"The Chute"


The following is a SPOILER Review. If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.

Warning: this episode deals with prison life in a frank and shocking manner. If you're not into throat-slitting, hand-stomping, pilot-stabbing mayhem, you may also want to skip to the next review.


It's babes in bondage, with Paris and Kim as the nubile nymphettes and Janeway as the boyfriend in shining duranium.

Jump straight to the Analysis


It's dark, noisy, and grungy - you can practically sense the stench through the television. A circular hole opens in a chute in the wall, and out pops a disheveled figure, whom we soon recognize as Harry Kim. He is quickly surrounded by large and unfriendly types who proceed to stomp him like a Klansman at the Million Man March. Finally, he is thrown into the arms of...

"Tom?" He smiles in relief.

Paris looks at him, sees one of the chief thugs approaching...then gives him a punch to the gut that sends him sprawling. Harry sinks to the floor in shocked disbelief.

Sometimes it just doesn't pay to be Harry Kim.


The chief grungy dude claims Harry as his new girlfriend. Nobody objects at first; they let the alpha male grab the still-sprawled Harry by the boot and drag him away. Harry tries to resist, claiming he doesn't belong here, but everyone just laughs. He finally kicks away from the guy's grasp. Ugly dude goes after him...

...but Paris steps in, challenging the claim. An Alpha Male power struggle ensues, in which Paris claims Harry's the reason they're here: he says they bombed a government building, resulting in 47 deaths, but Harry ratted on him in court--so the younger man's bootie belongs to him. The grungy dude is unmoved, until Tom ups the ante with a compelling argument--a knife to the throat. Succumbing to logic, the guy abandons his claim...for now. Everyone else backs away too, and Paris heaves up Harry and together they limp away from the "reception area."

"You didn't have to hit me so hard," Kim complains later, as Paris dotes over him a little.

"Trust me...around here, you don't want anyone thinking you're soft." Paris tells Kim he's been here a couple days, and hasn't eaten since his arrival--the accommodations are not very hospitable. "Some shore leave, huh?" Paris says. They trade stories and find them remarkably similar: the Aquitirian government interrogated each, neither caved, but then they were hauled into court and told the other had confessed for the both of them. Then a drugging...and they woke up at the bottom of the chute with the cast of Deliverance waiting for them.

Harry, ever the optimist, wants to rustle up someone in charge and explain that there's some sort of mistake. Paris looks at his friend impatiently. "Who would you suggest?" Harry gives some suggestions--guards, wardens, someone--but Paris hasn't seen anyone like that. They're supposedly 300 meters underground. Harry, still parched from his travails, holds up the cup Paris had given him and asks for more. Tom loses it; he slaps the cup out of Harry's hands. "What do you think this is, a hotel? There isn't any more!" It's the first time we've ever seen Paris (in this space-time continuum, anyway) react with genuine anger to Harry, and it shocks the ensign. "Take it easy," Harry croaks--the despair is starting to sink in.

"Sorry; I'm really starting to get edgy," Paris says. He introduces "the clamp," a skull implant that everyone in the prison has. Harry asks its purpose--"some sort of torture device?" Paris wonders--It itches like hell, and it seems to be making him more edgy and irritable by the moment. Harry wants to take it out, but Paris said he saw someone try and it killed him. The ubiquitous Paris humor is gone; he's scared and angry and no-nonsense, and that rattles Kim as much as anything else. They get up to look for a way out, and Harry says that if they have to pretend to hate each other again he's swinging back, when the alarm klaxons sound. The shouts of Food! Send them scrambling.

A crowd gathers around the Chute as gerbil-pellets of food come streaming out. Men scramble over each other, stomping on hands and slitting throats, to get to the tofu-bricks that look utterly unappetizing but may hold off starvation for a few days. When the food stops coming, the chute starts glowing, and we see an overeager prisoner reach up into the chute--only to get shocked to death by a force field. Meanwhile, one of the more aggressive inmates dispassionately slits the throat of an unfortunate food-holder; as the lifeblood streams down his chin, his killer grabs the meal and remarks to Kim, "I don't think he'll be needing this." The two Starfleeters don't feel so hungry anymore.


