Star Trek: Voyager “Threshold” (part 1 of 7)

SUMMARY: Tom Paris, navigator of the starship Voyager, discovers a way to travel at warp 10. Which, until now, was apparently a “theoretical impossibility”, and means the same thing as achieving “infinite velocity”. His test flight is a raging success, except for the part where he mutates and his body can no longer process oxygen or water, and his head expands to twice its normal size and various body parts fall off. The holographic Doctor races to find a cure, but not before Paris kidnaps Captain Janeway, subjects her to a warp 10 shuttle flight, and causes them both to mutate into… no, no, it’s just too stupid. You’ll never believe me if I just blurt it out like this. Read the whole recap, and just maybe you’ll believe an ending this idiotic was actually scripted and filmed.

Well, here we are, at long last. Star Trek: Voyager. In particular, the episode “Threshold”. Unlike most recaps on this site, I’ve been forecasting this one for years. In fact, I originally promised a recap way back in my very first Worst of Trek outing, “And the Children Shall Lead”, which was over three years ago.

Now that it’s finally here, I can say this episode is every bit as hellacious and awful as I’ve been alluding to over the years. But contrary to what I’ve been implying all along, Voyager as a whole wasn’t as bad as everyone says.

Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t a great show, or even a good show by any measure. It had its moments, but in my mind, there isn’t a single episode of Voyager that stands out as one of the best episodes of Star Trek. Having said that, I will admit the show usually lived up to its (generally low) expectations. With Voyager, you always knew what you would get.

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It didn’t look like things would turn out that way when it premiered in 1995. It was supposed to be the riskiest Star Trek series ever. Voyager was to be a small Starfleet ship stranded in a remote part of the galaxy, exploring harsh, unfamiliar territory, with limited supplies and a divided crew. And for the first time on a Trek series, the commander of the ship was a woman.

Star Trek in general was still a big deal at the time. In fact, Paramount chose Voyager as the flagship show to launch their brand new broadcast network, UPN. And I think we all know how that turned out. Yes, UPN no longer exists, its few modest successes having been absorbed into the brand new CW network.

I doubt this came as a surprise to anyone. In the entire 11-year history of UPN, I cannot think of one show on that miserable network outside of Voyager and Enterprise that I watched on a regular basis. The closest I ever came was letting America’s Next Top Model drone as background noise while working on this site. Hey, dumb hos have their entertainment value, too. (And yeah, I know that a lot of people were/are into Veronica Mars, but it’s not really my thing.)

Caption contributed by Albert

“We’d like to thank Olan Mills for the use of their studio…”

The premise of Voyager was clearly a reaction to the declining ratings of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, which ran concurrently with Voyager for a few seasons. Star Trek: The Next Generation left the air with stellar numbers (over 20 million viewers at one point), but for a variety of reasons, this success didn’t carry over to DS9. The suits at Paramount, never much to really probe the cause of poor ratings, were quick to blame the (relative) failure of DS9 on its space station-based setting. Somehow, the groupthink consensus became that people only watched Trek for the exploration angle, and (supposedly) you couldn’t do that on a space station. So the prevailing attitude at the time was, “Hey, people must want starship-based Trek! So let’s give them more starship-based Trek!”

Of course, the setting of a show matters not worth a damn, as long as the writing is sharp and effective. I mean, most of Taxi took place in the grimy garage of a New York City cab company, and it was brilliant (for at least the first few seasons, anyway). If the characters are interesting, likeable, and the plots themselves are a fresh spin on old ideas, nobody cares where a show takes place.

Naturally, the bean counters didn’t see it that way. And so the producers of Voyager decided early on to stick closely to the TNG formula of: discover strange spatial anomaly and/or disease, fix/cure strange anomaly and/or disease, lecture the Aliens of the Week about morality, warp off into the sunset, never look back. With only a few exceptions, every episode of those first few seasons of Voyager could have been a TNG script.

