Tom Paris; or, A Small Defense In Favour Of Nicholas Locarno

Guest post! Guest post! Aaltomies has some PC troubles so you know that’s a perfect moment for me to start yelling about Star Trek. I’m taking a small break from Enterprise this time around, but I still hope you’ll enjoy it in some capacity.

Maybe this topic has been discussed to death, I don’t know. Maybe I just felt like getting this off my chest. There are many things that can be said about Star Trek Voyager and I think it started off very promising. Sadly, they squandered their potential.

Voyager start off with the Maquis crew and we very quickly get introduced to them in their old ship, before being transported away. There we have the plot for the first part of the episode: Where did they go? And that’s where Voyager comes in, they are tasked to find them and bring them back. Added to that is the fact that a Starfleet security officer is still on board (and undercover), so it would be pretty cool if he could be retrieved as well.

The region the ship is lost in is known as the Badlands, an area of space that has been frequently mentioned in Deep Space Nine. An unstable area of space, lots of space tornadoes, not safe to fly in, you get the gist. So how does Starfleet get in there? By using an ex-Maquis pilot – enter Tom Paris played by Robert Duncan McNeill.

Just describing him as a cocky pilot is doing him a disservice. As the son of a distinguished Starfleet admiral he has always felt the pressure of living up to his fathers’ reputation, which wasn’t easy. Growing up the distance between the two grew larger and larger, turning Tom into a bit of a rebel. After finishing Starfleet academy he got involved into a cover-up incident in which three fellow officers died. Despite telling the truth later, he got dishonorably discharged from Starfleet and became a bit of a drifter – just out there looking for trouble. And trouble he found in the form of the Maquis which he joined as a mercenary, but only two weeks after joining on his first mission he got caught and thrown in a penal colony for treason. One cannot really blame the guy for being pretty cynical and sarcastic at this point.

His reputation is also quite well known at this point, with many an officer not wanting anything to do with him. Still, he gets recruited since he’s the best shot Starfleet has to find the missing ship. And that’s when you throw Harry Kim into the mix. A young, naive young man just fresh out of the academy. Even after being told what happened with Paris, he still gave him a chance and actually asked why he did what he did, starting a long-running friendship on the series

Now, Tom could have been one of the most interesting Voyager characters. You have the two allegiances and with mutiny being a real possibility he could join either party (if they would be willing to accept him). …but nothing of the sort happened, short of a small a what-if holodeck episode, so he just assimilated into the Starfleet crew without a hitch. Like everyone did. A major plot point (the cooperation of the two crews) got resolved way, way too early and should’ve been a (multi) season long struggle.

But let’s rewind a bit, how did the character of Tom Paris came to be on the show? For that we have to jump back to The Next Generation with the episode The First Duty (also known as the best Wesley episode). In this episode we see another character played by McNeill called Nicholas Locarno, which can easily be described as a proto-Paris in his student years. He’s in an elite-student group along with the beloved character Wesley Crusher called Nova Squadron.

Being on the verge of graduation, Locarno wanted to go out with a bang by performing a dangerous five man shuttle maneuver. Sadly, one of them made a mistake and paid for that with his life. Locarno convinced the rest of the squadron to lie about the whole ordeal and started the cover-up, but it was found out by captain Jean-Luc Picard, who told Wesley Crusher to either come forward, or he would. With this being Star Trek, of course he did. Over the course of the episode Locarno becomes increasingly more hostile and panicked to truly become the villain of the episode, but in the end he takes full responsibility and becomes the only one that’s expelled from the academy while the other members would be held back one year.

So now we can compare these two characters. Their backgrounds are very alike, it’s the same actor, what happened here? One reason, given by the producer at the time (Jeri Taylor), stated:

We had liked the idea of a character like Tom Paris ever since we had done “First Duty” and had Lecarno [sic.]. We didn’t make Lecarno the con officer, because he was somewhat darker and more damaged. We felt Lecarno couldn’t be redeemed and we wanted to be on a journey of redemption.

And from the actor McNeill himself:

Locarno seemed like a nice guy, but deep down he was a bad guy. Tom Paris is an opposite premise in a way. Deep down he’s a good guy. He’s just made some mistakes.

I disagree with these statements, the redemption. The biggest difference between the two characters is that Locarno had his history shown on the older episodes – you saw his reactions and you knew his motives. With Paris however, the actual details of the incident have always been kept vague. There could have been many other circumstances to Paris’ incident, but it’s never told. Was this just to minimize the risk of a ‘slightly darker’ character like Locarno? In addition to that, why is Locarno irredeemable? They both created an incident, covered it up, and came forward in the end. The only difference being in Locarno’s case is that it was his teammate that did it. But let’s also take a step back here, Locarno was younger than Paris as well. You make stupid mistakes when you’re young. Does that mean he can never be redeemed? Doesn’t that give an even bigger road to redemption?

The writers on the other hand have a very different view on it and they too see no reason why Locarno couldn’t have come back. Both their histories were serious, why could one be redeemed? One possible reason was given (in a slightly joking manner), that the Voyager crew just didn’t want to pay royalties to them and that he also wouldn’t have minded cashing in said hypothetical cheques.

Finally I’d like to finish with a what-if. And don’t worry, I won’t go as far in-depth as those 36-part long Dragon Ball Z videos that cover What if Raditz turned good? or the like. What if Locarno got on that ship instead of Paris? I don’t think it’s outlandish to think that Locarno would’ve ended up with the Maquis as well and he has about the same piloting skills as Paris. With the character being played the same, the friendship with Harry would’ve still started. We would just have a character whose history was a little more defined, instead of a vague story.

Thanks to Memory Alpha for refreshing my memory.