Monday, 6 June 2016

Delivering the Endgame

To quote Dirty Harry " all the excitement I kinda lost count myself..." as I totally missed it was 15 years since Endgame first aired last month and therefore brought Star Trek: Voyager to an emotional close.

Indeed it's been a big month for series finales with this week also marking the 47th anniversary of the first airing of Turnabout Intruder, the episode that should have been the end of Star Trek back in 1969 however we all know what happened there...

Over the course of my slow and steady re-watch, I've had the chance to reacquaint myself with the three feature length finales. All Good Things... is still the pinnacle of them yet I was previously a much bigger fan of What You Leave Behind (which also turned 17 just last week) from Deep Space Nine than Voyager's Endgame. Over the last 12 months though - and through the course of that re-watch - I've actually started to lean towards the return home of Janeway and crew as a better series closer. So why has that come to pass?

Since Deep Space Nine debuted in 1993 I have been utterly in love with the show. I liked The Next Generation, I adore The Original Series but the story of the space station at the very edge of the frontier really captivated me from day one. It was so refreshingly different, so raw, dark and filled with a widely diverse range of main and secondary characters that every episode, even the bad ones, was a pleasure to watch because I was sold on the people. Deep Space Nine for me had everything - drama, development, ongoing stories, payoffs, humour...everything and when Voyager came along I was loathe to like it. 

As I've said before there were two of us at school who were obsessed with Star Trek but once The Next Generation had passed our interests diverted into Deep Space Nine for me and Voyager for Steve with each of us sitting firmly pro our series with no chance of swaying. So it stayed for the best part of the 15 years since Voyager left the airwaves and while I had to make do with Janeway and her adventures in the Delta Quadrant after Sisko bought it in the Fire Caves, I never felt quite satisfied. Hell, Endgame was nowhere near as good a finale as What You Leave Behind - check out the build up not just in the previous eight episodes but in the seven seasons before! Endgame had nothing on it and I readily dismissed the finale once I'd seen it on VHS.

Last year however at the age of 35 I got round to hitting through Voyager one more time from beginning to end after finishing my Deep Space Nine marathon and here's where things began to change. Perhaps a certain middle-aged maturity has finally kicked in but What You Leave Behind actually left me a little cold. There's no question it's a good finale because it wraps up the Dominion War, ties off the Sisko/Prophets thread and places the crew at the end of their association with that era of the station however its not the highlight of that ten episode arc and as such I now feel a little bit gutted by it. Even more so it's not a final episode that's an easy watch on its own. You need to have a good grasp of what the heck has been happening (especially in the final season) to really "get" where it's going.

The eight episode build-up is amazing, well paced and exciting with numerous threads from Section 31 to Rom becoming Nagus, Sisko's marrage and more all being ticked off the big list but in retrospect the final episode just can't deliver on such an incredible narrative. It also has the weirdest passage of time ever. Just how long are Winn and Dukat in the Fire Caves while Sisko is off at Cardassia Prime for example? Anyway, it does a good job but after seeing Worf kill Gowron, the Breen smash the hell out of the Defiant and Kira in a Starfleet uniform how could the last episode live up to it? Well when I watched it through now, not as well because the pay off is not as strong.

So as I dived into Voyager I found myself refreshingly surprised by the show. My blinkers had been lifted and I made myself open to be entertained by the series. Seven seasons sped past as we moved from Kazon space to Hirogen to Borg via sick cheeses, alternative timelines and a lifetime of coffee. We even made contact with the Alpha Quadrant and not too late in the process either I might add. 

Every season had closure, every year brought something new and a concept that only Voyager could make work. Full year in two episodes? Tick. Future museum butchers the ship's history? Tick. Rogue Starfleet ship? Tick. The list goes on and while Voyager was back to the single-episode story trait of The Next Generation because of its transient nature it still managed to load story arcs and offer some form of continuity plus being the most "out there" thinking of any Star Trek series.

When Caretaker aired I was 100% certain the finale would be the other creature they mentioned but that was done with by the early part of season two which left the ending very, very open and suggested that Voyager was going to be around for some time. What could they do? How could it all come to an end?

