Jammer's Review

Star Trek: Enterprise

"Vanishing Point"

***1/2

Air date: 11/27/2002
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by David Straiton

Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan

"I can see why you might imagine the universe unraveling. If you're afraid you haven't been put back together right, why assume anything else makes sense?" — Trip

In brief: Creepy and psychologically compelling, with enough carefully navigated plot manipulations to keep you guessing.

No way you'd get me to go through one of those things and have my molecules scrambled. Not a chance.

"Vanishing Point" is the sort of episode that taps right into the dormant fears that lie deep in the recesses of my mind — the fear that I'm a potential hostage of my own physical body, with a mind that insists on believing its function transcends my physical existence even though it knows otherwise. Given how "Vanishing Point" eventually plays out, there's a sort of brilliance here; this is an episode about the ways our fears can take us hostage.

Transporter terror is certainly not an unheard-of concept in Star Trek (some may, or may not, remember TNG's "Realm of Fear," about Barclay's transporter phobia, and of course Bones was never a huge fan of the transporter, never mind that he used it every week), but here we get transporter phobia in a way that is perfectly appropriate and even necessary. Given that at this point in time the transporter is a fairly new technology that even many in Starfleet have not experienced — coupled with the fact that the crew of the Enterprise has avoided using it except in emergencies (and even then still has avoided it, e.g. "Minefield" or "The Communicator") — it stands to reason that some will not be so quick to embrace it, despite all of Starfleet's assurances that it's safe.

Enter into this premise our young Hoshi Sato — the perfect candidate for this story, with her understandably human, previously established deep-space phobias and reluctance — and you've got a pretty good starting point for a story. Trip and Hoshi are beamed up from the planet surface during a survey mission, in order to avoid a deadly, fast-approaching storm headed straight at them. The transport seems successful, but Hoshi soon finds herself unsettled. Things are not quite right. She doesn't feel as if her molecules have been reassembled correctly. A birthmark on her face has moved by a centimeter. Phlox assures her she is fine. She's not so sure. "I just don't feel like myself," she notes.

Then strange things start happening. People don't seem to hear her the first time. Later they don't hear her the second time, either. The turbolift doors don't open for her. She oversleeps. Her performance suffers inexplicably when she can't handle a basic translation using the universal translator. What's going on here?

What I found particularly clever about "Vanishing Point" was its careful, if calculated, manipulation of reality. On several occasions, it seems pretty obvious that the world is askew and the events of the story do not represent reality so much as some kind of fragmented nightmare. Indeed, almost from the beginning we're wondering how much of the episode is some sort of paranoid delusion; when will the other shoe drop? Where "Vanishing Point" is ingenious is in its narrative sleight of hand. The story is adept at not revealing all its cards. Just when we think everything is a nightmare, the episode backs off its surreal overtones and moves forward, accepting weird events at face value. It hopes we won't balk. And it gets away with it.

In particular, there's a point where Hoshi goes to bed, oversleeps, and misses at least three hours of her shift. She arrives on the bridge to find herself basically useless. A bizarre hostage crisis has materialized out of nowhere, and she absolutely cannot translate the alien's angry snarls. The way this scene is played is so odd that I instantly pegged it a dream or some other weird mental state. But the story ventures forward, goes to commercial break, and settles down until we accept this reality on its terms.

Psychologically, this is maybe Enterprise's best outing to date. It contains just enough details and ominous signs to be terrifying in an understated way. Hoshi's experience — ever since going through the transporter — might best be described as a quiet, paranoid nightmare. She joins the guys for a meal in the mess hall, and the conversation ends with them casually blowing her off. In a weird way, the scene plays almost like a bunch of guys too self-absorbed to notice the woman colleague in their midst. They get up and seem just slightly too busy to say goodbye; accidental and incidental, not their intent. The tone is one of subtle psychological menace. (I was reminded of The Sixth Sense.)

Adding to the show's sometime ghost-story sensibility is a conversation here about the famous Cyrus Ramsey, purportedly the first human test subject for a long-distance transport (100 meters). Something went wrong during this test, the tale goes, and poor Cyrus never materialized. In a fate maybe worse than death, he simply vanished, molecules scattered into oblivion — transporter limbo, perhaps. This of course begs the question at the center of the transporter fantasy, which is how one can survive the very process of having their molecules taken apart and put back together in the first place.

