Sunday, September 30, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Irresponsible"

Oh, no--not Lucius Lavin again! As if “Irresistible” was not bad enough. The effort by Sga to create its own Harry Mud has not gone so well, but I will confess the second effort is better than the first. That is not say much, however. “Irresistible” set the bar pitifully low.

The AR-1 team and Beckett travel to a planet to investigate rumors of a man with super powers having successfully fought off the Wraith. They arrive to discover it is lucius, who has an Ancient personal shield like Rodney used in “Hide and Seek.” The Wraith story was bogus, but Lucius had been an heroic incident, so the people are as hooked on him as the others before. Lucius secretly hires so genii mercenaries to “attack” the village so he can fight them off, but they double cross him. It is actually a plot by Kolya to lure Sheppard there.

If you do not see the climactic twist of Sheppard secretly using the personal shield with it suffering a short out before confronting Kolya, then you are not cynical enough. I do think the final showdown between Sheppard and Kolya playing out as an homage to A Fist Full of Dollars is cool, however. I can be an occasional hypocrite in my reactions to originality, right? If you are going to steal, steal from the greats.

It is strange to end an episode with a wild west style showdown if it is going to be set in what looks like a hamlet set in the European Low Countries. Surely with Vancouver’s large television filming industry there is some locations for filming westerns. The whole situation is out of place an claustrophobic given the style and small size of the shooing location. No pun intended with the word choice.

A few things do feel off outside of Lucius being such an awful character. Beckett tags along with AR-1 for no stated reason. I like Beckett, but it is strange for him to go along on this mission, but no others. The personal shield does not work the same as it did on Rodney. Lucius can eat and drink. He even gets a foot massage. If the shiel conforms to t a user, Sheppard should not have been able to operate it. I suppose these things are not a big deal unless you are a continuity nitpicker, but I am one. So There.

It is funny Batman is referenced several times throughout “Irresponsible” as Rodney’s favorite superhero considering how the plot closely resembles the classic story “Must There be a Superman?” by Elliot S! Maggin. (The exclamation mark is not a typo. Maggin is a shameless self-promoter. I am pretty sure he kept it during his brief run for congress in 2006. He is a Democrat, of course.) The story involves superman being lectured by the Guardians of the Universe over his heroics stunting the social growth o humanity. After suffering self-doubts about his purpose, he comes to realize some things are a job for Superman, but he has to be careful to not become a crutch for humanity. Lucius does not exactly learn that lesson, but he does encourage the townspeople to not rely on him just tis once. But, hey--Lucius is no Superman, right?

“Irresponsible” is a better episode than “Irresistible,” but that is manly because the plot does not rely as heavily on Lucius. I still think he is an obnoxious character so over the top as to not be amusing at all. It would appear I am not the only one to think so. Kucius never returns again. The return of Kolya makes the episode enjoyable. I am sorry to see the character meet his end so soon. He and Sheppard should have had a chance to build up even more animosity for an even larger showdown somewhere along the line. Oh, well. “Irresponsible” has a few strikes against it, but it is still moderately enjoyable. You cannot miss Kolya’s death, at any rate.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Echoes"

“Echoes” is a whale-centric episode. Knowing that, I braced myself for a heavy, Hollywood style environmental message. Thankfully, a preachy environmental message never comes. The episode is a fairly straightforward Rodent has to solve an impossible problem bottle show. It is nothing special, but not a waste of time, either.

Many of those whale creatures inhabiting the ocean around Atlantis begin converging on the city. With their appearance, our heroes begin experiencing hallucinations of Lanteans in the midst of dealing with a disaster of some sort in the distant past. As people begin falling deathly ill, Rodney figures out the whales are causing these hallucinations as a warning the sun is about to suffer a coronal mass ejection the same as it did 15,00years ago that will destroy the ecosystem. The Lanteans had three ZPM to power an extended ship. Our heroes have to improvise by enhancing the Daedalus shields to eflect the coronal mass ejection. The plan works, the planet is saved, and the whales are grateful.

The routine plot is elevated by a lot of humor, some o which might be a little too much, and some shoc value disturbing hallucinations. I am not going to be too much of a stick in the mud about all the jokes, but the bit about various characters having their ear drums punctured so they alternate between yelling at each other and mocking each other knowing they cannot be heard runs way too long. As for the disturbing hallucinations, the severely burned Lantean pilot who shows up periodically screaming in pain is extremely jarring.

Yes, there is a whale penis joke. Torri Higginson is involved. No wonder she decides to leave the series.

There are shipper moments galore. Sheppard gently carries weir to the infirmary after she passes out. Ronon keeps a bedside vigil for Teyla. Rodney names his favorite whale after Samantha Carter. Okay, that one is a combination of sweet and a little pathetic. You may judge in which proportion.

