Winning By Cheating
"Endgame" Plot Summary:
After 33 years, Voyager has finally gotten home, and the crew is celebrating the tenth reunion of that happy event. But there have been losses along the way, including the deaths of over 20 crewmembers. Tuvok has been consigned to an asylum, having developed a degenerative condition that could have been treated had he been home on Vulcan years before. Other characters have fared better: Janeway is now an admiral, Kim a Captain, the Doctor has a new bride and Miral Paris (the daughter of Tom and B'Elanna) is a Starfleet officer on covert assignment for Janeway. Starfleet still has problems with the Borg, but for the most part, the Federation seems to be thriving.
For Janeway, the biggest loss has been that of Seven of Nine. Shortly after marrying Chakotay in the Delta Quadrant, Seven was injured on an away mission and died. Chakotay was never the same afterwards, and he has since died as well. Janeway visits Chakotay's grave to tell him that for both their sakes, she plans to travel back in time to change those events. She tries to negotiate for a temporal device developed by the Klingons, exchanging a seat on the High Council for the ability to manipulate tachyons, but ends up stealing it when her contact unreasonably demands that she share top-secret shielding technology with which she has equipped her shuttle to protect herself from the Borg. Starfleet tries to stop the admiral when Barclay and the Doctor begin to suspect her intentions, but in the end Captain Kim helps her escape the Klingons. Traveling back in time, Admiral Janeway warns Captain Janeway about the tragedies to come and insists that she enter a wormhole-ridden nebula infested with Borg that the younger Janeway had already bypassed as too risky.
Though Captain Janeway initially resists this intervention from the future, she changes her mind when she learns of the fates of Tuvok, Seven and Chakotay. Deciding that she must get her crew home before these calamities, she accepts Admiral Janeway's assistance. But Admiral Janeway neglected to mention that the nebula hides not just a wormhole but a Borg transwarp hub. She feels that it is Voyager's obligation to try to destroy the technology rather than using it to her own advantage, and Seven of Nine -- who is visited in her dreams by the Borg Queen -- concurs. Admiral Janeway scoffs at her younger self's selflessness and arrogance, but is ultimately impressed at how loyal the crew is to their captain. She agrees to a risky plan to try to achieve both their goals, getting Voyager home and destroying the transwarp hub at the same time.
Using technology from the future, Voyager shields itself against the Borg and blows up cubes with transphasic torpedoes. The ship heads into a conduit towards Earth while Admiral Janeway distracts the Borg Queen by appearing to her in holographic form, trying to negotiate Voyager's safety in exchange for a defense against the futuristic anti-Borg technology. The Borg pinpoint her position and assimilate her, but the Queen begins to suffer shortly afterwards, for Janeway has infected herself with a pathogen that ultimately destroys the Admiral, the Queen, the drones and the entire transwarp hub.
Meanwhile Voyager races toward the Alpha Quadrant with a Borg sphere in pursuit. Torres goes into labor, but Paris is called away to pilot the ship. On Earth, Starfleet becomes aware of a transwarp conduit about to open and sends an armada to protect the planet. Voyager heads in a loop so it can destroy the sphere with its weapons from the future. After greeting a stunned Admiral Paris and Reg Barclay on the viewscreen, Captain Janeway is welcomed by Starfleet and escorted home.
"With all due respect, it's a little presumptuous to think you have the right to change everyone's future." --Chakotay to Janeway, "Shattered"
So Janeway fulfills the promise she made to get her crew home in "Caretaker," the way she said she would in "The Q and the Grey" -- by perseverance, hard work and faith. Then she decides that's not good enough, and violates everything sacred to a Starfleet officer in order to find a shortcut. Imagine if Kirk decided that the lives of "his people" -- Spock in The Wrath of Khan, or his nephew in "Operation: Annihilate!" or Edith Keeler in "City on the Edge of Forever" -- took precedent over the best interests of Earth and the Federation. Imagine if Sisko had decided to stay in the alternate universe because his love for Jennifer mattered more to him than Earth or Bajor. Imagine if Picard had brought a Borg invasion fleet to Earth because he didn't want to risk the lives of his Enterprise crewmembers.
