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Air Vent Passageway / Live-Action TV

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Air-Vent Passageways in live-action TV.

  • Subverted in 21 Jump Street episode "Gotta Finish the Riff". Aoki sneaks into the high school through a heating duct, and is doing fine until, at the worst possible moment, he suddenly falls through the ceiling into the room where the bad guys are.
  • 24 enjoys playing around with this. Sometimes played straight and other times, the villains are quick to seal them to prevent the cliche from happening. One notorious use of air ducts was seen in a fifth season episode, as agent Jack Bauer uses duct tape to seal a shaft and prevent nerve gas from seeping into a safe room.
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  • The 100 has Bellamy repeatedly use air vents to get around in Mount Weather without being seen. Possibly justified since Mount Weather is a large facility that needs a huge air filtration system to filter out radiation from the surface; if any place is going to have person sized air vents, it'd probably be them.
  • Alcatraz: Rebecca uses a air vent to sneak into a bank during a hostage situation in "Cal Sweeney".
  • The Amanda Show: In one episode Penelope tries to see Amanda by gaining access to her dressing room via the air vent. She not only finds a discarded sandwich left behind in the air duct, but takes a wrong turn and winds up falling through a vent onto the main stage, far from the dressing room, and right into security's view.
  • Spoofed on Arrested Development: in one episode, George Sr. finds an entrance to the air ducts behind the refrigerator and attempts to escape house arrest. Not only does he fail to find a way out of the house, Buster pushes the refrigerator back into place and traps him inside.
  • The A-Team: Several episodes, including "The White Ballot", where Murdock escapes from a locked room, with his hands bound no less, through a ventilation shaft. Hannibal and B.A. boost him into the shaft while Face keeps an eye on the guard.
    • On one occasion Murdoch sang "Ceilings - woah woah woah Ceilings" to the tune of "Feelings" while climbing into a vent.
  • Comes up rarely on Babylon 5, once when Garibaldi and two other characters are being pursued by telepathic assassins (rather than try to follow them, the telepaths simply pick up on their target's thoughts and try to ambush them at their destination instead, until Garibaldi uses Psychic Static to send the telepaths to the wrong place). Later, in the fifth season, an Adorably Precocious Child crawling through the vents spots the episode's villain preparing to assassinate Sheridan. The villain promptly opens fire on the ceiling, mortally wounding the kidnote .
  • 1960's Batman:
    • "Smack in the Middle". The Riddler uses an air duct passage to infiltrate the Moldavian Pavilion party.
    • "A Riddle A Day Keeps The Riddler Away". Batman and Robin use air ducts to infiltrate a building where the Riddler is holding a kidnapped king hostage.
  • Battlestar Galactica, "Blood on the Scales". Chief Tyrol spends most of The Mutiny crawling through shafts to get to the FTL drive. Unlike some examples of this trope, these are shown to be narrow, unpleasant (especially when going past the urinals), and bloody tiring to crawl through — when Tyrol is caught at one stage, he invites his captor to shoot him then and there as he's too exhausted to clamber out and be taken prisoner.
  • Blake's 7. In "Redemption", Blake is apparently cornered when an elderly man opens a hidden door and urges him inside. "It's an old service lift. Those young guards, they don't even know it exists."
  • Contra Security of Breaking In has large roomy air ducts... with booby traps. Knowing Oz, he may have had them built that large just to trap intruders inside.
  • Buffy the Vampire Slayer:
    • Buffy and Xander use this method to escape from vamp Jesse and his new friends in the electrical tunnels in "The Harvest".
    • In "Out Of Mind, Out Of Sight", Marcie Ross lives above the school's music room in a space accessible only by climbing up through the drop ceiling.
    • In "School Hard" Buffy gets out of a locked classroom and gets the drop on Spike by crawling though the space above the drop ceiling (she is at least shown traversing a wooden catwalk). Also worth noting, Spike notices, and in a singsong voice says “some-one's-in-the-cei-ling”.
    • Subverted in "Gingerbread", where Xander and Oz can fit into the vents but become lost and only reach the rest of the cast after the monster of the week is already dead. "We're here to rescue you..."
