The Best and Worst of Stargate Atlantis: Season 2

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For previous installments of Stargate SG-1:

For previous installments of Stargate Atlantis:

 

Season 2 generally expanded upon the narrative introduced in Season 1, though there were some notable cast changes: Rainbow Sun Franks (Lt. Aiden Ford) leaves the show only to be in guest appearances, Jason Momoa (Ronon Dex) joins, and Paul McGillon (Dr. Carson Beckett) is promoted to the main cast.

 

The Best:

The Siege Part III, The Intruder, Runner, Condemned, Trinity, Aurora, Epiphany, Critical Mass, The Long Goodbye, Coup d’État, Michael, and Allies

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In brief pieces:

  • The Siege, Part III continues from The Siege, Parts I and II, the finale of the first season. It’s the first of four three-part stories that would become common within the show. It also introduces the interstellar battlecrusier Daedalus, the primary ship of the series (like that of the Prometheus, and Odyssey, on Stargate SG-1);
  • The Intruder, somewhat inspired by Virus, features the Atlantis Expedition heading back to Pegasus aboard the Daedalus, with flashbacks of their time spent on Earth during their trip back. It’s a personal favorite episode. Gen. Hank Landry from Stargate SG-1 appears for the first time;
  • Runner introduces Ronon Dex;
  • Condemned has it’s basis on several of the early Stargate SG-1 episodes which featured a prominent moral aspect of the story, making it well worth viewing again and again;
  • Trinity gets its name from the Trinity Test. Dr. McKay discovers an Ancient outpost on Doranda in which they worked on Project Arcturas, a powerful energy weapon capable of destroying an entire fleet of Wraith Hive Ships;
  • In Aurora, the Atlantis Expedition discovers an Ancient warship, the Aurora, adrift in space, and compromised by the Wraith;
  • Epiphany sees Col. John Sheppard trapped inside a time-dilation field where a village of people intend to ascend, except an invisible beast lurks among them;
  • Critical Mass is quite a fantastic episode featuring a crossover of the Goa’uld from Stargate SG-1, via the Trust infiltration;
  • The Long Goodbye finds Dr. Elizabeth Weir and Col. John Sheppard possessed by two enemies trying to kill each other over a war that ended a long time ago;
  • In Coup d’État, the Atlantis Expedition is contacted by Ladon Radim, a Genii

  • Michael features the introduction to the Wraith-Human hybrid, Michael Kenmore, who would feature prominently over the next seasons; and,
  • The season finale, Allies, sees the Wraith Michael Kenmore, and his Wraith faction, arrive on Atlantis proposing an alliance between the two, using the retrovirus to eliminate other Wraith factions, but another plan is also in motion.

According to the GateWorld review of The Siege, Part III:

After picking up immediately after last spring’s cliffhanger, it seems that it’s become an even worse day in Atlantis than the team imagined. While Major Sheppard’s part of the cliffhanger is resolved quickly, Ford’s tumble into the ocean with the Wraith is shocking. After reading some spoilers, I knew he would be seriously altered by the events of this episode, but the visual of his impossible fall to the ocean was stunning.

“The Siege, Part 3” shows that it’s already shaping up to be a tough year in Atlantis.

When I first found out that Rainbow Sun Franks (“Lt. Aiden Ford”) wasn’t going to be a regular this season, I didn’t quite believe the optimism from the producers and Franks about the new storyline for his character. About three quarters of the way through the episode, it is perfectly clear that this “new” Ford is more compelling than last season, partially because the personality change provoked by the Wraith enzyme and the conflict that it creates.

Unfortunately, this is at a loss of both screen time for Franks and of the character we saw in episodes like “Letters From Pegasus:” loyal, helpful, and all around good guy. How much we’ll see of this new Ford is not clear yet, but I would hope it would be sooner than later.

The personality change is creepily manifested in Ford’s literally split face. Congratulations to the makeup department for that, because it was truly a creepy feeling to see both the regular features of Ford and then the dark, Wraith-like eye and older features of the other side of his face. The double-take of each expedition member is enough to telegraph the uneasiness that Ford has suddenly injected into the situation.

