joined the cast of ''Star Trek: Voyager'' in its third season, in the fall of 1997, ratings soared 60 percent. They have since remained up, though not at that lofty level, said Rick Berman, an executive producer of the show, UPN's flagship series, shown in New York at 9 on Wednesday nights on WWOR, Channel 9.
Ms. Ryan, a 30-year-old former National Merit Scholar, plays Seven of Nine, a young woman who was assimilated by an alien species, leaving her human identity reduced to a cipher. Forcibly freed from the species by Capt. Kathryn Janeway, played by Kate Mulgrew, Seven struggles to learn what it means to be human. Her battles with herself are mirrored in attempts to help, or sabotage, the ship that are made all the more powerful by her inhuman, laserlike concentration.
''We've had to beat writers off with a stick,'' Mr. Berman said, referring to proposals for scripts that would feature Seven of Nine.
Ms. Ryan's skintight costume and the body it accentuates have also been subjects of several articles and even Web sites, making her character the second most popular after Captain Janeway, commander of the Voyager throughout its four seasons, said Mr. Berman.
He described the relationship between the two characters as ''mother-daughter.'' But this is an ornery, adult knockout of a daughter, one who has repeatedly questioned Mom's commands, predicted failure of her efforts and refused point blank to carry out her orders.
Cold, detached, a woman of few words, Seven plays the traditional male role, a sort of John Wayne with a chip on her shoulder, whose interaction with Captain Janeway would be less unusual if they were men, Mr. Berman conceded.
So how did a male-oriented, action-adventure show following in a path well trod by Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock become one of the few series to feature repeated, intense clashes between powerful, authoritative women?
Largely through serendipity.
True, as initially conceived, Voyager's captain was to be a woman: the French-Canadian actress Genevieve Bujold. When Ms. Bujold quit after two days, leaving Paramount Studios nervous about going with another female lead, Mr. Berman began considering several men for the role even as Ms. Mulgrew flew in from New York to audition.
Just 24 hours after landing the part, Ms. Mulgrew was rushed to the set. Riding on her shoulders were nearly 150 cast and crew jobs and Paramount's substantial hopes that it would be as successful as ''Star Trek: the Next Generation,'' which lasted for seven years and is still seen in reruns (in New York on WPIX, Channel 11).
For Ms. Mulgrew, then a recently divorced mother of two, the role was just as important. ''The stakes were never higher,'' she said in an interview on the set, ''and so it liberated me as an actress.'' She put in countless 16-hour days and, she said, created a tremendous camaraderie among the cast and crew.
When a character played by Jennifer Lien, Ms. Mulgrew's close friend, was eliminated from the series as Seven of Nine was introduced, Ms. Mulgrew found the switch ''excruciating.'' Ms. Mulgrew was also less than enthusiastic about Seven's provocative role in the show.
''Never before had Janeway's orders been countermanded so regularly'' by a character so contentious, so difficult, she said. But the adversity translated well onto the screen. ''The truth is, between us something happens on that canvas,'' Ms. Mulgrew said.
But she added: ''The conflict is now becoming unappealing to me. The contentiousness is a bit old.'' For the show to grow, she said, ''it's for Seven to take some risks, not always Janeway.''
Ms. Ryan, in an interview off the set, disagreed. ''Seven's an outsider. If there's anything she brought to Voyager, it's conflict. That should remain.''Ms. Ryan has been especially appreciative of letters from women lauding Seven's independence, even as her heightened profile, and the conflict around her character, have made her cynical over the past year. ''No one else can tell Janeway she's made a stupid mistake,'' she said. ''Seven can.''
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