Star Trek: Voyager
Air date: 1/29/1996
Teleplay by Brannon Braga
Story by Michael DeLuca
Directed by Alexander Singer
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
"Here lies Thomas Eugene Paris: beloved mutant." — Tom's epitaph to himself
Nutshell: If you looked "Threshold" up in the dictionary, it would say "A filmed mistake."
I'll admit I was too nice when I originally reviewed this episode. I held back my cynicism and gave the show the benefit of the doubt, and I even gave it a higher rating than what now appears above this review. But now, months after the original airing of the show, I have had the wonderfully excruciating experience of seeing it again. And to put something mildly for probably the last time in this review, I'll just say that repeat viewings of "Threshold" do not do the show any justice. It actually gets worse with each viewing, and multiple viewings—make that any viewing—should be avoided if at all possible.
"Threshold" is one of the all-time worst episodes of Star Trek ever filmed, as far as I'm concerned. It's an absurd, technobabble disaster that practically deserves to be put up for scrutiny just so it can be torn apart. Non-Trekkers are bound to have a field day with it. If I were a person who had never seen Star Trek before and had the unfortunate experience of tuning into "Threshold," I would probably never tune into Star Trek again.
The plot? Do you care? In an attempt to break the threshold of the warp speed barrier, Lt. Paris tries to perform a theoretical impossibility: attain a velocity of warp ten in a jerry-rigged shuttlecraft. Unfortunately, breaking this barrier has some mysterious (nah—too favorable a word for this story) consequences which begin mutating Paris' DNA and putting his life in danger.
The show progresses from "positively implausible" to "positively laborious" to "positively repetitive." And just when it looks like it's going to end with a "positively predictable" revelation, something else happens instead—the episode supplies an ending that has to go down as one of the most absurdly unbelievable, stupendously outrageous, dumb, and utterly pointless ideas Star Trek has ever done. It's definitely the weirdest thing I've seen on Voyager. You gotta hand it to Brannon Braga, though; it took him a lot of guts to try something this strange and offbeat—and I sure didn't see it coming. (I'll have to admit, however, that this looks more like something Joe Menosky would come up with.) It's too bad this strange ending was so uncompromisingly bad.
In the beginning, the show looked like it might possibly have some value. The idea that Paris, Torres, and Kim have apparently figured out what could be a historic turning point in technology use is something that could have been put to reasonable dramatic use. Janeway puts it best when she says this kind of travel could change the very nature of human existence (in addition to getting Voyager back home). This also gives Paris a potentially good show (which he hasn't gotten many of since he often fades into the background as a supporting character); the idea of pioneering new flight is something that suits his character rather well.
It's about here, however, that the show completely derails and the "positively implausible" side shows up. According to theory, warp ten means "infinite speed," in which one would occupy every bit of space in the universe simultaneously. Fine and dandy, but if this theory is true, where is Paris going to end up when he hits warp ten? How will he stop? How will he survive? Are we supposed to believe his computer will be able to navigate a course at infinite speed?
Paris' flight is successful, and when he returns, he speaks of a magnificent, indescribable experience ("I was everywhere at once; here on Voyager, back home on Earth..."). The episode claims that Paris' trip proves the theory is true, which brings up even more questions. How does his brain perceive everything, everywhere at once? Why isn't his shuttle destroyed? Why is it this warp ten theory completely contradicts what we were led to believe in TNG's "All Good Things," where ships in the future could all go warp 13? Why has the word "transwarp" completely changed meanings since we heard it in Star Trek III? Why does this episode prompt so much nitpicking from me, a person who generally considers nitpicking a waste of time?
Frankly, I don't find the warp theory arguments in this episode believable or interesting, because the episode contradicts its own logic on more than one occasion. The only reason we as 20th century science-educated Star Trek viewers can comprehend acceleration beyond the speed of light—an impossibility according to Einstein—is because Trek never actually tries to explain how it's done, short of acknowledging the existence of some "warp field" theories that bend the contemporary rules of physics. On the other hand, the difference between "extremely fast" and "infinite speed" requires a big leap in logical thinking—and the logic in this episode is full of holes and mired in typical technobabble.
