The following is a SPOILER Review for "Threshold." If you have not seen the episode yet and do not want to have the plot given away, stop reading now.
The SASR [Short Attention Span Review] is the creation of Jim Wright. I usually watch an episode no more than twice before preparing its review. What the recap lacks in accuracy, I hope to compensate with creativity. The result is as much a retelling as a review.
Tom Paris breaks the Transwarp Barrier, dies, evolves, kidnaps the captain, evolves again (this time with company), has a few kids, and earns a commendation. And you thought you had a busy day.
Jump straight to the Analysis
Tom Paris is in a shuttlecraft, as Torres tells him he's okayed to attempt Transwarp. He gets to Warp 9.95 before the shuttle is torn to shreds (what, another one?). An irritated Torres informs the bewildered Paris that he has just died as a despondent Harry Kim looks on, and he seems none too happy about it.
Believe it or not, this isn't another "holodeck breakdown" episode.
Later, in the mess hall, Torres and Kim and Paris are discussing their impasse over coffee. They're attempting to exceed Warp 10, which is a theoretical impossibility. Neelix offers them coffee, then asks if he can help. After a brief infodump about Warp 10 and its consequences (at Warp 10, you would theoretically occupy every point of space simultaneously, and could conceivably exit Transwarp at any one of those points. Thus Voyager, currently a long way from home, could Transwarp into everywhere and return to normal space in a nice orbit around earth in "as long as it takes to push a button.")
Apparently, achieving the theoretically impossible is simply a matter of getting some Premium-quality dilithium--which they recently found in an asteroid belt--and getting a kick-butt pilot like Paris to do it. However, the shuttle can't handle the stresses, which they tell Neelix in an attempt to humor him, or scare him away. After Neelix listens briefly and relates a story about something that happened to him in a nebula, Paris and Kim ramp up the technobabble, thinking they know what the problem is--the nacelles aren't ripping away from the ship, the ship is ripping away from the nacelles (sort of like trying to use a high-power gyroscope on a ship to keep it from sinking; the gyroscope has no problem staying in place, but the ship can't keep up with it, and sinks even faster). Neelix has no idea what they're talking about, and neither did I, but the important thing is that they think they know how to achieve the impossible. All in the amount of time it takes Torres to go to the kitchen for a muffin.
Shortly thereafter, they're back in the holodeck running the simulation, and Paris achieves Warp 10 without any damage to the simulated shuttle or himself. The logs are viewed by the Captain and Chakotay as well as Kim, Paris and Torres. What the Captain had deemed a "fantasy" a few short weeks before seems now quite reachable. Janeway compliments them on their work, and puts the name of Tom Paris along with Orville Wright, Neil Armstrong, and Zefram Cochrane among the Pioneers of Flight in the history of mankind. "I like the way that sounds," Paris says, smiling. "I thought you would," the captain responds.
Later that evening, Janeway visits Paris in his quarters. The doctor has suggested that Kim do the flight instead of Paris, because there's a "slight enzymatic imbalance" in Paris' brain that has a 2% chance of killing him. Paris protests; he insists it's "my flight" and relates his childhood memories of friends and family saying that "Tom Paris will do something important someday," a memory that up to now has held mostly bitterness since his life has been very disappointing to him. Apparently, Tom still feels that he's chasing after redemption in the eyes of his crewmates and his father. Reluctantly, Janeway agrees to let him do it.
Soon the shuttlecraft Cochrane is prepped and ready to go, with Paris behind the controls. With permission to proceed, Paris engages the Transwarp drive and successfully achieves Warp 10 for real. Everyone reacts positively, until Paris is said to exclaim, "oh my God" and disappears entirely.
Three full sensor sweeps later, they decide that the consequences of Warp 10 are for real: "he must be anywhere in the universe." Shortly thereafter, Cochrane warps back to a landing just off the Port Bow, within easy transport distance. Paris is on board, with weak life signs. Janeway orders him to be beamed directly to sickbay.
The doctor examines him, and announces that Paris seems to merely be asleep. Janeway asks if he can be awakened, and Holodoc makes the attempt--by yelling in Tom's ear. Sure enough, Paris awakens, though Janeway was not amused by the method.