“Echoes” is pretty much bottle show filler, but it does not feel as small and budget-saving as many bottle shows do because of the emphasis on each character doing what he or she does best. I am kind of curious why the Lanteans never took further precautions before submerging Atlantis. Surely they had to figure the coronal mass ejection would happen again and destroy everything. You would think a heads up might have been in order. You know--a little Post It note on a bathroom mirror somewhere at least?

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, September 28, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"The Return, Part II"

“The Return, Part II” is the first episode of the third season’s back half. It is also the conclusion for the story begun the midseason finale. Chalk it up as an odd duck that is strangely satisfying in spite of time spent on questionable elements and a hurried, but happy ending.

The beginning of the episode finds Jack and Woolsey hiding in a part of Atlantis where the sensors are not working, so they are safe from the Asurans. Safe until Jack informs Woolsey Daedalus has orders to nuke the city in order to prevent a potential invasion of earth. It is just then that our heroes arrive to radio jack and Woolsey to sit tight while they put a plan to reprogram the Asurans to disintegrate into action, punctuated by a large explosion to cover the Puddle Jumper’s getaway.

Sounds pretty cool, no? a few things are strange. First, part of the plan is to find Niam floating out in space in order to use him to spread the new programming. The plan to use him fails early on, so it is peculiar so much time is spent on the plot element. Second, the Puddle Jumper return to Atlantis bia a submerged jumper bay. They need Jack to swim into the flooded control room in order to open the hanger bay door. This takes up half an act of Jack swimming around in a set underwater. The scene reminded me of the long sequence in the James Bond film For Your Eyes Only in which Bond and his Bond Beauty are dragged through underwater ruins for far longer than reasonable because the set was expensive, so the producers needed to get their money’s worth out of it. I do not know how much of the scene was done by Richard Dean Anderson, but the guy put himself through the ringer for one who wanted a lighter filming schedule. Finally, with the Niam plot having failed, our heroes run a con job to trick the asurans into thinking they are going to use C$ to blow up the shields protecting the city when in fact they have booby trapped the shields to emit the new programming which destroys all the Asurans at once. With the villains disposed of, our heroes move back in as if nothing ever happened.

Do not get me wrong. I enjoy “The Return, Part II.” it essential took the same plot as the first season’s take over of Atlantis by the Genii and made it different. That time around, the action was a straightforward, men on a mission shoot all the bad guys to save the day. The powers that be could not do the same here, and I am curious if some of the more awkward elements were rewrites in order to avoid a repeat. The underwater sequence with Jack, while nifty and quietly laden with humor as he takes three tries to get the door open, goes on way too long. The final plot, too, involves rolling back tp revious scenes and replaying them the way things actually went instead of the con job we thought was the true plan. Sure, it is cool to see we have been as hoodwinked as the Asurans, but reusing the same scenes we just saw with only a bit more elaboration gives the impression the powers that be ran out of material and just decided to repeat what they had already filmed with some stuff from the cutting room floor added in. The bottom line is I get the impression, right or wrong, the first part was written without a conclusion in mind, so the final product is struggling to resolve the cliffhanger.

What is the point of having the Genii show up to recruit Ronon and Teyla when they do not appear in this episode. The meeting is pointless filler since nothing comes out of it. Perhaps it is foreshadowing of something later, but still…a head scratching point to say the least. I was expecting the Genii to show up as backup against the Asurans. The whole affair reminds me of Anton Chekhov’s adage that if a gun is introduced in the first act, someone needs to have fired it by the end of the second or the writers has failed his task.

Anyone else find it bitterly funny the Lanteans are wiped out because of Rodney rewriting the Asuran program, but no one cares? They are all just glad to have Atlantis back. So glad, no one is going to becourtmartialedl or disobeying orders. Or arming Weir with a gun one assumes she has no ability to use. At the very least, some one should pay for the sorry fashion sense of the Asurans. They are wearing tan jump suit with red, ribbed padding on the abdomen that looks like they got off the operating table before a gastro-intestinal surgeon could so them back up. Like the Daleks, the Asurans have no concept of elegance.

The final verdict is “The Return, Part Ii” falls short of high expectations, but it still entertaining. It has peculiar elements that defy logic and padded scenes that elicit suspicions the powers that be were not sure where they were going with the story. Maybe they were hoping featuring Jack prominently would make up for it. They are right, in a lot of ways. The conclusion does not quite measure up to the first part, but I like it enough.

Rating; *** (out of 5)

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"The Return, Part I"

"The Return, Part I” wears two significant hats. One, it serves as the midseason finale for the third season. As such, it has to set up an exciting cliffhanger to compel the audience to come back for more. Two, if you count the pilot as two episodes, it is the halfway point for the entire series. Reaching the halfway point already does not say much other than we are rolling right along with these reviews. More relevant is the special guest stars, emotional moments, and a tense cliffhanger that make “The Return, Part I” one of the best episodes this season.