“Time and Again”, in particular, was the first bad omen. Here they were, in the Delta Quadrant, supposedly a strange region of the galaxy teaming with unknown and bizarre life forms. And in only the third episode, they were encountering aliens indistinguishable from humans. And the plot itself was nearly a carbon copy of TNG’s “Yesterday’s Enterprise”, except with Kes filling the Guinan role as the one person who could supernaturally sense changes in the timeline. (Not to mention it was Voyager‘s first use of the “reset button”—wherein all of the events of the episode are shown not to have really “happened” in the first place. And it would certainly not be the last.)

But, in my opinion, the true death knell of not just Voyager, but the Trek franchise as a whole, was the second season episode “Alliances” (which, in fact, aired the week prior to our current subject, “Threshold”). At this point in the series, they were frequently tangling with the disorganized, mercenary race known as the Kazon. (Who were ultimately revealed to be nothing more than slightly angrier Klingons.)

Captain Janeway began to realize that one, lone ship, stranded this far from Federation space, didn’t stand much of a chance against the Kazon in their lawless, chaotic territory. At the prodding of her senior officers, she began to consider forming an alliance with another species against the Kazon.

This episode had the potential to completely change the series. Instead of a constant barrage of pointless episodes where they find a way home, only to lose it in the last few minutes, the show could have been about Voyager making pacts and trying to form a new federation of sorts. This new federation wouldn’t have been anything like the old one, of course. It would have been far rougher around the edges, and a lot less concerned with doing things by the book.

So what happens at the end of “Alliances”? Voyager’s potential allies end up backstabbing them. Janeway breaks off all negotiations, and makes a pointed speech to her crew about sticking to Starfleet principles, no matter what. And with that, the ship merrily cruised off into the status quo. In retrospect, that was probably the moment the Trek franchise died.

Oh sure, it continued on for nearly ten years after that. Two more seasons of Deep Space Nine, five more seasons of Voyager, four of Enterprise, and even two feature films with the TNG crew. But it was over. Because that speech was the signal that from here on out, no chances would ever be taken with the franchise. It was now Star Trek, Incorporated, and when you tuned into Voyager every week, you knew you were getting the same product, just in slightly different packaging. And no matter what events transpired over the course of the episode, you could rest assured that the ol’ reset button would be pushed in the final five minutes, and everything would go back to the way it was.

When all was said and done, Voyager was the least risky, and the most safe of all the Treks. (Yes, even Enterprise. Say what you want about the quality of the scripts—and I plan to, when I get around to it—but it took some balls to do a prequel series and completely invalidate decades of cherished fiction and fan lore about that period in Star Trek history.)

No surprise, Voyager lost viewers at pretty much the same rate as Deep Space Nine. It’s clear now that despite TNG being a big success, and really being able to capture the public interest, nobody involved with that success could figure out how to duplicate it. Instead, they were content to coast on TNG’s fumes for as long as possible.

But if there’s one good thing I can say about Voyager, it’s that it reached such a predictable level of sameness, that it became like comfort food television. Just like ordering a Big Mac, you always knew what you would see when you opened that box. Unfortunately, this is only good for certain situations, like when you have an hour to kill and don’t want to think too hard. For a series, it was ratings death. There was zero chance the show would ever get any critical notice, or become water cooler talk.

I can’t say the show was out and out horrible, because I’ve seen many series that are way worse (have you seen what’s on MTV2 these days?). No, Voyager‘s greatest sin is that it was, for the most part, completely unmemorable.

But it definitely had its share of awful, awful stinkers. Which, fairly or unfairly, many people have used to hang the whole series. And the most widely reviled of these was the second season episode “Threshold”.

