May 1, 2020
Battle of the Letdown Series Finales: Star Trek: Voyager vs. Xena: Warrior Princess
In 2001, just a few months prior to the tragedy of 9/11, two series aired their final episodes: Star Trek: Voyager and Xena: Warrior Princess.
Although ratings for Voyager had dropped considerably during its run, the series remained UPN’s highest-rated show (which isn’t saying a lot, considering what else that network gave us). It also became the last Trek show to be a continuation of what started with Star Trek: The Next Generation, as the next Trek series, which debuted on UPN shortly after 9/11, was the prequel series Enterprise.
Xena was a different story. The title character (played by Lucy Lawless) first appeared in a trilogy of episodes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. She initially attempts to kill the demigod, but during the course of said trilogy, dramatic turns emerge involving the army she’s leading. Xena eventually agrees to join Hercules to fight her own army, becoming a hero in the process. The first season of Hercules concludes with Xena and Hercules, who have become romantically involved, bidding farewell to each other as she goes off to embark on a new journey of heroism and redemption.
The first episode of Xena’s own series, “Sins of the Past”, aired in the fall of 1995. Xena returns to her home village to reconnect with her mother, only to find it under siege by the warlord Draco (Jay Laga’aia). But Xena thwarts him with the help of a spirited young girl named Gabrielle (Renee O’Connor), whom Xena had rescued from thugs earlier in the episode. The episode concludes with Xena agreeing to allow Gabrielle to travel with her.
It didn’t take long for Xena to become a hit series in its own right. So much so that by its third season, the show was dominating the ratings over both Star Trek: Deep Space Nine as well as Hercules (to the annoyance of Kevin Sorbo).
Both Xena and Star Trek: Voyager premiered in 1995, and both shows aired their series finales in 2001. Unfortunately, both finales were massively disappointing. But which one was a bigger letdown? Let’s find out.
Star Trek: Voyager: “Endgame”
Voyager‘s finale concludes the ship’s seven-year trip back to the Alpha Quadrant. It actually begins 16 years after the previous episode (“Renaissance Man”) with an older Janeway, now an admiral. As her fellow crew members celebrate the tenth anniversary of Voyager getting home, she embarks on a daunting plan to travel back in time in order to help Voyager get home quicker.
We see Janeway’s reasons for doing the time-travel/reset button motif Voyager became infamous for. It turns out Tuvok is in a mental institution, and Chakotay and Seven of Nine are both dead.
With a time travel doohickey that some Klingons pulled out of their asses, Janeway travels to the end of Voyager‘s seventh season in a shuttlecraft that can armor up like the Batmobile. She informs her younger self that a cloud full of wormholes that was guarded by Borg ships has a passage that can take them straight home. Captain Janeway is open to this at first, but then gets pissed off at her older self when the crew discovers the route home is part of what’s called a “transwarp hub”, which contains other wormholes leading to other sectors of the galaxy.
This prompts Captain Janeway to get the hell out of the area and also order her crew to find a way to destroy the hub. The captain’s reasoning is to stop the Borg once and for all (which makes the crew’s previous Borg encounter “Unimatrix Zero” pointless, as the civil war Janeway attempted to start there obviously didn’t happen). But Admiral Janeway is adamant that they should use the hub to go home immediately, and to that end, she informs her younger self that Seven will die three years later on a mission, and Chakotay, who’ll be married to Seven by then, will be depressed forever afterward (not that he ever seemed happy on the show in the first place). And on top of all that, Tuvok will succumb to a mental condition unless he receives a cure that’s only available in the Alpha Quadrant.
Needless to say, the crew finds a way to (as Captain Janeway puts it) have their cake and eat it too. Admiral Janeway boards the Borg ship and gets assimilated by the Borg Queen (Alice Krige). But it all turns out to be a trick, as Voyager manages to (somehow) blow up everything Borg and arrive home, just as the end credits come up (literally).
Xena: Warrior Princess: “A Friend in Need”
Xena‘s finale begins with Xena and Gabrielle enjoying a starry evening. For some reason, Xena decides that a change of scenery is in order and recommends they go to Egypt (I guess she liked the pyramids during her previous visit there in “Antony & Cleopatra”).
They’re interrupted by the appearance of a young man named Kenji (Mac Jeffrey Ong), who informs Xena that a woman from Japan named Akemi (Michelle Ang) sent him to find her. On the boat taking them there, Xena informs Gabrielle that she first met Akemi while in China with her lover Borias (Marton Csokas). Xena and Akemi eventually became friends, with Xena teaching her that famous pinch, to Gabrielle’s chagrin, as she was never taught it.