Janeway's captain's log indicates her growing frustration with the Aquitirian government; after 72 hours they haven't heard from or located Kim or Paris, and there's no word whether they were killed in the bombing. The government has been most uncooperative. Tuvok says all sensor sweeps of the planet have come up negative.

Chakotay announces Ambassador Leery is hailing them. Janeway says it had better be good news. The Ambassador says it is not--the officers were convicted of a terrorist bombing a recreational facility, resulting in the deaths of 47 off-duty jackboots--er, patrollers. Janeway says it wasn't them, but the ambassador says they found traces of Trilithium on the uniforms--and since there is no Trilithium or Dilithium in the system, and the only ship in the area with Dilithium is Voyager, naturally it must be the two Starfleeters.

The ambassador continues; he says the "Open Sky" terrorists on his planet have been suspected of having off-world support, and now they have proof. As he speaks, two Aquitirian patrol ships are seen coming in on an intercept course. The Ambassador tells Janeway to prepare their ship for inspection. Janeway has a few demands of her own. The Ambassador clarifies; "your ship will be impounded and your people are under arrest. Prepare to be boarded!" he growls.

Janeway orders shields raised, and soon the ship is rocked by Aquitirian fire. "Let me clarify my position, Ambassador. I will not allow this ship to be boarded." The ships fire, Janeway does not order return fire. She orders retreat...for now. But the Ambassador has just risen through the ranks of her Dookie List. She may not know the whereabouts of Tom or Harry, but she's already tired of talking to the Dick.

* * *

A jumpy and irritable Harry is scratching around his Clamp when Paris arrives. He jumps all over Paris. "You're starting to feel it too," Paris notes. He says they need to think about something positive. They start thinking of meals. Harry says there are over 50 prisoners, but no grocers. "But if we do get some food, I found a lovely place for a picnic." The only exit seems to be the Chute, and Paris hands Kim a metal tube--perhaps the genius Harry can figure out a way to short the Chute out. (MacGuyver could do it....) We also get a gratuitous Delaney Sisters reference.

Aboard Voyager, the Aquitirians have called off pursuit. "We've got to go after them!" Torres insists. "B'Elanna..." Janeway holds up a hand. They turn to ways of proving the innocence of their men. Torres says that Paralithium can also be converted to Trilithium, and there were some ships in the area powered by it. So they decide to go huntin'.

At the chute, Harry is getting frustrated--trying to thread a high-voltage conduit with nothing but duct tape and a dream (and an implant pumping Jolt Cola directly into your synapses) isn't easy work. Tom tries to help him concentrate. He puts his arm around Harry and starts describing tasty dinners at the Real Sandrine's. Harry gets into the spirit. (I won't detail it here because it's too late to eat). "Right now I'm so hungry I could eat a bowl of Neelix's Leola root stew," Kim admits. "Me too...I never thought I'd say that."

Sure enough, the distraction works, and Kim soon has the bypass hooked up. He tries to activate it--and he gets shocked flat on his butt. This attracts the attention of the prison thugs, who ask what's going on. Paris starts treating Harry like his woman again, tries to shepherd him away. But the original thug dude calls for a knife fight, and soon we're in the "Beat it" video. Tom finally clocks the bad dude, but one of the assistant thugs shoves a shiv in Tom's gut. The chief thug then yanks the dagger out, his eyes filled with malicious glee.

