Saturday, October 01, 2005

TV Review: Threshold, Episode # 3: "The Burning"

Last night's episode of Threshold was much better than last week's entry, the virtually incoherent "Blood of the Children." That story was so bad and so poorly executed it nearly kept me from returning for "The Burning" this week. But I was glad I did, because the story was more comprehensible, the performances were less variable, more balanced, and the overall "plot" of an alien invasion seemed to be developing in some fashion.

The biggest problem I can detect with "The Burning," set at a mental hospital in Ohio, is that the Threshold team members seemed intent on re-hashing the plotline to one other, when - in fact - they should already be up to be speed on these details. Brent Spiner's amusing Nigel Fenway explained everything that had happened (going back to the infected ship...) to Carla Gugino's Molly while chatting in a file room. When that scene finished, I was glad they had got it out of the way. Very awkward. Then, later in the show, Rob Benedict's character explained the whole story (going back to the infected ship again...) to Baylock (Dutton), thus repeating exactly the same information. Then he apologized for the rant. I know that series' writers must be terribly worried that viewers who haven't watched previous episodes will be confused, but two lengthy exposition speeches in one episode is really gilding the Lilly, if you ask me. We get it, Threshold. We're paying attention. Instead of forcing good actors like Spiner and Benedict to relate poorly-constructed exposition that tries so hard to sound natural, the show should just include a lengthier "last week on Threshold..." at the opening. No one would mind that, and it would eliminate the awkward back-storytelling.

In fairness, "The Burning" wasn't bad. The Threshold team came in possession of a "multi-dimensional" alien device that promises some interesting storylines in the future, assuming they don't drop it like a hot potato. I also appreciated how the guest star's (Raphael Sbarge) personal history led to a new discovery about the aliens. Turns out they've been on Earth a whole lot longer than a few weeks. More like over a century. That's creepy. And, I have to say, Sbarge's character, Tate, was interesting. Though the mental hospital is a cliche setting for science fiction/horror TV, I felt I hadn't seen this variation a hundred times. Maybe only fifty.

In the overall Threshold story arc, I was disappointed to see that there was no follow-up from last week's events, involving the alien attempt to upload their biology-altering signal on the Internet. I mean, if that's the alien plan, you shouldn't assume because they failed once that they are going to fail again. On the contrary, if these infected crewmen are able to hightail it out to the middle of "nowhere" Ohio so quickly, one assumes they would also have the resourcefulness to upload a file on the Net. Right? And remember, Molly said that such an upload would infect 33% of the population in hours. That's a giant, looming threat, and Threshold isn't playing fair if it just forgets about it. There needs to be a line of dialogue somewhere stating that Benedict's character has figured out a way to block that signal from a high-percentage of the Internet or something.

Also, no significant follow-up on Cadet Jenklow, the alien-infected kid now in custody at Threshold facilities. Yes, he's mentioned in passing, but shouldn't someone be interviewing him about the alien device? About why the aliens were interested in a mental patient in Ohio? Here's my thing, to quote Millennium's Lara Means: you can't have a developing plot-line story arc but then drop it the next week for something else. The Internet threat is still out there folks...

So, like the pain in the ass that I am, I'm just going to keep mentioning the alien Internet threat each and every week until Threshold resolves it adequately. How about that? Still, all snarkiness aside, this week's installment was a big improvement over "Blood of the Children." I still find Threshold the least interesting of the alien invasion shows (which include Surface and Invasion in their ranks...), primarily because the characters are such hackneyed types. Strong woman scientist! Strong but silent ex-military officer! Computer Dork! Tough guy bureaucrat! Ironically - on paper - Threshold has the strongest cast: Gugino, Dutton, Spiner and Benedict. However, the series needs to find a way to give these good actors better material, and stronger individual voices, methinks. But I'm still watching. Let's hope the improvement continues next week.

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