From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Crossing Lines: Stargate Atlantis — Full Speed Ahead

Most of you have probably already heard that this season will be the last for Stargate Atlantis and it’s truly a shame because this season has featured some of the best episodes that I can remember – mainly because the team is a team again. One of my major quibbles with the show during season 3 was that John Sheppard and Rodney McKay were constantly spotlighted which took away from the rest of the cast and from the team dynamic of the show. What started as an ensemble was drifting into a show that featured two of the characters above all the others. It wasn’t something I enjoyed and is one of the reasons I stopped watching.

Well, I don’t know what exactly happened but all the episodes of Season Five so far have had a much better balance and work to develop all the characters instead of just a select few.

In The Seed, an organic alien virus has made its way into the city and is taking over Dr. Keller. We not only got a little bit of the Rodney/Keller/Ronon triangle that seems to be one of the arcs the season but also a little insight into the Wraith organic-tech because the whole point of the “virus” is to take over systems and create a new hive ship with Keller as the living brain. The episode also served as the return of Dr. Carson Beckett. Well, his clone returned from stasis, but since all the characters seem to be ignoring the fact that the real Carson died — in one of the most absurd ways ever (exploding tumors!) — I suppose I can do the same. Even though Carson returns to earth at the end of the episode I really hope we see more of him and his sketchy, sketchy genetic experiments and lack of scientific ethics in the coming season.

Broken Ties - RononIn Broken Ties Ronon’s old friend-turned-enemy Tyre (Marc Dacascos) from the fourth season episode Reunion returns to try and trade Ronon to the Wraith so he can go back to worshiping them and getting hits of the addicting enzyme they secrete. The b-plot of the episode was pretty good — Teyla deciding between her child and work was relevant and interesting and it didn’t feel trite as these kinds of story lines sometimes can. Mostly because Teyla really is deciding between her son and a job that can kill her, and has almost killed her before. Eventually she chooses to stay on the team and the way she’s been treated on the show since the decision has allayed much of my fear. In my last column I mentioned that one of my worries was that the writers would subsume all of Teyla’s life into motherhood and lose everything else she was. Instead the writers seem to be treating her child as a prop–he appears when needed, is discussed when relevant and when absent the audience can just assume he’s with his father. Works for me!

Two things about Broken Ties really stood out for me. Number one is Tyre’s plan to trade Ronon to the Wraith to get back into their good graces and get more of the heroin like enzyme they secrete. Um… did Tyre actually ever live with the Wraith? Because which fan out there didn’t know exactly how that trade-off was going to go down? Especially after the aforementioned episode Sateda, which has a similar storyline — Ronon traded to the Wraith by a village for protection, the Wraith arrive, take Ronon and slaughter the whole village. But he’s in withdrawal from Wraith enzyme so I suppose he can be forgiven. And the withdrawal from the Wraith enzyme is the second thing I wanted to bring up. Momoa and Dacascos both turned in amazing performances throughout the episode. Momoa pulls out all the stops when he breaks down at Tyre’s continuing betrayal and Dacascos plays Tyre with a subtlety that lets us truly believe his redemption at the end. The scenes of withdrawal that each of them has to go through — strapped to a bed, desperate, angry and screaming at the world — are chilling to watch.

The Daedalus VariationsThe Daedalus Variations was one of my favorite episodes. But then I’ve always had a soft spot for alternative universe/dimension/timeline stories. A deserted version of the Daedalus shows up in orbit around Atlantis with absolutely no warning. What’s more, the actual Daedalus is on its way back to Earth! The team investigates. Now this is the point where I and anyone else raised on sci-fi/horror films began to scream, “No don’t do it! Don’t go on the ghost ship!” While on the ship energy begins to build up (“Run, run now! Like the wind fools!”) and in a blink something happens (“You’re screwed.”). They figure out that there’s a drive on board that is jumping them through dimensions rather than space (“See, screwed.”)