  • Burn Notice
    • Lampshaded and subverted in an episode. When trapped in an office building, Michael wryly notes that air vents are viable escape routes... if you happen to be size of a four year old. He does state, however, that instead of using air ducts, you can instead use the sub-ceiling of an office building to escape danger.
    • His mother remembers he crawled through an air vent so he can go to the theatre and watch Star Wars.
    • Justified in a later episode (and spelled out in the narrative) that they were in a medical experimentation lab and the ventilation system had to be sufficiently large to facilitate a quick full air turn around in the event that something bad happened allowing him to climb to a higher floor in the building (in the narrative he says that normally it's not possible to use the airvents due to their size and lack of strength as well) (the system ventilated through the roof, he cut through it to get onto the second floor).
  • In Chuck, there was once an incredibly roomy network of air vents, with lights.
    • Averted, however, in a season one episode, where Chuck crept around the area between the ceiling tiles and the high Buy More roof, and had to clamber over the air ducts while he was in there.
  • Parodied in Le Cœur a ses Raisons: in the third episode of the show, Ashley, Brett and Peter want to leave the hospital as fast as possible. Having to chose between the door ("simple, efficient, probably infallible") and the air-vent passageway ("complicated, completely inefficient and potentially dangerous") they chose the latter. Worst, after that escape, they find themselves at the starting point and chose the air-vent again.
  • In Community, Señor Chang moves into the air vents for a while. And is joined by a monkey. This makes sense more than it sounds because the college is later shown to be the home of an A/C Repairman cult, which presumably would have worked their arcane arts on the school buildings.
  • CSI: In "Karma to Burn", when Finn and D.B.'s granddaughter Katie are kidnapped, Finn is able to pry open a vent cover to allow Katie to crawl out (her being small enough to fit in the vent). However, she is immediately recaptured.
  • Lampshaded in Dark Season episode 5 where Marcie escapes and says, "A ventilation shaft. Marvellous, I'm a cliché."
  • Doctor Who:
    • Played straight in "The Tenth Planet". Ben even has a map, albeit one drawn by the man who designed the ventilation system.
    • The Cybermen's Cybermat devices could infiltrate target installations by going through ventilation ducts. Justified, since Cybermats are about the size of a rat.
    • Also played straight in "Invasion of the Dinosaurs", where Sarah Jane is locked in a closet and escapes through an air duct.
    • Used straight in "The Ark in Space" (albeit realistically: Sarah Jane Smith is the only one small enough to fit and even she get stuck).
      • This got a Call-Back in "The Brain of Morbius": The Doctor finds an improbably tiny vent. Sarah asks, "Are you suggesting I–" "–No, I'm not suggesting you climb down there!" the Doctor snaps. Instead, he uses it to send poison gas to Dr. Solon, who's in the next room.
    • "The Sun Makers": The Doctor rescues Leela from a Public Execution by steaming by crawling through the steam vent.
    • Used by the Fourth Doctor and company in Tom Baker's second Dalek story, "Destiny of the Daleks" — notable for the Doctor pausing to mock the Daleks' inability to follow them...
      The Doctor: If you're supposed to be the superior race of the universe, why don't you try climbing after us? Bye bye!
    • "The End of the World": Platform One has vents large enough for maintenance workers to enter them. The spider robots used by the villain also use the ducts to traverse the place, but they're much smaller.
    • Deconstructed in "The Satan Pit"; Rose suggests escaping through the maintenance ducts, to which Security Officer Jefferson replies: "I appreciate the referencenote , but there's no ventilation. No air, in fact, at all. They were designed for machines, not life forms." They're able to escape through them anyway, though, by manipulating the air-pressure controls to "flood" certain ducts.
    • "Journey's End": Captain Jack crawls through miles of ducts on the Crucible tracking three lifeforms that turn out to be Mickey, Sarah Jane and Jackie.
    • The Doctor and companions use one of these to escape from Area 51 in the animated special Dreamland. The Doctor lampshades their captor's justified Genre Blindness.
      The Doctor: I love 1958, no one's seen Die Hard. Or Alien. Or Die Hard 2, or Aliens, or Die Hard 3...
    • Done to the point of being lampshaded in "Time Heist". All the vents have the warning "No Entry Under Any Circumstances". The Doctor and crew entirely ignore said notices.
