Monday, March 31, 2014

Voyager, Season 2: Threshold

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Voyager, Season 2
"Threshold"
Airdate: January 29, 1996
31 of 168 produced
30 of 168 aired

Introduction

The Voyager crew discovers a new form of dilithium which might allow them to break the transwarp threshold and find an instantaneous way home. But then Tom turns into an amphibious lizard, kidnaps Captain Janeway, and mates with her.

In the future, all of our tongues will be made of Jolly Rancher. Rejoice!



Writing

Matthew: At first blush, this is not the worst episode of Star Trek ever. Things start out on an interesting sci-fi note, with the notion of infinite velocity being introduced, along with a good character story in Tom Paris' desire to be the first pilot to breach this speed boundary. Are there minor problems? Sure. I'd like to know what the heck "transwarp" is supposed to mean in the context of its other uses in canon. I'd also like some real science injected into the scene, with a discussion of light speed and how/why it is also traversible. But the overall momentum of the story and the good character work definitely sustains it for the first 15 minutes or so in an average or even above average manner.

Kevin: As science fiction premises go, this one was certainly interesting, and while I agree that they should have dug deeper on some of the questions, I think the discussions we got were good. I like how they described travelling warp 10 as existing at all points in the universe at once. I was not a huge fan of Neelix solving the problem via anecdote...again, but the scene itself worked well. In addition to the moments exploring Paris' character, I also really enjoyed a lot of the interactions between Torres, Kim, and Paris.

Matthew: The middle third is where the cracks begin to show. How and why Paris simply wasn't lost for good after the test flight (he could land anywhere in the universe, you know) is glossed over. So is the effect such a phenomenon would have on a human consciousness. Things go in a rather silly "monster movie" direction, with Paris essentially becoming "the Fly." That said, I even sort of enjoyed the character story - it was neat seeing Paris not being a lovable terminally ill person, instead being a jerk. The scenes of the Doctor trying to keep up with his changes were interesting, too. So while it's certainly not the direction I would have gone with the story, it's not terrible.

Kevin: In a vacuum, the scenes themselves work pretty well. I remember being slightly scandalized by the use of the word "virginity" in Star Trek. I think Paris' fear worked well and the transformations themselves were creepy and well described. I agree, the gear shift is a bit extreme, and maybe even without the chaos that the rest of the episode descends into, it may still have been too much, because if nothing else, we completely abandon the nifty science fiction concepts that made the first third so interesting.

Matthew: Then the wheels come off and the whole thing goes barreling off the tracks. Paris, who has become a deranged monster, leaves the ship, kidnaps the captain (why?), and goes into transwarp again (to what end?). The Doctor opines that Paris has undergone "accelerated" evolution, advancing him millions of years into humanity's future. You know, as ugly, deranged fishy dudes. Sigh. Evolution happens in an environment. If I were taken to Mars and Kevin were taken to Pluto, our offspring would adapt to the environments they were in, not some sort of species-wide teleological plan that was there from the outset. I have a hard time accepting that the Doctor could be so wrong about the organizing principle of biology, so I can only think this one's on Braga. I wonder whether (fervently hope, really) his colleagues on the new Cosmos show have given him a heaping helping of crap over this.

Kevin: I can't even begin to describe how annoyed I was, even at the time. It's only gotten worse as my knowledge of science has expanded. I don't even know how this got past anyone at any point of the episode. I suppose there is a popular sense of evolution as going toward something and that means humans are "improving" in some way, but come on...you have a science adviser, and even before the internet, you still had access to dictionaries and encyclopedias.

Matthew: Even if the evolution thing were forgivable, the conclusion of the episode just cements it as one of the worst trek stories ever. Paris and Janeway have turned into amphibious lizards, mated, and are raising their brood - all within a day? Hours? Chakotay makes the executive decision to either doom this offspring, or alter the face of the quadrant by leaving it to flourish, all without the consent of the two parents. Then, the Doctor solves the problem with "anti-proton therapy" before the credits roll, meaning that in effect they could simply replicate the warp flight, get home, end the series, and have the Doctor fix everyone before they go all crawly-lizard. How in the hell did this get past editing? If I could ask Berman only one question, it might well be asking how this one slipped through the cracks. It's perhaps the single most egregious world-breaking slip-up that exists within regular Star Trek.