While highly implausible, the show may have still been salvageable for dramatic or entertainment purposes, but instead we get to the "positively laborious and repetitive" portion. Paris begins turning into a mutant, and, as a result, nearly all of acts three and four are played out in sickbay, where the Doctor explains what's happening to Paris with the usual, unexciting, medical mumbo-jumbo. There are some pointless gags here used merely to pad out the scenes, like Paris actually dying for a few hours, and then coming back to life; and the "revelation" that he has two hearts. It seems Paris' acceleration beyond the threshold is causing his "DNA to evolve at an accelerated rate," turning him into a human form that would presumably appear eons from now.
Really, aside from a decent performance by Robert McNeill as a scared, grotesque-looking Paris-mutant, and a few bizarre sights like Paris spitting his own tongue out of his mouth, there's nothing in these two acts to keep one's interest. A few character-driven scenes try to sneak their way to the surface, but take second place to a series of drearily uninteresting instances where the Doctor babbles on about DNA mutations, and so forth.
This all leads to the final act where Doc tries to reverse the mutation process by subjecting Paris to antiproton radiation (or something) in engineering. Paris breaks free, kidnaps Captain Janeway, steals a shuttle, and escapes at warp ten. Three days later, Voyager finally locates the shuttle, which has landed on some obscure planet. Here's the outrageous part: When Chakotay locates Paris and Janeway, he discovers that both have mutated into amphibian-like creatures, which have mated and produced offspring. Does this strike only me as insanely silly? Where did this notion come from? Is this supposed to be comedy? I'm not sure, but it is effective in one sense—it manages to recapture my interest (which, however, turned out not to be a good thing).
Returning Janeway and Paris to their normal state is, naturally, a piece of cake, thanks to the Doctor's antiproton radiation "sci-fi" theory, which again treats DNA like a magical substance that can be manipulated at will—mind you, only when stories require a contrived solution to a problem (a la TNG's "Genesis") that can't be solved any other way. Aside from Janeway's admittedly funny one-liner ("I've thought about having children; but I must say I never considered having them with you."), there's nothing to indicate that Janeway and Paris having "children" will have any consequences, characteristically speaking or otherwise. The episode sports the all-too-familiar attitude of "Well, it doesn't really mean anything, so just forget about it." So why do it, then? Paris and Janeway having offspring has no apparent rationale—except that maybe the writers thought it would be a great gag.
Aside from being downright dumb, the ending also brings up so many unresolved inconsistencies. Was this amphibian creature supposed to be an evolutionary human or not? The Doctor initially calls it natural human evolution, although it seems more like devolution to me; I would hope that eons of natural evolution wouldn't reduce us to walking on four legs and living in water, while mating on instinct. But by the end of the show, for some reason, everyone begins referring to it as an "alien." Which is it? If it is a new form of human intelligence, is it really wise for Chakotay to leave the offspring in their new habitat? Put these oversights alongside the fact that Janeway and Paris are able to have offspring in a mere matter of days, and the unanswerable question of why going infinite speed only puts the shuttle three days away from Voyager, and it amounts to little more than a collection of appallingly idiotic half-baked ideas, none of which has anything to say.
But who cares? The conclusion is crazy, yet so arbitrary and meaningless that, like most of "Threshold," it may as well not even exist in the confines of the Star Trek universe. Hell, why not use this transwarp theory to get home? Sure, everyone may turn into amphibians shortly thereafter, but just put them all in engineering and irradiate them with antiprotons and everyone would be fine... and back home in the Alpha Quadrant. Hey, it would work using this episode's logic.
What went wrong here? It's a mystery to me. Brannon Braga isn't a bad writer—"Projections" is proof of that. Alexander Singer has been successfully directing Trek for years. How did the checks and balances of Star Trek: Voyager fail so miserably?