Captain Janeway has fulfilled the destiny she found in the Delta Quadrant. She has become Annorax, the crazed time traveler from "The Year of Hell" who rewrites galactic history to save his beloved. For what it's worth, Janeway succeeds on her first try, but it doesn't change the appalling significance of her actions. Had she failed -- had she been assimilated with knowledge from the future, and sent a Borg sphere to Earth in the process -- she could have been responsible for the deaths of billions. It's ironic that although she changes the timeline to save Seven of Nine, "Endgame" proves that Voyager can survive without Seven. They get home. They make scientific advances without Seven's Borg know-how. They lose only a couple of crewmembers a year -- not at all a bad record for a Starfleet vessel, if Kirk's and Picard's records are any indication. Yet it's not good enough for Janeway, who worries more about the personal happiness of a few close friends than the future of everyone in the Alpha Quadrant. Kathryn Janeway is unworthy of the uniform she wears. Star Trek's first female captain has ended her run by using theft, coercion and cheating, going so far as to risk destroying Earth to give herself a second chance.
It's clear when Paris says that he's already home and when Kim toasts the journey that Voyager and its captain have their complete loyalty, a loyalty that extends far into the future. But does Admiral Janeway have their best interests at heart? No matter her protestations of selfless nobility, she doesn't violate the Temporal Prime Directive to protect her "family," most of whom will survive and thrive -- Kim will make captain, the Doc will find love, Naomi Wildman will have a daughter, Paris and Torres will share an enduring marriage. She doesn't do it to save Seven or Tuvok, both of whom urge her not to make decisions affecting the entire crew based on their personal fates. She doesn't do it as an act of kindness for Chakotay, who -- based on his comments about maintaining the timeline in "Shattered" -- might very well have tried to talk her out of it (though he did something similar himself in "Timeless," from which "Endgame" seems partly regurgitated). Chakotay has rarely put his personal desires ahead of his sense of responsibility to others, not since "Dreadnought" when Janeway insisted that he leave her to die on the ship. He survived the loss of his family to the Cardassians and the loss of the Maquis in the war. It's hard to believe the loss of Seven would devastate him so thoroughly as to make his life meaningless.
Janeway doesn't violate the Temporal Prime Directive for "her crew," despite what she says. Otherwise she could have found a way to travel further back, to save the lives of Carey, Ballard, Jetal, Caplan, Hogan, Bandera, Durst, Stadi, Cavit, Voyager's original doctor and nurse -- even Seska, Jonas and Suder -- and all the other "family members" lost on the journey. She certainly doesn't do it to save the Federation from the Borg menace, or she'd have gone back before Locutus and saved the ever-increasing number of Starfleet officers lost at Wolf 359. Voyager's long journey home apparently has led to the development of technology to defend against the Borg; with that timeline eradicated, the Federation might be vulnerable again. Janeway makes her choice because she personally finds the loss of her favorite crewmembers intolerable. In the end, this isn't about what's best for the crew or Voyager or Starfleet or Earth or the galaxy: it's about what's best for Kathryn Janeway. Captain Ahab, meet Admiral Nemo.
The improbable affair between Chakotay and Seven is necessary to suggest that no matter how selfish Janeway's desire to change the past, it's not because she seeks the happy destiny of ordinary mortals. She tells the Doctor she has no interest in marriage, and is apparently content to play the maiden aunt to the children of others. Still, the writers must eradicate the possibility that she plans a joyful intimate relationship with either Chakotay or Seven when she reaches the Alpha Quadrant in the altered timeline, because that would constitute an inarguably selfish motive for wanting to get home...and at this point they need to counter "The Voyager Conspiracy" evidence that Janeway has intimate feelings for Seven just as much as they need to destroy the "Resolutions" of her attraction to Chakotay. So they cobble together a liaison between Chakotay and Seven that I hesitate to call a romance because it's so forced. If we had gotten any insight into the characters -- some inkling that she's felt connected to him since he first called her "Annika" when he broke her link to the Collective, or that the reason he's been so distant from her is because he finds her so attractive he was afraid it would compromise his work and his relationship with Janeway, as seems probable by his offer to change the duty roster for Seven -- then I might have found the relationship at least slightly plausible, if not a desirable development.
