Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Classics: Voyager 2:15 - Threshold

Overall Rating: 0.0

Yes.  Zero.  There is not one redeeming feature of this episode that isn't immediately turned into your worst nightmare.  An interesting IDEA gone wrong in every imaginable way.

Plot Synopsis:

Let me shorthand it for you.  Tom Paris goes infinitely fast and begins "evolving" into a salamander - he takes Janeway for a joyride so that he can procreate as a salamander - the Doctor magically cures them both.  And let us never speak of it again.

The Skinny:

Hey, remember when you thought it would be awesome to see Tom Paris screw Captain Janeway?  No?  You mean you're not a sick bastard who loves internet rule #31?  Well, Brannon Braga is...and he can do your worst porn story one better!  First they're gonna take their cosplay way WAAAYYY too far and then they're gonna experiment with scaly fetishism (I can't very well say furry since...um...salamanders are not furry)...and then we're just gonna forget the whole thing ever happened!  No seriously...I am not making this up.

There is a movie called "The Room."  It was written, directed, produced, financed and starred in by a bizarre man named Tommy Wiseau - look it up and prepare to be amazed at just how you can do absolutely EVERYTHING wrong in the making of a movie.  And you know what?  Despite the HORRENDOUS acting and repetitive and illogical plot construction, that movie is both more fun to watch and easier to understand (and more internally consistent) than Threshold.

But don't take my word for it.  Here is how Threshold's primary story creator (Michael De Luca) reacted after the filming of Threshold.
"I asked them to remove my name from the credits - it was not even close to what I envisioned - but I signed away the story idea and was stuck with the consequences."
Here's what Brannon Braga said about it in his interview for the Voyager Season 2 special features.
"I'm sorry, guys.  I'm really sorry.  The idea could have been good, but I really messed this one up.  It's a real steaming stinker."
Rick Berman (executive producer) said the following:
"Some of the fault lies with me.  Episodes like this that are playing at our normal perceptions and trying to make us think outside the box need more time to ripen on the vine before we put them through production.  We sometimes rushed our staff writers to get scripts out - we made a conscious decision to de-emphasize freelance contributions so that the canon of the show would be more internally consistent, but the cost is frequently overworked writers and the occasional clunker."
He's not kidding!  Even DS9 suffered from clunker syndrome, and they accepted more freelance scripts, especially early on.  But this...this one defies all attempts at explanation.  It is hard to fathom how Braga ever thought that the quality of product he was releasing was REMOTELY up to the standards of the storied Star Trek franchise.  Maybe he watched Spock's Brain, Way to Eden, Captain's Holiday and Shades of Grey before he wrote it...but this episode isn't fit to hold the sweaty gym socks of those abominations.  Maybe he was drunk when he wrote the screenplay?

The only thing I can really do is catalogue what went wrong in the most general of terms because so many others have tackled this episode that if I get too specific, I'm going to start repeating old jokes from the likes of SFDebris and Jammer.  Here are the biggest problems with this episode:
  • The only way that a plot like this can work is if the creative team treats it like crack.  Crack is a term sci fi fans use to describe a story that is so insane or surreal that it had to have been penned by someone high on crack.  Both myself and this blog's other contributor Stephanie S. love crack if it's done well.  But this episode took a crack plot and wrote it with a straight face.  Everything was taken seriously...they tried to come up with a rational explanation for every phase of the plot...and because it's crack, those explanations cannot possibly have made any sense.  Indeed, their attempts to explain the transwarp barrier, the effects it had on Paris, and the resulting bizarre series of medical maladies that followed for Tom and Catherine came across as so completely contrived and erroneous as to be insulting.  I won't get into the folly of achieving a goal that is theoretically impossible or the inconsistency between this episode and other Voyager episodes that show the Borg travelling at transwarp speeds (which are decidedly NOT infinite!), and I won't belabour the points others have made about the show's evil promulgation of a false understanding of the process of evolution.  It's a waste of time to nitpick crack.  It's just that this is a crack script written like any other story...and that is not smart.
  • The episode is completely inconsistent with ITSELF.  One example - Paris evolves in such a way that he needs a different atmosphere to breathe.  And then shortly thereafter, he leaves his containment field, travels to engineering and kidnaps Janeway, carrying her into his shuttle whereupon he flies to another world at transwarp speeds and the two happy salamanders have babies.  Um...how did he survive without breathing for so long?  One could argue that he had evolved back into a form that could breathe our atmosphere...but why would he do that?  That doesn't make sense.
  • The characters do not behave like themselves.  In crack, you have to have a situation that is ridiculous and then place your established characters in that situation and see how they handle it AS THEMSELVES.  But Tom Paris doesn't act like Tom Paris except for in the beginning of the episode, Harry Kim (his best friend) doesn't mourn his apparent death, B'Elanna Torres and Chakotay - former Maquis associates - pay him little mind.  And the Doctor is bizarrely calm considering the medically inexplicable nature of Tom's condition and the speed of his transformation.  And...um...if Tom were to pick ANYONE to turn into a salamander and mate with...why would it be Janeway?  Characters that are thoroughly interchangeable do not make for good storytelling on any occasion, but they make the whole point of doing crack science fiction moot.  It's not worth telling a strange story if the people in it do not matter.
  • The middle half hour is alarmingly repetitive and slow considering what's happening.  Even the exciting transwarp experiment itself is filmed in the most boring way imaginable and discussed after the fact in even less engaging ways.
I'm sure everyone who has seen this episode has their own complaints.  The point is...Threshold fails to live up to the rules of good storytelling in general and the rules of writing crack specifically.  But believe it or not...as stupidly pointless and poorly written as this episode was...it could have actually be a great show if they'd made a few simple changes.

