Sarah Kerrigan’s Transformations throughout StarCraft.
I want to preface this blog post with two things. 1. I’m only looking at Kerrigan through the games, not any of the surrounding media. 2. I’m probably wrong about all of this, so don’t get too upset about anything I say.
I’ve borrowed the title of this post from a place in Oz, the Prison of the Abject. It exists in the brilliant and way too short TV-series Emerald City. The Prison of the Abject is shown as a place where bodies melt into one another, and keeping Kristeva’s theories around the abject and the power of horror in mind, it’s a very good metaphor for the erasure of self and identity and corporal boundaries that signify the abject. The prison of the abject is a loss of self.
The reason I chose this title for a post about Sarah Kerrigan might not be immediately obvious, but of course it has to do with her absorption and remaking at the hands of the Zerg overmind.
The Zerg themselves are an excellent example of what the abject is. They secrete fluids, infest, and spread like a virus. The Zerg are organic, unintelligent unless directed and quite frankly, disgusting. They’re squishy, toothy and very much fluid in the sense of borders and containment.
This lack of self is repeated in their lack of self-awareness. Only a few Zerg have any kind of intelligence, they’re a hive mind as much as they’re a continuous body without boundaries. They represent the dissolution of self in more than one way. To be infested by the Zerg is to not only lose your bodily integrity, but also lose your self.
Sarah Kerrigan is a perfect subject for the Zerg. She starts our as an innocent, but she has psychic powers lurking beneath the surface. To some extent, Kerrigan’s journey is that of loss of control. As a child she accidentally kills her parents and a seed of transgression is sown through that act. Her powers that she carries from a young age sets her apart. Her boundaries aren’t clear even as a human. She reads Jim Raynor’s mind early on in their relationship, proving that she not only possesses a woman’s body in all its otherness and transgressive existence, but also the inability to mentally contain herself. In addition to that she’s been broken by her teachers and for a period of time, she kills indiscriminately for them. Her boundaries, body and mind, are continuously being stepped on.
Kerrigan may be painted as a villain, but in reality she’s a victim. A victim of her powers, of the Dominion, or Arcturus Mengsk and the Sons of Korhal and finally a victim of the Zerg.
Kerrigan is abandoned at New Gettysburg
The Zerg transforms not only her body but her mind. For a while it seems as if she’s in control of herself and capable of reasoning with both the Terrans and the Protoss, but it is a short lived illusion.
Just like the Zerg, Kerrigan is to an extent a mindless killer. Mindless because she no longer possesses the control to not kill. She’s a perfect example of what Barbara Creed calls deceptively treacherous.
[…] the definition of sin/ abjection as something which comes from withinopens up the way to position woman as deceptively treacherous. She may appear pure and beautiful on the outside but evil may, nevertheless, reside within. It is this stereotype of feminine evil – beautiful on the outside/ corrupt within – that is so popular within patriarchal discourses about woman’s evil nature.
– Barbara Creed, The Monstrous-Feminine: Film, Feminism, Psychoanalysis
Creed goes on to talk about the horror that is revealed when that ambiguity – beautiful and pure on the outside but corrupt inside – is revealed. Kerrigan in her role as a Ghost in Mengsks troops is already transgressive. The Zerg only makes sure that her outside matches her inside and she becomes a clear representation of the Other and the abject.
The reason I’m arguing that Kerrigan is a victim rather than a villain is that she’s always had to rely on outside forces to control her. While in the “care” of the Dominion, her psychic powers are controlled by a “neuro-adjuster”, but its a device that not only gives her more control over her powers, but also lets the Dominion take control over her.
Even as she moved from patriarchy to patriarchy, her powers still need an outside influence to be entirely controlled. The Dominion, and later the Sons of Korhal under the control of Mengsk are all examples of patriarchal institutions, run by men who all have more control over Kerrigan than she herself does.