  • The Australian series Escape from Jupiter features a moonbase and space station/makeshift rocket that both feature large air ducts. They're also likely some sort of Jefferies tubes — just built in case of need for extended residence.
  • Played with in one episode of Falling Skies where three characters are trapped in the basement of a hospital. Only the smallest character can fit through the vents (barely) so he goes to get help in clearing the hallway so the others can escape. The alien creatures infiltrating the hospital, being much smaller than humans, have no such problem.
  • Justified in Farscape where the diminutive Rygel often uses air ducts and service tunnels to travel when the ship is being invaded or he's feeling particularly paranoid.
  • Used in the Hulu series Freakish to navigate the school and get into a chemistry lab without running afoul of the "freaks" (basically zombies). Justified in that the people crawling through the vent are Zoe and Amber, the smallest members of the cast, and the vents in question lead to a chemistry lab, which would need somewhat larger vents than the rest of the school.
  • On the Friends episode "The One With the Birth", Phoebe, Susan and Ross get locked in a janitor's closet in the hospital. Phoebe tries to escape through the vent but gets stuck, while Susan and Ross just get let out by the janitor.
  • Get Krack!n: At the end of the final episode of season 2, Helen Bidou clambers out of an air vent onto the empty set and manically declares that the show is now hers.
  • In Helix, once he escapes from isolation, Dr. Peter Farragut, a research scientist infected with The Virus, holes up inside the vent systems at the arctic research facility where he works, and Exploits their extensiveness to make his way around the facility once his RFID chip has been disabled. Lampshaded by Major Balleseros during an attempt to trail Peter:
    Balleseros: Now I know what a TV dinner feels like.
    Alan Farragut: Didn't think you were old enough to remember that one.
    Balleseros: Die Hard? Sure, saw it in third grade.
    Alan Farragut: Ouch.
  • Hiro and Ando attempt one on Heroes, but their captors show up at the cell before they make it into the vent.
  • Hustle: Sean and Emma break into a gallery via the vents in "Eat Yourself Slender".
  • iCarly: In the episode "iGo to Japan", Spencer attempts to escape this way. He fails miserably since it leads out to another vent of the same room.
  • The unaired pilot I Man subverts and lampshades this one: Scott Bakula references it as an escape plan... and then finds out that the room only has a regular air vent.
  • Played with but ultimately averted in part two of the The Incredible Hulk episode "Prometheus", where the blind girl who is leading Banner (stuck in a demi-Hulk state that severely limited his intelligence) suggests to him that he remove the grating covering an air vent to escape the underground government research facility they're trapped in, but they don't get the chance to actually try it before they're caught. Possibly double-subverted when they wind up escaping through a large ventilation shaft to the surface anyway.
  • Roomy air vents were used in at least one episode of I Spy, one of the more 'realistic' 1960s spy shows.
  • JAG: In "Sightings", Harm and Meg escape the oncoming Colombians by climbing through an air vent.
  • In one episode of Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger, four of the Gokaigers are captured and put in a cell with an obvious one of these. They try to use it to escape, only to find the villain who captured them standing at the other end.
  • Parker of The Kicks seems to consider this a viable form of travel: In "Head Games", she suggests crawling through the school vents to search for Devin's headband. She suggests it again in "Go Big or Go Home" as a method of looking around for Devin and Mirabelle.
  • In one episode of Las Vegas, some bad guys take over the Montecito security centre. Danny McCoy uses the airvent system to try and get some intelligence on them. Right after the audience starts wondering why the hotel with "the best security on the strip" has such a gaping security hole, the vent collapses, conspicuously dumping Danny in the middle of Security. On his own desk, I believe. Given that his predecessor, Ed Deline, had a bit of a mischievous streak, it's entirely possible he rigged the whole thing up.
    • There's also the time a guest's pet rat went missing from their hotel room. It had apparently done so via this trope, as it eventually did emerge from a ventilation duct.
  • In an episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, Elliot hides inside an air vent in order to spy on a woman holding hostages in autopsy. Then his phone goes off...
  • Leverage
    • Lampshaded: "Looks like Parker's going to have to climb through the air duct again..." Somewhat justified in that Parker is a) a master thief with an extensive knowledge of building layouts, and b) petite.
