Saturday, October 22, 2005

TV Review: Threshold: "The Order"

In a ripped-from-the-headlines storyline, there's a "leak" inside Molly Caffrey's inner circle this week on the Threshold episode "The Order." On Night Stalker on Thursday, we saw a medititation on journalistic standards and "sources" and now we have this, the effect of a "leak" on government workers. I like that genre TV is attempting to address the "big" issues going on in the world, especially as indictments look imminent in the Valerie Plame scandal.

But, as far as Threshold is concerned, let me make my argument as to why I feel this show just isn't working. Last week's episode climaxed with the stalwart Threshold team detonating an electromagnetic pulse in Miami, and rendering the entiry city dead. This was an effort to stop the spread of the bio-forming (and we learn this week, terra-forming...) alien signal. That's a pretty big thing, even if Baylock (Dutton) claimed that the Corp of Engineers was already in the city and ready to bring the power grid back up within 24 hours.

So, I ask you, if we assume in series time that "The Order" takes place a week, maybe less, after the events of "Pulse," do you believe for a minute that a single journalist or newspaper or cable news network would be at all concerned with a small story about the Threshold project (the leak that so concerns everybody this week)? Of late, our media has proven it can't really walk and chew gum at the same time. I mean, when Natalee Holloway disappeared, did the media still cover the CIA leak? Where was the CIA leak probe coverage when, say, Katrina hit? When Rita was coming? Given the fact that in Threshold's fictional world an entire American city went without power just days/hours before this leak revelation, are we to seriously believe that Miami wouldn't be the topic du jour? No one would notice that little piece about Threshold in some little paper, sorry. And if they did, by chance, it wouldn't register.

And I see that as the primary problem with this show. The plotting is very reminiscent of later (and weaker) Star Treks, where huge crises are dramatically wrapped up in the last two minutes of the episode, and then never referred to again. I can accept that on an outer space show, because, let's face it, a massive starship goes to different planets every day (almost...) and solves all kinds of crises. That's just the nature of Star Trek as drama. I want to see Captain Picard divert an asteroid away from an endangered planet one week; then preserve our very timeline the next. It's built-in. It's expected.

But Threshold is supposed to be occurring in the "real world" in 2005. So I have some difficulty accepting that America wouldn't react in some major way to the Miami electromagnetic pulse, even if it was just thought to be a power outage caused by solar storms. There would still be a Congressional committee investigating it, and every two-bit pundit on the tube would be - as President Bush might say - "O-pining" about our lack of preparation in case of another solar flare.

To make matters worse, Threshold pulls the same thing this week. In the last two minutes, Molly orders an air force strike team to shoot down a jet with two U.S. Senators aboard! It's infected by aliens, so it's the right call, but it's the story equivalent of last week's climactic EM pulse. Will we hear about people in Washington D.C. in mourning next week? Will we hear about officials attending the funerals? (Remember what a big deal it was when Senator Paul Wellstone died? Or Governor Carnahan?) These events don't occur in a vacuum, never to come up again, but thus far I see no evidence that Threshold's writers are aware of this. Every episode starts with a "re-set," like everything is normal again. The team is just merrily out alien artifact hunting, "data mining," as they like to say. La-dee-da. La-dee-da.

People might wonder why I don't criticize Invasion or Surface like this. Here's why. Surface is staying true to the internal story, building up event after event, so that the existence of the sea creatures is rapidly becoming undeniable. They are still at the "unexplained phenomena" stage. Now, I don't know where the series is going, but it has taken off on a consistent trajectory, and keeps going step-by-step. As far as Invasion is concerned, it occurs on a much more personal level, the story is of a "blended" family and only now (several episodes in) are suspicions being raised about the behavior and nature of certain characters. Again, the trajectory is a consistent, building one. Both of these series may ultimately crap themselves if they don't face the ramifications of their plot, but they haven't done so yet. Threshold, by contrast, attempts to work up excitement for a "big" climax every week, like it's the end of the world (and let's face it, shooting down a jet with two U.S. Senators on board, or pulsing an entire American City is BIG), but then the next week, we're back to normal, just following up a lead on another element of the alien signal. This week, it's a piece of contaminated driftwood from the ship, Big Horn, they're hunting.

So as drama Threshold goes up and down in fits and starts, and seems to lack a real plan. Internet buzz suggests there is a plan for the series, a really interesting one, but I just don't see it yet. This series is still spending too much time "hunting" the threat of the week, and making big gestures, then re-setting the following week and starting all over again. This is the kind of genre plotting that can drive a guy crazy.

And don't even get me started on the ridiculous alien-signal infected cat that appeared on last night's episode.

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