Stargate Atlantis 2.2 – The Intruder

So the new norm on Atlantis is that now they have a power source, they can gate back to Earth immediately, but returning to Atlantis takes 18 days on one of the two flying battleships. Some of the story is told in flashback, where Beau Bridges gets a short scene as General Landry, Garwin Sanford makes a final appearance as the fella Elizabeth left behind, and where Sheppard gets an offscreen promotion to lieutenant colonel. The rest of it is onboard the battleship dealing with a computer virus. You would have thought this was old hat when SG-1 did a computer virus story five years previously, but here we are in 2005 still doing one. It does climax with some space combat that had our kid really excited, so points for that at least.

Stargate Atlantis 1.9 – Home

Unfortunately, the “you think you’ve gone home but you really haven’t” trope is one of those that fantasy and SF TV just can’t resist, so this one is a big ball of nothing. We saw this before on one of my least favorite Farscape episodes, although strangely I’m also reminded that the terrible nineties Land of the Lost did it and it was better than their average. Or maybe I just liked seeing the tyrannosaur in a suburb.

Anyway, the kid saw through this immediately because Don S. Davis is back in a guest role and General Hammond is in charge of the SGC. Garwin Sanford also gets to return as an imaginary version of Weir’s fiancé. There are Monty Python and Outer Limits references, and Sheppard’s deliberately over-the-top bachelor pad has a giant poster of Johnny Cash on the wall. Unfortunately this story gives away far too many clues that something’s wrong even if you hadn’t tuned in to the SG-1 that aired one hour before this and saw that General O’Neill is in charge of the SGC.

Stargate Atlantis 1.1 – Rising (part one)

I’ve teased about how the home media presentation of the previous two SG-1 stories didn’t match the broadcast. This one does – it aired as a two-hour film and is a two-hour film on the DVD – and we’re watching it in two parts. I contradict myself and contain multiples.

Anyway, at last, we’re at the launch of the mostly superb spinoff of SG-1. Stargate Atlantis will do a few things that really disappointed me, but for the most part, this is a solid and very entertaining series about being lost in another galaxy. In no time at all, they’ll reconnect with Earth, but the show starts with the explorers going into this knowing that they will be cut off, and things get worse immediately. Much of Atlantis is a search for power and resources to keep the city going, while also dealing with a new gang of evil aliens. The first hour is mostly setup, but it was setup that kept our son riveted. The city itself promises all kinds of interesting treasures and secrets, and they don’t get to spend as much time there as they like, because a new power source needs to be found immediately, so it’s out through the Stargate to the first new planet.

So the regular cast in season one includes familiar faces Torri Higginson and David Hewlett as their characters Elizabeth Weir and Rodney McKay, who we actually hadn’t seen on SG-1 in two years, along with Joe Flanigan and Rainbow Sun Francks as the two military regulars, and Rachel Luttrell, who plays Teyla, a friendly human from the first planet they visit, who will move back to Atlantis with them. Recurring characters introduced here: Paul McGillion as Dr. Carson Beckett, who becomes a brilliant double-act with McKay, and Christopher Heyerdahl as one of Teyla’s people. Interestingly, Heyerdahl will get to play two different recurring characters on the show.

As for guests, Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Shanks are here to provide continuity with the main show – several months seem to separate “Lost City,” “New Order,” and this – Robert Patrick will turn out to be a surprise casualty in part two, and Garwin Sanford has a tiny role as Dr. Weir’s fiancé back on Earth. Sanford had played one of Earth’s allies in SG-1 and was killed off back in season five.

Part one was the setup, and as I say, our son liked it. Part two will dig into the alien monsters, and I hope that he likes to hate them as well. I’ll tell you who he thought the baddies of this show were going to be after we watch the second half tomorrow.

Stargate SG-1 5.9 – Between Two Fires

No exaggeration, I really, really like this episode a lot, even if it does have the same name as a Paul Young record for some reason and now I’ve got the title track stuck in my head. We go back to the planet of Tollana, and the campus of Simon Fraser University, for what turns out to be the final time, so this is Garwin Sanford’s last appearance as Carter’s admirer-from-space Narim. The Tollan have always been depicted as fiercely isolationist, but for some reason, they’ve decided to negotiate with Earth. It’s a deal that could bring them some easily-mined minerals, and could bring Earth some powerful new weapons to defend us from any attacks from space… and it doesn’t make any sense whatever. The Tollan are hiding something, and our heroes have to figure out what it is, quickly.

So one reason I like this one is that it toys with the idea of introducing some major game-changing technology to Earth. If the United States gets an ion cannon, it’s not going to be a secret. This is precisely why the Tollan are isolationist in the first place, because centuries ago, they did interfere in the advancement of a more primitive planet, and watched them destroy themselves. And the other big reason I like this one is that the conspiracy of what the Tollan are doing is incredibly well done. It’s about as taut a political thriller as a fanciful program like this can do in an hour, with another culture breaking all the rules for what turns out to be something really unpleasant: they’re ready to sacrifice Earth to save their own skins.

Of course, their pal Narim is on their side and horrified, but there’s not a lot he can do when Tanith, the mid-level villain played by Peter Wingfield and introduced last season, shows up. Turns out he did the old sci-fi baddie trick of using an escape pod when we last saw him, and he’s found a new lord and master, and has done what none of his other rogues’ gallery has ever been able to manage and put the frighteners into the Tollan. Our son enjoyed this one despite it being a lot more political than action-packed, and speculated – bafflingly and wrongly – that Tanith was working for Apophis. No, we reminded him, Apophis is dead (we promise), and whoever he’s working for now, he won’t name.

