Star Trek: Voyager
Air date: 5/23/2001
Teleplay by Kenneth Biller & Robert Doherty
Story by Rick Berman & Kenneth Biller & Brannon Braga
Directed by Allan Kroeker
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"There's got to be a way to have our cake and eat it too."
— Captain Kathryn Janeway
In brief: Quite effective on some levels and very much not so on others. A fitting end for the series, and read into that statement what you wish.
For seven years Voyager has been trying to have its cake and eat it too. Now we have "Endgame," the series finale that wants, above anything ... to have its cake and eat it too.
Here's an episode that gives us the extended aftermath before the crisis resolution ... which ingeniously allows the plot to conceal whether or not Voyager will actually, really get home until literally the last minute of screen time. Meanwhile, it gives us a hint of what happens after Voyager gets home. Maybe. But then again, maybe not.
In a way, this is a clever story. That is, of course, assuming the most important question is whether or not Voyager gets home. At this stage in the game, it might very well be, although one would think what happens after the ship gets home would be of at least some importance. What happens to these people after they're home? "Endgame" is far too busy being a time-travel Borg-centered action movie to care.
Does "Endgame" work as a series finale? On its bottom line, yes ... and no. I found it engaging and with some interesting ironies. I also found it maddening because most of its fascinations exist within a time-plot loophole. Should "Endgame" have been more? Absolutely, but then the whole series should've been more. "Endgame," and season seven in general, follows the Voyager pattern to a perfect T. This series gets just the finale it deserves, which is some sort of damning praise.
The story is a curious rehashing of TNG's finale, "All Good Things...," crossed with Voyager's own "Timeless" from season five. For good measure, to up the action and FX quotient, the writers also throw in the Borg one last time. Yes, the Borg. Again.
The episode begins 26 years in the future on Earth, on the 10th anniversary of Voyager getting home. In other words, Voyager is, according to this timeline, destined to stay in the Delta Quadrant for another 16 years from our "present" perspective. Or perhaps not, since this is a time-travel story where anything is possible. We begin the story in the midst of one character's brewing plan, one of stupendous audacity. After years of heartache, Admiral Janeway has decided that her crew's fate was not the one it deserved. In this future, Seven and Chakotay are dead and Tuvok is institutionalized with a crippling Vulcan mental illness.
If it's not perhaps the rosiest of futures it could be for the Voyager crew, it's worth noting that it's also not an especially bleak future in the balance of things. Voyager made it home, even if it took awhile, and many of its crew members have gone on to lead productive lives. Harry is a captain (for better or worse), Tom and B'Elanna are still married with a daughter in Starfleet (Lisa Locicero), Barclay doesn't stammer anymore, Doc has a new wife and a new name (three decades to come up with "Joe," which is perhaps the show's most depressing joke), and the Alpha Quadrant appears to be in pretty good shape, with some impressive technical advances.
Which is why it's a little bit unsettling to find out that the plot of "Endgame" is about Admiral Janeway's secret plan to travel back in time and change the future — with little regard for the history she's going to be changing.
The show's opening passages establish, with a certain amount of interest, what the future has brought. Among the most affecting scenes is one where Admiral Janeway visits the institutionalized Tuvok. You can see a deep sadness in Janeway's eyes that Kate Mulgrew conveys with great effectiveness — a concern for a dear friend whose stranding in the Delta Quadrant prevented his treatment for an otherwise preventable condition. She blames herself.
Janeway — being the ever-controversial figure she has been through much of the series — acquires technology from some Klingons in the kind of shady transaction that in the 20th century might take place in a back alley. This technology, when incorporated into her shuttlecraft, allows the admiral to travel not only back in time 26 years, but also across tens of thousands of light-years of space to the Delta Quadrant. Once there, she intercepts the Voyager of her past in a plot to get them home immediately.
In getting to this point, the plot's structure, similar to "All Good Things...," does a certain amount of crosscutting between the present storyline of Voyager in the Delta Quadrant, and the future storyline of Admiral Janeway planning her trip through time. I'll give credit where credit is due: The script keeps us oriented, giving us just the cues and information we need when we need them in order to ensure the story is understandable. But nevertheless, being a time-manipulation story, "Endgame" is still riddled with the sort of plot holes that all but come with the territory.
The crucial juncture of the story revolves around a mysterious nebula in Voyager's present in the Delta Quadrant. Sensors indicate there's something in this nebula that "Could be a way home!", Harry excitedly announces. "Maybe it will lead right into your parents' living room," says Paris, making fun of Harry in my absence. But in trying to reach the heart of the energy source in the nebula, Voyager nearly collides with a Borg cube and is forced to retreat. A run-in with the Borg, who seem to be using the nebula as some sort of base, is not worth whatever might be inside, Janeway reasons.
It's not too long after this incident when Admiral Janeway emerges from a rift in space, having used her newly acquired technology to intercept Voyager at this precise moment and location. In what has to be one of the stranger moments for Janeway this side of "Deadlock," she comes face to face with her older self and has an urgent discussion over the viewscreen where the older Janeway pulls rank on the younger Janeway as a way to reinforce her argument. Heh. Before long, Admiral Janeway has laid the whole thing out for Captain Janeway: The nebula does indeed contain the way home, and the admiral has brought with her technical defenses to get past the Borg.