    • This is apparently standard procedure for master thieves in the Leverageverse. In one episode where the team takes on another team Parker ends up running into her counterpart when both are inside the air-ducts. They are both irritated by the interference, but seem to show a mutual respect.
    • Played with in one season three episode, when Parker encounters difficulties trying to do this as there are lasers blocking her path. Why it wouldn't be cheaper to simply make the ducts too small to crawl through is never addressed.
  • In Lois & Clark: The New Adventures of Superman's "Die Hard" on an X episode, "Fly Hard", Jimmy Olsen manages to escape unseen into the air vent system when terrorists initially take over the Daily Planet. Once he exits the system, however, it doesn't take long before he's found and neutralized.
  • Lost
    • In the second season, this is a legitimate way of getting around in the Swan station. Kate uses the ventilation ducts to escape imprisonment in the food storage room in the episodes "Adrift" and "Orientation", and in the episode "Lockdown", Ben (then going by the alias of "Henry Gale") can escape from being locked inside by blast doors.
    • Locke later sealed the vents to put an end to this kind of thing, which didn't work out so well later once he and Jack found themselves locked inside.
  • In the Miami Vice episode "Baby Blues", crooked adoption lawyer Famiglia crawls through a very spacious ventilation system, complete with ladders between floors, so he can shoot the mother of one of his victims through the grate.
  • Lampshaded and subverted in The Middleman episode "The Clotharian Contamination Protocol":
    Wendy: We're coming from an isolation chamber in a secret headquarters built by an organization so covert we don't even know who they are, yet somehow we have vents large enough to crawl through, with accessible registers everywhere. Was this building designed by TV writers or what?
The subversion being that normally the vents are only a few inches in diameter, but they expand during an alert for this exact purpose. The Middleman explains that the "Nakatomi Protocol" specifically enlarges the vents and turns off the surveillance.
  • Mission: Impossible
    • The master of air duct navigation is clearly the jack-of-all-trades Barney Collier. And one of the few times he wasn't doing it, he was coaching the woman who was.
    • Somewhat justified and subverted in some episodes, particularly early ones. In one they had to employ a contortionist (played by Eartha Kitt): only she was small and limber enough to crawl through the ducts, and they even gave her a Cool Tool so she could unfasten, from inside the duct, the screws that hold the grille on from the outside. At other times they sent a miniature remote controlled hovercraft and a small trained dog through vent ducts and similar. But most of the time, yeah.
  • My Name Is Earl: Earl engineers a jail break using this method. Unfortunately, the duct collapses in the warden's office.
  • Mystery Science Theater 3000
    • Famously lampshaded:
      Joel: You know, it's funny how movie directors always make air vents big enough to crawl around in.
    • And later, much later parodied in the episode I Was a Teenage Werewolf as an Alien parody where Tom Servo attempts to fight an invading alien, armed to the teeth, by going after it in an air vent; but gets stuck and after a few moments of nervous singing, bursts into tears. He does free himself soon afterwards, no thanks to Mike and Crow.
  • MythBusters tested this trick along with a variety of other cat-burglar techniques. Jamie used the common technique of using powerful hand-held magnets to climb the vertical shaft, only to cause a thunderous sound as they connected to the vent walls, defying the point of it being a "stealth" technique. It was so ridiculously loud that everyone on set — including Jamie — broke up laughing after the first step. Adam, on the other hand, used vacuum "cups" on his hands and feet that would grip the vent. Though it wasn't nearly as noisy, it was far from silent, and the equipment lacked reliability (breaking down several times during the course of the show) and it was tricky to use. Adam himself said that he wouldn't trust his life to such machinery.
    Adam: Why, Thor, the God of Thunder, is trying to enter my building!
    Tory: Somebody needs to check that air conditioner!
  • Ned's Declassified School Survival Guide: Many A Simple Plan requires use of the school's elaborate, labyrinthine air ducts, which eventually gave out in the Grand Finale.
  • The air duct was used to get Robin Hood out of a Norman castle in the TV series The New Adventures of Robin Hood. The series was a bit on a Hercules and Xena level of authenticity but (sadly) not meant as a spoof.