Our heroines arrive to find the city of Higuchi in flames and surrounded by an army. They and Kenji swim to shore. As they save the city, Xena further reveals that Akemi’s father is Yodoshi, who is an evil ghost who enslaves the souls of the dead. Xena also states that Akemi killed Yodoshi, but then committed ritual suicide for doing so. This led Xena to fulfill Akemi’s wish, which was to take her ashes to her family shrine. En route, however, townspeople attempted to stop Xena, which led to Akemi’s ashes ending up in a gutter. This led to Xena grabbing a torch to fight off the angry mob, which in turn led to the city going up in flames.
In the present, Xena elects to fight the approaching army alone, and allows herself to be killed by Yodoshi’s general Morimoto (Venant Wong) in order to fight Yodoshi. Gabrielle soon realizes that Xena is dead when she finds Xena’s severed head and learns of a method that can restore her to life. But that method must be used before the sun sets.
But even as a ghost, Xena is able to fight armies practically with one hand tied behind her back. However, as this is the final episode, there’s a twist. After Yodoshi is vanquished and Gabrielle attempts to revive Xena, the Warrior Princess stops her. She informs Gabrielle that the souls of those who died when she accidentally set Akemi’s town on fire must be freed, and that’s only possible if Xena stays dead.
Saddened, Gabrielle begs Xena to not let this be, but Xena assures her she’ll always be with her (although it sounds like Xena will be with Akemi more). As the sun sets, Xena fades away. The series concludes with Gabrielle on a boat telling Xena’s ghost that she’ll go to Egypt (hopefully Gabrielle will at least keep in touch with her sister). Xena repeats her spew that she’ll always be by her side, as the boat sails off.
Which finale was the bigger letdown?
By the start of its seventh season, Voyager and disappointment were as common a combination as spaghetti and meatballs. So it’s not really surprising that “Endgame” was simply a rehash of all the things that didn’t exactly endear the series to Trek fans, such as time travel, technobabble, making the Borg less scary, visuals tossed onto the screen just because they look cool, and of course, that infamous reset button.
The only difference is that this time, the ship actually makes it home. But even any impact that may have had is diminished by the fact that we barely see the ship in the Alpha Quadrant. The ending credits of the episode are shown and the episode fades to black when we barely see Voyager coming towards Earth.
Even more damning are the lengths Admiral Janeway is willing to go to in order to make things better. Yes, she’s basically saving three of the regulars from a tragic fate, but she’s also erasing 26 years of history in the process. At the beginning of the episode, we see the daughter of Naomi Wildman at the Voyager reunion. This young girl has now been erased from history thanks to Admiral Janeway’s actions. There’s also the fact that all the crew members who died during the course of the series before “Endgame” don’t get so much as lip service here. At least when Superman turned back time to bring Lois back to life in the original 1978 movie, it was only a matter of moments. That, and the great job Christopher Reeve did at putting the needed angst into the scene, allowed audiences to accept that moment in the film, even though it was ludicrous. “Endgame”, however, is basically an amplification of Janeway’s blatant disregard for others, only this time it’s on her own personal whim and not due to any Starfleet regulations.
Ironically, Xena‘s finale is actually the more disappointing of the two. Because while “Endgame” is basically the same old/same old, “A Friend in Need” basically spits in the face of everything the series established. Xena and Gabrielle’s friendship became the core of the show (and the subtext many took from that relationship only added to the appeal). So it’s quite disheartening when Xena tells Gabrielle that she must leave her, even though previous episodes would’ve gone out of their way to have the two remain united.
There’s also the fact that, with this show taking place in Japan, we have another Xena backstory that Gabrielle knows nothing about, even though one would think she and Xena know all about each other by this point. And why didn’t Xena ever teach her the pinch, anyway? Also, considering that this series had its share of story arcs, this sudden trip to Japan just comes out of nowhere. In contrast, both the finales for TNG (“All Good Things…”) and DS9 (“What You Leave Behind”) felt like the culmination of those respective series.
At the time of Xena‘s run, I frequently visited the show’s official message boards. Within days of airing, “A Friend in Need” generated such discontent from fans on that board that I’m surprised the whole website didn’t implode. An exaggeration, yes, but I honestly doubt there was a single Xena fan who tuned into the finale expecting to see her decapitated.
Xena was definitely the better show, and perhaps this is what makes “A Friend in Need” all the more terrible, and definitely the worse of the two finales.