Logical gaffes abound: My first question, which apparently never occurred to Admiral Janeway: Why didn't she find a way to adapt the time-travel technology — which not only sent her through time but also all the way to the Delta Quadrant (how convenient!) — to get Voyager home? An even bigger question: If the Voyager crew, which already left the nebula behind by the time Admiral Janeway made her appearance, never found out about the mysterious object at the center of the nebula, how does Admiral Janeway of the future know about it? She may be from the future, but that doesn't mean she automatically has more information. If her past self had never learned of it, she wouldn't have either.
Then there's the whole ethical issue of time travel in order to make the future more personally desirable. I'll deal with that in a moment, but first...
The object at the center of the nebula is among the most awesome sights this series has shown. It's a Borg transwarp hub, used by the Borg to travel all through the galaxy, and depicted here as what looks like a small star surrounded by a web of tunnels. An occasional Borg cube passes through the camera frame. No matter what Voyager has passed up in terms of storytelling potential, no one will ever be able to say the series lacked the ability to bring impressively realized images to the small screen.
According to Seven, the Borg have only six hubs in the galaxy, and taking one out could be a crippling blow to them. Then again, so could the "Borg civil war" that was started in "Unimatrix Zero," but, annoyingly enough, from the looks of things here the civil war didn't amount to squat; it's not even mentioned as an afterthought. This almost makes "Unimatrix Zero" a pointless exercise, since its biggest selling point was that it seemed to be plotting the Borg's eventual downfall.
The true interest in "Endgame" arises from the fact Admiral Janeway holds this key to Voyager's immediate way home, and the question becomes whether or not the crew should take it. The admiral comes with 30 years of improved technology — technology that will make it very possible for the crew to journey to the center of the Borg's heavily protected nebula and use the transwarp hub to get home.
For those who like impressive tech gadgets, we're treated here to Voyager being outfitted with tactical improvements, including some very tough armor that covers the ship like the Batmobile and new torpedoes that can obliterate a Borg cube in a single volley. In a word: neat. It's once Captain Janeway finally becomes aware of the hub's existence and what it means that she falls into conflict with her future self.
Admiral Janeway intends to get the crew home at all costs. Captain Janeway sees this hub as an opportunity to cripple the Borg and save millions or billions of innocents who would otherwise be at the Borg's mercy. Interestingly, the dialog draws an explicit parallel all the way back to "Caretaker," in which Janeway forfeited a way for her crew to return to the Alpha Quadrant in order to save a group of strangers. Now it looks as if history will repeat itself, with Janeway sacrificing a way to get home in order to save more strangers.
And really, that's a pretty good story premise. "Endgame's" central theme is one that grows from some of this series' more important ideas. One is Captain Janeway's ongoing struggle with herself to get her crew home, as she has always promised. Another is the concept of the Voyager crew as a family that needs to survive its dangerous surroundings in the Delta Quadrant. And in "Endgame" — between Admiral Janeway's obsession to get the crew home, strangers be damned, and Captain Janeway's hope to maintain a family that lives by dignified rules and tries to make a difference in the galaxy — we get an interesting conflict between one person who has maintained many of her Starfleet ideals and another who has lived through an additional 16 years of hardship and has become more of a self-serving pragmatist. At one point, the captain says to the admiral, "I refuse to believe I'll ever become as cynical as you."
Of course, one also must ask at what point the crew became "worth" saving for Admiral Janeway. "Endgame" conveniently overlooks all those Voyager crew members who have died over the seven-year course of the series when it talks about all the crew members who will die if Captain Janeway does not decide to take the road home that lies in front of her. Indeed, the admiral uses as leverage over the captain the fact that Seven will die three years from now, Chakotay (who will be married to Seven by then) will never be the same, and Tuvok will end up with a degenerative neurological disorder. Those facts certainly get the captain's attention.
I'm frankly a little disturbed about the implications of changing the future to make it more personally desirable. Admiral Janeway flat-out scoffs at the Temporal Prime Directive and is willing to make timeline changes that affect nearly 30 years of her history. Is that a remotely responsible action on the part of a Starfleet officer? I doubt it, but the story doesn't seem to take much of an ethical stance on the matter at all, although it's a relief that Captain Janeway at least confronts her future self's cynicism.
In the middle of this time-travel Borg plot are a few personal stories that comprise the episode's humanity. The most compelling is the aforementioned Janeway vs. Janeway thread. Another is an amiable, if unoriginal, conclusion to this season's welcome Tom/B'Elanna arc, in which their child is born and they become a fully completed example of the Voyager family premise and one of the more hopeful aspects of the series. There's even a brief discussion about how the couple was getting used to the idea of raising their daughter on Voyager.