The arrival of the Borg as an adversary late in season three and Jeri Ryan's addition to the cast at the beginning of the fourth season changed a lot of things and the final four years are a lot more self-contained than seasons one to three which brings me to Endgame.

Ultimately the show does pay off on the promise from the pilot in that the ship does get home (whoops...spoiler!) but it doesn't allow itself to be dragged down by that point because there's a lot more to it than that. As with All Good Things... and to an extent These Are the Voyages, there's an element of time travel locked in here but check out how the strands from the show are wrapped up. The Pathfinder Project and Barclay are integral to the finale, Kim finally gets a command even if it is a ship where the name is bigger than the saucer but there are still things that shouldn't have happened specifically Tuvok becoming gravely ill and the death of Seven.

Of course we all know how it pans out with Admiral Janeway heading back, boosting the abilities of the Voyager from her past and seemingly putting an end to the Borg in the process. All in a day's work of course and many fans might rejoice more to realise that Neelix is only present for a matter of two minutes via subspace. Winner all round.

Endgame draws on some of the show's best and most inventive elements from the off. Indeed, if you think about it the ship actually gets home twice - at either end of the episode plus it demonstrates how far it had come from the planet/cloud/enemy of the week formula that was prevalent throughout the first two years of the series (give or take a Kazon instalment). In fact Endgame is a great example of Voyager learning from its 174 episodes. Yes there were errors and learning curves (!) but in the final 90 minutes it draws on its strengths by focusing on the biggest of bads and drawing a line in the sand.

The finale is indeed all the stronger for expanding the story to Earth and by default the secondary Earthbound recurring cast since Pathfinder had been brought into the series on more than one occasion over the final few years and provided a very different slant to the series that none of the other shows had been able to exploit. For once there was a group not aboard the title vessel who were integral to the story and Dwight Schultz as Barclay is a much better character here than he was in The Next Generation. Odd to think that his association with Voyager actually goes all the way back to season one and Projections. Who would have thought he would become such a major factor in the show?

Endgame explored, very much like All Good Things..., where our cast of familiars had ended up for good or bad but it also did something that no other series had ever done - destroyed a major enemy for once and for all it seemed. Deep Space Nine may have ended a war but the Dominion still existed while here Admiral Janeway not only brought technology resistant to the Borg to the table but affected their demise at the same time. At its core - and just as with All Good Things... and What You Leave Behind it's about family and the completion of something very special. Seven years have passed, we've lived and died with these people (several times in some cases) and experienced some life-changing moments as they've explored beyond the final frontier but there's always been that underlying unity. A unity that interestingly never once references the Maquis and the crew's formation in the last episode.

There is no big save for humanity here, it's just one crew and one final attempt to get back home which is, as you will know, a success although it was criticized for that moment coming right at the end credits but if we look at the show as a whole we always knew they would return to Earth at the end it was, please accept this cliche, always about the journey and on that level it most certainly delivered.

The finale is pure action/adventure and keeps with the ethos of the previous seven years. Everyone has their time to shine and share the limelight which is possible because the cast never became as large as its space station based sibling and the relentless pacing plus the singular storyline of Voyager versus the Borg means there is very little (if any) baggage carried through these last 90 minutes of the show.

Endgame remains a pure and uncomplicated finale to the show which still marks to this day the latest episodic moment in Star Trek history (of course Nemesis and the destruction of Romulus in 2009's movie go beyond this point) making it very much the bookend to the franchise on TV. With all the hype and interest around the upcoming series for 2017 that is a record it may no longer hold especially if the anthology concept is going to be the way forward. I also suspect the omission of a subtitle for the show (i.e. The Next Generation etc...) may well be linked integrally to that possibility.

That aside, Voyager's Endgame is a finale that has bettered with time and one I now find I can happily watch again and again. All the cast give solid and meaningful performances throughout and while the end of What You Leave Behind is bitter-sweet this remains firmly positive with the bookending of the show in every sense. The journey was indeed well worth it and remains just as good - if not better 15 years on.

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