Paris tries to describe what happened; he was, indeed, everywhere at once. He was near the ship, in the ship, on Earth, with the Klingons, in other galaxies, everywhere. Janeway asks how he got back; he says that he was aware of them looking for him, so he took the engines off line, and ended up where he started. (Perhaps in Transwarp, thoughts equal actions. Had he been concentrating on earth when he took the engines off line, that's where he'd have reentered normal space.)
"Well, I'm glad you had a good time," says the doctor, with his customary sardonic smirk.
Into sickbay comes Torres, just back from the shuttlecraft. For once, it returned intact. "The shuttle logs confirm it," Torres gushes. "You did it!" Janeway makes it official; Wright, Armstrong, Cochrane, Paris--The Four Pilots of the Apocalypse.
Paris smiles, then begins an animated discussion with the captain and Torres about what should happen next, but Holodoc rains on his parade. "Sorry to disturb your majesty, but I have some more tests to run."
Regally, Paris replies, "You may proceed" as he lays back as if he's just conquered the universe. Which, I guess, he did.
While Paris reclines, Torres and the Captain view the shuttle logs from the recent mission. The shuttle appears to have been everywhere, and taken notes. The entire sector was mapped most thoroughly (every cubic centimeter), and filled up the shuttle's data banks.
"This really could get us home," Torres gasps.
"It could do more than that," Janeway replies, equally awed. "It could change the very nature of our existence."
("Foreshadowing. A valid literary technique." --Berke Breathed, Bloom County)
As they consider the implications, an Engineering underling with Maquis roots and Kazon sympathies ("Alliances") listens with undisguised interest. Seska was much better at concealing her divided loyalties until it was time to act; I'd have tossed him in the brig just for the way he was fidgeting.
In the Mess Hall, Paris and Torres are going over their data as Neelix pours a fresh cup of Paris Blend Coffee, newly named in his honor. "You're a hero now," says Torres. "I wish I could say it was nothing," says Paris (the cocky little puke--just 'cuz he's occupied every point in the universe simultaneously you'd think he'd have some humility....), taking a swig of, and immediately disliking, Neelix's concoction. Torres seems to think the coffee is fine, but within seconds Paris is on the ground in agony, clutching his stomach and displaying some unpleasantly visible forehead arteries. They try to beam him to sickbay, but his pattern keeps changing.
Icarus had only to deal with melting wax on manmade wings. You break a law of physics, you gotta expect to be punished. The bigger the law, the nastier the fall.
In sickbay, Holodoc asks what happened. "He drank a cup of Neelix's coffee," Torres says. "It's a miracle he's still alive," Holodoc responds in a show of classic mess-hall humor. They run a diagnostic and discover that the coffee did indeed have an adverse affect--Paris is having an allergic reaction to the water. Soon, he can't even breathe normal air; the doctor manages to discern the correct atmosphere for the mutating Paris, and pumps it in before Paris suffocates.
The transformation of Paris is both rapid, and lethal. One crisis leads to another, until Paris' fate is certain.
"I'm gonna die," Paris says. "You're too stubborn to die," Holodoc responds.
There's something about a dying ham; Paris rants with the occasional amusing line, with Holodoc maintaining the ratio of witty retorts. Paris' life flashes before his eyes; he looks forward to his funeral and his tombstone--"beloved radioactive mutant"--and back to his childhood, and his bedroom where he lost his virginity at 17 when his parents were away. ("I'll note that in your medical file," Holodoc mumbles.)
As his lymphatic system mutates, Paris cries out for a pizza and a kiss from Kes, neither of which he gets before he breathes his last. But the recently-expired "beloved radioactive mutant" does ultimately get a kiss on the cheek.
Later that night, Holodoc is working away when he hears something from Paris' deathbed. He unzips the bodybag to find a newly animated Paris, breathing in regular Voyager air and pulling his hair out without trying too hard. Holodoc, taken aback, turns on the scanners and discovers that Paris is up and running...but with an extra heart. "What's happening to me?" Paris asks desperately.
Also in the dead of night, a traitor skulks. The engineering Maquis weenie contacts the Kazon, passing along the data of the Warp 10 flight and its aftermath to Seska's abusive boyfriend, in an attempt to curry their favor. The Kazon seems skeptical.
The next morning, Holodoc briefs Janeway, describing the changes Paris is experiencing, both physiologically and psychically. In other words, this is a chance for the barriers to come down and for Tom Paris' Id to express itself fully.