Our heroes are finally ready to test the McKay-Carter Intergalactic Gate Bridge which combines 34 stargates into a long chain which will cut travel from Atlantis to earth down to thirty minutes. While conducting the successful test, Daedalus encounters an Ancient with which they make contact. The Lanteans on board make their return to Atlantis, then promptly give our heroes 48 hours to leave. Only Jack, who has shown up as the representative for Earth, and Woolsey, who will be the International Oversight Committee ambassador, will remain.

Even though I know the departure will not be permanent, I still feel the air of sadness as our heroes are forced to leave Atlantis, splitting up under the likelihood many will never see each other, much less work together, again. It should not be a big secret to anyone who has read my reviews, but I am more much emotionally attached to Stargate SG-1. I am quite surprised our heroes splitting up feels like such a loss.

What really nails it is how the characters appear lost without each other. Sheppard leads an SG team, but finds it boring. Rodney is at Area 51. He amits in a phone call he misses Sheppard, but Sheppard hangs up rather than admit he feels the same way about Rodney. Beckett becomes the SGC doctor, which seems to suit him fine, but he becomes the one to pull Weir out of her hermitage by coaxing her to come to dinner with the rest of the main cast.

There is something interesting I have noticed about Torri Higginson’s portrayal of Weir in moments when she is suffering negative emotions. Weir tucks her knees under her chin and then locks her arms around her legs. It is a defensive, fetal position--a psychological method of protecting herself. The key point about the way she sits while under stress is that she has only done it out of uniform. She has always been in civilian clothes and once a hospital gown. Weir will sit that way in front of all sorts of different people she ought to want to project strength towards, so I doubt she avoids it while wearing her uniform in order to appear strong. Rather, the uniform provides her with the strength to deal with problems stoically. The dependency on her uniform might explain why she feels so weak without it here. It my even explain why she has shifted from a pacifist to a combat ready decision maker since becoming head of the Atlantis expedition.

The reunion dinner is spoile by news the Asurans have attacked Atlantis. Since Rodney rewrote their programming in the last encounter, the prohibition against harming Ancients is gone. Landry wants to know the best way to nuke the city before the Asurans decide to attack Earth, but our heroes decide to go rogue, reunite in Pegasus with Ronon and Teyla, and execute a plot to rewrite the Asuran programming again, thereby saving Atlantis while rescuing jack and Woolsey. Thus we have the to be continued in order to see if our heroes can pull out that off. Oh, and the Genii attempt to recruit ronon and Teyla, so I assume they will show up as reinforcements next episode.

“The Return, Part I” is really good for its personal touches and exciting cliffhanger. The return of the Ancients and the Asurans is done so quickly and in the background, the audience hardly has time to absorb it all. I suppose that is fortunate, since the asurans choosing a time shortly after the Ancients move back in to attack is a convenient plot point. Unless there is something else about it revealed in part two. I feel pangs of sorrow at our heroes got split up and a h8ll yeah notion when they all unquestionably decide to go rogue and save Atlantis. I am anxious to find out how they pull it off. The job of the first part of a multipart episode is to do just that, so mission accomplished. I rate “The Return, Part I’ as just behind “Sateda” as the best of the season so far.

Oh, and yes--Weir becomes more assertive when she dons a black ops military uniform. I tell you, she becomes a new person in uniform. It gives her the backbone to make tough decisions.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Phantoms"

“Phantoms” is a nifty action piece with a few nods to “found footage” horror films. While the episode offers our first look at Sheppard’s black mark in his Afghanistan service record, there is not much monumental otherwise. It is a solid, entertaining action movie that allows Beckett to get more welcome field experience. For a regular cast member, Paul McGillon appears awfully irregularly.

When a team exploring a supposedly uninhabited planet fails to repot back in time, AR-1 and Beckett are sent to retrieve them. The recovery team discovers the corpses of a number of Genii who apparently killed each other month prior, several corpses from the missing team along with found video footage from the missing team requesting a rescue by Prometheus, and a bunker which houses a working Wraith generator. Sheppard decides to father up the dead and head back to Atlantis to investigate thins later, but the stargate has been booby trapped to explode. Now figuring that shutting off the Wraith device is their only way to call for help, they head back to the bunker.

Our heroes then begin feeling the effects of the Wraith device the generator is powering. It creates hallucinations those affected cannot distinguish from reality. Ronon suddenly believes he is chasing a Wraith through the forest. Sheppard believes he is back in Afghanistan saving a downed helicopter pilot from the Taliban. In reality, Ronon is hunting Sheppard, who believes the wounded Teyla is his air Force buddy and Ronon is a Taliban. Teyla is unaffected by the hallucination, presumably because of her Wraith gene, but still caught in the middle of the seppard as Wraith/Ronon as Taliban battle. Rodney imagines the Wraith evice is about to exploe. The creepiest of them all is Beckett. He continues to work on a wounded marine with the assistance of another Marine who is already dead. The sequence is short, but incredibly macabre.

