Kate Mulgrew, Robert McNeill, And Garrett Wang Revisit “Threshold,” That Infamous ‘Star Trek: Voyager’ Episode

Threshold revisited - TrekMovie

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.”

Star Trek: Voyager - "Threshold"

Who says romance is dead?

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.

Star Trek: Voyager - "Threshold"

Janeway and Paris, slithering

Listen to The Delta Flyers on “Threshold”

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TOS : Spocks Brain
TNG : Shades of Gray
DS9 : Fascination
VOY : Threshold
DSC : * no comment *

ENT: “A Night in Sickbay”

But “Threshold” really isn’t the worst episode of Voyager by far, I’d but quite a few others in its place.

Oh i forgot ENT
definitely Storm Front 1 and 2 !

I’d have to say “Once Upon a Time” is the worst.

Agreed on DSC. DSC has been very good so far.

For Enterprise, the Klingon Retrovirus eps were just horrible — the fan service was so obvious and forced.

TNG — Encounter at Farpoint and Unification — not that they were the worst, but given they were hyped so much, they were just such a disappointing letdown that it bothers me to this day.

TOS: Spocks Brain – yeah, that’s really a no brainer! :-D

TNG: why does everyone have issues with Shades of Gray? I loved all the flashbacks when I first saw it. Sure, it’s not the most creative kind of money-saving show, but I didn’t realize it at the time, and so I still like it. I’d probably pick Code Of Honor instead, though even that isn’t totally bad. In fact I’m rewatching season 1 right now, and I don’t find it nearly as bad as I thought it was…

DS9: haven’t watched alle episodes yet, so I don’t know about Fascination right now, but probably something from the first two seasons. Or anything with Sisko without the beard and with hair ;-)

VOY: agreed, there are a lot of episodes that are worse than Threshold. Sure, the salamander stuff is goofy, but the warp 10 concept was interesting, and overall it was done very well, I would say.

ENT: hmm, yeah, probably A Night in Sickbay, though that’s a nice Phlox story. Storm Front was hilarious, though, so probably that.

DSC: almost every episode, sorry.

I’d imagine Shades of Grey works better on the first run through the series but afterthat its utterly pointless and totally skipable.
The thing is, a bottle show could have been done in far more original ways without any need for any SFX.
Something maybe like a courtroom drama episode or a an episode where Picard sits in his quarters and talks about his life for 40 minutes to Wesley or something lol…

TOS: Spock’s Brain
TNG: Code of Honor
DS9: Move Along Home
VOY: Threshold
ENT: A Night in Sickbay
DSC: *jury still out*

There, fixed your list “Tim”

Trek Worst List…

TOS: And the Children Shall Lead
TNG: Sub Rosa
DS9: Profit and Lace
VOY: Threshold
ENT: Unexpected
DSC: Si Vis Pacem, Para Bellum
PIC: The End is the Beginning
LDS: Moist Vessel

Agree with And the Children Shall Lead. Spocks Brain is stupid, but it’s kind of silly good.


But Threshold is the worst

For me, the worst Voyager episode was Tsunkatse. The network was using the show as a blatant promo for The Rock.

So, Warp 9.99 is still the speed limit in the 32nd century, or are anti-mutation shields standard issue?

It looks like they use quantum slipstream technology now.

For me personally, the episode would have been do much better off what they were apparently trying to discuss, really occured. I mean for all these astonishing situations (crossing warp 10, unifying with Universe, dying, resurrection, turning info something completely different) informed character growth. I’m often saying that Star Trek isn’t a soap opera, it shouldn’t rely so hard on characters backstory, romances (like Discovery did on the first season or two), because no matter how good the characters are they shouldn’t be overshadowing what the franchise is (should) be about – you know – STAR TREK. By the way – DS9 is for me not an exception, because I consider it to be a great seria, my beloved one amongst those under ST name, but still – not a good Star Trek. With all that said – if you are having an episode od sci-fi where a single character goes through all those great SF situations, you need some context for them to work to make viewers think about how that could be transitioned to human condition. Threshold doesn’t give you enough of this on this almost Kafka’esque story and this is, in my opinion, why it gets what it deserves on the discussion boards.

This episode was awkward but I liked it.

If Tom Paris’ insubordinations are so-called “male toxicity”, maybe someone can enlighten me what to call Michael Burnham’s far more consequential insubordinations (not to forget her stereotypical inability to keep her emotions in-check, as behooves a professional officer and scientist)? At least Tom Paris didn’t start a mutiny that resulted in an interstellar war…

Other than Thirty Days when was Paris insubordinate? That whole Season 2 arc was all a subterfuge, he wasn’t really being insubordinate.

I love Voyager and her crew to death but Threshold makes Spock’s Brain look like an Emmy winning episode. It’s just SO bad! I’ve only seen it twice to this day.

But these guys, Mulgrew especially, seem to have a good laugh about it. It’s nice they can just reminisce about the more awful stuff and not sound bitter about it.

Well, I’ve never got that hatred for “Threshold”. It was a mediocre, paint-by-numbers episode, forgettable and bland, but it’s not nearly as bad as some people want into to be. The worst episode was “Course: Oblivion”. I simply couldn’t stand the bleak, depressive resolution.

As for TOS: “Spock’s Brain” is campy fun but also by far not the worst of them. I really disliked “The Omega Glory” and “Plato’s Stepchildren”, though that kiss made TV history.
But actually I liked “And the Children Shall Lead”. It has a certain “Children of the Corn” feeling, decades before those movies were made.

TNG… I don’t know. “Shades of Grey” was a filler with flashbacks that came for too early to be effective. I would have loved to see this in Year 7 with all of the series being covered. But again, it wasn’t bad at all. There are hardly any superbad TNG episodes. I like “Sub Rosa”. It’s not great but not bad either. I wasn’t a big fan of “Lessons”, but it wasn’t a stinker, just not particularly interesting.

ENT… Sickbay is okay with me. The worst disappointment was “These Are the Voyages” but only because they made it the series finale. As a standalone entry, it would have been quite neat.

DSC… Not a big fan of the rushed S1 finale but again, not a total loss. I have no DSC episode I totally dislike though I take issues with some scenes, especially the excessively bloody ones.

PIC… That’s why I hate “Stardust City Rag” for it’s Icheb opener.

Wow. I think Course: Oblivion is excellent. Especially on first watch, when we didn’t know what was going on. Parallel universe? Bad dream? I never saw the link to Demon coming.

Am I the only one who actually really liked this episode? I remember I watched it several times.

Very possibly, yes. I’ve never seen a “worst episode ever” list where Threshold was not near the top.

I loved A Night in Sickbay on ENT, thought it was a fun episode!

It was okay. I never understood the hate for it, either. It is just kinda there, neither good nor bad IMHO.

It’s not completely true that this is the only episode where Janeway has sex. In Fair Haven she most likely has sex with one of the holodeck characters, Sullivan. Chakotay even admits to having sex on the holodeck himself! And now that I’m thinking about this there’s another epispode… Janeway and some of the crew are abducted and brainwashed in two parter Workforce. Janeway meets a co-worker, Jaffen (love that name!), and decides to move in with him. I mean, c’mon! Either way, she has her fun more than once on the show. While sexuality is not required to make a show good, I think it’s good for her character and the show.

As it happens, Salamander “foreplay”, which in this case means things the male does to get the female ready to mate, is much longer than typical human foreplay. But it’s instinctive in nature, we can’t really say it’s “fun” for them.

The dumbest part is that because the condition was reversible, they could have adapted the ship, went home, and reversed it.

Don’t know why Voyager got a bad rep in Trek social circles. Was the best out the lot of them.
I even thought there would be a spin off series when she meets the Federation Timeship of the future. Not just boldly going in space but also in time.
I would’ve watched that.
Big up all the cast and Crew of the USS Voyager.. Cmon guys. Enuf reminiscing. As old as they are now, I’d still watch new episodes any day. 😉

For me, the worst episode of Voyager is “The Fight”. It was the only episode that was such a struggle to get through. Interesting idea, but the execution was just awful. I felt embarrassed for the actors, especially Chakotay