From Modern Mythcraft to Magical Surrealism

Crossing Lines: Stargate Atlantis — No Hope On The Horizon

I’m so disappointed with Stargate Atlantis lately, as anyone who’s been reading these column can probably tell. To be honest at this point if I wasn’t writing this column I don’t know if I would still be watching the show. I’d probably break up with it for good and catch the final episodes sometime in the spring on rerun. Sadly, the following episodes did not alter this opinion. There were some good things going on but at the end of most of them I just want to scream, “This is what you’re going out on!? These episodes are what you want us to remember of the show!?”.

First off, apparently Carson Beckett is now some planet-wandering healer/medicine-man? I must have zoned out on a previous episode and missed this, or they never mentioned it and it’s simply a weird retcon, either way it feels forced. But Carson is back and that’s never really a bad thing in my book!

The episode “Outsiders” starts with the team heading to a planet to bring Carson medical supplies. Carson is there to treat some folks that are victims of one of his earliest sketchy ethic moments, helping the Hoffans develop a plague that is deadly to 2/3 of the human population. The plus side of the plague is that those who survive it can’t be fed on by the Wraith and are in fact poisonous to them. Now, this is one instance where Carson actually showed some care. Once he realized the drug would be deadly to many humans, he stepped back and was like, ‘Oooooh, too sketchy for me. I’d rather return to Atlantis and perform painful experiments on living sentient beings.’

Okay he didn’t actually say that. Michael, the result of the previously mentioned painful experiments, is the one who found the plague and spread it through the galaxy resulting in these refugees Carson is treating. So really, no matter how you look at it, still Carson’s fault.

This episode, like the previous one “Survivors”, felt like a take on a pretty rote Twilight Zone-ish set up — town is asked to turn over some of its own to the Wraith, specifically the plague survivors they’ve granted sanctuary. Of course, there’s the kindly old man who refuses and the brutish large man who’s all for it. It’s the whole ‘humans are the real monsters’ storyline which in this episode somehow manages to be both trite and predictable and have an interesting twist.

Yes, the requisite posse forms intent on giving the people up but at the same time once the posse is captured it’s the head of the ‘let’s all be friends’ group that sets the posse up for a painful death. That made the moral quandary of ‘who are the monsters’ a little more interesting but overall the plot was pretty blah.

To be honest, Carson’s was the only storyline this episode that I found good. Beckett and McKay have good banter and play off each other well throughout the episode and some of the scenes after they are captured by the Wraith are hilarious. Unintentional funny moment: hearing Carson mention “Do No Harm” and feeling conflicted actually made me laugh out loud. I know it was supposed to be all serious but having Carson say that after all the experiments he’s done that would just be plain illegal on earth is just plain funny.

Ronon and Teyla, like in most of the episodes this season, are much more often absent than present — seriously, they have ten minutes of screen time and most of that is shared team shots. John’s heroics, again like most episodes this season, bore me to tears.

I was heavily anticipating the episode “Inquisition”. Atlantis on trial for crimes against the Pegasus Galaxy? I’m so there! But the episode turned out to be more of a cheesy clip show than anything else, and to make the disappointment more visceral all the flashbacks were narrated by John Sheppard. Wouldn’t it be more interesting to get Ronon or Teyla or even McKay’s POV on these past events, at least then we might get a new twist?

So the team is tricked by a newly formed interplanetary coalition, who put them on trial for all the messed up stuff they’ve done — waking up the Wraith, releasing the Asurans, and of course the creation of Michael. I do have to protest here though because if you’re gonna put anyone on trial for Michael it has to be Carson, but then again Carson’s bad ethics are really one of the only things the show has going for it so we can’t risk him being stranded on an unreachable planet — which is what the team will be sentenced to if they lose the trial, by the way.

I’m so annoyed by this episode. I thought it was going to be awesome legal wrangling and arguments like when Battlestar Galactica had the trial of Gaius Baltar. Instead it was all Sheppard arguing something and the tribunal showing him that it was still Atlantis’s fault in the end. And it would make more sense if Teyla was the defense attorney. She’s actually from Pegasus so she knows things about the galaxy and the people that could prove extremely useful and number two she’s the diplomat/negotiator of the team. Let’s face it, John Sheppard has never had great rhetorical abilities.

Woolsey shows up to take over as defense attorney, listing all these qualifications from Earth when the team looks at him doubtfully. And I’m left to wonder how much use all that fancy booklearnin’ is in this situation? You’re working with a law/criminal code that you’ve never encountered before so I don’t see how they matter. I guess if they taught you to be a great orator that would make some sense but Woolsey has never been the best speaker or the best under pressure. Like so many of the plot points this season, I do not understand it at all.

Anyway, it doesn’t seem to matter much since the day is saved not through legalese but through bribery. See one of the trial judges wants them dead no matter what, one is neutral and Woolsey agrees for Atlantis to be the military backing of this new coalition to get the vote of the third judge. So I guess it is arguing that solves it, since it all comes down to the one neutral judge, but the taint of bribery made the whole thing feel anticlimactic to me.

Another thing that made no sense: that final scene of Woolsey and John sharing some whiskey and cigars out on the balcony. At first I thought they were being set up as a couple, and really if they did that it would entertain me immensely. But if they’re just celebrating winning, where are Ronon, Rodney and Teyla? I know they’ve been absent for most of the episode but they were gonna be punished too if the verdict was guilty. If they’re gonna make out, go all the way, if not where the hell is the rest of the team?! Total old boys club with whiskey and cigars, boring and doesn’t make much sense.

