Weekly Trek – December 5-11, 2016

I’ve spent the last few weeks discussing the various final episodes and films across the Star Trek franchise.  I have to admit that I wasn’t looking forward to rewatching, “Endgame,” the final episode of Star Trek: Voyager this week.  Now I wasn’t facing this episode from 2001 with the dread that I have for the last two posts of this series, but the truth is that I don’t have especially fond memories of Voyager or this episode in particular.  

Voyager premiered with a great deal of hype in January 1995 as part of the launch of the United Paramount Network.  The fact that the series would have the franchise’s first female captain as a leading character (Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home also featured a female captain in a small scene) made headlines, and the show’s overall concept had a lot of promise.  In the pilot episode, “Caretaker,” the USS Voyager and a ship of Maquis (a rebel group that wasn’t too fond of a treaty between the Federation and the Cardassians) are thrown to the far reaches of the Delta Quadrant, 70,000 light years from home.  The Maquis ship is destroyed, but its crew of about 20 end up joining the Voyager for the 70 year trip home.

It all sounded exciting.  A Starfleet ship all alone and forced to come up with ways to survive, a test of Federation ideals away from the comforts of home, and a crew made up of Starfleet Officers and Maquis, who wouldn’t necessarily get along.  There was a lot of potential in that set-up.

By the end of the pilot, most of the tension between the Starfleet and Maquis crews had vanished.  It would occasionally get mentioned, but for the most part they became one happy crew.  And being all alone didn’t seem to make life too tough for the Voyager.  Yes, they had their issues, but nothing that couldn’t be completely fixed by the next week.  Even the so-called “Year of Hell” (Which was chronicled in the aptly named “The Year of Hell” two-parter) was erased by the time travel reset button. 

Compared to Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which was aired concurrently for five of Voyager’s seven seasons, Voyager felt light-weight.  While DS9 was dealing with heavy issues of ethics, politics, religion, and racism with the fate of the Federation in the balance, Voyager was more in the vein of sci-fi adventure.  At the time, I was very hard on Voyager because of this.  On DS9, Captain Sisko is trying to decide how far he will bend his principles in order to save the Federation.  Meanwhile, on Voyager the crew is trapped as the French Resistance in a holodeck simulation while alien hunters play the Nazis.

With the distance of 15 years, I feel like I can appreciate Voyager more for what it actually was rather than what I had in my head that it should be.  This brings us to “Endgame,” the series finale written by Kenneth Biller and Robert Doherty from a story by Biller, Brannon Braga, and Rick Berman (who was the overall head of Star Trek at the time).  Unlike the DS9 finale, which is really part of a nine episode final arc and the culmination of years of plotlines and multiple characters, the Voyager finale really only has to answer one question: do they get home?

Because of this, you could really watch “Endgame” with no knowledge of the series beyond the fact that it’s about a ship lost a long way from home.  I wouldn’t recommend it, though, since the episode starts in the future, ten years after the USS Voyager made it back to Earth.   

“So they made it,” you said.  “Then why am I watching this?”  Ah, but it’s not that simple.  While it’s ten years after their return, it’s twenty-six years after the show’s “present.”  It took Captain (Now Admiral) Kathryn Janeway and her crew an additional sixteen years to get home, and as we learn over the course of the first half of the episode, she is not happy about that state of affairs due to the toll the journey took on her crew.

Admiral Janeway engages in some time travel shenanigans to go back to Voyager twenty-six years earlier and show them a way to get home earlier.  There are just two minors problems.  First, there are Borg swarming all over their shortcut, and secondly, Janeway’s younger self wants no part of the Admiral’s plan.

Upon going back to watch this episode for the first time since it aired, I quickly discovered that the version of “Endgame” that had existed in my head for the last 15 years wasn’t quite accurate.  I remembered it having a short future sequence but that most of the episode involved battling the Borg and getting home.  Instead, “Endgame” really takes its time in the future sequence to show where everyone is and what is motivating Janeway to want to change things.  It’s rather well done, and I found myself feeling a fondness for these characters that I hadn’t really seen much of in a long time.

I was also reminded of just how damn good Kate Mulgrew is as Janeway.  Her affection for her crew is evident, and she is able to play everything from compassionate concern to capable commander convincingly.  I have no trouble believing that she can handle everything the universe has to throw at her.  Moreover, she spends large chunks of “Endgame” playing scenes against herself.  In interviews she has stated that it was tremendously difficult due to the technical demands as well as they fact that she was often acting against nothing.  In the finished episode, the conversations are seamless, which is a testimony not only to her but also the effects personnel and editors involved with the series.

Beyond Mulgrew, Jeri Ryan, who plays Seven of Nine, and Robert Picardo, who plays the Doctor, are both excellent.  Robert Beltran, who plays Chakotay, was a vocal critic of the show over the years, but he is also quite good in his scenes with Seven in the episode.

Is the episode perfect?  Absolutely not.  The premise borrows a bit heavily from some aspects of the Star Trek: The Next Generation finale, “All Good Things…,” as well as other Trek time travel stories.  Garrett Wang, who plays Ensign Harry Kim, is given a speech in the second half of the episode that is supposed to be inspiring but just isn’t well-written enough to pull it off.  He gives it his all, though. 

The episode’s villain is problematic.  When the Borg were first introduced on TNG, they were this scary force that could not be reasoned with with.  Their hive mind made the billions of them act like one, and they just seemed unstoppable.  Star Trek: First Contact introduced the concept of the Borg Queen, which didn’t really fit what we knew of the Borg up until that point, but I can understand it from a storytelling standpoint.  The villain needed a face and form that could be fought.  

Voyager brought in the Borg as a major adversary (They’d been mentioned sparingly prior to this) at the end of their third season.  The aforementioned Seven is a human who had been a drone for years before being freed from the Borg Collective.  Janeway and company dealt with the Borg and their Queen on multiple occasions leading up to “Endgame,” but having a single ship consistently overcome such overwhelming odds defanged the Borg quite a bit. 

“Endgame” was able to bring back the First Contact actress, Alice Krige, to play the Borg Queen again.  In prior Voyager episodes, a different actress had played the role, and she does what she can with the role.  For much of the episode, though, she’s basically the Wicked Queen from Snow White, watching events unfold in her magic mirror (or viewscreen in this case) as she cackles to her drone minions.  Throughout it all, the Borg come across more as a minor nuisance than a major galactic threat.

My biggest issue with “Endgame” though is that it is attempting to do too much.  The writers are trying to have an adventure, wrap up the characters (which is doesn’t really, since it’s showing an alternate future), and end the story all in the space of about an hour and a half.  It is rushed, and some major events are just glossed over or not shown at all.  I feel like the episode tries to get around some of this criticism in Kim’s speech, which states that it’s all about the journey.  Viewers spent seven seasons with these characters, and, unlike with the TNG cast, it was not like these characters were going to be making the jump to the movies (Well, one did, but we’ll talk about that next week.).  It would have been nice to have a bit more closure. 

Still, as far as finales go, “Endgame” was a lot better than what was to come.  Brace yourselves.  These next two weeks are going to be rough. 

- Alan Decker

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