The strongest point in the Ford storyline (and also the most heartbreaking) is the scene in the infirmary when he threatens to shoot a sick patient to get Beckett to give him the Wraith enzyme. Much like the end scene where he tells Sheppard that he could have shot him, Lt. Ford seems to be acting more threatened than purely violent. Maybe the Wraith enzyme has made him paranoid as well as stronger.

There are a lot of important emotional beats in this episode: Weir hugging Sheppard when he beams back down to Atlantis, Colonel Everett finally understanding Sheppard’s action in shooting Colonel Sumner, and Sheppard’s reaction to losing Ford. But for time consideration, they all feel rushed, or at least quickly forgotten in the tempo of the episode. There’s too much going on, and the best things are hurried over to make room. Parts one and two already set many things in motion, and I was surprised that part three manages to resolve the cliffhanger and then set up bigger, multiple issues and resolve those. The Ford storyline could have easily been its own episode (and probably should have been).

With the arrival of the Daedalus, several new faces are added to the roster of Atlantis characters. Lindsey Novak from SG-1‘s “Prometheus Unbound” returns (without hiccups this time), and an Asgard character, Hermiod, is introduced. On the top on this list is Mitch Pileggi as the commander of the ship, Colonel Caldwell. As much as he will always be Skinner to me, Pileggi’s Caldwell reminds me of the more stoic, military presence that has been in SG-1 for many years.

The presence of a ship that can go in between in Pegasus Galaxy and Earth changes the entire feeling of a series that up until now was dominated by the problems of being stranded in another galaxy. That theme created some great stories last year and helped Stargate Atlantis distinguish itself. I hope the relative ease of having the Daedalus (and by extension the S.G.C.) help out won’t make Atlantis into a carbon copy of SG-1.

The special effects on Atlantis constantly surprise me, and this episode is no different. Most spectacular are the close-ups of the fight between the Daedalus and the hive ships, and the nuclear explosion over Atlantis.

Overall, I was satisfied to see last season’s cliffhanger resolved and a new season set up so well. While not as impressive as last season’s opener, Stargate Atlantis has already proven itself to work up to its best moments. I can’t wait to see what happens.

According to the GateWorld review of The Intruder:

“The Intruder,” the first full episode after the introduction of the Daedalus, ends up featuring Earth’s newest ship, but immediately destroys the perception that the Daedalus is invulnerable. Along with a few detours through the land of character development, especially that of Elizabeth Weir, “The Intruder” manages to fit both the return trip home and the more eventful journey back to Pegasus in one episode.

As we find out in the teaser, it now takes 18 days for a one-way trip from Earth to Atlantis. While it’s not as simple as a Stargate trip, it’s a whole different situation from last year. I won’t deny the possibility that being stranded in another galaxy helped the series. A great deal of the emotional and physical drama that came from the first season was the expedition’s inability to communicate with the S.G.C. and the tension that came with having to fend for themselves.

By the end of this episode, I feel much like Sheppard and Weir do about returning to Earth: The Earth stories were something I was looking forward to, and they were interesting in their own right, but I was relieved to see them back in Atlantis by the end of the episode.

But before I put the cart before the horse: “The Intruder” is a decent episode that unfortunately has a feel of too much familiarity.

The main plot of the episode, however perilous the situation, falls a little flat. I can’t put my finger on it exactly, but I suppose it has something to do with when McKay says he remembers reading a report about a similar situation that happened at the S.G.C. It’s not that “The Intruder” bears an exact resemblance to SG-1‘s “Entity,” but rather the feeling of “been there, done that, saved the day the exact same way” for those who are both fans of Atlantis and SG-1. Even before that, I couldn’t get as interested in it as I usually do with Atlantis episodes. What’s more compelling than the A-story in “The Intruder” are the flashbacks to what happened when the senior members of the Atlantis expedition finally did return home, and the ramifications of that visit.

The first flashback of Weir at the S.G.C. is eye-opening in terms of the trust and relationships that have formed in the first year. When she finds out that Earth is seriously considering replacing Sheppard with Colonel Caldwell as the outpost’s military commander, she immediately defends Major Sheppard and basically tells them that it’s too bad for them — they’ll just have to promote him. It’s scenes like this that remind me how much Weir has grown on me as a character. She thoroughly believes in Sheppard and stands up for him, even ignoring the knowing glances between Landry and Caldwell.

