Monday, March 4, 2013

“Endings Are Such Sweet Mediocrity” Why “Endgame” Is Not A Great Finale For Star Trek: Voyager!

The Good: Special effects, Moments of plot and character, Most of the performances are fine
The Bad: Conceptually preposterous plot, Inorganic character motivations, Derivative nature
The Basics: “Endgame” brings Star Trek: Voyager to a close in an action-packed episode that falls apart the moment one begins to closely look at it!

Back when I was on the convention circuit, dealing most weekends at various Star Trek conventions around the United States, I took particular delight in posing the question, “Who is the most important character on Voyager?” Almost no one ever got it right. While Janeway is the instrument, the motivation for Star Trek: Voyager is, of all characters, Tuvok. Tuvok is the reason Voyager gets lost in the Delta Quadrant in “Caretaker” (reviewed here!) as Janeway goes searching for the ship he was lost on while undercover and in the series finale, “Endgame,” it is the plight of Tuvok that finally sells Captain Janeway on using a shortcut home.

“Endgame” is a season finale that makes a wink and a nudge to the series finale of Star Trek: The Next Generation in more than just the costumes (the later 24th Century costumes are seen in that finale and the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine episode “The Visitor,” reviewed here!). Some of the temporal mechanics issues in “Endgame” are disturbingly similar to those in the final episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as are some of the character motivations. Unfortunately, while “Endgame” similarly ties up loose ends for Voyager, some of the relationship issues that motivate characters in “Endgame” (most notably the Seven Of Nine/Chakotay relationship) seem somewhat contrived or rushed to.

Starting on the tenth anniversary of Voyager’s return to Earth after a twenty-three year journey home, Admiral Janeway is working to tie up loose ends in her life. She has Torres and Paris’s daughter assigned to a secret mission, though StarFleet Command denies she is a part of any classified missions and she seems to be working for Temporal Mechanics and StarFleet Academy. Working with Commander Reginald Barclay and having procured an experimental compound from the holographic doctor (Joe), Admiral Janeway says goodbye to the mentally-fractured Tuvok and disappears in a shuttle to meet with a corrupt Klingon, Korath. Shortly after getting ablative armor technology from Korath, Janeway is picked up by Captain Kim and his ship, the U.S.S. Rhode Island. Admiral Janeway talks Kim into letting her go, on a mission into the past to save Voyager sixteen years of its journey and more than twenty lives in the process.

Interspersed with the future narrative, in the standard timeframe, Voyager passes a red giant where it detects an inordinate amount of Borg activity. While Chakotay and Seven Of Nine have their third date and Torres has her umpteenth false labor, Captain Janeway feels relief that the ship managed to avoid contact with the Borg and counts her blessings. But that changes when a spatial anomaly appears in Voyager’s path and Tuvok detects Klingon weapons fire from the other side of the anomaly. Admiral Janeway’s shuttle emerges from the phenomenon and Admiral Janeway orders her younger self to close the rift. When that is done and Admiral Janeway’s identity is authenticated, Admiral Janeway slowly reveals to her younger self the truth of her mission: she wants Janeway to take Voyager back to the Borg transwarp hub they passed days prior, outfit Voyager with ablative armor technology, and use the transwarp hub to get home. Captain Janeway, however, only wants to use the technology to destroy the Borg’s massive tactical advantage. Working together, the present and future Janeway work out a tactic that may allow them to accomplish both goals.

First, what I liked most about “Endgame:” there is a remarkably clever and subtle element to the episode that I take peculiar delight in. In order to sell Captain Janeway on the importance of going along with her plan, Admiral Janeway reveals elements of the future to her younger self. The fact that gets Captain Janeway to stop with her wholesale objections to her older self’s plan is learning that three years in the future, Seven Of Nine will die. In authenticating Admiral Janeway’s identity, the Doctor discovers a microchip in Admiral Janeway’s brain that the Admiral informs him he developed some twelve years ago. What delights me here is the implication: that after Seven Of Nine died, the EMH began to study her discarded Borg implants and developed Federation-based microtechnology that replicated some of the Borg’s cybernetic technologies!

For all the rushed nature of it, I did like the character relationships in “Endgame” as well. The future ones play off a longer sense of the journey and having Harry Kim advocate in favor of a longer journey, but destroying the Borg Transwarp Hub is pretty cool. Also cute was that Paris takes a moment to note that he will win the betting pool on the birth of his child. The acting is also fine throughout the episode, though the only one given a real performance challenge is Kate Mulgrew, who has to play off herself for several long scenes.

