Summary: Voyager goes off the air with a finale that isn’t quite a bang but is a fitting farewell in keeping with its themes and tone.
Despite heading for a fifth series, Star Trek has only done two series finales before Endgame. That means there really isn’t a template
established for the series finale just yet. On the one hand, we have TNG’s All Good Things…, which was a poignant look ahead at the future combined with a brilliant celebration of Star Trek’s ideals and a complex intellectual puzzle. On the other hand, we had DS9’s What You Leave Behind choose to do a conventional episode, wrapping the messy arcs and plot threads it had accumulated. Voyager’s finale Endgame on the other hand falls somewhere in between.
Unlike TNG, Voyager’s writers know this is their show’s last hurrah and that there will never be any further extension of the story. But unlike DS9, Voyager wasn’t overloaded with arcs that had to be wrapped up or apocalyptic struggles to be fought. So Endgame is a combination of the two styles. On the one hand there is a time warping premise to Endgame and a poignant look ahead at what time and history will do to its characters as on TNG. On the other hand the actual episode is less about time travel, than it is about using it as a vehicle to examine the characters and resolve the series and various character issues like DS9. The result is a finale that doesn’t aim high like TNG’s but also one that doesn’t overshoot and crash and burn like DS9’s. It’s an average finale that encompasses all the good and bad that was Voyager and by doing so serves as a valid representation of what the show was all about.
Endgame’s opening takes less of a page from TNG or DS9 than it does from the TOS films. Specifically Wrath of Khan. A scene of Voyager’s
joyous celebration cuts to a falsely cheerful retrospective on a TV monitor and a bitter-aged Captain Janeway pacing the room. These are scenes that call up the TOS Genesis trilogy both visually and emotionally. Janeway and the Doctor chat in her apartment in a scene strongly reminiscent of Kirk and McCoy sans glasses. The Genesis comparisons only deepen as Janeway searches for a way to break Starfleet regulations to save former friends and crew members. Janeway herself no longer pilots a starship but has been bumped up to Admiral and looks forwards to teaching cadets. The crew has their reunions like an old group of Korean War vets who don’t seem to have that much in common anymore and Voyager is a museum from whose ready room you can see Alcatraz. Tuvok is in a mental asylum raving to himself and Chakotay and Seven are dead. And it took Voyager nearly two decades to get home.
Fans and viewers might have expected a long journey home ending with Voyager’s return, but the episode instead chooses to throw a
splendid reunion at them and then turn it into ashes. It’s a scene that takes a certain amount of guts. Voyager might have easily gone the conventional route, or at least closed with the return scene as a payoff. Instead the payoff shot shows Voyager returning to Earth in the company of the fleet. We’ve already seen the return home and we know it won’t solve all the problems or too many problems for that matter. Janeway’s real problem remains unspoken and it isn’t Tuvok’s disease or Seven’s death. Her real problem is only stated openly by Paris, that she was only satisfied when she was on Voyager. Voyager was home. Time stood still on Voyager.
Janeway has always been obsessed with doing the best job possible of getting her crew home. And so she decides to go back in time and risk the past, not for any particularly compelling reasons, but because she wants to do a better job if it than she did last time. She wants to see if she can get the floor cleaner and the cabinets shinier and the crew home in seven years instead of twenty-something years. Janeway has always been a perfectionist and obsessed with her performance. She’s lost plenty of crewmembers before, so why not prevent Voyager from entering the Delta Quadrant period? The device on her shuttle allows her to choose any point in space or time. Presumably because it would eliminate important parts of history, which Voyager changed. Captain Braxton and Q have said as much. Janeway herself states that these sixteen years featured major confrontations with the Borg Queen which helped them develop weapons and tactics that in the future allows the Federation to hold the Borg at bay. Is she throwing all this way just to rescue some friends? So are we to really believe that Voyager’s first seven years in the Delta Quadrant were important to galactic history but the succeeding sixteen years weren’t?
And here is at once the greatest strength of Endgame and its greatest weakness. Its strength lies in its depiction of Voyager’s future, but a
future that is merely used to engineer a bit of time travel that occurs at this point in time for no particular reason, except that Voyager’s seven years are up. Worse yet, Admiral Janeway seems to have no idea how to bring Voyager home except by taking them through the worst the Borg have to offer. Couldn’t she have found an easier way to bring Voyager home? If Voyager could get home by breaking the rules, who not ask Q to do it? The entire Borg plot becomes tacked on as a means of resolving the Borg, even though they have little relation to the basic plot. Which means we’re asked to swallow two gigantic whoppers. The first being Admiral Janeway’s choice and the second being the involvement of the Borg.
