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"Threshold" Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/25/2005

I love this sudden rush of science fiction shows on TV today.  Frankly, I’m getting a little tired of cop procedural shows (though we have a bunch of new shows in that genre this season as well.)  It’s all because the Emmy-winning ABC show “Lost” ushered in all of these new shows.  There are two sci-fi categories this season:  horror and alien invasion.  I’ve already reviewed the first horror show (the WB’s “Supernatural”), and now it’s time to let you know about the first alien invasion show, CBS’s “Threshold.”  With a stellar cast and an awesome creative team, this one might be the best out of the invasion shows.

Dr. Molly Anne Caffrey (Carla Gugino) is a government contingency analyst who works for the Blackwood Think Tank whose job is to create response plans for worst-case scenarios, which she calls Threshold.  She’s going to thwart an alien invasion using a team of handpicked specialists, called the Red Team, who can help her with this problem.  The problem is that an extra terrestrial craft has landed in the North Atlantic ocean near a Navy ship called the M.S.C. Bighorn, and they apparently are more like Predator than E.T. (actually, since they form the shape of humans, they are more like the Cylons from the Sci-Fi Channel’s “Battlestar Galactica.”)  Also, her father is missing, which will probably be important later (she wears her father’s watch, which they keep focusing on.)  Deputy National Security Advisor J.T. Baylock (Charles S. Dutton) has activated Threshold, and he calls upon her to lead this team.  The Red Team serves many functions for her.  Dr. Nigel Fenway (Brent Spiner) is a NASA microbiologist, who is also a former ‘60s radical.  Lucas Pegg (Rob Benedict) is a gifted physicist and one of the all-time “Jeopardy” winners.  Arthur Ramsey (Peter Dinklage) is an expert in linguistics and applied mathematics, but is a bit of a boozer, gambler, and a womanizer.  Federal agent Cavennaugh (Brian Van Holt) is a highly trained covert operative with an unexplained past (he also has no first name that we have discovered yet), who is a ghost agent who can get them anywhere they need to go, and he leads his own team (who are usually the Red Shirts on the show.  If you don’t know what a Red Shirt is, then you should be ashamed to call yourself a sci-fi geek.)  Each week, they investigate clues that might avoid the invasion from happening.

In the two-hour first episode, a First Mate from the Bighorn named Gunneson (the creepy-looking William Mapother, Ethan from “Lost”) has just broken up with his girlfriend, and he goes to the captain (Scott MacDonald) to whine about it.  Suddenly, the radar system starts showing this circular three-pronged shape on the monitor.  Also, the fish outside of the boat start making the same shape.  The roof of captain’s cabin starts cracking, and then a big bright star thingie appears out of the sky, making metallic scraping noises.  Molly is at a conference at the Blackwood Institute in Richmond, Virginia.  Later, she is walking her dog Monster, when Cavennaugh lands a helicopter in the dog park and tells Molly that Threshold has been activated and that she is now “the most important person on the planet.”  She flies to a secret location, where she is introduced to Baylock and a panel of government representatives, including National Security Advisor Andrea Hatten (Diane Venora.)  She fills them in on what Threshold is, and she selects the Red Team candidates, none of which is happy to be there at first.  They arrive at the Annapolis Naval Station in Maryland, where they have five or six hours to investigate the Bighorn before the North Koreans get there first.  After Cavennaugh and his team secure the ship, they find everyone dead (earlier, before they arrived, the ship’s cockroaches formed that circular shape.)  One crewmember, Gunneson, attacks the team, and Cavennaugh tranquilizes him.  Molly, Cavennaugh, and Lucas watch a videotape found that was made by one of the crewmembers.  It shows the star thingie, and then their noses start to bleed after it sends a signal to their brains.  Cavennaugh shoots the TV (it was hurting them), and it confirms the presence of aliens.  Andrea decides to reassign Baylock to supervise the Red Team.  Once Gunneson wakes up, he explains that the star thingie made everyone go mad, and he was forced to kill the captain in defense.  Lucas thinks that the star thingie might be a probe or a weapon.  Molly examines the corpse of one of the crewmembers, when it starts convulsing, which freaks her out.  Arthur tells Cavennaugh that the circular shape is called a fractal pattern, and that it is possibly a triple helix gene.  Fenway took blood samples of all of the dead crewmembers, and he thinks that their DNA has changed.  Cavennaugh gets word that the North Koreans are right around the corner, so he has to blow up the ship.  As they prepare to leave, Gunneson breaks out of his restraints and attacks Cavennaugh.  Molly tries to shoot Gunneson, but it doesn’t affect him, and he jumps off the side of the ship.  The Red Team head back to land while Cavennaugh blows up the ship.  Back at the Threshold Command Center in Washington D.C., the Red Team ponders where Gunneson went, and where the missing crewmembers are (there was only thirteen on the manifest, and they only found five.)  Fenway does his final analysis on them, and he notices that they all have changes in their brain waves.  Baylock makes Molly go home, and that night she has a weird dream.  She sees herself back own the ship, restrained, and then walking through a forest of glass, with a weird creature looking back at her.  Cavennaugh calls her and tells her that he just had the same dream.  Molly goes into the kitchen for a bottle of water, and Gunneson appears…and that is all in the first hour.

