MARTHA HACKETT, VOYAGER VILLAIN:
Seska's Alter Ego Leaves Voyager Running
by Michelle Erica Green
Quick: who's the toughest woman Captain Janeway has ever faced down? Smart and sexy, she's unafraid of taking extreme measures, even if that makes her unpopular and dangerous. Trained by one of the Federation's deadliest enemies, she now knows Voyager's systems and can wreak havoc with them.
No...not Seven of Nine. I'm talking about Seska, the Cardassian traitor whose regrettable death at the end of Voyager's second year has not prevented her from popping up to torment the crew in the seasons since.
"I'd love to go back," admitted Seska's creator Martha Hackett last month. The actress has been very busy in the months since she last appeared on the series - appearing in the play The Women at Washington, D.C.'s prestigious Arena Stage, playing a role in the Drew Barrymore romantic comedy Never Been Kissed, which opens this month - not to mention taking care of the baby with whom she was pregnant when she appeared on the show.
A lifelong Star Trek fan, Harvard-educated Hackett was thrilled to be cast on Voyager, although her first love remains the stage. Having just completed her run on the East Coast, she is headed back to California, where her husband and young son await her...and where she will choose her next challenge.
Though she appeared in only a handful of first-season episodes, Seska made an immediate impression. In the first episode after the pilot, "Parallax" - for which Hackett said she was mistakenly costumed in the wrong color uniform - Seska encouraged her Maquis captain and former lover Chakotay to mutiny. Then she hooked up with several senior officers in an effort to obtain illegal alien technology to get the ship home, circumventing the captain's orders.
When that attempt failed, Seska went a step further: she gave Federation technology to the aggressive Kazon in hope of forging a secret alliance. The plan backfired in "State of Flux," but not before Seska escaped aboard a Kazon ship...after admitting that she was never the Bajoran rebel she appeared to be, but a surgically altered Cardassian spy.
From her Kazon power base, Seska tormented Voyager's crew throughout the second season, particularly Chakotay whose DNA she stole in order to impregnate herself in "Maneuvers." She then hooked up with the scheming crewmember Mike Jonas to sabotage the ship, ultimately luring her former friends to attempt a rescue of her child. Finally, she and her Kazon allies took over Voyager itself, stranding Janeway and most of the crew on a desolate planet.
In the original draft of "Basics" - the two-part episode which ended the second season of Voyager and launched the third - the plan was to keep Seska around while Kazon nemesis Culluh paid the ultimate price for challenging Janeway. But during the transition over hiatus, when executive producer Michael Piller stepped down and Jeri Taylor took over his role, a decision was made to take the series in another direction. Seska was killed when Janeway's allies reclaimed Voyager, and it appeared that her role on the series was finished.
Life After Death?
But nearly a year later, Seska reappeared...this time as a hologram created on Voyager, which menaced Tuvok and the crew when an insurrection scenario was activated. "I thought it was great that she thought ahead and planned something that would mess with people even after she wasn't around," Hackett said of the episode "Worst Case Scenario," which resurrected her character in her original Bajoran guise. "There could have been more of that all along, every time there was a problem on the ship - 'Oh, there she goes again!'"
Being dead has never been an obstacle to reappearing on Star Trek, as actors from Leonard Nimoy to Denise Crosby can attest. Hackett - who has also played a Romulan, a Klingon, and a Terrellian in other incarnations of the Trek franchise - said she would be delighted to take another crack at Voyager's most persistent villain, and Seska's name has already been invoked as a possible reason for every inconsistency and hazard of subsequent episodes despite her absence from the screen.
"It was a lot of fun in those first episodes, and there were a lot of strong women," Hackett recalls, sounding sympathetic to the cast's frustration with the recent focus on Seven of Nine and her catsuit. "I was astonished when I first saw that character; I thought, my god, she's naked, and this is a family show! Especially when this show started on the right foot with the female captain. It was sort of revolutionary, and then to backslide into something like this."
Death: The Big Letdown
On the other hand, Seska herself had been tamed from her strong, oppositional personality by her final episodes, and her death was a big letdown. "I was always grouchy about the way they killed me off, because there should have been a showdown between Janeway and Seska," the actress admitted. "This whole thing with the ship getting bumped, and the baby survives but I don't? That's nutty! For Seska to die that way was like rolling over."
Moreover, Hackett thought there should have been a dramatic showdown between her character and Chakotay. The rumor from Paramount at the time was that Taylor wanted to get rid of Piller's Kazon arc as quickly as possible because it wasn't popular with viewers, but in doing so, much of the drama which had been built during the second season was erased.
"To not make the child Chakotay's was a wimpy move," Hackett said. "If the child is his, it provides a lot more complex stuff for him later on down the line. Like it or not, that is a more complicated experience, so they kind of took the wind out of their own sails."
Hackett had read the original draft of the teleplay for "Basics Part II," in which Seska lived and baby died. "I got the page changes, so I saw that two days later it had reversed." She was disappointed, but "these are things that actors don't have any control over; these are all producer decisions. For someone like me who is a recurring character and not even a series regular, it's not something you argue about."
