The Best and Worst of Stargate Atlantis: Season 1

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For previous installments of Stargate SG-1:

For previous installments of Stargate Atlantis:

 

There is one particular character who I have not yet mentioned, Dr. Kate Heightmeyer, the resident psychologist, who is introduced to us in The Gift.

In this clip above from The Gift, featuring Dr. Elizabeth Weir, Heightmeyer and Teyla on Wraith mojo discovered within this episode. However, the depiction of a psychologist as a woman has its root deep in sexism, that is, gender roles, which can be explained as:

The behaviors, attitudes, and activities expected or common for males and females. Whereas sex roles are essentially biologically determined (ensuring successful reproduction and forming the basis of sexual division of labor, in which women are associated with child rearing), gender roles (behavior that is considered “masculine” or “feminine”) are culturally determined. In the United States, for example, men are generally expected to be independent, aggressive, physical, ambitious, and able to control their emotions; women are generally expected to be passive, sensitive, emotional, nurturing, and supportive. These traditional gender roles frequently come under attack, especially from women.

In a sense, we get the idea that Dr. Kate Heightmeyer can be someone sensitive, emotional, nurturing, and supportive, to those on Atlantis, and not associate her with the same behaviors you would think of for Col. John Sheppard or Ronon Dex, such as independent, aggressive, physical, and ambitious. As such, this can be attached to several attitudes towards women, such as being “irrational,” as according to the Psychology Today article, “On the “irrationality” of women (and men)“:

Among the more egregious examples of modern sexism is the notion that women are irrational. Apparently this notion is still commonly-enough held to be stated and debated across the internet. I argue that accusations of irrationality are problematic in two ways: (1) they are based on a misunderstanding of the role of emotions in effective living and (2) they constitute a refusal to understand others’ subjective realities, an understanding that is crucial to effective relationship-building and conflict resolution. I will discuss each of these problems below.

A misunderstanding of emotions

The idea that women are irrational is often paired with a notion that rational thought is superior to emotion, that reason leads to sound decisions and emotion leads to poor ones. This could not be further from the truth; research has shown that not only do people not make better decisions when they aren’t emotionally engaged; without emotions, people cannot make decisions at all. Thus, emotions are fundamental to effective action.

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum has written about emotions as forms of intelligent thought, evaluations of the status of one’s current life in light of one’s goals. In this perspective, positive emotions show us that things are working well for us and negative emotions show us that something is amiss in our lives. This kind of information is a critical guide to effective living.

This is in contrast to a popular view of emotions as messy, difficult, and disruptive; as such, they they should be kept under control. With this mindset, many people lack willingness to explore their own feelings or those of others, and thus have little understanding of their own or others’ emotional processes. Our society particularly deprives men of opportunities for emotional expressiveness and understanding.

The “irrational” label as a refusal to understand another’s reality

Typically, what people mean by “irrational” behavior is a demonstration of strong emotion in a situation in which the observer does not understand why such strong emotion is warranted. Yet just because the observer doesn’t understand the emotion doesn’t mean that is doesn’t have a perfectly reasonable explanation. The “irrational” label too often justifies and maintains ignorance, as it implies that the behavior is a product of such a fundamentally broken or flawed person that it defies – and fails to even deserve – the understanding of anyone who is reasonable.

Romantic relationships are an arena where emotions run wild, as do misunderstandings of emotions and attendant accusations of irrationality. Romantic relationships pull for strong emotions because they are attachment relationships. Like children, adults rely on attachment relationships for comfort, security, and love. Moment-to-moment awareness of and responsiveness to each other’s needs are the stuff of secure connections between partners. When one partner feels that the security of the relationship is threatened (e.g., by behavior that is dismissive or conveys indifference), he or she may respond with strong emotions – loneliness, anger, grief, and disappointment. These predictable responses, if felt and expressed vehemently enough, seem irrational indeed.

Emotional upheavals are intelligent signals about the course of one’s life and the status of one’s most important relationships. To invalidate another’s emotional experience by accusing him or her of being “irrational” is equivalent to denying that person’s right to self-determination. To buy into a concept of ourselves as “irrational” is to invalidate our own emotional experience, and to miss the benefits that our emotions offer as guides to creating a good life.

Furthermore, this idea of women is attached to calling women ‘crazy,’ as according to the Washington Post article, “Men really need to stop calling women crazy“:

A thought experiment: Imagine how people might react if Taylor Swift released an album made up entirely of songs about wishing she could get back together with one of her exes.

We’d hear things like: “She can’t let go. She’s clingy. She’s irrational. She’s crazy.” Men would have a field day comparing her to their own “crazy” exes.

Yet when Robin Thicke released “Paula” —  a plea for reconciliation with his ex-wife Paula Patton disguised as an LP — he was called incoherent, obsessed, heartfelt and, in particular, creepy.

But you didn’t hear men calling him “crazy” — even though he used it as the title of one of tracks.

No, “crazy” is typically held in reserve for women’s behavior. Men might be obsessed, driven, confused or upset. But we don’t get called “crazy” — at least not the way men reflexively label women as such.

“Crazy” is one of the five deadly words guys use to shame women into compliance. The others: Fat. Ugly. Slutty. Bitchy. They sum up the supposedly worst things a woman can be.

WHAT WE REALLY MEAN BY “CRAZY” IS: “SHE WAS UPSET, AND I DIDN’T WANT HER TO BE.”

“Crazy” is such a convenient word for men, perpetuating our sense of superiority. Men are logical; women are emotional. Emotion is the antithesis of logic. When women are too emotional, we say they are being irrational. Crazy. Wrong.

Women hear it all the time from men. “You’re overreacting,” we tell them. “Don’t worry about it so much, you’re over-thinking it.” “Don’t be so sensitive.” “Don’t be crazy.” It’s a form of gaslighting — telling women that their feelings are just wrong, that they don’t have the right to feel the way that they do. Minimizing somebody else’s feelings is a way of controlling them. If they no longer trust their own feelings and instincts, they come to rely on someone else to tell them how they’re supposed to feel.

Small wonder that abusers love to use this c-word. It’s a way of delegitimizing a woman’s authority over her own life.