  • The New Avengers: In "The Deadly Angels", Purdey gets into the maze in the health farm by crawling through the vents.
  • In Nicky, Ricky, Dicky, and Dawn, it was used to sneak and spy on their siblings. The air vent system was large enougjh for the father to erect his toy train set. It could also fit the four kids to fit nicely in the same place. Of course, the ceiling also failed when they were together.
  • On Nikita, this is used in "Innocence" (3x02) to place a bomb beneath its target. Realistically, it's incredibly hard to get in-it required some serious gymnastics-and claustrophobically small once you are, and that's for a brainwashed 12-year old ex-gymnast Child Soldier. Nikita doesn't even consider following, instead opting to intercept her after she exist the vents.
  • Not "escaping" anything, but the "steam tunnel spelunkers" aspect shows up on NUMB3RS, when it is revealed that Larry had been living in the tunnels on campus for awhile.
  • The Partridge Family: In "The Partridge Papers," Laurie tries to crawl through the vent to get into the office where her Secret Diary is being held. She ends up kicking out the wrong grate and climbing down into the same room she started from.
  • Person of Interest. In "Razgovor", Shaw and the POI escape into the air vents of an old apartment building, only to be flushed out when the villains puncture the air conditioning system, causing chlorodifluoromethane to flood into the vents.
  • Done by the entire main cast in Pixelface when the zombies from Claireparker's game invade the console. Of course, the vents aren't designed to take that much weight and they end up crashing through the ceiling.
  • This is used on several episodes of the first season of The Pretender. During the first season finale Jared does this to break into and escape the Centre.
  • Used on Primeval when Abby and Connor needed to get to a certain floor in a skyscraper. Since taking the stairs/lift would have been incredibly dangerous (there was fog coming out of an anomaly that obscured the floor, and moving in the fog were giant worm things that were hard to see), they had to use the air vents.
  • Psych plays it straight with the sheer size of the ducts, but compensated by making the ensuing chase look awkward and ridiculous.
  • In the Red Dwarf episode "Duct Soup", the crew spend most of the episode crawling around the ship's exceptionally large heating ducts to fix the thermostat. This, unfortunately for them, includes a badly claustrophobic Lister and the ducts being washed down and then air-dried...
  • The frequent use of this trope in its parent show is lampshaded in The Sarah Jane Adventures story "Death of the Doctor".
    Eleventh Doctor: Ventilation shafts, that takes me back. And forward.
  • Scorpion: In "Shorthanded", Happy and Toby break into the Crimson casino by crawling through the air vents. Toby ends up falling through the ceiling.
  • In The Secret World of Alex Mack, the eponymous heroine did this a few times, and at least once escaped captivity via the plumbing. It helped that she could turn into a liquid.
  • Seinfeld, when George uses an air vent to break into his office after his boss tries to get him to resign by barricading it.
    George: (on phone) Hello Margery, George Costanza. How are you sweetheart? Listen, can you give Mr. Thomassoulo a message for me?... Yes. If he needs me, tell him "I’M IN MY OFFICE!" Thanks.
  • On Smallville, Clark travels through the LuthorCorp air ducts when he is Brought Down to Normal. In a later episode, this is also part of Jimmy's spy tactics.
  • Space: 1999: The Alpha Base air vents are of realistic size, and their openings quite tiny, but this is not a problem for Maya, since she can turn into a mouse before crawling into them.
  • Along with many, many other tropes, this one is parodied in Spaced when Mike and Tim are trying to escape from the offices of Dark Star comics: "Ah, the air vent. Simple, classic."
  • Stargate:
    • In Stargate SG-1, the eponymous team uses this trope every time they're on a Goa'uld mothership.
    • In an episode of Stargate Atlantis, Zelenka crawls through a vent to turn the city's power back on, although in this case the air vents are the same size as you'd find in the real world so he did have a very hard time moving around.
  • Star Trek has the "Jefferies Tube" maintenance tunnels criss-crossing the ship. They're actually designed for human access, but are quite often used in this way.
    • Star Trek: The Original Series
      • In "Dagger of the Mind", Dr. Helen Noel saves the day by using a passage to get to the power room and shut off the Tantalus Colony's force field.