Teyla save everyone by convincing Sheppard to hide her from Ronon/Taliban in the bunker where se can turn the device off. All parties return to normal, but not before Sheppard shoots Ronon and Rodney. Superficially, of course. He is in a esperate survival situation, but still does not shoot to kill. That is what happens when main cast members are the target.

The quick nod to Stargate SG-1 . The found footage from the missing team shows they believed each other to be Kill warriors. They were calling upon Prometheus for a rescue. They must have fought against Anubis’ forces at some point. When Sheppard encounters the crazed commanding officer, he believes Sheppard to be a Kull and uses a grenade as a suicide weapon in the hopes of taking out Sheppard/Kull as well in another gruesome scene.

I have to go back to that superficial wounds for main character bit for a moment. The phenomena is particularly blatant here. The Dial Home Device is rigged by the missing team to explode upon dialing. Sheppard dials the stargate, but is able to avoid being wouned in either the explosion or by flying shrapnel. But the two marines standing further away or both wounded, one fatally. When the CO blows himself up, Sheppard avoids any injury as well even though he can only jump a few feet away from the explosion with no cover to protect himself. It is also difficult to believe he would not shoot to kill Taliban soldiers stalking him when he is certain they would not return the courtesy. I understand the Taliban are actually Ronon an Rodney and they are main characters alon with Sheppard, so they cannot be permanently maimed or killed, but sometimes the situations they are put in stretch credibility when they escape from them relatively unscathed, especially wen the minor guest stars alongside them are picke off easily.

“Phantoms” is a notch above your average filler episode. The action is engaging. The hallucinations are a definite highlight. More specifically, it is neat how scenes switch from different characters’ perspective. We are in Afghanistan with Sheppard about to shoot a Taliban, then it is back to the forest where Ronon is about to kill a Wraith and then to Teyla who realizes Sheppard and Ronon are about to mistakenly shoot each other. The quick cuts are highly effective. They are well done especially considering how confusing the technique can be if done too quickly. Our heroes are impossibly lucky to escape with only the minor injuries they suffer, but overlook that and "Phantoms” is a good, mini-action films.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"McKay and Mrs. Miller

“McKay and Mrs. Miller” makes good on David Hewlett’s to have his real sister, Kate, play Rodney’s sister on the series. The episode also is, intentionally or not-- a nod to Ace Rimmer from Red Dwarf as a more charismatic version of an obnoxious character for a parallel reality makes an appearance. The overall plot of two universes nearly being destroyed takes a backseat to some sweet sibling moments. That is quite an accomplishment when placed in perspective.

Rodney’s sister, Jeanie Miller, is a brilliant theoretical physicist who gave up her career for a husband and daughter. One days, she has a flash of inspiration watching her daughter play and comes up with some calculation that, once published, attract the attention of Sam. She wants Jeanie to work for Stargate Command, but Jeanie resents the idea of commercial use for theoretical physics and refuses to work for the US military. She is definitely Canadian. Sam asks Rodney to return to Earth to change Jeanie’s mind. He is reluctant to bring her in because they are estranged, but after he tricks her into beaming aboard Daedalus, her interest is pique.

The two begin work on a project to draw unlimited energy from a parallel universe under the assumption the odds of the universe being inhabited are infinitesimal. Unfortunately, the other universe is inhabited an they send their version of Rodney, whom we shall call Rod, to stop the experiment before rod’s universe is destroyed.

Rod is the complete opposite of Rodney. He is humble about his intelligence, friendly, and fun. He hits it off with everyone, but especially Jeanie. Rodney quickly feels alienated as rod takes his plsce professionally and personally. It reaches the point that when a plan is devised to save both universes by sending Rod back to his, roney cannot believe he wants to go because of what a fit he is in the ’real” universe. Rod goes anyway, claiming that his universe is ot perfect, but it is his. The ZPM is completely depleted in the effort to stop the experiment and ensure rod gets home.

The best part of the episode is Rodney does not have a sitcom-esque complete turn around because of what he learns from rod. He does resolve his differences with jeanie, but it is an a sweetly awkward manner that shows he is trying, but does not really know how. He is aided along by Sheppard, who secretly shows her the recording Rodney made to her back in “Letters from Pegasus.” when it is all said and done, Rodney uncharacteristically joins AR-1 hanging out in the mess hall where they tell him, perhaps not in all honesty, they did not like Rod all that much, but Rodney is welcome to hang out with them.