Here’s an episode that for most of its running time plays out pretty unremarkably. Sure, a lot of it is dumb and clichéd, and seemingly ripped off from a bad B horror movie, but judged solely on the first thirty minutes, “Threshold” would have been quickly lost beneath a pile of other forgettable episodes in the same vein. But this episode features an ending that is so poorly thought out, and so insulting to the intelligence, that you can’t help but think that something has gone terribly, terribly wrong with the world that allowed this to happen.

The episode has all the failings of a typical Voyager episode: The plot, once again, finds the crew stumbling upon a possible way home, only to have it jerked away at the last minute. It’s also another episode that shows characters undergoing massive physical changes, only to revert back to normal in the closing minutes, without so much as a mark on them.

And it’s another stupid DNA episode, where a person’s DNA “rewrites” itself, somehow causing that person to mutate. Brannon Braga, screenwriter of “Threshold” (not to mention executive producer of Voyager and Enterprise) has written over 100 episodes of Star Trek, including the TNG episode “Genesis”, another stupid DNA story that features Troi mutating into a fish and Riker regressing into one of those GEICO cavemen. That episode was completely absurd, but it’s sheer genius compared to “Threshold”. (Also among Braga’s 100+ episodes is a charming little teleplay titled “Sub Rosa”, but I think I’ve said all I ever want to say about that episode.)

These days, it’s somewhat uncommon to hear the people involved in Star Trek actually badmouth the franchise, or diss particular episodes. Thankfully though, some candid comments have made it to print, mostly from Robert Beltran and Jolene Blalock. And recently, the old TNG crew have been pretty forthright about where things went wrong with Trek. And why not? What have they got to lose after Nemesis went belly-up?

Caption contributed by Albert

Would you trust this man with your multi-billion dollar franchise?

But even given all that, it’s still exceedingly rare to hear somebody badmouth a Star Trek episode on the DVD box set itself. That’s the case here, because the special features disc of the Voyager Season 2 set includes a semi-hidden clip of Brannon Braga discussing “Threshold”. He actually refers to this episode as “a royal, steaming stinker”. And when the guy who wrote the episode says that, it’s pretty hard to disagree. But I’ll save the full text of Braga’s comments for the end of this recap, where it’ll be slightly more in context. And if you’re lucky, you’ll even get to see the actual video of his comments, courtesy of YouTube.

Despite his regrets over “Threshold”, after Enterprise was canceled Braga developed a sci-fi series for CBS about aliens rewriting people’s DNA. And he called it… Threshold. Was he hoping the show would become such an outrageous success that it would completely overshadow the Voyager episode of the same name? If so, it backfired, because the show didn’t make it past ten episodes. One can only wonder what next Brannon Braga failure will be worthy of the “Threshold” name.

Threshold the series featured a lot of people from Trek (most notably Brent Spiner as a regular), but it seems Braga learned absolutely nothing from the cancellation of Enterprise. This isn’t Star Trek, Brannon. You’re not guaranteed seven seasons. If you want to make it past 13 episodes, you have to give the audience something they haven’t seen before, and most of all, you have to do it quickly. (But to be fair, the other two “alien invasion” series from the 2005-2006 season, Surface and Invasion, didn’t last much longer than Threshold.)

Love him or hate him, Brannon Braga has written some great Star Trek scripts in the past. But no writer can continue to be interesting when they’re telling the same story over and over again. Which is certainly the case here. But the worst part is that “Threshold” is a story that didn’t need to be told the first time—back when it was called “Genesis”—much less told again.

Multi-Part Article: Star Trek: Voyager "Threshold"

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  • So basically, they write an episode which they themselves aren’t happy with. Neither am I btw but at least the acting is good and star trek was making less and less sense anyway.
    And you go off and write 7 pages of hate? Most of it rubbish. For me the entire “Unexistance of warp barrier”, “ultra-high speed transformations”, “Synchronous DNA editing by unexistant natural events” and finally “disregard for the prime directive” really killed this episode. But you could’ve spent, a bit less text on it.


    • Monoceros4

      Seven pages isn’t enough hate, I agree.