And so we get Lieutenant Colonel Sheppard — which, I agree with McKay, will take some getting used to. But it’s not undeserved.

The other flashbacks deal directly with Weir’s relationship with Simon and Sheppard’s continuing dedication to find Lt. Ford. The desaturated photography of each flashback adds to these scenes, not as a demarcation of when the story is in flashbacks, but to give a more memory-like quality to them. These scenes also break up the main plot and help keep the story focused on the characters, not simply the ship.

Although we met him for the first time in “The Siege, Part 3,” “The Intruder” also shows us more about Hermiod, the Asgard character on the Daedalus. Hermiod seems like the Asgard’s version of McKay, complete with a condescending attitude for the master of snark himself. The Asgard have various personalities within very similar bodies, and I like the personality the writers have chosen here.

The highlights of “The Intruder” (for me, at least) rank as this: Sheppard’s fight with the F-302 controlled by the virus, McKay preparing to be beamed inside the ship, and at the end, when Teyla and Dr. Zelenka welcome them back to Atlantis. I’m glad this is the very end of the episode, because it feels like the expedition, and the viewer, is really coming home.

According to the GateWorld review of Runner:

Call me a preemptive purist. Call me a resistant to change, but I was not looking forward to major cast change after one season of Atlantis. However, “Runner” did more to win me (and I suspect, more than a few fans) over to Ronon Dex than any pre-season hype.

The teaser lives up to its name with the banter between Parrish and Major Lorne (who, I’m assuming, have just arrived in Atlantis with the Daedalus), prior to finding a dead Wraith alone on the planet. To my genuine shock, the mysterious rustling in the trees is not the new guy looking scary, but Ford looking down at two team members. I’m always pleased to see secondary characters being used, to remind us that the Atlantis expedition isn’t just the same six people. And I’m even more pleased when they’re not forgotten after their first episode (and eventually get first names).

In this episode, Ford alternates between friendly and creepy, and the speed and manner in which he switches in between the two without warning are the most frightening part of Ford’s storyline. Rainbow Sun Franks’s acting here is better than ever, convincingly showing the violent shifts in Ford’s demeanor. I couldn’t predict at any time in the episode how Ford would react, especially when he is walking around the planet with McKay.

Ronon, in contrast, has no need to prove himself like Ford does. In a relatively short section of the episode, we learn how and why Ronon is on this planet, and why he is loathe to trust anyone, or to stay with anyone for long. While I enjoyed the stylized flashbacks in last’s weeks”The Intruder,” Ronon’s flashbacks seem to go a little too far in marking off that they are flashbacks. The warped corners in particular aren’t necessary, especially if he’s just going to sum it up nicely for Sheppard and Teyla.

We do learn that Ronon was in the military of what seems like an advanced civilization (which is rare for the Pegasus Galaxy) and that he’s been running for a long time. Two questions that the flashbacks do bring up: Why was Ronon chosen to be a runner? And what made the Wraith pause when he was feeding on him?

The fight between Ronon and Ford is among the best on the show, and that includes the numerous stick fights. At the very end of “Runner,” Ronon finds out about the destruction of his homeworld, (which I’m intrigued about — hopefully there is more Ronon backstory in the works). Using the fight and Ronon’s reaction to cap off the episode is nice touch, because it works as a transition between the two runners and helps create more to the character of Ronon Dex than his fighting skills.

What made this a better episode overall is how it works well-established characters into what is essentially Ronon’s storyline. McKay is back in fine form in this episode; since the season opener he was regulated to Science Exposition Guy. I suppose one could argue that that is what his job is about when he is in Atlantis, but in this episode he shoots Ford and ends upside down a few seconds later. If I had to choose between the two (and, happily, I don’t), McKay on other planets wins every time.

Dr. Beckett grudgingly makes a trip through the gate to operate on Ronon (although the Ancient medical device he brings looks and works suspiciously like a tricorder — come on, guys).

Sheppard comes up against the orders of someone who outranks him for the first time in a long while, and his propensity for ignoring the chain of command and his loyalty to his friends are still strong. But when he is faced with the decision of shooting Ford or letting him go, the scene has a feel very similar to the decision he makes in “Rising,” which Caldwell reminded him of: Sheppard has “no trouble with mercy.” In that same vein he doesn’t kill Ford, but tries to stop him. Ford is not incapable of saving like Sumner was. Caldwell is not happy, of course, and the dynamic has changed now that Sheppard can’t be answerable to just himself and Weir.

