Initially, the news of Jeri Ryan’s return to the Star Trek universe felt as though it was the worst sort of stunt casting, an obvious ploy to capitalize on fan nostalgia and subsequently boost tune-in for the new Star Trek: Picard sequel series. After all, Picard and Seven of Nine had never even met in the mainstream Trek continuity and, on the surface, the two have little in common beyond their shared trauma at the hands of the Borg. What could her presence possibly bring to this story, which ostensibly has so little to do with her?
Everything, as it turns out.
Seven’s return doesn’t just add new and unexpected layers to Picard’s personal journey, though that brief scene between them in which they acknowledge their still-daily struggles to maintain their humanity decades after their respective assimilations, is the sort of deep, meaningful character work fans dream about. Her appearance also builds upon and expands her previously existing story in a truly creative and meaningful way, one that leaves us with an entirely new and necessary understanding of the character.
(Sometimes, it’s really nice to be wrong, is what I’m saying.)
Seven has become more complex, more morally ambiguous, and more emotional in the years since Star Trek: Voyager ended. And as a result, she feels more fully herself – and more fully human – than she ever has before. True, none of us likely thought that Picard would turn out to be the Seven of Nine story that this franchise has always needed – but it is. And her arc thus far has been genuinely surprising, and something that few of us would have ever expected to see.
This Seven of Nine is a woman who has traded in her infamous catsuit for comfortable pants and a cargo jacket, a warrior who has risen above personal tragedy to carve out a life of purpose. She is legitimately and righteously angry – about the state of the universe, about the abandonment of those most in need of the ideals the Federation used to espouse, about the horrors that too many people are willing to callously visit upon one another. After all, who knows better what that feels like than she does?
She’s a woman whose body contains the physical evidence of her former violation, full of the sort of cybernetic implants that were likely outlawed under the Federation’s synthetic ban. We don’t know for sure whether or not this policy change is what forced Seven to the fringes of the galaxy or not – she ended up on Earth at the conclusion of Voyager – but it’s the sort of twist that would make her involvement with the Fenris Rangers even more compelling.
Her decision to join a vigilante group and dedicate her life to dispensing justice to those who might otherwise never see it, while helping those the Federation has largely abandoned, feels like such a natural next step for her character. Seven may describe her life with the Rangers as one that is “hopeless, pointless, and exhausting,” but it’s work she clearly finds value in, and as a character whose arc seems so firmly about growth and atonement, it’s shockingly personal and perfect for her. What better way to stay grounded in her hard-fought-for humanity than by constantly striking back against the worst of it?
It’s also why she’s exactly what the Star Trek universe needs more of.
In the world of Picard, Seven of Nine has evolved into a very different sort of character than she once was. She’s not here to be anyone’s moral compass or feel good story, she’s interested in righting wrongs and protecting the vulnerable. Yes, that means that Seven has broken a lot of rules that men like Picard would have once considered sacrosanct. Yes, it means she doesn’t have a very high opinion of the Federation any longer. But she understands, as he does not, that the world has become a harder and more dangerous place than it once was, and accepts that she must be harder and more dangerous to meet it.
And that’s a position that Trek’s female characters rarely, if ever, find themselves in.
This universe has many iconic female characters, from The Original Series’ Uhura, to Next Generation’s Deanna Troi, Deep Space Nine's Major Kira, Voyager’s Captain Janeway, and Discovery’s Michael Burnham. But outside of Discovery’s Mirror Universe version of Philippa Georgiou, a psychopathic empress who gleefully murders anyone who disagrees with her, none of these women are even close to what you’d call dark, dangerous or even particularly unlikable. (Though Picard’s Agnes Jurati is definitely giving Seven a run for her money in that latter department. Whew.)
But Seven of Nine has suddenly become one of Trek’s most intriguing female characters all over again, precisely because she represents the sort of story this franchise hasn’t really told about a woman before. She doesn’t fit into any of the predetermined boxes occupied by the female characters who have come before her and, more importantly, the narrative itself doesn’t judge her for this unorthodoxy. She’s allowed to be angry and violent, vengeful and deeply broken in a way that’s traditionally reserved for men. Seven contains multitudes, all formed and shaped by her lived experiences as both part of the Borg collective and within humanity, and it’s why she’s so fascinating to watch.
Seven is now a cold-blooded murderer, a vigilante with little respect for the law who believes that the end justifies the means, even when those ends involve lying to others. (Such as, say, Picard.) She has apparently become very flexible about concepts like mercy and forgiveness, and is fine with violence as a method of solving problems. Yet she’s also a person willing to face down her greatest fear (reconnecting to the Borg hivemind) to save the lives of strangers she’s never met, and who acknowledges the depth of her shortcomings even as she fights every day to be better than she was the day before. Perhaps she’s not a role model, but she is definitely a hero, and in a way that women are often not allowed to be.
One of the things that’s been most surprising about Picard is that it’s a Trek series that pushes boundaries. Many of us (incorrectly) assumed that this show would be a warm and fuzzy bit of fan service, content to remind viewers of all the things we loved about the original The Next Generation. Instead, this is a series that is much darker and grittier than those that have come before. Picard appears willing to finally interrogate the morally gray themes that have always lurked just beneath the surface of both Next Generation and Voyager. (This show isn’t the first to reference the idea of harvesting Borg parts for profit, is all I’m saying. Check out Voyager's ) That it is also apparently a series that’s willing to push our idea of what female characters can be and do in this universe is an unexpected – but very welcome and long overdue – bonus. Maybe there’s hope for a Seven-led Fenris Rangers spin-off one day, after all, once her time on Picard is done. Because it certainly doesn’t seem as though her story is anywhere close to over just yet.
Lacy Baugher is a digital strategist by day, but a fangirl all the time. A lover of all things sci-fi and fantasy, her work has appeared in Paste Magazine, Den of Geek, Collider, SyFyWire, and more. Say hi on Twitter at @LacyMB.
Star Trek: Picard streams on CBS All Access in the United States, in Canada on Bell Media’s CTV Sci-Fi Channel and OTT service Crave, and on Amazon Prime Video in more than 200 countries and territories.