Star Trek Voyager: The Chute

"This man is my friend. Nobody touches him!"

Paris and Kim are falsely accused of a terrorist bombing and thrown in a particularly unpleasant prison with no guards, just a chute down which food and new prisoners arrive.

Star Trek has always been good at depicting male friendship - hardly surprising, considering the success of the original series was built largely on the interactions between Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Both Deep Space Nine and Voyager deliberately paired up two of their male characters in a close friendship that would feature in numerous episodes, and both did it well, in Bashir and O'Brien, and Paris and Kim. While Paris and Kim's friendship featured quite frequently, this is a rare episode in which it forms the basis of the plot.

Paris and Kim are set up as opposites - the naive, young ensign with a steady girlfriend who dedicates hours to clarinet practice, and the snarky ex-con with a string of casual relationships who lives for flying and fast cars (well, cars that sit, immobile, on the holodeck. There isn't room in the budget for fast cars). Over the course of seven years, the differences between them were slowly eroded, but the actors' easy chemistry kept their friendship interesting.

At this still relatively early stage, although it's increasingly clear that Paris is the world's cuddliest ex-con and that Harry gave up on Libby long ago, the differences are still reasonably pronounced, and there's no better way to emphasise that than to throw them both in another prison. And then, having established their expected dynamic - Paris teaching Kim how to survive in there - stab Paris and make him delirious and delusional so Kim becomes the harder-edged of the two, to the point where he very nearly kills his friend. The reversal is convincingly done and very effective.

The Clamp implant is a neat idea. Essentially what it does for the plot is drive Paris and Kim to the point of emotional breakdown more quickly. The emotional turmoil they go through could have been produced by having them in there for months, slowly going crazy, but the Clamp speeds the process up. It also gives poor Harry a constant feeling of 'fire ants in his brain', adding to the torture of the prison, and stimulates aggression, making prison even more unpleasant than it needs to be. I feel rather sorry for the creepy yet fascinating Zio, who was spot on in his theory about the Clamp (if a little psycho about it) and who, of course, gets left behind.

Les Landau's direction of this episode is fantastic, all darkness and sweat and handheld cameras and a glowing red halo around Zio when he outlines his slightly batty 'manifesto' to Harry, working in the background. Don McManus' performance as Zio is great too, clearly on the edge of sanity like everyone else, but in a subtly different way. This is also one of Harry Kim's best episodes by far. Garrett Wang spent most of the series playing young and enthusiastic, which is a bit of a thankless job as those can be mildly annoying qualities for the audience, but whenever he was given something really dramatic to work with, he always did well. Harry's journey in this episode is compelling, and contains just the right amount of dark, gritty material, balanced out with a reassuringly Star Trek conclusion, as Harry overcomes the Clamp and is able to protect both himself and his friend just long enough to survive.

Bits and pieces

 - I love that Paris is too smart to bother trying to assert their innocence in the prison - he just owns being a terrorist.

 - The reveal that the prison is a space station isn't exactly unexpected, but it is well done.

 - Janeway is initially resistant to the idea of staging a prison break, but when diplomacy fails, and without Starfleet around to stop her from committing acts of war, she goes right in there, guns blazing. Literally - she leads the rescue mission herself. It's awesome.

 - The rescue mission also makes use of Neelix's ship from when they first met him, which has apparently been hanging around in the cargo bay all this time.

 - I first saw this episode way back in my teens, before I'd ever heard the phrase 'Ho Yay', or even 'slash fiction'. If you were looking for that, though, this is the episode in which to find it. There's more or less actual snuggling at one point.

 - Akrotiri is a Greek island. Whether Akritiri has any relation to it is not specified.


Kim: I'm so hungry, I could eat a bowl of Neelix's leola root stew.

Kim: I'm not a killer.
Zio: Do you want to survive in here? You'd better learn to be.
Kim: If that's what it takes to stay alive, then I'd rather die.

Paris: You want to know what I remember? Someone saying, "This man is my friend. Nobody touches him". I'll remember that for a long time.

I love this episode, it's one of my favourites. Four out of four prison breaks.

Juliette Harrisson is a freelance writer, classicist and ancient historian who blogs about Greek and Roman Things in Stuff at Pop Classics.

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