Retro Review: Threshold

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When Paris attempts to travel in a shuttle at Warp 10, he breaks the barrier but begins to mutate.

Plot Summary: Paris, Torres, and Kim are working on a plan to break the Warp 10 barrier, which in principle would allow them to exist at every point in the universe simultaneously and then get Voyager home in an instant. They are stymied until a comment from Neelix gives Paris an idea for a solution, which he then successfully tests on the holodeck. Janeway is amenable to an immediate test by a pilot in a shuttle, but the Doctor advises that Paris not fly the mission because of a genetic anomaly that could kill him. But Paris pleads with Janeway to be allowed to take his shot at greatness, so she agrees to let him fly the mission. The shuttle successfully breaks the barrier, disappearing from the ship’s sensors just after reaching Warp 10, but Paris falls unconscious upon returning and his body quickly begins to break down. First he becomes allergic to water, then he stops being able to breathe oxygen, and while the crew tries to keep up with these shifts, his tongue falls out. The Doctor announces that Paris is evolving, becoming an amphibian-like creature, and begins to develop a plan to resequence his DNA. Before he can do so, however, Paris escapes from confinement, abducts Janeway aboard a shuttle, and departs at Warp 10. When eventually Tuvok and Chakotay track the shuttle to the surface of a planet, they discover that Paris and Janeway have both become giant salamanders who have mated and produced three offspring. Because there is abundant plant life on the planet, Chakotay decides to leave the babies there. Back on the ship, the Doctor restores Janeway and Paris to their previous physiology, and Janeway gives Paris a commendation for being the first to reach Warp 10.

Analysis: The first time I watched “Threshold,” I was offended by it, and I stand by my statement that this is the worst episode of Star Trek ever filmed including both “Turnabout Intruder” and “Shades of Grey” – though, interestingly, it is not even close to the most offensive episode even of Voyager, a title reserved for the fourth season’s it-doesn’t-count-as-rape-if-there-wasn’t-penetration story “Retrospect.” In fact, I spent most of this rewatch laughing at “Threshold.” It’s the only episode of Voyager that was ever interesting to my younger son – who “met” Kate Muglrew at a convention held before he was born, when I was six months pregnant with him, and who had Voyager fans hanging around for his entire early life. This is the legendary “salamander babies” episode, whom he knew as action figure accessories before he’d even seen them on screen, and who doesn’t love inch-long plastic salamander babies? I have given away most of my Voyager paraphernalia, but I still have those, along with poor “Threshold Tom Paris” who has a newt face, though sadly his molded-on plastic clothes don’t come off to show the rest of his amphibian physique. I highly recommend watching “Threshold” as the comedy that I believe it was secretly intended to be, because even on his worst day, Brannon Braga can’t possibly believe that Star Trek fans are this stupid. I hate having to take this episode seriously enough to review it when I’d prefer to focus on moments like the Doctor being asked to wake Paris and doing so by yelling, “WAKE UP!”. There are parts that are idiotic and parts that are just plain sub-mental. It’s so much more fun to pretend that this was always intended as parody, or a response to a silly fan fiction prompt — “Under what circumstances would Janeway have sex with Paris, and what would their children look like?”

Okay, let’s talk about the science fiction stuff. My understanding of warp theory is about equivalent to Neelix’s – meaning that I could probably accidentally come up with the key to saving Voyager that none of the trained people on the crew can do – but I thought warp had to do with distorting the space-time continuum in such a way that travelers can in essence jump across distances insurmountable by sublight methods, essentially creating folds in space. It involves geometry and logarithms and paradoxes and possibly cosmic bubbles and strings, but the only way it could allow a person to be in all places in the universe at the same time would be in a static pocket universe, not our constantly dynamic one. Instead we’re supposed to believe that Paris achieves infinite velocity, yet can keep chatting in normal spacetime over a comm system with his crewmates until his DNA starts degrading…why? On account of his atoms being stretched too thin across the entire universe? It’s never explained. Nor does anyone address that fact that, although Picard’s crew learned that extremely high warp speeds were destroying the fabric of the universe, making the leap past the Warp 10 threshold isn’t considered particularly dangerous. Couldn’t Paris have ripped the entire universe apart? And even assuming we’ll let all those questions slide on the grounds of insufficient scientific knowledge – I mean, no one has ever traveled at Warp 10, so we don’t know exactly how it would work, though it makes no more sense that the shuttle’s body and nacelles would shear apart at that speed than at Warp 9.9, especially if Paris’s own body holds together – why in heck would our mammalian DNA revert to that of an amphibian, which is an earlier rather than later stage in our evolution, though apparently the Doctor doesn’t know that? And how would we keep speaking clearly if our tongues fell out? So many scientific inanities, so little time.