The general idea is that Hoshi's molecules were not put back together quite right and are therefore losing their cohesion until she literally begins fading away. But the terror here isn't only physical but also psychological. The "vanishing point" in the story is both literal and emotional. As people seem more and more unable to see and hear Hoshi, the story makes a subtle, if certain, link between her literal fading (she looks in a mirror and sees her reflection going transparent), and other forms of invisibility, including: (1) Obsolescence: She cannot translate during the hostage crisis and is relieved of duty, at which point some no-name crewman comes in and easily does her job and saves the day. (2) Casual dismissal: In addition to the aforementioned example of being abandoned in the mess hall, Phlox sighs and tells her she is worrying needlessly over nothing. It's the ultimate frustration — being utterly convinced there is something wrong with you but without having the evidence to convince someone else.

At a certain point, Hoshi goes completely invisible to everyone else, and finally the molecular and technological answers are discovered. Problem is, it's too late, and Hoshi is presumed dead. Like in a ghost story, Hoshi watches over scenes of people discussing what has apparently happened to her. I liked one shot in sickbay where Phlox explains to Archer and T'Pol how Hoshi's molecular structure has broken down, and the camera tracks slowly to reveal Hoshi behind Phlox, invisibly eavesdropping on the whole conversation — a creepy gesture.

The show seemingly takes a left turn into the dramatically unworkable when Hoshi goes below decks and sees aliens rigging charges to blow up the ship. Suddenly the episode looks to be turning into a silly story about how the Incredible Invisible Hoshi must thwart the evil plans of the alien bad guys. She tries to warn Archer by sending an SOS with Morse code by reaching into a ceiling panel and shorting out an LED. This happens, by the way, as Archer is contacting Hoshi's father on Earth and ever-so-gradually explaining that Hoshi has been ... "lost." The way the dialog between Archer and the elder Sato builds is so oddly written and unlikely that the whole sentiment rings positively false. It's utterly bizarre.

And yet ... this all manages to work, because it fits into a reality that's spinning out of control and that we finally see is indeed not real except in Hoshi's mind. The aliens below decks are her mind's own devices that allow her to confront her own fears of the transporter: As she tries to thwart them, they set up a portable transporter pad and escape, and she tries to follow, willingly stepping on their transporter pad. She beams away and suddenly materializes on the Enterprise, revealing the entire episode to have been an imagined experience that took place in eight seconds while she was being assembled on the transporter pad.

And, wow — it actually works.

"It was all a dream" stories can be infuriating and cause for resentment. Not here. While not a completely unexpected destination (indeed, I sort of hoped this would be the destination), the whole episode is like Hoshi's self-contained meditation on her fear. (I liked that even Cyrus Ramsey was an invention of her mind.) It's something that I find very believable on the story's terms as a paranoid psychological thriller. It reveals some character depth and I found the whole charade quite absorbing — and on some levels, chilling. Linda Park carries the show well as a character who is frightened and vulnerable concerning a truly disturbing condition but who manages to hold things together and be heroic nonetheless. And as I said before, this is the sort of sci-fi concept that has you stopping to consider questions about how your brain and intellect interact with an unforgiving physical world that doesn't much care that you have a brain or intellect.

Forget about being assembled incorrectly. Eight seconds of that sort of extended mental torment is reason enough not to step onto a transporter pad.

Next week: A rerun of "Carbon Creek." See you the week after.

Previous episode: Singularity
Next episode: Precious Cargo

Season Index

18 comments on this review

cyrus - Wed, Jul 30, 2008 - 7:17pm (USA Central)
This is a really insightful review - much more intelligent than the responses in the DITL (where this episode was awarded a 'worst of trek' award). They all complain about the 'it was all a dream' ending but of course that kind of frame is completely apt for a narrative which is a dramatisation of Hoshi's anxieties. In fact, as you point out, it's essential - such a shame that this sophistication in the plot seems to have gone over a lot of people's heads. (By the way, the email address is real. I'm English, hence the spelling differences.)
Will - Sat, Jan 9, 2010 - 6:58pm (USA Central)
@cyrus I'm sorry, but this is one of the worst episodes of Enterprise I've ever seen. It was a lame, watered down version of "The Inner Light", with a monstrous reset button ending where Hoshi didn't develop at all. Jammer's always going on about VOY and the reset button, which is fine, but then this review comes along? That's just unfair
Katie - Fri, Apr 16, 2010 - 2:09pm (USA Central)
This episode didn't remind me so much of "Inner Light" as of Voyager's "Projections," with elements of TNG's "Eye of the Beholder" and, of course, "The Next Phase" thrown in for good measure. The trouble with Enterprise's unoriginality (so many shows can be easily pegged as riffs off of previous Trek episodes) is that it leaves the "mystery" completely unmysterious, and, hence, not very compelling. I became convinced very early on that Hoshi was still in the transporter buffer, and that left a lot of the story completely underwhelming.
Jack - Sat, Aug 7, 2010 - 11:17am (USA Central)
The problem with "Vanishing Point" isn't that everything was a dream -- it's that nothing in the episode makes any sense, not even the intentionally nonsensical parts. Most importantly, this is a Hoshi episode, and while it should develop her character it only serves to make her look stupid, unobservant, shrill, and volatile. She can pass her hands through objects, yet doesn't fall through the floor. She fails to question sudden changes in Archer and T'Pol's command styles. When Crewman Baird translates the "simple bimodal syntax," Hoshi doesn't seek him out or investigate his methods, choosing instead to chum around in the gym and wander the ship. She does not protest or question Archer when relieved of duty. Knowing full well that she can pass through doors and objects, she tries to operate doors and machinery with frustration. When confronted with alien invaders, she doesn't confront or make contact with them, but instead runs off to try and warn Archer.

