Star Trek: Voyager
Air date: 9/18/1996
Teleplay by Kenneth Biller
Story by Clayvon L. Harris
Directed by Les Landau
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"There's a massive struggle going on inside you—a battle to the death—between you and the clamp. You have to use whatever force you can to defeat it." — Zio
Nutshell: Ambitious, with some genuinely good moments. I still get the feeling the show could've been even more than it was, as it didn't have the dramatic payoff it really deserved.
Kim and Paris are wrongfully convicted of a terrorist crime and are railroaded into a violent, alien penal institution. Further, the two are equipped with a mental implant called "the clamp," which heightens their aggression and violent impulses. They must survive their new environment until Janeway and the Voyager crew can use diplomacy to straighten out the situation.
Somewhere inside "The Chute," a reasonably good Voyager installment, there's an even better show trying to get out. Often, this better show emerges, but the efforts of the truly inspired scenes are at times undermined by other sequences which are wholly forgettable. But first the good news: in a number of ways, "The Chute" works very well.
Part of what this show gets right, and in a big way, is its tone. This is one of Voyager's darkest episodes on record, and there is a lot to be said for Les Landau's atmospheric direction. Visually, the scenes on the prison installation are ominous, sometimes jarring, and intensely conceptualized—a mood created with some top-notch lighting and cinematography techniques. And Jay Chattaway's score has some atypically great movements that harbor emotion (could it be the producers are relaxing their counterproductive music scoring guidelines?).
The prison has no guards or fences—it's completely walled-in except for a force field-guarded chute that allows new prisoners to be dropped into the facility and also occasionally dispenses food rations. The prison is full of violent characters who seem to have no reason for existing except to terrorize one another. The show's opening scene, in which Kim slides down the chute into the prison populace, illustrates their way of "welcoming" new inmates, as they take turns roughly shoving Kim around. (Later, when food comes sliding down the chute, a violent outbreak erupts leading to the death of at least one man.)
Paris, who arrived at the prison a few days earlier, comes to Kim's rescue, and the two find themselves at the mercy of their new environment, with only each other to count on for support. This leads to another thing the show does nicely: it makes use of the Paris/Kim friendship, something that, in most shows, doesn't have the power and meaning that it comes to have here. This time these two depend on each other to survive, and on several instances one saves the other from probable death.
When, early in the episode, Paris is stabbed in the side during a fight with another inmate, it's up to Kim to deal with the other prisoners alone while, at the same time, making sure Paris survives. And that's another big plus about "Chute"—it gives Harry Kim a story with some substance. Finally, finally, finally the writers have given this guy something worthwhile to do. His last notable vehicle was "Non Sequitur"—a show from an entire year ago with a script and performances that I unfortunately did not find at all impressive. Part of the reason "Chute" makes a good Harry Kim show is because it doesn't treat his character with such a pedestrian nature like most Voyager scripts tend to do. This show puts Harry in action, as the prison life forces him to consider options he would never have to face on his starship. This is probably the biggest role Garrett Wang has had to carry on the show yet, and he delivers, creating a Harry we've never seen before with eyes that have burning intensity. (It's also surprising how different Kim's attitude seems when his hair is messed up.) Here's hoping this isn't the last time we see Harry written as a human being rather than an automaton.
One puzzle Harry tries to figure out is an inmate named Zio (Don McManus), who eventually takes Kim and Paris under his wing. He's been imprisoned for years and has survived the mayhem because he has a unique perspective on the prison machinations. He's the only inmate who has learned the "secret" of the clamp and can control its mental effects. He writes his thoughts on scraps of paper which he has compiled into a personal manifesto. At times Harry dismisses Zio as insane (even though the clamp seems to be driving Harry himself to the limits of sanity), but it's obvious that Zio is not simply crazy. His divine understanding of the prison is something that Harry cannot begin to fathom. One very intriguing shot features Zio staring up toward the ceiling with the opening of the chute in the frame behind him; the chute looks suspiciously like a halo. This framing is decidedly intentional, and the implications are interesting. Kudos to Landau for the subtext.
Meanwhile, Harry devises an escape plan: with a piece of conduit pipe, he rewires the chute hatch and disables the force field. Only problem is, once he does it, he crawls up to find a hatch that leads to...space. So much for crawling to the surface. The revelation here is accomplished with an impressive "tracking" shot that zooms out through miles of "virtual" territory. (If you saw it then you know what I mean.)
Once Harry discovers the hatch, he realizes it may be possible to escape on a ship when one comes by to deliver rations. None of the other inmates believe him. They mock him, they sneer, they say there's no way out. This leads to perhaps the least successful scene between Harry and the other prisoners, as Harry says the obvious: "We can do it, if we work together!" A tad underwhelming in terms of drama.
Fortunately, what's not underwhelming is Zio's constant badgering of Kim to get rid of (read: kill) Paris, whose injuries and lack of food have practically reduced him to a babbling, incoherent invalid. And when Harry comes back to the shelter one day to find Tom dismantling the escape pipe device, he assaults him with such startling ferocity that the scene exhibits more energy than the last four episodes of Voyager combined. Harry's loyalty to Paris, however, wins out, and when Zio informs Harry that he will have to become a killer if he plans to survive, Harry says he'd rather die instead.
But amidst the interesting dialog, dark overtones, and impressive production, there's a significant problem here: the plot. The details of this whole situation are really, really tired, and they really should've been dropped in favor of more relevant material. Just how many times, for example, have we seen Star Trek characters sent to prison by alien governments for crimes they obviously didn't commit? Or terrorist factions who call themselves "patriots" and butt heads with the captain? Or stubborn, obnoxious governments who threaten to open fire if discussions about releasing unjustly convicted prisoners isn't immediately ceased? Or scenes in the conference room where characters discuss how to deal with these stubborn, obnoxious governments? The alien official here did not have to be written with such obvious, cliché-ridden, hostile hard-headedness for this show to work, so why was this phony progress inhibitor needlessly inserted into the story? (On an unrelated note, where exactly did Kim get that pipe he used to disable the force field?)
In fact, the entire B-story involving Janeway's mission to retrieve her officers is so painfully stale that I couldn't help but watch it with cynical disinterest. This side of the show interrupts the prison-set scenes on several occasions, and every time it feels like dead weight that's holding down the story.