Most men (#notallmen, #irony) aren’t abusers, but far too many of us reflexively call women crazy without thinking about it. We talk about how “crazy girl sex” is the best sex while we also warn men “don’t stick it in the crazy.” How I Met Your Mother warned us to watch out for “the crazy eyes” and how to process women on the “Crazy/Hot” scale. When we talk about why we broke up with our exes, we say, “She got crazy,” and our guy friends nod sagely, as if that explains everything.

Except what we’re really saying is: “She was upset, and I didn’t want her to be.”

Many men are socialized to be disconnected from our emotions — the only manly feelings we’re supposed to show are stoic silence or anger. We’re taught that to be emotional is to be feminine. As a result, we barely have a handle on our own emotions — meaning that we’re especially ill-equipped at dealing with someone else’s.

That’s where “crazy” comes in. It’s the all-purpose argument ender. Your girlfriend is upset that you didn’t call when you were going to be late? She’s being irrational. She wants you to spend time with her instead of out with the guys again? She’s being clingy. Your wife doesn’t like the long hours you’re spending with your attractive co-worker? She’s being oversensitive.

As soon as the “crazy” card is in play, women are put on the defensive. It derails the discussion from what she’s saying to how she’s saying it. We insist that someone can’t be emotional and rational at the same time, so she has to prove that she’s not being irrational. Anything she says to the contrary can just be used as evidence against her.

More often than not, I suspect, most men don’t realize what we’re saying when we call a woman crazy. Not only does it stigmatize people who have legitimate mental health issues, but it tells women that they don’t understand their own emotions, that their very real concerns and issues are secondary to men’s comfort. And it absolves men from having to take responsibility for how we make others feel.

In the professional world, we’ve had debates over labels like “bossy” and “brusque,” so often used to describe women, not men. In our interpersonal relationships and conversations, “crazy” is the adjective that needs to go.

However, this image of women as emotional is not only bias towards women, but also towards men, as according to Social Worker Help‘s article, “Boys Don’t Cry: The Crisis of Masculinity“:

When we talk about sexism, we almost always automatically think of the victims as women. Tackling discriminating language, sexual harassment and domestic violence seems to be exclusively discussed as ‘women’s issues’. Much in the same way that these problems are not only ‘women’s issues’, sexism itself is not a ‘women’s issue’. There are other types of sexism which are equally pervasive in our society and potentially more corrosive due to the fact that they constantly go undiscussed or completely undetected.

‘Man up’, ‘be a man’, ‘men don’t cry’, ‘Lad culture’; these are all commonplace maxims in our daily lives. Our understanding of manhood and masculinity is that of men as tough, unemotional individuals who will not shy away from a fight and who have a duty to protect and provide. They can never be the vulnerable ones.

This image is everywhere for our young boys to aspire to. Popular culture feeds us the ultimate ‘men’s men’ such as Sylvester Stallone, Vin Diesel, 50 Cent, and even the fictional comic heroes, like Batman and Superman, are physically strong and violent individuals.

Manhood is so synonymous with violence that we never stop to ask ourselves what we are fed by the media. How often is the climatic, heroic moment in a film, the part in which one man fights and defeats another? And from being violently superior, that man consequently wins the affection of women and the admiration of his peers. We celebrate these moments rather than condemn the violence.

We have begun to openly acknowledge the damage that our narrow view of manhood has done to young men struggling with their sexuality. As a Social Worker I have worked with a young man whose greatest hurdle to admitting his homosexuality was how it would affect his identity as a male. “But I don’t like girly things” was his stock response for denying his feelings. Ignorant preconceptions state that in order to be a man, you must like women and in order to be gay, you must be camp. However the problem runs much deeper than this.

The conversation we are not having is why the majority of the world’s prison population is male or why the majority of all violent crimes, rapes and assaults are committed by men. We accept this as normal; as if this is what nature intended and there is no cure. Similarly, throughout the world, the number of men successfully committing suicide is dramatically higher than the number of women. In addition to this, a report from 2012 from the Office of National Statistics in the United Kingdom discovered that men were most likely to be homeless or suffer from substance misuse issues. There is something terrible plaguing our men and I do not believe we should simply stand by and claim ‘it is what it is’.

Some people are finally beginning the conversation about the crisis in masculinity. Jackson Katz, creator of Tough Guise, is a leading anti-violence educator in America. In the United Kingdom, the theatre production of Result, is using football to discuss mental health problems amongst young males. UK MP, Diane Abbot, also launched a campaign to tackle what she describes as the ‘Fight Club’ generation.

We need to stop allowing masculinity and feminity to be defined so rigidly. Siobhan Bligh succinctly stated: ‘What we must aim for is a healthy masculinity, in much the same way feminists would want women to have a healthy femininity. Whilst these ideals may be social constructions, they still guide people in the way they see themselves and others, and therefore it is imperative to promote a healthy gender culture for both men and women.’ (http://www.leftfootforward.org/2013/09/opinion-man-up-the-need-for-feminists-to-tackle-the-crisis-in-masculinity/)

If we as Social Workers are to claim to be defenders of social justice and equality then we cannot ignore this problem any longer. We must lobby nationally and internationally to tackle the media glorification of male violence, but also on an individual level, we should never allow boys to feel that power, aggression and stoicism are necessary parts of their development into manhood.

Finally, according to Time Magazine‘s “How To Shake Up Gender Norms“:

Will continuing to challenge gender norms and document their harmful impacts lead to their extinction — or evolution?

What determines your destiny? That’s a big question with what should be a complicated answer. But for many, the answer can be reduced to one word: anatomy. Freud’s assertion in 1924 that biology is the key determinant of gender identity, for instance, was for years a hegemonic idea in both law and culture.

Ever since Freud made this notion famous, critics have been objecting to body parts as central predictors of one’s professional and personal path. Many now believe that identity isn’t solely the domain of nature or nurture, but some combination of the two. Still, Freud’s theory isn’t yet dead; enduring gender norms show us that the bodies we’re born into still govern lives of women and men around the world.