Harry goes Postal. Wielding the pipe, he backs everyone else away. He then rushes to Paris, who is in a bad way. Someone else approaches--the throat-slitter. Harry raises the pipe, but the guy yells No Fight. He looks at the wound and pronounces his diagnosis--Tom's in trouble. Harry says they need to get to a doctor, and the guy deadpans that they'll send for an ambulance. The whole crowd laughs, an ugly sound. Harry helps Tom up, and they stagger away. The throat-slitter calls after him--"how much for the dead man's boots?" he asks with a cold smile. Kim points the pipe at him with a killing look; Tom's doing his all just to stay conscious.

This is the third time we've seen this guy, and it's a good guess we'll see him again.

Harry helps Paris back to their makeshift quarters. Paris asks Kim to promise not to think of him If he has a chance to escape. Kim refuses to do so. When they get to their bunk, it's being occupied by two very crazy people.

Kim drags Paris to the throat-slitter's place. He's busy writing something. Kim offers a deal--his boots for some food, shelter, clean bandages, etc. The guy--Zima?--doesn't seem to be in the mood to deal. He's been here six years, and he's not exactly the fatherly type. But he is intrigued by Kim's passion, misguided as he sees it. To him, Paris is little more than a collection of assets waiting to be cashed in on the death of the owner. Harry obviously doesn't like him, but sees Zima as the only halfway reasonable guy in the place. His voice, anyway, is free from madness and aggression. Though he's certainly capable of brutality and coldness. Harry finally convinces Zima that he's got a possible way out--he knows how to short circuit the Chute so they can crawl through it without getting fried. Zima says if he's lying he'll kill him...but that seems to be the same as "Hello" around here.

On the ship, they're continuing the search for Paralithium ships. The fourth time's the charm-- they find a small cargo vessel and ask to board it for their investigation. The two -- a young man and his younger sister -- seem none to happy about it, threaten to slit the throats of any who approach, and cut off communications. Chakotay remarks that Janeway isn't the only captain who doesn't like her ship getting boarded. Torres reports that traces of Trilithium are evident-- they've found their culprit. Janeway orders the cargo ship tractored aboard.

One act of piracy and two of kidnaping later, the cargo crew--both of them--are escorted to Janeway's ready room under guard. Janeway asks them about the "open sky terrorists." The very young girl insists they're "patriots." Janeway doesn't give a flying flip what they are--she wants her people back. Tuvok reports that the bomb is confirmed to have come from these two. Janeway orders them to the brig. "We're taking you back to Aquitiri space."

Piri--the girl--says she's not afraid of prison, but her brother shushes her--"nobody ever gets out of an Aquitiri prison," he explains. Janeway still doesn't care, except as it applies to her people. Piri spills some Patriotic intelligence--they know where the Aquitiri prison is located, and with Voyager they could go in, blow it to hell, and get their people out.

Janeway smiles. "That's not how we do things where I come from." The girl stares hard at the captain. "Coward." This takes away Janeway's smile in a hurry. "Mr. Tuvok...see that they get a bath ...and a hot meal." The tone of voice, and the look in her eyes, end the command with the unspoken statement, "...and may God have mercy on your souls." Were I those two, I'd have been losing peristaltic control about then.

But I guess they haven't heard about Neelix's cooking.

Harry is now the Man in the relationship; Paris is too weak to fend for himself, his claims to the contrary. Tom reiterates his "order" to Kim -- "if you get a chance, get out. Don't worry about me."

At the Chute, Harry gets shocked again, and he complains about the "million fire ants" in his head. Zima sits in demonic serenity, telling Harry to channel that sensation into something constructive. As Harry works, Zima tells of his manifesto--of his reason for being here, to understand the Clamp and the Aquitirian method of prison control. As he speaks, there's a cool dual effect--the rings of the Chute surround his head, the outer as a halo, the inner as devil's horns. (Get it? It's a metaphor!) He offers Harry a new way of thinking. Rather than looking for a way out, he wants Harry to think about how to survive inside the prison.

But of course Harry picks that moment to successfully bypass the bug-zapper on the Chute, and they start scaling. After a long climb and some intense background music, Harry reaches the top, a glass hole in a hatch, covered up. He wipes it clean...