Janeway's final rescue of Kim and Paris was okay (although it was awfully convenient that Harry and Tom happened to be by the chute when it happened). The scene made reasonable use of Neelix for a change (and without being annoying, too, if you can believe it), and the way his shuttle darted off after the rescue was kind of fun. Unfortunately, this action ending was quite bad in one sense: it completely displaced a possible (and what would've been much preferred) final scene involving Zio and Kim. The failure to bring closure to Zio's character and this side of the show left me feeling that the creators' whole idea of Zio was uncertain. There was no payoff to speak of, and it just did not feel finished at all—and that's a terrible shame considering the potential.
Overall, I liked "The Chute." It was a show that seemed to spew attitude and have some left to spare. The production was phenomenal, as were the director's touches. Zio was an interesting character even if not completely realized, and it was definitely nice to see Harry get a long-overdue vehicle. I only wish the story and the payoff had been as solid as the ambition was. "Chute" seemed to have high aspirations, but the plot workings just didn't seem to want to see it through. Yes, the episode was good, but it could've been so much more.
Previous episode: Flashback
Next episode: The Swarm
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43 comments on this post
Wed, Dec 9, 2009, 1:49pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 19, 2011, 8:27pm (UTC -5)
Tue, Sep 6, 2011, 10:07pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Dec 23, 2012, 1:21am (UTC -5)
After so many Trek seasons, some ideas are bound to be recycled and, when they are well used to explore important themes, I don't really mind.
What bothered me was Janeway's decision to offer a "hostage exchange". It really looks like meddling in another society's affairs, even if two of her crewmen have been wrongly accused. Knowing the swift and inaccurate justice system this government have, Janeway should have given proof (traces of the trilithium on the cargo shuttle), but not sending two young beings to something somewhat worse than a death sentence with absolutely no knowledge of the political situation.
Tue, Mar 19, 2013, 10:13pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Oct 20, 2013, 5:40pm (UTC -5)
Finally we see Wang give Kim some intensity, and he does it surprisingly well, at that! His struggle to keep sane, and to not let his aggressions get the better of him, was very well done! Until now I've found Ensign Kim (and Wangs performances) to be incredibly bland and boring, but this was something else!
Janeways way of treating the whole situation seemed to me to be rather egotistical and non-Starfleet-like. Her way of treating the two "patriots" she kidnaps (yes, kidnaps) from their ships made me think of the ever so famous Star Wars line: "You rebel scum!".
Wed, Jan 8, 2014, 5:56am (UTC -5)
Though Wang tries, his performance is just that - trying. What we learn is sad: in the future, never go to alien planets because they will throw you in jail in their wacky legal system where you will die. You can try your best to escape, but you will fail miserably so the lesson, as a certain Homer S. once said: never try.
The prison scenes dragged on for much too long, The presence of Zio is seemingly meaningless - Harry breaks his promise to "take him with them", and frankly *I* almost threw something at Harry during his ridiculous "Let's cooperate" speech. I do appreciate how Kim/Paris get together time here a bit like TNG's "Attached", but that alone doesn't save this episode.
Outside the prison our Bad Captain made things no better. Though capturing the real terrorists, she treats them no better than the jerk Ambassador treated her. Is THAT how we humans do things? My way or I kill you? What kind of lesson is that to us viewers? Sheesh! Picard would have negotiated the Crown Jewels out of that Ambassador...
I would have also accepted the "CIA" solution to this situation: when diplomacy fails and you don't want war, secretly back the terrorists to get what you want. That's the American Way, right? ;)
Sigh. I think i'll watch "Threshold" now to cheer myself up!
Fri, Mar 7, 2014, 7:30pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Aug 24, 2014, 5:29am (UTC -5)
The parts that take place onboard Voyager pretty much moved along as expected but not unreasonably so. Mostly nothing standout here but nothing bad either. Any decisions made flowed logically enough and was much better than just giving up and moving along home.
Fantastic direction, great dialogue and performances and a very interesting and well-played guest star in Zio. Like Jammer, I would liked to have known his fate. Otherwise, great job all around.
Sun, Jan 18, 2015, 5:03pm (UTC -5)
The problem with that, however, is that the clamp makes no rational sense. This civilization apparently doesn't like executing its prisoners, but at the same time feels no need for any sort of humane conditions for said prisoners. They just wanted to get rid of them and make sure they couldn't escape. And this space station works for that regard; throw the prisoners down the chute, toss supplies down every once in a while, and you're done. So what's the point of the clamp? The prisoners are out of society's hair, they can't escape, they are already in control. There is never any indication that the government comes back and takes anyone out, or does anything with the clamp.
I mean, the only explanation that makes sense is that the crazy guy is right, and the clamp really is some sort of weird government experiment. Except that there's no indication of it! How is the government collecting the data? So that explanation doesn't work either. So instead, it's just a plot device.
Which is sad, because I don't think the story needed it. Harry lived a sheltered, privileged life. He never had to tough it out for anything; he never had to experience the rougher crowd. He wasn't like Picard, hanging out in a bar playing Domjot with Nausicaans; he lived his life in a book and technical manuals and a clarinet. So, despite his Starfleet training, I could see him getting frustrated, upset, and everything else pretty quickly.
In fact, the story already provides a reasonable justification. Paris gets stabbed, and now can't protect himself. Harry has already put a target on himself as easy pickings. So now, what happens if he falls asleep? He can very easily be murdered in his sleep. Who else can he trust to watch over him? Crazy Manifesto Guy? I wouldn't trust him. So Harry stays awake all night. Every night. Or if he sleeps, its only a fitful sleep, waking at the slightest sound. Paranoia, panic, and despair begins to set in. Not because of a clamp, but because the situation he is in requires him to be alert at all times, an impossible situation. Voila, plot device solved.
About the only thing that wouldn't work is Harry beating up Paris. But honestly, I thought that scene was a bit weak anyway. We still could have had, say, one big blow to Paris and that's it. Which, given his situation, is already serious enough.