In the second hour of the pilot, Gunneson attacks Molly, and almost chokes her, while speaking in some alien language.  She gets away, and she clocks him over the head with a shovel, where he falls down her cellar.  Cavennaugh’s team arrives, and they find no trace of Gunneson.  Cavennaugh and Baylock show up, with the cover story that they are FBI agents and that it’s a home invasion and an attempted rape.  They find a blood splatter on the floor of Molly’s bathroom in the shape of the fractal pattern, and it is her blood.  Baylock questions Lucas if he had any dreams, which he denies.  They had the house bugged, so they play back the alien phrase said by Gunneson.  Arthur plays it backwards, and it comes out saying, “you’re one of us.”  Back at the command center, they figure that Gunneson and the other seven missing crewmembers might show up on other doorsteps as well, and they need to capture them.  Lucas expresses concern that he is going to be married soon, and Baylock tells him that he will find a way to bring Lucas’ fiancé into the fold.  Fenway does an autopsy on one of the crewmembers, and even though he has the alien DNA, he doesn’t know why he died and Gunneson lived.  Lucas and Fenway observe a mutated cockroach exposed to the alien signal in the Navy ship.  They also discover that the auditory track from the videotape recording affected the lab rats.  Molly, Cavennaugh, Arthur, and Cavennaugh’s team all investigate an abandoned oil refinery where Gunneson might be hiding.  They find a pair of footprints, which indicate that they are congregating.  The security guard (Kevin Durand) helps them through the refinery, but as they are looking through a locker that has blood coming out of it, the guard shoots one of Cavennaugh’s men and flees.  Cavennaugh chases him, but he gets away.  It turns out that the guard was Crewman Sonntag, one of the seven missing crewmembers (he had killed the actual guard and stuffed him in the locker.)  Arthur decides to quit after seeing the team member shot, but later comes back when he learns that he wasn’t Molly’s first choice for his job.  The rest of the Red Team sees the results of Ramsey and Lucas’ rat tests, and they show the rats forming the fractal pattern.  They decide to use that auditory signal to attract the other missing crewmembers back to the refinery.  As they are waiting, Lucas nods off and has a weird dream that Gunneson has found him and says that they are all connected.  He wakes up, but then Gunneson actually shows up and drags Lucas away.  He drops Lucas and disappears.  He then appears to Molly and Cavennaugh, telling Molly that she is one of them, and they try to capture him in a net, but he breaks out.  Cavennaugh shoots Gunneson, which stabilizes him.  As they leave the refinery, hundreds of people show up, hypnotized by the signal.  They are tested, and they aren’t affected.  As they go through traffic, Lucas admits to Molly and Cavennaugh that he had the same dream that they did from the night before.  The last shot is an overhead shot of the lights forming the fractal pattern.

