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Episode Studies by Clayton Barr
enik1138 at popapostle dot com
V: Below the Threshold V
Below the Threshold

Written by Allen Wold

(The page numbers come from the 1st printing, paperback edition, published March 1988)

Psychologist Dr. Jack Page treats patients struggling with their fear of the reptilian Visitor invasion. But, suddenly, those same patients are becoming accepting of the Visitors...and Dr. Page wants to know why.

Story Summary

As the novel opens, clinical psychologist Dr. Jack Page receives a call from his patient Emily Velasquez. Emily is worried that she has just stumbled on to a conspiracy in their still human-controlled hometown of Freeport in the otherwise Visitor-occupied southern half of the U.S. Jack agrees to meet her at a restaurant that evening to discuss it, thinking it may be her schizophrenia talking. But Emily fails to show and Jack gets worried. He goes to her apartment and finds a strange man there who insists he has the wrong apartment. Jack calls the police and they enter the apartment to find it unoccupied, but it has obviously been searched through. The police fail to take the disappearance very seriously however since she has not yet been missing for 24 hours.

The next day, Jack learns that Emily, an interior decorator, had visited a big client that same day, Vanessa Carpentier, the head of local TV station WCTY. He learns that one of the station's security guards had an accident on the stairs the previous evening and was found unconscious. He and the station's chief of security visit the man in the hospital and he remembers seeing Emily come in the door as he was coming down the stairs. Then he remembers only his feet in the air as he fell.

Later in the day, Jack is mugged by three men, but he beats them and holds one to question. He learns that they are after some pictures Emily took of the abandoned Regency Theater in town. Jack lets the guy go and asks a friend of his, the assistant city attorney, David Mallard, to help him get information on what is going on. They learn of a Visitor TV station in nearby occupied Northampton and their attempt to purchase the Regency Theater as a broadcast center in Freeport.

Jack discovers that Emily accidentally left her photos in Vanessa Carpentier's office during her visit. He asks about them and Carpentier gives them to him. He discovers that three of the photos show a clandestine meeting between local mob boss, Kline, local politician, Oswald, and Visitor commander in Northampton, Dwight.

Jack meets up with some local resistance leaders and they make tentative plans to spring Emily from where they think she is being held: a prison on the top few floors of a Freeport office building. They manage to free Emily and grab stacks of files, including information about experiments with electromagnetic frequencies (ELF). Questioning Emily later, they realize the prison is a testing facility and that the Visitors may have performed some ELF testing on her. They learn about the Visitor TV station in Northampton, located in Fairfield Mall. Resistance leader Douglas Abbot and Jack pay a visit to the place in the guise of being television equipment salesmen. They soon learn the station director is Northampton's director of Visitor-human relations, Dwight, and meet up with the assistant station director, a Visitor named Hickory who recognizes Jack as the man they've been chasing with their mob contacts in connection with Emily's photos. They are in deep trouble, but Abbot's quick reflexes allow them to fight off a couple of guards and escape into the mall, where they finally make a clean getaway and head back to Freeport.

After another mob altercation, the resistance movement gets help from Carpentier in figuring out that ELF is being used by the Visitors to plant some kind of subliminal message over television broadcasts in Freeport, with the effect of lulling the humans into being less and less concerned about the Visitors, paving the way for an invasion of the city. They discover the Visitors' broadcast tower must be on top of the Wagner building downtown.

They decide to take out the tower, but before they can get there are stopped by the corrupt police lieutenant, LeGrange, and Abbot is killed in a shootout before the others escape. At the Wagner building, the small resistance force hits some obstacles but ultimately succeeds in destroying the tower. 



Didja Know?

The novel is written in the style of a mystery story rather than a typical sci-fi or adventure one, including the use of both legitimate clues and red herrings. The book is also divided into "file numbers" instead of chapters, presumably like a detective's case files (though the major character who performs most of the investigation is not a detective but a clinical psychologist, an occupation which also maintains case files of a different nature). Our makeshift detective, Jack, even likes to guzzle Scotch, much like a hardboiled P.I. in a noir detective novel drinks Scotch or bourbon.

The subliminal broadcasts over television used here is similar to the premise of "Switch on to Fear". The Visitors may have learned from the earlier experiment and have now expanded on it here.

Didja Notice? 

The cover of the book features a Visitor soldier standing in front of an "Our Friends" Visitor propaganda poster. But the poster hanging next to it (only partially visible) appears to be a poster for the 1982 movie The World According to Garp! Notice also that the fence or wall upon which the posters hang doesn't look real; I think the image is a mock-up.

The majority of the story takes place in the city of Freeport. However, no state is ever revealed, despite many other details such as street and interstate names, restaurants, major buildings, etc. Although there are a handful of cities in the U.S. with that name, I have not been able to find any city that matches the details given. The book does reveal that it is in the southern half of the country where the red dust is ineffective. Highway US 18 is referenced as running through Freeport but, in the real world, US 18 runs in the northern half of the country, from Wyoming to Wisconsin. Page 167 mentions highway US 47 into Freeport; there is no such highway in the real world.