In any case, this annoying side plot of the clamp is so annoying because other than that, it's a very good episode. It's nice to see Harry actually not being a worthless robot for once, and of course Paris is always fun to watch. Setting him up initially as the big brother and then knocking him out of contention with a stab wound was clever, and set the stage for Harry to shine (or not shine, as it were). Even his painfully awkward scenes ("we have to work together") worked well because it's believable that he really is that naive. And given that the point was to put him in a hopeless situation, I thought it was clever to give him a victory (being able to climb the chute) while simply having it add to his despair. And let's face it, that was an excellent scene. I didn't see it coming the first time I saw it all those years ago, but immediately after seeing it, it all seemed so natural. And made Harry's situation all the more real.
As for the Voyager scenes, they weren't quite as well done. Janeway's awkward negotiations with the terrorists struck me as a bit wrong too, but, then again, I can't quite put my finger on what Janeway should have done (with respect to the Prime Directive). On the one hand, this is definitely a political situation she wants no part of, but there's not much she can do about it. She has criminals on board, but needs their help and also suspects that any prison for them would not be very humane. Given the constraints the Prime Directive puts on captains, it's hard to say what her position should have been. But since it wasn't the focus of the show, I'm mostly ok with it.
Wed, Aug 12, 2015, 1:38pm (UTC -5)
It's not a classic in my book though. While it's nice to give Harry some meat, I don't think Wang's acting was up to the task. For the most part it was just Harry yelling... too bad as the script set the stage for an epic performance here.
I thought Robert's performance here was much better and Don McManus was wonderful as Zio.
One thing I might have done differently as a writer. When Zio was trying to get Harry to kill Tom, and if he didn't then he was going to kill Tom, I think Harry should have taken that dagger and killed Zio to protect his shipmate and friend. Now THAT would have been a serious character moment for Harry.
I agree with Jammer though, it seemed like the Zio plot line was not finished.
Great Tom/Harry moment at the end on the ship.
"KIM: Tom, listen to me. I, I almost killed you.
PARIS: What are you saying? You're the one that kept me alive.
KIM: I was ready to hit you with the pipe. Don't you remember?
PARIS: You want to know what I remember? Someone saying, this man is my friend. Nobody touches him. I'll remember that for a long time. ..."
I seem to gain more respect for Tom as the series progresses.
Why does the chute hatch cover have glass on it? So Harry can see out into space? Think how epic it could have been for Harry to open the hatch with all the air getting sucked out of the prison.
I enjoyed the breakout.
I'll go 3 stars.
Wed, Oct 28, 2015, 12:48pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Dec 18, 2015, 6:33am (UTC -5)
But this was the 3rd season, right about the time where they eschewed continuity altogether.
Why do alien races look and act so much like humans? How much suspension of disbelief can one do on this series before it becomes obvious and painfully unoriginal? Couldn't they try to make them look different? Maybe that's why I stopped watching for so many years. Didn't feel as if there was any exploration going on so much as variations on earthbound themes set in the stars.
This race (surprisingly) doesn't out and out execute it's perpetrators. Based on their liason you'd be hard pressed to believe it. They came on like a group of intergalactic thugs. Just as bad as the criminals they left to rot in the prison. Summary judgement based on circumstantial evidence and no chance for appeal. Cloaked in a false sense of law and order. No place to vacation that's for sure. I'll stick to Risa myself.
The clamp really didn't serve a useful purpose to me. That one inmate said it was designed to keep them from potentially working as a team and actually finding a way out the prison. I'm pretty sure there was a way to pilot or control the prison. They had to get that floating prison out there somehow. Maybe the clamp's function went no further than that.
I can't rate this one even close to 3 stars mostly because we went back to business as usual for kim. No character development (or even a promotion) at all, even after this harrowing experience. He must hold the record for his time in grade as an Ensign. Not one promotion in 7 years. Tom lost his rank only to get it back in a year and a half. Not to mention he was awarded a field commission (O-3 I think) in the pilot after being in a penal colony. And throughout it all kim simply remained...an Ensign.
1-1.5 stars is where I put this one.
Tue, Jan 26, 2016, 7:56am (UTC -5)
There are definite highlights here - Kim finally snapping being one of them, the moment they find they are on a space station another - but overall there's not a lot new here. Does what it does well enough but doesn't break new ground. 2.5 stars.
Sun, May 22, 2016, 10:31am (UTC -5)
Mon, Jun 27, 2016, 5:18am (UTC -5)
Did anyone else feel signs of claustrophobia when Harry crawled up that chute? Im not sure I would have made it up there with somebody so close behind me.
Fri, Jul 29, 2016, 11:52am (UTC -5)
And the reveal to the space prison was pretty cool.
I hated this episode when I started ("not another Tom and Harry story..."), but it grew on me.
Sat, Aug 20, 2016, 4:03pm (UTC -5)
Fri, Oct 28, 2016, 8:41am (UTC -5)
Thanks "inline79" for pointing out another detail I'd missed: Harry promised Zio he'd be taken with them in exchange for his protection, but nope, they just left him to rot. I see that as a rather large oversight by the writers. If Harry was honorable (and he obviously is) then he would have at least have told Janeway of his promise.
Those things aside I did enjoy this episode, and I do enjoy most of the voyager eps. To quote Jammer "I still get the feeling the show could've been even more than it was,". Sadly most of his reviews have some variation of that quote. Even more sadly, he's usually right.
Sun, Nov 6, 2016, 6:25am (UTC -5)
Leaving him behind wasn't a betrayal. Their agreement had come to an end.
Sat, Nov 19, 2016, 7:29am (UTC -5)
Mon, Dec 5, 2016, 6:23pm (UTC -5)
Totally loved this shot. Came here to search for "Christ" on the page, was disappointed, s your comment was welcome. Now others wondering if someone else saw the Christ in this shot can find my comment. :)
Sat, Jan 21, 2017, 1:11pm (UTC -5)
Wed, May 24, 2017, 2:58pm (UTC -5)
But the episode does show a very dark, sinister side to the prison -- certainly not the kind of thing you'd see from TOS, for example. It does try to portray prison life on an alien world as raw and as realistically as it can -- may be better than any other Trek episode I've seen (and there have been many).
I didn't know what to make of the Zio character -- had he truly been able to negate the effects of the clamp (which I agree with @Skeptical's insightful comments that it is just a plot device and unnecessary) or is he truly insane with his damn manifesto.
