In Praise of Louise Fletcher’s Kai Winn

Hollywood lost a wonderful actress, with Louise Fletcher passing away at home at 88 years of age. While for many she was best known for her Oscar-winning role as Nurse Ratched in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, we nerds loved to hate her Winn Adami, the religious leader of the Bajorans. It’s wild that Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was blessed with not so many amazing villains (including Marc Alaimo’s Gul Dukat and Jeffrey Combs as various Weyoun clones and Brunt).

When we first meet Vedek Winn (Vedek being a religious title similar to an Archbishop), she is causing havoc with the school that Keiko O’Brien opened to try and keep the station’s children occupied and engaged. Winn immediately objects when Keiko refers to the “Celestial Temple” as the wormhole, and the beings within it as aliens instead of the Prophets. You quickly see the sorts of methods she’s willing to use as she stokes anger among the Bajoran population of Deep Space Nine against Keiko – and the Federation – for her own gain.

This is a pattern that repeats throughout the show, as Winn manipulates her way to becoming the next Kai (basically Bajor’s Pope). What makes her so effective, so hated, is we all *know* her. Kai Winn is that co-worker who signs their emails “Hope this helps :)” while absolutely throwing you under the bus. It’s the megachurch preacher who takes donations to keep you out of Hell, which fund their second jumbo jet. Or the local businessman who complains about “violence in our streets” while using racist dogwhistles in every speech that only makes it worse.

BUT! She never came off as 100% mustache-twirling evil, at least through when the Pah-wraiths came on the scene. There was still a hint of “she just has a different view of her religion” when she was on screen. It’s easy to forget that even Major Kira leaned her way before meeting Bereil and Winn in person. Later we learn that she was tortured by the Cardassians during the occupation. Every time you might start to sympathize, though, something happens to walk it back. Not every actor could do that in a way you’d believe. Louise Fletcher made it look easy.

Take a look at this scene, where Kai Winn actually asks Sisko for advice, despite the fact that she made it clear what she felt about him in his role as the Emissary from the Prophets.

You can make out a *lot* of what makes her character tick in this scene. The way she talks about the Prophets not answering her prayers. That has pained her for a long time. It burns her deep down that some dude from Earth has spoken to the Prophets. But in this case, she was able to put that aside. Winn knew Sisko would be the only one who would have a better view of her problem. Being both a Starfleet officer and the Emissary gave him a unique perspective. Sure, she might turn around a few episodes later and stab you in the back (or convince someone else to do it), but that’s why she works.

Rest in peace, Louise Fletcher.





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