“Runner” does an excellent job of introducing a new character and a situation that that could have been easily fallen into cliché. The episode is successful because, if nothing else, it opens up a whole area of storylines with a new character.

According to the GateWorld review of Trinity:

If “Duet” shows McKay’s human side, “Trinity” shows the worst of him. But what this episode is really about is trust between the characters and what happens when that trust is lost. The thread of this theme keeps the two very different parts of the episode together and makes the story more complete overall.

The perfect power source that Project Arcturus presents is a tempting thing for both the civilian and military personnel of the Atlantis expedition, and the civilian/military dynamic that was constantly tested in the first season. Instead of tension between Weir and Sheppard’s leadership styles, Weir comes up against Caldwell and his threats of the Pentagon overruling her decision, and the dissension over whether Arcturus should be used as a weapon or power source. Contrary to last season, Sheppard is one of the few people who can convince Weir otherwise once she’s made a decision, and McKay turns to Sheppard — with nothing but trust — to make his appeal.

The episode starts on a positive note, complete with a montage of the scientists of Atlantis working (which also saves the viewer from extraneous technobabble — simple enough for my “Physics for Poets” level of understanding to make sense of what is going on). And then everything goes wrong: the chamber overloads, Collins joins Atlantis’s version of redshirts, and the computers aren’t responding. This is what you get for trying to run Ancient technology on Windows.

“Trinity” breaks the infallible McKay myth, as he is powerless to do anything several times in the episode. Instead of humbling him, the setbacks only make him more and more arrogant, until he ends up destroying five-sixths of a solar system. I wonder if there will be any fallout to this destruction other than McKay’s failure and his need for others to believe in his abilities. What if that solar system was inhabited? This a little more serious that the lead scientist screwing up.

Zelenka is a great foil for McKay’s constant condescension. As the scientist’s de facto second-in-command and his friend, Zelenka tries to tell McKay that he can’t possibly get Project Arcturus to work. He’s more involved in this story than just to share the scientific exposition, and it balances McKay’s blind overconfidence in this episode. Zelenka has come a long way from his first appearance in “Thirty Eight Minutes.”

Ronan keeps on surprising me every week, and sometimes within the very same episode. The revelation that he is not the only survivor of the horrible Wraith attack on his homeworld changes Ronan’s storyline in two distinct ways: he is not as much of the loner as he was, and the Wraith are not his only enemies. I was stunned when Ronan killed Kell, as he hides his displeasure from his old friend when Solen mentions that Kell is alive during their celebration. Either I missed something big, or Ronan has the best poker face I’ve ever seen.

“Trinity” is also Teyla’s strongest episode so far this season. Her various sides as a member of the Atlantis team, a leader, and a friend are all present here. She is not just the alien member of the team, and knows that the Atlantis team will not always understand or approve of how things work in the Pegasus Galaxy. As a friend to Ronan, she is his guide to return to a life not only based on survival.

But when Ronan breaks her trust by killing Kell, she makes it clear to him that he can’t use her friendship for his own vengeance. In one episode, Teyla has become more of a fully-formed character than all of last season. I’m glad it did not get lost in the rest of the episode.

But why is this episode called “Trinity?” The project is called “Arcturus” and there is no mention of any triumvirate. So why “Trinity?” The answer has something to do with the young scientist from history who McKay invokes to get Sheppard to reconsider. “Trinity” was the name of the first nuclear test in New Mexico in 1945. It’s less obvious than mostAtlantis titles, but it serves the story well.

This episode is the most complete so far this season. “Trinity” balances both plots well and ties them together

According to the GateWorld review of Epiphany:

Epiphanies come in all sizes. This episode, with its several epiphanies, should have showcased the most intimate and most important one — Sheppard’s — by contrasting it with the overshadowing epiphany leading to ascension, a transition Sheppard is instrumental in causing.

While not the backstory many fans longed for, “Epiphany” did reveal clearly the man Sheppard is. More fully than most, he has presented himself as a man who lives in the present. If his background is full of unforgiving and unexamined memories, he seems to prefer it that way. Living in the moment affords him the courage to explore and react to what is before him; it allows him to keep an open mind about whatever is new.

