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July 15 2024


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Vanishing Point

By Michelle Erica Green
Posted at November 28, 2002 - 9:32 PM GMT

See Also: 'Vanishing Point' Episode Guide

Plot Summary: Sato and Tucker have taken a shuttlepod down to a planet where they find fascinating artifacts but no bio-signs. When T'Pol reads a powerful electromagnetic storm heading in their direction, Archer orders Reed to beam them up despite Sato's fear that her molecules could get pulled apart. Tucker beams out first and arrives on board in one piece. Then Sato transports, but from the time she rematerializes, she doesn't feel like herself. Phlox's readings show no anomalies, yet when she looks at herself in a mirror she seems transparent, and in the shower, water flows through her skin.

In the mess, where Sato has trouble getting the attention of her crewmates, she learns of the legend of Cyrus Ramsey -- the test subject for the first long-range transporter, who vanished in a pattern buffer and never rematerialized. Tucker and Mayweather return to the surface to retrieve the shuttlepod and are taken hostage for disturbing the planet's artifacts; Sato cannot translate the alien speech patterns, and Archer sends her back to her quarters to rest. An hour later she learns that a junior crewmember deciphered the language and resolved the hostage crisis. Archer asks Sato to remain off-duty for the time being, leaving her feeling even more insubstantial.

After telling Tucker that she fears the transporter damaged her molecules, Sato finds herself trapped in the gym, unable to operate the equipment or the door because her hands go through the controls. When Archer discovers that she is missing, he sends a ship-wide search team and learns from Phlox that Sato's sub-cellular membranes were disrupted by the transporter, causing her body to lose cohesion. Following crewmembers looking for her cellular residue, Sato spies aliens from the planet attempting to sabotage Enterprise's engines. Unable to warn Archer, she tampers with their equipment as best she can, finally leaping onto an alien transporter platform when she believes that it may be the only way to stop them.

Sato rematerializes in Enterprise's transporter room and learns that she has only just returned from the surface of the planet, having gotten stuck in the pattern buffer for a few seconds. The hostage situation, her cellular disruption, the alien sabotage were all just a dream of sorts. Sato says she was sure she was going to become the next Cyrus Ramsey, but Tucker and Reed have never heard of him. Reed decides to recommend compressing the transporter beam, and Sato tells Archer that she wants to stick to shuttlepods for time being, even though she got onto an alien transporter platform in her vision when she believed it was the only way to save the ship.

Analysis: The moment Sato arrived back on Enterprise after beaming up from the planet, my husband and I looked at each other and said, "This is all a dream." It was so obviously going to be either that or a replay of Next Generation's Barclay episode, where Reg's terror of transporters led him to misinterpret the very real anomalies in the matter stream. Despite his fears, Barclay ended up a hero. Sato, however, only accomplishes something in her own mind.

So Hoshi gets some nice character growth and takes another step away from the scared-of-space persona with which she was introduced last season, but the episode still feels like a B-plot missing a main storyline. The scientific details of Sato's vanishing are so ludicrous that they made me hope for the "it was all a dream" ending. Why would she be able to pass her hands through equipment but not her feet through the floor, and why would losing molecular cohesion cause her to become transparent instead of causing her cells to disintegrate or fall off her body one by one? A dream-like scenario is the only explanation that makes sense, but for that very reason, it's impossible to believe in the alien threat when it arrives, so there's no dramatic tension beyond the question of whether Hoshi will overcome her fear.

Linda Park does a nice job with the material she's given, and it's nice to see Sato use her smarts -- her attempts to signal Archer in Morse Code make her look very clever, and she never really loses her cool. But the long, drawn-out scenes of crewmembers mourning her come across as very contrived, sort of like Janeway witnessing her own memorial service in Voyager's 'Coda,' and the dialogue between Archer and Sato's father about her disappearance is laughably dreadful. Connor Trinneer has a well-acted scene as Tucker blaming himself for beaming out first and the friendly banter between him and Sato is quite good in the scene in the gym ("All the king's horses and all the king's men...") but Archer comes across rather flat and Phlox, once again, seems far too creepy for a kindly ship's doctor, even if it is a dream sequence.

This would have been a wonderful storyline in an episode that actually explored the artifacts down on the planet, which could have been linked somehow to Sato's disappearance or at least to her vision. Why is Enterprise there, what are they looking for, are they worried about mucking with alien relics, are there really mysterious disappearing aliens who want to ward off intruders? We never find out. It's all a big tease. I think it was unwise of the producers to run two crew-freakout episodes in a row, particularly since both are mostly claustrophobic, set on the ship and involving more dialogue than action.

Since it's Thanksgiving in the U.S., which usually means terrible ratings on the Wednesday night before, perhaps they decided to get this episode when few people would be watching. Ironically, The West Wing took potshots at Trek fans over on NBC (Trek's original network) in the hour after Enterprise aired, with a storyline in which Deputy Chief of Staff Josh Lyman ordered a White House staffer not to wear a Star Trek pin at work. Naturally the fan is portrayed as being an overweight woman who insists snippily that Star Trek is about honor and loyalty -- things she would hope the White House would want to stand for -- but Josh says that while he likes the show, he can't deal with people who think about whether Romulans would date Cardassians. I suspect the snarkiness is really meant for West Wing obsessives, but it's instructive to be reminded that even television producers have no respect for fans who love too much.

Happy Thanksgiving to anyone reading this who's celebrating.

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Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.

Michelle Erica Green reviews Enterprise episodes for the Trek Nation, as well as Andromeda episodes for SlipstreamWeb. She is also a staff writer at Green Man Review. An archive of her work can be found at The Little Review.

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