But according to some recent research, its influence may be fading. In onenew study, a majority of millennials surveyed argued that gender shouldn’t define us the way it has historically, and individuals shouldn’t feel pressure to conform to traditional gender roles or behaviors. Enforcing norms can even have health risks, according to another study. Some women’s colleges are now reportedly rethinking their admissions policies to account for gender non-conforming students. And even President Obama is getting in on the norm-questioning trend: While sorting holiday gifts for kids at a Toys for Tots in December, the president decided to place sporting equipment in the box for girls. “I’m just trying to break down these gender stereotypes,” he said in a viral video.

But will continuing to challenge gender norms and document their harmful impacts lead to their extinction? To answer that question, we need to first consider another: What’s so bad about traditional gender norms and the way we currently categorize men and women?

For one thing, the way we categorize gender is far too facile, explained Alice Dreger, a leading historian of science and medicine, in a 2010 TED Talk. “We now know that sex is complicated enough that we have to admit nature doesn’t draw the line for us between male and female… we actually draw that line on nature,” she told the audience. “What we have is a sort of situation where the farther our science goes, the more we have to admit to ourselves that these categories that we thought of as stable anatomical categories that mapped very simply to stable identity categories are a lot more fuzzy than we thought.”

Fuzzy – and maybe not entirely real in the first place.

“If there’s a leading edge that is the future of gender, it’s going to be one that understands that gender is relative to context,” said author and gender theorist Kate Bornstein at a recent New America event, noting that geography, religion, and family attitudes are all contextual factors that can alter one’s perception of gender as a determinant of identity. As long as we hold onto the notion that gender is a constant, “we’ll keep doing things to keep the lie in place,” she said. But the fact is that “it doesn’t stand on its own, and is always relative to something.” Bornstein argues that the trick to stripping these norms of their harmful power is to mock and expose them for both their flimsiness and stringency.

Which is what photographer Sophia Wallace attempts with her work. Girls Will Be Bois, for example, is a documentary of female masculinity, featuring women who have traditionally “un-feminine” occupations – bus driver, boxer, basketball player – and a sartorial masculinity (baggy pants, and bare-chested). In Modern Dandy, Wallace switches up the way women and men are directed to look at the camera (or not) in photographs – whether to appear submissive (traditionally feminine) or dominant (traditionally masculine). Cliteracy, Wallace’s most recent work, uses imagery of the clitoris and text about female sexuality to illuminate a paradox: we’re obsessed with sexualizing female bodies, and yet the world is “illiterate when it comes to female sexuality.”

But it’s not as bad as it once was. Wallace thinks that photography is evolving – that some gender-focused imagery is less tinged with ignorance today. “There’s so much that I’ve seen that has been hopeful,” she said. “There are actually images of female masculinity, trans-men and trans-women now that didn’t exist when I was in my teens and early 20s. In other ways we have so far to go.”

Part of the struggle of relinquishing gender norms comes from an uncomfortable truth. “Men have everything to gain when we overthrow patriarchy…but they also have something to lose from giving up their traditional masculinity,” said Tavia Nyong’o, an associate professor of performance studies at NYU, emphasizing that male rights vary widely across race and class divisions and that white men have even more to lose than men of color. What do they lose, exactly? Privileges (the ability to open carry a gun and not be worried that they’ll be shot by the police, Nyong’o argued). Control – over political, economic and cultural domains. Access – to networks, jobs and economic opportunities. Put simply, they lose power.

“You walk out the door in the morning with a penis and your income is 20 percent higher on average for nothing that you did,” said Gary Barker, the international director of Promundo, an organization that engages men and boys around the world on issues of gender equality.

When asked whether the future of gender was evolution and extinction, Barker, Nyong’o, Wallace and Bornstein all said they hoped for extinction. But at the same time, each acknowledged how difficult that goal would be to achieve. Beyond the power dynamics, there’s a level of comfort in well-worn identities. “It’s easy to sit in these old roles that we’ve watched and to feel a certain comfort in their stability in a world that feels kind of hard to understand,” Barker said.

But change is not impossible. Barker advises demonstrating how our traditional version of masculinity may not actually be worth the fight. “Men who have more rigid views of what it means to be men are more likely to suicidal thoughts, more likely to be depressed, less likely to report they’re happy with life overall, less likely to take care of their health, more likely to own guns, the list goes on,” he said. “There is something toxic about this version of masculinity out there.”

Detoxing society requires ripping off a mask of sorts. “It’s about getting as many people as possible to have that Matrix moment, Barker said, when they realize, “wait – [masculinity] isn’t real. It’s all illusory, it’s all performance.”

 

The Best:

Rising, Hide and Seek, Suspicion, Poisoning the Well, Underground, Home, The Storm, The Eye, Before I Sleep, Letters from Pegasus, and The Siege I and II

Shadow

Quite quickly:

  • Rising begins the series, which had originally to have set on Earth after a possible ending of Stargate SG-1 through a feature film, however, the show was renewed and the story of the film became Lost City, as both shows ran concurrently, it was set into a new galaxy;
  • Hide and Seek is a more light-hearted episode with Dr. Rodney McKay using an Ancient shield emitter (that would not be seen again) against a shadow creature discovered inside Atlantis;
  • The story, Suspicion, seems eerily familiar to the relationship between the English and Native Americans and non-Indians in North America during the 17th century;
  • Poisoning the Well introduces the Hoffan drug, which would play an important role during the end of Season Four;
  • Underground features the first encounter with the Genii, who have some inspiration from the Nazi’s;
  • Home is an interesting episode as what we are to think is really Earth clearly couldn’t be given Gen. George Hammond retired after Stargate SG-1‘s Lost City, and Col. Jack O’Neill was promoted to General and Base Commander taking place this year;
  • The Storm and The Eye feature the return of the Genii, whom take over Atlantis at a weak moment when a massive storm is about to hit the city;
  • Before I Sleep introduces the two Ancients, Janus and Moros, who both would become very important within both series. The Time Jumper from Stargate SG-1‘s It’s Good To Be King and Moebius may have been built by Janus, and Moros would be revealed to be Merlin prominantly featured throughout Stargate SG-1‘s 9th and 10th seasons;
  • Letters from Pegasus is another very good clip-show episode worth watching;
  • The Siege, Part I and II culminate the first season, with the arrival of the arrogant-and-know-it-all Col. Dillon Everett who meets a fate worthy of his attitude, after briefly taking control of the Atlantis Expedition. Unfortunately, he didn’t die, but one character with whom I was smitten with, Dr. Peter Grodin, died during the first part of this story.