All the careful reality tweaking is for naught because we start out with Hoshi, professional yet reasonably worried about transporters, and end up with a frantic, insecure, passive, oblivious officer who doesn't question even the basic premises of the world around her, the command structure of her ship, or demonstrate any problem-solving ability whatsoever. And this person is allowed on the bridge?

The biggest slap in the face is the ending: Phlox, Archer, and Trip prattle about how long "it" lasted and that "it" must have been a dream, but never mention what "it" is. A hallucination? Some kind of neuro-mixup that happened during transport? A strange re-arrangement of molecules? No, our "explorers," when confronted with a potentially serious transporter malfunction, simply shrug their shoulders and exit stage left. The viewer isn't even dignified with "ionic interference" or "geological phenomenon." Not even the nonsense in this episode makes any sense.
Cloudane - Sun, Sep 25, 2011 - 12:22pm (USA Central)
Pretty cleverly done.. there were moments just weird enough to make you wonder about the reality subconsciously but all just believable enough that it didn't really come up as a direct question. So the "twist" at the end did actually come as a little bit of a surprise to me. Albeit a welcome one, as it explains away some of the dodgy physics.

3 would work for me I think.
Nathan - Sat, Nov 19, 2011 - 2:45am (USA Central)
I'm of two minds. I was expecting it to be just a dream after the point where Crewman Noface did the translation, and it does feel a bit cheap. Yet it does a good job getting there.
Nathan - Sat, Nov 19, 2011 - 10:45am (USA Central)
Another thought: it seems rather similar in general outline to TNG's "Remember Me".
nyk - Mon, Feb 20, 2012 - 5:18pm (USA Central)
I thought there was going to be a reveal that the accident not only made Hoshi invisible, but also made her alternate between alternate realities/timelines, i.e. one in which she is worse than Baird at translating, or the Enterprise is invaded by aliens, or one in which Cyrus Ramsey does vanish in the transporter test run.

This explanation would be more satisfying instead of it being "just a dream". The episode is open-ended in this sense, so I'll stick to my version.
Brock - Thu, Aug 2, 2012 - 8:36pm (USA Central)
Jammer I'm more confused after reading this review than after watching "Threshold"....did you watch the same episode I just did? What so different about this blatant abusive use of the RESET button, a tactic that you scold and use as an excuse to hand out 1 and 2 stars...maybe you just have yellow fever and are in love with Hoshi? her acting was not that superb...it was serviceable at best

I had more fun watching "Threshold" or even the next episode than this steaming pile of poo
Zane314 - Tue, Sep 4, 2012 - 6:27pm (USA Central)
Even though I've been just selectively watching non-T'pol portions of the better episodes, I'm a big Hoshi fan and watched this end to end. Right off the bat I saw the standard "altered states" template for Hoshi where everyone else was different. But after accepting that template from the start I very much enjoyed the episode because the execution was very well done, mainly because of a balanced, believable performance from Linda Park. Archer's call to her father and the over the top evil looking aliens doing evil things both seemed off but in the context of Hoshi's dissolving reality - and body - it only added to the surreal feel. I was genuinely uncertain on how they'd go at the end: was it a dream or were there aliens sabotaging the ship? If it was the latter the campy, evil aliens and Archer's long winded, stuttering call to Hoshi's dad would have happened which wouldn't have rung true. Also, Hoshi still not liking transporters and not "growing" is fine by me since it makes sense to have this fear and would be strange to have it suddenly recede after this nightmare. I like that it ended as a dream ... sometimes a dream-like episode is just a dream.
John the younger - Fri, Dec 14, 2012 - 10:01am (USA Central)
This is a VERY typical example of the type of episode Brannon Braga cut his teeth on during TNG. I was never a big fan back then (except for the occasional spark, like Cause and Effect or Parallels) and I'm not a fan now. They just feel too hokey and inconsequential.

