Friday, September 16, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"Thirty Days"

The character studies certainly have been kicked up a notch this season. “Thiry days” is a Tom-centric episode. It is the best one yet for the character, as it does not involve him being accused of murder, turning into a salamander, or being obsessed with restoring an old Camero. It also brings back the old Tom--the screw up who cannot please his father no matter what he does, and fills the void by engaging in stupid, idealistic adventures. Tom has been “fixed’ a little too well by his time on Voyager. He is a crack pilot, a field medic, an engineer who can design an ubershuttlecraft from scratch, and an author Why did this guy ever have any troubles with screwing up in the past?

Voyager encounters what appears to be an ocean in space. Upon investigation, they are attacked by the Moneans. It is a misunderstanding that gets cleared up quickly. In fact, the Moneans have a problem they would like the crew to tackle for them. The containment field holding the ocean in place is degrading. They do not have any submarines capable of diving deep enough to investigate the center of the ocean, but the Delta flyer can get there easily. Tom, who always wanted to be a sailor, but was forced into Starfleet by his overbearing father, jumps at the chance.

The expedition discovers, after a brief encounter with a very cool looking giant, CGI eel, the Moneans own technology is causing the degradation. If they do not change their ways, the ocean will disappear in five years. Their chief diplomat promises some committee on science within their government will look into the matter. Tom knows nothing is going to come of that. It will be tied up in bureaucracy until it is too late. He decides to take matters into his own hands after a brief pep talk from Torres.

Tom and a sympathetic Monean named Rigar steal the Delta Flyer and plan to destroy the underwater oxygen generators. By doing so, they will have to be rebuilt, and the likelihood is they will be rebuilt with preserving the ocean in mind. Voyager is forced to stop the act of ecoterrorism. Tom is brought back to the ship, demoted to ensign, and sentenced to thirty days solitary confinement in the brig.

I am as shocked as you are there is no preachy environmental lesson to be found. Doubly so because of the running theme of environmental damage the Malon are causing that will play out for the rest of the season. The fact is, the Moneans are willfully killing themselves because they do not feel like spending the resources to prevent further damage, but Janeway--surprise, surprise--invokes the Prime Directive and says if they want to kill themselves, it is their choice. Just to make things a little grayer, the Moneans are revealed to be nomadic squatters. they found this ocean in space centuries ago and moved in. they do not know who built it or why, but it is assumed it was intended to preserve some planet’s ocean from an ecological disaster. But all that is cast aside for a character study.

A character study with some oddities. For one, tom has never expressed any connection to the nautical life before, nor has he ever been an environmentalist. Sure, he has been looking for anything with which to feel emotionally connected, but his newfound concern for the ocean is out of the blue. For another, Janeway is back to her crazy self. She has violated the prime directive a heck of a lot worse than Tom does here, and while I understand she cannot let the matter go without a response, what a response! She dresses tom down, rips a pip off his collar when demoting him, and sentences him to solitary all after she tells him she would have blown up the Delta flyer to stop him. The episode, told in flashback, reveals Janeway forbade torres from visiting at all, while allowing only Neelix to drop off bread and water and medical visits in an emergency. Compare this to when Tuvok violated the prime directive in “Prime Factors” and received a slap on the wrist. Janeway got up on the wrong side of the bad this morning, no? The biggest flaw is Tom is motivated to action by his poor relationship with his father, yet whatever happened between them is still not revealed. A little clarification might have elevated “Thirty Days” beyond pleasantly intriguing. No such luck.

“Thirty Days” is a good episode, however. One cannot help but notice untapped potential in exploring exactly why tom and his father are estranged. Whatever the case, it is enough to compel tom to do some incredibly dumb things in order to give his life meaning. Some elaboration on just how damaged he is is in order. But I will be a lot more forgiving about the omission than usual because I did not have to sit through a hour’s worth of moralizing over how we are destroying the oceans with our careless ways. That is a relief.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

I have to earn my Parrot Head stripes:

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