Louise Fletcher's Kai Winn Was One of Star Trek's Greatest Villains

On Friday, news broke that Oscar-winning actress Louise Fletcher had died at the age of 88. Though most will likely remember Fletcher for her award-winning turn as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Star Trek fans will know her as one of the greatest villains the franchise has ever seen. Fletcher played Winn Adami, an ambitious Bajoran religious leader, in 14 episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Her guile and political maneuvering set her apart from Star Trek's more boldly aggressive villains. While Star Trek has had its share of coldly manipulative political antagonists, Deep Space Nine's unique structure -- staying in one place and telling somewhat more serialized stories -- allowed the series to develop Winn more deeply.

Winn's reactionary politics could not be more at odds with Star Trek's vision of the future. From her debut in "In the Hands of the Prophets," where we see her leveraging her position as a religious leader to sow discord in Deep Space Nine by interfering in its school, insisting on the teaching of Bajoran religious beliefs. By the show's second season, she's allied herself with an extremist movement seeking to expel all non-Bajorans from the system.

But Fletcher and the show's writers brought depth to Winn. She may have been ambitious, but her religious beliefs were genuine. Her views may have been hardline, but they were earnestly felt. Ultimately, in a tragic and fitting ending, her pursuit of power ends with her assisting in the release of the Pah-wraiths, the feared enemies of the Prophets that she'd spent her life worshipping, working together with a hated enemy of Bajor, another great Star Trek villain, Dukat (played by Mark Alaimo). Throughout her appearances, Fletcher balanced Winn's cold, calculating nature with her proud and presentable demeanor in a way that made her exactly the kind of villain that viewers hated but of whom they couldn't get enough.

"She wanted power and she was ambitious," Fletcher recalled of the character while speaking to StarTrek.com in 2012. "She was sort of a Margaret Thatcher in space, or, as I used to say, I was the Pope in space. People would say, 'Oh, you're doing Star Trek. Who are you playing?' I'd say, 'Think the Pope in space, except she's like an ancient Pope, from the old days when Popes were ruthless and powerful and exerted their powers and fought wars and did all kinds of naughty things.'" 

In that same interview, Fletcher expressed how grateful she was for her time in the Star Trek universe. She said that "DS9 was one of the best memories of my working life, of my day-to-day working life."   

"It was like playing a symphony for the 99th time," she continued. "I still get fan mail. People are still interested. They still want your autograph. Or they'll send those [trading] cards and ask you to sign them and send them back. I would say that my mail is 40 percent Cuckoo's Nest, 40 percent Star Trek, and 20 percent other shows and movies. And that's great. I'm glad I did Star Trek. I'm so glad I'm part of that whole happening." 

When talking about the great Star Trek villains, attention often rightly goes to Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh or to the Borg. Fletcher's Kai Winn deserves the same attention and praise.