Star Trek: Voyager – 3×03 – “The Chute”

Star Trek: Voyager
“The Chute”
Originally Broadcast September 18th, 1996
Reviewed by Christina Luckings

The Story

Stardate: 50156.4

An alarm is sounding, and a scruffy looking bunch hurry to a chute in the middle of an open area. The hatch opens to deposit Harry Kim on the floor. One of the people there hauls him to his feet and roughly pushes him around until a fight starts, with Harry being punched and kicked until he ends up face to face with Tom Paris, who hits him hard in the stomach. A man takes hold of one of Harry’s feet and begins to drag him off, proclaiming that he belongs to him before Tom intervenes, claiming that Kim is the reason he is in there in the first place. They set off a bomb which killed 47 patrollers in Akritiri, and then Harry confessed and implicated Tom, but it is only when he pulls a knife that the other man gives up his claim – for now.

Tom has been in this prison for a couple of days now and hasn’t had anything to eat yet. Despite both refusing to confess to the bombing, each was told at their trial that the other had confessed for the pair of them and then they woke up at the bottom of the chute. There are no guards, no warden apparent, who they can go to with their protestations of innocence, and the other inmates believe that they are 300 metres underground. When Harry asks for more water Tom becomes very angry, then apologises. The ‘clamp’ which is embedded in every prisoner’s head is making him edgy, aggressive, and it itches too, but any attempt to remove it results in instant death. The alarm sounds again, then the shout goes up – Food! Packets pour down the chute and it is every man for himself as the inmates try to grab as many as possible. Then they stop, the hatch closes. One man grabs at it, and is killed by some sort of forcefield, while another has his throat cut for the packets he has collected. Suddenly the starfleet pair have lost their appetite.

‘Captain’s log, Stardate 50156.2. After 72 hours, Lieutenant Paris and Ensign Kim are still missing, and I’m quickly losing patience with the Akritirian authorities. They continue to deny us access to the surface, and they’ve yet to confirm whether our crewmen were killed in the bombing.’

Tuvok cannot locate the missing men’s lifesigns either on or underneath the surface of Akritiri. Then Ambassador Liria hails them to inform the Captain of Paris and Kim’s convictions for terrorism, on the grounds that they had traces of the explosive chemical on them at the time of their arrest. Chakotay points out that anyone in the area of the explosion would have residue on them, but the explosive in question is trilithium, and there is none in the Akrititi system, yet it can be made from dilithium – as found on Voyager – so this proves that the Federation ship is the off-world collaborator of the ‘Open Sky’ terrorists as far as the authorities are concerned. The Ambassador informs Janeway that she and her crew are under arrest and the ship is impounded. Two ships are on their way to enforce this order with weapons at the ready so Janeway orders Chakotay to take the helm and Tuvok to raise the shields, but not to return fire. This is one situation where she is not prepared to bow to local authority and Voyager retreats while she considers their next move.

Harry is beginning to feel the effects of the clamp, so they try to focus on positive things, like finding a way out. Their reconnaissance of the prison has revealed no other way in or out except that chute, and no food to be had either. So they need to find a way to short out the forcefield. Tom has obtained a metal cylinder, now all they need is some wiring and Harry’s technical expertise.

Safely outside Akritiri space, the senior staff consider their options. Janeway decides that their best course is to find the source of the trilithium and prove Tom and Harry’s innocence that way. The Ambassador was right, there is none in the sector, but B’Elanna suggests they look for paralithium instead, a fuel used in ion-based propulsion systems which can also be converted to trilithium. The Captain orders a review of the sensor logs to identify and track any such ships.

Harry and Tom have found some wiring and are in the main chamber, by the chute. However, Harry is getting very irritable and quickly annoyed by his lack of instant success with the makeshift force-field zapper. Tom turns to a fantasy dinner menu ploy to give him a distraction and help him calm down again. It works, and as Harry comments that he is hungry enough to eat a bowl of leola root stew he gives the device a try. He is thrown on his back by the energy discharge as a group of prisoners come to investigate their antics. It is Pit, the one who wanted Kim in the first place, and some of his entourage. He demands the pipe, and then draws a knife on Tom, who draws his own. A fight ensues, and Tom manages to knock Pit down before he is stabbed by another prisoner. Harry goes berserk and drives the crowd back so he can help his friend. Then Zio, a prisoner who doesn’t want to fight, comes to his side to point out that Tom will either bleed to death or die of infection. What does Harry want for the dead man’s boots?