...and we see an exterior view, as the truth is revealed. The jail is not underground, but is in the vacuum of space. Harry is not a happy camper.

* * *

Harry returns to Tom, who's been dreaming of Megan Delaney (aha, that's the other one's name!) He asks about the Chute, and Harry evades the issue, saying they got past the defenses but haven't found a way out yet. Tom starts out okay, but during the conversation he grows delirious and paranoid, grabbing Harry's pipe. Harry finally talks him back down and gets the pipe back. "What's happening to me?" Tom asks. "You'll be okay."

"Harry? Don't leave me here," Tom pleads. All bravado is utterly gone.

Harry and Tom hold hands and fall asleep, side by side, to the hysterical ranting of criminal maniacs.

The next morning, Zima asks if Paris is dead yet. Harry tells him impolitely to shut up. Harry is still determined to escape, Zima is more set than ever in the course he's set in his manifesto. He wants Harry to read his manifesto, something he's never shown anyone else. Harry slaps it out of his hand. Zima picks up the papers. "If I were anyone else, I'd kill you," Zima says. "But that's the difference between me and you. I'm in control. You're not."

Harry tries to rally the prisoners to band together and escape collectively. But like the man dragged to the surface in Plato's Cave, Harry is unable to convince the cave-bound prisoners. They throw things at him.

Harry returns to Paris, who has dismantled the pipe. Tom loses it; Harry loses it. A very intense, claustrophobic brawl ensues, with the un-stabbed Harry rapidly gaining the upper hand. (From a violence standpoint, it was more emotional than physical--it wasn't exactly Tyson-Bowe.) Soon Paris is slapped into defenselessness and Harry, now in a berserker rage, raises the pipe for a finishing blow.

"Go ahead...finish him," Zima says to the homicidal Kim, just as he begins to come back to himself, a battered Paris' life hanging in the balance.

* * *

Harry drops the pipe and scrambles away from his friend, horrified at what he'd done. "He's my best friend!" Harry screams in anguish. Zima is doing the hard-press now, urging Harry to let Paris die--or take his life--and join him in his quest. Paris is nothing more than a decaying carcass now, Zima insists, and Harry still has the potential for a life around here. He hands Kim a knife and tells him to finish the job.

Harry says, "if becoming a killer is what it takes to stay alive..I'd rather die." He drops the knife. Then Zima kicks him out of the house, and tells him to take Paris with him before he kills them both.

Janeway tries talking to the Ambassador again, but he will have nothing but their surrender, despite the fact that Janeway has proof of her people's innocence. There's no such thing as appeal in Aquitirian justice. Janeway decides to make an end run around the official channels, and orders the terrorists to her ready room.

Janeway tells the young man what she wants--the coordinates and security codes of the prison where her people are being held. He's about as easy to deal with as the Ambassador, but here Janeway has the upper hand. The guy tries to negotiate for the release of his own comrades, but Janeway basically says, "do everything we tell you and we'll let you go...do anything less than everything we tell you and you will spend the rest of your lives in an Aquitirian jail." Ouch! I don't think even Hideo Nomo can play this kind of hardball. He tries to resist, and she doesn't even flinch--she orders a hail to the ambassador with some fresh meat for their charnel house. He finally relents.

Tuvok asks how they plan to pull off the rescue. Janeway suggests they use Neelix's ship.

In the jail, the thug dude lays claim to Paris' clothing. "This man is my friend. Nobody touches him!" Kim says with sincere menace, ready to kick some major hiney. Paris can only lay there and bleed.

The chute signal chimes, and the prisoners look forward to some new meat to victimize. Down comes...Janeway? Armed for bear, and heavy with the trigger finger. A couple of dead thugs later, Kim and Paris are bidding farewell.

