the story: Tom Paris tries to make sense of a sequence of events that ultimately led to losing rank and being placed in the brig.
what it's all about: There are two strands of the episode worth talking about. The first I'll just get out of the way. Like Next Generation's clunky "Force of Nature," "Thirty Days" is an episode about climate change. In that sense, it remains relevant to any fan, casual or otherwise, seeking to be reminded that this is a franchise that is based on social resonance.
Okay, putting that aside, because for all that it's really much better understood as the Tom Paris spotlight it ultimately is. Paris was one of the many (actually, it was pretty much the whole crew) characters fans never really understood. I don't know, I guess they thought he should've been more like Han Solo, because clearly he was based on the character Robert Duncan McNeill had played in Next Generation's "The First Duty," a Starfleet washout who made a horrible decision that seemingly cost him his future. "Thirty Days" is a chance to revisit that template, as it's all about Paris seemingly making the same mistake all over again. This time, it's deliberately in the service of a mistake the viewing audience will no doubt willingly get behind, a Prime Directive dilemma where interfering unquestionably benefits the situation, regardless of whether or not it seems right by Janeway's standards.
But obviously, it gets him in trouble again anyway. All the progress Paris has made since the pilot ("Caretaker") seems washed away in an instant. He's demoted to ensign and locked up; the later last the eponymous length, while the former lasts a little longer (he and Tuvok are the only ones to receive promotions in Voyager's seven seasons, although for Paris it's reclaiming his lost rank, about a season and a half later).
So he spends the episode composing a letter to his dad, Admiral Paris. In a lot of ways, that's the guy responsible for all his troubles, an impossible standard Paris again and again finds himself failing to follow. But is he really? Would Admiral Paris have been as successful in the Voyager scenario? Would he have intervened on the behalf of a biosphere like the ocean planet, armed with clear knowledge of what to do? In essence, Tom Paris is Jim Kirk if things didn't always work out for him. Clearly, few enough Starfleet officers are cut out to be Kirk. Paris is one of them. Here's the episode that helps spell it all out.
This is also the last time we see Admiral Paris from his son's perspective. As of "Pathfinder" next season (along with a casting change), we'll finally hear from the man himself.
- franchise - A message episode in the classic tradition.
- series - Makes sense of a main character.
- character - That being Tom Paris.
- essential - One of the deepest cut character studies of the whole Star Trek canon.
Warren Munson (Admiral Paris)