Kevin: I don't have anything to add to this list. The personal decisions are insane and the solution so neat it means that it would be easy for them to get home by tomorrow. In almost every other case, truly terrible episodes have had at least some clue as to what went wrong. An errant note and an INSANE director made Code of Honor happen, for example. This one....I just have no idea what happened. If the only problem with the episode had been the universe breaking problem of the implications of this technology, I might have found something to hang my hat on, but after Paris goes to warp 10, every single decision the writers made seems to be the worst possible one they could make and with no apparent reason for them doing so.

Matthew: Here's how I would have fixed this episode. I would have the problem with transwarp not be "lizard evolution," but simply the size of the universe. If there were no way to reliably guide the ship to a particular destination, the sheer size of the universe would render the chances of reaching your desired goal unlikely within the lifespan of any of the crew, not to mention Earth's solar system or the universe itself. I think there would be a really good science point to be made, and a new character challenge - to be so close to a solution and yet to be undone by something so fundamental to the universe.

Acting

Matthew: Robert Duncan McNeill was really good in a few stand-out scenes. His plea to the captain to get he flight was good, as was his breakdown and lashing out afterward. He does a decent job with his monster-movie scenes, too. So none of this travesty is on him, really. Kate Mulgrew is also solid.

Kevin: Even the finale, on its own, had a touch of the emotions the scene was calling for, and that's because the actors were giving it their all. It's hard to come up with something else to say than to imagine going up to them and giving them a gentle punch in the arm and sympathetically saying, "You gave it your best."

Matthew: Robert Picardo got the (intentional) laugh line of the show with "Wake up, Lieutenant!" It was perfectly delivered. I enjoyed watching him try to keep up with the changes to Paris. Ethan Philips, Roxann Dawson, and Garret Wang were all good in the Mess Hall scenes, too.


Production Values

Matthew: For the most part this is a bottle show. The shuttle was a standard model. The transwarp effect was just an iteration of the streaking stars, with a bit of blur applied. It was fine, nothing more. I liked the explosion in the holodeck, though I always wonder how Tom gets to being seated on the floor, and what Harry and B'Elanna were looking at from their desk.

Kevin: I think they should have had B'Elanna and Harry watching from Engineering. It would have helped string the viewer along for another second. The planet was pretty ho-hum. It reminded me of the jungle from Shades of Grey, and the CGI lizard babies were not really well rendered at all.

Matthew: Makeup and creature effects were quite good. Only the removable tongue looked silly. Everything else was sufficiently detailed, disgusting, or strange, without looking cheap. This episode won an Emmy in the category. Which is either really cool or really upsetting, since Trek never won an Emmy for acting or writing in an actually decent episode.

Kevin: The tongue thing was weird because the tongue is actually a much bigger piece of muscle that is anchored in the jaw, so it just looks like Tom bit his off, which is also upsetting. The monster make-up was good, overall, though, and it's sad it wasn't in service of a better episode.

Conclusion

Matthew: This one is pretty schizophrenic. It has some good elements, and was pretty decent for a third or even half of its run time. But it utterly self-destructs by the end, and does serious damage to the credibility of the writer, the series, and perhaps even the franchise. It's just irredeemably stupid and silly on so many levels. If this isn't a 1, nothing is (Note: I still prefer this to any Abrams production). 

Kevin: Yeah, what else is there to say? It's a mess that almost defies analysis. Was everyone, like down to the craft services guy just exceptionally high that week? After a first third that hints at a pretty awesome episode, it goes off the rails in such a way as to be offensive to all rails anywhere? I agree with the 1 for a total of 2, and let us never speak of this episode again.

Podcast



5 comments:

  1. There seems to be a server error when trying to listen to this one :(

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    1. Hmm... I will double check the links later today. Thanks for the head's up.

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    2. Still no luck getting this to play.

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  2. I just tried the link and it works for me. What's your OS and browser?

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    Replies
    1. No, wait, got it. Must have been my end. Thanks.

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