Vanishing Point.

WARNING: The line separating spoilers from comments may be thin, but it hasn't yet disappeared entirely -- so 'ware the spoilers for ENT's "Vanishing Point."

In brief: Not bad for a while ... but I can't recommend the last fifteen minutes at all. "Vanishing Point" Enterprise Season 2, Episode 10 Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga Directed by David Straiton

Brief summary: After using the transporter for the first time, Hoshi fears that she hasn't been put together quite properly.

"Vanishing Point" is probably an episode that appeals more to new viewers than to veteran Trek-watchers. Relatively new viewers will think that it makes a lot of sense for Hoshi to be concerned about new technology, and that it's worth making the point that this is still new and relatively untried technology ... and they'll be right. Long-time viewers will say this is a rehashing of plots and situations from at least half a dozen modern-Trek stories in the past, and that there's not a lot new here ... and they'll be right as well.

Ironically enough, after all the "transporter accident" episodes Trek has had over the years, _Enterprise_ is the series that's most entitled to have one: the transporter is extremely new, only having been cleared for humans in the last few years, and everyone from Archer to Reed has been nervous about using it. It seems only fair that somewhere, at sometime, something should go wrong -- and dramatically, using poor Hoshi seems a decent enough notion.

On the other hand, it's precisely *because* there have been so many transporter episodes in the past that _Enterprise_ needs to do something different to separate this one from the pack. Considering that we've already seen characters who make it a point never to use the transporter (Bones, of course, and Pulaski as well), and that we've already seen the transporter do everything from splitting people in two (TOS' "The Enemy Within" and TNG's "Second Chances") to turning adults into children (TNG's "Rascals"), it's a little hard to see what's left. Hoshi's worries are natural, but if the story itself follows paths all too well trodden there's not much to invite viewers back.

The odds did not appear encouraging at the start, as we needed a dose of both character idiocy and technical illogic just to get the party started. It's all well and good that a sudden storm could ground Trip and Hoshi on the surface, but it strains credibility when (1) the interference makes a shuttle impossible but the transporter okay, and (2) Archer and T'Pol apparently didn't bother looking at the weather situation beyond the immediate vicinity. T'Pol's the science officer, after all -- is there some reason she's not doing her job?

That said, Hoshi's initial worries were both justified given the situation and well stated. I was particularly fond of her asking, "What if some of the pieces get put in the wrong place? You know, I bet a lot of them look *real* similar." Hardly meaty stuff for long-term viewers, but a nice piece of stage-setting for those with no idea what's to come.

Hoshi's worries that she wasn't reassembled properly work well enough, and it makes sense that she might view a lot of otherwise ordinary events through the prism of that worry: she feels as if she has to work harder just to be noticed, for one thing, and she fears that a birthmark may no longer be in its proper place. All well and good - - they could be real effects, or they could be psychological.

My suspicions about what might actually be happening were raised early on, when every single scene we saw included Hoshi and tended to focus on her point of view. Yes, when a character's the focus of an episode he or she tends to appear a lot, but every scene? That's unusual, and often suggests that what's shown is a subjective reality. Sometimes this can be done extremely well, as in Stephen Donaldson's _Chronicles of Thomas Covenant_ series (or, if you want televised SF, try TNG's "Remember Me" or "The Inner Light"), but it usually works best when readers/viewers are brought into the secret well in advance. (It also works well if they're utterly fooled until the time is right, a la DS9's "Whispers," but that's even harder to pull off.) Feeling as though you've stumbled on the secret early on is rather like watching a magician trip up mid-trick: it tends to break the spell.

"Vanishing Point" gets as far as it does because, for the most part, the past Trek stories it's reliving are good ones. This may not be an exhaustive list, but it's worth noting where a bunch of the parallels are. So...

-- Hoshi's fears sound a lot like Barclay's transporter phobia in TNG's "Realm of Fear" (written, probably not coincidentally, by Brannon Braga).

-- The "voices in the turbolift" that are actually her comrades talking to or about her: TNG's "Remember Me."

-- Hoshi being intangible and invisible, yet trying to get others' attention and having to save the ship from other creatures no one else sees: TNG's "The Next Phase." (They didn't fall through the floor in *that* episode either.)

-- The ending: akin to TNG's "Frame of Mind" or VOY's "Projections," both written by Braga.

If you wanted to go for more tenuous connections, there's no shortage of other ones you could make ... but these strike me as ones where "Vanishing Point" was similar enough to actively remind me of its predecessors. Most of those are decent (some better than others, like "Remember Me" and "Frame of Mind"), so the episode gets by for a while. Things get stranger and stranger, from the "cellular residue" of Hoshi's which can't possibly be hers to the mysterious aliens only Hoshi can see, but any qualms about "wait, is this making sense" are temporarily set aside as the tension builds.

