Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch

Star Trek: Voyager Rewatch: “Threshold”

“Threshold”
Written by Michael De Luca and Brannon Braga
Directed by Alexander Singer
Season 2, Episode 15
Production episode 132
Original air date: January 29, 1996
Stardate: 49373.4

Captain’s log. After mining some super-special dilithium that can handle higher warp frequencies, Torres, Kim, and Paris start tinkering with a transwarp drive that can hit warp ten, a theoretical impossibility, but which would enable them to get home in an instant since it’s, in essence, infinite velocity.

The problem is, every simulation they’ve run on the holodeck has failed. Talking with Neelix in the mess hall actually prompts an idea on how to fix the problem, though Neelix himself didn’t understand a word they said.

Their simulation works once they make that fix, and they put it to Janeway and Chakotay to move on to a practical test. Everyone is thrilled at the notion, and they get to work.

The three of them outfit the shuttlecraft Cochrane with the transwarp drive and all the modifications they need to make. The night before the test, Janeway visits Paris in his quarters to inform him that the EMH did a medical exam and found an enzymatic imbalance in his cerebellum during the simulations. There’s a two-percent chance that it will cause a brain hemorrhage during the test, and Janeway wants Kim to pilot the shuttle instead. Paris whines and complains about how mean his father was to him, and how he wants to do something meaningful with his life because he was told as a boy that he would and he hasn’t. Janeway, for some reason, gives in to this and allows him to fly the test, assuming the brain hemorrhage will be staved off by the power of his machismo.

Paris takes the Cochrane out and hits the transwarp drive, and then suddenly the shuttle disappears right when he hits warp ten.

Eventually, they find the shuttle and bring it back on board. Paris is unconscious, and when he wakes up in sickbay he says he was everywhere at once. He mentions seeing Earth, the Klingon Empire, the Kazon, and other galaxies, all at the same time. He also saw Voyager looking for him, so he shut down the warp drive, which put him back where he started, er, somehow.

Torres confirms with the shuttle computer that he hit warp ten, and the shuttle’s sensors have craptons of data scanned, including every cubic centimeter of the sector Voyager is in. Janeway has Torres send it to stellar cartography to start making star charts.

Later, Torres and Paris share a drink in the mess hall—specifically the “Paris blend” of coffee that Neelix has created in his honor. Then Paris suddenly collapses—and the transporter room can’t get a lock on him to beam him to sickbay. He’s brought there physically, and the EMH is shocked to learn that he had an allergic reaction to the water in the coffee. His lungs are no longer processing oxygen properly, either. The EMH sets up a containment area with an atmosphere he can breathe, but only the EMH himself can go in there. Paris’s skin starts changing, and he becomes delirious, muttering different things, ranging from requesting a big funeral to when he lost his virginity to wanting a pepperoni-and-olive pizza, and at one point asking Kes to kiss him as a final wish—but she can’t enter the containment unit.

And then Paris dies.

Screenshot: CBS

And then later he wakes up, er, somehow. According to the EMH, he’s evolving. He’s grown another heart, his hair has fallen out, and his skin has changed, plus one of his eyes is different. The EMH has had to put him back in a containment field, as he’s also suffering some major personality shifts. Janeway tries talking to him, and he goes back and forth from miserable bastard to flaming asshole. And then he vomits out his own tongue.

Jonas covertly sends information about the warp ten experiment to the Kazon-Nistrim. This will possibly be important at some point in a later episode.

The EMH believes he can revert Paris to normal by using anti-protons to wipe out the mutated DNA, thus leaving only his original DNA behind. (How the anti-protons are supposed to be able to distinguish is left as an exercise for the viewer.) The only source of anti-protons is the warp core, and there isn’t time to set up a device to bring to sickbay, so they bring Paris to engineering, restrained in an allegedly secure biobed in front of the warp core. But before the treatment can start, the biobed proves insecure and Paris breaks out, getting into a firefight with the engineering crew. One shot takes out a port plasma conduit, causing power failures all over the ship. Tuvok calls a security alert, but internal sensors are down, so they can’t track Paris.

Paris, who has been saying he needs to get off the ship, ambushes Janeway and takes her on the Cochrane and hits warp ten again.

Three days later, Voyager finally locates the shuttle on a planet. They find two lizards with human DNA in them, as well as their three offspring. Apparently, this is what Janeway and Paris “evolved” into—tiny lizards that can mate, gestate, and give birth in three days.

