Star Trek | looking back at every series finale

Star Trek finale
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From 1969 to (almost) the present, here’s a look back at every Star Trek finale to date. It’s fair to say the quality has varied over the years…

After seven years – making it the longest-running Star Trek series on television – Star Trek: Discovery came to a (relatively inauspicious) conclusion with ‘Life, Itself’. The episode therefore now enters a small coterie of stories – that of the Star Trek series finale.

Some of the examples below were born naturally from a lengthy series run. Others emerged as the climactic element of seasons’ worth of storytelling. Still others are sudden or bizarre aberrations that resulted from an unexpected cancellation. What bracket ‘Life, Itself’ fits under, you can be the judge. What’s apparent with all of these episodes is how varied they are, and how broad the tapestry of Star Trek really is.

Let’s take a look back:

‘Turnabout Intruder‘ (The Original Series – Season 3, episode 24, 1969)

Credit: Paramount/CBS.

Television in the 1960s didn’t always provide conventional conclusions to ongoing series. The Prisoner gave us a truly head-scratching denouement in ‘Fall Out’. The Fugitive wrapped up Dr Richard Kimble’s long search for justice quickly in ‘The Judgment’. For Star Trek, we ended up with a fairly standard body-swap episode that could have emerged anywhere in the series run.

‘Turnabout Intruder’ appropriately focused on Captain James T Kirk (William Shatner) as he encounters a crazed ex-lover (one of many), Dr Janice Lester (Sandra Smith), who uses an alien machine to forcibly swap their consciousnesses.

Kirk, in Janice’s body, desperately tries to convince Spock (Leonard Nimoy) of the gambit; Janice, in Kirk’s body, prepares to conduct a tribunal with the purpose of deadly revenge against the man who wronged her.

By rights, The Original Series should have ended with a ‘Balance of Terror’, the Enterprise facing a deadly foe in a submarine battle, or a ‘Space Seed’, squaring off against a powerful supervillain. Instead, ‘Turnabout Intruder’ is no ending at all, just another average bit of silliness in a third season full of throwaway, often poor episodes compared to the previous two years. 

The litany of cinematic adventures to come meant that this thankfully wasn’t the last live-action appearance from the original cast. Had this been our final look at Kirk, Spock and the Enterprise, we might never have been delivered the far better series finales to come.

‘All Good Things…’ (The Next Generation – Season 7, Episodes 25/26, 1994)

Though never quite as iconic as the 1960s series, The Next Generation was the first Star Trek series to consistently demonstrate successful ratings and longevity, running for seven seasons that became standard for the spin-off series Deep Space Nine and Voyager to come.

TNG evolved across those seven seasons, as Captain Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) grew from stolid martinet into a genial and ambassadorial commander. ‘All Good Things…’ was designed to display Picard’s growth as a character, showing him and the Enterprise crew at the beginning of the first season as they investigate a strange anomaly that has appeared in three separate timeframes.

The episode effectively cross cuts between three different Picards – the martinet, the patrician, and the dying old grump who hauls his old crew out of mothballs (which sequel series Picard would later do for real) – as meddling superbeing Q (John de Lancie) provides the tether, continuing his ‘test’ of humanity, via Picard, established as early as the series’ pilot episode.

Although not the most epic and thrilling conclusion (that’s reserved for the next series), ‘All Good Things…’ is arguably the most poignant and well-written Star Trek finale, serving both as the perfect wrap-up for the series and launch pad for The Next Generation crew’s movie adventures.

‘What You Leave Behind’ (Deep Space Nine – Season 7, Episode 25, 1999)

Credit: Paramount/CBS.

Never as popular as The Next Generation, Deep Space Nine remains the boldest Star Trek series, moving from traditional spin-off into a mythological corner of the universe. In the last four seasons, especially, it tells a grand story about war, religion and destiny.

It all comes to a head in ‘What You Leave Behind’, the feature-length culmination of the first deliberately serialised run of episodic television in Star Trek history. The narrative warranted it – not just the climax of the multi-season Dominion War arc, that became a huge Holocaust allegory with the occupation of former conquerors Cardassia, but resolving the Judeo-Christian conflict between Captain Benjamin Sisko, standing in for Christ (Avery Brooks), and Gul Dukat, an analogue for the Devil (Marc Alaimo).

Around this, a plethora of character beats unfold as Deep Space Nine works to resolve the storylines of not just the core but a sizeable amount of the supporting cast. The ending both satisfactorily concludes many character and story arcs while leaving some, especially the mystical fate of Sisko, open ended enough for many a non-canonical novel to continue the story.

Deep Space Nine might never have graduated to the big screen as The Next Generation did, but ‘What You Leave Behind’ is about as epic as any Star Trek finale could get.

