Kai Winn Adami
The Bajoran religious leader really made a play for power early in the series. She would try to provoke Commander Sisko into debates and manipulate Kira Nerys for her own gain. Yet, despite being a villain for the entirety of her time on the series, she was oftentimes very soothing with her tone. Had I watched her during Deep Space 9’s original run, I would’ve been about seven or eight. I would have had no idea that she was a villain, but I would probably still have hated her anyway.
Yet, what’s to hate about the kai? Well, some would say it was because she was a religious zealot, more worried about her relationship with beings she believed to be gods (the wormhole aliens) but that’s not it. Some would say it’s because she betrayed those same aliens, but that was because Gul Dukat manipulated her. No, as a kid I wouldn’t really understand why I hated her so much but as an adult I do.
She’s a manipulator who gaslights people into reacting exactly as she wants them to.
As an adult, I’ve dealt with women who’ve done that, and understand the misery that comes with sharing time and space with a person who does that. As a kid, I wouldn’t grasp the nuances of Winn’s cruelty. Yet, as an adult, I now have personal experiences to draw upon. That feeling you get when you know someone is more interested in themselves than the whole of something is devastating. When seen in media done so well, it brings you back to those moments. It allows you to attach more effectively to the main heroes, as so many of us (man and woman alike) have dealt with manipulative people.
She was also always convinced she was right, which lead to the most condescending, yet sweet-sounding interactions with Commander Sisko throughout the first few seasons of the show. While she would be part of the show throughout most of its entirety, she took a bit of a back seat for most of the Dominion War, allowing another great villain (but one who just missed the list) Weyoun to step up and be more involved with the central story.
Winn’s arch on the series is one that most fans can truly feel, as it’s so very authentic. It’s something everyone has gone through, regardless if you’re living in the middle-of-nowhere USA or on a space station orbiting Bajour.
That’s the effectiveness of a great villain.