According to the GateWorld review of Rising, Parts I and II:

“Looks like we’re not getting out of this …”

After watching the never-ending stream of promos for Stargate Atlantis, I was intrigued about how this new Stargate SG-1 spin-off would turn out. Would the show be worthy of an extra hour of sitting down in front of the TV on Fridays? Would it live up to the Stargate name? After watching the two-part premiere, “Rising,” my answer for both of those questions is an emphatic yes!

The most important job of a pilot episode of any new show is to introduce new characters. In “Rising” we’re given a little taste of who these people are, but not their entire life history. In a genius move of casting, the producers chose Joe Flanigan (who might one day give Michael Shanks a run for his money as the “Young Lord of the Internet”) as Major John Sheppard. Eerily Jack-like in his speech and disregard for the chain of command, plus gifted with the gene of the Ancients, the Sheppard character is a good addition to the show. His greenness to the Stargate program serves as a help to those viewers who haven’t been watching SG-1.

Elizabeth Weir (version two, now played by Torri Higginson) grew on me more in “Rising” than in SG-1’s premiere, where she struck me as flat and annoying. Fortunately, her personality and determination to be a leader makes her seem less like a two-dimensional character and more like a person in Atlantis. I also took an immediate liking to Dr. Beckett, the good doctor from Scotland, both for his “It could be lunch-related” comment and for his panic over activating the drone. We also learn that Lt. Ford has had prior Stargate experience and that he’s a bit of a joker, but unfortunately not much else.

Rodney McKay is back, and while he’s still the same McKay we saw in “48 Hours” and “Redemption,” he holds his own as a scientist and a member of the team.

Teyla and her people have now come to live in Atlantis and can offer knowledge about the Wraith, but the creatures still remain mysterious. Unfortunately, both Teyla and the other Athosians creep into clichéd alien territory, where everything has a story from “the ancestors” and she can magically “feel” the Wraith, without explanation. But that may change as we learn more about them.

“Rising” has some nice overlap from SG-1, with both Jack and Daniel making important contributions to the new show. Daniel once again figures out the correct way to dial the gate and Jack helps convince Sheppard to go on the expedition. However, Atlantis is not Stargate: The Next Generation. The producers wisely made ties between the two shows, but did not make it a carbon copy of SG-1. They share a universe and a common story about the Ancients, but Atlantis must function entirely on its own. Even in the first episode, it has become something quite different than SG-1. The champagne from General O’Neill will probably be the last thing we’ll see from the Milky Way for some time.

The new bad guys of Atlantis are the Wraith. Unlike the Goa’uld, their evil comes from a biological imperative to eat. The Wraith don’t enslave humans, but suck the very life out of them with their slimy hands, treating us all as a snack. The female Wraith is creepy because of her foreboding insistence to Colonel Sumner that “all living things must eat.” The rest of the Wraith characters or their faceless guards are less impressive. If the Wraith are to succeed in being good antagonists to the Atlantis team — and simply be scary in general — they’ve got to be more than mindless life-suckers.

It was pretty obvious, even without reading spoilers ahead of time, that Colonel Sumner would be killed off in this first episode. He’s not compatible with the rest of the team, and seems to be there to introduce Sheppard’s aversion to the chain of command. Robert Patrick is a great actor, and I really hoped that I would have felt worse when the Wraith sucked him of his life — but the character didn’t have time to develop into anything more than a classic, two-dimensional military man.

Visually, “Rising” is stunning. From the set design to the direction to the amazing special effects shot of the city lifting out of the ocean, the visual effects and cinematography are consistently impressive. Director Martin Wood starts with off with beautiful wide shots of the helicopter over Antarctica, and finishes with the big fight scene between the puddle jumper and the Wraith darts. The shot of the drones circling towards the Wraith dart and exploding near the space-borne Stargate will absolutely become a classic shot for this series. The lighting was very well done, almost becoming a character itself. Atlantis out of the water is filmed as warm and glowing, while the Wraith planet is blue and cold.

We’ve come to expect these great visuals from this crew, but I was pleasantly surprised by the writing. Pilot episodes can often be filled with a lot of unnecessary material. While a lot of the dialogue is used for exposition, it’s set up well so the audience can learn as much as they can about these characters. The scene between Sheppard and Weir on the balcony not only shows what these characters believe, but how they both operate as leaders. This is a dynamic of which I want to see more. It’s also clear from “Rising” that Sheppard will be getting a good number of the one-liners (“Now I’m thinking about a nice turkey sandwich” or “I’m from a galaxy far, far away”).

As a pilot episode, “Rising” gives viewers a lot of hope for the series to come. The writing, acting, and direction were all solid and set up a universe ripe for exciting and interesting stories. If the creators of Atlantis can keep the overall quality up to this level, it’s going to be a great show.

According to the GateWorld review of Suspicion:

A good friend of mine — Kelly — has a saying, and she uses it whenever people are arguing and start to snap at each other: “Oh, snap!” It’s silly and stupid, but I found myself saying it over and over again while watching “Suspicion.” This is the kind of episode where the action takes place within the dialogue — and while that’s not all bad, there is an awful lot of dialogue.

At the beginning, Sergeant Bates comes off as overzealous but genuinely concerned about the safety of Atlantis. He is even a little more pragmatic than Sheppard and his “It’s not fair” attitude. As he directs his attention at Teyla, he becomes more and more unscrupulous about what he’s saying, to the point where he’s almost snarky towards his commanding officer when Teyla and Ford are left behind on a mission.

By the time Teyla is exonerated, I found myself with a great need to slap Bates — and I’m usually all for characters that have a different point of view than “our heroes.” I got the feeling that by the end of the episode, the writers wanted us to hate him — so mission accomplished there — but I’m not sure that having the chief of security as one of the show’s antagonists is a smart decision. He does manage, however, to hit on a sore spot with Sheppard on the “if Colonel Sumner was here” issue. I wonder how much of a problem that’s going to present with the other Air Force personnel.