Despite the All Good Things… “flashbacks” like Janeway’s shuttle being pursued by Klingon warships, Janeway convincing aged crew members to let her go on one final mission, and Tuvok suffering from a degenerative mental disease, future Voyager worked. So does present day Voyager. Given plenty of time, Endgame showcases a “5 minutes from now” future of Voyager that has Tuvok realizing his disease is getting worse when he loses a game, Torres expecting her baby and Paris finally settling down and abandoning his last desire for adventure. Both the past and the future are rife with neat continuity references from Barclay missing a golf game with the EMH, Kim’s desire to be Captain and Torres’s daughter turning out to be a bigger Klingon than her mother and involved in Klingon politics to boot. The future isn’t detailed but Janeway shopping around for technology with a renegade Klingon noble in exchange for a seat on the high council is plausible and rings true. So do the lecture halls and reunions, a Voyager version of Veterans of Foreign Wars. Or Veterans of Delta Quadrant Attrition.
The failure happens when Endgame does what All Good Things… and Voyager’s own Timeless knew not to do, combine the past and the future. On board Voyager, Admiral Janeway is just a pest and her motivations are bizarre. Her claims that “family comes before strangers” is completely bizarre and un-Starfleet even if it’s nice to see Janeway finally come out and admit the philosophy that’s been behind criminal actions such as Tuvix and Scorpion. Her technology gifts make things too easy. Sure the Borg have become a bit too soft but the cheesy armor-all effect and super torpedoes that blow up entire cubes are just ridiculous. Meanwhile Present Janeway demonstrates that she can’t even stand or work with herself, let alone anyone else. Her desire to blow up the Borg transwarp conduit is noble, but wouldn’t it make more sense to escape first and get the technology back to Starfleet which can outfit a hundred ships with it and do the job better?
People may make noises about the Temporal Prime Directive, but I note the TPD hasn’t kept the EMH from wearing a piece of 27th century technology and trying to donate it to the Daystrom Institute. Why is this any different? Janeway is ready to throw away the TPD when it’s a question of Tuvok’s well-being and when it’s a question of the welfare of her crew, and this is a question of the survival of thousands of entire species. Essentially, then, both Janeways have irrational agendas that have more to do with their own personal psychological problems, than with Starfleet regulations and the greater good. Kirk in ST3 and Picard in All Good Things… broke the rules but Kirk didn’t care about Genesis. He was simply trying to rescue Spock and that meant violating the No Trespassing sign. Picard had evidence that if he didn’t act the universe would be destroyed. Janeway wanted to save 22 people and possibly doom billions and wipe out portions of galactic history doing it. It just doesn’t add up.
And that is Voyager’s legacy, pettiness. Even when taking on the Borg and challenging all space and time, Janeway seems petty. And she manages to make the Borg seem petty too. It’s family versus family. Janeway’s family on Voyager which has come to a fractured old age in the future and the Borg Queen’s collapsing collective family. Both believe Seven of Nine is part of their family. And more than anything this episode seems to come down to Seven of Nine again. She dies. Her death devastates Chakotay. Her death is the unique thing that causes Janeway to go back. The other 22 crew members are nameless and Janeway has already lost quite a few people before this. But by choosing to develop the actual Chakotay/Seven romance only at this late date, the entire notion that Chakotay was so devastated by her loss that he pined away for longing is simply implausible. And fans who follow the inside news will note Beltran’s attacks against the producers and that actors the producers don’t like often meet unfortunate ends.
But then if the producers had decided to kill off the character they might have gotten some mileage from it by killing him off during the
attempt to return to Earth. As it is there is little carnage and little real trial and risk. Future Janeway may die but that is to be expected. But to the crew, it is an episode that seems to carry less danger and risk than episodes like Dark Frontier or Year of Hell. You would think that the process of returning to Earth would be epic, but instead it seems very ordinary. It doesn’t even compare to Borg Voyager episodes like Scorpion or Unimatrix Zero. Eliminate the time travel and return-to-Earth element and you simply have a fairly conventional Voyager two-parter. The Borg Queen even falls for a variation of the same trick Janeway used on her in Unimatrix Zero. The collective must have a really poor memory to keep making the same mistake over and over again.
So what we have in Endgame is the fusion of a strong future episode, a strong view of Voyager 5 minutes from now and their clumsy combination in a weak and hackneyed plot that results in them getting home. But this is only fitting for a show that has suffered from poor plots and rushed resolutions throughout its run. Endgame has many of the same successes and failures as Voyager in general has had. With Endgame it attempts to produce a linear resolution and a character arc wrap-up and while it does a better job of this than the muddled DS9 series finale, it suffers from many of the same flaws. Confrontation for confrontation’s sake, implausible actions and behaviors and a finale that feels rushed to complete an artificial schedule that wasn’t properly planned for. But it also has gems that DS9’s finale lacks and those gems, those character moments, are what link Voyager’s past and present.
Next week: Nothing. Now the wait for Star Trek Enterprise begins.