While the final two hours of STAR TREK: VOYAGER boasted the highest series ratings in years, the episodes leading up to "Endgame" also managed to bring several fans back to see what exactly was going to happen to the crew. CINESCAPE managed to catch up with VOYAGER Executive Producer Kenneth Biller this week to discuss the show's final season.
Surprisingly, he says that the most heavily guarded secret was not the plot of the finale, but rather what happened to Neelix (Ethan Phillips) in the episode "Homestead." Instead of continuing on with his Voyager friends, Neelix chose to help a colony of Talaxians, and stay on as their leader.
"That was a big decision," admits Biller. "We often said, 'What would happen if Neelix ran into Talaxians and had to make a decision?' I said very early on in the season, the only way I would do that story was if Neelix left. The audience's expectation would be that he's going to struggle with this decision and then decide that Voyager is really his home and his family, and he is going to stay with Voyager. That was a clichéd story to tell, if that were the outcome."
Since Neelix had to leave, the episode was then placed late in the seventh season.
"It became clear that it was only something I would want to do at the very end of the season," explains Biller. "I had a long talk with Ethan Phillips about it. In fact I talked to him early in the season. He was very excited about it. Of course, he didn't want to have to leave the show really early. I told him that it was a way to really give Neelix a big send off, as opposed to him just being one more character in the big finale where he wasn't going to get a lot of focus."
Although Phillips knew about this, as did the writing staff, Biller tried very hard to keep Neelix's departure under wraps.
"People always asked about the secrecy surrounding the finale," Biller notes. "We made a greater attempt at secrecy surrounding that episode. We put the script out so that it ended with Neelix saying goodbye to the people on the planet and going back to Voyager, which seems like the ending of that story if it were a typical STAR TREK episode. We've seen episodes where somebody had a romance, or met somebody, and somebody said, 'Why don't you stay? You could have a life here.' Of course, the people on Voyager would say, 'I'm a regular on this series, so I really have to get back on the ship and keep going so that I can be in the next episode.'"
Scenes were added, and Neelix did leave at the end of "Homestead." But his character was seen in the finale talking to Seven of Nine (Jeri Ryan) on long-range communication, as Neelix advised her about dating Chakotay (Robert Beltran).[IMG6L]
Speaking of which, the relationship between Seven and Chakotay appeared rather abruptly in "Endgame." In the episode before "Homestead," entitled "Natural Law," Seven and Chakotay were stuck together on a primitive planet. By this time Biller had decided on the romance in the finale, but chose not to hint at it just yet.
"When we decided to strand her with Chakotay, we certainly discussed, 'Do we want to hint at a romance here?' Biller explains. 'We just decided that we didn't. We didn't want to, for example, repeat the story that was done many, many years ago when Chakotay was stranded with Janeway [Kate Mulgrew]. If it played in the subtext, fine."
Ultimately, the Seven-Chakotay romance was just one small plot point in the finale that took a tremendous amount of thought to envision and write. The story for "Endgame" was credited to Rick Berman, Brannon Braga and Biller. Biller and Robert Doherty wrote the teleplay. Biller asked TREK honcho Berman for help with the finale, and both decided to bring in Braga for help.
"It was gestating for a long time, from back at the beginning of the season," says Biller about the finale. "Clearly we knew we had to end the series in some way. The big question was, 'Were they going to get home?' We talked about it loosely for a long time. Then when Christmas rolled around, I said to Rick, 'We've really got to decide what we want to do. I think that you need to be involved with this. This shouldn't just be a story that I make up on my own.' He said, 'Maybe Brannon should be involved in it too.' I said, 'I'd love to have another STAR TREK brain in the room and see what we can come up with.'"
Before the overall plot was conceived, several different ideas were tossed around and thrown into the mix.
"Rick very correctly said, 'We can't lose sight of the fact that this needs to really have an epic quality,'" recalls Biller. "'It needs to be big and it needs to have some elements of nostalgia in it.' He really thought that maybe it should be something that involved time travel. Then we began to talk about what would happen."
"Endgame" opened with a shot of Voyager flying by the Golden Gate Bridge. The ship had returned home, but the audience soon discovered that they were watching recorded footage at the 10-year anniversary of Voyager's homecoming. The first few seconds of the episode were meant to answer the viewers' obvious question.