      SFDebris’s review of “Threshold” makes a valid point, one which the first page of this recap also hints at: it isn’t just that “Threshold” is bad, it’s that the episode is only a modest exaggeration of the normal [i]Star Trek: Voyager[/i] way of doing things. It’s not some one-off, uncharacteristic failure. Every single one of the sins committed in this episode had been committed before and would be committed again.

      So Brannon Braga disowned “Threshold”, like there was something special about it? That’s like some fifth-rate poetaster titling a particular volume of his poetry “Minor Poems” as if all of his other poems weren’t just as minor.

      • Chickensgomoo

        Thank u I enjoyed reading this

      • Yeah, I have to agree. The stubborn insistence on ignoring the implications of anything that happened before, during, or since the episode; the “Gilligan’s Island”-style “oh so close to getting home” schtick; the bad techno-babble even by “Star Trek’s” standards; the inconsistent characterization; the recycled story elements; this episode is the “Star Trek: Voyager”-haters exhibit A. Terrible on a level that resonates throughout the series.

        Oh, by the way, the bit about how they should put the transporter next to the sick bay…so true.

  • Believe it or not this episode is WORSE than this brave author describes. It makes me retroactively hate other episodes not just of Voyager, but of other shows, like Night Court.

  • Chisa

    So: Brannon Braga does an episode of Voyager called “Threshold” about a crew member’s DNA being infected and turning him into another species, and then he makes a show called “Threshold” about alien DNA infecting humanity and turning it into another species.

    If that was all, it might just be a fluke, a way to cover up the embarrassment of this terrible, dismissible episode. But Braga also did an episode of Enterprise called “Terra Nova” about a group of Earth colonists who settled on an alien world. He has a new sci-fi show now, after the failure of his last one. The show is called… “Terra Nova”… and it’s about a group of Earth colonists who settled on an alien world.

    Presently I’m going to postulate that Brannon Braga is just a hack writer who only has maybe 80 some ideas total in his head and now he’s run out and is just shuffling them around and hoping nobody notices.

  • Chisa

    Let’s play a game; I call this game Predict The Next Brannon Braga Series. You go through the list of Star Trek episodes he’s written and pick out the idea that will be recycled as his next show. For example:

    The next Brannon Braga series will be called “Timescape” and be about a group of people who are walking freely around in one frozen moment in time, trying to piece together what happened.

    The next Brannon Braga series will be called “Carbon Creek” and be about a group of aliens stranded in a small Pennsylvania town in the year 1957 who have to adapt to this primitive culture so as to make themselves inconspicuous.

    The next Brannon Braga series will be called “Prey” and be… oh, who the Hell are you kidding, Brannon Braga, this is just Aliens Versus Predator.

  • I thought Seven worked in Astrometrics? I’m not sure what the distinction is, but there probably is one. Or not.

  • Warp 10 isn’t synonymous with transwarp. Transwarp is simple a necessary step to warp 10 travel. The Borg have transwarp and thus can travel much faster than the Federation, but the Borg don’t go infinite speed.

  • packman_jon

    ‘The Doc reveals that Mr. Paris now has “two hearts”‘

    Tom Paris is now a Time Lord??!!!? Well even that wouldn’t save this episode

    • Sean

      That would definitely save this episode. If Tom Paris being a time lord was the actual ending instead of the god awful piece of shit we got. And then him being a time lord had repercussions down the road and the Doctor got involved in this show. It would have been so so much better.

  • Not to excused this episode in any way, but as for the Warp 10 barrier, for some reason it’s a basic premise of Voyager

    I have a copy of the Voyager Tech Manual given to the writers before the pilot.   This isn’t the one sold in stores for kids, This explains the universe and the tech so any writer unfamiliar with star trek can still write a episode and reference a warp core breach.     Anyways, Warp 10 and trans warp and and he barrier is in the manual but not in TNG.   So it’s a basic premise, i guess as a way to force the writers to keep them in the delta quadrant.

