Nutshell: A good, albeit not earth-shattering, character study of Tom Paris.
Just what exactly did happen between Tom and his father? How did their relationship become such a mess? Now, more than ever, I'm wondering what that letter sent from Tom's father back in "Message in a Bottle" actually said.
In the opening moments of "Thirty Days," Janeway demotes Paris to ensign and sentences him to 30 days in the brig. Why? Well, that's what the episode is all about.
But more so, this episode is about Tom Paris and what goes on inside that head of his. Unlike last season's dismal "Vis A Vis," this Paris outing feels more like something consistent with character growth rather than an aimless rehash of old Paris themes.
Granted, there's a lot here that is classic Paris fare—a guy looking for a cause, butting heads with authority, letting his feelings take control of the situation, and so forth. What's refreshing about "Thirty Days" is that the story uses the Paris of yesterday and melds him with the Paris of today, resulting in a Paris that seems plausible; he's a man looking for meaning while also looking at his past as a source of both wisdom and warning.
The story takes the right approach in being told in flashback, as Tom sits in the brig and records a letter to his father. ("Hey, Dad, I'm in jail again," he begins.) As the retelling unfolds, we see how Tom finds himself taken in by a cause in a way that probably surprised even him.
It all begins with a big ocean floating in space, which turns out to be a pretty neat concept. Bigger than the Atlantic and Pacific combined, it's essentially a giant sphere of water orbiting a star. It's maintained by technology at its center, which holds it together in a single mass. The problem: This technology is starting to fail, causing the ocean to disperse into space. The ocean's settlers, called the Moneans, ask Voyager for help in finding how to repair the damage before the ocean becomes seriously endangered.
Tom jumps at the opportunity. He has always been fascinated by the water (a newly conjured character trait, admittedly, but one that seems appropriate for him nonetheless), even though his father made sure he followed the Starfleet path.
Well, as luck would have it, with a few modifications the Delta Flyer also makes a good submarine. So Paris volunteers to lead a mission—along with Harry, Seven, and a Monean named Riga (Willie Garson)—to dive to the depths of which the Moneans have been unable to reach with their underwater crafts. The away team hopes to study the technology that keeps the ocean intact and come up with a solution to the problem.
Selling a setting always helps; as such, "Thirty Days" benefits from some nifty underwater special effects. The Moneans have submerged cities and power facilities, which have been well realized by the series' visual effects teams. The idea of an "all-ocean planet" is a fairly good one; even if the people we meet in the Delta Quadrant are still lacking in the awe category, at least the places they live cash in on the aspects of some "cool, different stuff." I can live with that.
After a brief survey adventure (including the brief but neat visuals of an underwater creature attack), the submarine team returns to Voyager with bad news—the Moneans' own use of technology is what is causing the ocean's field to dissipate. If something serious isn't done to correct the problem, the ocean will be gone within a matter of a few years.
The ecological implications here are pretty obvious, but sensible. While I generally don't respond much to messages like "ruining oceans with unsafe technology is bad," I do appreciate the notion of a bureaucracy that refuses to see the big picture; it strikes me as realistic. Bureaucracies tend to ignore the grim, hard facts if an expensive course of action needs to be taken as a result of facing that grim truth. As the Monean official (Benjamin Livingston) so adeptly puts it, his governments' first course of action upon hearing such news is likely to be "calling for my head!"
Bureaucracy, alas, is what appears to be winning out here, and Riga is convinced that the Monean government will probably do nothing until the problem is much more immediate and apparent—at which point, of course, it would be far too late to do anything to salvage the situation. Janeway is thanked by the Monean administrators and handed her proverbial hat.
Paris is furious. So he and Riga, against Janeway's direct orders, steal the Delta Flyer in an attempt to sabotage one of the underwater generators, forcing the Moneans to face the situation immediately. The action surrounding these events is nicely executed. It's not every day, in other words, that one of Janeway's bridge officers embarks on a rogue mission that forces her to open fire on him.
While the plot isn't something wondrous, I did think it worked well on the level of "simple and sensible." It's a series of events where the decisions behind those events become the real meat. For example, what about the implications of these overt acts of treachery? Janeway nearly had to destroy the Delta Flyer to stop Tom from interfering in a government that ordered no further interference. How can Janeway respond to something like this? What do you do when one of your typically good officers suddenly does something so severe that can't be ignored? Janeway's solution seems like the only possible one under the circumstances. (Of course, seeing that such disobedience is possible, one can't help but wonder if the crew is generally just a little too perfect given Voyager's isolation, but that's a whole other story, and I'm not going to start in.) In any case, it's nice to see Tom's actions have actual consequences (rather than stupid ones, as was the case with the "Paris becomes a rebel arc" that took place back in season two and culminated with his spy mission in "Investigations").
Most important about Tom taking matters into his own hands are the reasons behind it—and I for one thought his speech at the end was effective. Unlike in his past days with the Maquis, his actions in "Thirty Days" were for a cause he believed in and was passionate about. In short, he disobeyed orders for a reason. That to me is somewhat interesting, because it reveals a "real" Tom Paris. Not one who is watered down to brainless compliance, resulting in the token Lt. One-Liner we've often seen. Nor is it the pretense of brainless rebellion like in the "Investigations" arc or in "Vis A Vis." This is focused and motivated.
The flashback narrative makes a lot of his introspection possible. Since we know that Paris is to be demoted and thrown in the brig, the story becomes a sort of documentary of his downfall and what he thinks in looking back at it all. It's pretty clear that if he could do it all over again he wouldn't change anything—and that a demotion and 30 days of jail is a small price to pay for something he believes was the right thing to do.
I also enjoyed the little character details. Somehow, although we're not sure exactly how, Tom's problems all come back to his relationship with his father—a relationship where neither truly understood the other. Harry pressing the matter of Tom's letter provides a good voice for a friendly but forceful kick in the rear.
And to shift gears—at last, after nearly four years of throwaway lines, the much-talked-about Delaney sisters, Megan (Heidi Kramer) and Jenny (Alissa Kramer), finally make an appearance. Hopefully it won't be their last. I'd hate to think their limited screen time in this episode constitutes the extent of their screen presence. It would seem like an awful waste of such a long-standing Voyager gag. Regardless, their participation in the Captain Proton holonovel was fun.
I think that about covers it. "Thirty Days" is not a breakout installment of Voyager, but it's a good, fairly understated character outing that gets the job done through the use of personalities and choices. It's nice to see the show take some risks by somewhat regressing Paris in the eyes of Janeway and others in the crew. Let's just hope some of this sticks for a while.
Next week: Janeway is "sleeping with the enemy" on an all-new Voyager. Ack.