Finally Teyla and Ronon return in “Prodigal”! I’ve been waiting for these two to come back and the show to stop being “The John Show, sometimes featuring Rodney or Woolsey” for what seems like forever. The episode opens with Woolsey pestering Ronon for mission reports which he never turns in, Woolsey gives him a voice recorder so he can just speak his reports but that’s just a joke set up for the end of the episode.

The main crux of the episode is Michael returning and taking over Atlantis. I paused the episode as it occurred to me that Michael is never going to die. We will continue to get all these damn hints that he is dead — like his ship being blown up with him in it — only to discover later in the series that he survived somehow. At this point they’ve “killed” him about five or six times. When Rodney compares him to a cockroach in the episode and I can’t help but agree.

So he arrives, stuns everyone in the control tower, and is planning to take Teyla’s son with him when he leaves — which he wants because both parents have a little Wraith DNA and this might help him…y’know what, at this point I don’t even know. Just go with the fact that Michael wants Teyla’s baby and he’s always had an odd crush on Teyla; very, very ex-boyfriend stalker.

Meanwhile Ronon is trapped in a room with the rest of the folks who were stunned and John, Rodney and Radek are outside trying to get past a stun field that Michael has set up around the control room. Michael sets the self-destruct on Atlantis talking about justice and punishment. And I feel for Michael a little bit, he didn’t ask to be their experiment and now he wants to punish the folks who harmed him and messed up his genetic make-up. I can’t really be mad at him for that.

Teyla runs and hides from him, Rodney and John figure out a way to take out Michael’s ship which is what he’s powering the stun field with and then storm the room. Highlight of the episode for me: is the great new female character Cornelia, one of the night crew gate techs. She’s the second one, after Ronon, to wake up in the room she then proceeds to hot wire the door to get them out. Then as Ronon is fighting the guard and it looks grim, Cornelia busts out of the room with some hardcore kickboxing and saves his ass. He gives her a once over and I smell a last minute love interest for Ronon! And this woman, both smart and an asskicker makes a better match for him than Keller ever was.

In the end John chases Michael down and they fight on a windy ledge, which, really? is just too clichéd for words. Anyway as John looks like he’s gonna lose and turn into street pancake, Teyla comes in, fights Michael until he’s hanging onto the ledge, then kicks his hands free so he plummets to his death — yeah, right I’ve heard that story before. He probably floated down like a gentle feather.

That final scene with Teyla on the rooftop the wind in her hair and the hard look on her face as she takes the deliberate choice to end Michael’s life when he can’t fight back? Awesome. Made the whole episode for me. Then we get the payoff for the initial interaction between Ronon and Woolsey — Ronon handing him the mission report for what just happened. Listening to Ronon’s voice say “Mission Report: Michael invaded Atlantis. Tried to blow it up. We stopped him. End Report.” made me laugh out loud. It was a little predictable but still pretty damn hilarious.

I had hoped that with “Prodigal” we had begun a streak of more team focused episodes or at least episodes where Ronon and Teyla get some screen-time. I was wrong. In “Remnants” we return to “The John Show featuring Rodney and Woolsey”. Rodney is playing with an alien device they found, John is on some planet escorting botanists around and Woolsey has found a newly arrived scientist to flirt with. It all goes horribly wrong, of course.

Rodney discovers that the device is meant to seed a planet with the remnants of a once great race that died off, it has plenty of information that could help them but it can only be accessed once. If they use it, they rob the race of any chance of actually developing anew. Woolsey is suddenly under review by the IOA who they send Shen Xiaoyi — played by Tamlyn Tomita, who I love — as the hardcore Chinese government representative on the IOA board. And as if that’s not enough it turns out that no one can see the woman Woolsey’s attracted to but him. Meanwhile, Sheppard is under attack by his long thought dead nemesis, Koyla of the Genii — I told you, on Stargate no one truly dies!

It all turns out to be the Artificial Intelligence of the alien device — not Shen visiting; she’s actually there to judge him and take his job when he’s booted — but the woman Woolsey likes and Koyla’s attack on Sheppard are only happening in their minds. In the end the AI tricks Shen into sending a good report back home as a thank you for Woolsey deciding to allow the device to continue on its journey.

Who really cares about Woolsey? No, really. He hasn’t been well established as a character and he’ll be gone in a few more episodes when the series ends, is that enough time for me to care about him? No. I was cheering for Shen. I was hoping she would take over the base just to get rid of him. Also, I cheered for Koyla. I figured if John was killed we wouldn’t have to deal with him trying to take over the remaining episodes and the movie they are currently filming but I suppose that’s too much to ask for.

I had a bright spot of hope for the show with “Prodigal” but at this point I should know better, they are not interested in team camaraderie, instead they just try to feature John as much as possible and I’m sick of it.

I’m gonna say something that may make me unpopular but I’ve thought it from the beginning of the show — Joe Flanigan (who plays John Sheppard) is not a strong enough actor to carry the show. He’s barely strong enough to be the head of an ensemble cast; take those folks away from him and he’s even less interesting. All his facial expressions look the same and, Lord, he just bores me! There, I said it. I await the slings and arrows of the Joe Flanigan fan community with a clear conscience.

I’ll be back next time with the next four episodes unless they’re so bad I take out the television with my shoe, which is a distinct possibility.

Naamen Gobert Tilahun is an aspiring speculative writer and essayist based in the Bay Area. He currently is attending Mills College to earn his M.F.A. in Fiction. His essays have appeared in the Aqueduct Press collection – The WisCon Chronicles: Volume 2 and online at Fantasy Magazine, The Angry Black Woman, Feminist SF! – The Blog and on his personal blog Words From The Center, Words From The Edge.

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