  • Clarence

    Gee, I can’t believe that you watched a show you hated so much – I even didn’t had the courage to read all that stuff (and then I saw “Continue to page 2″… Something snapped in my head). I guess the good thing in living in a country where guys like me are the real alien life form (you know, the guys who… watch Trek) is that we can just enjoy the show without insult people who watch others shows… (Dumb hos? Really? That’s how you wear StarFleet colors?)

    Hey, thanks anyway (before that, I thought I was rude).

  • Clarence

    Hey, there’s seven pages! Don’t know what’s said in the others, but I’m really sorry you never had encountered a female life form capable of initiating mating – I guess that’s the kind of things that happens when you can write so much on something you hate even more.

    • Guest

      So, say there was a person who would take the time to comment on said article by such a “sorry” lifeform (who, by the way gets PAID to do this, so I guess it’s kind of like… a job?).  So, what does that say about this new hypothetical person’s life?

    • “you never had encountered a female life form capable of initiating mating”

      It’s really funny to see Star Trek fans try and phrase the insults that have been lobbed at them for years in their own colloquial (read: “trying to sound like Mister Spock”) way.

  • C. S.

    Soooo…. Are you SF Debris? I recognized a LOT of the first page from one of his reviews.

  • Ralph

    Never much understood why DS9 did badly in ratings. The cast was full of good actors, the plots ranged from sci fi to resistance cells, and the continuity was top notch. It’s as close to “24” as Star Trek could ever get, and it was amazing. Maybe the continuity threw people off, as they were used to stand alone episodes. Voyager though, yeah it’s just the same stuff over and over. The first few seasons were promising in my opinion, but it never evolved. It could have, but it didn’t. At least as far as writing goes Enterprise (well the last 2 seasons) had promise if under (or over maybe?) developed characters

    • Muthsarah

      I think continuity was indeed one of the biggest problems the show had when it came to attracting new viewers. Yes, many of the episodes were one-offs, but even when there was no continuity of story, there was often a continuity with the characters. Did you miss Garak’s first appearance? Or “The Wire”? Or “The Die is Cast”? Then there’s a lot about his character that won’t make sense to you, if you happen to come in one of his later episodes. Did you miss one of the episodes establishing what a Trill was? Then a Jadzia or Ezri episode might be confusing. And then there are the Bajor/religious episodes (which even the network insisted the show avoid, as they felt it weighed the show down with uncomfortable modern parallels and alien mysticism). DS9 was a show very much made for established Trek fans first, as opposed to Voyager, which seemed to be everything a weekly Trek fan would hate: continuity lapses, character inconsistency, and everyone’s favorite act three staple: the shiny reset button. I can’t say authoritatively (since I fell in love with the shows at a relatively early age), but I imagine DS9 could have been either dull, baffling, or just off-putting to a lot of budding casual fans. But that Voyager went in the exact opposite direction and still did no better is clearly a testament to the weaknesses of that show’s production, and not just its premise. If DS9 wasn’t TNG enough, then VOY should have succeeded by highlighting that aspect of TNG that DS9 abjured.

      I love DS9. I love Next Gen, and I love the TOS movies (2/3rd of them, anyway), but I remember it took me a while to get into TNG, and even longer to get into DS9. It just seemed like it was so big that I was always missing something. And in the days before Netflix and on-demand streaming, that’s a big hiccup. I only recently got into Mad Men, and I can’t imagine sticking with that show had I come in on Season 4. In fact, the first episode I saw was from Season Four, and I didn’t stick with it until Netflix picked it up and I started from the beginning. The more options the viewer has, the less likely they’d be to stick to something that they don’t feel on-board with, for whatever reason that might be. TNG, and especially TOS, were very easy to get into. In most cases, you can watch the episodes completely out of order (go from Evolution to The Inner Light, or The Naked Time to Bread and Circuses) and not miss a beat.