His actions and his relationships with the people he has come to know since he joined the Atlantis team bear this out. He is loyal, but not to the point of loving. He lives life more intensely wherever and whenever he is, simply because it may be his last chance. Sheppard enunciates this quite clearly near the end of the episode. First, when he and Ronon prepare to face the beast, Sheppard says. “Let’s just fight it and see what happens. Then, when Teer wants him to accompany them, Sheppard admits he isn’t ready to ascend … and may never be.

It is this man, a denizen of the present, who meets the inhabitants of the sanctuary, people who transcend the past and present as they prepare themselves for ascension. The descendants of people who came to the sanctuary generations ago, they have lived in this paradise without experiencing the harsh realities of everyday life, without knowing the myriad joys and heartbreaks that come with living fully — things from which Sheppard is never far. Indeed, he never settles in, never truly does more than bide his time. He forms no real emotional attachments (neither does the audience) to anyone in the episode.

As the outsider, he is thus the perfect catalyst, “the One” as Teer proclaims, who finally sets these people on the path to ascension. Sheppard does this with his seemingly odd question about thunderstorms. He’s trying to tell them that life, with all of its messy, joyful, painful, beautiful and ugly moments, is what has to be faced.

The story would have been better served if he had simply galvanized them into living with passion, rather than the blandness that characterizes their existence. As Sheppard later shouts, “That’s it? That’s all it took?” for an epiphany as significant as banishing the beast and ascending?

Since it is the rescue, not the ascension, which brings about Sheppard’s nearly-missed epiphany, when he admits that he … kind of … sort of … well … actually missed the people he’s grown closest to in Atlantis, the rushed resolution of the storyline was not needed, except perhaps as a trigger for Rodney’s comment: “What is it with you and ascended women?”

The team storyline is better written and clearly underscores what the main characters of Stargate Atlantis have come to mean to one another. Their concern and the resultant flurry of activity in mounting a rescue, against the odds, is precisely what Sheppard identifies as missing in the lives of those in the sanctuary. Every aspect of the team storyline is full of life.

Rodney complains about too much walking as the team searches for the source of an energy spike seen from the Puddle Jumper. This leads to the first of the destined-to-be-a-classic one-liners, namely, “M.A.L.P. on a stick” — a camera taped to a tree branch. And once again, Rodney’s typically blithe overconfidence in the accuracy of his observations lead Sheppard (who really should know better by now) to volunteer as guinea pig. Rodney, with a mini-epiphany of his own about Sheppard’s possible fate, dials it down, accepts responsibility and buckles down to solve the crisis. He even manages to refrain from out and out histrionics — although once back in Atlantis, in a fit of piqué, he refers to Ronon and Teyla as “Conan and Xena,” another destined-to-be-a-classic one-liner.

There are other nice touches in the team storyline. Beckett reveals he has a date with Cadman (the woman who we found had a crush on him earlier this season in “Duet”). Teyla’s Wraith sense seems to have permutated into a general sense of menacing creatures. Ronon seems to be moving along in his journey from lone wolf to team player. And Weir again reveals her strong moral compass when she agrees to preserve the sanctuary. Whether she can force others who might want the Z.P.M.s which power the protective shielding to honor her commitment remains to be seen.

The positives — good teamwork, an interesting and potentially useful place in the reality of the sanctuary, Sheppard’s epiphany (a little character growth is always good for an on-going series), and the fabulous one-liners — are good reasons to re-watch this episode

According to the GateWorld review of Critical Mass:

Overload — critical mass is reached and exceeded in this episode. The plot, with two strong storylines, is overloaded and, consequently, rushed to resolution. There is so much in the episode that is good, so much that deserves more worthy solutions, so much worth discussing. The question is, where to start?

Overloading the Atlantis Z.P.M. is simple, but elegant. Having the idea be the brainchild of the Trust infiltrated by Goa’uld is also clever and allows for the realistic crossover with Stargate Command on Earth. The polite but cut-the-crap Landry suits the tense situation. And the briefing conducted by Dr. Lee, with its references to the “twilight bark” and lighting of the beacon fires was inspired. (It also makes me want to know who would marry Dr. Lee and just how many kids he has.)

