In today's Sci-Fi Blast From The Past, actress Martha Hackett looks back on her days playing the always scheming Bajoran/Cardassian Seska on Star Trek: Voyager.
Star Trek: Voyager’s ex-Maquis rebel Seska was, among other things, resourceful. The ensign could do just about anything from helping fix a warp core to stealing the ingredients to make her former lover Chakotay’s favourite soup. Who’d have suspected that she was also a Cardassian spy who had been surgically altered to look Bajoran. After chastising Captain Janeway for the “incomprehensible decision” that marooned them in the Delta Quadrant, Seska jumped ship and allied herself with the Kazon-Nistrim. She subsequently returned with the Kazon to cause more trouble for the Voyager crew. No one ever quite knew what Seska would get up to next, not even the person playing her, Martha Hackett.
“Initially, the producers weren’t quite sure what they wanted to do with her,” explains the actress. “They hadn’t made up their minds if Seska was going to be a spy. There wasn’t even a hint of that, nor had they figured out whether or not she and Chakotay [Robert Beltran] had been lovers or that she was a Cardassian. So when I first started I was Seska the Bajoran Maquis member and they sort of worked everything else up in soap opera fashion. Then, of course, the pregnancy came along, which further complicated matters.
“The writers used what I thought were some clever plot machinations to develop Seska. When a character is well-written and has a lot of layers or depth it makes it far more interesting to play and fun as well. I got to take Seska in so many different directions. I even made her a little bit crazy,” she laughs. ”She was sort of a stalker where Chakotay was concerned. Those types of quirks are what made my job easy. It’s not like Seska was crying in every episode she was in and wrenching her heart out. Those are the things that are hard to do. I didn’t have to sell my soul to play Seska. It was neat to be someone crafty and who’s obsessed with control, as we all are to a certain degree in real life. We live day-to-day in frustration about not having control over one thing or another but Seska did something about it. She didn’t exactly have control either but she did her best to get it. You’ve at least got to give her credit for trying.”
The actress had plenty of Star Trek experience under her belt prior to being cast on Voyager. She read for the role of Jadzia Dax on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine and, although she lost out on that part, she wound up being cast as a Tarellian in the Star Trek: The Next Generation series finale All Good Things. The actress went on to play Romulan Sub Commander T’Rul in the Deep Space Nine third-season opener The Search, Parts One and Two. She made her debut as Seska in the first-season Voyager episode Parallax.In it, Seska supports friend and former Maquis member B’Elanna Torres’s (Roxann Dawson) as she vies for the post of ship’s chief engineer. Back then, Voyager was the new kid on the block and, as such, had much to prove to the network executives.
“Considering the success of both The Next Generation and DS9, this new series had big boots to step into,” notes Hackett. “I remember when I did Parallax they put me on the bridge in a medical uniform. A mistake like that had never been made before. It became an issue, and the next episode I did it was like, ‘You wore the wrong costume the last time.’ So all those kinks were being ironed out. I wouldn’t say things were tense but everybody was still sort of feeling their way around. In that regard I’d have to say that at first it was a slightly less jovial set than, let’s say, DS9, but it didn’t take long for things to turn in the other direction and the Voyager set became a more relaxed place to work.”
It is at the end of the first-season story State of Fluxthat Seska reveals her true colours and joins forces with the Kazon-Nistrom. She wastes no time in wrapping their chauvinistic leader First Maje Culluh (Anthony DeLongis) around her finger. “There’s no denying that Seska wore the pants in that relationship,” jokes the actress. “She wanted it to appear as if Culluh was in change when, in fact, she was, being the smarter of the two. I think Seska was far more attracted to Chakotay because he was an intellectual challenge.”
When it came to expressing her feelings for Chakotay, Seska certainly went about it in an unconventional way. In the second-season story Maneuversshe even goes so far as to take some of his DNA and impregnate herself. “They made Seska twisted and unstable enough, as is obvious in Maneuvers, that she really believed Chakotay was still carrying a torch for her like she was for him,” says Hackett. “She felt that her appeal would win him over as it did before. Deep down I feel Seska truly wanted Chakotay to love her. Unfortunately, her bizarre actions only pushed him further away.
“Seska’s darker sides came from a certain emotional instability,” she adds. “At least that’s how I played her, although I don’t know if it came across that way on the screen. Yes, she had an evil side to her but she was also really smart, and sometimes very intelligent people can be unstable. So there was a method to her madness. Also, I don’t think the character was totally heartless. Seska was open to B’Elanna and Chakotay even though she may have harmed them.”
Using her newborn baby as bait, Seska lures Chakotay and his fellow crewmates into a trap in the second-season cliffhanger Basics, Part I. The Kazon commandeer Voyager and leave Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and her crew to die on a barren world. Fortunately for them, Seska’s plan backfires in Basics, Part IIand the wily Cardassian ends up dead. Her demise came as a surprise to the show’s fans as well as Hackett
“Within a 24-hour period I received one set of [script] pages where the baby died and Seska lived, and then another set where the baby lived and Seska died,” recalls the actress. “I couldn’t believe it. I thought, ‘This must be a mistake. Maybe they’ll change their minds,’ but they didn’t. However, you know what, that’s show business. I’ll admit I was disappointed. I think the character’s death was wimpy. If Seska had to go then someone should’ve done away with her, preferably Janeway or Culluh. She shouldn’t have died as a result of Voyager being blasted, especially as she was standing so near to her baby, who would have been killed, too. I’m not a writer, though, so I can’t second-guess their decisions nor those of the show’s producers.”
In Science Fiction you can’t keep a good villain down, especially one as deliciously treacherous as Seska. Hackett reprised her role in two later episodes, Worst Case Scenario and Shattered. “It was fun to come back,” she says. “I loved Worst Case Scenarioand the idea that Seska left behind a computer virus to wreck havoc aboard Voyager. As for Shattered, I thought the concept of all the various timelines was neat, too. The interesting thing is that the story ended with Seska alive in a Jefferies tube, so what ever became of her?” muses the actress. “We’ll never know.”
What would Hackett have liked to have seen done with Seska had she lived? “This is totally fantastical and hypothetical,” says the actress, “ but I think it would have been interesting for her to become useful to Voyager in some capacity and have them never quite be sure if they could trust her. That was done to a point with Seven of Nine [Jeri Ryan], but she eventually went all the way over to their side. However, Seska was an opportunist, so it would’ve been more of a ‘I’ll rub your back if you’ll rub mine’ kind of arrangement.
“Something else that would have been cool is if the Cardassians came looking for Seska. There was never a backstory as to just how important she was to the Cardassians. They never show up, so what exactly was Seska doing? Was she valuable? We’d like to think so because she was a great spy.”
Given the enthusiasm in her voice it is obvious Hackett enjoyed her time as Voyager’s wolf in the fold. “Seska was capable of causing problems on her own or by manipulating others, so I could appreciate the character’s independence and initiative,” says Hackett. “I also felt she made a worthy female nemesis for Janeway. Seska was someone fans loved to hate, and when you’re playing a villain you can’t ask for much more than that.”