For me, I wasn't overly impressed with Kim's acting - he did what he had to do -- he lost it on occasion, he was at his wits end trying to get the other prisoners to work together. It was OK.
Janeway's treatment of the 2 criminals was odd but also as @Skeptical said, I'm not sure what else she could have done. Nothing hugely wrong with it. The male prisoner was a wuss -- immediately giving into Janeway's threats of sending him back to the authorities. And the 14-year old looked more like a 20-something -- but that's not that important, just a random observation.
I agree with @Diamond Dave's brief assessment as well. It's a solid 2.5 stars out of 4 episode. Some gritty performances but the plot as a whole is well-trodden.
Mon, Aug 7, 2017, 12:53am (UTC -5)
I liked the episode and unlike others I had no problem with the Voyager scenes. The Ambassador was hard-headed and Janeway exhausted all the options at her disposal to talk some sense into him.
I understand why Jammer's review would not include this given the time he wrote it but I am surprised none of the post-2009 commenters have picked up on the fact that Ambassador Liria was played by Robert Pine, the father of Chris Pine, the big-screen, modern Kirk.
Fri, Sep 22, 2017, 4:21pm (UTC -5)
Harry's main story here seems to be whether or not he can maintain his ideals in a place where not only his environment but even his own *brain* and nervous system seem to have turned against him. First he relies on Tom to protect him, which builds on their weirdly co-dependent friendship since Caretaker. Then he relies on his own tech abilities, science-engineering-wise, to treat their predicament as a problem to be solved. Then when he discovers -- in a really great moment -- that they are cut off from the outside world, he attempts to rally people together as a community, which fails in a pretty hilarious way. (I don't really think the failure of Harry's speech is a flaw in the episode, but part of the point -- he is totally unable to reach his audience and doesn't have the ability to push through.) He is so alienated from himself and his own feelings that he doesn't recognize himself, and that is maybe also part of why The Clamp works for this story (for me). The final point he gets to is whether to decide to live on -- as Tom demanded early on, and as Zio encourages -- or to pledge his loyalty to Tom at the cost of, probably, his own life. There's an interesting dynamic here. The majority of the prisoners have given up on much pretenses of moral behaviour. Zio believes that he's mastered the Clamp, but his plan is mostly delusional and rests on a particular egotism -- he will be a messiah-saviour who needs to kill in order to continue surviving, and so his self-protection is recreated as a moral good. His scenes are interesting and I thought he was well done as a character. Tom, who is roguish relative to the average Starfleet officer, chameleonically blends into the prison setting, but (before he becomes delirious) immediately recognizes Harry as someone worth protecting and saving -- as if recognizing that the only moral option in this situation is to protect Harry's moral goodness, including at cost to his own life. It follows on what we saw of (alternate universe) Paris in Non Sequitur, where it's only by providing protection to "good" people (Harry in particular) can Tom parlay his "street smarts" bad history into actually "becoming good," but the problem is that this breaks down once Harry can't be good anymore -- if Harry loses his idealism, Tom loses himself. It's basically all building to the question of whether it makes sense for Harry to die rather than to kill his friend, because once Harry dies, Tom will *still* die, and will have lost the person whose goodness give Tom a sense of purpose. So it's basically a leap of faith that Harry has that it still will mean something for him to protect Tom even if he and Tom don't survive it. Naturally, the episode ends with Tom & Harry rescued, and so Harry doesn't have to go through with that choice, but it matters that Harry found out something about himself, that it wasn't *just* that he was untested that allowed him to hold onto his ideals, but that he actually had it in him to maintain them in a new situation, where he was far from most of what it was inside and outside him that allows him to be idealistic normally.
The episode's general metaphor seems to be something about the way in which harsh imprisonment functions. I don't think it was necessarily a problem for the episode to introduce The Clamp as a plot device/metaphor, and it seems for a while as if it functions similarly to, say, the zenite gas in The Cloud Minders -- a SF construct that enhances aggression in the characters, in order to make a broader social point. Here, the episode seems to be suggesting that sometimes the harsh, brutal environment in prisons is not merely a result of the prisoners' poor character but a deliberate choice on the part of the authorities, and it's tied here with the recognition that there seem to be a lot of political prisoners, rebelling against some sort of harsh regime (and doing so in a violent, horrifying means, via terrorist bombings). It's notable though that we don't actually find out any real details about the political situation; it's implied that the government is oppressive, since they won't withdraw their sentence on Harry and Tom, even when Janeway offers them actual culprits, which certainly makes them seem awful, but we don't really learn that much. We don't really find out whether Zio is correct that the Clamp is a deliberate plan to keep down the prison population -- and if so, why it's even necessary. It seems as if the government doesn't have the death penalty, and so if they do want prisoners to kill each other off, it is maybe the result of some kind of gap between a government's public face and its private machinations, which gets a more direct exploration in Remember. This doesn't quite fit with the sharp-edged "We find it a great deterrent [to not exonerate innocent people]" attitude that guy later takes with Janeway regarding Harry and Tom's innocence, so it's hard to say. The only other explanation I can think of is that having to endure a tortuous, brutal, and probably-short existence in a hellish prison *is* the point. And it is, of course, also possible that it really is a *social experiment*, and that itself is not that far-fetched. Check out, for starters, the Wikipedia article on experimentation on prisoners. In this way, it's possible that The Clamp is a tool the government is currently using on its prisoners and then plans to eventually use on its own population.
I speculate because it's really not obvious when you stop to think about it. There is something weird about this whole prison system as we see in this episode. The government doesn't execute people for killing 47 innocent people, but it seems as if everyone who is imprisoned is imprisoned for life, at which point they dump food in every couple of days and *that's it*. It seems as if the police force aren't using the prisons as places to allow people to live out their lives while protecting other people from them, since those people get killed quickly. They certainly aren't attempting to rehabilitate them. And they aren't extracting labour from the prisoners, which would be one obvious reason that they might want to keep prisoners alive but unhappy. The lack of resolution with Zio strikes me as a real weakness because it actually *is* an interesting idea and I could imagine different ways it goes, but there's also a weird result wherein no one in the main cast ends up caring -- Harry leaves Zio and the others behind, of course.