Instead, Seven makes a sudden, unexplained decision to alter her cortical node, which she refused to do a few weeks earlier in "Human Error" for emotional reasons that resurface again here. She dismisses the Doctor's love for her without a second thought or a kind word. Apparently Seven's conception of romance does not include the sharing of feelings or intimate conversations; instead she plays the traditional role of courtier, suggesting dates, bringing flowers, planting aggressive kisses on the object of her desire. When she tries to end the experiment, Chakotay points out that she doesn't really know who he is if she thinks he would give up on a relationship out of fear. As viewers, we're supposed to accept this shallow affair as the great love of their lives. Yet the incident can't diminish the fact that for the past several seasons, both Chakotay and Seven have cared about Janeway far more than they cared about one another. One could easily make the case that unrequited adoration of their captain is the main thing they have in common. The writers would have been much better off acknowledging the complicated relationships Janeway has with both crewmembers, rather than trying to bury them under this flimsy cliche of a romance plot. Perhaps, having already given Seven the run of the ship, the bulk of the character development, the highest status on the show, they still feel the woman wouldn't really, truly be complete without also giving her the man she wants.
The older Janeway isn't a woman at all to these writers, so these final steps to desexualize her hardly come as a surprise. Since Barbie of Borg came on board, Voyager has really had two goals: to get home, but also to explore Seven's humanity. While the legitimate female authority on Voyager descended into erratic behavior -- sometimes putting on displays of incompetence from which Seven had to save her, sometimes becoming so focused on her role as mother to the crew that she forgot her responsibilities as captain -- Seven alternated between feeling sorry for herself because the Borg robbed her of a childhood and feeling vastly superior to the others because the Borg made her so superior to them. In "Human Error" she feared she could never become fully human, her one point of inferiority. If only we had gotten so lucky -- we saw enough attempts at humanization on Next Gen with Data, and he was far more likeable than Seven.
But borrowing from The Next Generation is one of the few things Voyager actually does well. Here we get a rehash of Borg themes that stretch back to "The Best of Both Worlds," though the villains have been housebroken and defanged -- how many times can we watch them succumb to pathogens while their Queens die without starting to get cynical about their power? Still, we get lots and lots of Borg, as if sheer numbers will make up for complexity. We get Klingons. We get Starfleet's finest ships sailing off into battle. As in TNG's "All Good Things," we get a crewmember dying of a degenerative disease, a dead lover causing angst for the first officer, a crewmember of lower rank making captain. We also get time travel, which seems about as complicated on Voyager as flossing teeth, though no one seems to spend much time worrying seriously about the consequences of actions like the sort Janeway indulges in "Endgame" -- one almost longs for the odious Section 31 to step in and stop her.
For fans of the superficial tropes of the Trek franchise, there's a feast for the eyes. The special effects have only improved over time, the makeup's fine as always despite some bizarre appearances among the aged characters. Janeway's shuttle looks very cool morphing into the Batmobile, and Voyager looks really impressive morphing into the Viper. But who chooses a sci-fi show to watch based on its technical Emmy nominations? The performances try to redeem the material, but inevitably they fall short. Everyone either seems to be trying too hard or not trying at all.
