Stargate Atlantis 2.13 – Critical Mass

See, there’s a reason I’m supposed to get a screenshot right after we watch something together, even if I am lazy and don’t feel like writing anything. We watched “Critical Mass” three days ago, and I said to myself “there’s the pic for the blog post,” and then I forgot what it was. So here’s Jaime Ray Newman in her second, and, annoyingly, last appearance in the series as Lt. Cadman, along with Torri Higginson. We met her in “Duet” earlier in this season. I really would have liked it if they’d have kept her around as they did Kavan Smith’s character; it provides a nicer feel for the program when there are lots and lots of recognizable characters.

That said, MGM honestly did a really good job keeping recurring players around for precisely that reason, including three in this story I’ve never mentioned before. The plot concerns the Trust, that Earthbound conspiracy from SG-1 most recently seen in “Ex Deus Machina”, learning about the potential threats in the Pegasus Galaxy and planting a bomb in Atlantis. So apart from Bill Dow and Beau Bridges from SG-1 getting some screen time, there’s Agent Barrett, the NID guy who’s always discreetly crushing on Carter, and Dr. Novak, the hiccupping engineer on the flying battleship crew, and Cavanaugh, the ponytailed nerd who hates Weir and probably votes Republican while telling everybody he’s a Libertarian.

Actually, Cavanaugh’s kind of interesting because it’s so rare in this series – or really, I think, any action-adventure series with a big chain-of-command structure and a deep bench of recurring players – to have any character who is ostensibly one of the good guys who constantly tries to undermine the person in charge. I mean, you just can’t imagine anybody on the Enterprise writing formal complaints to the Federation ombudsman about Captain Kirk. It’s almost a shame that they made this character such a creepy, one-note stereotype. He’s probably publishing screeds about objectivity in gaming journalism when he’s not sending powerpoints to the SGC about all the times McKay was mean to him.

Favorite moment for our son: the episode is topped and tailed by Zelenka, who I’ve also never mentioned even though he’s in quite a lot of the episodes, leaving and returning from a mission that he did not want. Despite hating children, he had to go on a repair mission to the planet of all the kids back in season one, and they made a coloring book out of his face. He comes back all painted with his hair in woven knots and our boy laughed himself hoarse.

Stargate Atlantis 2.10-11 – The Lost Boys / The Hive

We looked at SG-1‘s big midseason two-parter last weekend, and now it’s time for Atlantis‘s turn. Although… I did not realize when I put our viewing order together that the Sci-Fi Channel made a curious and interesting change to way that they broadcast the two shows after they ran the tenth episode of each. Both shows took a hiatus starting in September 2005, but Atlantis came back with its eleventh episode in November while SG-1 stayed on the bench for an additional six weeks, until January 2006. I’m not going to change the way we’re watching them, and will just continue alternating them. More fun that way.

Anyway, this was Rainbow Sun Francks’ final appearance in the series. Since we last saw him in “Runner”, Lt. Ford put a gang together and has been executing commando raids on the Wraith, killing as many as they can and stealing their enzyme. We chose to pause part two and explain to our son what going cold turkey meant, since the enzyme is insanely addictive, and the baddies aren’t going to let their prisoners have more.

Despite the heavy drugs metaphor and some ugly moments from some of the cast coming down from the stuff, our kid really enjoyed this one. McKay is at his most stubborn and ridiculous, there’s all kinds of fighting, and big space battles. The story ends with the Wraith getting increasingly paranoid and territorial, pitting one Hive against another. Two more Hive ships are destroyed thanks to their work. Ford apparently doesn’t make it out alive, but that’s seven down and fifty-three to go, but who’s counting, other than me?

Stargate Atlantis 2.9 – Aurora

Still doing virtual reality episodes in 2005? This one has a pretty good premise, though: our heroes find a long-lost ship used by the Ancients more than 10,000 years ago. Its crew are all in stasis pods and don’t know that they’re in a constant virtual environment loop while their bodies have been slowly aging away and are past the point where they can be revived safely. Sheppard and McKay get some good, healthy jabs at each other after the events of “Trinity”, and our son was amused by Teyla demonstrating that she has overheard enough technobabble to stall on McKay’s behalf. Not an outstanding hour, but it’s simple and entertaining.

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 2.6 – Trinity

Our kid figured correctly that he’d enjoy this episode. It begins with the discovery of dozens of wrecked ships in space, debris from a battle waged above a planet ten thousand years before. Beneath it is a superweapon that does not work correctly, a power source that could change everything, and all the fuel that Rodney McKay’s ego needs to start making terrible mistakes. Eventually the weapon starts firing again, but it can’t be shut down, and it ends with a big bang, satisfying our son completely.

Although this is the main plot of the episode, it’s by no means the more interesting of the two, which is curious because I don’t remember this installment at all. Obviously some things are going to fall out of my crowded and occasionally broken brain, like entire recurring characters in SG-1, to make room for critical things like all the random appearances by British character actors in ITC shows, but this story reveals a very important point about Ronon’s character that I got wrong when I wrote about him earlier this month. He’s not the last survivor of his planet, Sateda, although there’s one fewer before this episode ends. There are ex-military and civilians scattered around the Pegasus Galaxy, and at least one story down the line revolves around this in a major way.

I honestly didn’t remember a thing about any of the Satedans, which is just fine. It was extremely entertaining watching Ronon and Teyla’s subplot unfold and not have a clue where it was going. Just like the first time!

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 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 1.19, 1.20, 2.1 – The Siege (parts one, two, and three)

To be honest, my favorite installments of Stargate are the ones that do something weird and different and occasionally make fun of the proceedings. “Window of Opportunity” and “The Other Guys” of course we’ve seen and loved. “200” and the magnificent final episode we’ll get to down the line. The all-action high-stakes stories are often good, and sometimes very good, but they don’t quite engage me the same way. That said, I certainly appreciate it when the situation gets so absurdly out of control that our heroes end up blowing up a sun.

But “The Siege” is absolutely as good as adventure television ever gets. This is a story where everything in season one builds effortlessly into the ugly situation that our heroes are in. There are natural callbacks to several previous episodes as they look for some way out of this. Three Wraith “hive ships” are on the way; they have no defense, no way to power the shield, and no way to evacuate. They get a reprieve at the beginning of part two and the situation gets worse. They get another reprieve at the beginning of part three and the situation gets worse still. Even watched over three nights, it’s still exhausting. It’s really great. I genuinely can’t imagine anybody working through the highs and lows of season one grumbling that this wasn’t a satisfying conclusion. And the kid was in heaven. He said all the occasional “fluffy” episodes were just fine because they did something huge and “not fluffy” as this.

Most interestingly, it establishes that Atlantis is going to forge a different path than SG-1 has done up to this point and seriously mess with the status quo and the cast every year. There will be times I’ll be really disappointed with this, but this story sees Rainbow Sun Francks leave the cast as his character becomes a rogue agent, and another recurring character, Peter Grodin, who’d been in half the episodes, killed off. Three new characters will join the cast for year two, and we meet the first of them, Colonel Steven Caldwell, in part three. He’s played by Mitch Pileggi, who had been rolling his eyes dealing with Mulder and Scully’s latest shenanigans on The X Files for many years.

So year one ends with Atlantis no longer lost, the shield ready to be raised, the Wraith lost a good chunk of their fleet, and a new way back and forth to Earth. I can’t help but slightly regret that it went this way; it felt a little more desperate when the expedition was completely cut off, but there are still many more great stories to come. But first we’ll check in on how SG-1 weathered its great big change to its status quo and cast…