With Vanishing Point, I also felt the resolution was telegraphed from about the second act.

A 1.5 to 2 star epsiode for me.
auralgami - Mon, Jan 7, 2013 - 4:17pm (USA Central)
I agree with the review...but...

...to me, this played out as a retread of "Remember Me" mixed with "The Next Phase". The disappearing/nonexistent "Cyrus Ramsey" even has overtones of "Dalen Quaice" in reverse.

Unlike those TNG episodes, however, the whole thing was in Hoshi's head. That's both a strength and a liability. I particularly liked the part where one of Hoshi's fears is that she'll dramatically fail at her job -- that's perfect nightmare territory, and it works. So too, the seemingly casual way that people ignore her. It's unsettling and plays to social fears, and it's a great fit for this character.

However, you *know* that it can't be entirely real when Crewman Nobody outlinguists Hoshi. Also, when you hear the *real* Trip and Reed, you're being told it's not real (and also being reminded of "Remember Me" again). From that point forward, it's a hash of those two TNG episodes, Barclay, and Voyager. If I had a bingo card of pilfered plot points, this episode would fill it.

And that's disappointing because all of the previous "inspirations" are more consequential. At least *something* happened in all of them. In "Remember Me", there's a good reason for Beverly's condition, and both she and others have to figure everything out. "The Next Phase" has Geordi and Ro working together, bouncing off each other and actually saving the crew from an alien menace. "Realm of Fear" is perhaps most thematically close to this one, but Barclay still *does* something that has an effect. Barclay also grows in the process.

All Hoshi really "does" in this episode is hallucinate. It's decent for a character study, and for how Hoshi views herself, but Archer's attempt to draw some kind of growth out of this is strained. You can just as easily argue that Hoshi's jumping on the alien pad was as unconsciously scripted as her shower sequence or linguistic meltdown. If anything, Hoshi shows less self-knowledge and insight than either Beverly or Barclay, who are both smart enough to question their own fears and realities.

It's a shame that, fair or not, this episode does more to remind me of previous episodes than stand on its own feet. It's gorgeously filmed. Linda Park's performance is spot on. There are many enjoyable and amusing elements. But I can't help but feel I've seen *all* of it before, and in contexts where it actually mattered to the show, the other characters, and the main character.
Arachnea - Sun, Feb 10, 2013 - 7:11pm (USA Central)
I appreciate Jammer's objectivity towards this series. I have the feeling that most of the comments come from a bias "I'll find something wrong no matter what against Enterprise". I agree that the first 2 seasons were mediocre, but there are some good episodes. Everyone wanted the series to be exceptional from season one; well, most of TV-shows first seasons aren't good (except for Firefly...)

I totally agree with the review and I don't think it's the typical reset button: it wasn't an episode about a big and long arc, it was a quiet and clever way to analyse Hoshi's fears. Auralgami, don't forget that Barclay and Beverly were in their forties, Hoshi is in her twenties. She can't possibly have the same degree of insight or self-knowledge. I also believe Hoshi does question her doubts, in her own way and she's learning. Add to this that the technology used here isn't as comfortable as in the 24th century.

I don't mean to defend Enterprise because I find it exceptional (my favorites still remain TOS and TNG), but because I believe that - while being inferior in comparison to the other Treks - it's still far superior to many other TV shows.
mark - Fri, Feb 15, 2013 - 8:37am (USA Central)
Although I like Hoshi and thought this was a decent vehicle for her (though not a great one as she spends the episode in a state of depression and near-panic and doesn't acquit herself nearly as well as say, Riker in Future Imperfect, a similar situation in which "nothing is real"), the episode suffers from two big failings: the fact that it was pretty obvious it was all imaginary right from the start, and the fact that no explanation is given of how exactly the transporter caused this psychosis in Hoshi's mind.

Plenty of characters from the other Trek series have been "stuck in the pattern buffer" while Scotty or O'Brien or whoever took a few extra seconds to pull them through, but this psychosis has never occurred before; indeed, from the evidence onscreen, people in this situation don't even realize anything went wrong with their transport until they rematerialize. So what happened to Hoshi, and why? Her fear of the transporter isn't enough of an explanation for me, though I guess other people might not mind the ambiguity as much, choosing instead to focus on Hoshi's character moments. Unfortunately, as I mentioned above, I don't think she acquits herself very well, giving in almost immediately to fear and despair, and she just wasn't much fun to watch as her efforts to try to figure out what happened to her mostly seemed to consist of whining at Phlox, feeling sorry for herself, and giving up and going to the gym.