Kate Mulgrew does superb work here, comparable to Robert Picardo's acting with himself in "Life Line." One actually believes that there are two of her: the perky grand dame and the self-righteous younger version. It's great fun to watch the Janeways interact, generating even more fireworks than in second season's "Deadlock." But now both Janeways seem overly earnest; they lack the fundamental joie de vivre that characterized the captain early on in the voyage. Thus it gets tiring to watch them. They're both fanatics, and even though the younger Janeway finally makes the token gesture of consulting her crew before a big decision, she's made sure to stack the deck in her favor by playing off her older self. I've been frustrated before when Janeway has chosen to put the life of a single member of Species 8472 over the needs of her crew, but in this case the younger Janeway is right to consider the destruction of a Borg conduit heading to Earth far more important than the lives of 150 Starfleet officers. Yet the story starts out from the perspective of the future Janeway, so she's the one we're encouraged to root for.
Mulgrew plays the admiral with more authority than the captain, which ultimately backfires because it's impossible to root for a character written as such a self-righteous person -- even if it is pleasant that she rather than Seven of Nine gets the last word with both the crew and the Borg Queen. As Richard Whettestone writes in his hilarious and clever review, we don't see the events that shape Admiral Janeway's mindset. We don't see her lose Seven and Chakotay, so we can't witness her grief. Mulgrew's acerbic, powerful professionalism as the older Janeway don't draw us in to the depth of her feeling for her crew; we barely get a visible reaction from her as she mentions the tragedies that shape the future. It's impossible to feel her pain because we never even see it; instead we see a strong, witty woman who can crack jokes at Chakotay's graveside. Why show us so many people living happily in the intolerable future Admiral Janeway wants to change, if we don't even get insight into the pain and suffering that compel her to change it?
Jeri Ryan seems to be playing a brand new Seven, who at least has the grace to frown disapprovingly when Chakotay suggests acting unprofessional on dates. But all the smirking and sashaying around the rest of the time don't make Seven seem more human, just more obnoxious. Must she make love seem like a conquest, and doesn't she have anything intelligent to contribute to the temporal plans at this all-important juncture, after dominating ship's science for the last four years? One wonders how an ex-drone doesn't know of the transwarp conduit in the nebula. Perhaps she's too distracted by sex to care about fulfilling her mentor's goal of getting to the Alpha Quadrant. This episode doesn't give any illustrations of what selfish Janeway sees in self-important Seven, which makes the admiral's actions seem all the more illogical.
Robert Beltran's Chakotay finishes the series as the same blank slate he started out; I still don't know what's important to this character, nor even whom he left at home when he started out. It's not hard to figure out what Chakotay sees in Seven, but that just adds to his image as a fundamentally superficial being, and Beltran's smarmy flirtation doesn't improve the situation. Garrett Wang and Tim Russ have both always done fine jobs when actually called upon to act, and "Endgame" is no exception. Russ gets to have more fun, though one wonders a bit what it means when the actor playing the Vulcan gives his most convincing performances when that Vulcan is not behaving in a logical manner, since most of Russ' best episodes are out-of-character stories like "Meld." Wang gives the sort of solid, steady, mature performance for which he will never be remembered because godawful Kim episodes like "Native Son" and "The Disease" wipe out all memory of "Emanations" or "The Chute." It's no surprise that the speech which should have been the theme of Voyager, about the journey being more exciting than the destination, gets given to mostly-forgettable Harry Kim.
Paris and Torres have their baby, an event I feel about the way I feel about the sweet little Mulder/Scully nuclear family bonding in The X-Files' season finale "Existence." I'm glad the writers didn't throw in some horrible twist like stillbirth just to spite the fans, but the relationship and pregnancy storylines have been so poorly dramatized that I'm incapable of enjoying the happy event. It figures that Paris demonstrates the sort of professionalism that eludes Janeway -- despite his own feelings, he leaves Torres in labor to go fly the ship. Tom has truly grown up, and become the sort of officer one only wishes Janeway appreciated more. Torres has been fully relegated to a maternal role by "Endgame" so it's hard to remember that she was once an engineer, but I rather like her future as a Klingon liaison -- if only she were destined to live that life rather than the one Admiral Janeway decides would be better for all of them. None of this is the fault of Robert Duncan McNeill or Roxann Dawson, whose performances never show the strain of playing underdeveloped characters. Unlike Beltran, who looks vacant-eyed in many scenes, the younger actors inhabit their characters. There's just not much there to give life.