Making Caldwell the Goa’uld emissary is a great twist, especially because he is now an accepted and trusted member of Team Atlantis. He, like Ronon, finally has that “settled-in” feel. Yet the resolution of Caldwell’s storyline, what with Rodney’s quip about Asgard brain surgery, is one of the most unsatisfying elements of the plot. Since we like Caldwell, we need to see his remorse and rehabilitation if we, like the rest of the team, are ever to trust him again.

There are the Zelenka moments, where quality of screen time trumps quantity of dialogue. And that quiet moment when Sheppard tells Weir to have a look: it speaks volumes about the relationship between Weir and Sheppard.

Teyla and the Athosian ceremony is detail we have wanted, but this secondary storyline is worthy of a stand-alone episode. Removing it would have allowed ample space for expansion and resolution of the major story. Adding it here deprived the major characters of a huge opportunity to strengthen their ties. The absence of Weir, Sheppard, and Ronon at the ceremony of the ring gives the scene a hollow quality. Now more than ever, these three are Teyla’s family.

Expanded to a full episode, this sub-story could have fleshed out the Athosians, cemented their bonds with the Earthers and given Teyla the opportunity to examine her life in its new context, something death demands.

Can’t leave out the Rodney-Cadman-Beckett triangle. Cadman rattles Rodney’s cage, revealing herself to be a worthy adversary, especially since she wisely ignored his order to stop working on the gap she found which led to Caldwell’s unmasking. She is proving herself to be a strong character entitled to more regular appearances.

Almost lost in a plot overstuffed with the S.G.C., the Wraith, the red herrings (Barrett’s intel about a low-level operative, Cadman, and the snide Kavanagh), the inability of the S.G.C. to communicate with Atlantis, Teyla and the Ring Ceremony as well as a crisis which morphs as it escalates, is Elizabeth Weir. She juggles three major challenges to her leadership.

We see her handle the Z.P.M. overload crisis adroitly. The challenge by Kavanagh is excellently begun. It was hard, raw, and brilliantly delivered in a shrill and emotional manner by a man whose advocacy of reason would have led to the sure destruction of Atlantis. His standard male diatribe is surely something Weir, the internationally known diplomat, has heard before and dealt with. Herein, by implication, it pushes her toward torturing Kavanagh. She would know better than to let it influence her. If anything, it would make her more cautious in her dealings with Kavanagh.

It would have added more visibly to her hesitation and ramped up the psychological tension when she faced her third crisis: the issue of torture and when to use it. The issue of torture itself presented a lost opportunity to examine a hot-button topic of our time, not only as it applied to humans, but when used against a ruthless adversary such as the Goa’uld.

Female fans often comment that the male writers don’t always serve their female characters well. Such is the case in “Critical Mass.” As a woman who has been on the receiving end of Kavanagh’s criticism, I found Weir’s response to be a false note that led to her all-too-hasty acquiescence to torture. If the plot had not been so overloaded, her responses to these challenges to her leadership might have been more fully addressed and not dismissed by Sheppard’s noting that Kavanagh was not hurt. I can only hope that her concern that she crossed a line will someday be more fully examined and not simply dismissed.

And finally, who could not love Teyla’s lovely, haunting song performed so well by Rachel Luttrell?

Despite the overloaded plot and the rushed resolutions, “Critical Mass” was, by far, my favorite episode of the season so far.

 

 

The Worst:

Duet, Instinct, Conversion, Grace Under Pressure, and The Tower

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In blurbs:

  • Duet features either the first gay kiss (Dr. Rodney McKay & Beckett) as intending to be funny, or the first lesbian kiss (Katie Brown & Cadman) as Discount Lesbians. With Cadman in control of Rodney’s body, she does many things against his permission, thus it can be Double Standard Rape or Black Comedy Rape, or both;
  • While Instinct deals with the first idea we encounter that we could somehow reform the Wraith (a prelude to Michael) as seen here with Ella, Conversion follows Col. John Sheppard after being infected with the Iratus Bug retrovirus;
  • Grace Under Pressure is a sort-of-sequel to Stargate SG-1‘s Grace, though done quite poorly, as Dr. McKay is trapped in a sunken Puddle Jumper, and has hallucinations of Samantha Carter, capitalizing on the straight male gaze. As Director Martin Wood said of the episode: “And, of course, if you are familiar with the episode ‘Grace’ from SG-1 you can probably guess that he gets a little friendly help from his own brain in the form of a hallucination … and of course, being McKay, there is only one person he would hallucinate. And of course, being McKay, that person may not be fully clothed when he hallucinates them”; and,
  • The Tower features a royally screwed up family on a medieval planet (ugh), though one of the main reason this episode was produced was to explain how the Atlantis Expedition would “score drones” and Puddle Jumpers.

