June 19, 2024

Gabbing Geek

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Weekend Trek “The Chute”

Harry works to escape an alien prison after being implanted with a device designed to drive him and fellow prisoner Tom insane.

Well, here’s some interesting casting notes, mostly due to family.  A small role is played by a woman who knew frequent Trek guest star James Cromwell as her stepfather while Chris Pine’s actual father plays a rather awful alien ambassador.

But in the end, this one is all about Harry.

I mentioned last time that Voyager sometimes seems to end episodes abruptly, most likely due to time constraints caused by doing, well, whatever it is the show wants to do with a particular episode.  But this time around, the episode begins just as abruptly, showing Harry Kim’s getting dropped out of the title chute into a grubby place where everyone around him starts beating on him, including Tom Paris.  Apparently, they’re in prison.

That’s not really a narrative problem.  The episode’s focus is clearly on how Harry handles being in this particular prison.  I’ll give the episode some credit here:  Tom, being an ex-con, might be the better choice to examine this sort of scenario, but he’s incapacitated about halfway through the episode, leaving the more idealistic Harry to handle what’s happening.  Likewise, the episode finds a new way to make an alien prison awful.  Deep Space Nine famously did an episode where O’Brien was convicted of a crime and sentenced to virtual decades in prison while mere hours passed in the real world.  That episode, to my recollection, never went out of its way to establish O’Brien’s innocence.  Instead, he was just in prison, and this was the same guy that the Cardassians put on a show trial for.  In this case, Harry and Tom are innocent.  The trial that sent them to jail, well, it wasn’t even shown.  In point of fact, neither Tom nor Harry really remember a trial.  They both just woke up in prison after being convicted of a terrorist strike against the local police force.

Now, this seems unlikely on so many levels, and it turns out the bomb was made of Trilithium, and since Voyager‘s engines work off Dilithium, the local authorities, represented by a jackass ambassador, decides that not only did Tom and Harry do it, but that the rest of the crew must have been in kahoots, forcing Janeway to order the ship to fly away to avoid a firefight.  So, can Harry get out of this alien prison without Tom?

Well…no.

No, in the end, Janeway will be the one to save Harry by using, of all things, Neelix’s ship.  Apparently, Neelix’s ship is still on Voyager, and I suppose it is, but I don’t recall there being any mention of Neelix’s ship since the pilot episode.  How big is that thing anyway?  Neelix’s bridge looks pretty roomy compared to, well, a shuttlecraft or something along those lines.  Eh, it doesn’t matter.  What does matter is Janeway has to be the one to rescue Harry and Tom.  Harry’s general stubbornness and idealism means he can keep it together as best he can, but why would he need to?  He’s only been in the jail for a couple days at most from the looks of things.

That’s actually where the genius of the episode comes into play.  The prison itself has no escape.  Harry realizes early on that the chute, where inadequate amounts of food are dumped from time to time, is the only possible way out, and he has a means to short out the forcefield.  There are two things working against him beyond Tom’s possible dying, that’s that all the prisoners, including Tom and Harry, have been outfitted with a device that is slowly making them all violently insane.  Harry has some slip-ups, but his only other option is the one prisoner in there who isn’t a frothing lunatic, and that guy is a different kind of fanatic who just wants Harry to read his manifesto and join the underground or something.  Harry does get to the top of the chute, but it turns out the prison is a space station, so tunneling out isn’t a good idea.  And because the other prisoners are basically murderous monsters, none of them are exactly bending over backwards to help Harry escape even if banding together might actually work.

Oh, and Janeway learned that even after she and the rest of the crew found the actual bombers, the people of this genuinely awful planet don’t believe in letting people out of jail even if they didn’t do it.  I’m starting to think the rebels might have had the right idea on this planet.

But that’s not for this show.  Mostly, this was to show how strong Harry Kim’s willpower is, and the answer is pretty strong.  Whatever was done to Tom and Harry is easily cured, and while he has some emotional trauma, Tom remembers Harry’s defense of his prone body and takes his pal off to dinner with the promise that they can enjoy some truly luxurious.  Will that solve the problems this episode presents?  Well, no, but that wasn’t the point here anyway.

If this wasn’t episodic television and the Prime Directive wasn’t a thing, I am sure Janeway could have done some more.