Robert Picardo once more gets stuck playing a witty spin on a character who alternates between being the show's moral conscience and its comic relief. In "Endgame" there's no issue of holographic rights, for his ageless character has a respectable job, a frivolous young bride and an even more frivolous name. I'm happy about that, silly as it is; I couldn't stand for the Doctor, too, to be pining over Seven. Jim Wright of Delta Blues has suggested to me that the Doc is with Lana because the young blonde reminds him of Seven, but I disagree. I think he's with Lana because middle-aged men are supposed to want young blondes on their arms, like Beltran and Picardo get in this episode. It doesn't matter much whether the blondes are rocket scientists like Seven or space cadets like Lana. So it's not that Lana is Doc's substitute for Seven -- it's that any dazzling doll will do, and Seven might even be too old for the Doc 33 years hence.
I suppose I should say something about the lack of resolution to Voyager, which is canonically consistent but still frustrating. As in other Voyager episodes from "Time and Again" to "Year of Hell" to "Relativity," the writers waste most of their time creating an alternate history before rushing to a reset-button conclusion. I suppose the optimists among us can believe that perhaps Captain Janeway will change, now that she's home. Maybe she'll regain her old spirit and confidence, maybe she'll remember what she once loved about being a Starfleet officer. Maybe Chakotay will remember that he once honored his past and his traditions. Maybe Seven of Nine will explore her brave new world of romantic possibilities and run off with a television producer. I wish I cared. I wish I still believed in these characters, their lives and their emotions. I wish I still thought of them as role models or at least as real people I'd want to meet.
Here is the moral of "Endgame," in case all those young males in the demographic audience are paying attention to something beyond the explosions, the Borg Queen's corset and Seven's breasts. Forget the lessons of "City on the Edge of Forever," forget the lessons of The Wrath of Khan, forget the lessons of First Contact -- your own happiness is all that matters, not the needs of the many, not the continuity of time. Forget the sacrifices made during the Dominion War, forget the suffering of the Bajorans during the Occupation, forget that the old enemy Klingons are now Federation allies -- those are things that could have been changed before they started, so they are meaningless. Forget the journey that is life, the necessary losses, the way sometimes sorrow leads to happiness later. Instead, seize the moment when you can, no matter who may pay later. Think of exploration only as a means to an end, and when you don't like what you find, change destiny. If something goes wrong in your own life or the lives of your closest friends, it's fine to destroy the lives of everyone else around you to try to fix it, because the end justifies the means.
This "Endgame" is forfeit. It's full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. But it fits, because practically since the beginning, Star Trek Voyager has not been about people making tough decisions for the greater good. It's been about people whose overriding issues are selfish -- can we get home, can we save our friends from the Alien Peril of the Week, can we make our retro holodeck programs so interesting that they excuse us from not stopping to learn and teach as we head through an unknown region of our galaxy. There's no yearning for exploration, no willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. Voyager is not real Star Trek.
You can read other fan reviews of this episode at Cynic's Corner, Delta Blues, about.com, The Captain's Quarters, Five-Minute Voyager and Monkee's page, among others. There are many people to whom I owe gratitude for input and insight over seven years of reviewing Voyager. For this revised review, I would particularly like to thank Jim Wright, Mary P. Taylor and Penny Proctor, plus my RBLS finale viewing party, Rachel Wyman, Shalini Gupta and Jo Wilson. My long-term joy in and criticism of this show has been impacted by many people -- the members of KMAS Inc., particularly its board of directors; the fan fiction writers hosted and linked at Your Cruise Director's Love Boat; the RBLS; JetC; the Fold (formerly the Clinic) on America Online's message boards; and my former colleagues at the now-defunct AnotherUniverse.com and Fandom.com sites, among others. Thanks to everyone for seven years of dialogue and sharing.