Before they found out how their series was going to end, the cast of "Star Trek: Voyager" seemed agreed that their ship should finally return home in the final episode.
"It's time," said Kate Mulgrew, who plays Captain Kathryn Janeway. "Time to land."
"Yeah, I think it's very important for us to resolve the series at some point," said Robert Duncan McNeill (Lt. Tom Paris).
Well, in the opening moments of Wednesday's final episode, titled "Endgame" (7 p.m., Ch. 24), we discover that the cast/crew got their wish — a long, long time ago. The people of Earth are celebrating the 20th anniversary of Voyager's return — a journey that ended some 17 years after it began.
But, this being "Star Trek," not everything is as it appears. Or, rather, there's nothing that a little time travel can't change.
Yes, indeed, the "Voyager" finale goes where dozens of "Star Trek" episodes have gone before — through time. And there are more than a few similarities between this show and the final episode of "Next Generation." As a matter of fact, "Voyager" executive producer Ken Biller specifically mentioned that finale as a template for this one.
"That's a really wonderful, moving piece of television that seems to deliver on kind of every level," he said. "So that's the standard we're trying to hold to."
As familiar as the finale is in many ways, those are also reasons why it works — it's a traditional "Star Trek" story that combines action adventure, ethical quandaries and interpersonal dynamics.
Without giving too much away, the future Janeway — now a white-haired admiral — isn't exactly happy with how she brought Voyager back to Earth. (You may recall that she and her ship were stranded on the other side of the galaxy when the show premiered seven seasons ago.) Not only did it take a lot longer than everyone involved would have liked, but not everyone involved survived the journey.
So Admiral Janeway makes plans to travel back in time to facilitate a quicker return. And, in the process, take on the Borg and their evil queen. (Susanna Thompson, who played the Borg Queen in several installments of "Voyager," was unavailable to film the finale because of her regular role on "Once and Again," so Alice Krige returned to the part she originated in the movie "Star Trek: First Contact.")
Oh, and in the midst of various other crises B'Elanna finally gives birth to her baby — although her husband, Tom, is occupied elsewhere.
The episode is, for the most part, a satisfying conclusion to the series. Which is no small accomplishment, given the expectations Trekkers have for this.
"There's the sense that these final two-hour episodes need a certain grandeur to them," said executive producer Rick Berman. "The need to embrace a sense of humanity. And I think that certainly was the case with both 'The Next Generation' and 'Deep Space Nine.'
"And in the case of a show like 'Voyager,' you have this one very pivotal question about will they get home, won't they get home; will everybody survive, won't everyone survive — to try to deal with that in a way that is going to be unpredictable and hopefully incorporate enough surprises that the audience is not disappointed."
That said, "Voyager" remains the most disappointing of the four "Trek" series to date. Oh, it had occasional moments of brilliance, but for every really good episode there were three (or four or five) mediocre ones.
After launching with a rip-roaring pilot, the first season was, frankly, pretty boring. (And it featured some of the worst "Star Trek" villains ever — remember the lame Kazons?)
"Voyager" got better, but it never was as good as any of the three previous series — either in terms of the writing or of the casting. This was the least compelling group of characters "Star Trek" ever assembled.
And, like "Deep Space Nine" before it, the biggest problem sat in the captain's chair. Janeway was no Kirk or Picard.
"I think the show has been unique in that we have a female captain, which is something that a lot of people felt might not work," Berman said. "I think it's worked brilliantly."
Not to be argumentative, but, um, no it hasn't. Not because Janeway was a woman but because of the woman who played her.
Perhaps Mulgrew would've been better served working on her character than spending so much time worrying that Jeri Ryan, who joined the cast as Seven of Nine in the fourth season, was upstaging her.
Ryan was, of course, upstaging her — but that had a lot to do with her performance, not just because she was younger, blonder and more beautiful.
All that said, Mulgrew saved one of her best performances for last. And there's something to be said for going out on top.
Part of the problem, both for Mulgrew and "Voyager," was that they had to stand in the shadow of the shows that came before them. Being part of the "Star Trek" franchise is both a blessing and a curse — a fact that the cast and crew of the new show, "Enterprise," will quickly learn when that show launches in the fall.