Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “The Chute”

“The Chute”
Written by Clayvon C. Harris and Kenneth Biller
Directed by Les Landau
Season 3, Episode 3
Production episode 147
Original air date: September 18, 1996
Stardate: 50156.2

Captain’s log. A bunch of Akritirian prisoners gather around a chute that opens up to dump in a new prisoner: said prisoner is Kim, and they all start beating him up. He gets tossed from assailant to assailant, until he winds up in Paris’s arms. Kim is relieved right up to the part where Paris punches him in the stomach.

Paris claims that Kim is his—that Kim was his partner in the bombing that they were imprisoned for, and Kim betrayed him, and he wants his revenge. The other prisoners accept this for now.

Kim and Paris compare stories. Turns out both were interrogated for days and were told that the other one confessed to the bombing and each was therefore guilty. Obviously jurisprudence on Akritiri isn’t all that great, since neither of them had anything to do with the bombing.

They haven’t been fed in days, and have very little water. All the prisoners have neural attachments on their scalps called “the clamp,” which seems to make everybody a little aggressive and crazy. The chute itself also delivers bars of food every once in a while, but it’s also protected by a force field. Kim is determined to find a way past that force field.

When the food is delivered, Kim and Paris never get close enough before it’s all gone, and one other prisoner is killed for his food.

On Voyager, Janeway demands to know where her people are, and Ambassador Liria explains that they’ve been imprisoned. The bombing was done with trilithium, and was an act of the Open Sky, a terrorist organization that has offworld support. Since Voyager is powered by dilithium, and since trilithium doesn’t occur naturally in their system, Liria believes Voyager is responsible. He tries to impound the ship, but Janeway declines the honor of being boarded, and buggers off rather than engage in battle, since destroying Akritirian ships and personnel will not help get Kim and Paris back.

During a senior staff meeting, Torres points out that paralithium can also be used to create trilithium. They search for ships that have paralithium.

Kim’s first attempt to circumvent the force field is unsuccessful. His actions cause suspicion, and a fight breaks out. Paris jumps in, and gets stabbed for his trouble. Kim wildly swings to get people away from Paris, which strangely works, and they go back to their shelter—except someone else has taken it over, and they’re in no position to fight for it.

Zio, a prisoner who’s abnormally calm by the standards of this prison, offers to take them in in exchange for Paris’s boots. Zio also points out that Paris is a dead man, it’s just a matter of time. There’s no medical attention for the prisoners, so he’ll either bleed out or die of an infection.

However, Zio is fascinated by Kim’s confidence in his ability to remove the force field. Zio also is less affected by the clamp than others, because he has found a way to calm himself. He has also written a manifesto on the subject, as he believes the clamp is an experiment on live subjects.

Voyager tracks four ships that were in orbit during the bombing that use paralithium power sources. One of the ships, run by the brother-sister team of Piri and Vel, turn out to be the guilty parties, which they admit after about four seconds of questioning. (Real talented terrorists, these…) Vel begs Janeway not to turn in his sister, to let her go free, but Janeway needs to bargain with both of them in the hopes of exchanging them for Kim and Paris. However, she does tell Tuvok to give them a bath and a good meal.

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Kim manages to disable the force field, because he’s just that awesome, but when he climbs to the top of the chute, he finds that they’re not underground, as they were told: they’re in orbit. The prison is a space station. There’s no escape.

Between the clamp and his wounds, Paris is completely delusional, and at one point he and Kim get into a fight. Zio insists that Kim kill Paris, as he’s a drain on resources, but Kim refuses. Zio kicks them out. Kim makes it clear that he will defend Paris from anyone who tries to hurt him.

Janeway brings Piri, Vel, and their ship to Liria. However, Akritirian justice has no mechanism in place for releasing a prisoner if new evidence is uncovered. Once someone is found guilty, that’s it, they’re in the prison until they die, period. Janeway is appalled, and ceases communication.

Then the captain makes Vel an offer: give her the means to access the station and free her people, and she’ll let them go. If not, she’ll turn them over to Liria. Vel takes door number one. Since Voyager showing up in Akritirian space will make them a target, they instead take Neelix’s ship.

The chute opens, and everyone thinks it’s a new prisoner. Instead, it’s Janeway, Tuvok, and a security detail, all heavily armed. The prisoners’ improvised blades are no match for phasers, and Kim and Paris are easily rescued, and Neelix flies them away while under fire from the Akritirians.