Janeway talks to a Paris who looks like more Videan ("Phage", "Faces") than ever. Since Paris is delusional, he's allowed to express his feelings, however accurate they may be. He feels everyone is lying to him, that they hate him, that they don't really trust him and never did, and that maybe he'll be better off as whatever he's becoming. Mood swings, angry outbursts, and a speech to Janeway eerily reminiscent of "Where No Man has Gone Before" ("I used to look up to you, but now you're so small...") but before he can finish his sentence, his tongue falls out, and he looks at the Captain with an almost comical apology.
* * *
Paris: "Doctor, I need to talk!" (Setup)
Holodoc: "I've noticed that." (Punch)
The newly tongueless Paris, along with his other mutated features, gave me an Elephant Man moment. He desperately asks to be released; he claims he knows what's happening and how to respond to it. However, Holodoc Knows Best and refuses. Paris' pleas are both pathetic and futile. He seems to know what he's saying, but he doesn't sound like he does. For my money, it's the most moving scene in the episode, and some of Paris' best acting of the series. The anguish is palpable.
The Holodoc proposes a possible solution--run the antiprotons from the warp nacelles into Paris to destroy the "mutant" DNA so the body has no choice but to use the original, pre-warp-10 Paris DNA. They strap him in and start irradiating the heck out of him, but by now Paris has a distinctly "finished" look about him--whatever he was becoming, he's pretty much become it by now. And among the traits of the überParis are a dramatically increased brain size and a physique that promises both strength and agility. In a scene reminiscent of Total Recall, Paris breaks out of his restraints, kicks some engineering hiney, and escapes in a blaze of phaser fire, which also hobbles the ship (moral: don't randomly fire phasers in Engineering.)
The captain is summoned to the bridge, but before she can make it to the turbolift, she encounters Paris, but he knocks her unconscious before she can do anything constructive. While the rest of the ship searches for Paris, Paris and the Captain take off in the good ship Cochrane and sail off into the sunset, with Warp 10 as Paris' obvious goal.
Voyager tries to pursue, but it can't outrun Warp 10. Chakotay wisely calls off pursuit before the ship flies apart; they can only look on helplessly as Kim announces that Paris has gone to Transwarp, and has most likely taken the captain with him.
A week or so later, Paris and Janeway are still nowhere to be found. But Holodoc does have a report: what happened to Paris was...natural. A mutation, yes, but merely the hyper-accelerated process of natural human evolution. What normal men would take millions of years to accomplish, Paris managed in 24 hours (he always was a fast learner).
Conveniently, shortly after the doctor's report--and his statement that the original idea to anti-proton the mutated DNA out of the system to restore the original DNA should still work as long as the subject is unconscious--Kim announces that the shuttlecraft has been found. Chakotay orders them to rendezvous.
Night has fallen on the equatorial jungle of the fourth planet of a nearby star. Amid the palm fronds and inky pond lie two large, slug-like things with catfish whiskers and human-like arms. It is here that Chakotay and Tuvok beam down. One of the creatures blinks into their wrist-strapped flashlights and shuffles toward them, but is phasered into unconsciousness (we hope). The other one soon follows. Chakotay and Tuvok look at the creatures. There is human DNA there, but Chakotay doesn't know which is Janeway. "The female, obviously," replies Tuvok with dry humor. (Everyone's a comedian in this episode....)
As they look on, they notice three chittering creatures still moving, a heck of a lot smaller, and slithering lithely into the nearby murky waters.
Chakotay: "I don't know how I'm going to enter this into the log." (Setup)
Tuvok: "I look forward to reading it." (Punch)
Back aboard Voyager, Chakotay enters into the log that they left the offspring on the planet, as in Sickbay the Holodoc pronounces Janeway human again, though he wants her (and Paris) to remain there for at least a few more days.
Janeway strolls over to talk to Paris and says, "I've thought about having children, but I never thought I'd have them with you." Flustered, Paris stumbles through an apology; he swears he doesn't remember anything about...what happened. "What makes you think it was your idea?" Janeway says, "but apology accepted nonetheless."
Janeway tells him that she's putting him in for a commendation. "Regardless of the outcome, you did make the first Transwarp flight....You've broken more than one record, that's for sure."
Paris looks back on his accomplishments. The Transwarp flight was "incredible," he says, but it was less than he expected. He realizes that what he's really been chasing after is redemption in the minds of his crewmates, but that such a goal is even more elusive than theoretical impossibilities. He finally decides that the opinion that matters most is his own, and that's something he intends to work on, but knows it won't be easy.