Neelix is keeping watch, holding off the Aquitirian ships with his usual irritating sycophancy. The voice of the patrolman, was that Darth Vader? Threatens Neelix, who just acts stupid until everyone's aboard. AS he prepares to leave, the patrol tells him to prepare to be boarded. Neelix puts the pedal to the metal, and one nifty little escape later, they're back on Voyager.

Holodoc patches up the prisoners in no time flat. Paris is upright and smirking before Neelix can complete his request to fly the ship for a while. Kes smiles, Janeway and Paris congratulate him on his piloting skills, Holodoc tells everyone that the Clamp stimulates "acetylcolene" in the brain (jolt cola and testosterone). Harry mutters, "Zima was right." Whatever physical wounds have been healed, Harry still doesn't look very well. Tom acknowledges the comment, then grabs Harry by the neck and starts talking food.

It looks like YAATE (yet another abrupt Trek ending), with the stars enjoying a Kodak moment, but Harry isn't about to let the episode end that soon. He's disturbed by what he became--that he almost killed Tom. He confesses this.

"You want to know what I remember? Someone saying, 'This man is my friend. No one touches him.' I'll remember that for a long time."

Now we can proceed with the YAATE, as Paris and Kim walk off arm in arm, talking about what kind of meal a week's worth of replicator rations will get them.


"Trouble with Tribbles," this ain't.

This episode disturbed me, but in all the right ways. Like the episode where Picard was tortured by the Cardassian played by David Warner, this episode shows the kind of violence that turns people OFF to violence. (I think there's two kinds of violence in entertainment--the fun kind, like when Kirk and Sulu blow the Shakespeare-spouting Christopher Plummer Klingon ship into scrap metal and eye plates; and the not-fun kind, like we have here. This is violence intended to make you squirm.)

Some have called this Harry's Paradise Lost episode. Sure, he's died a few times, been flung all over creation and into multiple realities, and dated Jenny Delaney, but this episode opened his eyes to a life where hell would be an improvement and where the devil is the only guy worth dealing with. Starting the episode as a beaten-down victim, by episode's end he's staring down an entire prison singlehandedly with nothing more than a lead pipe and a determination to protect his friend at all costs. The same friend he almost killed just moments before for messing with his pipe. If this weren't Trek, I really would have expected both Kim and Paris to die before the show was over. Had it not been for the deus ex Katarina, they probably would have.

Let's start with Tom. This is Harry's episode--he grows up in a hurry. Ironically, he does it by refusing to play the Prison Game. Paris, who has seen jail time before, tries to play the Prison Tough--which works for a while, but it's a dangerous game to play when you're so severely outnumbered. He beats Pitt, the chief thug, but one of Pitt's minions sticks him. In this prison, there are no rules, and Paris loses because he forgot that. As Paris loses the ability to take care of himself, Harry becomes the dominant one in their relationship--a first. It was nice to see Paris played with frequent lowerings of the Paris Bravado. The Clamp is a good excuse for the behavior, but the fact remains that we got a long and serious glimpse at a naked-emotions Paris, which was both welcome and disturbing.

Battling with Paris for Kim's affections is Zima, the Dark Prophet of the prison. He's not a nice guy; life and death mean nothing to him, and he'll take lives for food as fast as the next guy. The difference between him and the rest, though, is that he's calculating, in control of his aggressions --and that makes him more and less attractive. He speaks softly so you think you can reason with him--until you realize he's on an entirely different plane of reality. His comments to Paris make sense, some of them, some of the time--until the consequences of those theories are considered. To Harry, it's repugnant. And yet, when Harry almost bashes Paris' skull in for disassembling his circuit-breaker, and Zima urges him to finish it...Harry was operating on blind rage. Zima was thinking it through logically. And he scolded Kim for being out of control.

Zima can kill at the drop of a hat. But he kills only when it serves his purposes. He sees in Harry a potential convert; he gradually opens up to Harry about his Manifesto, and before Harry rejects him he had taken to calling it "our" mission. Harry's the first person Zima has ever felt worthy of his theories, but it was up to Harry to accept or reject.

