Ask a fan to name one of the worst episodes in Star Trek history, and Voyager’s “Threshold” is bound to come up almost immediately. This much-maligned second-season episode, later described by its writer Brannon Braga as “a royal, steaming stinker,” is famous for what happens after Tom Paris crosses the Warp 10 threshold: He transforms into a monstrous creature, then kidnaps Captain Janeway and takes her to a planet where they turn into salamanders and have babies before they’re rescued and restored. There was even an action figure from Playmates, complete with three lizard babies, described on the package as “mutant offspring.”
Garrett Wang and Robert Duncan McNeill finally got to “Threshold” in the latest episode of their weekly podcast The Delta Flyers, where they are making their way through the entire series in chronological order. Earlier this year McNeill told TrekMovie that while he was happy with his work on “Threshold,” it was the only episode he wasn’t looking forward to discussing, but Wang rightly pointed out that fans likely felt the opposite.
Kate Mulgrew joined the pair with some extra commentary in the Patreon-only section of the podcast to reminisce about filming her scenes and speculate on how salamanders might copulate. Here are some of the highlights of their lively discussion, including the audio from the non-Patreon part of Robbie and Garrett’s discussion.
The award-winning makeup had its challenges
Mulgrew asked (sincerely) if the episode had won “a lot of awards,” and while McNeill joked that it won the award for “maybe the worst episode of Star Trek: Voyager ever made,” it did, in fact, win an Emmy for Outstanding Makeup for a Series—and the episode deserved it.
From McNeill’s description of filming his scenes as Tom Paris mutated, it sounds like he should’ve shared in that award along with Michael Westmore and his team. None of it was easy, starting with the menthol that was blown into his eyes to irritate them so they’d be bloodshot.
McNeill reported that when he filmed the scenes where he was losing his ability to breathe in Voyager’s atmosphere, it triggered his sense memories of having asthma attacks. He imitated them as a way to get into the scene, but his body picked up on what he was doing and he started to have the anxiety and tightness in his chest that always accompanied his attacks, so severely that rewatching it brought back all those feelings vividly. (In fact, he had once had an attack so severe during a different episode that they had to delay filming so he could go to the hospital.)
He also said it was difficult to act once the makeup reached its peak.
They had tubes that went down my legs, and they were sitting on the floor, like three feet away from me, literally they were going (blows), blowing these bladder balloons. So all I could hear inside of the rubber, I could barely hear the actors, I looked at their lips moving.
As for the horror movie-type scene where Paris’ tongue fell off:
That tongue was made of silicone. But then they put some other jelly, red, like Jell-O, so that it looked like it was sort of just collapsing or falling apart. So I did have some red Jell-O, and I had that silicone tongue, rubber tongue, had to get in my mouth… it was a lot of stuff for that tongue coming out.
And then for the final touch, he used an inky black mouthwash right before they filmed, so the inside of his mouth would appear black—and his real tongue would be harder to see.
Not just character mutation, but character evolution
Despite the episode’s bad reputation, Robbie and Garrett had some positive opinions on it. Wang thoughtfully pointed out that there was more to the changes in Paris than what was seen on the outside as they discussed how Tom changed over the course of the series. McNeill said he “came into the series embodying a lot of toxic masculinity” and Wang said this was embodied in the scene where Paris monologues from his sickbay bed. “You see the vestiges of the toxic masculinity even in this scene,” he said, bringing up Paris’ memories of crying alone as a kid and being told crying was a weakness by his father. ‘This is definitely a transitional phase for Paris to become more of a complete human being,” Wang summed up.
McNeill agreed, and admitted he relished the opportunity to stretch his acting chops.
My memory of making the episode, because I got to play the Elephant Man in a way, I got to play this transformation, this larger-than-life operatic story of the entire character changing, and dying, and coming back to life, and seeing things, having this acid-trip kind of revelations, my memory was, it was a lot of fun to act in. SO it was really satisfying for me as an actor.
Kate Mulgrew talks salamander copulation
Kate Mulgrew made her Delta Flyers debut (on Patreon only) and started off joking over their choice of episodes to discuss.
I was thinking about this last night as I put my little head on the pillow. Of ALL the episodes you could ask me to join you in conversation about, of everything we did together, every conceivable adventure, confrontation, peril, right? You choose “Threshold.” The story of Lt. Paris and Captain Janeway having lizards.
After their enthusiastic YES, she went on.
I didn’t think it was our finest moment, Robbie, but since we’re going to be talking about it, let’s extoll its virtues, okay? Locked in a turbolift with Robbie McNeill is something akin to delightful alcoholism, I should think. Because no aspect of it was based in reality of any kind.
She says she had fun–not always the case for her, given the grueling schedule–and confessed that her makeup had to be reapplied many times because McNeill kept making her laugh, reporting that it was his entire modus operandi as she was “..trying desperately to give birth to 25 lizards.”
While they made fun of the episode, they all acknowledged their admiration and respect for writer Brannon Braga and director Alexander Singer. Mulgrew’s theory is that the team had had so much pressure on them for the first season and a half that they needed a break of sorts, and that’s what they were trying to do with “Threshold,” but “…in so doing everybody lost their mind.”
Mulgrew asked where Harry was during all of this, since Ensign Kim wasn’t, as McNeill thought he should be, “sobbing inconsolably” in Sickbay as Paris suffered and died; she told Wang he must have been “off on your shuttlecraft, looking for the lizards that had escaped.”
Amidst all their laughter, McNeill said that he thought there was a “grain of a really interesting science fiction idea” in there, about becoming one with the universe simultaneously, describing it as “ kind of like an acid trip, in a way, I would imagine.”
“I think if we’re going to be very frank, I would’ve preferred an acid trip,” Kate replied, cracking up her co-stars. “That’s very lofty thinking.”
Wang pointed out “Threshold” was significant for being the only episode where Captain Janeway has sex, albeit as a salamander.
This is the first time and probably the only time that she has that. And also later, when you guys are back to human form… you’re both in Sickbay, and he looks at you very sheepishly, and he’s like, “Um, yeah, I’m sorry.” ‘Cause he still has knowledge that he had the intercourse with you. And then you, Kate, you look back at Robbie, you say, “Well you know, it’s all right, Mister Paris, but you do know that in a lot of different species, it’s the female that initiates the intercourse.” … It was almost, to me, a flirtation.
“That’s exactly right,” said Mulgrew. “Janeway did have a sense of humor, Garrett. And she often expressed it with Lieutenant Paris.”
“But,” she added, “ it does beg the question: I know that scientists will answer this… has anybody actually seen salamanders copulating? Have you guys ever actually witnessed it?”
McNeill chimed in, amidst their laughter, with “I will admit I did not do that research, Kate.”
Mulgrew doubled up.
I don’t think they copulate in any kind of way that could be confused with sexual intercourse. I don’t think there’s a great deal of, shall we say, foreplay.
“Tenderness, no,” posited McNeill, as Mulgrew ran with it:
Romantic pep talk? Erotic suggestions? I think they just slither on, and slither off.
Listen to The Delta Flyers on “Threshold”
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