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Threshold

WARNING: The article below contains spoilers for VOY's "Threshold". Crossing the spoiler threshold may have unsavory consequences.

In brief: Yuck.

Written by: Michael DeLuca (story); Brannon Braga (teleplay) Directed by: Alexander Singer Brief summary: An attempt by Lt. Paris to reach warp ten ("transwarp" velocities) goes horribly wrong, as Paris begins to change into something not at all human.

Before I begin, a flashback. I wrote in my review of TNG's "Genesis" a line which is now coming back into vivid focus. When discussing "Genesis" and all the myriad reasons it was terrible, I said

"If this is going to be typical of 'Voyager', count me out."

Little did I know. "Threshold" was similar to "Genesis" in all the worst ways: contradicting itself right and left, dumb ideas that should never have been filmed in the first place, and a use of science so bad that it borders on contemptuous.

First and foremost, given the episode as it unfolded, the Voyager crew should be able to *keep using transwarp* to get home at this point. It was said partway in that all they need to do is figure out a way to steer; that is still true. But wait, you say, isn't everyone going to turn into amphibian-like creatures? Yes, but that's obviously no problem; it takes time to happen, and the Doctor's already figured out in what direction to click his heels three times to rescue the crew. It is, simply put, not an issue -- which means that we should see a devoted emphasis put on trying to use transwarp to get Voyager home. Five'll get you ten that we don't; "Threshold"'s intent seems to have been to put transwarp firmly into "there are things man was not meant to know" territory.

(The fact that the doctor managed to cure Paris and Janeway is one of the inconsistencies I mentioned. He was very emphatic earlier about the need for urgency in treating Paris; otherwise, he said, there would be "no original DNA left" and a cure would be impossible. Not that this ended up being the case when he actually had to try on the fully- altered creatures, of course.)

Overall, the entire show felt like an excuse to do a let's-mutate-Paris story, really. It was clear, for instance, that this technique *wouldn't* get Voyager home; if it did, that's it for the series. Therefore, it was clear something was going to go wrong. Given that a simple "sorry, can't make it work" would be rather less than compelling, that suggested a side effect -- thus Paris's plight. That in itself wouldn't necessarily be a problem if the issue felt realistic or if Paris's woes were handled well. They weren't.

For one thing, the conversation between Paris and Janeway when she tries to remove him from the test flight was mostly pointless. It did serve to get across Paris's motivations for having to be the one to go on the flight, if a little bluntly; but that bluntness, combined with the rather blatant parallels to a similar scene in "Apollo 13", greatly weakened any power the scene might have had. (The way in which the brain problems were set up as a plot point and then used as a red herring was not entirely appreciated, either.)

Once Paris returns and starts changing, the entire episode gets silly to the point of being almost unwatchable. While the actors did everything they could (McNeill in particular), and occasional snatches of dialogue were fun (I particularly liked Paris's self-claimed epitaph: "here lies Thomas Eugene Paris, beloved mutant"), they couldn't even come close to making up for the fundamental idiocies of what we were being shown.

In a nutshell: Paris is dead, then he's not dead. He's growing extra organs that no one can find any use for -- and that's never explained, even later. After making claims that he's better than he was and sounding paranoid, Paris removes his tongue and tries to escape. The doctor proposing radiating Paris from the warp-core, but Paris manages to escape showing strength that no one knew he had. He kidnaps Janeway, steals the shuttle (continuing the tradition of shuttles wearing a "Please Steal Me; Don't Worry, No One Will Stop You" sign begun back in TNG), and goes at transwarp again, forcing her to mutate along with him. Fortunately, Chakotay and Tuvok find them a few days later, and the doctor manages to turn them back to normal -- but not until the mutant amphibian Janeway has had children by the mutant amphibian Paris.

Everyone got that? More to the point, does anyone *want* that?

Let's see, where to begin about the problems there...

-- There's the usual "DNA is magic" concept, with the absolutely stupid idea that changing someone's DNA will turn them into something else instead of simply *killing them*. (Anyone who wants more details on that can read my review of "Genesis"; I made the points there and don't feel like repeating myself.) Bottom line: the next DNA-is-magic Trek episode I see will be my last.

-- But wait; there's not only DNA idiocy, but the evolution idiocy from "The Chase" is back, too. Apparently we can now predict evolution without any knowledge of outside forces -- and apparently, we're going to be very large, sentient salamanders. That certainly puts my mind at ease. (It also, by the way, invalidates the humanoid- as-end-result idea of "The Chase" -- I wish I could feel pleased about that.)

-- Continuing that idea, apparently evolution is something that happens to *individuals* now. I won't even start in on that.

-- As a nitpick, Paris at one point is getting hit with "0.057 amu's of antiproton radiation". An extremely interesting concept, that -- given that 1 amu (short for "atomic mass unit") is essentially the mass of one proton. I'd love to know how Torres pulled that off.

-- As a non-science objection, Chakotay and Tuvok apparently have no compunction about leaving Janeway's and Paris's offspring behind. Okay, all well and good in terms of not wanting to embarrass the captain -- but this is presumably a sentient race (at least, I'd hope the "future of human evolution" would be such). Introducing a new race isn't a massive violation of the Prime Directive? Riiiiight.

-- The closing scene felt like sniggering. Among other things, there was the continual reference to "mating" -- seems that no one can actually talk about having *sex*. (As a wonderfully mockable moment, however, right after the conversation stops being about mating, Janeway says to Paris that she's putting a commendation on his record. The line "you were GREAT!" immediately followed from me. :-) )

As I said, the actors did what they could with a godawful story, and occasionally the dialogue got clever enough to overshadow the story for a line or two (Chakotay's and Tuvok's exchange about how to write this up in the log, for instance). Jonas's report to his Kazon operative was also of interest. On the whole, however, "Threshold" is a show that, while not as bad as "Genesis" for the first three- quarters of the episode, made up for lost time in the last 15 minutes. Unless you're a completist, and possibly even if you're one, "Threshold" is a show to avoid at all costs.

So, to sum up:

Writing: Occasional glimmers of a good line or an interesting character idea, but woefully outmatched by one of the dumbest Trek story ideas ever constructed. Directing: To be honest, it was difficult to tell; when I'm shuddering that badly, I can't always look for it. Acting: Most of the cast did what they could. OVERALL: 2.

NEXT WEEK: Tuvok is seduced by the dark side of ... oh, no, wait, it's a mind- meld. My fault.

Tim Lynch (Harvard-Westlake School, Science Dept.) tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu "I don't know how I'm going to enter this into my log." "I look forward to reading it." -- Chakotay and Tuvok Copyright 1996, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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