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102[VOY] Jammer's Review: "Endgame"

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  • Jamahl Epsicokhan
    Jul 16, 2001
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      Warning: This review contains significant spoilers for Voyager's series
      finale, "Endgame." If you haven't seen it yet, beware.

      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.

      Plot description: Twenty-six years in the future, a regretful Admiral
      Janeway hatches an audacious plan to bring Voyager home sooner, rather
      than have it spend an additional 16 years making its journey.

      Star Trek: Voyager -- "Endgame"

      Airdate: 5/23/2001 (USA)
      Teleplay by Kenneth Biller & Robert Doherty
      Story by Rick Berman & Kenneth Biller & Brannon Braga
      Directed by Allan Kroeker

      Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
      Rating out of 4: **1/2

      "There's got to be a way to have our cake and eat it too."
      -- Captain Kathryn Janeway

      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

      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

      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

      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.

      Copyright 2001 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
      Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.

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      Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...