Again I'm reminded of Future Imperfect, an episode of TNG with a similar theme, in which Riker is faced with a reality that is just slightly off. But instead of feeling sorry for himself he gets to the bottom of things, and in an entertaining fashion. Now obviously a green ensign like Hoshi is no Will Riker, but it would have been nice if she showed some initiative at least...

Anyway, I'd give this two stars, maybe two and a half.
Lt. Yarko - Mon, May 13, 2013 - 11:35pm (USA Central)
This was a great episode. It had me guessing the whole time, and when it ended up being a dream, at first I wanted to be annoyed, but then, as I thought over her whole experience, I was more and more impressed. Someone in the comments above complained about how she didn't notice the change in the leadership's command style. That was one of the best aspects of her experience. A normal, more secure Hoshi would have said - hold it. Something is amiss here. But she was in a fearful and insecure nightmare. This was Archer and T'Pol as she fears them: doubtful of her capabilities and unsympathetically pushing her too hard. I, personally, have had so many dreams where I am caught fooling around at work by my boss, and, of course, my boss is really mad about it, regardless of how unlike that my boss might be in real life. I don't know if this level of psychological depth was intentional on the part of the writers, but if it was, it was brilliantly done.
Ken - Sun, Mar 16, 2014 - 12:33pm (USA Central)
I thought the episode was boring. I thought it was boring when it was aired, and thought the same thing 10 years later.

It's not that I can't appreciate subtlety and intelligent writing. DS9 is my favourite Star Trek series by a mile, followed by TNG. It's just that nothing in this episode really grabbed me, and mostly I had figured out the twist of the show way before the supposed aliens boarded the ship.

I think Jammer and I have agree on a lot, but not on slow-moving episodes like this. My problem is the lack of build-up to something. There is no build-up or tension or a meaningful resolution. It's rather bland in execution, and the resolution more or less comes out of nowhere. Nothing is really resolved, except for maybe Hoshi's fear of the transporter. That's not enough to carry an episode though.

The episode reminds me more like 'Barge of the Dead' - it's kind of similar. Both plots are slow and boring, and the resolution feels rather weak and unimportant. Jammer liked that episode too. I didn't much care for either.

This episode reminds me a lot of TNG's 'Realm of Fear', which I think was a much more entertaining version of this type of episode. Obviously the Enterprise crew has to go through the motions of it too I guess, but I ultimately found a 'Ream of Fear' to be much more engaging.
Jerry - Tue, Nov 11, 2014 - 1:28am (USA Central)
What a piece of garbage. Aside from the fact that if you think your molecules are coming apart, you simply would not take it so well that you go for a workout, there was no point to the episode. Does Hoshi face a fear? Ehhhh... Do we learn about transporters? Ehhhh... Does Archer prove, once again, to be confused? Do we see just how awful Blalock's posture is? Well, yes for that: She has lousy posture, which makes her incredibly un-sexy. A worthless episode.
Greg - Fri, Dec 5, 2014 - 1:55am (USA Central)
It's good that it was "all a dream" because the science would have been otherwise terrible. Somebodies molecules are starting to come apart so they become invisible. Like gases are invisible right?

Right. So there is that, and it totally explains away the inconsistencies in character because we all know nobody behaves consistently in dreams. But, it presents a sort of "waking during surgery" experience so vivid you'd be surprised nobody in the future has mentioned or experienced it. But then, it has been mentioned in other series that the new double buffers and redundancies have resolved problems 100+ years ago which were never elaborated on, so it's possible this could be seen as filling in the blanks.

Still, 2.5 stars for me because you're all left WTF for most of the episode until it's revealed an imagining, at which point you get an "Ohhh", but for most of the episode you are left feeling that nobody is acting, responding, thinking straight.

Submit a comment

Above, type the last name of the captain on Star Trek: TNG
Notify me about new comments on this page
Hide my e-mail on my post

Season Index

Copyright © 1994-2014, Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved. Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of any review or article on this site is prohibited. Star Trek (in all its myriad forms), Battlestar Galactica, and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda are trademarks of CBS Studios Inc., NBC Universal, and Tribune Entertainment, respectively. This site is in no way affiliated with or authorized by any of those companies. | Copyright & Disclaimer