Threshold was a science fiction drama television series that first aired on CBS in September 2005. Produced by Brannon Braga, David S. Goyer and David Heyman, the series focuses on a secret government project investigating the first contact with an extraterrestrial species.
The series was first shown on Friday nights, but was moved to Tuesday in an effort to boost ratings. This plan backfired, with the show registering a sharp drop in its ratings on its first Tuesday night showing on November 22, 2005, and CBS canceled the series on November 23, 2005, with four episodes left unaired.
The remaining episodes were aired on Sky1, a channel in the United Kingdom owned by Sky, who co-produced the series with CBS. The entire series was released on DVD on August 22, 2006.
The series first aired on the Sci Fi Channel on Friday, October 13, 2006, at 10:00 pm, following a new episode of Battlestar Galactica.
The series stars Carla Gugino as Dr. Molly Caffrey, a high-level government crisis management consultant from the Blackwood Institute whose job is to create contingency plans for use in emergencies ranging from natural disasters to nuclear war. In order to have “all bases covered”, one of her plans, code-named Threshold, is developed for dealing with the unlikely eventuality of first contact with aliens. One night, the crew of a U.S. naval vessel encounters a UFO. Many crew members subsequently die horribly, but some escape. After the ship is discovered with dead crew members and a videotape of the encounter, the Threshold protocol is activated.
Caffrey’s Threshold plan calls for the formation of a secret government task force known as the Red Team. As a result, several top scientists are seconded: Dr. Nigel Fenway (Brent Spiner), an individualistic NASA-employed microbiologist; Lucas Pegg (Rob Benedict), a somewhat unsure-of-himself aerospace engineer on the eve of his marriage, and Arthur Ramsey (Peter Dinklage), a mathematics and linguistics genius with a penchant for unpredictability, alcohol and women. Caffrey’s government liaison is Deputy National Security Advisor J.T. Baylock (Charles S. Dutton), while freelance paramilitary operative Sean Cavennaugh (Brian Van Holt) serves as the “muscle” of the group (and apparent potential love interest for Caffrey). Daphne Larson (Catherine Bell) was added to the team in the episode “Outbreak”. Caffrey’s team works under absolute secrecy, their activities not even known to the Vice-President, or the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Threshold learns that the aliens are attempting to rewrite the DNA of the human race using, in part, an audio signal that somehow alters some people’s body chemistry in such a way that they become alien themselves. Central to all this is a fractal triskelion pattern that keeps appearing – in electronic signals, blood, and even the pattern made by city lights. Its significance has yet to be revealed, though Arthur Ramsey interpreted it as representing a DNA pattern in a triple helix formation (like the alien DNA).
The episodes focus on Caffrey and her team as they learn more about the signal, the fractal pattern, and the aliens. Often, their work requires them to impersonate different U.S. Government agencies. Compounding the situation, Caffrey, Cavennaugh and Pegg were exposed to a small part of the signal, which while not (as yet) infecting them, has nonetheless altered their brains, causing the trio to have bizarre, linked dreams, and also receive messages from the aliens with Caffrey, in particular, experiencing frightening, often violent hallucinations. Individuals experiencing these visions have been referred to as “dreamers” by the Threshold Red Team.
An ongoing subplot of the series is the emotional impact Threshold has on Caffrey herself, as she is required to make life-and-death decisions on an almost daily basis. The impact on other members of her team is also explored.
In one of the unbroadcast episodes, one of the hybrids reveals that the aliens plan to save humankind by changing their DNA and the surface of the earth. This is because millennia ago, far out in space, two neutron stars collided, creating a gamma ray burst – the radiation of which is heading for Earth and will, when it arrives in six years, end all life on the surface of the planet. Because the revelation came from a hybrid, this explanation is considered suspect and that the hybrid’s sole intention is to slow the Threshold program.
According to writer Brannon Braga on the 2006 DVD release, word that production of the series was being terminated was received midway through shooting of the episode “Alienville”. The ending of the episode was changed to show Molly having a dream conversation with an alien-human baby (who had been born in the episode, but appeared in the dream as a nine-year-old boy). The boy tells Molly that her Threshold plan will eventually succeed in stopping the alien invasion (the age of the boy implies it’ll happen within nine years), but that she would herself (‘not be there’) [die] before this happens.
A featurette included on the August 2006 DVD release of the series confirmed a number of reported and rumored storylines that were planned had the series survived:
- In a scene in which Molly receives a letter from NASA, readable with the picture paused, explains that the Earth is in fact fated to be destroyed and that the only way around this is to adapt to the virus which Threshold is fighting.
- The series had a three-year arc that would have seen the series change its title each year, from Threshold to Foothold, referring to the next level of Molly Caffrey’s plan for a mass alien invasion, and finally to Stranglehold in which a well-established alien presence has appeared on Earth.
- In the unaired episode “Vigilante”, it is revealed that Ramsey has a drug and alcohol problem. This would have progressed causing Ramsey to “hit bottom” at one point. Meanwhile, it would be discovered that the abnormality in Ramsey’s brain that caused him to be a dwarf actually made him immune to the alien infection.
- The Threshold team would learn that 80 more probe ships were headed to Earth.
- The aliens had been sending probes to Earth every 160 years or so, but these probes failed to start widespread infection due to the lack of travel and technology on the planet at the time. The episode “The Burning” hints at this with a buried 320 year old probe. The episode “Outbreak” continued this arc by having Lucas encounter a 19th Century man in a dream who says he fought and defeated the aliens.
The episodes that were not aired by CBS also included several plot elements that would probably have been explored had the series continued: for example, Dr. Sloan, the so-called “Vigilante” introduced in the episode of the same name, whose self-appointed mission is to kill infectees (the episode also indicates a romantic attraction between him and Caffrey); the real nature of the gamma ray burst headed for Earth indicated in “The Crossing”; the effect of Threshold on Lucas Peggs’ marriage; Cavanaugh’s search for his brother (who becomes infected in one of the unaired episodes and provides the aliens with information about Threshold); the development of an alien infectee culture (who refer to themselves as “improved” humans) and their perception that the US government is persecuting them (an element introduced in the final episode, “Alienville”); and the aftermath of Caffrey’s orders to increase Threshold’s powers in “Outbreak”.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this television series: