The season 5 episode of Star Trek: Voyager, “Timeless,” tells the same story as Voyager’s series finale, “Endgame,” in a much more satisfying way.
The series finale of Star Trek: Voyager, “Endgame” bears a striking resemblance to a season 5 episode, “Timeless,” which does a much better job telling a similar story. Star Trek: Voyager, season 5, episode 6, “Timeless” is the 100th episode of the series overall. The episode tells the story of future versions of Ensign Harry Kim and Commander Chakotay attempting to send a message back through time to prevent the deaths of Voyager’s entire crew, after Harry made a miscalculation that caused Voyager’s new quantum slipstream drive to malfunction the ship to crash on an ice planet during an attempt to return to the Alpha Quadrant.
“Endgame” borrows much of the same time travel-related storyline, although on a larger scale. Set partially in a future where Voyager’s crew did finally return him, but with several casualties, “Endgame” sees the now Admiral Janeway steal technology from the Klingons and use it to travel back in time to help Voyager return home sooner and prevent the deaths of Seven of Nine and Chakotay, as well as Tuvok’s severe deterioration from a Vulcan brain disease. With the help of a Borg transwarp conduit, Admiral Janeway guides Voyager’s crew home safely, similarly to how Harry and Chakotay manage to do in “Timeless.”
“Timeless” and “Endgame” have a lot in common. Both heavily feature time travel as a plot device, specifically in regards to people attempting to change the past to prevent events in the future from ever happening. Both also feature an older version of a beloved main character weighed down by guilt about decisions they made, and both characters are ultimately able to change the past to repair the damage. Because of its ending, plot structure, and character focus, however, “Timeless” ultimately uses these ideas to better effect than “Endgame,” making it a better episode overall.
“Timeless” Has A Better Ending Than “Endgame”
As an episode, “Timeless” delivers both an interesting exploration of time travel and a satisfying conclusion that leaves the audience feeling like the storyline has been fully explored. The episode is packed with action, as Chakotay and Harry Kim along with the rescued Doctor attempt to deliver their life-saving message to the past despite Starfleet, who is attempting to stop them before they can break the Temporal Prime Directive. Ultimately, things come together at the last minute, and the past is changed, causing the versions of Harry and Chakotay the episode has been following to cease to exist. The future Harry manages to encode a message to his past self along with the message he sends to Voyager, and the last scene shows Harry viewing the message and taking on the full weight of what has transpired. As a bottle episode situated in the middle of a season, “Timeless” uses the idea of time travel to great effect, since it can put all of its focus on the one idea and not have to worry about telling other stories.
In the case of “Endgame,” however, the time travel portion of the storyline actually ends up taking away from the weight of the finale. While it is interesting to see a possible future for the Voyager crew, Admiral Janeway’s actions ultimately make that future null and void, meaning that too much time in “Endgame” is spent on a future that never actually ends up happening. This wouldn’t be so much of a problem if the audience was still given the chance to see more of Voyager’s actual homecoming, but “Endgame” spends most of the episode explaining how Voyager makes it home and does not give their return the time it deserves. The episode seems to forget that the series has been setting its audience up for a more satisfying homecoming, one in which the characters get to revel in the fact that they accomplished their goal, and reunite with their loved ones. “Endgame” should have shown this, but instead the time that could have been spent on it was taken up by exploring Admiral Janeway’s alternate future, a move that ultimately kept “Endgame” from a truly rewarding conclusion.
“Timeless” Benefits From Only One Storyline
As well as having a better ending, “Timeless” does not try to tackle another storyline in addition to the time travel. The episode is very aware that it is a time travel story first and foremost, and while there are other plotlines, including Voyager’s attempt to get home using a quantum slipstream drive, everything ties back to the time travel plot. Because Harry miscalculates the correct phase variance, Voyager is thrown out of the slipstream during their flight and crashes, leading to Harry’s guilt and the whole chain of events whereby he and Chakotay change the past. The plot about the slipstream is important, and the drive is an interesting piece of Star Trek tech, but it is not something that pulls focus from the main throughline of the episode, actually acting as an integral part of it.
Unfortunately, the same thing cannot be said about “Endgame.” The episode adds a plotline about the Borg that is only tangentially connected to the time travel plot. The Borg are an integral part of Voyager’s return to the Alpha Quadrant through the use of their transwarp hub, but they do not directly tie in with the time travel plot. In fact, both plots are given about equal importance, which means the Voyager Borg storyline ends up taking weight away from the time travel storyline, and vice versa. If “Endgame” had chosen one or the other to focus on, it might have been able to give the chosen storyline the right amount of attention instead of having to split the audience’s focus. Ultimately, the inclusion of the Borg further convolutes the story, pulls focus, and eats away at the time “Endgame” might have used to show Voyager’s homecoming in a more meaningful way.
Future Kim Has A Better Arc Than Future Janeway
The future versions of Ensign Kim and Captain Janeway occupy essentially the same role in “Timeless” and “Endgame.” Both are motived to change the past because of guilt over their actions, and both ultimately succeed in doing so even though it comes at the cost of their own lives. Ultimately, however, Harry is the character that shows the most growth, when he learns what his future self has done to stop him from making a mistake that will haunt him. More than anyone else on the crew, Harry had an obsession with getting Voyager home that sometimes caused him to leap before he looked. The message that future Harry sends to his younger self allows him to both see the consequences of his actions and the fact that he came through for Voyager’s crew even when things seemed hopeless. By the end of the episode, Harry is left with a lot to think about, and arguably a lot to live up to, and the audience is able to see him process that fact and start to grow from it.
Admiral Janeway ends up having less of a satisfying arc than Harry does, mostly because her motives for what she is doing are not as clear as Harry’s were in “Timeless.” In an effort to keep the audience in some suspense, the writers left a fair amount of Janeway’s plans unclear until they actually happened, particularly her method of time travel and the reason for Seven of Nine and Chakotay’s deaths. By doing this, they make it less easy for the audience to trust and identify with her, and while it is ultimately satisfying to watch her plan come to fruition, her execution of it is not handled in a way that makes the audience feel for her the same way they feel for Harry in “Timeless.” Additionally, the younger Janeway does not experience the same kind of character growth from her older self that Harry did, making their interactions less meaningful.
In some aspects, “Endgame” is a well-executed episode. It ties up a number of season and even series-long storylines and offers a few satisfying conclusions to some of the interpersonal stories among the crew. “Endgame” did a number of things that hurt the episode rather than helping it, however, and when held up against an episode that executes a well-rounded plot like “Timeless,” “Endgame” pales in comparison. Fans of Star Trek: Voyager need look no further than “Timeless” if they want an excellent episode of the series, while “Endgame” can be classified only as a mediocre episode at best.
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