Freeport is a city in the southern, Visitor-controlled portion of the U.S., though it has somehow managed to remain human-controlled and largely Visitor-free through some kind of agreement between the city, the Visitors, and the U.S. government in the Northern States. How this was affected is never explained. A number of naturalized Visitor citizens (former fifth columnists) have also made their home here. Notice also that the name Freeport plays metaphorically into the concept of a city where the inhabitants are still free.

On page 1, Jack pours himself a double shot of Laphroaig. Laphroaig is a Scotch whisky which has been produced since 1815. It is the only whisky to carry the Royal Warrant of the Prince of Wales (since 1994).

Page 6 mentions that the Visitors arrived 3 years ago, placing the story near the time of "The Return".

Page 7 reveals that Jack has a number of patients diagnosed with what he refers to as Alien Anxiety Syndrome. This may be another name for the Post-Visitor Stress Syndrome mentioned as a psychiatric condition in Death Tide.

Page 8 mentions that former fifth columnists who have become naturalized U.S. citizens have become known as "Naturals" (naturalized) in Freeport.

Page 19 states that Emily's office was decorated in the style of the David Hicks school. David Hicks (1929-1998) was a British interior decorator known for using bright colors and mixing antique and modern furniture.

Page 59 states that the Regency Theater in Freeport was a former Loews. Loews was a chain of movie theaters throughout North America started in 1914. It became the oldest operating theater chain for decades until merging with AMC Theaters in 2006. Many of the new, merged company's theaters still bear the Loews name.

Page 59 also describes the theater as "1920's gloptious". As far as I can "gloptious" is not a real English word, but I did find a few uses of it around anyway, with gloptious generally meaning "lots of glop", which does seem to fit the description given of the theater in the book "...painted plaster arches, columns, false boxes, statuary..."

On page 77, Jack says that the Visitors wouldn't dare move on human-controlled Freeport because "the Northern States would retaliate immediately." How would the Northern States retaliate? They didn't retaliate when the formerly free city of Los Angeles was occupied. And even if the Northern States did retaliate, why would it worry the Visitors overly? They've already conquered most of the temperate portions of the world without much trouble other than pockets of resistance fighting.

On page 88, Abbot pours Jack a glass of Glenlivet. Glenlivet is a single malt Scotch brewed since 1824 in the parish of Glenlivet in Moray, Scotland.

Page 93 repeats the custom humans have adopted of avoiding the wearing of clothing in the shade of Visitor red, as previously established in The Crivit Experiment, also written by Allen Wold.

Page 128 mentions that studies at the University of Chicago have revealed latent psi-talents in Visitor volunteers. The university is a real world private university.

Page 144 mentions Dewar's Scotch. This is a Scottish brand of blended whisky which has been produced since 1846.

Also on page 144, Emily mentions that the old Regency Theater was designed by architect Frank Hebson. As far as I can tell, this was not a real person.

On page 148, Emily says that while she was held in the Visitor prison, she was once forced to watch television, with her head secured into place and eyelids propped open. This is similar to the "programming" of Alex in the 1962 novel and 1971 film A Clockwork Orange.

On page 150, Abbot refers back to Emily's statement about being forced to watch television, but he adds that she was forced to watch Gandhi. But she never mentioned that she was made to watch that film! Gandhi is a 1982 biographical film about Mahatma Gandhi who led a passive resistance movement in India against the British overlords of the country during the first half of the 20th century.

Page 169 mentions a Belk store in a Northampton mall. Belk is a department chain founded in 1888 and found almost exclusively in the U.S. south.

Page 175 describes Jack and Abbot ducking into a County Seat store to dodge the Visitors at the Fairfield Mall. County Seat was a real world jeans outlet at shopping malls in 46 U.S. states until it went out of business in 1999.

Like Wold's earlier novel The Pursuit of Diana, page 187 mentions a deconversion process possible on humans who've been subjected to the Visitor conversion. In this book, a Visitor fifth columnist brings special equipment to aid in deconverting Emily.

Some residents of Freeport are envious of the lack of crime in Northampton and the resistance members speculate that some wouldn't mind being under Visitor control in order to have the security from crime. But they go on to comment it would be a system like that of Vlad Tepes. Vlad Tepes (real name Vlad Dracula, "tepes" means impaler, for the way he often killed his enemies) was a ruler of Wallachia (later Romania) in the 15th century. He was known to deal very harshly with criminals and thereby kept the country safe.

Having earlier killed Marty Patrushka, Jack tells his cohorts on page 193, "We don't have Marty Patrushka to kick around any more." This is probably a reference to Richard Nixon's famous quote upon losing the California gubernatorial election in 1962, "You don't have Nixon to kick around any more."

On page 199, fifth columnist Walter comments, "The days are past when a solitary hero like Mike Donovan could penetrate a mothership and single-handedly effect a daring rescue."

On page 225, Lewis reveals that the subliminal message the Visitors have been broadcasting over television signals in Freeport is merely the slogan they used when they first arrived on Earth, "The Visitors are your friends." However, the actual slogan used in the two V mini-series was "The Visitors are our friends."

On page 232, Walter is able to guide Jack and the others through removing their Visitor handcuffs by simply having them push a large button on them and twisting the joint between the two cables to the right. That's all it takes to escape from Visitor handcuffs?! Apparently there's no key needed!

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