Chakotay uses his phaser to stun the lizard versions of Janeway and Paris, and brings them back. (He leaves the offspring behind because the producers don’t want to deal with baby lizards on the show.) The anti-proton treatment works fine when the subjects are unconscious (raising the question of why they didn’t sedate Paris the first time), and they both recover. Janeway tells Paris that she’s putting him in for a commendation because, regardless of the outcome, he did break the warp-ten barrier.

Can’t we just reverse the polarity? This episode establishes warp ten as a theoretical impossibility, because it’s infinite velocity, putting you in every place in the universe at once. This despite the fact that multiple previous Star Trek episodes (“Journey to Babel,” “The Changeling,” “By Any Other Name,” “That Which Survives,” “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield,” “The Counter-Clock Incident,” “All Good Things…“) had ships going faster than warp ten. And yes, I know all the nonsense about recalibrating the warp scale and other behind-the-scenes stuff, which is all utterly irrelevant, I’m talking about what’s been seen onscreen. And what’s been established in actual Star Trek TV shows is that ships can go past warp ten, until this episode, when they suddenly can’t without turning passengers into lizards.

There’s coffee in that nebula! Janeway is very obviously thrilled at the notion of breaking the warp ten barrier, and not just because it will get them home. She talks very reverently of the accomplishment.

And then Paris thanks her by kidnapping her, mutating her, and making babies with her. Cha cha cha.

Mr. Vulcan. When Tuvok and Chakotay find the mutated Janeway and Paris and their kiddos, Chakotay says he has no idea how he’s going to write this up in his log, and Tuvok dryly says, “I look forward to reading it.”

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Half and half. Torres, Kim, and Paris are all-in on trying to get this project to work. It’s kinda fun to watch.

Please state the nature of the medical emergency. The EMH at first treats Paris with the same disdain he always does, but once he starts to get seriously ill, he actually seems to feel sorry for him for the first time—well, ever.

Everybody comes to Neelix’s. While he knows nothing about warp theory, truly, Neelix’s questions about the project help focus Torres, Kim, and Paris and put them on the road to a solution.

Also, when told that Paris drank a new blend of Neelix’s coffee before collapsing in the mess hall, the EMH expresses surprise that the coffee didn’t kill him outright.

Do it.

“Can you wake him?”

“I don’t see why not. WAKE UP, LIEUTENANT!”

–Janeway requesting that Paris be revived, and the EMH not wanting to waste a perfectly good stimulant.

No sex, please, we’re Starfleet. Paris apparently lost his virginity at the age of seventeen in his own bedroom. The EMH dryly notes that he’ll make a note of it in his medical file.

Also the mutated Paris and Janeway knock boots and have three kids.

Welcome aboard. The only guests in this one are Raphael Sbarge as Jonas and Mirron E. Willis as Rettik, who are in one scene to show that the Jonas-betrays-the-crew-to-the-Kazon thing is an ongoing plot point since it started in “Alliances.”

Trivial matters: Janeway mentions other pilot pioneers: Orville Wright (why she only mentions Orville and not Wilbur is a mystery), who created and flew the first heavier-than-air flying machine, Neil Armstrong, who was the first human to set foot on the surface of the moon, and Zefram Cochrane, established in “Metamorphosis” on the original series as pioneering faster-than-light travel, and also seen in Enterprise’s “Broken Bow” and the movie First Contact (and after whom they name the shuttlecraft they use in this episode).

The notion of transwarp drive was first mentioned in Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, as the U.S.S. Excelsior was equipped with such. It is generally assumed that the Excelsior transwarp experiments were failures since the next time we saw the ship in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, there was no mention of transwarp drive, nor any mention of same in any of the spinoffs—until now, anyhow.

Supposedly, Gene Roddenberry wanted a recalibrated warp scale for TNG, so that warp speeds up to, but not including warp ten were as far as one could go. This was never stated onscreen, however, which is why you had the Enterprise hitting warp thirteen in the alternate future of “All Good Things…

Michael De Luca sold this story to Voyager when he was the head of New Line Cinema.

Writing as “TG Theodore,” Ted Kopulos wrote a followup to this episode from the point of view of the three lizard offspring in the short story “On the Rocks” in Strange New Worlds V.

This episode is pretty universally despised, and routinely makes “worst-of” lists for both Voyager in particular and Trek in general.