Everyone acts rather casual about the universe possibly being destroyed, but aside from that, “McKay and Mrs. Miller” is a great episode. I have complained in the past that Rodney-centric episodes often go too far over the top is order to place the character in comedic situations. I feared with an Ace Rimmer Rodney running around, this episode might be the worst yet. Instead, it is one of the best. The powers that be dialed it back from absurd comey to a personal story about Rodney’s fumbling at maintaining relationships, but his family and friends stick with him anyway. Oh, and two universes are nearly destroyed. But the latter is not as big a deal as the former.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, September 24, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Common Ground"

I have learned to be wary of a script from a first time Stargate franchise writer. Freelancers have always seemed to not get the characters quite right on top of their episodes generally serving as filler. Ken Cuperus has broken out of the mold with a story that makes the Wraith a more sympathetic villain. It is a change that needed to be done in consideration of not only the stereotypical beyond redemption animals they have become, but how callously how heroes have dealt with many moral issues surrounding them.

Kolya secretly tricks the AR-1 team into an ambush where upon he captures Sheppard. He plans to hold Sheppard hostage in exchange for Ladon The scheme is a way of cleaning up the problem of Robert Davi being unable to reprise the role of Kolya for last season’s ”Coup D’etat.” Originally, Kolya was supposed to murder Cowen and take over the Genii, but the mastermind was switched to Ladon instead when Davi bowed out. Admittedly, the fix is odd--kolya was planning a coup, but ladon decided he would make a better leader and ditched his boss to conduct one himself--but what can you do?

Sheppard is imprisoned along with a Wraith dubbed Todd. Every three hours, Kolya sends a live transmission to Atlantis which shows Todd feeding on Sheppard with the threat this will continue until ladon is handed over. No one on Atlantis cares what happens to Ladon, but they maintain both the never negotiate with terrorists policy and Sheppard’s orders to maintain the alliance with the Genii. Aside from a failed attempt to find the safe house where Sheppard is being held, our heroes cannot do much of anything but watch as Sheppard rapidly ages with each feeding.

Slowly but surely, Sheppard and tod form an uneasy alliance to facilitate their own escape. They are certainly still enemies who do not trust one another, but they come to a tense understanding that each does what they need to do in order to survive. They successfully escape and are recovered by a rescue team from Atlantis after it is strongly implied Ladon tortures the safe house location out of two traitors still loyal to Kolya.

We have a Star Trek: Voyager Magic Reset Button for Sheppard’s rapid aging as his life force is drawn from him throughout the episode. Todd saps the life out of two Genii soldiers, then transfers those lives into Sheppard when he appears to be somewhere in his nineties. Kudos to hiring a shorter, skinnier actor than joe Flanigan to portray Sheppard at his oldest to emphasize is depletion after several feedings. I do not think Sheppard’s restoration is a cop out. Todd says extended life is the reward for trusted human slaves, so there is the explanation for why some humans ally with the Wraith . It also demonstrates Todd is willing to go an extra step to honor his agreement to cooperate with Sheppard in their escape if they can go their separate ways unharmed afterwards. Todd even acts with surprise when Sheppard goes through with his end of the bargain, implying Todd restored his life without expecting a reward for doing so.

I am not sure how well the background plot stands up to scurrility. Kolya has two loyalists in Ladon’s inner circle who arrange for the ambush in which Sheppard is captured. But if Kolya has men in Ladon’s inner circle, why not have them kidnap or kill Ladon kolya goes so far as to tell Sheppard his kidnapping is nothing personal. He would just as soon have Rodney as a prisoner as anyone else. If revenge against Atlantis is not a factor, why go to all the trouble to involve them? It does not make any sense to go to all this trouble when Kolya already has people in ladon’s inner circle. Kolya has demonstrated strong strategic instincts. It does not feel right for him to devise such a wacky, unnecessarily complicated plan.

The strangeness of Kolya’s plot can be overlooked. It is merely an excuse to ho our heroes involved in the matter, and that has to be done somehow. Broadening the Wraith as characters is worth any questionable steps to get us there. I am even excusing the Magic Reset Button even though I figure the Wraith ability to restore sapped life will never be mentioned again, much less used to save anyone. Yikes1 I am feeling uncharacteristically generous today.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"The Real World"

“The Real World” is a Weir-centric direct sequel to ”Progeny.” The general feel of the episode is a surrealistic nightmare in weir’s mind, but one that does not tip its hand too soon. A highlight is the prominence of Richard Dean Anderson as Jack, albeit as an hallucination.

The episode begins with Weir waking up in a mental hospital to be told she is being treated for temporary psychosis after being involved in a car accident which killed her fiance, Simon. Shortly after his funeral, she suffered a complete mental breakdown. She is told that her experiences with Atlantis over the last two years are a fantasy created by her mind in order to cope. There is no Atlantis or even a Stargate program.

