Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Star Trek: Voyager--"The Chute"

“The Chute” is a unique creature in the VOY canon--a Hard Luck Harry episode that is actually good. Note I say good, and not great. I make the distinction with a heavy heart. There is a classic episode lurking about within. It is a dark story and full of above the norm acting from Garret Wang and Robert Duncan MacNeil , but there are too many of the usual way too convenient happenings to move the story along. It also suffers from an anti-climactic ending. Nevertheless, it counts as one of the best scripts Kenneth biller has written. I have not and will not praise his writing much, so I have to give him credit when I can.

Harry and tom are wrongly convicted of a terrorist bombing which was really carried out by a terrorist group called Open Sky. They were convicted because traces of trilithium were found on them. Trilithium is an element not found on the planet. The two find themselves in a prison community in which inmates struggle to survive not only with limited resources, but with a device attached to their nervous systems which stimulates aggression. The only way in or out is a large, electrified chute in which new prisoners and food rations are dumped.

The key point to take away from the episode is harry and tom’s struggle to survive. Their plan to disable the electric force field is hampered when tom is stabbed in the abdomen. Harry then not only has to work on their escape, but keep tom alive from both his serious wound and murder. As time goes on, Harry himself has to quell his own desire to kill Tom in the name of survival. Harry is not his usual naïve self here. He has to grow up fast in a brutal environment where his only ally is a completely insane inmate named Zio.

Where the episode loses steam is the Voyager bits. The planetary authorities refuse to allow the crew to contact Harry and Tom because they are all considered part of Open Sky now. Voyager is chased away. The only recourse is to find the real terrorists, which they do way too conveniently. It is a brother and sister who have their own cargo vessel as a cover for their terrorist activities. Janeway uses her usual brand of diplomacy--that is to say none--to haul their ship in, kidnap the brother and sister, and then force them to reveal the location of the prison. The finale is a slam bang, guns blazing rescue which leaves a scant couple minutes back on Voyager for harry to wrestle with his guilt over once nearly killing tom and Tom reassuring him they are still buds. They go off to share a steak dinner together.

If “The Chute” had been all about Harry’s conflict, inner and outer, it would be a four, maybe even five star episode. But “The Chute” is dragged down by everything else. What is the point of dumping prisoners in a closed environment to secretly kill each other over limited resources? Why are their control panels accessible to prisoners which can be used to shut the electrified force field off with a little engineering know how? How did Tom survive a near disembowelment for days with no food, water, or sterile living space? Zio has overcome the aggressive urges prompted by the device connected to his nervous system, but Harry is not interested in knowing how he did it even though he really needs his mind cleared in order to protect Tom and escape. Janeway finds the real bombers way too easily, and their capture prompts a far too quick ending. Just how did they know where the prison was located, anyway? Too much of these kind of issues is distracting.

When I say guns blazing rescue, I mean Janeway to the guns blazing rescue:Tuvok is little more than an afterthought. You cannot tell by this photo, but Tuvok is brandishing one of those pussy 24th century Dustbuster phasers in his left hand.. Janeway took the rifle for herself. While "The Chute" is not a Janeway-centric episode written by Jeri Taylor, we nevertheless learn that Janeway, who just last episode lamented she cannot disregard the Prime Directive and whip out a phaser like Kirk used to do, is awesome! Because she is Chuck Norris in a sports bra.

"The Chute” is still a good episode. It is one of the highlights of the very uneven third season. Wang’s acting and Biller’s writing are generally bland, so on the rare occasions they are not, you have to give them credit. This might be the only time they both brought their a-game at the same time. I think “The chute” is about two re-writes from a great episode, but as it stands, it is still one of the more solid VOY episodes.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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