      • In "Miri", the children use an air vent to infiltrate the lab where the Enterprise crew is working and steal their communicators.
      • In "The Trouble With Tribbles", Scotty speculates that the tribbles got into the food processors on the Enterprise via the actual air vents. Spock realizes that the grain the Enterprise is guarding on the nearby space station is in storage compartments with similar vents, prompting Kirk to beam over and leading to the episode's Crowning Moment of Funny.
    • Star Trek: The Next Generation had a few "Die Hard" on an X episodes where the Jefferies Tubes come in handy this way.
    • Star Trek: Enterprise. The ship is taken over and everyone is locked in their rooms. Hoshi, being the smallest person on board (and a regular) manages to wriggle out through the vents. Presumably, Hoshi is the one called upon when something in the vent needs fixing. Or she was chosen so we could have a gratuitous Fanservice moment where her shirt gets pulled off. Especially since the ducts didn't seem that narrow anyway. If anything, that was at least acknowledging that the Jefferies Tubes would be guarded by the bad guys. That vent existed solely during construction and was closed off upon completion, it was never intended for people to pass through.
      • In the Mirror Universe episode "In A Mirror, Darkly", the crew of Mirror NX-01 Enterprise pursue a Gorn through the Jeffries tubes of an Original Series vessel.
    • Not exactly an air vent, but in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine they once had Jake crawl through a disused ore-processing chute that was too small for a grown man, but not for a scrawny fourteen-year-old.
    • It would be easier to list the Star Trek: Voyager episodes that don't involve Jefferies Tubes.
  • Stranger Things: Air vents show up in Season 3. Realistically, the mall's air vents are very small, forcing Dustin and Steve to recruit a ten-year-old who still finds it a tight fit. The vents in the secret Russian base are much larger, allowing an adult to use them. Being underground, the vents would need to be much larger to handle the necessary airflow.
    • The vents are also dust-free and spotless...because the mall just opened.
  • The Suite Life of Zack and Cody: Zack and Cody easily spend more time traversing the Tipton's air vents than just using the hallways and doors.
  • Still shows up regularly in Supernatural, with Sam and Dean playing Rock–Paper–Scissors to see who'll go down in the ductwork. (It's always Dean. Dean is really bad at Rock–Paper–Scissors.) Although it was Sam who crawled through the vent to the old cell block in "Folsom Prison Blues" (S02, Ep19).
  • In the Teachers (2016) episode "Duct Duct Goose," one of Ms. Feldman's students climbs into the ceiling and crawls through the ducts. They don't actually lead anywhere; the kid mainly just threatens not to come down.
  • Played straight in Season 5 of True Blood. Turns out when you can shift into a fly, air vents are quite accommodating.
  • Subverted on Undeclared, where Steven, finding himself trapped in a room, attempts to crawl through an external ventilation duct, which breaks from the wall and falls as soon as he enters.
  • Unnatural History subverts this. Jasper tries to think of a creative way out of the room he's trapped in, and the camera focuses on a air vent duct. The next shot shows him struggling futilely to pry the vent free.
  • The old Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea series was rife with this trope, especially in the later seasons, when it seemed every third episode had a villain or Monster of the Week or regular character evading a villain or MotW getting into the ventilation system at some point. Played straight for the most part, although somewhat subverted in that the ducts themselves were quite roomy, and the vents were about a yard square or more in size, hinged like a door with a latch that anything brighter than a rock could operate, allowing convenient access.
  • Wonder Woman: Used by Havitol to steal IRAC in "IRAC Is Missing".
  • The Worst Year of My Life, Again: Used by Alex in "Maths Test" to break into Norris' classroom to either steal (the first time round) or retrieve (the second time) the test papers. Neither time ends well.
  • The X-Files
    • Justified in episodes "Squeeze" and "Tooms", since the killer — Eugene Victor Tooms — is a mutant whose power is to be capable of squeezing through tiny openings.
    • Used with absolutely no justification in "Ghost in the Machine". Though there is a slight subversion when Scully learns firsthand the downside of trying to climb through the airducts when an insane AI controls the ventilation system...
    • A conspiracy theorist trying to spy on a defense contractor's meeting in "Three of a Kind" gets caught when the duct audibly flexes under his weight.


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