From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Crossing Lines: Stargate Atlantis’ Fifth Season Premiere

The fifth season premiere of Stargate Atlantis was — like all their premieres and finales, both mid-season and bookend — action-packed. The set-up was excellent: a collapsed building with our heroes stuck inside, the daring rescue of team member on the verge of giving birth from the clutches of an enemy that the Atlantis crew actually created through highly unethical experiments. It was all very summer blockbuster-like with just enough plot and continuity to make all the high stress situations seem necessary.

Stargate: Atlantis

Now would probably be the time to admit that I saw approximately two episodes of season four. So going into the fifth season I was a little nervous, but one thing I’d forgotten in my absence from the show is that Atlantis isn’t really about continuity. Yes, there are threads that run through the season and often an overreaching goal/enemy but with this show you can skip whole seasons and the two minute “last time on Atlantis” at the beginning of each episode brings you completely up to speed for the episode.

But I’m not a total Atlantis newbie, I watched the first three seasons religiously and own the DVD’s, but I had to leave. With certain shows we have to take the good with the bad, and for me Atlantis is one of those shows where the bad was beginning to outweigh the good. I got tired of the flat writing for women characters and characters of color, the pandering to stereotypes at every turn and the subtle alterations in the show that seemed to change it from an ensemble piece to the John and Rodney show.

However none of that was present in the premiere, which I think is more a result of it being such a summer-blockbuster-explosion-packed episode than the writers taking some anti-oppression training. That’s not to say the problems that chased me away weren’t still there: Ronon (Jason Momoa) was still the “warrior-savage” and the treatment of Teyla’s pregnancy was…not good. I’ll just say it outright that seeing a black woman strapped down to a table while a white man, albeit in some make-up, prepares to experiment on her child really made me cringe. It reminded me of the history of medical experimentation on African-Americans by an uncaring medical world, for more information on the colorline in medical experiments I recommend Medical Apartheid by Harriet A. Washington. Now I’m sure the writers didn’t think up this connotation for those scenes but it was there all the same, so that part of the storyline was a little triggering and made me profoundly uncomfortable.

The break out scene of the episode was the birth of Teyla Emmagan’s (Rachel Lutrell) son, where her only help is the socially-inept genius Dr. Rodney McKay (David Hewlett). The hilarious scene allowed both actors to do what they do best within the show: Hewlett gets to play the red-faced, stressed, sarcastic man under pressure and Lutrell gets to play the intelligent exasperated woman surrounded by idiots. The chemistry between the two was fantastic, we can only hope the writers noticed and they get more scenes to play off each other in the coming season. Other than that scene the storyline was fairly…fair, not a fantastic work but not too bad either.

My main concern now is that after all this focus on Teyla’s pregnancy that the writers might lose her character within the role of mother. I’m not saying they should drop the kid on a boulder or something, but I want them to remember that Teyla is also a warrior and leader and that she has other responsibilities in her life besides her son. That being said, it’ll be interesting to see how they deal with the fact that one of their main characters now has a child, the only baby in their whole settlement. Done right it could be amazing television, done wrong well…there’s always season six.

Naamen Gobert Tilahun is a freelance writer in San Francisco. His lifelong love of Fantasy/Sci-Fi/Horror books, TV and movies (both really-exceptionally-bad and good) can probably be traced to a mother who showed him films like Monster Squad and Bladerunner and TV shows like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits at far too young an age. He writes about identity, politics, media, and writing at his personal blog Words From The Center, Words From The Edge and is one of the many wonderful bloggers at Feminist SF – The Blog!.

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6 Responses »

  1. I have to say, when I had to find a promo image to put with this piece, I was annoyed to find that a lot of the ones for the new season look a lot like this. I like Robert Picardo (oh hologram doctor, we miss you), but why the hell does he get to stand in front of Ronon and Teyla?? He has only been on that show a minute, why doe she get to stand in the foreground? This picture is a hierarchy of importance — white guys first, then women, then people of color. let’s all know our places now! Sheesh.

  2. Good point K. he should be front and centre as leader of the expedition or in the back as a supporting character.

  3. stargate atlantis doesn’t interest much much as far as sci-fi goes, more of the same space opera adventure with an ensemble cast… basically it’s another iteration of star trek but with a transdimensional gate instead of an actual starship …

    battlestar galactica gets far more props for breaking new grounds & exploring new levels of drama in an science fiction context.(but even in BSG,the colored folk aren’t in charge,& tend 2 get killed 1st in any conflict)

    racism in scifi is pretty straight forward in various media. most scifi movies, white males are in charges, they’re the heroes (with an occasional token black sidekick who gets killed by the alien monster in the 1st hour of the movie). so unfortunately, how stargate atlantis poses their characters in advertisements should be of NO SURPRISE AT ALL.

    even scifi books (with notable eceptions like octavia butler and tananarive due) are still preoccupied with the standard european protagonists.now maybe this next point is debatable,there seems 2 b more gender equity lately with scifi characters than racial diversity. i see more , read of more female protagonists than men of any color besides caucasian in recent scifi…

    i will give credit where its due; in larry niven’s ringworld trilogy, the human race of the future has become so mixed, noone could really be defined by racial categories anymore. (basically ,its the obama effect taken to a global level…)

    so there u go.

  4. I like the show but I must say they need to end it with the Wraith and have some more episodes where they go to other planets and find cool stuff which will bring the universe to it’s doom. Anyways I’ve herd that Atlantis is not going to have a season 6. Anyone else hear that?

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