Harry drags Tom back to the shelter only to find that another pair of prisoners have moved in so they move on looking for somewhere new. They end up at Zio’s place and Harry offers his boots for food, water, clean cloth and somewhere for Tom to heal. No deal, but he is interested in the pipe. That’s not for trade, but Harry offers to take him with them instead. In six years, this is the first time Zio has faced someone who might be telling the truth about a way out, but he promises to kill Harry if it turns out that he is lying. They have somewhere to stay for the time being.

‘Captain’s log, supplemental. So far we’ve located three ships with paralithium plasma emissions, but none of them appears to have produced explosives. We’re currently in pursuit of a fourth vessel.’

Janeway hails the crew of the cargo ship – a young man and his even younger sister. She explains their mission and asks if some of her crew can board their ship to check for signs of explosives manufacture. The Captain of the Akritirian ship threatens to cut their throats if they do and ends communications. Meanwhile, Torres has been scanning, and found traces of trilithium. That is all the evidence Janeway needs to abduct the pair by transporter and put their ship in Voyager’s shuttle bay.

The interrogation takes place in the Ready room, under the watchful eyes of two security guards. The young woman, Piri, claims that the terrorists are actually patriots who will one day lead the government. Vel tells her to be quiet, and informs Captain Janeway that their political views are none of her business. Tuvok comes in to report that explosives have been produced on the cargo ship, so Janeway orders the young pair placed in the brig and Voyager back to the Akritiri border. Vel asks them to let Piri go, but she wants to give Janeway the location of the maximum security detention centre instead so that they can attack it and free not only Tom and Harry, but also the ‘freedom fighters’ who are being held there. Janeway turns down the offer, and instructs Tuvok to make sure that they a bath and a hot meal.

Tom knows that his chances of recovery are not good, and tells Harry that if he gets a chance to escape, he must take it and not think of him. Zio is waiting for a demonstration of Harry’s pipe technology and they head off for the chute. Whilst Harry gets frustrated and irritated, Zio gives him pointers on how to use his will to defeat the effects of the clamp. Over the years he has written down what he has learnt about the device. He believes the prison be a behavioural experiment which would be ruined if the prisoners began to co-operate so they are given the clamp to keep them at each others throats. It was his mission to work all this out and now that he has, it has given him such power that the other prisoners are afraid of him. Harry has neutralised the forcefield during this dissertation, and they climb into the chute. At the top is a hatch with a window covered in a thick layer of grime. Harry wipes it clean and looks out – into space.

Tom awakes from a dream about Megan Delaney to hear Harry say that they are close to finding a way out. He is feverish, and thinks that Harry was the one who stabbed him. They struggle briefly for possession of the pipe, then Tom calms down again and asks him not to leave him alone. Harry lies down beside his friend to sleep.

A little later, Harry goes for a walk and Zio asks him if Tom is dead yet. Holding back his anger, Harry tries to think through their situation instead. The docking port is for a ship to drop off food and new prisoners. Perhaps they could get on board it? All he’d need is a few minutes distraction to let Voyager know where they are. Zio isn’t listening. Instead he comes down from his perch to offer Harry the opportunity to read his manifesto on how to control the clamp. Harry knocks it out of his hands and demands to know if he is going to help. In reply, Zio patiently picks up the papers again and points out that any other prisoner would have killed him for that. So Harry goes to the main chamber, to the chute, and tells the rest of the inmates that he has been in the chute, it leads to space, and they can escape if they all work together. Of course, they just laugh at him and throw objects instead. Back at the hovel, Harry discovers that a delirious Tom has dismantled the forcefield neutraliser and he completely loses his temper, hitting Tom in a frenzy before finally raising the pipe to smash his skull in. Zio eggs him on, but Harry cannot do it and rushes out into the open. Tom is now a liability, Zio points out, and he must be gotten rid of before they can disseminate the manifesto and train their followers. Harry cannot survive in there without Zio’s protection from Pit and the others, but he would rather die than become a killer like them. Zio orders him to leave his hut and take Tom with him.

