by Josie Kafka
“Focus on the task, not the fear of the task.”
If you weren’t impressed with Molly Caffrey in the first part of this pilot two-parter, I hope you are now. I can’t help but think that the writers had the Buffy pilot in mind as they wrote the opening scene: take a pretty girl in a flimsy dress, present her as a victim, and then turn the tables.
Molly isn’t a superhero, of course. And bad guy William Mapother (who I always think of as Ethan, no matter what he’s in) isn’t dead or even caught. But Molly managed to keep her cool and distract him with the open cellar door (prompting a “Why go into an enclosed space, you idiot?” from me) just enough to brain him with a shovel. At the team meeting, Molly said, “Containment is the first priority of the Threshold protocols.” Molly wrote the protocols, and her adherence to them tells us that she prefers to think through problems before dealing with them—she doesn’t naturally shoot from the hip, but she can when she must. Her flexibility impresses me.
It impresses Ramsey, too, who gets caught fondling Molly’s underwear while she is getting patched up by the EMTs. (Awkward!) Although the show doesn’t quite know what to do with his character, Peter Dinklage suggests vulnerability that’s light-years ahead of the rather ham-fisted dialogue he’s given. Ramsey has been saddled with an awful lot of characteristics (horny pedantic geek with a chip on his shoulder about being a second choice; later he gets a tragic childhood) but very little character. Dinklage ties it all together.
Brent Spiner’s Nigel Fenway gets some nice moments with Charles S. Dutton, and I like the way his dialogue implicitly creates a backstory of active civil engagement as part of his university life. Fenway’s conversation with Lucas in the lab was exposition on top of pseudo-science, complete with random computer graphics, but the actors made it interesting and convincing. I do feel bad for the rats, though.
The infected humans are clearly wily enough to have a plan (and to shave), but luckily they make foolish mistakes like hiding bodies in lockers when they have an entire water treatment plant at their disposal. As the second hour of Threshold’s two-hour pilot, this episode balances the lab-science nicely with the extraordinary physical skills of the aliens.
Through it all, each character comes to some sort of resolution about their fear. Molly learns to face hers, and to trust the plan she made. Ramsey opts in. Fenway works hard while thumbing his nose at authority, and gets cheekily chastised with a box of carrots, a tennis ball, and a harmonica. And Lucas comes to terms with what’s at stake, even if he is still upset about leaving his life behind, however temporarily.
Will it be temporary, though? In Lucas’s dream, Ethan implied that the aliens were re-making humans in their own image. That Lucas can have a semi-prophetic dream is pretty intense anyway. While there seems to be a clear divide between complete infectees like Ethan and theta-wave infectees like Lucas, Molly, and Cavennaugh, the aliens clearly have brain-control technology, since their signal brought 106 people to the water treatment facility and somehow manipulated traffic patterns in DC into a fractal. Molly claims that the plan is working, but they’re clearly missing the scope of the alien mystery.
• Ramsey refers to Ethan’s odd language as “expressive aphasia—word salad,” but then clarifies that it’s just backwards English. Without clarifying, though, ‘cuz those are two completely different things.
• I love Nigel Fenway’s CSI detection almost as much as I love the Big Map. That is to say, both not at all and with my whole heart.
• Molly’s father disappeared when she was little. There must be more to that.
• The fake security guard was Kevin Durand.
• I think I might leave these episodes unrated, since there isn’t much variation in quality in any direction. They’re all just pretty good but not great, like this one.