Still another element is a budding romance between Chakotay and Seven — a premise that has been panned by many fans. While I must say that this basically comes out of left field and doesn't even work as well in real life as it did in holographic theory (see "Human Error") it does at least signal that "Human Error" was leading somewhere (even if it still has an ending that makes no sense). And once information of a possible future comes spilling out, the notion of Seven fearing a relationship based on the odds of her or Chakotay dying is something that benefits from some useful dialog about living one's life. Unfortunately, there's little conviction behind the idea; the pairing of Seven and Chakotay is more or less arbitrary and serves the plot much more than it serves any sort of character truth.
As a technical exercise, "Endgame" is every bit as good and well-executed as the best Voyager action outings. The episode is expertly paced by Allan Kroeker, always watchable, and most of the actors put in solid performances, especially Mulgrew, who must pull double duty as her present and future selves. But as a series finale, I must say I wanted more than big special effects, more Borg villainy, and such an uninformative ending. Yes, we got the parallelism with "Caretaker" and Janeway struggling with herself in figurative and literal senses — all good stuff — but too many other questions are not asked or answered, and too many opportunities seem utterly lost.
The ending is an entertaining bag-o-tricks but continues to deepen the gullibility of the Borg. We have Janeway going head to head again with the Borg Queen (with Alice Krige in the role for the first time since First Contact). The Queen — inexplicable and unnecessary to the purpose of the Borg collective — has become Janeway's arch-enemy, even though the Borg by definition really should not engage in behavior that looks like grudge matches or petty posturing. And convenient how a virus implanted in the collective can cause all of Borg space to blow up. (Is this a crippling blow to the Borg? Their civil war was not, so I don't suppose this should be either.) Yes, the plot's action works and sometimes works well, but some of the underlying ideas are suspect.
Ultimately, the overall biggest problem with "Endgame" is that no one pays a price for Voyager getting home, despite all the questionable means exploited to get there. There's a lot of talk about how getting home is not the most important thing about Voyager's existence. Indeed, one of the story's key turning points comes when Harry — yes, Harry — makes a "rousing" speech in the conference room about how Voyager's mission is the journey and not the destination. Unfortunately, coming from Harry, I found this speech laughably portentous. It's also not very true. Voyager has always been about the destination, because the journey has usually been contrived for the sake of easier entertainment value.
And then we get that line: "There's got to be a way to have our cake and eat it too." I can't stress how much that guts the real drama. After that line of dialog, there are no truly difficult or emotional choices, because fate suddenly becomes an act of random chance and clever plots that are "against all odds" but obviously destined to succeed. It's good that Captain Janeway stops and asks whether getting home is more important than destroying the transwarp hub, but that decision ultimately does not matter because the Voyager writers let themselves have their cake and eat it too.
I'm reminded of the wonderful episode of DS9, "Children of Time," where a choice forced the Defiant crew to sacrifice their lives as they knew them or erase an entire society of their would-be descendants from history. Ultimately, the Defiant crew could not escape the fact that making either choice required a costly sacrifice. It's a sacrifice that no one here has to make, because they are able to destroy the hub and get home.
Sure, Admiral Janeway dies in the Big Borg Explosion, but she exists only in a loophole, which the story escapes through, allowing no one to face any consequences. Admiral Janeway is a figment of time-paradox scripting that works okay as a technical exercise but not as an emotional resolution free of cheating. The future is changed by Voyager getting home, presumably paving the way for Captain Janeway to avoid her counterpart's actions in her own future. No real character in the story is held accountable for anything, even though the crew can reap the reward of getting home.
The irony is that I don't think the writers were in any position to deny the crew getting home, because their getting home is about all the real satisfaction we can get from a finale where that becomes the whole point. That's why I think it was a mistake to wait until the final episode to answer this question — because the more important questions are in what happens after the crew gets home. "Endgame" attempts half-heartedly to answer such questions with the future timeline device at the story's outset, but everything about that timeline is erased, so we don't have a real ending to hold onto.
Questions about how the crew will rejoin society after being gone for seven years; what the former Maquis members will do next or how they will be accepted; what people who have been trapped on a starship will decide to do next; what it will mean for the "family" to break up and go their separate ways, or if they will choose to do that at all — all are essential questions that have been left completely untouched.
Yes, a certain amount should be left to the imagination, but this ending seems unsatisfying. After the sound and fury of a fast-moving plot and a lot of action (including Voyager hiding inside a Borg ship, for the writers' purpose of manipulating suspense rather than plausibility), our crew emerges in the Alpha Quadrant. "We did it," says Janeway, with a flat, almost unemotionally disbelieving delivery of the announcement — which, by the way, is almost perfectly appropriate. It's a great initial reaction in the less-is-more school of thought, but to then leave it at that is frustrating.
Of course, we have the issue that has always been my paradox when reviewing Voyager — which is that I was entertained and sometimes even excited by the sweep of the story. Is that enough? For a final episode, I dunno. I enjoyed watching "Endgame" even as it disappointed me. I liked the ebb and flow even while I realized many of the characters were pawns in a ludicrous plot. The story is fun on its surface, but dig deeper and there's not a whole lot to grasp. The crew gets home, but we have no idea what it means that they do.
Voyager lives up to, and down to, itself to the very end.
It has its cake and eats it too.
Be on the lookout late this summer for the season seven recap and an announcement regarding my decision about Enterprise reviews.
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End-of-season article: Seventh Season Recap