Voyager is at the border of Akritiri space, and Captain Janeway is talking to Ambassador Liria on the viewscreen. She offers the real bombers in exchange for Tom and Harry only to be told that convictions cannot be overturned in their law. Negotiations at an end, Vel is brought to the ready room and told to provide the location and shield codes for the maximum detention facility. He offers to take them there in return for freeing members of Open Sky who are held there. That is not what Janeway is proposing. Once she has Tom and Harry back, she will let Vel and Piri go, that is the only deal on the table. Vel refuses so she orders Tuvok to hand the young pair over to the Akritiri authorities. Faced with certain imprisonment, Vel gives in, and Foster takes him to give Chakotay the necessary information. They will use Neelix’s ship to cross the border and effect the rescue.

Pitt and Harry are facing off over the possession of Tom and his personal effects when the alarm sounds. Thinking a new prisoner is arriving they all dash off to the chute, but it is actually Captain Janeway who slides down the chute, armed with a double-barrelled phaser rifle and closely followed by Tuvok. She drops two prisoners with one shot and the rest back off. Neelix advises them that there are two patrol ships heading towards them as two more security guards come in and Harry makes himself known. They go to help Tom while Neelix pretends that he thought the prison was the Heva 7 refuelling port and asks if they know a good place to have his navigational array repaired. With everyone back on board, he undocks from the prison only to be told to prepare to be boarded by the patrols. As the patrol ships open fire around them, the little ship ducks around the prison and makes its escape.

In sickbay, and back in uniform, Kim and Paris are getting a final check from Kes, while Neelix praises his own piloting skills and wonders if he could take Voyager’s helm while Tom recovers from his ordeal. The EMH puts a stop to that by pronouncing the ex-convicts both fit for duty. He has devised a treatment for the clamps, to stop the excessive production of acetylcholine in the hypothalamus which stimulates the aggressive tendencies. Harry is feeling depressed as he realises Zio was right all along about the devices and their purpose, so Tom drags him off for their overdue steak dinner. In the corridor, Harry points out to Tom that he almost killed him with the pipe, but what Tom remembers is that Harry kept him alive, and that he told the prisoners that ‘This man is my friend. Nobody touches him.’ The two friends head off to blow a weeks worth of replicator rations on their dream meal.

Review

here is only one small thing that stops this story from getting I 0/10 – it’s a Star Trek episode. Which means that neither of our two protagonists were ever in danger of their lives. If they had been a pair of expendables it could have been a very different situation.

The premise of the episode is a variant of the Prisoner’s Dilemma, which you can look up on the internet as it can get quite complicated to explain but is basically a choice between co-operating with your captors or sticking to your story, and the way the show is presented to us is wonderful. The direction of the scene with Zio and Kim at the chute is superb, as the glow of the force field is a halo around the prison messiah’s head. Didn’t get the message the first time? Then watch it again, and again, only block your ears to Piri’s dialogue as it is truly awful in places. The whole story is dark as Deep Space Nine, bleak with the futility of trying to stay sane in an insane situation, and should have ended with Kim being killed just before Paris got rescued. Someone with a degree in psychology could probably write a very erudite piece on all the symbols and nuances in this episode and make it sound even more interesting than I can.

I always thought that Starfleet regulations required the Captain to accede to local laws, but as this is the second time her jail-bird helmsman has been wrongly convicted of murder, clearly Janeway is thinking of throwing the rule book away and who can blame her? They’re a long way from home and the family must be kept together, no matter what the cost. So Neelix’s ship gets an outing, and the resourceful scavenger gets to be a hero with some fun lines and neat flying, while the Captain grabs the biggest gun she can carry and does a great imitation of Ripley from Alien.

Enjoy this one, and forgive it its few failings because it deserves to be viewed often.

Grade: 9/10

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