Star Trek: Voyager

Screenshot: CBS

Set a course for home. “I have no idea what they just said.” This episode is generally spoken of in the same disdainful breath as other worst-ever episodes, residing in the bottom of the barrel alongside “Spock’s Brain” and “And the Children Shall Lead” and “Plato’s Stepchildren” and “Shades of Gray” and “Sub Rosa” and “Profit and Lace” and so on.

And it absolutely deserves it. More so because the episode actually starts out really promising. The whole notion of trying to break a speed barrier is a good one, one that human history is replete with. (It would’ve made sense for Janeway to mention Chuck Yeager in her list of famous pilots, since he’s the one who broke the sound barrier, a major breakthrough in flight.) I love the exhausted brainstorming scene in the mess hall among Torres, Paris, Kim, and Neelix, and I love that Paris is passionate about it.

I could’ve lived without the scene in Paris’s quarters where he tells Janeway he has to make this flight regardless of any medical issues because his Daddy and his teachers told him he’d be a huge success in life, which is a pathetic artificial way to add pathos to what happens later, especially since that enzymatic imbalance the EMH found is a complete nonfactor in the episode. (Janeway does ask if that caused his mutations, the EMH says no, and that’s the end of it. What a waste.)

But I’d have been willing to forgive the episode that bit of self-indulgence if it hadn’t gone so thoroughly into the toilet after that.

First there’s the flight itself, where Paris is somehow everywhere at once, yet just the act of shutting the warp drive down puts him right back where he started. But where is that, exactly? Voyager was following along the shuttle at warp nine-point-nine or whatever, which is roughly nine thousand times the speed of light. When you’re going that fast, where, exactly, is “back where you started”? For that matter, after a deluded, mutated Paris buggered off (pun intended) with Janeway at infinite speed, hitting every point in the universe, how is it even remotely plausible that they wound up on a planet that’s only three days away? (Also, given how much time they spend at warp nine and higher in this episode, they should be nowhere near any Kazon or Vidiians anymore. And yet, there’s Jonas, calling the Nistrim…)

Also, Paris’s mutations took a couple days. Yet somehow, Janeway mutated completely into this new form, mated with Paris, gestated their kids, and gave birth all in three days.

To be fair, that’s at least one way you can say they’ve “evolved,” but then we come to the absolute worst part of this episode, which is the most obvious example of Brannon Braga’s perpetual misunderstanding of evolutionary biology, first seen in his first solo script for Trek, TNG’s “Identity Crisis.” The EMH talks about how Paris is going through millions of years of evolution in a day—but that’s not how evolution works, because one of the most important elements of evolution is environmental factors. And there are none, because Paris is lying in a bed in sickbay, but that’s going to affect how he evolves.

Then we find out that the end result of him losing his hair, his skin getting weird, his attitude changing, his growing another heart, and losing his tongue is to turn into a salamander. A very small salamander. Sure. That makes sense. (It makes nothing like sense. Where’d all the extra mass go? How did hitting them with anti-protons get that mass back?)

The tonal shifts in this episode are maddening, as we go from a fun story about scientific exploration (leavened by tiresome macho posturing from Paris, but whatever) to a body horror episode that makes absolutely no sense in any way. Then in the end, Chakotay just leaves the three offspring to fend for themselves on an alien world without their parents in an unfamiliar biome, making their life expectancy maybe two days. I mean, is there any food they can eat on the planet? Water they can drink? Will they even have the means to survive without any kind of guidance or help? The spectacular irresponsibility here is appalling, and that’s before you even consider that these are the captain’s kids. And the only consideration this gets from Janeway and Paris themselves is an offhand joke.

Warp factor rating: 1

Author’s note: There’s a crowdfund for three new science fiction novels out there with only three days left as this post goes live, one of which is by your humble rewatcher, in collaboration with David Sherman: To Hell and Regroup, the third book in David’s “18th Race” trilogy of military science fiction novels. (The other two books are a duology by regular rewatch commenter Christopher L. Bennett.) There are lots of cool bonuses and rewards alongside the books, so please check it out and consider supporting it!

Keith R.A. DeCandido has a bunch of new content up on his Patreon, including reviews of the movies Hobbs & Shaw, Willow, GoodFellas, Casino, Raging Bull, and (going up tomorrow) the 2010 Macbeth starring Sir Patrick Stewart; reviews of the TV shows Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, and Ms. Fisher’s Modern Mysteries, with more to come over the next week; and new vignettes, excerpts from works in progress, and cat pictures. Please consider supporting Keith!

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