Star Trek Made A Fan-Favorite Character Suddenly Awful

By Chris Snellgrove | Updated

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If you regularly re-watch Star Trek: Voyager (it’s not just us, right?), you start to notice some strange things, especially in the early episodes. For example, “Ex Post Facto” paints Tom Paris as a womanizing creep, someone who sleeps with a married woman and is never really redeemed. We always wondered what was going on there, but the explanation is simple: Paris hadn’t been cast when this episode was written, so he was written to be a womanizing archetype instead of the every-man wife guy that actor Robert Duncan McNeill eventually transformed the character into.

Examining Ex Post Facto

Star Trek: Voyager Tom Paris

Before we unravel this weird Star Trek thread, we’re going to do a quick refresher on the episode in question. “Ex Post Facto” is about Tom Paris being falsely convicted of murder on an alien planet, and his weird sci-fi punishment is that he has to keep reliving the victim’s final moments. An investigation by the Vulcan Tuvok helps to clear Paris of crime but does reveal some less-than-savory things about the young pilot, including that he really did have an affair with the wife of the deceased.

A Change In Characterization

Star Trek: Voyager Tom Paris

The reason why this reveal is so shocking in retrospect is that Tom Paris really begins to grow in Voyager’s second season. He turns into a kind of wisecracking every-man figure, and his eventual marriage to B’Elanna Torres helps to sand the rough edges off the both of them. But his characterization is far rougher in season 1, and it was especially bizarre in “Ex-Post Facto” because the episode was written before the affable Robert Duncan McNeill was cast in the role.

Obviously, the personality and performance of the show’s actors influence how the writers handle scripts. It was easier to write for Tom Paris once everyone had seen a few performances from McNeill, but when this episode was written, all the writers had to go on was the original concept for the character. As described in the book A Vision of the Future – Star Trek: Voyager, Paris was conceived of in the vein of “Kirk and Riker–both notorious womanizers.”

From Womanizer To Family Man

Star Trek: Voyager Tom Paris

That’s why early episodes had cringe-worthy moments like Tom Paris explaining to Harry Kim how to be a ladies’ man and acting like a sleazy creep whenever he encountered a pretty alien. According to the book, however, the casting of Robert Duncan McNeill for the role changed all of that. Because the actor “is a happily married man, with children he adores,” the writers stopped treating his character as a womanizer.

A Flawed Character

Star Trek: Voyager Tom Paris

Incidentally, this characterization of Tom Paris caused a bitter argument between then-showrunner Michael Piller and future showrunner Jeri Taylor. She said Paris having an affair with a married woman was “very unattractive posturing,” a character development she “was really fed up with” because it was “very one-dimensional.”

Piller knew she thought they had “assassinated” the character, but he saw the young officer’s indiscretion as “a character flaw” that “a lot of men can appreciate” because Paris didn’t simply fall “victim to that flaw–but rose above it to achieve.”

Better Writing Improved The Character

Star Trek: Voyager Tom Paris

In our opinion, this is one of the few cases where the late, great Michael Piller got it wrong. Given how great Tom Paris would become, an episode where he becomes a murder suspect due to his inability to stop hitting on everything that moves was character assassination. Fortunately, better writing and marriage to B’Elanna helped make Paris into a three-dimensional character, one more in line with the values of the talented actor bringing this Voyager character to life.