Stargate Atlantis 1.7 – Poisoning the Well

This one ticked a lot of boxes. It’s a really intelligent hour. It’s also really talky and is built around ethical debates, so I was afraid that our son wouldn’t enjoy it, but he really dug into the quandary. It certainly helps that he is ten, and we’re all waiting for him to become eligible for the vaccine. When the Sci-Fi Channel first showed this in the summer of 2004, it wasn’t with the specter of a pandemic hanging over all its viewers’ heads. But here’s a world where the Wraith are a metaphor for a plague, and the population is desperately working on a cure. Of course it resonates.

I really liked something a little outside that metaphor, though. There is some really terrific misdirection in this episode. It’s set on a planet called Hoff, which has advanced to about the point of Earth in the 1910s. The last time the Wraith came through for their culling, the locals were on the brink of a massive medical discovery: a way to change their blood proteins so the Wraith cannot feed on them anymore. The Hoffans have restarted their studies from carefully-hidden archives of the last discoveries. Our heroes have to ask whether this is a good idea, because there’s a reasonable fear the Wraith will just annihilate any population they can’t feed upon, but they bring in their medical experts to help.

This builds to what expectations of this kind of TV, as well as the pacing and the camerawork tell us will be a failure: the first human test. Our heroes bring in “Steve,” the Wraith that they captured two episodes previously, and the Hoffans have a young man with a terminal illness who volunteers his life. And everything the director and the actors do is just building up to that man lying dead at the triumphant Wraith’s feet. And instead it’s a success. Darnedest thing.

But then there’s a side effect. And then a worse one.

All along, Dr. Beckett and a local scientist and the planet/city’s governor-dude have been debating morals and ethics and the need for caution and care, but this society has devoted all of its research to this miracle drug and doesn’t want to take things slowly. It reminded me of a similar situation in SG-1 season six, but things get a lot worse in this one. It boils down to how terrible a side effect a population is willing to tolerate, and what sacrifice they can find palatable.

So yes, this certainly resonated. At the time I’m writing this, poison control departments in nearby Mississippi are reporting that people are making themselves sick with a livestock dewormer called ivermectin rather than taking the COVID-19 vaccine. Earth clearly wouldn’t make the same decision that Hoff does here, which I’m sure the producers would have predicted in 2004, leaving this a powerful metaphor against making the wrong choices. I’m not so sure they would have predicted the ivermectin angle, though.

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