The episode plays coy with it, but I'm kind of amazed the episode even went as close as it did to the implications of Tom and that other prisoner fighting over who gets to claim Harry as "mine," which is pretty edgy for Trek.
Janeway's behaviour here seems strange and off-putting; she certainly does kidnap people and lumbers blindly into difficult situations. She shifts her positions rapidly -- admittedly, there's some new information, but you'd think Janeway could have asked the magistrate or whoever that guy was initially, "If we find the real perpetrators, will you release our crew members?" before kidnapping the first people with trilithium she found. I don't find the prison escape sequence remotely convincing as is; it might have been better to just have Voyager be much stronger than the enemy ships and have Janeway simply resort directly to force, rather than the hard-to-believe subterfuge.
So, a lot going for it on a character and atmosphere layer, sort of incomplete in broader implications. A strong 3 stars.
Sat, Oct 21, 2017, 7:26am (UTC -5)
LIRIA: 'The explosive was trilithium based. There is no source of trilithium anywhere in our system. So, you can imagine our surprise when our investigation revealed that your ship is powered by dilithium, which our scientists tell us is convertible into trilithium.'
But their own ships are powered by paralithium (Voyager had already found 3 ships that used it before they found the fourth and correct one), which can also be converted into trilithium, and they don't know that? I guess only the 'terrorists' know it.
As someone else mentioned earlier, the universal translator thing bothered me, since they obviously don't have their commbadges.
Zio was the one who killed the guy at the beginning and stole his food. Doesn't sound like he was all that in control of his clamp-iness. And if the clamp makes everyone go insane and want to kill each other, why is there anyone left? Why wouldn't they all have killed each other by now?
The magical pipe.
Janeway kidnaps a guy and a 14 year old girl and locks them up and holds them hostage and threatens them and bullies them into giving her information. Worst captain ever.
If the 'rebels' know where the prison is and know the codes for the shields and can get in that easily, why haven't they done it themselves already? I guess because they didn't have Neelix.
EMH: ...'Acetylcholine...helps stimulate one's aggressive tendencies.'
^ that isn't true, it would have been better had they used testosterone or steroids or something like that. Whatever, a minor point.
But, like I said, I sort of like this one.
2 1/2 stars.
Sat, Aug 11, 2018, 6:17am (UTC -5)
Wed, Sep 12, 2018, 8:13pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Oct 14, 2018, 1:58am (UTC -5)
Tue, Mar 24, 2020, 3:53pm (UTC -5)
Harry Kim is tossed down a chute into a grimy, moody, and genuinely terrifying pit. He finds himself immediately surrounded by alien prisoners surveying him like a piece of meat. He's tossed around like a party bottom (sorry) until he finds himself before his friend, Tom Paris. Despite his delirium, Harry manages a brief smile at this sight, only for Tom to punch him in the gut, knocking him to the floor. Voyager knows how to do teasers.
Act 1 : ***, 17%
One of the aliens start dragging off into his corner...as a gay man, I feel entitled to the Oz jokes, but they're all probably too easy. We shall say how low the fruit hangs. Tom steps in and 'claims' Harry, although the claim is based on having allegedly killed 47 (duh) patrollers together during a bombing, then confessed to the crime. A knife seals the deal and Tom is allowed to haul Harry off to his own corner of this hell hole.
PARIS: Around here, you don't want anybody thinking you're soft.
KIM: Thanks for the tip.
I'm not going to make it through this, am I? We learn through conversation the backstory around the pair's imprisonment. Shore leave, a false accusation, a show trial and a quick sentencing. There's no food and Tom has been holed up here for a couple days already. Harry's naïvety is on full display, as there are no guards to wardens to “explain” themselves too, nor is there extra water for the exhausted ensign. Tom snaps at him, but quickly reins in his anger. Apparently, all the prisoners are fitted with a “clamp” which induces heightened feelings of anxiety on their skulls. They can't yank them out without dying. Before they make can make up and make out, an alarm sounds, signalling the arrival of food from out the chute. The frenzied squabble over the barely-enough rations leaves at least one prisoner dead. Way to add some protein to your meal! Overall, this is fairly effective and the Tom/Harry dynamic is interesting, but the prison brutality is on the hammy side.
Act 2 : **.5, 17%
On the Voyager, Janeway reveals in her log that she's reached her wits' end with the Aquamen or whatever they're called (the aliens who have imprisoned Tom and Harry). One of their ambassadors makes contact and informs them what allegedly happened, and that a dubious analysis of the chemistry involved in the explosion is what implicated her people in this attack. Apparently, Voyager's dilithium *could* have been converted into the trilithium used in the bomb; you just need to add one more lithium! Duh. The ambassador informs Janeway that the Voyager will be impounded and searched for collaborating with the “Open Sky” terrorist organisation. Janeway rattles her sabre in response, but chooses not to return fire, seeing that they should retreat and focus on recovering their people instead.
Back in Shawshank, Tom and Harry try to distract each other from the Clamp and their hunger by imagining a series of elaborate meals they might share. The NOT-GAY police make sure to include a reference to the Delaney sisters, lest this thing go full slash-fic. This is probably for the best because, although Tom wasn't able to find any food or helpful neighbours, he did find a big pipe for Harry. Ahem. Tom thinks technical-minded Harry might be able to use the pipe, which has some circuitry running through it, to rig the chute's forcefield and allow them to escape to the surface.
On the Voyager, Janeway decides their best bet is to try and prove their people's innocence before they engage with the Aquamen again. Torres notes that *paralithium*, which I assume is like lithium for celebrity chefs, can also be converted to trilithium. So they're going to search for that stuff, now. Good meeting.
Meanwhile, Harry's having a rough time rigging up the pipe, and their experiments attract some unwanted attention from the rabble. Tom ends up in a knife fight, and is eventually stabbed. Harry breaks free from those restraining him and starts trying to fight off the crowd by swinging the pipe wildly into the air. It's not the kind of thing one would expect to see very often on Trek, with the hero looking, well, pathetic. The murderer steps in and lets Harry know that Tom is certainly going to die.
ZIO: Hey! What do you want for the dead man's boots?