Back when “Rising” first aired (remember the good old days, when we didn’t know anything?), I groaned about the scene where Sheppard finds Teyla’s necklace and puts it on her. Good for the Atlantis crew for having me take the bait. It’s nice to know that the necklace does serve a purpose other than to manufacture a moment of unresolved sexual tension between Teyla and Sheppard, and that further surprises may be in store.

What I love about Atlantis overall — and “Suspicion” is a great example of this — is the continuity from episode to episode. Ford brings that turkey sandwich that Sheppard wanted to the Puddle Jumper, but he still can’t name anything. Dr. Zelenka, everyone’s favorite Czech scientist, is back. And even Stackhouse (one of the Air Force pilots stuck inside the event horizon in “Thirty Eight Minutes”) gets a mention. Bringing back familiar themes and characters, even this early on in the show, makes this part of the Stargate universe seem even more real.

I’m still not impressed with the Wraith, though. Sometimes their dialogue is scarier than they are, and they are pretty easy to paralyze or kill. The Atlantis team hasn’t been at it that long, and they’ve already got one as a pet. Doesn’t sound like much of an enemy — but to be fair, we really haven’t seen a large number of them yet.

The one thing that bothered me in “Suspicion” was the scene where Teyla and Sheppard talk outside on the balcony. I’m assuming this is the same place that Weir and Sheppard argue in “Rising,” but in this scene, the background looks fake and the actors are lighted too harshly. This is an example of the visual effects team being a victim of their own standards, as I would have hardly noticed if the similar scene in “Rising” hadn’t looked so much better.

There’s also a lot of parallels made between Teyla and Weir as leaders — most disturbingly in the fact that they are both somewhat undermined by another strong personality. Halling is calling meetings and making decisions without telling Teyla, while Bates orders around McKay without the approval of Weir. What’s happening here? Elizabeth Weir and Teyla are born diplomats, and while that’s good for this expedition, the power vacuum created by Colonel Sumner’s death means heightened tension about who is really in charge of what in Atlantis.

“Suspicion” shows us that Atlantis is just not going to be about fighting the Wraith or getting home. There is as much dramatic tension in how these expedition members relate to each other as there is in catching the bad guy. The Atlantis team doesn’t automatically like each other or even trust each other, and that’s OK. It’s a mark of a good science fiction show to have real human conflict alongside exploring alien worlds and battling the enemy.

I just wish this episode hadn’t been 80 percent talking.

“Oh, snap,” says Kelly.

According to the GateWorld review of Poisoning the Well:

“Victory at all costs … never thought I’d disagree.”- Dr. Carson Beckett

Much like last week’s episode, “Poisoning the Well” is about what happens when the Atlantis team tries to help an alien civilization and instead wreaks havoc. The civilization is a little more advanced but the idea is the same, and I think “Poisoning the Well” carries it off a lot better.

“Poisoning the Well” is Damian Kindler’s first Atlantis script, and let me say this first: I usually really enjoy the episodes he writes (with the exception of “Space Race,” but let’s not talk about that … ever). So I was expecting something a little quirky and fun. The episode is more dramatic than I expected, but it’s put together very well.

How does “Poisoning the Well” work better than “Childhood’s End?” For one, the problem isn’t nicely resolved in the nick of time, and our heroes are partially to blame. I was more impressed with this episode because the story is told in the context of one character’s reaction. Teyla and Sheppard have their own parts in this episode with the stubborn chancellor, but it’s through Dr. Beckett that we most clearly “see” the human side of the Hoffan civilization.

A lot of the burden of this episode thus falls on Paul McGillion. He plays the concerns of a medical professional very well, and his acting is impressive. Hopefully, we’ll see more of this character, as he is already been in at least part of every episode. (Maybe it will be only a matter of time before he’s a full-fledged regular!)

Dr. Beckett’s attempt to increase the effectiveness of the serum, and the moral struggles of testing it on the sick man and their prisoner, provides a closer look into his character. It’s against everything he believes as a doctor. And his reaction is heartbreaking as his worst fears come to life when half of the inoculated population dies.

“Poisoning the Well” also questions what allegiance the humans in Atlantis have to rules and regulations on Earth. As Weir points out, their experiment on “Steve” would be forbidden by the Geneva Convention, but she decides to go ahead with the test anyway. Are the special circumstances enough to allow them to break international laws? And what about these laws applying to their international contingent? This is a problem that’s going to keep cropping up, and Weir’s decision sets an important precedent.

Strangely enough, the main comic relief in this episode is Steve. Yes, I’m talking about the creepy Wraith that’s been held prisoner in Atlantis for the past two episodes. Of course, Steve himself isn’t the funny one — it’s the fact that they’re calling a Wraith by such a name. I’m glad the sarcastic edge hasn’t left Atlantis, as it’s one of the reasons I was really drawn to the Stargate universe in the first place. Plus, we see another parallel between this show and Star Trek: Beckett is a cross between Dr. McCoy and Scotty.

There’s just enough of this dry humor to balance out a very serious episode.

Again, it’s the moral ambiguity that makes this episode so interesting, especially in the case of Steve. Early in the episode, Sheppard mentions that he doesn’t pity Steve. But after he’s hurt by the serum and Sheppard calls for help, Steve tells Sheppard not to pity him. It feels very strange for the Wraith to echo Sheppard’s own words from earlier in the episode.

Another highlight of this episode is the direction, although it is subtle enough to not be distracting. The scenes with Sheppard and Steve framed with the bars of both the Atlantis holding area and the jail cell on Hoff, so it really looks like it’s coming from one or another’s point of view. However, with the great close up shots, I could have done without the overly long montage sequence. It doesn’t show us anything that few lines of exposition couldn’t, and I honestly have no idea what amount of time it was supposed to represent. Weeks? Months? Enough time for Sheppard to grow stubble?

As the team walks away from the Hoffan chancellor at the end of the episode, there is a sense of dramatic finality that wasn’t there in “Childhood’s End.” It’s an unhappy ending, but Beckett’s last line packs a punch about not only the Hoffans, but the Atlantis team as well.