By far the creepiest scene for me was when the team came upon their own dead bodies. Creepiest that is until we learn that Dead!Team was not even part of the original crew but actually came onto the ship exactly as Live!Team did. Dead!Team stripped the ship for food and then when supplies ran out…well let’s just say they didn’t wait to die of starvation. Of course inevitably Live!McKay is able to figure out a way to get them home by building on Dead!McKay’s work. The real fun of the episode is seeing the things the team encounters and deals with while jumping — a planet with no Atlantis, almost flying into a sun and a whole new hostile alien race to name a few.

At this point I was thinking that SGA had finally come into its own and this season would be all gems, until I watched Ghost In The Machine. In this episode and the next one — The Shrine — the writers on Atlantis decided to stray from the strong string of action based episodes they had going. The results were…varied. Stargate Atlantis is always a crap-shoot when they try to do an emotional story line and this time they had both a hit and a miss.

This is not Tori Higginson...Ghost In The Machine features the return of Elizabeth Weir and it started off well enough — malfunctioning systems, words appearing on a laptop, a odd electronic disembodied voice. It’s when the disembodied Weir builds a replicant body for herself when things start to slip. Torri Higginson, the original actress to play Dr. Weir, refused to return for guest spots in the fifth season. So, instead of allowing her story line to be left open, the show decided to cast a different actress as Weir. The excuse used in the episode is that Weir was in a hurry so she just used the last template body instead of constructing one that resembled her. The new body completely threw me and the episode off. I mean, we’re supposed to react and connect with this new face as if she were the same old Weir but its impossible to do so in an episode where her identity is constantly called into question and she looks nothing like what we remember. This makes the last sacrifice of “Elizabeth” — frozen in the cold void of space to lead her replicator allies to the same fate — more blah than heart-breaking.

Perhaps if the arc were longer we would have time to build up some sort of emotional connection to this new “Elizabeth”. As it was, the episode seemed at best a schmaltzy mistake meant to pluck at our heartstrings, and at worst a quick resolution to Weir’s character aimed at obliterating all open ended questions regarding her fate. Of course, it actually fails at closing Weir’s story line because this show is part of the Stargate franchise. The franchise that has brought characters back from more insane, billion-to-one odds, they-actually-were-dead moments than any other Sci-Fi show ever. Because of this, the show loses any chance of the audience believing that anyone is gone forever. For goodness sake they brought Carson back after he’d been killed by an EXPLODING TUMOR! So yeah the episode kind of failed overall for me.

David and Kate HewlettHowever I found The Shrine much more effective. The descent of Rodney McKay into the alien version of Alzheimer’s over the course of several days is well told and acted. The show jumps in time from the present, when McKay’s sister Jeannie Miller (played by Hewlett’s real-life sister Kate Hewlett) arrives to find her brother in a child-like state, to the video recordings of McKay’s lessening memory, to the attempt to save him. Although there were hints of melodrama and the science of the show was patently ridiculous, the understated performances of the cast pulled it through very well. Kate Hewlett makes a great showing going through all the stages of grief and her determination to save her brother shines through. Also we got even more of the Rodney/Keller/Ronon triangle. Keller’s scientific background comes into conflict with Ronon’s faith and childhood memories. Rodney admits to being in love on one of the videos chronicling his condition but doesn’t seem to recall it when he recovers. Though I’m ambiguous about both relationships I love this story line because I want a Rodney vs. Ronon smackdown so much that I can barely stand it. Come on! It would be fantastic – Rodney running from Ronon’s superior fighting skills while Ronon had to dodge the machines Rodney would turn against him. Alas, it probably won’t happen but it’s fun to think about.

Oh, and notice how I’ve said nothing about the newest addition to the cast: Robert Picardo? There’s a reason for that. I love Picardo as much as any other Voyager fan out there and he acts wonderfully in the scenes he’s in, but in most of the episodes you forget he’s even there. Picardo hasn’t gotten a stand-out episode yet, one that clearly establishes his commanding style and relationships with the main team. The token resistance he puts up to the team’s plans (in every episode) make his scenes pretty extraneous. Like I said, I love Picardo, and I long for the episode where he’s allowed to chew up the scenery the way I know he can.

So, ignoring the odd hiccup of Ghost In The Machine, the final season of Stargate Atlantis is off to a great start. It only remains to be seen if they can keep that momentum going through the next 14 episodes.

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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