Stargate Atlantis 2.7 and 2.8 – Instinct and Conversion

I like how MGM and the Sci-Fi Channel were always looking to cast actors from fantasy and SF TV shows, mainly the Treks and Farscape, to wring a little publicity from them and try to get a few thousand more viewers to stay home on Friday evenings and give Stargate a try. And so one day in August 2005, a few thousand people who enjoyed watching Firefly on DVD, probably more than the ones who watched it when it was first broadcast, tuned in to see actress Jewel Staite looking not a darn thing like Kaylee.

I kid, I kid, and for all I know, the Sci-Fi Channel didn’t say a word about Staite being in this episode, but it amuses me to imagine somebody in their promotion team seeing shots of Staite in her Wraith makeup and realizing that everybody who fell in love with Kaylee in her pink frilly “Shindig” dress would be getting something very different here.

Anyway, this is not as much a two-parter as it is a case of everything that happens in “Instinct” fueling the events of the next episode. Part one is a splendid horror movie where a monster in the woods attacks the people of a small village three or four times a year, and it turns out a young female Wraith who was adopted as an infant refugee is living in an old mine shaft by a fledgling scientists who says that it cannot be the girl; he has developed a chemical that stops her from needing to feed on humans. But it turns out he’s wrong, everything gets worse, and she infects Sheppard, who, in part two, starts mutating himself, so everybody needs to find a cure. This half is mainly studio-bound and doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before, although there is an interesting callback to the previous season’s “Thirty-Eight Minutes” as well as the two most obvious Redshirts who ever Redshirted. They might as well have named the two characters “Expendable” and “Lucky.”

Stargate Atlantis 2.5 – Condemned

Don’t feel like typing much tonight. “Condemned” is a fine episode, and it’s the first one where Ronon goes off as part of Sheppard’s away team. They find another technologically advanced planet which has made a deal with the devil. The Stargate on this world is on a big island, and they decided that’s where they’ll dump all of their civilization’s dangerous criminals. That way the Wraith will periodically cull the small population near the gate and leave the rest of them alone. This is one of those stories where nothing goes right for anybody, and it’s pretty entertaining watching the situation get worse and worse.

Stargate Atlantis 2.4 – Duet

“Duet” belongs to a long tradition of Stargate episodes where alien tech goes wrong and actors get to stretch a little while they’ve been bodyswapped or deaged or, in this case, had other people’s consciousness dropped in their body like a time-share. Previous SG-1 examples include “Legacy” and “Fragile Balance”. This time, David Hewlett gets to stretch and pretend he’s a mischievous woman who enjoys working out before bed and sleeping nude, then waking up as himself, very embarrassed and very, very sore.

The story’s very funny and has some great moments, not least of which is McKay’s date with a botanist, during which he manages to have two Cyrano wingmen to assist him. We all enjoyed it, but I do think they missed a little opportunity. We could have enjoyed this episode even more if we knew who the other consciousness in McKay’s brain was. This is Jaime Ray Newman’s first appearance as Lt. Laura Caldwell. If we had gotten to know the character first, then David Hewlett’s impersonation would surely have been even funnier. Weirdly, Caldwell only appears in the show just one more time, although she’s featured in quite a few of the companion novels, and gets both a detailed backstory and an eventual promotion to captain.

Stargate Atlantis 2.3 – Runner

A big transition episode, “Runner” was mostly filmed on location in a forest that serves as a planet with a badly depleted ozone layer and dangerous solar radiation. This is the last appearance for original cast member Rainbow Sun Francks for a little while. He’ll appear just twice more this season. His place in Atlantis’s military hierarchy is filled by an interesting choice: Kavan Smith as Major Evan Lorne. This is a character we actually met before, briefly, in a nice bit of continuity. He was introduced in the season seven SG-1 story “Enemy Mine” about two years previously.

But the big addition is, of course, future heartthrob Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex, who’ll be a regular cast member through the end of the series. I think that his planet may have been the most technologically advanced in the Pegasus galaxy, meaning that it was the biggest threat to the Wraith. He may be the only survivor. He kind of fills the position on the team that Wolverine does in the X-Men: the fighter who gets results by ignoring orders. Of the two, I kind of like Lorne a little better because anybody who has to deal with Dr. McKay’s mouth has my sympathy, but Ronon is fun, too. A few years later, when I read that Momoa had been cast as Aquaman, I said that was the most interesting thing that has ever happened to Aquaman. I’ve never actually seen Momoa in the role, because I’m still not interested in Aquaman, but I can believe he’s pretty entertaining as the character.

Stargate SG-1 7.7 – Enemy Mine

This morning’s episode is a splendid one done mostly on location, with Richard Dean Anderson only present for a portion of it. During seasons seven and eight, he really started reducing his Stargate obligations. His father passed away during the production of the previous episode, and he eventually decided to move back to Los Angeles to spend more time with his daughter. Amanda Tapping didn’t join the location shoot at all, and Steven Williams, returning for a short visit as General Vidrine, is also present in studio only. But we do get a new character, Kavan Smith as Major Evan Lorne. He’ll show up again in a couple of years in Atlantis‘s second season, where he’ll become a recurring player.

And speaking of recurring, this episode features the return of Chaka, last seen two years previously. I guess they couldn’t have done an episode with the Unas in season six, when Daniel wasn’t around, because nobody other than Daniel can be bothered to learn their language and customs. The plot this time is that an SGC mining operation on a planet thought to be abandoned and uninhabited, after three months of limited results, hits paydirt when they encroach on the territory of what turns out to be a very, very large tribe of Unas.

So a lot of this episode is Michael Shanks talking in a made-up language as he and Chaka, who agreed to come help and meet Unas from another world, negotiate the humans’ right to be here, meaning we’ve seen this before in seasons four and five. But it’s given an extra frisson and urgency because the Pentagon wants these resources at any cost, and this tribe isn’t going to budge without a lot of bloodshed. Fascinatingly, it’s revealed that the military’s flying battleship is still parked on the planet where it went down last season, which is a great little added detail!

While some of this story feels like business as usual, it’s still a treat to see unfold, it comes to an unexpected climax, and we all enjoyed it very much. Sadly, the character of Chaka isn’t used again after this one. As with the previous episode, though, I feel like there’s a really good story that must start up after the credits roll. The new peace on this planet to get the mining going seems like a fragile one, which is going to occupy a great deal of Daniel’s time for a few weeks, and part of me just wants to see the USAF personnel taking language classes and trading Earth trinkets, chocolate bars, and lighters with the Unas.