[ENT] Jammer's Review: "Vanishing Point"
- Warning: This review contains significant spoilers. If you haven't seen the
episode yet, beware.
In brief: Creepy and psychologically compelling, with enough carefully
navigated plot manipulations to keep you guessing.
Plot description: After an emergency use of the transporter to escape the
surface of a planet, Hoshi becomes convinced her molecules have not been
Enterprise: "Vanishing Point"
Airdate: 11/27/2002 (USA)
Written by Rick Berman & Brannon Braga
Directed by David Straiton
Review by Jamahl Epsicokhan
Rating out of 4: ***1/2
"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
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
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
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.
Copyright 2002 Jamahl Epsicokhan. All rights reserved.
Unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this article is prohibited.
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Jamahl Epsicokhan - jammer@...