      P.S. I just saw Dirty Harry for the first time ever. Saw a young Andy Robinson as the villain, a young sociopathic serial killer. It was especially trippy how he used the exact same voice as he did with Garak. But damn he was good. And twenty years before he did Trek. DS9 truly had a marvelous cast. It’s just bizarre how such an established franchise would even seek out such iconic 70s character actors as Robinson and Louise Fletcher. Ratings was never their aim; they wanted talent, they wanted class, and they wanted it from the start.

    • Sean

      It’s because of the continuity, yup. It references past events all the time and there’s a continuing story line. DS9’s episodes are, for the most part, stand alone. And even the ones that are stand alone, the good ones past season 3, reference other parts of the show or other parts of character development. It’s fairly inaccessible to the average viewer, especially the average Star Trek viewer who tends to be all about episodic (and post-DS9, episodic light entertainment) tv. The idea that a story in a Star Trek show could possible have repercussions later on in the show is just crazy talk. Or was when DS9 aired. But that’s what makes it so good, it actually doesn’t insult our intelligence by never bringing up plot points again like most of Star Trek. TNG being the notable exception (some times). This is also why DS9 is the black sheep in addition to being the most anti-Roddenberry of the entire franchise. Which is probably another reason it didn’t do very well, at least with established Star Trek fans.

      DS9 is, of course, the best of Star Trek. Most people realize this nowadays, but back in the 90s it just didn’t do very well because of its anti-Roddenberry views and its non-episodic stories.

  • CNash

    The confusion over Warp 10 being “infinite” when we’ve seen starships go faster than that before is understandable. However, they only went faster that Warp 10 in TOS, never in TNG or the spin-off series. The common fan explanation is that the warp “scale” was recalibrated at some point before the start of TNG, making Warp 9 the highest whole warp factor, and redesignating Warp 10 as a theoretical impossibility.

    • K P Kavafy

      I don’t think that can be true – the upgraded Enterprise D captained by Riker at the end of the series went faster than warp 10.

      • CNash

        I tend to discount anything seen in the future timeline of “All Good Things”. For one thing, it’s been overwritten by actual events (the destruction of the Ent-D in Generations, for example). For another, Q’s influence in this scenario can’t be ruled out.

        Also, given that this was the future, there’s nothing to say that the warp scale can’t be changed again, given technological advances in the future similar to the jump between TOS and TNG-era technology.

  • neutralParadox

    You know, with an ending that bad, I think I have an alternate theory: Either Brannon Braga, or Michael de Luca have a fetish, which they choose to express through fap fiction. So, they wrote it, and accidentally submitted it to the wrong people, who assumed it was the 2nd half of the story. They didn’t want to admit to having an embarrassing fetish, so the writers went along with it. It sounds like something out of a bad sitcom, but I find this explanation infinitely preferable to the idea that someone, anyone, thought it was a good idea.

  • Sean

    So Brannon Braga completely dismissed this episode yes and called it a stinker. But the thing is, Brannon Braga wrote many many stinkers in Star Trek history, not to mention the massive steaming stinkers of VOY and ENT themselves. He had some good episodes in TNG sure. But he’s just not a good writer, and especially not a good showrunner.

  • Yonagonaf

    Hello Dr. Winston O’Boogie.

    This is Yonagonaf.

    In your text review of the “Star Trek: Voyager” season 2 episode 15 “Threshold” your text assumes that the people that are reading the review have not seen the episode.

    The text “Trust me, whatever you’re imagining? Is not even close.” is an example of this.

    There are many Star Trek fans.

    I am a Star Trek fan.

    Is your review of “Threshold” written for people that have not seen the episode?

    Is this your writing style?

    The various Internet celebrities that review Star Trek episodes have reviews that assume the viewers have seen the episodes.

    Your review was posted ten years ago so I have no idea if you continue to read comments.