According to the GateWorld review of Home:

When I read the little blurb about this week’s episode of Atlantis, it seemed like a straight-forward plot: the Atlantis team has found a way to get back to Earth. But because we know this is Stargate, and because this is sci-fi, it’s never that simple. Something is terribly wrong, and this episode doesn’t attempt to hide that fact early on. I had high expectations about how “Home” was going to play out — and these expectations were met, but in an entirely different way.

Before things start getting weird, the team members start thinking about home. Sheppard and Weir back each other up as leaders, McKay rambles about how he’s invaluable everywhere, Teyla wants to see Earth, and Ford just misses his grandma. This sets up each character’s mindset about why they should or shouldn’t go if given the chance, and sets up what they imagine is happening when they get back on Earth.

I love how each character’s clothing signifies whose hallucination the viewer is in. In McKay’s reality, he’s wearing casual clothes while Weir is wearing a pantsuit, while in her own reality she’s just wearing a t-shirt and he appears as more of a scientist, wearing a lab coat. On a second viewing, I realized Weir and Sheppard both “see” Hammond in full dress uniform, but McKay doesn’t. Of course, McKay has known Hammond longer, and worked with him as the leader of the S.G.C.

The “realities” are set up in a strange way. Weir and McKay think they are the only ones who go through the gate (and, at least for a while, share the same reality). So do Teyla and Sheppard. But how does Ford fit in all of this? The imaginary version of himself shows up in Sheppard’s reality, while he sees McKay in the lab coat. Otherwise, Ford gets left out on any real story again (and can barely be seen in the scene where “mist Hammond” explains to the team what’s really going on).

And who’s playing the imaginary version of people in each reality? More mist people? Maybe these questions aren’t that important to the whole story, but it’s confusing when you start to thinking about it.

Again, John Sheppard has a natural ability to take control of alien technology without knowing it. He’s the first to realize something’s not quite right when he creates a reality with an amazing house and friends back from the dead. It’s interesting to see how each team member is fooled by the mist, but come to realize what’s wrong in their own ways. Weir’s realization dawns on her through the actions of others (especially imaginary McKay’s creepy little smile). And McKay doesn’t realize something’s out of the ordinary when his neighbor has suddenly taken an interest in him, but when science fails him.

The part I enjoyed the most about this episode was the directing and editing. The conversation that happens (but doesn’t really happen) between McKay and Weir towards the end of the episode is complicated, but done well. I especially liked the quick pans and cuts between each reality. There’s another shot when McKay is waking up from his nap where the camera mimics his movements as he wakes up that’s very disorienting, much like this episode. A lot of thought went into “faking out” the viewer on a visual level, too.

Why was General Hammond there in all the versions of the S.G.C.? The Atlantis expedition members know that O’Neill is in charge of Stargate Command now — he was there when they left. Might have that been their first tip-off? It would make sense that Richard Dean Anderson’s lighter schedule would also prevent him from filming on Atlantis, but even the mist people don’t attempt an explanation.

The idea for “Home” may have been done many times before in sci-fi (and I think that’s the point of the mention of The Outer Limits), but this episode still manages to be more original by showing the differences between each team member’s version of a welcome home. “Home” is one of those episodes that later on you’ll forget about it, and then remember how cool it was. Atlantis again manages to tie itself to SG-1, without becoming a carbon copy of the show.

According to the GateWorld review of The Eye:

“Just in time to see how this ends?”

At the beginning of “The Storm,” Major Sheppard and Teyla go out on mission in the Puddle Jumper and return with bad news: two massive hurricanes have converged into a storm that will threaten both the mainland and Atlantis. Surprisingly, McKay, for once, doesn’t have a plan. Cue ominous music.

“The Storm” feels like what it’s supposed to be: one half of a big story. The ramp-up to the Genii taking control of Atlantis takes up about two-thirds of the episode, so there is a lot of talk and very little action. The story is not boring though, as the constant threatening presence of the super hurricane keeps the team on a deadline. There is even a classic cliffhanger: lives in immediate danger and then — fade to black and “To Be Continued!” While it’s hard to believe that Dr. Weir is any serious danger, we’re still unsure of how McKay will manage to save the city while being a hostage, what Sheppard’s next move will be, and if Teyla, Ford, and Beckett will be able to get there in time.

“The Eye” is the better episode, but the entire two-parter works better when regarded as the single story that it is. When Sheppard thinks that Genii Commander Kolya has killed Weir, he stops thinking in terms of how to save the city and more about how he can do the most damage to the Genii’s plans. Sheppard’s attempt to destroy the Genii adds the most action to episode.

The revenge / counter-revenge sentiment between the two is strong, especially when Sheppard tells Teyla that Kolya would kill both Weir and McKay to punish him. It’s the conflict between Kolya and Sheppard that keeps the episode going and prevents it from turning into a bunch of scenes about Weir and McKay stalling for time.

Writer Martin Gero tries to flesh out the Genii (previously introduced in”Underground”) as a formidable enemy, but the results are mixed. The training fight between Kolya, Sora, and some random Genii seemed pointless until I realized that it was foreshadowing Sora’s fight with Teyla. However, the best Genii scene in both episodes is when Kolya makes the point about the arrogance of those from Earth to assume their right over Atlantis. As he says, they’re not even from the same galaxy — the Genii are as equal heirs to the Ancient city as the Atlantis expedition.

Sora, on the other hand, comes off more as a brat than an enemy when talking to Weir about the revenge she’ll take out on Teyla, and when she refuses to listen to Kolya and goes to exact it.

I missed the first airing of “Underground,” so I felt a little behind on the Genii abilities and motives, but what I’ve seen is a needed addition to the Atlantis universe. They’re an enemy in which the team members can see themselves, an enemy that isn’t pure evil like the Wraith. There is also the question about the morality of Sheppard killing over 50 Genii. Sora herself qualifies the body count with the fact that Sheppard was “defending his home and his people, like [Kolya] would.” This is what makes the Genii such a necessary component of the how: We’d be bored awfully fast with one enemy, who while really cool-looking, is really one-dimensional.

There are a lot of scenes in both episodes that tell us a lot about how the team interaction has grown in the short time that they’ve been in Atlantis. Sheppard plays hardball with the Genii, and kills two of Kolya’s men when he finds out he’s been set up. That steely resolve dissolves when Kolya points the gun at Weir. Sheppard, ever the man of military training, still “blinks” and offers Kolya a Jumper.