The EMH treats Paris and gets rid of the clamp for both of them. They go off to blow a week’s replicator rations on a sumptuous dinner. Kim tries to apologize for hurting Paris, but all Paris remembers is Kim defending him.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? The clamp encourages the production of acetylcholine in the brain, increasing the subject’s aggressiveness. This makes it very difficult for prisoners to do things like organize or escape.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway threads the needle very elegantly in this episode. She doesn’t use Voyager’s firepower, which might get Kim and Paris back, but with potentially a huge loss of life. Instead, she uses her ship’s technology and her crew’s cleverness to get at the truth of the bombing and use various diplomatic angles, some successful (Vel), some not (Liria).

Mr. Vulcan. Tuvok brings a team to rescue Paris and Kim, and they waste no time in getting the prisoners in line.

Half and half. Kim and Paris are convicted in part due to the bomb being trilithium, which doesn’t occur naturally in Akritiri. It’s Torres who points out that paralithium can also be used to make trilithium, which proves she’s smarter than Akritiri authorities.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. Neelix gets to use his bullshitting skills and his piloting skills all at the same time during the rescue of Kim and Paris.

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Forever an ensign. Kim is able to bring down the force field, for all the good that it does, and he spends the entire episode fighting against the clamp and trying to save him and Paris.

Do it.

“Right now, I’m so hungry I could eat a bowl of Neelix’s leola root stew.”

“Me, too. Never thought I’d say that.”

–Kim and Paris showing the depths of their hunger while imprisoned.

Welcome aboard. Don McManus plays Zio, Ed Trotta plays Pit, and the delightfully named Beans Morocco plays Rib. James Parks and Rosemary Morgan play the terrorists (it was Morgan’s first TV role; Parks will later appear on Enterprise’s “North Star”).

But the big guest is longtime character actor Robert Pine—father of Christopher Pine, who played Captain Kirk in the three Bad Robot films—as Liria. Pine will be back on Enterprise’s “Fusion” as a Vulcan captain.

Trivial matters: Neelix’s ship is seen for the first time since they brought him on board in “Caretaker.”

Trilithium was first mentioned in TNG’s “Starship Mine,” and also seen as an explosive in Generations and DS9’s “For the Uniform.” This is the first and only mention of paralithium.

The script originally called for only one terrorist, a young girl, but UPN was very uncomfortable with having a child speak the lines required, so they changed it to a brother-sister combo, with all the nasty lines being given to the elder brother.

This was the first episode that was filmed during the third season’s production period, since “Basics, Part II,” “Flashback,” and the forthcoming “Sacred Ground” and “False Profits” were filmed as part of the second season’s filming schedule for budget reasons.

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “This man is my friend—nobody touches him.” Ah, yes, the prison episode. It seems like every science fiction show has to have their episode in which the characters are thrown into an alien prison of some kind.

This one doesn’t really rise above the pack to stand out much. Indeed, it has less oomph than it might, because whatever pathos might be generated by Kim and Paris being forced to be extra-violent and nasty to survive is ruined by the presence of the clamp. This isn’t Kim having to tap into his violent side in order to survive, this is his violent side being forced on him by technology.

As a result, the scenes in the prison lose their bite, because everyone’s mean and nasty and ugly and rotten in this prison, so it doesn’t give us a chance to illuminate Paris or Kim’s character, it just shows them being artificially nastier than before. Yawn.

I am amused that Paris was able to assimilate into the prison culture more easily than Kim—but then, Paris has actually been in a prison before, albeit the much more gilded cage of a Federation penal facility.

But what redeems this episode is the stuff back on Voyager, because I absolutely love the way Janeway handles the situation. She shows an impressive amount of restraint, a considerable amount of cleverness, and a superlative ability to adapt. I love that she doesn’t just try to blast her way into the situations, preferring to use diplomacy and science—and, in the end, trickery, making use of Neelix’s ship to sneak into Akritirian space.

Credit to Les Landau, always one of Trek’s better directors, for using handheld cameras to add to the claustrophobic feel of the prison, and also to the set designers for making the prison an ugly, brutal, filthy, dark, dank place.

Warp factor rating: 6

Keith R.A. DeCandido reminds folks that he did a brief revival of “4-Color to 35-Millimeter: The Great Superhero Movie Rewatch” in June, covering Bloodshot, Birds of Prey (And the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn), and Faust: Love of the Damned. Go check them out!

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