Act 3 : ***.5, 17%
While Harry drags the injured Tom back to their shelter, Tom makes Harry promise not to waste his life trying to save Tom's, but Harry refuses. They find that their shelter has been taken over by a couple of crazies, so Harry decides to try and trade his boots to Zio(n) in exchange for...a lot.
KIM: What about the rest of it?
ZIO (eyeing Harry up and down): I don't like the colour.
Okay, so I'm honestly shocked that there aren't more comments on this page about the implicit homoeroticism in this episode. It makes the Garak/Bashir dynamic look “Showgirls.” I always remembered MacNeal's and Wang's performance of the roles in this episode leaning into the hurt-comfort dynamic (not objectionably), but the script itself is positively transgressive for the Berman era. A friend of mine noted that S3 was advertised as the point at which Voyager was going to become an action show in its attempt to redefine post-Kazon—and that little firefight in Act 1 certainly fits the mould—but I doubt the network execs would have bought this prison lovestory pitch wholesale when they were trying to tilt their demographics towards the straight teenage boys watching UPN. Something to keep an eye on. Desperate, Kim offers to take Zio(n) with them “when” they escape with a little help from the pipe. He thinks Harry's probably nuts, but what does he have to lose?
We cut back to the Voyager where the crew have tracked down a paralithium-powered ship. Janeway asks to take a look around but communication is quickly halted.
CHAKOTAY: I guess you're not the only captain who doesn't want her ship boarded.
TORRES: Captain, I'm picking up residual traces of trilithium. They're faint but they're there. I think we may have found our bomb-makers.
JANEWAY: Mister Tuvok, send a security detail to Transporter room two. Lieutenant Torres, beam the two of them aboard and tractor their ship into the shuttle bay.
It may seem kind of shocking that Janeway would decide to just detain this alien vessel based on Torres' speculation and circumstantial evidence, but remember what has just happened. I remarked in “Basics” that she had to be feeling some regrets over her strict adherence to Starfleet protocol (cf. “Alliances”) given how her refusal to bend the rules and team up with the Trabe led to a couple of deaths and almost seeing her crew lost for ever on a hostile planet. On the heels of that story, it seems like Janeway has become more aggressive in her efforts to safeguard her people specifically.
Janeway interrogates the terrorists in the Conference Room, a young man and his even younger sister. They're intransigent, and so Janeway decides (or at least bluffs) to hand them over to the Aquamen in exchange for her men. The sister, unable to be shut up by her brother, lets Janeway know that their group has discovered the location of the maximum security facility, the likely place Tom and Harry are being held. When Janeway refuses to just attack the prison directly, the girl calls her a coward. Having exhausted her bluff, Janeway orders that they be fed and bathed.
Tom meanwhile is trying to protect Harry from his own innocence, pleading with him to seize the first opportunity for escape and not to trust Zio(n). Speaking of, the murderer stands guard, I suppose, as Harry attempts to short-circuit the forcefield with his magic pipe. Zio(n) opts for this sorta-Yoda shtick, closing his eyes in mediation and advising Harry to harness the wave or whatever to best the effect of the Clamp. He speculates on the function of the Clamp (he even wrote a manifesto on the subject to PROVE he's not crazy). He has concluded that the prison itself and the Clamp are part of an elaborate social experiment. He believes that the purpose of the Clamp is to get the prisoners to murder each other. That's very reminiscent of some stray thoughts I had during “Hard Time”:
“I believe the whole point of the prison was specifically to get Miles to commit murder, to abandon his humanity, as he saw it. That *was* the punishment.”
The Agrathi thought themselves very efficient and enlightened for their implanted memory punishments. With very little, this thread said a great deal about their society. One could draw similar conclusions here—and I'd very much like to—but the structure of this episode makes that impossible. Because we've met the Aquaman ambassador and because we've met the young terrorists, we have a generic sense of what sort of people they are. I'm reminded mostly of the Rutians from “The High Ground.” While Zio(n)'s suppositions about his people's punitive system is plausible, given the limited information we have, the interactions we have with don't reenforce Zio(n)'s theory. It's not that it's contradictory, it's that there's no philosophical synergy. Having *less* information about the Aquamen would actually make this scene, which is, erm, let's say very deliberately staged, more powerful. The whole episode would be improved by this change, actually, but I'll come back to that. The problem here is that, because of these structural choices, Zio(n)'s speech comes across *only* as mad ramblings, instead of something with layers.
During all this, Harry was able to shut down the forcefield, and so makes a mad climb up the chute towards a hopeful escape. What is eventually revealed via what Jammer called a “tracking shot” is that the prison isn't underground at all, but part of a space station. Again, if it hadn't been ruined by surrounding material, this stunning visual would have been the perfect capstone to Zio(n)'s speech, punctuating the horrifying hypothesis that they're all guinea pigs in a laboratory.
Act 4 : ****, 17%
We are visited again by the NOT GAY police as Harry awakens Tom, allegedly from having a wet dream about one of the Delaney sisters. Tom is delirious from blood loss, hunger and the Clamp and thus irrationally blames Harry for his knife wound. After a little anger, a little pity, and a little understanding, the two grasp hands. And somewhere, Rick Berman is trying to shoo them off the set.
After an interesting night's sleep, Zio(n) and Harry continue their maddening conversation. Harry is trying against hope and reason to conjure a way out of the prison, but Zio(n) insists Harry give up on any such delusions and focus on reading his manifesto. You know, like a sane person. Kidding aside, there is something to consider here in the macro. We know that Tom and Harry are going to get rescued because this is 1990s Star Trek, but “realistically,” they're never getting out of this place and Tom is likely to extra food for the rabble before long. So what would be the point of Harry struggling against the inevitable, of playing the Universe's least-promoted Sisyphus? It is actually logical to construct the parameters of a meaningful existence within the context of your world as it actually is, not what you wish it to be. This of course begs the question of to what extent our world is artificially limited by prison walls, etc. And this further invites speculation about the function of art like Star Trek that relies upon an optimistic projection of the future, where we escape Plato's Cave. This is tantalising stuff.