I’ve given Star Trek a pass on ridiculous science quite often as long as there was an impressive storyline or character development, so let’s get back to those instead of belaboring Paris becoming allergic to water even though human blood is more than 90 percent water. Let’s see: we already knew Paris wanted to be a hero, we already knew he wished he could impress the father with whom he never got along, we already knew he’d been interested in sex from an early age, we already knew he liked the looks of Janeway. We can guess he’s right that near-death is the best thing that will ever happen to him, though sadly he can still whine even after his tongue falls out. We didn’t already know that given an evolutionary excuse, he’d abscond with and impregnate the captain, but hey, somehow that’s not a huge surprise! What is a surprise is that both Paris and Janeway (who was excited before launch about her dog expecting puppies) go along without blinking with Chakotay’s decision to abandon their children on a Delta Quadrant planet, even if they’re salamander children resulting from assault and rape. Presumably the Doctor could have fixed the salamander part. Now the best-case scenario is that the babies will starve to death or meet with an accident before they get eaten, adopted by a native species, or worst of all turn out to be compatible with local fauna, because for a captain obsessed with the Prime Directive, leaving unchecked Alpha Quadrant DNA on a planet about which they know nothing is a violation of the worst sort. Those babies could kill all the local species with bacteria they’re carrying or with unchecked predatory instincts, they could reproduce and overwhelm the local population, they could continue to “evolve” as quickly as Paris did and conquer the Delta Quadrant…or, which would most serve everyone right, they could be assimilated by the Borg and used as the means to conquer Earth.

Nope, those babies should not be in the Delta Quadrant. They should not be anywhere except, as I said, in terrible fan fiction — I have, after all, seen fanfic in which Spock goes into pon farr and rapes Kirk because he secretly considers Kirk his true love and life mate, and Kirk forgives Spock because Spock isn’t in his right mind, but then Kirk finds out he’s pregnant with Spock’s butt babies, and McCoy manages to safely deliver the kids and they all live happily together in a flexible group marriage with Uhura and Chapel. In truth, I think that this scenario is hotter when it’s Thor, Loki, and Bruce Banner from The Avengers, with a side of Natasha and Tony, because Thor totally would do it if he got exposed to that Infinity Stone, and Loki totally could do it since he can turn into a girl, and maybe it’s gross that they’re brothers but Loki is adopted and anyway it probably wouldn’t be rape OR incest because Loki would probably go for it. Ahem, what, I do have standards! The thing is, “Threshold” isn’t bad fan fiction; it’s canon. Can anyone name a sci-fi franchise where a male captain gets abducted and raped, let alone impregnated? Even if it happened – and even though some viewers are okay with fictional rape, so if you don’t mind imagining this, if you weren’t as revolted as I was by the scene in Outlander where Jamie’s body is sexualized by the camera while he’s violated by his enemy, in the same way that Daenerys Targaryen’s body is sexualized by the camera as she’s sobbing through her brutal, barely-consensual wedding night – can you imagine any of the male captains then giving his abductor-rapist a commendation? If Janeway is somehow trying to save face by implying that it was secretly consensual, what are we to make of the hint that we can’t see someone as a leader if that person has also been a victim? Even though Janeway is arguably the worst leader ever, risking a crucial crewmember and a shuttle without asking for a mechanical test, I’m not laughing now. I’m thinking the only good part of this episode is Michael Jonas showing his loyalty to Seska, committing treason to Voyager.

What do you think? Chat with other fans in the Star Trek: Voyager forum at The Trek BBS.

Michelle Erica Green

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Michelle Erica Green

Writer, mother, reader, traveler, teacher, partner, photographer, activist, friend, fangirl, student, critic, citizen, environmentalist, feminist, vegetarian, enthusiast. TrekToday staffer for many years, former news reporter, current retro reviewer.

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