Happy 25th Anniversary to Star Trek: Voyager's Infamous Lizard Sex Episode, 'Threshold'

“Captain’s orders—get me 40 lbs. of insects and a half-filled aquarium built for two.”
“Captain’s orders—get me 40 lbs. of insects and a half-filled aquarium built for two.”
Image: CBS/Paramount

On January 29, 1996, the world was introduced to two bizarre, vaguely humanoid, lizard-alligator-catfish creatures on Star Trek: Voyager. Only these weren’t the newest aliens to be encountered by the Starfleet crew. Instead, they were Captain Kathryn Janeway (Kate Mulgrew) and Flight Officer Tom Paris (Robert Duncan McNeill). And they’d just had lizard babies.

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“Threshold” is considered one of, if not the, worst episodes of Voyager and it’s honestly a little hard to refute. Things start well enough in a traditional Star Trek-ian manner: Tom Paris takes an experimental voyage in an attempt to become the first being to ever cross the Warp 10 barrier. He briefly succeeds, discovering it essentially sends his consciousness to every point in the universe simultaneously for a tiny bit. When he recoalesces, he’s a little discombobulated, and then he starts mutating, and gets much more discombobulated.

(Just in case you didn’t watch the entire video above, I do need to inform the mutation causes Paris to vomit out his tongue, which is quite something!)

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During a potential treatment to return him to human form, Paris breaks out, grabs Janeway, steals a ship, and escapes at Warp 10 again. A few days later, the Doctor (Robert Picardo) finally has a theory about what’s happening to the former flight officer, which is essential to understanding why this “Threshold” is so infamous: The Doctor believes that achieving Warp 10 hasn’t caused Paris to mutate, but evolve at an astonishing rate—he might be reaching an evolutionary apex that the rest of humanity won’t achieve for millions of years. It’s weird to think humans would eventually grow out of a need for tongue, but evolution can be wacky that way. Still, when the stolen craft is found on a remote planet, evolution has been far, far wackier than anticipated:

Yes, humanity’s future will be as amphibious, quadrupedal lizards. Not lizardmen, lizards. With catfish whiskers. But there’s one thing evolution hasn’t changed: The desire to keep one’s species alive. So lizard-Janeway and lizard-Paris lizard-fucked, lizard-Janeway had lizard-babies, and the non-lizards on the Voyager crew grabbed their former fellow officers and abandoned those lizard-babies as quickly as humanly possible.

I’m an extremely casual Trek fan at best, but it does strike me that leaving creatures that are technically children of two Voyager crewmembers on a planet that they’re not from—and could be in danger of getting killed or destroying the native eco-system—jibes with the Prime Directive. It’s even weirder when you wonder that, since Janeway and Paris can be (and are) turned back into humans, those are three potentially human children being ditched on the side of the galactic road. Then there’s, you know, the whole fact two main characters on the show turned into lizards and had sex of extremely dubious consensuality.

But the craziest part to me is the show’s absolutely bananas theory that these things are humanity’s evolutionary future. It turns out that wasn’t originally the idea for the episode, though. Longtime Trek producer and screenwriter for the episode, Brannon Braga said in Captains’ Log Supplemental: The Unauthorized Guide to the New Trek Voyages (as recorded by Memory Alpha):

It’s very much a classic Star Trek story, but in the rewrite process I took out the explanation, the idea behind the ending, that we evolve into these little lizards because maybe evolution is not always progressive. Maybe it’s a cycle where we revert to something more rudimentary. That whole conversation was taken out for various reasons, and that was a disaster because without it the episode doesn’t even have a point. I think it suffered greatly.

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Yeah, that probably should have been made clear. Still, happy 25th birthday to Steve, Debbie Jo, and Slitherbert Janeway-Paris, wherever you are.

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Rob Bricken was the Editor of io9 from 2016-18, the creator of the poorly named but fan-favorite news site Topless Robot, and now writes nerd stuff for many places, because it's all he's good at.

DISCUSSION

darthpumpkin
DarthPumpkin

Of late, I’ve started thinking of DS9's “For the Uniform” as that show’s equivalent to “Threshold.” There are far more cringeworthy episodes (looking at you, “Profit and Lace”), but “For the Uniform” and “Threshold” are distinct in how completely they go off the rails in the last act.

In the episode, Sisko decides that the best way to defeat rogue Starfleet officer and Les Misérables enthusiast Michael Eddington is to “become the villain” in Eddington’s story...literally...by poisoning the atmosphere of an entire planet, forcing the colonists to immediately evacuate or die.

There was just SO much wrong with that ending. Even if nobody died, that was some Nazi-level biowarfare that would’ve earned the Defiant crew a trial at The Hague in modern times. The ecological impact alone—how many ecosystems did Sisko doom to extinction?

The glib wrapup was also enraging, with the human colonists “trading planets” with some displaced Cardassians like it’s no big deal. That’s a level of statecraft I’d expect from a five year old.

The episode as a whole was quite good, but the ending just ruins it. It would’ve been a slam dunk if, for example, Sisko had tricked Eddington into thinking he’d poisoned the atmosphere without actually, you know, doing it.