"You've already changed a lot of minds, Tom," Janeway assures him. "I'm sure you'll succeed."
I don't think we've seen the last of Transwarp plotlines. If only as a spy story concerning the Kazon and the twerp in Engineering. who's shoveling Voyager secrets to them.
From a series standpoint, I know why they don't just continue with the experiments; the last thing the actors want to do is make it home. But in terms of the characters, I think it's a mistake to blow off this new discovery. First, they proved that Warp 10 works, given a good fuel source which they have. Second, they proved that the less pleasant effects are reversible, as the reconstituted Janeway and Paris show. Given these two developments, I don't see the problem with continuing in the experiments, keeping Holodoc on call to antiproton the test-pilot back to humanity. Eventually, they'd find a way to zap into Transwarp and exit where they wanted to, and figure out a way to fill Starfleet Command in on the contents the ship full o' mutants before they blast it out of the sky. Stasis for all but the pilot, for example. Or a shuttle trip to let them know they're coming, followed by the big ship.
After all, mutating crewmen haven't stopped Kirk or Picard from going boldly forward. Warp 10 is a genuine open door, and I hope they continue to play with it. Maybe they can kidnap one of those stacks of android parts ("Prototype"), construct and program it the Federation way, and send it on to do the job for them. Androids don't evolve. In The Next Generation, Data would have made the trip, most likely unscathed.
Enough about that. I expect to see the developments on this show appear down the road, in some form or another.
Characters: This was obviously a Paris episode. The motivations, the crises, the focus was on Paris. The secondary emphasis was on the relationship between Paris and Janeway. Old wounds were reopened, some of which haven't been seen since the pilot ("Caretaker") between Paris and Janeway, and Paris' past. Some of this was discussed in "Parturition," when Paris and Neelix were in Hell and the obligatory Buddy-building moments of confession brought up the presence of some remaining ill-feeling towards Tom Paris. He's occasionally been shown thinking about his reputation, or seen noticing the ill looks toward him. He's used his natural sardonic humor to counter or deflect most of these thoughts, but in this episode his deep-seated esteem issues are brought violently to the surface.
In some ways, Paris is a caricature; the gifted, cocky maverick chasing the shadow of his domineering father, whose talents and shortcomings are very much family-oriented. With such high hopes, he couldn't help but fall hard when he fell, and he kept falling since it was the path of least resistence. But all the same, he has a burning desire to prove his worth, and under the extraordinary circumstances of Voyager, he finds redemption.
Usually, this character doesn't break the two-dimensional barrier; he smirks when spoken to, is quick on the drawl, must comment on every command rather than simply respond "Aye." He's the Chandler of the Delta Quadrant (gratuitous Friends reference)--naturally funny, but you're certain he's not telling you everything, particularly the personal pain hidden behind the Great Wall of Irony.
On rare occasion, Paris opens up. In this sense, "Threshold" is significant. When Paris dies, he's the Old Paris--cracking jokes to the last. It was the last brave front, the attempt to keep the emotional shields in place: "Gimme a pizza and a kiss." It's consistent with Paris' character, but it took away from the scene--part of me wanted him to hurry up and die just so he'd shut up.
Once he had died and begun the accelerated transformation into evolved man, Paris was running with shields down. Regardless of the physical transformation--we know that in Trek, no change that drastic will last--the emotional transformation is a relief. When Paris lashes out at Janeway, he is irrational, but he speaks deeply personal truths and opinions you know have been simmering under the surface from the beginning. There was pain there, a pain of the soul that the physical changes had made necessary. Paris' psyche and character evolved before our very eyes.
I already mentioned that I thought the scene where the thoroughly-mutated Paris pleading with Holodoc to let him go was one of the most poignant moments of the series. The tongueless, speech-impedimented rant could have been comical, but instead it affected me deeply. It was a great acting moment, and I was swept up by it. "I am not an animal, I am a human being!" swept through my mind, but not as a humorous thought--he's someone we've known for two seasons, who looks nothing like a human, but who through his pleas is more human than I can ever remember him. He's also unique--the only one on the ship who knows what he knows, who has seen everything at once, and knows how to save himself, but he's seen as sick, not as aware.