There is, of course, the near-obligatory skin quotient as per usual, summed up by Hoshi's shower scene and by the convenience that she changes into skimpy workout attire just before she goes intangible and can no longer change clothes, but Linda Park is a lot better at not calling attention to it than some of her colleagues (of either gender).

Episodes like these, however, tend to live or die by their endings. "Frame of Mind" and "Remember Me" worked as well as they did because pretty much everything that happened made sense once you looked at it from the right vantage point. What's happening to Beverly Crusher in "Remember Me" seems utterly mysterious and inexplicable, but once we see some of the perspective of Geordi, Wes, and the Traveler, everything falls into place and has a beautiful internal logic to it. "Frame of Mind" (or "Parallels," another TNG standout of Braga's) succeeds in much the same way: Riker's jumping from perspective to perspective is explained pretty well in light of what his captors were putting him through.

"Vanishing Point," unfortunately, goes for one of the oldest endings in the book: "it was all a dream," or more accurately a hallucination Hoshi had during the 8.2 seconds it took her to materialize. One could lobby the same accusations about "The Inner Light," for example, but that episode had a reason for Picard to experience what he did and a profound effect on him afterwards.

The "it was all a dream" ending can work, but not when it's used as an excuse to toss in any damn strange thing you want because "in dreams, anything can happen." Dreams and visions have worked exceptionally well on occasion in Treks past -- Data's dreaming in "Birthright" and "Phantasms", not to mention many of the better Orb or Prophet visions in DS9 -- but all of those had underlying ideas behind them and events which eventually made sense in the proper light. "Vanishing Point," on the other hand, had events occur randomly because they could. Braga's done much better than this with dream imagery in the past, and I was deeply disappointed to see that "Vanishing Point," in the end, basically had no point.

Even the "real" moments in the teaser are rendered more or less meaningless. What did happen to this civilization? What do the various inscriptions mean? Apparently, we're not meant to care, since the only time the planet's mentioned again is during the dream sequences involving their nonexistent hostile inhabitants.

It's a shame, because some of the moments within the show were quite good from a character point of view. Trip's "damn it, why didn't you listen to me?" lament about Hoshi's apparent transporter accident is one of the better treatments the character's had lately (mostly because this time he's at least taken seriously), and John Billingsley once again does wonders with Phlox's gentle wit. (Reassuring Hoshi about her privacy with "as far as I'm concerned, I never even saw you come in here" was just beautiful.) The moments are there -- they just don't linger when it turns out that all of the episode can drift away in the breeze.

Other thoughts and observations:

-- Trip's reaction to Hoshi's apparent death stands out as especially good compared to the terrible, *terrible* "Archer informs Hoshi's dad" scene. I felt rather embarrassed for both Keone Young and Scott Bakula in that scene.

-- I'm not sure what to make of the "Cyrus Ramsey" bit. If Hoshi's going to invent a fictitious historical event to justify her own worries, that doesn't speak well of her. On the other hand, I wouldn't be surprised if there were accidents similar to those that allegedly befell Ramsey. (Free plug: David Brin's TNG graphic novel _Forgiveness_ deals with some of the early days of transporters, and does a nice job of it.)

-- The ending, where Archer notes that Hoshi really did face her fears, whether due to a real threat or an illusory one, is something that could be used for the character later ... but given that she basically dismisses the point, it doesn't seem likely. Sigh.

That's pretty much it, I think. Like so many episodes this season, "Vanishing Point" had a lot of potential -- but like almost as many, it's giving the impression of a series that's just going through the motions. "Vanishing Point" is reliving so many past Trek glories that it's almost cannibalistic, but it's not bothering to integrate them in any way that viewers are going to find particularly new and unusual -- and what *is* new is an ending that renders the episode somewhat pointless.

I remain convinced that _Enterprise_ can succeed at far above the level of basic subsistence. I remain worried that no one's going to bother making it do so.

Wrapping up:

OVERALL: 5.5. Watchable, but be prepared to get annoyed.

NEXT WEEK: A rerun of "Carbon Creek." I'll be making other plans that week...

Tim Lynch (Castilleja School, Science Department) tlynch@alumni.caltech.edu <*> "You're in perfect health. You're neither transparent nor porous." "You won't put this in my medical record, will you?" "As far as I'm concerned, I didn't even see you come in here." "Not funny, Doctor." -- Phlox and Hoshi Copyright 2002, Timothy W. Lynch. All rights reserved, but feel free to ask... This article is explicitly prohibited from being used in any off-net compilation without due attribution and *express written consent of the author*. Walnut Creek and other CD-ROM distributors, take note.

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Hans-Wolfgang Loidl <hwloidl@dcs.glasgow.ac.uk>
Last modified: Sun Aug 25 21:35:15 1996 Stardate: [-31]8019.28