"Everybody is going to be sitting there asking, 'Does Voyager get home?'" says Biller. "Somebody, I can't remember who [said], 'What if we just see it get home in the first 20 seconds and dispense with the question?' At that point, we weren't exactly sure where the story was going to go. It turned around itself, and still became the central question of the episode. In this one timeline that we happen to have seen it got home, but that doesn't mean that our characters are going to chose to do that."
It had taken Janeway many years more to get the ship back to Earth, at a huge cost. Now an admiral, Janeway wanted to go back in time and bring her ship back earlier, using a Borg transwarp hub.
"We started to think about an obsessed Janeway," says Biller. "We always knew that we wanted a big final battle with the Borg, because the Borg had been the nemesis. The story developed over several weeks of long discussions."
Surprisingly, at the story development stage, the writers had not decided that Voyager would get home in the final timeline. The crew would destroy the Borg conduit instead of using it to go home.
"I will tell you that for a long time during those discussions, we had made the decision that we weren't going to get the ship home," notes Biller. "I said that what the show should be about is really the theme of the series, which is asking the question, 'What does home mean? Are these people home already? If they are home, is this whole obsession to get home moot in a way? Shouldn't it be about embracing the journey, because VOYAGER is about the journey?' That became a big theme of the episode. For several weeks of developing that story, it was our intention to not get home, to end the episode in a way that nobody expected. They are going to blow this Borg thing up, strike a blow for humanity, and just keep on going. The ship would just sail off."
However, the group decided that perhaps fans would not be happy with that as a series finale.
"We started to talk about it some more," recalls Biller. "We got into the details of the story, and we started to feel like maybe we'd be cheating the audience, who've been waiting and waiting and waiting for this big moment. Maybe we can construct a story where we keep them guessing. It looks like they are going to get home; it looks like they are not. Could we have our cake and eat it too, which is something that Captain Janeway says to the Admiral? Could we deal a crippling blow to the Borg and still get home? I think you wanted that moment, the cheer when they finally make it through. So we ultimately decided that we would get them home."
In the end, Biller couldn't be happier with the story they concocted.
"Ultimately, we couldn't satisfy everybody," he says. "We just had to come up with a story we thought was compelling. What I really liked about it was that it had important storylines for every single one of the characters, although it was clearly a Janeway story. I thought Kate was great in it, playing both roles."
Of course, after the episode aired, fans debated the effect of Janeway's time travel. What happened to the other timeline? What about the future technology the Admiral brought to the past?
"Fortunately I only had to write the two hour finale," laughs Biller. "I didn't have to write a whole other season. Clearly if the series were to continue, or if there were something done later with Voyager, yes, they arrived home with technology from the future. Who knows what happens after that?"
The fact that the next TREK series, ENTERPRISE, takes place before the original series meant that Biller knew the consequences from the VOYAGER finale would probably not be explored anytime soon.
"The one sense in which we were aware of the new series, was simply that that stuff probably wasn't going to get addressed any time soon in the world of STAR TREK," says Biller. "These guys were going to go back and do a series about the time before."
As of now, there are no immediate plans for a VOYAGER incarnation in the future (i.e. feature film).[IMG5R]
"I haven't been asked to do anything else with the VOYAGER crew," says Biller. "I don't think that there are any specific plans. I certainly think it would be a mistake to assume that you will never see those characters again, because certainly STAR TREK is a valuable franchise for Paramount. They may decide at some point that they want to make a movie with them, or they want to do a television film with them. One or more of those characters appear in some other STAR TREK entity. But I can tell you that at this point, no work has been done on any of that."
However, the rumor of a VOYAGER cast member making a cameo in the next TREK feature film has been floating around the Internet.
As for Biller, the executive producer is unsure whether he will continue his involvement with future TREK series'.
"I don't know for sure whether I will be involved in the new series," he says. "There have been some discussions about that on both sides. I have been offered a couple of different development deals at different studios, to develop new shows. I am trying to figure out what I want to do."
Biller spent seven years on VOYAGER as a writer, producer, executive producer and also director of two episodes. He wrote and produced THE LAST MAN ON PLANET EARTH for UPN in 1999. Keep an eye out for him in future genre television.