The actress had known from the time she was hired that the role would be recurring, "but they didn't know what that would mean - they came up with the storyline as it went, they had it vaguely in mind that they were going to have this spy, but they hadn't worked it out yet." Still, Hackett found her character well-written in the early scripts. "I thought, this is interesting: she's a little off. She's really smart, but she's a little crazy, and that's complicated."
"In the beginning I was just an energetic, contrary Maquis member," she added. "I didn't know I was a spy. But it was clear that her point of view was, we shouldn't have done this, why did we join up with the Federation? We should have stayed a splinter group. That was all that had been spelled out for me."
Hackett did not read Jeri Taylor's novel Pathways, which explained some of Seska's background, nor has she kept up with the show to the degree that fans sometimes expect. "When I can, I catch it, but I'm often doing plays at night or something else - I'm not able to regularly watch, this season I've watched the least. But I just don't get the opportunity to watch much TV." Hackett tries to watch shows she might get an opportunity to read for, "because it's my reponsibility to know what I'm auditioning for. But frankly there's not a lot of TV shows that I can really launch into. It's not my only goal in life to do episodic."
TV Wish List
Which shows would she most like to do? "I think E.R.'s terrific, but I haven't been seen for E.R., ever. I think The X-Files is great. I still feel like I'm learning about working on film, even though I've done it for ten years."
Hackett appears in the new Drew Barrymore film Never Been Kissed which opened last week, "a small role that was really over-the-top comedy. I think people used to primarily see me as a heavy, serious character, but I do it all - I don't have a preference!" She can also be seen in Carnosaur and in the recent Music From Another Room in a cameo role. "I knew the director, and I have a moment; it's not like I have a role!" she laughed.
She also starred recently in the UPN movie The Last Man On Planet Earth, written by Voyager producer Ken Biller and featuring Veronica Cartwright. "I like Ken a lot, and it was a satire - a really black satire. The script was fantastic but I didn't see it, so I don't know how it came out. If you didn't watch from the beginning, it was probably going to be disturbing."
The film was set in a future all-female world where one woman clones a man without the genes for violence. "It's like Gulliver's Travels: women had assumed the roles of men. It was actually really interesting arguments about tolerance and the differences in people. I played the madam for the few men who had survived the biological warfare, and they were all older, and I was sort of an underground character. It was fun!"
Lure of the Stage
Still, the Boston-born Hackett primarily considers herself a theater actress. Playing Sylvia in The Women, she said, "has been terrific fun, it's really been a great time, but it's time for it to be over." Her young son recently returned to Los Angeles to start preschool, and the actress professes homesickness. "I don't mind doing shows for long periods of time, but it would be more fun if it were in L.A., or near my home."
Though she declined to name a favorite role - "I've played a lot of different roles and I approach each of them differently, so they're all a different challenge, and in a way I wouldn't want to disrespect one character over another" - Hackett has a long wish list for theatrical roles. She won a Dramalogue Award for Barbarians and has appeared in King Lear and The Revenger's Tragedy, among many others.
"There are some Ibsen roles I would love to do because he wrote so well for women, there are some Shakespeare roles I haven't done yet - I would love to play some male Shakespeare roles. I'd love to do Hamlet, I'd love to do Hedda Gabler which I think is sort of the female version of Hamlet. And there are some roles in Chekhov that I still have not done - I've played Olga in Three Sisters, but there are so many more, and some of them I can do when I'm older, so I look forward to those."
Asked whether she would rather play a good girl or a bad one, Hackett quickly noted, "It's more fun to be a villain. And in some ways it's harder to be the heroine - it's hard to be a heroine that's not cookie-cutter. I've done a lot of really interesting roles onstage, in many ways you get to do more interesting roles in theater because the characters are more three-dimensional and complicated. The writing is different because it's about the language. Theater doesn't have the sort of economic problems that sometimes TV and film have to consider. The roles you play in theater, they're just deeper."
Hackett is returning to meetings to see whether the rave reviews received by The Women will translate into bigger roles, but she is adamant that being a movie star holds no allure for her. "Sure I'd like to break into getting larger roles, but I don't want to be Demi Moore," she said. "I'd love to have access to some of the roles, but I think you pay a heavy price. I think being a celebrity is totally overrated. I like to go to the grocery store without people bothering me. I want to be a journeyman actor who works for a long time; unfortunately, the way the system works, it's hard to get work unless you're famous, but there's a lot of manipulation to get there."
Fan Club Fave
Having chosen to be a performer because "I couldn't imagine going through life without doing this, though my mother thought it was a foolish choice," Hackett sounded pleased to have a fan club (Seska's Scandal Sheet, http://www.marthahackett.com) and a following from Star Trek, though she has not attended any conventions and is unsure whether her future holds more appearances, though she stays in touch with some cast members - particularly those involved with theater.
"It's not that I'm opposed to the conventions, it's just never worked into my life - I've been quite busy and I have a young child, so sometimes I don't want to spend my down time working," she said. "There was a fan at the show the other night saying, 'Are you going to do any more Star Trek?' And it's really not up to me. I sometimes feel bad talking to Star Trek fans because I really don't have any information about Star Trek!"
"But I'll do it happily, if they ask me to and if I'm available at the time," she concluded.