In the end those patriarchal institutions abandon Kerrigan to die in the aftermath of the battle of New Gettysburg, and instead of dying, Kerrigan becomes the perfect example of what patriarchy believes happens to powerful women that are left outside of the control of men.
The Zerg recognise Kerrigan as one of their own and remakes her in their own image- the beautiful but evil/ powerful and out of control inside is transformed on the outside as well to better match the true nature of who Kerrigan is. She even says so herself.
“Jim, I know what I did. I remember. Billions dead…because of me!”
“That was not you. That was the Queen of Blades. What they made you into. You’re back to being Sarah again. And we’re together now. So just hush, honey.”
“It doesn’t matter. Sarah Kerrigan, Queen of Blades…you don’t understand. Maybe you can never understand. I’ve always been a destroyer of things. Anything I touch, anything I care about…that’s why they picked me, Jim. Because I’m a destroyer of things…”
– StarCraft II, Heart of the Swarm
Kerrigan only regains a bit of control over herself when she’s returned to the control of the patriarchy through Jim Raynor’s rescue of her. Before that, all through the Brood Wars expansion and at the beginning of StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty, Kerrigan has given in fully to her abject nature. She’s fully Other. She fulfils every trope and stereotype of the corrupted and manipulative evil woman. She’s beautiful, but her beauty and sexuality is a trap.
Kerrigan is rescued by Jim Raynor
One could even argue that the Zerg, under her control becomes an extension of Kerrigan’s body. Because the Zerg are boundary-less, toothy and infests what they come into contact with. This out of control nature is a representation of nature and woman.
Looking deeper both into the design of Kerrigan and the design of the Zerg, it’s possible to argue that the Zerg in all their toothy glory is a representation of the castrating vagina dentata. Zerg – even when not under the control of Kerrigan – promises two things. The “castration of the mind” through the removal of identity in the victim and the “castration of the body” through the removal of bodily integrity through the infestation and changes of the body.
Kerrigan, despite being returned to the control of men during the end of Wings of Liberty and the beginning of Heart of the Swarm is still not entirely to be trusted. Something illustrated through her rebellious destruction of Valerian Mengsk’s prison that she’s put in.
Kerrigan teaches Valerian Mengsk a lesson
In StarCraft II Kerrigan does however become more of an ambiguous character, not necessarily evil, but certainly not to be trusted either. A stand out element in all of Kerrigan’s interactions with the patriarchy – with Jim, with Arcturus Mengsk and the Dominion – is that she’s never able to defeat it on her own. She’s identified as the “hope” of the universe by Zeratul, but even then she has to be protected to fulfil her destiny. It’s what the entire plot of Wings of Liberty hinges on.
When rescuing Raynor, Raynor ends up rescuing her. When confronting Mengsk to get her revenge, she’s unable to, and must once again rely on Raynor to save her and exact her revenge.
Kerrigan and Raynor kills Mengsk
I get the feeling her ultimate lack of power in these situations is a reassurance to the assumed male player. “Don’t worry boys. She may be powerful, but she can never break free entirely of the patriarchy.”
Kerrigan is a good game character and villain, but she’s also a play on just about every stereotypical fear that lurk in the hearts of men. She’s evil but she hides it behind beauty. She’s manipulative (Brood Wars) or all out destructive (Wings of Liberty) and even when reigned in and under the control of men, again she can’t entirely be trusted (Heart of the Swarm). She’s unable to resist the return to nature and her out of control Zerg body, despite the pain she knows this will cause Raynor and in the end she chooses to become an agent of nature, turning her back on control and the patriarchy.
The game tells us Kerrigan must be feared because she can never be entirely trusted to abandon her feminine out of control and Other nature. At the same time, StarCraft seems to say that she’s to be feared only to a certain extent. In the end, her powers are not strong enough to overthrow the patriarchy.
It’s a reassurance of sorts. “Don’t worry. She might look seductive and act treacherous, but in the end, she has no power over you.”