Let's Go With It!

Right now you're thinking...just what is going to say to save this horrific idea?  There are actually two paths you could have taken - the non-crack story and the crack story - first we'll do the non-crack story.  Tom Paris' character is tragic.  He has spent his entire life striving to be special and failing miserably after heroic effort.  He wants to do right by his fellow men, but he wants to belong and to be remembered far more.  He has trouble restraining his emotional impulses - especially his pride - and it holds him back.  And he takes needless risks because he feels the need to prove himself at all times.  This episode is a tragic story for Tom Paris.  He gets a good idea into his head and obsessively pursues it over the objections of his colleagues.  It's too dangerous - you'll get yourself killed!  And then he tries it anyway...and it radically changes his DNA, killing him in the process.  The Doctor is able to revive him after formulating a cure to his condition, but not before days with Paris in suspended animation while the crew mourns his passing.  All of his friends express grief, anger, sorrow etc. over his untimely death and the pointlessness of it.   When he finally comes to, Janeway busts him down to private and turns control of the helm over to Harry.  She orders Paris to do waste extraction duty for the next six months and think about the effect his decisions have on other people who are counting on him.

Now the crack story.  We can go with the crazy salamander ending - slightly modified - but it will need a lasting reason for being.  Tom THINKS he went infinitely fast, but what he actually did was enter a transwarp conduit (a la the Borg) and, with no control over his heading, he stumbled into an advanced alien species who now lives in the transwarp dimension.  They program him to evolve into a different form of life that can survive in transwarp because they need him to procreate - they're dying out and are no longer capable of physical procreation.  He absconds with KES (the more logical female for this story since he has a thing for her at this time and she is working in sickbay) and they do their salamander thing on a rogue planet near one of these transwarp tunnels and the advanced aliens then pick them up and return them to their human visage with data about their species and their thanks for saving them from extinction.  Tom and Kes must then agree that he will not see her again outside of work because his feelings for her can never be indulged.

Either way...you have a story that has a point...and you avoid having to explain inexplicable science just to make the plot move.  It is focused on the people and the effect these strange events have on them, rather than the events devoid of all emotion or relevance.  And either way, the fanciful elements that Braga so admired in the original story concept would have been fascinating, rather than intrusive and mind-bending.

Writing: 0.0

Braga himself admits that he did EVERYTHING wrong with this script.

Acting: 0.0

McNeil TRIES to give this one some feeling, but fails...I don't think he believes he's really acting out this horrid script.  The rest of the cast is strangely flat and inattentive, even the usually brilliant Robert Picardo.

Message: 0.0

This one doesn't just have NO message...it somehow manages to be offensive and pointless at the same time.  Tbat's hard to do.


  1. Wow. Your "Let's Go With It" ideas are brilliant. Nice job rehabilitating the worst idea ever!