It is obvious to the audience that something is up, particularly when jack shows up to confirm there is no stargate, but the story continues to go along as if the last two seasons have been a creation of weir’s mind for another three acts. I am oddly impressed by this. Knowing full well what weir is experiencing is an hallucination, the writers are iven the opportunity to go completely insane with imagery and circumstances, yet resists until nearly the final act Weir, dying in the Atlantis infirmary, takes matters into her own hands in the struggle against the illusionary world in which she is trapped. I like that the writers took a realistic approach rather than go into fevered dream mode too early. The temptation had to be strong.

The situation is that Weir has been infected by Asuran nanites from Niam attacking her at the end of ’Progeny.” the nanites are taking over her body and mind. Beckett comes up with a medical procedure to inject wraith cells into her in order to induce the nanites to converge on it in an attack so a EM pulse can kill them, but it is only partially successful. Weir has to conquer than remaining nanites herself. With bedside encouragement from Sheppard, she escapes the mental hospital for the stargate in Cheyenne Mountain and regains conscious in the real world when she steps through in her hallucination.

Speaking of hallucinations, it is interesting that, with the exception of the appearances of Jack and Daniel in the pilot, every appearance of an SG-1 character has been an illusion? Hammond was created by aliens. Sam was the product of Rodney’s concussion. Here Jack is created by Asuran nanites. Some of the real deals are going to appear throughout the remainder of the series--Sam even joins Atlantis--but it is strange that every appearance so far after the expedition lands in Pegasus is not the genuine article.

“The Real World” is an interesting critter. The series has done a number of episodes already which feature only one character for all intents and purposes. It is difficult to pull that off without feeling diminished. Even tougher is the minimalist setting of ’The Real World.” The bulk of the episoe takes place in two or three rooms of a hospital. Nevertheless, the episode never feels small. I must confess weir is not one of the most compelling characters in SGA, but I enjoy her here. It is also cool to see jack in full sardonic mode. I cannot call ’”he Real World” a favorite, but it makes me, but it makes me care about weir for a while. There is much to say for that.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Progeny"

Here we go…finally introducing a formidable enemy to go along with the Wraith. It would be the Replicators just liker with SGA’s parent show, but I am a fan of those buggers, so I am happy even with the unoriginality. Besides, David Ogden Stiers has played good villains ever since he was Maj. Charles Winchester. I assume this is a one off deal for him considering the ending. Too bad.

When our heroes discover an Ancient outpost, they make contact with the Asurans, a race they believe to be un-ascended Ancients. Weir joins AR-1 in traveling to the Asuran civilization it is a teeming city of millions identical to Atlantis. (Budget saving alert--set reuse.) Oberoth, played by Stiers, is the arrogant, uncooperative lerader of the Asurans. He is the one who ’confirms” the Asurans are brothers of the Ancients, but split off over a dispute about battling the Wraith. Oberoth announces they have a plan to defeat the Wraith in due time, but are uninterested in helping defend the rest of Pegasus against them.

With that being Oberoth’s final word, our heroes decide to leave, but are captured before they reach the stargate. The next act takes place only in Sheppard’s mind as he is--unbeknownst to the audience--imagining their escape and return to Atlantis only to find themselves under a massive, special effects-laden attack by the Wraith. Sheppard awakens as the city is about to be destroyed to reveal Oberoth has been probing his mind via intangible hand like the Replicators do. Armed with the knowledge the ancient city of Atlantis was not destroyed 10,000 years ago, Oberoth launches the city into space in order to destroy Atlantis now.

Our heroes find a sympathetic Asuran in Niam. Niam is interested in ascending, and believes Oberoth’s aggressive ways are preventing his people from doing so. Niam helps them escape. He further explains the Asurans’ origin. They were built as microscopic weapons--the Nan virus from ”Hot Zone”--but as they continued to evolve, the Ancients destroyed them. Or so they thought. The Asurans survived as ornery as ever and even more powerful. Our heroes convince the city has to be destroyed before it reaches Atlantis. He helps them do so, but winds up ejected into space when his aggressive programming kicks in and he tries to strangle weir.

I have high hopes for the Asurans as recurring villains. They were originally supposed to be the main villains when SGA was still on the drawing board. Atlantis was supposed to be on Earth with the Asuran Replicators threatening. However, SG-1 was renewed for an eighth season, so Atlantis was moved to Pegasus and the Wraith were created as antagonists instead. At least the powers that be managed to incorporate the Asurans into the series anyway. Hopefully, they will live up to their potential menace.

