Summary: The entire episode turns out to be a hallucination in which Hoshi re-experiences a TNG plot that takes place in only two seconds. Unfortunately the actual experience of watching the episode takes much longer.
“Vanishing Point” starts with an interesting concept. A character who often feels overlooked and out of place really begins to become invisible. TNG had already carried out the reverse of that storyline in “Remember Me,” in which Dr. Crusher believes that everyone around her is disappearing and they actually do begin vanishing. But it was still an interesting concept and had the potential for some amusing scenes and character development. About halfway through the episode “Vanishing Point” begins to strongly resemble “The Next Phase,” another TNG episode in which characters are turned invisible through alien machinations that they have to expose by contacting the crew before the aliens blow up Enterprise, and in the last few minutes we go on to discover that the entire episode was a hallucination that took place in the last 2 seconds of her transport up from the planet. For those few optimists who might have been hoping that Hoshi’s first transporter experience had displaced her in time and that she could now warn the crew about the alien threat, as in DS9’s “Visionary” so that the actual events that had happened up until now would still matter, the entire episode turned out to be an hallucination.
It’s not that I don’t enjoy sitting through 40 minutes of an episode that turns out never to have happened or to matter in the least. I might have enjoyed it more if it had actually lasted for only two seconds, though. It might have been some sort of localized temporal distortion field operating in my area but the actual experience of watching it seemed to take at least twice as long as the episode’s running time. Not since the dog days of the first season has Enterprise turned out such a drearily episode paced at about the same speed as paint drying on a wall. Or, rather, after forty minutes of watching the paint dry on the wall it is discovered to be a dream about paint drying on a wall that does not involve any actual paint or walls.
It’s hard to say why the twist ending was added on. After an episode that consisted mostly of repetitive scenes of Hoshi believing that she might be losing her mind and the crew acting distant and cold towards her, the only life left in the episode came from the nightmarish atmosphere isolating Hoshi and forcing her to face the situation alone. With the twist ending, this last breath of life is sucked out into a vacuum and what’s left is the revelation that “Vanishing Point” was simply a waste of time.
“Vanishing Point” only adds one more neurosis to Hoshi’s catalog of neuroses, which after “Fight or Flight,” “Sleeping Dogs” and “Shockwave II” is starting to look as if it might rival Barclay’s. If the producers just find a way to addict Hoshi to holodecks, Barclay may have to be called back to defend his title. While “Fight or Flight” was a good episode, just as “Shuttlepod One” was a good episode, Enteprise’s producers tend towards repetitive character development by trying to reproduce what worked before. So after “Shuttlepod One” developed Reed by thrusting him into close quarters in a life and death situation with a gregarious colleague as a way of getting him to open up, we had “Minefield,” which did the same thing. After “Fight or Flight,” we now have multiple episodes that try to develop Hoshi by giving her more neuroses and having her overcome them. When in fact some of the better pieces of character development for Hoshi have been subtler scenes like Hoshi teaching the colonists self-defense in “Marauders.” Repetitive character development, after all, is not actually character development, it’s just a character repeating the same pattern over and over again.
What few shards remain to be dragged from the wreckage of “Vanishing Point” include the expansion of Enterprise’s sets, giving us the first view of the ship’s gym. Like movie night, it’s a reasonable enough addition in view of the fact that Enterprise has no holodeck and not that much shore leave. Though it does seem a bit cramped for an Enterprise sized crew. Bakula oddly enough does some of his best acting in weeks during Archer’s condolence call notifying Hoshi’s father of her death. It might have been good character development, if it had actually happened. The same probably can’t be said for “Vanishing Point,” but at least it might have been marginally watchable and moved the story one step forward instead of delivering the equivalent of the Dallas shower scene. Star Trek has often been accused of pushing the reset button, but “Vanishing Point” doesn’t just push the reset button. It breaks it.
Next week: Enterprise will break the fourth wall as the actors will have a collective dream in which they’re on a successful TV series.