McKay steps in front of a gun to save Weir and then remembers that he’s not that brave. The team members may not always get along (Beckett doesn’t like the idea of being ordered around by military, even when the situation is at its most tense), but both episodes show how much they’ve put their safety and trust in each other.

The two-parter also marks the return of two of my favorite recurring characters: Drs. Beckett and Zelenka. The news that Paul McGillion will be a regular next season is exciting, as Dr. Beckett already feels like a full member of the team, especially in these episodes. Zelenka’s banter with McKay adds needed comic relief to the anxiety of “The Storm.”

The visuals of the city besieged by the hurricane culminates at the end of “The Eye” with the wave approaching Atlantis, as McKay raises the shield at just the right moment (although an unfortunate coincidence of recent events). The images of the waves and the city attacked by the storm are stunning for a television show.

Here’s the problem I have every time I start a review: I’m looking hard for things to criticize so as to make the review balanced, but I feel like I’m nitpicking. But the pure entertainment value and writing of Stargate Atlantis continues to operate at an incredibly high level. After only a half of a season, the cast and crew have gotten me involved with the story and interested in these characters. As with “Rising,” these episodes feel less like two separate episodes and more like one solid story. I’m looking forward to the second half of Atlantis‘s first season!

According to the GateWorld review of Before I Sleep:

I’m all for doing a cautious and calm review. Most of the time. There are other times when the episode calls that I fangirl over it like a 13-year-old at a NSYNC concert. “Before I Sleep” is such an episode.

Granted, I went into this episode with incredibly high expectations. Time travel and alternate reality stories are big on my list, and even without spoilers, the story and the way it could play out sounded just so damn cool. That said, “Before I Sleep” fulfilled my expectations, albeit in a completely different way than I expected.

“Before I Sleep” is written by first time Stargate writer Carl Binder, and the way the story is set up and then slowly revealed is the main strength of the episode. As elder Elizabeth Weir tells her version of the team’s arrival in the lost city in “Rising,” there are flashbacks. I dreaded for a moment that the episode was relying on clips, until the realization that this flashback was very much different than the series premiere we know.

The “Rising” clips and the new flashbacks blend together very well, presenting a universe only slightly different … but with disastrous results. It’s interesting to note that in both realities, Colonel Sumner dies before anyone else.

What makes “Before I Sleep” an excellent episode, however, is not only the writing, but the complete package. Every scene is visually interesting and telling in someway, such as the shot of the older Weir in the background when Elizabeth is talking about what information this Ancient woman can give them, and the transition centered around her eyes in between the older Weir telling the story and the flashback of her waking up in Atlantis.

It must have also been a challenge — even for veteran Stargate director Andy Mikita — to work the visual tricks that were need when Torri Higginson was playing both Weirs in the same scene. It’s done subtlety enough so that the viewer isn’t distracted from what’s going on.

Another element of the episode that added up was the makeup used on Torri Higginson to create the alternate timeline Weir. Again, it’s well done enough as to not distract us from the story, and adds to what our own Elizabeth Weir is thinking and feeling about her own mortality. Of course, the makeup would mean nothing if the actress herself didn’t pull off playing two “different” characters with such success.

The focus of “Before I Sleep” is twofold, introducing a new layer to theAtlantis story and to Elizabeth Weir as a character. The combination of the larger story and the personal makes the episode all the more powerful. The episode is smartly book-ended by Weir standing on the balcony. The focus is clearly on her. The older Weir has some sage advice for the younger: Trust yourself. She is burdened with leading an expedition in another galaxy, cut off from Earth, where not everyone gets along. To the viewer, we’ve seen a lot of her as a strong leader, but not so much of her personal side. Fleshing out her character is this manner is an odd way to go about it, but it works out well. It’s both similar to and different from Sam’s reaction to talking to the alternate version of herself in SG-1‘s “Point of View.”

And the older Weir is at peace with her choice because she knows she has given her younger, different self a chance at exploring the Pegasus Galaxy. The younger Weir realizes the chance they’ve all been given, and at the end, without much fuss in the script, is trying to not be so hard on herself.

“Before I Sleep” leaves viewers with only a few questions. How was it that Weir was the only one to be saved after the Puddle Jumper was shot down into the ocean? Maybe she was the only one who survived the crash in the first place, but that past is kind of glossed over. And more interestingly, how did Sheppard know it was her birthday?

For an idea that manages to kill off every single character in a single episode, it’s
possibly the best episode of the season.

 

The Worst:

The Defiant One, Hot Zone, and Sanctuary

Briefly:

  • Hot Zone, getting it’s name from Richard Preston’s bestseller The Hot Zone and his New York Times article, “Crisis in the Hot Zone,”
  • Stories aside, Sanctuary and The Defiant One represent the media depiction of what I have spoken above about the depiction Dr. Kate Heightmeyer. While the Wraith depicted is incredibly masculine and physically tough to accomplish it’s goals (like Col. John Sheppard or Ronon Dex), Chaya Sar is depicted as quite passive and uses mental abilities (and passive skills) to accomplish her goals (like Dr. Elizabeth Weir or Dr. Kate Heightmeyer).

According to the GateWorld review of The Defiant One:

“The Defiant One” is an episode of instincts. While it features more of the scientists instead of the main team, there’s very little techno-babble and a lot of action. In the teaser we meet Drs. Gaul and Abrams, who have been chosen to accompany McKay and Sheppard to a weapons platform at the other end of Atlantis’s solar system. They’re not exactly field-ready, but they found the platform, so they end up on the mission.

Abrams has an instinct that walking into the Wraith ship might be trouble, but he’s overruled by the excitement of the other three. The theme continues with Dr. Weir deciding to send out a second team even before the deadline, just because she feels like something is wrong. Then Sheppard has to react quickly when he fights the Wraith to gain back control of the Puddle Jumper. In every part of “The Defiant One,” instincts are proven right.

