New Star Trek series Picard has opened to rave reviews on Amazon Prime this week.
As well as bringing back Sir Patrick Stewart as the titular starship captain, it sees the return of several other fan favourite characters – including one Trek star who accidentally changed the course of history.
Star Trek Voyager debuted in 1994 to middling ratings. By the end of the show’s third season it was clear to producers that something had to change.
At the beginning of season four, the show introduced sexy cyborg character Seven of Nine.
Seven, played by actress Jeri Ryan, is a human who has been extensively modified by one of the franchise’s most enduring alien threats: The Borg.
After Jeri joined the Voyager’s motley crew, ratings increased 60%.
It’s undeniable that Jeri’s va-va-voom figure and her character’s clingy costumes were a big part of Seven’s initial appeal.
Over the course of four more seasons Jeri blossomed from being mere eye-candy for a failing show to one of the more nuanced and thoughtful performers in Star Trek’s long history.
But even if the long-running sci-fi franchise is ultimately forgotten, Jeri will have left her mark on history. She inadvertently caused a political upset that will create aftershocks long into the future.
In 1990, while dealing blackjack at a charity event, Jeri met investment banker and future Republican political candidate Jack Ryan. They married a year later.
But beneath Jack’s clean cut all-American image lay tales of some disturbing appetites.
The story was only revealed when the couple’s divorce documents were made public in 2004.
Jeri told the court Jack that took her on several surprise trips that – she found out on arrival – involved visits to “explicit sex clubs.”
In her petition for divorce Jeri alleged that Jack more than once demanded that she have sex with him in public. She described one of the clubs, in New York, as “a bizarre club with cages, whips and other apparatus hanging from the ceiling.” She claimed that her husband begged her perform a sexual act on him while strangers watched.
“They were long weekends, supposed ‘romantic’ getaways. The clubs in New York and Paris were explicit sex clubs. He had done research,” Jeri wrote in her court submissions.
She said that Jack kept up the pressure for kinky sex, claiming: “He took me to two clubs in New York during the day. One club I refused to go in. It had mattresses in cubicles. The other club he insisted I go to,” she said.
She alleged that he “wanted me to have sex with him there with another couple watching,” she said. “I refused. [Jack] asked me to perform a sexual activity upon him and he specifically asked other people to watch. I was very upset.”
The couple argued and left the club. She claimed Jack later apologised and said it wouldn’t happen again.
But a short time later, according to Jeri, Jack took her to Paris without revealing he had booked them into another kinky sex club.
“People were having sex everywhere. I cried. I was physically ill.,” Jeri said. “[Jack] became very upset with me and said it was not a ‘turn-on’ for me to cry. I could not get over the incident and my loss of attraction for him as a result,” she said.
Jack rejected Jeri’s version of events in his own submission to the court: “I did arrange romantic getaways for us but that did not include the type of activities she describes,” he said.
He conceded that “We did go to one avant-garde nightclub in Paris, which was more than either one of us felt comfortable with,” but, according to jack, “We left and vowed never to return.”
But the stress on the marriage was increased by Jeri’s frequent long absences for filming after she won the Star Trek role. After a little over seven years together the couple divorced in 1999.
They also had a savage court battle for custody of their son in 2000.
It was when the court documents were unsealed that the real impact of the Ryans’ court battle was felt.
At the time, Jack was running for the US Senate, against a little-known and unfancied Democratic hopeful named Barack Obama.
He would almost certainly have won, but his marriage to the Star Trek sex symbol made him hot news in a way that few other Senate candidates would be.
As a result the Chicago Tribune launched a campaign to get the salacious divorce proceedings into the public domain. And when they succeeded the sensational headlines resulted in the complete collapse of Jack Ryan’s Senate hopes.
The Republican Party dumped him in favour of the far less charismatic Alan Keyes, who Obama completely destroyed at the ballot box.
If Voyager had opened to better ratings, Jeri may never have been hired as Seven of Nine.
If Jeri had never played Seven of Nine, Jack Ryan’s divorce may not have attracted so much press interest.
Without that press interest, someone else – maybe Jack Ryan himself – would have been inaugurated as the 44th US president in 2009.
All of the things that happened in the Obama presidency; the end of the Iraq war, the expansion of government-funded stem cell research into spinal injuries and cancer, the capture and killing of Osama bin Laden, might not have happened at all, or at least have played out differently.
And of course, without the success of Obama, would the political pendulum have swung hard enough in the other direction to bring Donald Trump to the fore?
The butterfly effect, in the form of Star Trek, cyborgs and sex clubs, changed the course of American history.
By email@example.com (Michael Moran)