I'm not explaining this very well. I guess I'd put it this way. Throughout the series, Paris has tried to keep himself aloof and amused, playing the fool because he thinks he'll get in less trouble that way. He's a great pilot, and there's a cockiness among great pilots that's been around since the Red Baron days--the flawed and quirky gods on Mount Olympus who interact with the mortals, but feel apart by necessity and by nature. Holodoc's cracks about Your Highness and Paris' superficially casual acceptance of praise reflect this attitude.
Just as Tom Cruise was told in Top Gun, "You're ego's writing checks your body can't cash," Paris' Transwarp flight finally catches up with him. He demanded his share of destiny, and was unprepared for what it brought him. The more alien he appeared, the more human he became. The speechless Paris fumbling through an apology to Janeway at episode's end is a much different Paris than he who blasted his way into it.
I think it's a good thing. Paris needs to be three-dimensional. He needs to have someone to truly open up to, and the scenes with Janeway have, I hope, opened the door for that. He's always pulled his punches to this point, even with Neelix in "Parturition." But Janeway took the full brunt of Paris' naked emotions, then she bore his offspring. That's gotta open some doors between them. (Smile)
Janeway had some good scenes here as well, though all included Paris. Her acceding to Tom's wish to pilot the shuttle despite the medical risks; standing stoically in Sickbay through Paris' anguished ranting, her keen senses just before being ambushed, her epilogue with the newly-chastened (and reconstituted) Paris. She showed a good range of command skills, both interpersonal and tactical. I look for signs of the Captain in Janeway, and though I'm not always convinced I see enough evidence in a season to believe she belongs in that chair, in various and subtle ways.
Other highlights: the humor. We expect Holodoc to throw off the one-liners, and he didn't disappoint. My favorite had to be the response to Paris' "I need to talk" with "I've noticed." It was perfect, and it disarmed me for the potency of the scene to come.
The episode had its flaws. I see a trend to making Neelix more useful; he can't succeed being only the butt of bad-cooking jokes. But he shouldn't be styled into an idiot-savant, assisting the experts with some Jed Clampett homespun anecdote that miraculously sends them down the right path. This is the second time in three episodes--he gave similar sage advice to Torres in "Prototype"--he has done so. Neelix needs more fleshing out, but this is a bad direction, IMHO.
One small but irritating oversight was not providing at least a couple of references to the traitorous engineer's name. You know they're building up to something; we should at least have a name to attach to it. I believe he was named in "Alliances" but they need to do more than that. Seska was given some important scenes in the episodes before she was revealed as a traitor, and by the time it was revealed I knew exactly who she was. This guy is still pretty much nebulous to me; I know he's Maquis by his rank insignia, I know he works in Engineering, that he has emotional loyalty to Seska, and that he will eventually be sniffed out and will either defect or die, but that's about it.
The treason committed by--let's call him Johnson--was to provide all the info from the Transwarp experiments to the Kazon. This must be addressed in a future episode. Though I can see the ethical hesitation Janeway may have with continuing the experiment (she participated in it, however unwillingly, after all--she knows what the consequences of Transwarp are on a personal level), Seska and the Kazon will have no such problems. Their struggle will, if anything, be technical in nature. But I can also see them succeeding, and Janeway having to use it to track down the evildoers before they can spread their warrior mentality across the entire universe. Or something. It will be interesting to see what they do with it.
One development I have mixed feelings about is Torres. She has kind of wimped out in recent episodes, acting less and less like the half-Klingon. I want to see her get good and mad once in a while. She doesn't wear Anguish well. In a way, she apes the "anguished" Janeway, as we saw in "Prototype". She's Chief Engineer, dang it. Someone needs to sit her down in a holodeck with Scotty or O'Brien. (Much as I like Geordi LaForge, he wasn't my idea of a Chief Engineer.) I want a half-Klingon named Torres to adopt a nice Brogue and an affinity for contraband Scotch. Is that so much to ask? I think not.
I'm glad to see that no shuttlecraft were harmed in the making of this episode. And nobody died, except Paris, but he got better.
On a 0-10 scale, I'd give this a 7.25. Excellent character development for Tom Paris, good character interaction with Janeway in several scenes. (Get your minds out of the gutter, people; I didn't mean that way.)
Next week: The Vulcan runs amok.
(February 9, 1996) Several of you wrote to tell me the name of the traitorous crewman. The evil Maquis weenie is Michael Jonas, played by actor Raphael Sbarge. Thanks to Melissa Hollern and Karlstad for helping me out!
Copyright © 1996 Jim Wright