Nutshell: Silly fun, but rather uneven. Not the skillfully plotted wrap-up I had hoped for.
Very rarely, it seems, does the second part of a Trek two-parter live up to the first. Such is the case with "Future's End, Part II," which has plenty of good moments but only adds up to an okay overall show. This half of the episode is, in a word, "entertaining," but it doesn't nearly display the even-handed movie-like effectiveness that part one did.
There are some amusing gags in this wrap-up, but that's about all they are—gags that prove enjoyable enough to get a few grins but add up to relatively little. That's too bad. "Future's End I" had a solid, efficient story structure, and it seemed the writers knew exactly where they wanted to go with part two. "Future's End II," however, merely delivers us a host of partly disjointed events that border on non sequitur. If the key word to the first half was "orderly," then the key word to the second half is "uneven."
Like most story resolutions, the outcome is hardly in doubt. Will the Voyager crew stop Henry Starling from causing the temporal explosion that will destroy Earth in the 29th century? Will Voyager inevitably wind up back in the 24th century Delta Quadrant? Is water wet? Admittedly, those aren't very fair questions since we know the answers, but the problem with the answers "Future's End II" supplies us is in the "how," not the "what."
This episode starts off just fine, as Starling begins interrogating Doc (after having "kidnapped" his program in part one) for information about Janeway's plans. Featured here—and long overdue—is a line actually acknowledging Doc's memory loss from "The Swarm." While I'm glad they finally mentioned it I'm still pretty irritated that this entire issue has been reduced to one mere line of dialog. Now I'm beginning to wonder why they even bothered at all. If I knew they would follow up on it later I might feel better, but Voyager continues to sorely disappoint in the show-to-show development department.
But I digress. Starling decides that now that Voyager has discovered him, he has to move fast. Using his 29th century technology, Starling has Doc wear a portable holographic device that allows him to be projected anywhere—including outside—so that Starling can hold him hostage when dealing with Tom and Raine. (If that sounds weird just read it once again and trust me.) In addition, Starling fools the Voyager crew at almost every turn. At one point Janeway actually has Starling locked behind a force field on board the Voyager—but he uses his own transporter and escapes. At another point, Tom and Raine follow a semi-truck that they think is carrying the time ship all the way into the desert—but it's all a trick, faked by Starling and his gadgets.
This is probably the most interesting aspect of the show—the fact that no matter what the Voyager crew does, Starling always seems to have another card up his sleeve—another surprise waiting to be unveiled. There's something to be said for the way the writers reveal Starling as a step ahead of the game—more than we or the Voyager crew expect. True, maybe it's all because he has the technological advantage, but that's not the point. It adds an extra element to the conflict, which attempts to keep things interesting.
This show is every bit as plot-driven as part one was. Unfortunately, the events don't flow nearly as nicely from one scene to the next. One stretch includes the unnecessary need for Starling to "get rid of" Raine (hence the botched hostage negotiation). If he's ready to go back to the future (or whatever) and the Voyager is already onto his plan, why does he even need to care about Raine?
I'll admit that's fairly minor. What is not minor, however, and really hurts the flow of the story is a pointless B-plot in which Torres and Chakotay crash-land their shuttle and are held captive by a militia of anti-establishment fanatics. What does this have to do with anything? As far as I can tell, Torres and Chakotay are captured merely so they can be rescued by Doc and Tuvok several scenes later. But in the meantime this entire idea is nothing more than a distracting digression used to pad out the episode. It's almost as if the writers ran out of material relevant to the main plot and came up with this instead.
And the main plot itself is a little overly stocked with action movie clichés. Some sequences appear to be paying homage (or satire or something) to those bad B action movies that are always filmed in and around L.A. Fine and dandy, but I still want to know what happened to the smart, efficient story of part one. Sure, some of these clichés are amusing with a twist—like the idea of a car chase with an exchange of phaser-fire. But others tend to push it—like one where Tom and Raine are in a van with an engine that conveniently dies and then refuses to start, just as the thug comes barreling down the road toward them going 50 miles an hour in a semi-truck. (I did, on the other hand, enjoy the shuttle coming out of nowhere to play deus ex machina by phasering the semi cab to pieces). And the obligatory and completely forced "Raine and Tom kiss after they barely escape death" is worth several demerits if you ask me. How many action movies has this been recycled from? Four or five hundred? These are the kind of forays into the obvious I feared when I heard Jeri Taylor's allusions to "contemporary settings" and "car chases" several months ago. (I did, however, enjoy the rather nifty sight of Starling ramming the time ship through the top floor of his own skyscraper—that was cool.)
While I don't have any major objections to the ending, it just wasn't as interesting as it could've been. I guess the main complaint I have is that after two complete episodes of setup I had hoped that averting a temporal disaster wouldn't come down to something as crude as blowing Starling and his stolen time ship to bits with a photon torpedo. (Besides, if Starling is so smart, why didn't he have his shields up?) And once the disaster is averted, along comes Captain Braxton again, who has appeared from the future to return Voyager to the 24th century where it belongs.
And when "Future's End" began toying with paradoxes this time around, my fun turned into confusion. Even though I liked part one's idea of a time loop with no discernible beginning or end, I was a tad perplexed here when Braxton showed up again, apparently now having been spared all effects of the time line manipulations from part one. (Does that mean the old Braxton on Earth simply vanished like Marty McFly in Back to the Future?) Hey, whatever. The idea of a "Temporal Prime Directive" preventing Braxton from sending Voyager back to the Alpha Quadrant seemed sensible enough, and proved ironic considering how many times the conventional Prime Directive tends to pop its head up on Voyager.
Still, one thing bugs me: If people in the 29th century can truly monitor time, then why didn't Braxton just figure out what was going on and fix it in the first place? I can buy that he traced Voyager's involvement in the destruction of Earth in part one, but the idea of "time sensors" brings up a host of troubling new implausibilities—and I'm not willing to reach quite that far into the bag of tricks. If time can be so easily manipulated, then history means nothing, and I don't think I like the implications of that.
I also wonder about how "ethical" it is for Doc to keep the portable holo-emitter since it really belongs in the 29th century. While I like the idea of Doc finally getting out of sickbay, I don't see why the writers didn't just do it under the original intent of Torres and Harry's rigged holo-emitters toyed with in "Projections" and "Persistence of Vision."
Ah, but who cares? I'm probably a fool for even attempting to scrutinize the ridiculous time games presented in "Future's End." It's all in silly fun. By pure plot structure (which is about all we have to go on here, really), the first half is much more engaging than this half is—which is probably the only point I really want to stress here. Average these two shows together and you'll come up with a three-star rating. Sounds about right to me.