I was a late bloomer to Star Trek fandom. A major factor was that the show ran in syndication constantly when I was growing up, so I often grew bored of the repeated episodes before I could ever really get hooked. As I’ve grown older, I’ve become a fan of Star Trek, and in particular Voyager. Captain Janeway is a pleasure to watch, and I adore the concept at the core of the series–the exploration of a Federation ship on the other side of space from the Federation itself. Though Voyager has its many highlights, it also gave us what I believe to be one of the worst episodes of not just Voyager, but also all of Star Trek.
“Threshold” is a hot mess, coming relatively early in the show’s seven seasons, unleashed on unsuspecting fans in the middle of Season Two. From the outset, “Threshold” appears to be out to upset Trek fans by rewriting vital canon that the show had never before questioned, as Tom Paris uses an experimental shuttlecraft to attempt to cross the transwarp threshold and hit warp 10. That may sound like your average science-fiction mumbo jumbo, but as Trek-heads will know that’s actually tantamount to treason. In Star Trek, the idea is that throughout the entirety of Starfleet’s perfection of Zefram Cochrane’s warp drive technology, no one has ever hit warp 10 (in the revised warp scale used during Star Trek: The Next Generation and later). The science behind that is the hypothetical idea that if you did hit it, you would be traveling so fast that you would exist in all parts of the universe at the same time.
Cochrane and warp speed are huge tenants of Star Trek lore, and the fact that Paris essentially breaks/disproves them in the first act of “Threshold” would be bad enough if the episode didn’t quickly descend into one of the strangest, most horrifying 46 minutes of television in broadcast history. One of Voyager’s strengths is interesting, experimental storylines, but with “Threshold” they jump the shark–in fact they jump the shark and then jump every other creature in the ocean. After Paris essentially strongarms Janeway into letting him attempt to hit warp 10, he breaks the warp barrier, his shuttle disappears, and then he’s later found on the shuttle, deathly ill but still alive.
The episode quickly spirals into the grotesque, with Parris transforming into a fleshy, rotting monster due to some badly explained evolutionary theory. There’s none of the intrigue or science that makes so much of Star Trek so splendid and engaging to watch. Instead, “Threshold” becomes a gruesome body horror, as we watch the charmless Tom Paris rot away in the sick bay, becoming more and more arrogant as he reaches something close to omnipotence. Where so much of Voyager relies on intimate character studies–and too many holodeck episodes–the team behind “Threshold” apparently eschewed all of that to go for a more hard sci-fi feel, which sadly doesn’t hit any of the marks it’s aiming for. There’s no great theoretical explanation behind Paris’ transformation, only a very mediocre plan to save him, and most criminally no ramifications for what happens next.
Even the most casual Trek fan has probably heard of “Threshold” referred to as “the salamander episode,” which is a title it duly earned with the third act of the story. After rotting all over the Doctor’s nice sickbay, a now insane Paris decides that he’s going kidnap Janeway. He does this with surprising ease, flinging her into the shuttlecraft and breaking the transwarp barrier before the Voyager team can even think of catching up. This is where “Threshold” really loses its way, as the crew eventually locates some familiar lifesigns on a nearby planet. When they reach them, Chakotay finds two large reptilian creatures and a number of their “children,” which he LEAVES on the planet after rescuing lizard Janeway and Paris.
There’s a lot wrong with this terrifying ending, the main one being that none of this is ever mentioned again after this episode. Not to mention the fact that they created an entirely new species and left it on a planet, clearly breaking the Federation’s Prime Directive, nor that Paris broke the transwarp barrier or that he kidnapped Janeway, forcing her to evolve into a salamander via warp speed and subsequently impregnating her. In fact, just to reassure us of the horrors of “Threshold,” the episode ends with Janeway suggesting to Paris that maybe she was the one who encouraged him to mate with her. Then she recommends him for a commendation for his terrible, awful, very bad actions.
Do you have a great example of one truly awful episode of an otherwise incredible show? Really love Voyager? Really hate “Threshold”? Let us know below!
Images: CBS, Paramount