In the second episode, in Danville, Virginia, a man enters a fast food restaurant and goes nutso.  He goes into the bathroom, where his head implodes.  It turns out that he was Crewman Thomas Sanford, one of the missing crewmembers.  The security tape also flashed the fractal pattern when you slow it down.  While waiting to investigate the fast food restaurant, Molly has a dream that she was at work, when a boy in a clear facemask followed her.  Molly, posing as a U.S. Marshal, talks to one of the employees, and she tells Molly that the guy is Jerry Dalton, a janitor who works at Weymouth Military Academy, and not Sanford as previously thought.  Molly talks to Commander Fox (David Gautreaux), who says that there are only 28 cadets and 4 faculty members there, since this is a leave weekend.  Fox has squad leader Brian Janklow (Jake Able) and Cadet David Arroyo (Arthur Santiago) gather up all of the other cadets.  Molly questions them, including Cadet Josh Foster (Cameron Monaghan), about Dalton and whether or not they have noticed any strange behavior lately.  They also took a blood test.  The only one who didn’t show up for the blood test was Ensign Jordan Peters (Steven R. McQueen.)  Meanwhile, back at the command center, Lucas discovers that a plane had flew by at the same time as the thing in the sky above the Bighorn, so there might be a whole plane full of infected people.  Fox goes to look Peters in the computer lab.  He finds Peters, wearing the clear facemask, who kills Fox by putting his thumbs through Fox’s eye sockets.  There is no sign of Fox and Peters anywhere, but they find the facemask and blood on the computer that Peters was using.  Cavennaugh questions Arroyo, who says that Peters had been acting weird ever since they showed up.  Baylock gets the black box recorder from the airplane, and he and Arthur interview the plane’s pilot, Capt. Hank Mancini (Richard Cox.)  He says that the flight went fine, but Arthur finds out that Mancini was lying.  Janklow comes in at says that he found a weird shape in the library.  When Janklow leads Molly to the library, she notices blood on his wrist.  She knocks him out and runs.  Janklow and the other junior cadets attack her, but she escapes into the map room.  She finds Peters there, who says that he was hiding because he was sniffing computer duster, and he didn’t want it to show up when they tested his blood.  It turns out that Janklow was the one who killed Fox.  Cavennaugh breaks the map room door down, and Janklow and the other cadets disappear.  It seems that Janklow was trying to send a mass email containing the alien signal, but it hadn’t downloaded yet.  They arrest Mancini and test his blood, because they discover that he lied about an intermittent electrical surge that formed the fractal pattern, and he lied because he and his co-pilot had been drinking while piloting that flight.  Mancini’s blood was free of the infection, but Lucas crosschecked the passengers.  It seems that Josh was on the flight.  His laptop got what he thought was spyware, which was actually the fractal pattern, and he showed it to Janklow and Dalton, who knew things about computers.  They decide to shut off all of the power so that the email isn’t distributed.  Unfortunately, the shooting range was broken into, and some weapons are missing.  Ramsey confirms that Janklow and Dalton have the alien DNA in them, but no one else yet, though Dalton also had asbestos and silica in his lungs.  Molly knows where the kids are, which is in an underground utility tunnel, where Dalton had worked many times.  Cavennaugh and his team go down there, but the power comes back on.  Molly finds out that Janklow turned on a back-up generator.  Cavennaugh finds Janklow armed with a laptop under his arm.  He shoots at Cavennaugh and runs off.  Cavennaugh then faces the other cadets, and realizes that they aren’t infected.  There is a standoff, but the cadets lay down their weapons.  Molly and a member of Cavennaugh’s team named Detoro (Seamus Deaver) look for Janklow.  They find him, and he shoots Detoro and attempts to send the email.  Molly shoots the laptop and stuns Janklow.  Ramsey concludes that the signal doesn’t infect prepubescent humans and animals, and Molly concludes that the aliens will propagate by any means necessary.  Baylock tells Janklow’s dad that he died heroically (he doesn’t mention that he was infected obviously.)  Molly questions Janklow, who is being held until he talks, which he doesn’t.

Bragi F. Schut created this show (and wrote the script for the first half of the pilot), and he executive produces it along with Brannon Braga and David S. Goyer.  Braga, who co-wrote the second half of the pilot, has written for all of the “Star Trek” series’, except for the original series and “Deep Space Nine.”  He also wrote the screenplay for two of the Star Trek movies, and co-wrote the story for Mission Impossible II.  Goyer, who directed the first half of the pilot (the second half was directed by another movie director, Peter Hyams, whose most impressive credits include 1984’s 2010 and 1994’s Timecop), also co-wrote the second half of the pilot.  He is best known for writing all three Blade movies (he directed Blade: Trinity himself), as well as the cult 1998 movie Dark City and this year’s Batman Begins.  With these credentials, I’m glad that I didn’t find a single speck of hokiness.

You have to love this cast!  I’ve loved Dutton since he was on FOX’s “Roc,” and the multi-Emmy winning actor always makes even the most mundane thing he is in better.  Gugino was the mom in the Spy Kids movies, and she was great in last season’s short-lived ABC drama “Karen Sisco.”  Every sci-fi geek worships Spiner, who most famously portrayed Data on “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”  I’ve seen appear in several minor roles in projects ever since, and he always tries to shake the Data thing.  With this role, I think he might do it.  Dinklage’s breakout role was in 2003’s The Station Agent (which I so have to check out), and his star power has risen ever since.  The show mentions his miniature stature only once, when he tries to flirt with Molly (“what…you don’t go out with guys who are…smarter than you?”)  Otherwise, his acting so good that I don’t even notice his size.  Van Holt has been in several movies (including being the bad guy in this year’s remake of House of Wax), but this might be his breakout role.  The same thing goes for Benedict, who has been in several movies and many episodes of the WB’s “Felicity.”

The effects were heavy in the pilot, but they were practically non-existent in the second episode.  Since the alien has only been glimpsed at once, they don’t do a lot of special effects.  They prefer to make it a slow conspiracy alien invasion, a la FOX’s “The X-Files” or NBC’s “V.”

With the great writing and acting, “Threshold” might be my favorite of the three alien invasion shows.  You will have to check back with me once I review NBC’s “Surface” and ABC’s “Invasion,” but it will be hard to top the CBS offering.


Ratings System:


Try to catch this show every week...

If a better show is on, tape this one...

If nothing else is on, maybe this will be good...

If this show is on, change the channel immediately!


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