According to the GateWorld review of Duet:

Where do I begin?

Maybe with the fact that, as much as I’ve tried to keep my McKay fan-girling in check in my reviews, I feel that this is an episode not to hold back. The character has probably been through more ups and downs (literally) than any of the other characters on Atlantis, and “Duet” proves why it’s so entertaining.

First, David Hewlett: We knew he was good at playing McKay, making him both annoying and likeable at the same time. But this episode was truly multi-task acting. In one episode, we see McKay, Cadman, and Cadman trying to act like McKay, and viewers can clearly tell each apart. The jarring, Gollum-esque cuts to show that McKay is speaking with two voices in the scene in Heightmeyer’s office are unnecessary, as Hewlett excels at differentiating two characters in a back-and-forth argument.

McKay’s date with botanist Katie Brown (nice last name choice there), and the ensuing fight between McKay and Cadman, is the highlight of the episode, including a little slapstick humor. David Hewlett manages to steal the scene from himself.

Like Cadman says, McKay’s “own personal hell” could have some good side-effects, but those don’t get explored too much. Both are soon placed in mortal danger, and Cadman volunteers to sacrifice herself. It is endearing for a character we hardly see throughout the episode, but I wonder how this would have been a different episode if the situation had been reversed and McKay had been stuck in Cadman’s body. The two persons in one body routine could have gotten old fast, but instead “Duet” explores the concept in a way that leaves the viewer wanting to see more.

But let’s not have McKay and Cadman’s adventures in the same body completely overbear on some smaller moments in the episode. One such moment is Beckett’s reaction to seeing the Wraith struggling after its Dart has been shot down. Instead of shooting the Wraith, he tells it that he can help. One sentence says a lot about Dr. Beckett, that the Hippocratic Oath applies to everyone and everything.

Other details make this more than just a silly episode. Zelenka gets outwardly angry at McKay for rushing things and tells him he can’t help in his current state. Dr. Heightmeyer treats McKay and Cadman as if they are in couples therapy, complete with a physics metaphor that he can relate to. There is a girls’ poker night on Atlantis. And McKay’s room has the décor of framed degree after framed degree. The little details fill out the world in which these characters live.

However, all of these great scenes overshadow the secondary storyline. Ronan is not sure if he fits in Atlantis, and Colonel Sheppard spends most of the episode asking Weir if Ronan can join his team (can we call them “Atlantis-1?”).

While this subplot works in bringing Ronan permanently into Atlantis, and there is a nice scene with Teyla about why she has joined the team, something is missing. The lack of emotion on Ronan’s part seems completely at odds from his anger in “Runner.” This and the lack of connection with the other events of this episode makes this part of “Duet” feel like a throwaway piece from another episode.

At the end of “Duet” there are still things that confuse or amuse me: Why do they bother keeping guards around Ronan when they let him keep his own gun? Will McKay ever get over Cadman using his body to kiss Beckett? And now that Cadman has her body back, will she pursue Beckett? Did Katie Brown ever find out who really kissed her?

“Duet,” overall, is an entertaining, hilarious episode that just doesn’t play it for laughs and shows off David Hewlett’s acting ability. It turned out to be excellent.

 

According to the GateWorld review of Grace Under Pressure:

Pitch-perfect performances and crisp writing turn a familiar plot — Rodney in mortal danger — into an engaging crossover episode with echoes of Stargate SG-1‘s “48 Hours” and “Grace.” Highlights include Rodney managing his own hysteria, his hallucinated Sam Carter, the coordinated team effort that rescues him, and the hint of intelligent whales.

