This post contains spoilers through the early fourth season of Star Trek: Voyager.
When I first started watching Star Trek: Voyager on DVD, I found I really liked Kes (Jennifer Lien). She was unfailingly kind and good and innocent and brilliant and all that Mary Sue stuff, but it worked for two reasons: the character’s background supported those traits, and Jennifer Lien played her part very low-key. Then the character developed: she chose to become The Doctor’s assistant, she worked to develop her innate telekinetic and telepathic abilities, and she formed relationships with everyone on the crew.
Then, during the third season, she broke up with her longterm beau and immediately switched to a wardrobe of skintight cat suits. But that wasn’t enough: they wrote a complicated episode in which she traveled backward through time, the entire point of which seemed to be to return her to the present with a full head of Miss Piggy hair instead of the short elfen cut she’d worn before that. I have read that Jennifer Lien was allergic to the adhesive used to attach her prosthetic alien ears, so the ear-hiding wig may have been out of consideration for the actress, but it was a really bad wig, and combined with the cat suits, what came across was that the character was being changed into a glamour girl sex kitten because she was no longer interesting as just… well, a character.
And then she leaves… and Jeri Ryan begins her infamous stint as Seven of Nine. I’ve only seen a few episodes with Seven of Nine so far, but she has the potential to be a truly interesting character. But when every show tried to copy Seven of Nine, they focused more on the unbelievably skintight cat suit and heels (I’m sure heels are a constant throughout the galaxy).
While I can’t be sure exactly why Kes was eventually written out of the show – and let’s face it; the average viewer isn’t going to investigate – what comes across is a sense that the show needed a sex kitten, so they tried to turn Kes into it, and when that failed for whatever reason, they brought in Seven of Nine.
I don’t have a problem with interesting female characters also being sexy. Particularly if they’re also sexual on their own terms – whether that means celibacy or kinky orgies. But men don’t get the same treatment on Voyager. As badly as Stargate treated Sam from Season Four on, they also put Daniel and Teal’c in ridiculously tight clothes and gave the female fans the “arm porn” they clamored for.