Still--Here's what happens in The Chute:
Harry and Tom slide down (not in a fun way) a gross chute into a gross pit full of other guys who've previously slid down (not in a fun way either) the chute. Harry and Tom have slid into Voyager's take on a prison movie. They have a device stuck to their heads which makes them irritable (which makes me irritable) and their relationship grows more and more tenuous as they try to survive/escape etc. Finally Janeway shows up and is all, "Let's get the hell out of here." And they do and their prison time is over.
Star Trek, in all its variations, has done a lot of takes on other stuff. They've done westerns, shakespearean plays, a Robin Hood adventure, a heist movie, and Die Hard. They've done horror movies, they've done psychological thrillers, they've done (plenty of) tragic romances. They've pretty much done it all--including prison movies.
There's a lot made of prisons in the universe of Trek. Most of us can even name a famous one: Rura Penthe. In TNG Picard was captured, held, and tortured by the Cardassians which is why I still sometimes shout 'There are four lights!" in inappropriate situations. In DS9 Miles O'Brien perceived twenty years of mental prison which is why he came back to the station and kept squirreling away bread for about two episodes thereafter.
The episodes I've mentioned here work for a couple of reasons.
1-Patrick Stewart is amazing and Picard is the human embodiment of Starfleet's ethics. To see him taken to the breaking point is inherently interesting and captivating. The direction of this episode is also quite well done. The way everything feels stark and cold. The lone desk in the Cardassian torture chamber. The way Picard is stripped naked. Everything about the way it's written, staged, and executed legitimizes Picard's experience and pulls us in.
2- O'Brien is (like Harry and Tom) thrust into prison at the start of this one with little to no explanation. The whole time we're focused on his experiences, his life, his struggle. Again, Colm Meany is a fantastic actor and his Miles is the every man of Trek. He's been with us since TNG and at some point someone along the way realized that torturing Miles was a great way to pull at the fandom's heartstrings. The main reason this one works, though, is the protracted time. Prison movies offer creators/audiences a way to explore the humanity and ethics of an individual who's been stripped of their every day comforts and thrown into horrid, hopeless, inescapable circumstances. The movies tend to take place over several years because that's how long it seems to take (according to what we know from said movies) to test one's humanity. The falsely protracted timeline in DS9's Hard Time is how they achieve this.
In "The Chute" it's all about a gizmo in their head called The Clamp which is a sort of nebulous deal. It's said to increase aggression and irritation.
|Mostly its purpose is to give you the Crazy Eyes.|
And that brings me to another reason why these other two somewhat famous Trek episodes are successful--solitary heroes. Without any familiar faces Picard and O'Brien are both left to dangle for almost an entire episode. Their only interaction is with an outsider--the Cardassian for Picard, and O'Brien's cellmate. These characters give our main guys someone new and different to talk to and we have no idea what they might do or what might happen to them.
In this one, I actually really love the idea of Tom and Harry being stranded together, their bond tested along with their humanity, Harry's dedication to taking care of Tom, Tom's tough guy stuff, etc. There's a lot to love in this episode but I sort of feel like maybe it's one of those episodes that should've been two. A prison episode with a solitary character (Tom) and another, completely different episode where Tom and Harry are stranded together and their relationship is put under stress--but not clamp-induced prison stress.
Anyway, apparently I had a lot of thoughts about this episode. I'd intended to just write a short summary and then vault into all the stuff that's made me irritable lately but that just didn't happen and it's probably for the best. Don't want to end up with the Crazy Eyes.