Everyone delivers memorable performances in “Grace Under Pressure” — even the proverbial red shirt, Griffin (a.k.a. the tomato guy). His discourse on scientists and tomatoes (eliciting Rodney’s “Oh, yes, of the Barcelona McKays”) creates a character we feel sad about losing when he sacrifices himself without hesitation for Rodney.

In a situation reminiscent of Carter being alone on Prometheus inStargate SG-1‘s “Grace,” Rodney finds himself alone on a Puddle Jumper, facing death beneath the ocean’s surface. Having finally, after a season and a half, learned a thing or two about facing imminent death in a pro-active fashion, Rodney is pushed even further. This time, his survival hinges, ultimately, on trust in the other people in Atlantis — trust that they care enough to rescue him and trust that they actually can.

While this will likely do nothing to reduce his arrogance, it is, nonetheless, a significant epiphany for him. Likewise, the moment when he argues about who is right — him or him (in the form of Sam) — and he realizes that he is, indeed, petty, is significant. And after
initially turning away from Griffin’s sacrifice, Rodney finds the courage to acknowledge the man’s bravery, bravery he knows he doesn’t quite have. Hewlett plays Rodney with the perfect balance of hysteria, arrogance and, yes, pettiness.

That Rodney’s inner voice of reason is Samantha Carter is a terrific way to exploit the comedic and competitive chemistry between the two scientists, seen in Stargate SG-1‘s “48 Hours” and “Redemption.” The qualities with which Rodney’s subconscious imbues Carter — dignity, charm, likeability, superior intelligence, competitiveness tempered with compassion, trust in others — are traits buried so deeply in himself that he can only access them by giving them form in the person who is all Rodney could be, and perhaps, would like to be. For all of his bluster, Rodney does know, albeit deep down, that he is petty, arrogant, and bad with people.

In the face of Rodney’s fantasy re-creation, Amanda Tapping maintains the inherent integrity of Sam and adds a playfulness that would be fun to see occasionally on SG-1. Her quick switch from scientist to vamp is one of the episode’s best moments.

Meanwhile, back in Atlantis, we see the episode’s truest resemblance toStargate SG-1‘s “48 Hours” as the rest of the team works frantically to save their friend. While Rodney, if he were the one “saving the poor bastard stuck down there” might manage both to plan and help execute the rescue, a number of people with diverse specialties and skills must organize and work together as a true team in order to rescue the Puddle Jumper. Zelenka and his people manage the science, while Sheppard has a vision of how to effect the rescue. Weir, acting as the link between the two sides, keeping both focused and moving forward, performs as a leader should.

All of the actors are their characters in this episode. There are no false notes. The quiet, conveyed-in-a-glance rapport between Weir and Sheppard is a good example, as is the way Zelenka pushes himself beyond his own fears — a calm counterpoint to Rodney’s noisy, controlled chaos method of pushing himself in the Puddle Jumper.

The pacing of the episode maintains the tension and action shifts smoothly between Atlantis and the downed Jumper, creating an episode that, for once, does not feel rushed to resolution. The process Rodney goes through to try and save himself is realistic, well delineated and fleshed out. The science gets a little dodgy when it comes to the cloak-shield device, but with such a full, well-acted script, it’s a minor quibble.

“Grace Under Pressure” is probably one of writer Martin Gero’s best efforts. But, should he be forgiven for the title pun?

And then there is the whale. It clearly signals the Puddle Jumper’s location to Sheppard and Zelenka. Could it also have guided the Jumper to a shallower resting spot, preventing it from sinking the full 6,000 feet possible? Could the whale be a descendant of whales brought to this planet, whales accustomed to working with the Ancients, a la Anne McCaffrey’s dolphins on Pern?

There are more stories begging to be explored now that we know the Puddle Jumpers are submersible. Who knows what else the Ancients have hidden beneath the waters of the planet?

 

before

The next in best and worst is Season 1.

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4 thoughts on “The Best and Worst of Stargate Atlantis: Season 2

  1. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Stargate Atlantis: Season 1 | The Progressive Democrat

  2. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Stargate Universe: Season 2 | The Progressive Democrat

  3. Pingback: The Best and Worst of Stargate Universe: Season 1 | The Progressive Democrat

  4. Pingback: On A Bone to Pick | The Progressive Democrat

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