505. The Chute
FORMULA: Hard Time + Attached + Ex Post Facto + Frame of Mind
WHY WE LIKE IT: How very dark it is.
WHY WE DON'T: Neelix's ship set.
REVIEW: A prison drama starting in media res and so dark you'll think you're watching an episode of Deep Space 9. And though I can't quite care as much about Tom and Harry as I do about, say, O'Brien and Bashir, this is a good thing. Watch out for the fairly harsh violence in the teaser though. Slit throats aren't the usual "syndicated at 7" fare.
Even when you know where the eponymous chute leads to, the episode remains extremely watchable. Rather than rely on that single twist, it has something to say about the prison experience, and about how treating people like animals will turn them into animals. The "clamp" is the nasty SF device used to speed up the process (as virtual reality was used in Hard Time), and its effects keep everyone one edge, leading Harry to almost kill a delirious Tom. Of course the kid is going to feel guilty later, but their friendship survives. The episode is satisfying enough that it doesn't feel like a reset button either. Tom has chosen to apply a strategy of denial that allows him to move on, and Harry to be left off the hook, but it comes from the characters and isn't forced on them by the plot.
The one character developped in prison is Zio, at once a madman and a messiah, scribbling at his manifesto and making speeches about using the clamp for inner strength. And director Les Landau does an admirable job using camera angles and sets to layer in irony. The "crown of thorns" shot is one of several directorial flourishes that add a lot to the episode. A lot more clever and ambitious than the usual Trek effort.
As for the stuff on Voyager, it's your standard fare, especially dull in comparison to the tense prison stuff. The use of Neelix's ship is a good idea, but its set design is pretty awful. It doesn't look like the cramped quarters half-seen in Caretaker, nor does it look like something you'd be able to pilot by yourself. How much more tension could have been gotten by cramming 5 people (including two clamped ones) in a tiny cockpit as they hightailed it out of there? The rescue is actually very pat, but the episode knows that by that time, everything interesting has been left behind. Best to end it quickly.
LESSON: Don't make me perpetually angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm perpetually angry.
REWATCHABILITY - High: Artfully directed and uncompromisingly dark in its vision. As much as I want Voyager to find its own identity, I don't mind a DS9-like episode occasionally.