The prison--yikes. Van Damme woulda gotten his butt kicked in a place like that. It was utterly hopeless--in space there's no easy way out. You're either rescued, you die, or you adapt. And rescue is a hope that can't last long. The Clamp was also an insidious device, and it was interesting to hear Harry say that Zima was right--his manifesto nailed exactly what the Aquitirians were trying to do in the prisons. Zima's mission was based in a true faith.

I don't want to dwell much on the prison scenes. It was an unpleasant place, and it wasn't easy watching Tom and Harry suffer as they did. Suffice to say that if it were B'Elanna and Kes in the female wing, this episode would have to have been aired on Pay Per View, narrated by Joe Bob Briggs. Or the Cryptkeeper. Throat-slitting, hand-crushing, stabbing, pipe fu, homoerotic undertones and the like--good as the story and the acting were, I had to take a shower after watching this one.

The B Plot, Janeway as Action Kate, was fun. True to their word, you're not hearing much about the Prime Directive. It still obviously guides her actions, but we're not using the P.D. words. But we're also seeing more innovation and take-charge Kirkian actions. She was dangerous but not persuasive with the Aquitirian ambassador (was that the Captain from "ChiPs"?), who was someone I'd have loved to see get his comeuppance. She hijacks a cargo ship, kidnaps the crew, and strong-arms them into cooperating with her, stooping to depths Starfleet would definitely disapprove of.

Good for her.

I do think she was out of her Vulcan mind for being the first one down the chute. The only woman in an all-male cellblock? Good thing she was carrying a phaser rifle bigger than she was. Come to think of it, this gender-reversal does make this a mirror-universe Chicks in Prison flick, with Action Kate as the boyfriend in shining body armor come to rescue the nubile, wrongly-accused babelettes. I think it's time to read some Robert Bly.

I liked the fact that Janeway didn't bother to get embroiled in the terrorist/patriot squabble. Picard might have tried to "negotiate" but Janeway just said "your squabbles are irrelevant. I don't care what you are, I want my people back." It was refreshing.

One thing that bugged me was the talk of Trilithium. Wasn't that the stuff that destroyed the sun in STAR TREK: GENERATIONS? And someone detonated that on a PLANET? And it only killed 47 off-duty Nazis? What, did someone snort a gram of the stuff and sneeze on the compound? But maybe it just bugged me.

And...who the heck picked this planet for shore leave? The Aquitirians are a bunch of wieners. Hard-headed, stubborn, murderous bastards, all of em. No wonder their prison system makes Attica look like the Ritz-Carlton. All they needed was Snake Plisskin to come in and start spouting one-liners to make this place complete. But even the planet, and the shiny, neat, brightly-colored ambassador Poncharello's office, didn't cover the fact that nobody on that planet is good for anything but target practice.

In a "fun" episode, we'd have had the rescue, but we'd also have had Voyager getting medieval on the Aquitirians--blowing patrol ships out of the sky, flushing Trilithium down the Ambassador's commode, selling the fourteen year old into slavery for some of those food blocks (gotta be better than the Leola root stew). But "fun" wouldn't have worked here. The plot's been done a million times, but this was an original way to present it.

All in all, this episode ranks high on my list. As a character development piece, it is a (ahem) killer. Harry is all growed up after this eye-opener, and we saw a very different Tom Paris and Kathryn Janeway. This was the first official episode of the third season (Basics 2 and Flashback were filmed in season 2), and I'd say it's a promising new beginning.

On a 0-10 scale, I'd give this one an 8.00. Slap a warning label on it, but definitely keep this one around.

NEXT WEEK: Holodoc loses his mind, and a species called "The Swarm" puts up No Trespassing signs.

Copyright © 1996 Jim Wright

Star Trek (R) is a registered trademark of Paramount Pictures registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
Star Trek: Voyager is a trademark of Paramount Pictures.

Last Updated: September 26, 1996
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