Not everybody who reads our website is a science-fiction fan, but we do know that there are plenty of science-fiction fans among you. If you’re among that number, there’s a strong chance that you’ve been watching the new ‘Star Trek: Picard’ series as it’s been airing every Friday on CBS All Access, or Amazon Prime if you live outside the United States of America. It would be understating things mildly to say that the show hasn’t pleased everybody. Millions of people appear to love it, but there’s probably an equal number of people who absolutely hate it. Such is the way of seemingly all new television shows now.
In between debating the qualities of the writing and the performances, though, have we all missed quite an important plot point that showed us an iconic Star Trek character in a new light? Did a very well-known ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ character come out as gay right before our eyes, and almost none of us noticed? A great many people appear to think so – so much so that they’ve written articles about it where the change in sexuality is reported as an absolute fact – but others on social media say they didn’t see anything to suggest it at all. So, here’s the question. Is Seven of Nine now an LGBTQ+ character, or is it wishful thinking on behalf of the people who want to see it happen?
If it isn’t just wishful thinking, it would be a big moment in the history of the show. ‘Star Trek’ is a huge mainstream media property. There are multiple ‘Star Trek’ movies. There are ‘Star Trek’ toys. If you head to an online slots website, you’ll even find that there are more than a few officially-connected ‘Star Trek’ online slots games. Despite that, the sexuality of the majority of the characters in the show is far more predictable than the sequences that turn up in those UK Slots. The male characters, regardless of species, are attracted to the female characters. The same is true of the female characters and the male characters. We got an inter-racial inter-species relationship when Deanna Troi briefly got together with Worf, a Klingon, during the later seasons of ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation,’ but we never say any gay relationships on screen.
There was a gay kiss in ‘Star Trek: Deep Space Nine,’ but not until the pairing of Stamets and Dr. Culber in ‘Star Trek: Discovery’ did we finally see a gay relationship on-screen among regular cast members in ‘Star Trek,’ and without meaning any disrespect to ‘Discovery’ it isn’t as meaningful as it would be if a better-known character was revealed to be gay. ‘Discovery’ is about to start its third season and is still establishing its reputation. It also doesn’t have a viewership anything like as far-reaching as any of the ‘Star Trek’ shows that came before it and nor, we suspect, is it seen as many people as ‘Picard.’ What’s happening in ‘Discovery’ is welcome progress, but it wouldn’t carry as much weight as seeing a character as iconic as Seven of Nine revealed as LGBTQ+.
Aside from being a watershed moment in the history of the franchise, if Seven (as we’ll call her for short) is gay, bi, or anything else, it would be more than a little ironic. The character was only introduced to ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ to prop up falling ratings among male viewers. The producers of the show at the time hoped that if they hired an exceptionally attractive woman like Jeri Ryan and put her in the tightest-fitting catsuit ever seen on American television (outside of specialist channels), it might give them a little boost. They were right. The show continued on long enough to make it to seven seasons – the same as ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation.’ Seven was a character built and written to appeal to the male gaze. If she were now to become a gay icon, it would be quite the turnaround.
The theory is based on the simmering tension that existed between Seven of Nine and her ‘old friend’ Bjayzi, as seen on screen during ‘Stardust City Rag,’ the fifth episode of ‘Picard.’ It’s revealed that Bjayzi had infiltrated the Fenris Rangers gang that Seven belonged to, and that she and Seven had become very close indeed. There’s more to be read in what isn’t said than what’s said between them in their climactic scenes, but the long looks, the absolute fury, and the loaded pauses could only be described as sexual tension. It’s clear that Bjayzi’s betrayal of Seven has upset her on a level that goes beyond the professional, and beyond the personal in terms of friendship. Seven never says precisely what’s on her mind – and nor does Bjayzi – but there’s so much subtext there that it’s impossible to imagine that the writers created it by accident.
There isn’t a right or wrong answer to this. Those who insist that they saw no overtones in the scene are within their rights to do so, and there’s no solid evidence that anyone else can present to them that can convince them otherwise. The subtext is there if you want to see it, but it’s also easy to ignore if you don’t want to look at it. If this was a deliberate choice by the writers, it’s a frustrating one. The overall history of ‘Star Trek’ hasn’t been great when it comes to incorporating LGBTQ+ characters. This was an opportunity to make a big statement, and while they might have done so, they made it so quietly that the vast majority of the audience doesn’t appear to have heard it at all.
Seven of Nine might now be regarded as an LGBTQ+ character if you want to see her that way. She can also be dismissed as one if the scene didn’t have the necessary impact on you. There is one thing that we can probably app agree on, though – even if her relationship with Bjayzi was unclear, it’s more convincing than her relationship with Chakotay in ‘Voyager’ ever was. Hopefully, we’ll see her again this season or next, and we’ll finally get some closure on the matter. Jeri Ryan is too great an actor to leave out of the show for long.