On Threshold former Karen Cisco star Carla Gugino plays Dr. Molly Caffrey, whose far-out strategy for handling an alien attack is triggered when a four-dimensional orb appears over the Atlantic. The UFO blasts a ship’s crew with sound waves that either kill them outright or change their DNA, turning them into alien zombies bent on contaminating others. A handful of crew members have made it to shore, and have begun infecting others. It’s the job of Caffrey and her crack alien-rustling team, including her boss (Charles S. Dutton), a brilliant scientist (Star Trek: The Next Generation‘s Brent Spiner), and a linguistics genius (The Station Agent‘s Peter Dinklage) to round them up before the entire planet goes otherworldly.
Threshold is neither analytic nor satiric. The infected are detained like suspected terrorists, all rights suspended, but the imagery never goes far. The series’ most intriguing line is uttered by a visiting senator (Kevin Kilner), who reasons of the aliens, ”All they want is to convert others — you could say the same thing about Jehovah’s Witnesses. We don’t lock them up.” This defense of groupthink definitely offers potential, but Threshold doesn’t explore it.
That would be fine, if the series were creepier. Instead, there’s a crisis a week: A voicemail left by a crew member contains sound waves that infect his sister in Miami, and threaten to spread through cell phones and ATMs. (Crisis averted, somewhat unbelievably, with a forced citywide blackout.) A seafood shack in Rhode Island is somehow contaminating locals. (Again, handily dispatched.) With all of its bad-guy chases, Threshold feels like a fantasy series that’s been focus-grouped into a cop show — no surprise, since it’s on CBS — although it does indulge in repeated scenes of a glass forest dreamt of by infectees, including Caffrey, who received second-hand exposure to the sound waves. (This image isn’t nearly as fascinating as the writers seem to think.) Threshold should adopt the 24 model: Don’t try to stretch this story line over multiple years. Instead, commit to the crisis for one season only — another alien emergency can arise next year — and, for once, please, let things really unravel.