Published Jan 27, 2023
Threshold and the Overlooked Message of Reaching for Success
How Tom Paris demonstrates a vital lesson with the infamous Voyager episode.
January 29 marks the 27th anniversary of the airing of the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Threshold.” Just saying the title conjures up images of Captain Janeway and Lt. Tom Paris morphing into salamanders and the babies they leave behind after they are rescued by the crew. Many fans focus on what they consider the absurd aspect of the script, and honestly, I did too at first. After a couple of more viewings, though, I began to see more.
Perhaps this isn’t what Michael de Luca, the story’s creator, had in mind when he wrote "Threshold." Maybe he wanted an outlandish episode, or perhaps Brannon Braga, who wrote the teleplay, thought it would be good for the crew to have a rather odd and uncomfortable encounter with their captain and the helmsman of Voyager. But I can no longer overlook the bigger aspect of the episode.
"Threshold" starts with the crew’s discovery of dilithium, which could enable the ship’s warp drive to reach warp 10 capabilities, thus propelling the ship through the Alpha Quadrant almost instantaneously. But someone has to test the possibility; and though Lt. Paris will risk severe side effects in his attempt to travel at infinite velocity, he convinces the captain to let him go. And, surprising everyone, he is successful. Yes, there are disastrous consequences to his success; nevertheless, he breaks the barrier, and that shouldn’t be negated by what follows.
Throughout the years of Star Trek, there have been successes and failures, but it was the ultimate achievements that stood up under the scrutiny. Yet, with "Threshold," all eyes remain on the aftermath of Lt. Paris’ success. That’s unfortunate considering Star Trek has always been about exploration, taking chances, and reaching beyond the stars.
Episodes like "Threshold" encourage viewers to take risks even though there may be less than desirable effects as the result. Jumping into the deep end when we aren’t sure of the outcome is better than sitting on the sidelines wondering if we could have achieved something.
Another example is the two-parter “Scorpion,” which included far-reaching repercussions when Captain Janeway made a deal with the Borg to assist them in their fight against Species 8472. Of course the Borg proved they could not be trusted, but the end result of the alliance included Seven of Nine’s termination from the Hive mind, her ability to regain her individuality, as well as the retreat of Species 8472.
While there were crew members who disagreed with the decision, Captain Janeway forged ahead just as Lt. Paris did when he took the mission to break the maximum warp barrier. Not everyone was sure it was theoretically possible, but he accepted the risk. Maybe it was to prove to himself he could do it, especially as Paris thought his father didn’t believe he was capable of any success. Or maybe it was to prove everyone else wrong. Whatever the reason, Paris didn’t back down.
We all face decisions in our lives that could lead to success or failure, though probably not as disastrous as being turned into salamanders. Any journey or action we take could have both positive and negative results, but that doesn’t mean the reward isn’t worth the risk. Some of our biggest achievements happen when we know there is a high risk of failure, and we plunge in anyway.
Star Trek metes out successes and failures with equal measure, but there is always a positive in each of the scenarios. And that’s the same way with our lives. We shouldn’t forget our successes when we encounter obstacles that feel like failures.
Lt. Paris had every right to feel jubilant about his achievement even after his foray into the world of amphibians. Even though we didn’t get to see much of what happened after he and Captain Janeway were cured and returned to their human bodies, I’d like to think he still felt a measure of pride in what he accomplished.
I’ve personally experienced large successes that were dimmed by consequences that threatened to overshadow those moments of glory. And it wasn’t always easy to focus on the successes but knowing that we all go through similar situations made taking that next step a little less difficult.
I encourage you to rewatch "Threshold," focusing on Lt. Paris’ achievement rather than the unfortunate side effect of his mission. He had no control over the toll breaking the barrier took on his body, but he did have control over whether or not he chose to accept the mission. And despite the horrific side effects, he still won in the end. As we all can.
Rachel Carrington is a freelance writer and author whose work can be found a Startrek.com, The New York Times, The Writer, and Short-Edition as well as many others. Find her on Twitter @rcarrington2004.