“Progeny” is a promising start. In spite of my joke at the beginning about reusing the Atlantis set to save money, there are some impressive effects in the episode. The dreamed Wraith attack on Atlantis, the Ancient ann9hilation of the Asurans, the city flying through space, the morphing through walls ability of the Asurans-- is all extremely impressive. I will bet there are going to be some episodes later this season that will be practically virtually shadow puppets on the wall to balance out the expense. I am not even going to complain an entire act took place in Sheppard’s imagination. ‘Progeny’ is a nifty mix of exposition an action with a special effects spectacle every few minutes. Me likey.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, September 21, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Sateda"

“Sateda” is well known for having the largest budget of any SGA episode outside of the pilot. I was expecting something epic, but I still had misgivings. It is a Ronon-centric episode. Ronon is not one of the more compelling characters on the show. But my misgivings were put to rest almost immediately. “Sateda” turns out to be one of the best episodes of the series. It manages to make ronon a sympathetic character, even for me.

The AR-1 team is exploring a remote planet when they come across s village which Ronon visted while he was a Runner. The villagers immediately recognize him as someone who brought the Wraith upon them, so they capture AR-1, minus the wounded Rodney, who manages to escape, in order to offer Ronon to the Wraith in exchange for no further cullings. Ronon eventually convinces them he will surrender freely to the Wraith in atonement for the last culling if they let the rest of the team go. They agree. By the time AR-1 returns with reinforcements, the village has been wiped out and ronon taken by the Wraith.

Ronon becomes a runner yet again. He is dropped off on Sateda to be hunted by the best an orbiting hive ship has to offer. Being on Sateda again brings flashback memories of the population’s destruction, including a nurse named Merena with whom ronon had a romantic relationship. The memories fire up ronon to take on any and all Wraith in spite of being outmanned, outgunned, and eventually wounded. Even when AR-1 tracks him down through his runner homing beacon, Ronon refuses their help until he kills the hive King personally. He is outclassed in the match up, but Beckett saves him by killing the Hive king himself with a drone.

“Sateda” is definitely a spectacle. The first thing I notice is the awful Vancouver weather. There are some digital effects making the atmosphere far more dark and dreary than normal, but geez. The weather in that city in Biblical. More importantly are the massive sets and special effects. The setting is well depicted as a bombed out derelict of a city with flashbacks matching up perfectly in the city’s better days. The battle between Ronon and the Wraith is full of impressive explosions for a cable television series, and the action sequences are exciting without resorting to The Matrix style gravity defying moves so many shows and movies have copied these days. Kudos for avoiding them. “Sateda’ has all the action movie clich├ęs, such as the hero walking away in slow motion from explosions and performing an extreme medical procedure on himself sans anesthetic, but I do not feel like any of is stereotypical.

The main reason I do not think “Sateda” is a typical action piece is because it has humor and heart. Naturally, the humor comes at Rodney’s expense. He is shot in the rear end by an arrow during the teaser. But Rodney shows his human side, too. He is as adamant to go along on the rescue mission as anyone because he considers ronon family, although he does not verbalize his feelings about their relationship like Sheppard does. Ronon is far more humanized in “Sateda” than ever before, too. I have agree with Rodney prior to ’Sateda”--Ronon is practically a caveman--but he demonstrates a sense of honor in his willingness to sacrifice for others and a softer side in his romance with the doomed Merena.

Merena is show exclusively in flashbacks for obvious reasons. I like the unusual touch of the flashbacks being in bright color while the present action takes place during the miserable Biblical weather I joked about above. It is a contrast which shows the past was brighter for Ronon than the present, though he does come to realize the Atlantis crew are his family now.

“Sateda” is almost certainly going to go down as one of my most favorite episodes when it is all said and done. It is one of the most well-crafted episodes yet, with both the script and technical aspects being of the highest quality. Writer Robert C. Cooper only penned eight scripts for SGA, but he had a firm grasp on how to deal with the characters. Too often, they are written not as characters with flaws, but with flaws as their characterizations. (Weir is indecisive, Sheppard is reckless, Rodney is arrogant, Ronon is angry, etc.0 It is great to see them all as people working together without these exaggerated traits at the forefront. “Saeda” earns high marks all around.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Irresistible"

One of the aspects I like most about SGA is how the show does not take itself too seriously. There is usually a good mix of comedy and drama. “:etters from Pegasus” springs to mind immediately as a prime example. I am less enthralled when the series heads into sitcom territory, such as with the gender bending shtick of “Duet.’ “Irresistible” goes even further into sitcom territory with pretty much the same “meh” reaction from me as with “Duet.”

The AR-1 team investigates a backwater settlement on an unexplored planet that is run by an incredibly obnoxious man named Lucius Lavin. In spite of his unpleasant demeanor, the people are completely evoted to him. When he meets the AR-1 team, he tries to work his charms on them in exchange for a Puddle Jumper. That fails, but when Beckett comes to the settlement later to check out Lavin’s claims of miracle cures, he does fall under Lavin’s spell and, against security protocol, takes him back to Atlantis.