For now, Zio(n) effectively makes the point that any of the other prisoners would kill Harry in an instant for his angry outburst (Harry knocks the manifesto to the floor), but Zio(n) has learnt to keep his cool. He's transcended the Clamp and this environment through creative output. Though as someone else noted, he's also the only one we've seen kill somebody else. There is yet another theme to explore, however. Harry can't escape on his own and he chooses not to confine his Universe as Zio(n) has, so he channels Federation values—socialist collectivism to rally the other prisoners behind them. Mutual cooperation for mutual benefit. The problem of course is that these men's spirits and minds have been utterly destroyed by this environment. Or maybe, as Plato cynically insisted, the inhabitants of the Cave would reject the idea that the forms they see are but puppets casting shadows. And indeed, the inhabitants of the Chute reject Harry's pathetic speech, silencing him with a metal something being lobbed at his head.
Defeated, Harry returns to his ally, Tom, whose growing delirium has caused him to destroy the magic pipe. This last darkening of Harry's light finally breaks him, and Wang delivers a blood-curdling scream before mercilessly beating his best friend and holding the pipe aloft, ready to commit murder.
Act 5 : ***, 17%
Harry drops the pipe and runs out, followed by Zio(n) who insists Harry follow through and become one of his disciples. For a moment, Kim seems genuinely tempted.
ZIO: Think of what a relief it will be not to have that responsibility, and be free of his ranting.
KIM: I'm not a killer.
ZIO: Do you want to survive in here? You'd better learn to be.
KIM: If that's what it takes to stay alive, then I'd rather die.
The Voyager, meanwhile, has returned to Aquaman space and established contact with Pike, I mean the ambassador. It turns out Janeway wasn't bluffing—or hopefully is bluffing again—in that she offers to trade her young captives for Tom and Harry. I uh...yeah, this is too far. Too far. I like the idea of Janeway becoming more determined in her conviction to protect her crew, but throwing a teenaged girl over to an oppressive government without any discussion or even some hand-wringing is a pendulum swing I don't abide. At any rate, the point is moot because the ambassador notifies her that convictions can't be overturned, no matter what new evidence is presented. Furious, Janeway has the young man, Val Kilmer, brought to her. Now she wants that information about the prison, diplomacy having failed her.
VEL: What's wrong? the Akritirians didn't agree to your terms?
JANEWAY: No, as a matter of fact. But I suspect you will.
VEL: And what makes you so sure?
JANEWAY: Because if you don't, you and your sister are going to spend the rest of your lives in prison.
Val Kilmer wants the Voyager to help them rescue more members of Open Sky while they're there, but Janeway isn't having it. I wish they'd just skipped to this part, because the idea that Janeway would be willing to bend the Prime Directive in order to rescue her people (something she wouldn't do in “Ex Post Facto,” for example) but not go so far as to interfere in the Aquamen's internal politics would be about the right degree of change I'd like to say post- “Basics.” But being willing to send these two to prison, and only THEN turn to this alternate plan WITH the caveat that she won't help them in their cause makes her look opportunistic rather than pragmatic. Speaking pragmatism, Janeway informs Tuvok that she's decided they're going to break into the prison using Neelix' ship, which is still stored in their magic hat, I mean shuttlebay.
In the prison, the vultures are circling, and Harry has been reduced to defending Tom (who's almost a corpse at this point) with his life...and his pipe. But before this tragic ending, Janeway PERSONALLY slides down the shoot, sporting the biggest fucking gun you've seen and starts stunning prisoners left and right. Tuvok, the chief of security, follows soonafter with a couple of crewmen. Neelix holds down the fort doing his best Han Solo impression while Janeway and co. get her people aboard. Neelix proved unconvincing to the Aquamen's patrol vessels however, as they start opening fire on the little ship. Even more unconvincing is the fact that Neelix manages to outmanoeuvre them and return to the Voyager unscathed. This leads to a cringey bit in the sickbay where Neelix starts bragging about his piloting, then asking to be put on shift rotation for piloting the Voyager herself...the EMH swoops in to the rescue, and starts explaining to Janeway and Paris the effect of the Clamps he removed from their skulls. But the camera lingers on Harry.
The two of them leave the sickbay, Harry wracked with guilt.
KIM: I was ready to hit you with the pipe. Don't you remember?
PARIS: You want to know what I remember? Someone saying, this man is my friend. Nobody touches him. I'll remember that for a long time.
And so the two of them proceed to their totally not gay steak dinner.
Episode as Functionary : ***, 10%
There is a LOT to talk about in this episode, and that's its main flaw. There are easily three different stories that could have arisen from this premise. In a different era of television (or just a more ambitious set of producers), I could actually see this plot spread across three episodes. One dealing with Tom and Harry in the prison, one dealing with the Aquamen and their relationship to Zio(n), and the alleged (likely) social experimentation, and one dealing with Janeway and her pursuit of the young terrorists. Given the material that is already here, I can see all three episodes being quite excellent. Jammed together like this, the whole is less than the sum of its parts.
Let's start with Janeway. As I said, the general idea of having her character change in response to the fallout from the Kazon arc is a very good idea, and will be developed as the series continues. But this episode goes way too far, too fast. Having an entire episode dedicated to the topic of her wrestling with her conflicting instincts, having some discussions with Tuvok and Chakotay as she did in “Alliances,” having the chance to make a different choice on behalf of her crew that prioritises their wellbeing over the strictures of Starfleet, while contending with the political situation Open Sky is responding to—well that would have made for a fantastic character study/political drama. We could have easily incorporated a connection to her Maquis crewmen. But in the rushed scenes we got, this characterisation feels jarring and borderline nuts.
Then there's the intriguing potential of the society of the week. You've got social experimentation that recalls episodes like “The Hunted” and “The Abandoned.” You've got terrorists conscripting teenagers to their cause against what must be a brutally oppressive state, not unlike the Bajoran resistance that conscripted Kira. Maybe Zio(n)'s manifesto is a distillation of an underground philosophy that is being passed around Open Sky members, undergirding their actions. We could learn about the development of the Clamp and get some context for its intended function.
And finally, of course, you'd have the bulk of “The Chute” as it is, a Harry Kim story that tests his humanity, but without distracting cuts away to the Voyager plot, more time see Harry's degeneration as well as give him and Tom a bit more time to exist in this place before the stabby-stab. With the more technical and substantive discussions about the manifesto, the Clamp and the prison itself reserved for a different episode, the interactions with Zio(n) wouldn't beg so many questions of the audience, leaving space for character-driven drama.