As a result, “The Defiant One” is a very heavy action episode. Sheppard gets to show off his military training and manages to destroy the Wraith in a very — dare I say it — Macgyver-esque way. When interviewed, actor Joe Flanigan mentioned that the action scenes were the only time he ever gets a workout, and he definitely does in this episode. While Sheppard doesn’t fight the Wraith directly until the very end of the episode, there’s a lot of running around in between.

From what little we know of him when Gaul is introduced, he sounds like someone very familiar. He works mainly on computer models, he isn’t trained for going into the field, and he’s arrogant about his intelligence. I was slightly disappointed, thinking that we were going to be subjected to McKay 2.0. But as Gaul says himself, McKay has changed. He wants in the fight, and aside from everything else going on, it’s as an important episode for him as “Hide and Seek.” There’s a definite change, but he’s not quite up to Daniel Jackson levels of a scientist kicking ass — yet. One of the funniest moments in the episode is McKay asking the Major, “What do I do now?” when he finishes firing the bullets in his gun.

The dark scenery inside the Wraith ship is similar to the darker parts of this episode. By the nature of their characters, viewers know that time is short for Gaul and Abrams. But how Gaul dies — from his own bullet, instead of living out a half-life that the Wraith leaves him — was a surprise. The look of horror on McKay’s face is all the viewer needs to see to imagine what’s there.

It might sound strange to praise a science fiction show for being realistic. But the unsettling question surrounding Gaul’s decision is that, faced with the same predicament, how would we react? There’s been an unwritten rule for too long that everyone on the protagonist side has to die heroically, and that rule has broken somewhat with Gaul.

A scary detail about the durability of the Wraith drives this episode. The Wraith survives 10,000 years, extreme weather, many gunshots, and a land mine. The creatures seem to be bent on survival no matter what. How else would you explain a Wraith living for 10,000 years off the bodies of his own race, on the off chance that he’ll be found? The fact that no one can simply outlast the Wraith in any circumstance makes them that much more frightening. While it’s the same actor that played previous Wraith characters — like the famous “Steve” — I liked how this Wraith character seemed rougher, more primal than the others.

Finally, I was surprised that this week’s planet wasn’t standard Vancouver-area fare. It’s probably the same area where most of the desert-planet episodes of SG-1 were filmed, but it was shot well enough that I wasn’t thinking things like: “Hey, that’s where they buried Sha’re!”

“The Defiant One” is a great action episode, but with the character growth and tough questions there’s a lot more going on here than simply that.

According to the GateWorld review of Hot Zone:

“Hot Zone” opens up with a big nod to continuity following “The Storm”as McKay leads a team to survey the damage the massive hurricane did to one part of the city. All seems to be going well (even a compliment from McKay) until they find two of the team members, inexplicably seeing things and dying right in front of their eyes. Maybe the title of the episode gives away too much, but I can already tell there are going to be haz-mat suits involved.

Fearing the worst, Weir asks the city residents to quarantine themselves. Nobody is to move until they’ve figured out what’s happened. Honestly, I wonder how well kept-to those orders would be (disregarding Sheppard and Teyla, which is an entirely different story). Major Sheppard is practicing with Teyla the fine art of stick fighting, but he forgot to bring his radio, so Weir orders him to stay where he is. Sheppard, never one for a chain of command in extreme circumstances (Peterson is overriding the locks protecting the main section of the city), orders Bates to open the gym doors.

But while Sheppard’s place in the chain of command is above Bates, it’s not above Weir.

Last week, I talked about the fact that not every team member is super-heroic is something different from the norm. But here, the anti-heroics seem to take a turn for the downright cowardly when Peterson makes a run for it away from the lab.

Weir is disturbed by the fact that Bates followed Sheppard’s order over her own — and she should be. Bates tries to apologize after the fact, but she responds with, “Doesn’t really matter now, does it?”

Are Sheppard’s actions necessary? Part of me wants to say yes, that if he hadn’t had made that first step of breaking the quarantine more people might have died. He does save them in the end with the ingenious naquadah reactor solution, but the city showed that it could protect itself (and eventually would have protected the core of the city had Peterson gotten any further). While Sheppard does a lot to help the situation, half of it is in response to something that happened because of his initial action.

That argument from hindsight is ultimately a wash, and we are back to the problem with the expedition’s chain of command.

Without a distinction of who is in charge, especially in Atlantis’s situation, who ends up making the decisions is incredibly important. Add in the fact that the expedition doesn’t necessary play by Earth’s rules (breaking the Geneva Convention in “Poisoning the Well,” for example), and what happens is all that more disturbing. When Weir asks Sheppard at the end of the episode if he trusts her, his reply is not all that certain. This lack of trust between the two leaders creates a serious problem in this episode, and opens up the possibility for more internal problems in Atlantis in the future.

While “Hot Zone” is, in some ways, another week, another brush with death for McKay, the scene where he thinks he is about to die is one of the best of the episode. For any other character, a goodbye soliloquy would have been cheesy; but David Hewlett pulls it off with McKay’s last minute fabrications surrounding his death. Certain doom sure does manifest itself in strange ways with this character.

We also get the first look at the Atlantis dining hall. This addition to the set is great, although if we get to see the dining hall, it makes me wonder: Where are the bathrooms? (I ask in complete seriousness.)

While McKay figures out that the virus is nanite-based, and doesn’t kill anyone with the Ancient gene, there is still a lost of mystery surrounding the virus. The illusions bear a resemblance to the images the Wraith fooled team members into seeing (“Rising, Part 2”), but the Wraith are ruled out at the end of the episode as the virus’s creators.

This is fine, but the element that is driving this episode — the mystery of the virus — seems to just be dropped. This opens the possibility for yet another race of aliens to contend with, although something tells me that we won’t be seeing the makers of the nanite virus anytime soon.

“Hot Zone” is a good episode, but the only thing that really stands out are the burgeoning issues of trust and chain of command in Atlantis. Maybe the creators of the virus will be randomly introduced two seasons from now, but for “Hot Zone,” the details of the contagion are dropped at the very end of the episode to make way for the conflict between the characters. Not that that’s a bad thing, but I felt as if the virus story was suddenly tossed aside, with only a half-promise that there might be some answers later on.

 

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The next in best and worst is Stargate: Universe Season 2.

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