Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Voyager, Season 3: The Chute
Voyager, Season 3
"The Chute"
Airdate: September 18, 1996
46 of 168 produced
44 of 168 aired


Harry and Tom find themselves thrown into a hellish prison with no food, no friends, and a psychoactive neural implant that boosts their aggression.

Harry prepares the chute for some serious pipe-laying.


Matthew: It should not be said that "The Chute" is lacking in story logic problems. Why do they allow shore leave again? On authoritarian worlds no less? With Tom of all people? It seems like this "running afoul of the local authorities" story has happened too many times for credulity's sake. The details of prison seem a bit too complex for their own good, as well. If they go to the trouble of keeping these people alive, including traitors against the regime, launching a massive ship into orbit (with artificial gravity, too), and stocking it with food, why don't they punish them for killing each other in prison? Is there some cultural taboo against the death penalty, but not about anything else leading up to it in severity?

Kevin: The idea that they refuse to directly but permit indirectly executing these people seems to be the only reason that this prison functions. The problem from a storytelling standpoint is that if you just dump a bunch of people on an island that ostensibly has enough food to sustain them, they will likely form some kind of functional society. Even if it's a violent dictatorship run by the worst of the worst, it will still probably function in some basic ways or the tyrants would be toppled, just like they are outside of prison. The clamp is as artificial as artificial gets in terms of trying to explain why prisoners of all stripes, not just the psychos, aren't meaningfully banding together.

Matthew: We really learn nothing about the planet, why people are protesting, whether the government has a point. I think focusing a bit more on this aspect of the story and whether Voyager should get involved would be fruitful. Should Voyager insert itself into a political struggle in order to liberate some prisoners? Sure, it's been done before, but it's been done because it works dramatically. The story got about halfway there with Voyager investigating the real bomb makers, though they were ultimately pretty blithe about helping the murderers of 47 (sigh) persons.

Kevin: This reminded me of Resistance and not in a good way. In that episode as well, we ended up not really learning anything about the government and why we should either care about them at all. And they really needed to at least paid lip service to the Prime Directive problem here. Sure, they are obviously not actually guilty, but you go into someone's sovereign territory, you submit yourself to their jurisdiction. I'm not saying it should override, but it almost seems weird they didn't know how totalitarian the area was.

Matthew: Despite all the criticisms, this is a nice character story for the Tom/Harry bromance. They get a nice role reversal when at first Tom has to guide Harry, but then Harry must protect Tom after his stabbing. Their friendship is tested by the psychoactive "clamp," though of course that raises the question again of why these people go to such effort with prisoners who are at liberty to kill one another without reprisal. The character of Zio is also problematic. He kills a man for food, but then we are supposed to halfway admire him later?

Kevin: This almost makes up for everything else. The character drama is good, and the scene at the end with Harry's guilt is great. I think the clamp robs it of the meaning it should have. It's an artificial tension, not a real one. I think if this is the path they want to take, they needed to find a different way to stress the friendship. The clamp was used to solve the problem of how not to leave them there long enough to actually develop the story on its own. It puts me in mind of "Hard Time" over on DS9 which found an eloquent and disturbing way to solve the problem.


Matthew: Robert Duncan McNeill has already proven himself as a good "delusional" actor with "Threshold," and he does it again here quite well. He was pathetic (in a good way) and helpless in the throes of his injuries. His scene with Garrett Wang at the end was really nice, too, and they had a lot of nice interplay talking about the kinds of meals they'd like. Garrett Wang was pretty good. I still don't believe him as a tough guy, nor as a firebrand, but then I guess that was kind of the point. He was at his best in his nurturing scenes with McNeill.

Kevin: I'm gonna say it. I just don't buy Wang, at least at this point, at the extremes of his emotion. When it was smaller stuff, like interacting with his girlfriend or longing for home, that I bought. His "He is my friend and no one touches him," speech just always read to me too much as "acting."

Matthew: The rest of the cast was adequate in small roles. Mulgrew played her well-honed protective captain, and Ethan Phillips got to have fun being the Han Solo-type near the end. Despite his character's muddled motivation, Don McManus was pretty good as Zio. All in all, no one stood out as bad.

Production Values

Matthew: The prison set looked pretty nice overall, and ended up seeming quite a bit more spacious than it really was. The prison wardrobe was very "Mad Max," in a good way. Although I liked the bottom portion, the chute itself looks very terrestrial, like an aluminum air conditioning duct.

Kevin: I agree that it looked like the complex was large and varied. The choice of a chute at all seemed odd. Unless they don't have transporter technology, why not just beam them into a room with no door? It's one of those touches that seems like a more interesting idea that it actually is.

Matthew: As for opticals, the pullaway to reveal the prison ship was nice, with a pretty convincing CGI ship and window. The Akritirian ships were also competent, and Neelix's shuttle maneuvering through the pieces of the prison was a nicely composed and executed shot.

Kevin: Those two shots were really great. The pull away from Harry in the window was great and the quick cut of Neelix's ship was great too. I do think the interior of his ship seemed bigger than the shot on the viewscreen back in Caretaker implied.


Matthew: Prison stories usually work pretty well. As Kenneth Biller has averred, this one is perhaps less successful because it doesn't do what the most successful ones to - show the passage of a long time, and really dig into the characters present. Nonetheless, there is a certain adequate entertainment quotient to this one, and I think it's a "low 3."

Kevin: I agree with the 3 for a total of 6. The character work holds this together. The prison plot is a little too complicated and felt artificially designed to create the drama. The core of the friendship story is there though and it gets the episode just into average territory.


  1. I wish we had found out a bit more about the planet and the reason for the rebellion and uprising as well. That left it incomplete for me.I understand that this episode was about Tom and Harry and their friendship and how they grow as a result of having been in this situation together, but I think more could have been said in the B story too without derailing the episode.

    I also have a hard believing that a society with such a barbaric and severely lacking "justice" system would somehow be morally objected to the death penalty. Sorry, it doesnt compute. That's like having a Nausicaan diplomat. If you toss people in jail for life after kangaroo trials and equip them with torturous neural stimulators, i doubt your so called immorality stops with something like taking lives.

  2. Heh heh, Kevin said "I just don't buy Wang."