The episode opens with Hoshi and Trip investigating some long-abandoned ruins on an M Class planet. Enterprise calls to let them know that a "diamagnetic storm" is on the way towards their location. The storm is capable of destroying the nervous system of a Human, and neither the shuttle pod or the ruins will provide anything like enough protection. Worse, the storm is so close that there is no time to escape by shuttle; they have to beam up to Enterprise.
Hoshi is rather perturbed by the idea of using the transporter, but Archer assures her that there is no other way. Trip goes first so as to demonstrate how safe and easy it is, and Hoshi follows soon afterwards. She materialises on Enterprise, apparently without any problem.
However, soon she begins to feel that all is not quite right. She doesn't feel like herself; at the mess hall, people begin not to notice her even when she speaks to them. A visit to the doctor reveals no detectable problem, but Hoshi becomes more and more convinced that the transporter has done something to her. The next morning she is woken to deal with an emergency, having overslept. Trip and Mayweather have been taken hostage by aliens on the planet - a planet which read as deserted only yesterday. Hoshi finds herself unable to communicate with the aliens, and Archer throws her off the bridge. Her misery only increases when she finds that another officer was able to successfully communicate with the aliens in her absence.
Things go from bad to worse; Hoshi finds her reflection fading from view, and solid objects begin to pass through her. Whilst exercising in the gym she seems to fade out completely; nobody else can see or hear her. She overhears Phlox revealing that there was a transporter malfunction and it has caused her body to lose cohesion and disintegrate.
Wandering the ship trying to find a way to communicate with the crew, Hoshi discovers the aliens from the surface on board. They are planting explosives, trying to blow up the ship. Unable to warn her shipmates, Hoshi uses what little ability she has left to try and interfere with the plan. Determined to find out more about them she throws herself into their transporter device…
…only to find herself standing on the Enterprise transporter pad after having completed a successful beam-up from the surface. It turns out that the whole adventure had been a hallucination she experienced in the last couple of seconds of the transport process. Archer notes that though unreal, the experience did at least show that she can overcome her fear of the transporter when she wants to.
Vanishing point fails on many levels. The most obvious one is a distinct lack of originality. Most obviously, the whole thing is a pretty direct rip-off of TNGs "The Next Phase", in which Ro and Geordi go through a very similar experience. There are also shades of TNGs "Remember Me" and "Realm of Fear".
Ripping off previous offerings in not automatically an episode-killing sin; what matters is whether you can put a novel spin on the idea, and how well you pull it off. Unfortunately Vanishing Point doesn't do too well here either. For one thing, I was already a bit sick of Hoshi's whiny attitude to the life she's chosen for herself. If she's so
afraid of space travel and all it entails, she should go back home to her old job. If she does
think it's worth the risk to be out here, she should get on with it. But to stay on the ship and just endlessly complain about everything is the worst of both worlds, and it's a seriously annoying character trait. It's even worse that this comes ten months after we saw the first signs of Hoshi actually developing a new and improved attitude in "Sleeping Dogs", because it shows that she is actually regressing.
The sudden appearance of the alien threat is also a little incredible. It's as if the writers got half way through the episode and suddenly decided that the "Hoshi goes invisible" plot wasn't interesting enough to pad out the rest of the ep; they needed to put a little action in to spice things up. So Hoshi spends some time trying to thwart the aliens, leading up to her having to face her fears and go through their transporter.
Then we get the big, huge, honking great disappointment of the episode. Hoshi finds that, hey, it was all a dream! Is there any
more cliched plot twist in the whole history of writing? This is the kind of thing we expect from cheesy soap operas - and I mean that quite literally, the "it was all a dream" thing was the way that "Dallas" resurrected Boby Ewing. I literally burst out laughing when they did that, and what had been a pretty poor episode collapsed to become an absurd one.
I suppose I should touch on the logical silliness of Hoshi's altered state. It is absurd to have a person walk around as an invisible ghost who can pass through walls; if light is passing through you, then it won't hit your retinas and be absorbed, so you would be blind. If you can't interact with solid matter than you should drop through the floor; you wouldn't be able to walk because you couldn't generate the friction needed to get moving; you couldn't be able to breathe because your lungs couldn't absorb oxygen from the air, etc, etc. On the one hand, we can argue that that doesn't matter because Hoshi was only dreaming all this. On the other, though, you have to wonder why she
didn't think of any of this within the dream. It leaves her looking kinda stupid. This episode does add one more oddity which doesn't apply in "The Next Phase" though; Hoshi gradually fades from view, and one aspect of this is that people begin to start ignoring her. I honestly can't work out what the point of this was meant to be. At this point we're meant to be thinking that the transporter actually has done something to her. If she is literally fading from view, then you might expect he to become gradually transparent - but that would make her more
noticeable, not less. So what's meant to be going on? There's nothing a transporter can possibly be expected to do to you that makes people start ignoring you, so this just comes across as muddled and incoherent.
Not to say that any of this would necessarily wreck the episode. All of it applies just as much to "The Next Phase", but in that episode I don't really worry about the impossible premise because the episode itself is interesting. This one isn't, so it's that much harder to suspend disbelief.