In which only the prison in Tom’s heart is abolished
I mostly like “Thirty Days”. For the first time in his life, Tom Paris finds a cause. There’s some cool science fiction stuff. (A SPACE OCEAN!) There’s a climate change metaphor which, like “Night”, was extremely on the nose in 1998 but feels prescient now.
It’s just. There’s one great big problem. And it’s called the carceral state.
First of all, 30 days in solitary confinement is a human rights violation
(“Why, the very name is racist.” /Azetbur)
This isn’t just me being a woke 2023 “abolish the police” snowflake. As soon as the episode aired, reviewers and fans complained that this really was a cruel and unusual punishment, and that the writers did not appear to understand the impact which 30 days in solitary would have on a person. Not to mention the total lack of privacy (or toilet facilities) in the brig.
Suffice to say, this aspect hasn’t improved with age.
(I cannot tell you how unsurprised I was to realise the script was by Kenneth Biller, who has a record for writing accidental cruelty. But I was surprised to learn that the whole framing device was a relatively last-minute addition — it feels absolutely integral to the story. This might explain the problem, though, if the contingencies of deadlines meant no one had a chance to go, “Uh, hey, this is actually an absurd punishment.”)
Lon Suder killed a man, and he got confined to quarters with daily Tuvok hangs. Tom commits a bit of light ecoterrorism and spends 30 days in the hole.
Ecoterrorism brings couples together
I recently did an Avatar: the Last Airbender rewatch, and realised that I actually ship Kataang instead of just thinking, “Oh, that’s nice.” And their first ‘date’ was blowing up a refinery.
What I’m saying is, yes it’s nice that B’Elanna supports Tom in having a cause, but the couple that commits ecoterrorism together, stays together. They could have been brig buddies!
It doesn’t pay to think too hard about the space sea, because you start wondering how it has an atmosphere. (I mean, it has to have an atmosphere, otherwise it would be a frozen ball of ice! And it has waves!)
The IMPORTANT thing is that it is roughly the same age as the sphere in season 2 of Discovery. I’m doing a TOS rewatch right now, and one of the things that jumps out at me — aside from the first two eps being about how you can’t trust women or young people, and also Janice Rand deserved better — is that the universe is full of lost ancient civilisations. It’s strange and sad and makes the galaxy feel very big and cold, and I love it.
Also, there’s a climate change metaphor
I mean, I am shocked, SHOCKED, that a government would continue mining operations even knowing that they are destroying their homeworld. It’s almost too on the nose, except it was made 25 years ago.
Captain Proton is also here
“Ohhhh,” I said halfway through the episode, “this episode is about contrasting Tom’s simplistic, literally black and white hero fantasies with the more complicated reality of fighting for a cause and wearing the consequences!”
This was not in any way subtle, it’s just that I’m sometimes a bit slow.
Not only did we finally meet the Delaney sisters in this ep, but we got to see that Tom really does want to play at being a superhero, while Harry is mainly here for the kinky fantasy.
He’s also here for the less aggressive twin, which has been a consistent part of his characterisation for the whole series. Naturally, it’s the other twin who’s into him. Tom makes a big deal of it, but I’m like, you know what? Sometimes that’s how life goes.
(Given that this is a Biller script, we’re lucky that Tom didn’t go further in the teasing.)
Weirdly, B’Elanna is NOT there when Tom is in prison
It’s that Biller problem again: he likes to spend a lot of time on Tom and Harry’s friendship, but the Paris/Torres relationship feels like an afterthought in his hands.
I’m starting to think maybe I just don’t like Kenneth Biller.
- Janeway is INCREDIBLY COLD in the final act of this episode, and I’m into it
- her sense of betrayal when Tom goes from HER BESTEST BOY to rebel with a cause is palpable — this isn’t exactly a meaty episode for Janeway, but Kate Mulgrew gives it all she’s got
- it takes a really long time for Tom’s beard to start coming in
- I was going to call this a mistake, then I decided to treat “people with whiskers can slow their growth” as part of the worldbuilding
- Chakotay is … here — barely
- actually, an excessively harsh sentence for a climate change protest is also a bit on the nose
This episode is frustrating and flawed, but also not really skippable. Sooooooooooo three and a half mysterious space oceans out of five.