Unfortunately, the novelty aspects and the decent acting do not negate the severe issues with “Endgame.” The first problem is conceptual: “Endgame” acts as if Star Trek: Voyager was a heavily serialized show when it most explicitly was not. In fact, the producers wanted to avoid a second serialized Star Trek as, when Star Trek: Voyager began, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine was already doing long arcs. “Endgame” is all about consequences and Star Trek: Voyager has largely lacked that. For sure, there was the occasional episode where the ship was running low on deuterium, but by the beginning of almost every episode, Voyager was back to being perfectly intact, despite years without maintenance at a StarBase. To sell Captain Janeway on the importance of her mission, she has to convince her younger self that the consequences outweigh the temporal prime directive issues. Unfortunately, this is a sophisticated argument in a show that has pointedly avoided developing that very level of detail and continuity.

This leads to the primary, severe, plot and character issue in “Endgame.” “Endgame” is a temporal tampering episode that ultimately makes no rational sense. Admiral Janeway arrives in Captain Janeway’s time to explicitly alter the flow of history. Fine, I can buy the premise. I accept the premise entirely. What does not make sense is the timing. Admiral Janeway is prepared to equip Voyager with the technology and information needed to make it reasonable to erase sixteen years of its voyage and restructure the ten years that followed that. She does this by playing on Captain Janeway’s feelings of loyalty to her crew and in the knowledge that in the sixteen years that will be erased, Captain Janeway will save the lives of twenty of her crew and get Tuvok the medical attention he needs in the Alpha Quadrant before his degenerative disease makes him into a turnip. [Sidebar: We’re asked to believe that in seven years, Janeway can effectively travel 40 years worth of distance, but in the subsequent sixteen years she finds no anomalies that take the other 30 years off the trip significantly faster?!] What about all of the crew that was killed when the Caretaker abducted Voyager and all of the casualties that mounted over the seven years of Star Trek: Voyager?! Armed with the knowledge of Admiral Janeway, Captain Janeway trades millions of lives for . . . twenty and the mental health of another. “What?!” I hear you cry. Walk with me. If Admiral Janeway had simply gone back to the beginning, preventing the Maquis from being abducted by the Caretaker and preventing Voyager from similarly being taken, millions of people survive. First, there are all the people on Voyager who stay alive and could actually be, potentially, an asset to StarFleet during the Dominion War. So, initial Maquis and StarFleet deaths are reduced to zero. But then, there are all the ancillary deaths that occurred as a result of Voyager’s journey through the Delta Quadrant, most notably the millions of Borg killed by the Borg Queen in “Unimatrix Zero, Part 2” (reviewed here!). So, rather selfishly and stupidly, Janeway trades the lives of dozens of StarFleet officers, several Maquis, and millions of Borg for . . . Seven Of Nine. The only character who faces a real life or death change by Voyager returning to Earth after seven years in the Delta Quadrant is Seven Of Nine. Otherwise, she would have remained a Borg. There are a shitton of other temporal problems with “Endgame,” but the ethical argument that is made in the episode ultimately comes down to Janeway trading the last twenty casualties for sixteen years. This makes no sense because if one is going to go ahead and alter decades of time anyway, why not save the greatest number of lives?!

This leads to the biggest character problem in “Endgame,” which (admittedly) is biased for me by actress Kate Mulgrew. I did a convention with Kate Mulgrew the week after “Endgame” aired and I recall Mulgrew very proudly telling a little girl (could not have been more than ten) that she killed the Borg Queen. Admiral Janeway does, in fact, go up against the Borg Queen and here the writers fall down. Admiral Janeway has worked for Temporal Mechanics and, presumably, has access to all of the classified data they have, at least as it pertains to the Borg. So, Janeway should know that the Borg Queen has been killed at least twice by that point. Why does she think that when she kills the Borg Queen it will be any more permanent than when Riker or Data killed the Borg Queen before?!

And so, Star Trek: Voyager ends with the same issues that dominated it for the entire series: it goes out with a big bang of spectacle and style that is pretty immediately recognized as lacking in substance the moment one scratches surface.

[Knowing that VHS is essentially a dead medium, it's worth looking into Star Trek: Voyager - The Complete Seventh Season on DVD, which is also a better economical choice than buying the VHS. Read my review of the final season here!

For other Star Trek finales, please visit my reviews of:
“Turnabout Intruder” - Star Trek
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country
“All Good Things . . .” - Star Trek: The Next Generation
“What You Leave Behind” - Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
Star Trek: Nemesis


For other Star Trek episode and movie reviews, please visit my Star Trek Review Index Page!

© 2013 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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