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Threshold: The Burning

“Enjoy the Buckeye State.”

Local legend Richard Tate burned his family alive and lived a quiet life in a mental institution—until now! Is he a crazy escapee, a psychic superhero, a haunted man plagued by his “darkest self,” or something else entirely? If Threshold had continued into a second season, Richard’s tragic story likely would have been key to understanding the aliens’ larger plans. Even without that pay-off, though, this episode still hits all the right notes and sets up promising challenges for our team.

Molly’s contingency plan was meant to be implemented shortly after the aliens arrived, not decades later. The revelation that Richard was never crazy, but just tried his hardest to protect the world from a threat he didn’t fully understand is huge. His actions, however gruesome, prevented the aliens from infiltrating the world. Will our heroes be forced someday to take such extreme action?

It took most of the episode to get to that resolution and the larger questions it raises, of course. The hunt for Richard was stressful, and it wasn’t clear how it would be resolved (which makes me happy). Ramsey’s work on Richard’s drawings and his “code based on a personal mnemonic”—along with the “data-mining” that actually comes up with useful data—count as this week’s magical science. Without that magical science, Ramsey’s illogical ability to logic his way to a crazy-useful solution, and the tendency of crazy people to draw lots of pictures, this episode could have gone on forever.

And that’s really what separates this show from a top-notch genre series. Too many realizations are convenient, rather than logical; investigation is too easy and relies too much on sudden information from unlikely sources; crazy people speak just obliquely enough to delay resolution and then clearly enough to confirm it. I imagine writers of this level show saying, “We need to get here. How do we do so?” while writers of a better show would say, “Here’s where we are. What might happen next, especially if we throw a new wrench into the works?”

Despite those complaints, I enjoy this show. Raphael Sbarge, who is now Jiminy Cricket on Once Upon a Time, played Richard Tate with skill, alternating between horrifying and horrified with impressive consistency. The skeletal mutations on Richard’s family were incredibly creepy; this show doesn’t skimp on the icky thrills.

It doesn’t skimp on the main characters’ emotional arcs, either. Well, it doesn’t quite skimp: the Threshold protocols were designed to feature people with very few personal ties, and to minimize their interactions with others. That means loneliness is the dominant emotion, and the various characters seem to be getting more comfortable with each other. Lucas even opened up to Baylock about his wedding invitations. Now if only Molly and Ramsey could be equally open. They’re my favorite characters, so I want more of them.


• Psychiatrist: “Extraterrestrials often represent our darkest selves.”

• Molly: “Is there a civil right you haven’t violated?”

• Lucas: “Mr. Baylock?”
Baylock: “We’re going to be working together for some time. I think you can call me J.T.”
Lucas: “Yes, sir.”

• Who answers the door in their underwear?

• It’s fun to count the number of times a cast member awkwardly pats Peter Dinklage on the shoulder, which seems to be the spot of choice for touching people with non-normative bodies. It happens twice in this episode, and numerous other times throughout the show. I suppose it could be worse; they could pat his head like Tina Fey in 30 Rock. But it still makes me laugh.

Josie Kafka is a full-time cat servant and part-time rogue demon hunter. (What's a rogue demon?)

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