The other thing that I really like is that the episode ends with the revelation that Tanith and his boss wipe out the Tollan entirely. This is a pretty big and daring game-changer because these guys have been one of Earth’s most powerful allies, and even though the show is quiet about it, this is honestly the biggest defeat that the heroes have suffered in the war against the Goa’uld. I do kind of wish they’d have talked about this a little bit more. You get so used to the good guys making advances and taking major villains off the table that a setback this enormous needs a little more room to breathe.

Stargate SG-1 3.15 – Pretense

“Pretense” is one of the reasons we watched a bunch of season one episodes I didn’t enjoy, because by this point, the show can be very dense with continuity. The Tollan, the Nox, and, briefly, the Tok’ra are all involved in this story about Skaara, who’d been kidnapped in episode one. We meet up with Narim, played again by Garwin Sanford, and he’s still got a crush on Carter, who doesn’t feel that she can reciprocate yet because of the days she spent with Jolinar living inside her. The Nox’s illusion power is vitally important to the plot, the villain Heru’ur, who we haven’t seen all season, loses two motherships in combat, and a new-to-the-show System Lord, Zipacna, loses one as well.

And yet it all works, and all those mostly dull building blocks from years one and two make this gel into a mostly solid hour built around an intergalactic trial held on the campus of Simon Fraser University, which regularly subs as outer space cities in sci-fi programs made in western Canada. Mostly solid. Given that Jack can certainly be a little too jovial when a situation is serious, this should have been one of those occasions where Richard Dean Anderson played the role of Skaara’s legal advocate as an all-business military hardass. The stakes were personal and deadly serious and he didn’t need to be the comic foil.

And I am amazed by a huge plot hole. The Tollan, obnoxiously arrogant as ever, have built a device that allows both a Goa’uld parasite and its host body equal opportunities for control and sentience, and the opposing counsel, Zipacna, is nevertheless convinced that the human host is lying; hosts are effectively dead and have no memory of what the aliens within them do. So Jack and Daniel should have suggested strapping one of those devices on him. That’d settle the argument in a huge hurry.

It’s still a solid and interesting hour and it’s rewarding to see it all come together so well, and the kid was thrilled with the climax, which not only had lots of explosions but a very solid win for the good guys. Zipacna is unfortunately as one-note as System Lords ever are, but they found a great actor to play him. Kevin Durand, who was Jason Woodrue in last year’s ill-fated Swamp Thing series, is a huge guy who moves with slick confidence and a cruel smile. Since Zipacna and Heru’ur and Apophis and Cronus are all pretty much identikit villains, I’d have rather they focused future stories on the baddie who looks like there’s a lot more going on than he’s telling. Unfortunately, we’ll only see him a couple of times more.

Stargate SG-1 1.16 – Enigma

Shows like this are as good as their villains, and “Enigma” introduces just about the most repulsive and infuriating villain this show comes up with. Going back to what I said a few chapters back about loathing our country’s military-industrial complex, Col. Harry Maybourne, played by Tom McBeath, makes his first of about a dozen appearances in this story, using his position in military intelligence to undermine the Stargate Program, ignore everybody’s wisdom and experience, and try to acquire alien technology at any cost. I really wish that the series never took this direction. McBeath will later get a couple of chances to make his character less repugnant and more human, but it never really works with me, and the program as a whole would be more satisfying to me without him in it.

I also picked this one because it introduces an important new alien race, and their leader is the episode’s other central antagonist. These are the Tollan, and they’re centuries ahead of humanity in their understanding of science. Unfortunately, their people’s first contact with another species led to that species blowing themselves up with their new toys, so they have become strict isolationists and refuse to share knowledge or tech with primitives like us anymore. Unfortunately, ten of them got caught up in a volcanic eruption on their dying planet and can’t get to their new homeworld, which is outside the Stargate system and accessible only by spacecraft. So they’re refugees on Earth, and their leader is a deeply unpleasant and obstinate jerk who stinks up every scene he’s in.

But since the Tollan will become a more interesting bunch once he’s out of the way, and central to some key episodes, we needed to watch this one. Garwin Sanford starts a recurring part here as a Tollan called Namin, and this time it’s Carter’s turn to share some lip time with somebody who wants to know more about this Earth thing called kissing. Well, the Tollan know it already. Our cultures share a few oddball customs. Eventually one of the Nox, the fairie folk that we met in episode seven, comes to Earth and brings this mess to a conclusion.

That said, there’s a much, much more interesting story here that we did not see. One of SG-1’s pals, from an episode that we skipped, happily comes to Earth, the first representative of his people to do so, to offer the Tollan refuge on their world. It’s staged well, with the USAF members in formal dress, and the pal thanks General Hammond for allowing him to visit. The Tollan leader is a snide and dismissive jerk because the pal’s people are even more primitive than Earth, shutting down that possibility. But I’d like to think that the rest of the pal’s visit went really well after the embarrassing awkwardness of the meeting, and the pal got to visit the Denver Art Museum, and the Botanic Garden, and either see a show at Red Rocks or a Nuggets game. Maybe get to know more about this Colorado thing called Coors.