Judge Cynthia Boris tests her threshold for copycat alien invasion shows with crappy extras.
"Given the state of the world today, a little alien invasion might be just what the doctor ordered."
It was a weird fall in 2005. All three major networks premiered an alien invasion series. All three began in the water. All three had one-word titles and all three fell by season end. NBC's Surface was the first to go—quickly into a watery grave. ABC's Invasion faired much better, with its average human population battling an invasion that rode in on a hurricane. They made it the full twenty-two. In between was Threshold. With nine aired episodes and only twelve in the can, this action packed series is perfect DVD fodder. Your security clearance has come through, you may now enter the world of Threshold: The Complete Series.
Facts of the Case
Molly Caffrey (Carla Gugino, Karen Sisco) is an expert in worst-case scenarios. She's written plans to deal with killer hurricanes, bio-terrorist attacks, a stock market crash, and even an alien invasion. That last one was the plan she never thought she'd have to execute, but when the crew of a Navy ship starts mutating and killing each other, well, who ya gonna call? Caffrey assembles a small team of experts who quickly discover that the aliens are using a deadly audio tone to infect humans and that once infected, humans become as deadly as the tone itself.
The team is made up of an interesting bunch of characters and actors. There's NASA microbiologist Dr. Nigel Fenway (Brent Spiner, Star Trek: The Next Generation); neurotic physicist Lucas Pegg (Rob Benedict, Felicity); math genius, linguist and all around party boy Arthur Ramsey (Peter Dinklage, I'm With Her); and covert ops babysitter Sean Cavennaugh (Brian Van Holt, House of Wax).
Each week, Caffrey and her red team track down alien infectees in an attempt to stop them from—come on, you know the drill, say it with me now—taking over the world!!!
Threshold is part C.S.I., part X-Files, and part West Wing. Okay, maybe not a lot of West Wing, but politics is big theme in this SciFi/Action series. Like Invasion, Threshold deals with the idea of "improving" the species. Both shows deal with hybrid humans rather than the more traditional little green men walking among us. This does two things: one, it lowers the budget since no rubber masks are needed, and two, it ups the scare level because the "aliens" could be anybody at anytime. Where Threshold differs from Invasion is in the handling of the crisis. Invasion is about average people in a small town while Threshold is about trained experts in a big city (Washington D.C.). I believe it's this difference that made one show fail and the other succeed.
Possible spoilers ahead.
Where X-Files spent years trying to prove a conspiracy theory, Threshold makes no bones about it. For what might be the first time since Men in Black the audience is asked to side with the politicians and the scientists who are conspiring to hide the threat. Watching the series, seeing how the officials spin each news story to cover up an alien incident…well it makes me wonder how many real news stories might be a government cover-up as well. The intentional destruction of an alien infested airplane becomes a tragic crash due to mechanical failure. Parents are told their son died a hero in a school fire when in reality he's alive and well and living in a detention block in a secret government facility.
Where Invasion is about families pulling together to fight the big fight. Threshold is about the loneliness and fear that comes from knowing the end of the world is nigh. The characters have to lie to their friends and relatives. They're forced to live under a microscope for their own safety, and when they start to lose it there are only a handful of people they can turn to. It's what it must have been like for the scientists at Los Alamos, and that increased my fascination with the show.
The characters are also quite interesting from a writing and casting standpoint. Brent Spiner, known to most of the world as Data, does a fine job as the red team member with the biggest problem of conscience. Lucas Pegg is sweet and naïve, and his near-hysterical reactions to dangerous situations makes him the most believable character in the bunch. Arthur Ramsey is the opposite of what most people think a scientist should be. He loves to drink, gamble, get high, and bed strippers. He's also a dwarf. Peter Dinklage's size isn't relevant to his character (actually, it would have been relevant had the show gone a full year) and that's what I love about it. I give kudos to the series for handing him a part that doesn't require him to be the butt of a dozen midget jokes.
Finally, there's the leading lady, Molly Caffrey. Normally, I'm not a big fan of female leads, but this one really works. She's smart, she's cool under pressure, and she can handle herself in the field. Don't get me wrong, she's not Buffy. She doesn't have exotic martial arts moves or a litany of snappy comebacks. What she has is an instinct for survival. That means she claws, crawls, and screams for help. She gets dirty. She gets beat—and what she really needs is a good night sleep. Molly is in charge, but she's not Wonder Woman. I like that about her.
The set comes packaged in two plastic snapcases in a cardboard sleeve. No problems with the video or the audio. If you've got the equipment there's a nice Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack option.
The special features on this set are yawn-worthy. "The Threshold Brain Trust" is a making-of featurette that is broken into four parts. Why? Because they knew you wouldn't sit through the whole thing. It's the typical director, producer, writer, and cast interviews with way too many clips from the show and not enough actual behind the scenes shots. Usually, I like these, but I found this one to be boring. Not sure why. Maybe it's because I didn't learn anything that I didn't already know from watching the series.
"Threshold Visual Effects" is another case of way more than I needed to know. It's interesting for the first two minutes. Finally, "Behind the Fractal" is a featurette dealing with the math and science behind the alien logo. It's geek speak and I tuned it out after the first minute.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
There are a couple of primary plot and style points that may trouble some
viewers. First off,
Finally, the finale—or lack of one. Rumor has it that cancellation came so swiftly there was no time to craft a suitable ending for the series. Don't look for answers to all the questions—they're not here.
In this modern age of terrorism and Homeland Security monitoring our daily lives, Threshold couldn't be more appropriate. Science Fiction has always used monsters as substitutes for our real fears, just look at the B-movies of the fifties when we feared a nuclear attack. In this case, the alien threat is a perfect stand in for al Qaeda. They infiltrate our communities, our lives and there's no way to tell the good guys from the bad. Beyond that, Threshold is an intriguing weekly puzzle with plenty of action and a leading lady who can handle a senator as well as she handles a gun.
This court is unable to render a decision because the lead judge was killed in a mysterious car crash, two jury members "accidentally" fell into a wood chipper, and the evidence was destroyed by a freak electrical fire. Pay no attention to that man sitting the car across the street, he's there for your protection…I swear…
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Scales of Justice
• "The Threshold Brain Trust" 4-part documentary
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