‘Endgame’ (Voyager – Season 7, Episode 24)

Credit: Paramount/CBS.

The first somewhat controversial Star Trek finale, though not necessarily the worst. Voyager was the second spin-off series from The Next Generation, and revolved around the crew of the titular ship lost 70,000 light years from home. 

Their seven-year quest to make it back to Earth, led by the first female Captain of a series, Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), was mostly a reprise of The Next Generation, often watered down, with the journey ever present in the background. The jury’s out on whether it’s a wasted opportunity or the most comforting, easy to watch Star Trek show yet made.

‘Endgame’ only had two choices for its finale, though – get them home or, Dr Sam Beckett in Quantum Leap-style, never have them find a way back. The latter was never likely to be an option but ‘Endgame’ tries to echo ‘All Good Things…’ with an alternate future and an aged Admiral Janeway travelling back decades to haul Voyager from a drawn-out fate, filled with loss, battling the sinister Borg Queen (Alice Krige) for (not quite) the last time in doing so.

I’ve always liked ‘Endgame’. It’s complete pulp, built on a house of cards, and utterly robs us of a denouement befitting seven years of investment, but it’s often really good fun. And it’s better than ‘Turnabout Intruder’.

‘These Are the Voyages…’ (Enterprise – Season 4, Episode 22, 2005)

Credit: Paramount/CBS.

Onto a finale which is, believe it or not, worse than ‘Turnabout Intruder’. Yes, we’re talking the truly baffling ‘These Are the Voyages…’, brainchild chiefly of Rick Berman, the scion of TV Star Trek since the early 1990s who passed over the baton with the worst Star Trek finale ever.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this. Enterprise was cancelled after a rebooted fourth year filled with episodes that sketched in gaps from Star Trek’s ‘future history’, with plans to build toward a Romulan war and the founding of the United Federation of Planets, in which Captain Jonathan Archer (Scott Bakula) and the crew of the first Enterprise – this being a prequel set a century before the 1960s show – would be central.

Why, then, Berman and co-writer Brannon Braga chose to bring back The Next Generation’s Commander Riker (Jonathan Frakes) and Counselor Troi (Marina Sirtis) and make the story about them during the events of a relatively minor TNG season seven episode, using the fate of Archer and his crew in holographic projections, is anyone’s guess. They framed it as a ‘love letter’ to the previous 15-plus years of Star Trek. It ended up being the nail in the coffin. For a while at least.

Though Enterprise was far from perfect, it deserved a better swansong than this. One that didn’t short-change the main cast of a series which audiences had followed for four seasons.

‘The Last Generation’ (Picard – Season 3, Episode 10, 2023)

Credit: Paramount/CBS.

It took 18 years, almost the span of the entire 1980s/1990s era of Star Trek, before we saw another Star Trek finale in Picard, the much anticipated series that revived Patrick Stewart’s legendary Captain – now a grumpy and retired Admiral not too dissimilar to the one we saw in the ‘All Good Things…’ future.

Over three shorter seasons, Picard moves from recalcitrant old rebel back toward noble leader of a crew in the early 25th century, first made up of new characters such as eccentric former aide Raffi Musiker (Michelle Hurd) and latterly an increasingly stocked assortment of Next Generation players, until the final season goes for broke and brings everyone (and the kitchen sink) back for a generation’s final journey – again.

The whole endeavour is designed to evoke the middle-aged romps we saw Kirk and his crew undertake during the 1980s, except here played for one long serialised story in which Picard has to literally haul the original Enterprise-D out of a museum to save the universe from his nemesis – the Borg Queen (Alice Krige again). Climax ‘The Last Generation’ is, inevitably, one long nostalgia fest.

Fans loved it but I was relatively lukewarm on Picard as a whole, which erratically never lived up to its promise. Much like the show itself, it had a finale with both great and deeply frustrating moments. It was no ‘These Are the Voyages…’ but equally no ‘All Good Things…’, much as it really wants to be.

The future…

Star Trek Lower Decks
Star Trek Lower Decks. Credit: Paramount/CBS.

There will be new entrants to this pantheon over the next couple of years. Animated series Lower Decks goes first when it wraps up later this year following five seasons, with the early cancelled Prodigy still in limbo over unreleased episodes. Strange New Worlds, with Discovery now over, arguably stands as Star Trek’s current flagship, but if Paramount sticks to five seasons (or five year missions) for future Star Trek shows, it’s already heading for its twilight years.

Whether these finales will stand the test of time remains to be seen. There’s little doubt, however, that while Star Trek has given us some terrific concluding episodes, its most satisfying stories take place during the journey rather than at its end.

You can find A J. on social media, including links to his podcasting and books, via here.

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