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Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!
“Threshold” is generally considered to be the worst episode of Star Trek: Voyager by critics and fans alike. In it, Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill) pilots an experimental shuttle and breaks the “Warp 10” barrier (according to Trek lore, Warp 10 allows one to occupy all points in the universe simultaneously). Unfortunately for him, Paris begins to mutate and become unhinged as a side effect of the experiment. He eventually kidnaps Captain Janeway (Kate Mulgrew), breaks the barrier again and both evolve to lizard-type creatures. Through science, they are reverted back by the episodes end.
You can probably see why this left a poor taste in people’s mouths back in 1996.
That said, I remember watching “Threshold” at the time, and I absolutely loved it. I was a fan of the Tom Paris character and I always love crazy and nutty concepts that run wild. Clearly, I was going to eat this up. I was also 13 at the time, so what did I know? In any event, I was quite surprised to later learn how hated this episode was. Why didn’t this click with viewers, or, to quote Zack, what went wrong?
There were probably a lot of reasons. The first being that there was just too much going on in the episode – too many ideas at play – to get enough time to develop into something satisfactory. First, you have Paris and his need to prove himself by flying the ship. Then, you have this The Fly-type tale where Paris is mutating. Finally, you have this idea of humans evolving, not into something necessarily better, but into something more “primal” (which is such a fascinating concept). “Threshold” presents three interesting ideas which could make for some really great drama. But none of it is explore enough to really do any of the concepts justice.
The “de-evolution” concept as presented here is really amazing idea (I’m surprised it hasn’t been done before), but the episode only just hints at it. Honestly, part of me wishes they saved that for another episode. There is a lot already for the episode to use with The Fly story coupled with Paris’s self-approval. I think the episode could have gotten by with that. The idea where humans might evolve to a point that we would circle around to where we came from – my mind is blown with that. But as presented in “Threshold”, it just feels tacked on.
I haven’t seen “Threshold” in years. I can’t imagine it holding up very well with my now-adult perspective. It must be telling if even Brannon Braga, the writer of the episode, has largely dismissed it in the years since its original airing. I honestly thing that the episode did have a lot of potential, but clearly it didn’t work with viewers the way it worked with me.