So this was a premise that demanded a larger storytelling format and the final episode feels overstuffed and a little confusing. However, there are still some incredible scenes here, and the effect on Kim's character can't be overstated. This guy needed an episode like this. The acting from our leads is compelling (the guest actors are fine). The choice to do the prison seemingly entirely in handheld was a bold choice for the time, and the homoeroticism is remarkably subversive for Star Trek. A good story that could have been several great ones. Onward.
Final Score : ***
Sat, Mar 28, 2020, 12:47pm (UTC -5)
Sun, Apr 5, 2020, 8:19pm (UTC -5)
I only wish Voyager allowed the other prisoners to escape.
Thu, Apr 9, 2020, 11:10pm (UTC -5)
And in this episode, Harry got to be the top some of the time! LOL.
Seriously, I thought the was a great episode and also thought it could have easily been a two-parter anyway.
Mon, Aug 31, 2020, 5:32pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Sep 7, 2020, 8:37am (UTC -5)
I almost wish they didnt bother cutting back to Janeway/voyager, and kept the focus entirely on the prisoners. Would add to the claustrophobia and mini movie feel IMHO.
Tue, Oct 20, 2020, 1:40pm (UTC -5)
Mon, Mar 1, 2021, 11:10am (UTC -5)
This, to me, is the episode's biggest failing. What was the point of this character and the religious subtext that came with him? This was a major part of the episode and it never went anywhere.
1) Yet another use of the Hurt/Comfort trope. Yeah, it works (it nearly always does) but it could have been better. The constant "Let's take our minds off how hungry we are by constantly talking about food" bits became tiresome fast.
2) As mentioned above, the Clamp, is more of a plot device to speed along Harry's transformation into a desperate man than a realistic sci-fi idea. Maybe it could have been developed into something interesting, but it was dropped along with Zio and his mad prophet storyline. What's the rush Voyager writers? Instead of having to use the clamp as a fast forward button for the plot, why not have Harry and Tom be imprisoned for weeks by the time the episode begins? That would have made their plight and Voyagers search a lot more intense without having to introduce the clamp subplot. I mean, I would have preferred that they actually develop the sc-fi idea, but if they couldn't this seems like an obvious alternative.
3) Hard headed aliens. These aliens are so hard headed they straight-up admit that they won't release innocent men even if their is evidence that proves that they're not guilty. Not realistic, but pretty handy if you want the plot to force Janeway into only one option.
4) The security of this prison was pathetic. A spacefaring race who has a serious terrorism problem never considers the possibility that someone in a spaceship might try to free their prisoners?
5) They don't have a death penalty, but they are more than willing to electronically encourage the prisoners to murder one another? They freely admit to imprisoning wrongfully convicted people as a "deterrent" so it's kind of hard to imagine the care about public opinion.
6) I hate Janeway.
PIRI: With this ship, you can attack the prison and get your people out.
JANEWAY: I'm sorry. That's not how we do things where I come from.
Yeah, where she comes from they just kidnap people off their ship, threaten to turn them over to authoritarian regimes, and THEN bust into a prison to rescue their crewmates. All the while making damn sure you don't learn ANYTHING about a culture so that you don't get caught up in any moral quandaries.
P.S. The next time you watch this, pay attention to the scene where Harry snaps. Look for the dork in the background swinging a pipe. LOL. WTH is he doing? It looks like this guy passed out the night before, slept on both arms, woke up 30 seconds before the cameras rolled, had a pipe shoved into his hand, and was told "Twirl, Steve, TWIRL!"
Thu, Jul 15, 2021, 11:32am (UTC -5)
Failure to wrap-up the confused Zio character (as correctly noted by Jammer) and possibly tie him in to the rebellion and the Clear Sky sabotage twins or whatever, was lazy writing. 1.0 Star only.
Thu, Aug 26, 2021, 3:28pm (UTC -5)
“If we work together, maybe we can find a way out!”
Alien prisoner 1:
“BLERGH BARAPA ZUXI!”
“Some welcoming committee they’ve got here.”
Alien prisoner 2:
(laughing) *knifes Harry*
But maybe I’m just a stickler.
Sat, Sep 25, 2021, 3:35pm (UTC -5)
And so you have Kim and Paris forced into a situation in which they're told they must resort to violence, predation and anti-social behavior in order to survive. They turn their back on this approach (it's the Federation way!), and attempt instead to build little co-operative alliances. These alliances break down. Paris eventually turns on Kim himself, and urges Kim to abandon him, but Kim refuses, the ensign epitomizing more pro-social Federation values.
Meanwhile, Janeway's little arc seems intended to juxtapose against this. She tries "official", "peaceful" routes to get Kim and Paris back, but all attempts at bridge-building fail. Eventually she finds herself threatening a pair of siblings, violating the sanctity of their ship, and breaking a planet's laws.
Like Kim and Paris, Janeway thus finds her Federation values tested. And when all attempts at respect and cordiality fail, she rolls up her sleeves and gets dirty. She doesn't go full Guantanamo Bay - she's no Archer - but she's forced to bend a little. To take the least bad route in a very bad situation.
Kim episode's dont usually work well, but this is one of the best IMO. Like TNG's "Allegiance" and TOS' "Empath", this is one of Trek's minimalistic prison episodes. The simple decor, and simple idea of "brain clamps" and a nigthmarish "chute", also lend the episode an almost abstract, existential quality. Like something out of Sartre or Camus.
It's not a perfect episode - that action sequence with Neelix's ship is a bit iffy - but well above average in Trek's pantheon of prison episodes.
Sat, Mar 19, 2022, 3:14am (UTC -5)
Tue, Apr 18, 2023, 3:22pm (UTC -5)
I thought this was a strong episode, particularly where the usually dull ensign Kim is concerned. True it’s fairly worn territory, but it was very well directed and the performances were very good.
My only qualms:
1) the ending was a bit slap dash. The idea these aliens wouldn’t monitor this prison for approaching ships is a tough sell.
2) neelix. Just everything neelix. Fine he gets to pilot the rescue ship or whatever, but he almost trashed the entire outing by getting some self congratulatory back patting dialogue at the end. Every time he enters a scene I instinctively groan.
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