Saturday, October 15, 2005

TV Review: Threshold: "Pulse"

Threshold's fourth episode aired last night (Friday), and was pretty weak.

If you haven't been watching, don't start now. But I kid Threshold.

Here's the plot so far. An alien signal has reached Earth and - if received by human ears - begins to mutate affected humans, transforming them into super-strong and super-determined slaves of an unseen alien race bent on spreading the signal further. In response, the U.S. govt. initiates a plan called "Threshold" under the auspices of team leader Molly Caffrey (Carla Gugino) and attempts to block the aliens wherever they turn up.

So, every week now, the aliens try and fail to upload their signal to some component of our modern American technological grid. In an earlier installment, "Blood of the Children," the aliens were prevented from uploading their signal to the Net. Why? Because they stupidly picked a site (a military academy) where only one chamber had Internet access. Good one, E.T. In this episode, "Pulse," the aliens change tactics and use I-Pods, text-messages and ATM networks in Miami to propagate their "bio altering" signal. The result? The Threshold team - outwitted - fries the city with an electromagnetic pulse and stops the alien incursion.

I have a few thoughts about the premise and execution of Threshold, and they're probably not particularly welcome by anyone involved in the show. Let's handle the premise first. In one sense, it's sorta interesting. The point being that it is our own technology that makes us vulnerable to an alien threat - our use of cell phones, computers, I-Pods, etc. The notion that an alien could hijack our innocuous tech-head gadgetry and turn it against us works for me. I guess I have a little Luddite in me (and I should tell him to get out...) I still miss my Atari 2600. In any case, this was also the story of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, but this is a variation on that theme and as such, not wholly unoriginal or unpromising.

And yet...the very nature of the alien threat is rendered underwhelming by Threshold's premise. I was up in arms a few weeks ago when, after "Blood of the Children," it was clear that nobody was still monitoring the Internet for alien incursion. Then and now, my point is that the Internet is always open, always vulnerable, and you just need one person (with a blog like this one?) to upload the alien threat. But Threshold dropped that notion like a hot potato. Why? Just because the aliens attempted to breach the Internet once and were stopped, the issue isn't resolved. It's not like they won't try again. There's an old Vulcan proverb that goes: If at first you don't succeed, try and try again. I'm sure the aliens have a similar notion. I think they would be trying constantly to infect the Internet. But the very fact that the aliens can't succeed in getting one infected person to log onto AOL makes the aliens just seem...stupid.

In "Pulse," the signal gets into an I-Pod, and then into a cell-phone, where it replicates itself into every infected phone's calling circle. Again, that's neat, but you're telling me that the aliens won't try this again, even though they failed this one little time? How many cell phones are there in a world? I just don't buy it that the Threshold team's intervention prevents the aliens from trying this plan again.

This weak plotting always bothers me in movies, especially when bad guys are guilty of faulty, irrational thinking. Like when a good guy is surrounded by bad guys, and the bad guys come at him one at a time so he can martial-arts-himself out of the crisis. If the bad guys had all just attacked together, the hero would be toast. The same principle is true in Threshold. You're telling me that sinister aliens with the capability of creating a bio-altering and tech-altering catch-all evil signal and the ability to travel to Earth from another solar system can't launch an attack on the Internet or cell phones in a variety of countries simultaneously? They couldn't try it in Russia, China, India and the United States at the same time? I just don't believe that. Any smart alien would attack the Internet from 50 - hell 500 - computers at once. Try stopping that Ms. "I Look Good in Green Leather" Caffrey!

Because the aliens are so lame, and their plan is so basic and flawed, I have a difficult time buying into the world of Threshold. The series' premise just don't hold up under the smell-test.

The execution is even worse. So far the episodes go like this: Aliens infect our technology, almost spread their dastardly signal, and are blocked at the last minute (whew!) by Threshold team members....which consists of five people; four-and-a-half if you count Dutton, who must be under house arrest cuz he never gets to leave the office. All I can say to this is: Those damn meddling kids!! First of all, this plot is dull and repetitive, and secondly it allows little opportunity for growth.

In last night's "Pulse," push finally came to shove. Threshold team members couldn't stop the spread of alien-infected cell phones, so the government efficiently and quickly shut down all of Miami with an electromagnetic pulse.

Oh, okay.
That was easy. the post-Katrina age, are we supposed to believe that the government response would be so effective and so quick? (Sorry, I don't buy it). And secondly, do we blindly accept that there would be no casualties or looting if Miami went totally dark? In the last scene, Baylock (Charles Dutton) gleamed happily that the Corp of Engineers was already in Miami and would have the power grid back up by nightfall.

Uh, yeah, right. We've seen in real life that it would probably take the Corp of Engineers a week to get to Miami, there would be lawlessness there in the meantime, and people would really, really panic. And jeez - an electromagnetic pulse would take out everything. Cars, microwaves, VCRS, ATMs, cell phones, everything. So hospitals would be shut down. Shelters would shut down. No buses would run, and that would mean no evacuation. That's all gonna get fixed overnight? Who will repair the cars? Hmmm? You can't just pulse an entire American city and then end an episode on an upnote like the problem's been solved. You might get away with that in a perfect universe (say, like Star Trek's), one where everybody is decent and calm, and technology unchained makes the world a paradise. But in 2005 America?

Secondly, the EMP-ing of Miami - though undeniably dramatic - is a huge problem for all future Threshold episodes. You want to know why? Because every time the alien signal is about to spread, you know what I'm going to say - right here in this very space? Just EMP the city! Hell, it worked in Miami! (And the Corp of Engineers had the grid up in a day...). How seriously can I take any future threat on Threshold when in the fourth episode of the series they've already used their "last" resort - an electromagnetic pulse - and not only did it defeat the aliens, it caused no serious harm to our populace?!!!

This show is lame, and the writers have typed themselves into a corner. Sorry folks, I think Threshold just shit its pants.


  1. I thought Threshold was going to be one of the best new series of the three sci- fi shows that hit the networks.

    But I agree with what your saying 100% they first episode of the show was pretty cool. But it went downhill fast.

    The problem with Invasion, Surface and Threshold is exactly what you said they are all going to write them selves into a corner.It just a matter of time. Is surface going to have big dinos running around. thay can't have a buget for something like that. Or on Invasion is are they going to stop them war with them what. The show can't really go in that direction I don't think they could get a buget for a big battle seen or something of the sort.

    I think anthology series like Nightstalker Outer limits are the best way to handle these sci fi shows. At some point any Invasion type story is going to have to come to a head, and after that the show really is going to be different. cauwel3

  2. I think you're right. That's why we're seeing such "slow" development. If these shows stay on the air, they are going to draaaag.

  3. Hi,

    I just wanted to chime in and let you know that I agree with your comments. I actually did a review on this series last week, but that was before I saw last Friday's episode. Up to that point I was a giving it a B, mostly because of the good cast and potential stories that could be done with an alien invasion by DNA. But they are already starting to repeat themselves and I'm also not buying into the quick fix with the EMP weapon.

    This and what the cop did in the episode "Shock," do not make any sense in modern day America. I'm not trying to be mean, because these writers have written some excellent episodes in other series, but the writing is starting to smell of the typical Star Trek "quick fix" and "the characters are just chess pieces to further the plot" kind of writing that helped kill Enterprise.

  4. Hey Max - That's a great blog! I enjoyed reading your reviews. I agree with you on Threshold. I'm very disappointed. The quick wrap up worked (sometimes) on various incarnations of Star Trek, but it is almost laughable on Threshold. CBS has asked for three more episodes, but I wonder if it will go on beyond that...


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