It is revealed Lavin found some herbs in his past travels that affect the part of the brain which generates positive emotions. Anyone who comes in contact with Lavin after he has drank some immediately become obsessed and willing to do anything for him. Everyone on Atlantis falls under his spell except for Sheppard, who is suffering from a cold that makes him immune to the effects. Everyone else caters to Lavin’s every need, including raiding a Wraith outpost for more of the herb.

Sheppard eventually kidnaps Beckett and takes him to the mainland to detox. When Beckett is back in his right mind, he and Sheppard concoct a plan to inject Lavin with an antidote to his potion under the guise of Ancient gene therapy. It works, so the two sends Lain back home--after they have inoculated everyone on the settlement.

I do find the fawning behavior of the affected characters generally amusing, if a little hammy. Some pull it off better than others. Torri Higginson looks like she is in pain much of the time. David Hewlett and paul McGillon are naturals, however. Lavin grated on me constantly. He is too much of a loud Eddie Haskell type. I know that is what he is supposed to be, but the character is not my cup of tea. “Irresistible” is not much of an episode if you are not interested in experiencing the characters acting like thirteen year old girls backstage at a Justin Bieber concert. I cannot say I have ever aspired. There are some laughs here and there, but otherwise, I can resist ’Irresistible.”

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Misbegotten"

I was warned after my first berating the moral decision of our heroes in their use of the retrovirus on Michael that it would only get worse the next time around. “Misbegotten” is the next time around, and have mercy does it ever get wore. Basically, he decision is made to do the exact same thing that screwed up last time, except on a larger scale, an when it screw up yet again, kill everyone involved in order to cover up the mess. No, really. That is what happens. Woolsey, the IOC watchdog, even knowingly misleads the rest of the committee on te matter to avoid any embarrassment over that whole Wraith nearly feeding on Earth deal.

Weir is still under scrutiny as Woolsey travels back with her to Atlantis for an evaluation. Sheppard and his team arrive with their new Wraith Hive ship. They somehow managed to get all 200 of the former Wraith in stasis, but the power needed to effectively use the ship is being drained too fast keeping them in stasis. The plan is to drop them off on a planet and tell them they are suffering from a plague that has wiped their memories. They are going to have to be quarantined,…well, pretty much forever. Sheppard thinks they should give them enough food to last until they can farm their own and then leave. It is a backwater planet with no stargate, so what could possibly happen other than the former Wraith get sick and die out before they die ou anyway since there are no women around.

If it does not dawn on you this is a pretty gruesome plan, Michael personifies it for us. Although he helped save earth, he is being held prisoner. Beckett is going to force the retrovirus treatment on him, too. He says he would rather be killed as what he is than have his memory wiped and live as the human he is not. One assumes I given the choice, the others would feel the same way. No dice, though. He is given the retrovirus treatment and dumped on the planet with the others.

One of the former Wraith named Lathan begins suspecting the whole plague quarantine bit is a lie, so he avoids taking the retrovirus long enough to regain enough of his memory to know the truth. Some o the others follow suit, including Michael, so they rebel and take Beckett hostage before signaling for a Hive ship to rescue them.

The AR-1 team mounts a rescue of Beckett. They also set a nuclear bomb in the heart of the settlement to make certain everyone is good and dead before the Hive ship arrives, thereby preserving the secret Atlantis still exists. Michael disarms the bomb, so shappard orders the bombardment of the planet’s surface instead. The other hive ship arrives. The two destroy each other in a short, but heated battle. Daedalus retrieves AR-1 from a Puddle Jumper. Woolsey decides to clean up the truth before heading back to Earth with praise for Weir because everyone has their rear ends covered.

Did I mention that only some of the former Wraith regain their memory? Others remain fully human and still believe they are plague victims being treated. Before they were all killed by the people they believe are trying to help them. Casualties of war, yes, but…yikes. ,/p>The former Wraith suffer a very cold fate all because our heroes wanted to utilize the power of a ive ship, but did not think the consequences through. Surely there could have been a better long term solution, but our heroes do not see a big reason to look for one because, as Sheppard tells Woolsey in a matter of fact manner, he is reluctant to even consider these people human. Beckett is their only advocate, so they take him hostage to prevent the audience from sympathizing with his position. The way the matter plays out makes it clear that while we may question the moral decision our heroes made, they ultimately do what must be done to clean it up. The resolution is still hard to swallow.

I am curious if SGA was attempting a darker tone in order to capture some of Battlestar Galactica’s audience. While it is true Stargate SG-1 had its grey morality, I would place the events of “Misbegotten” at the top of my Stargate franchise Who Exactly Are the Villains Again? list. I would not be surprised to see suh a story on Battlestar Galactica. Stargate Atlantis is another matter altogether.

The kicker is I am still awarding “Misbegotten” a solid star rating. The episode is still well done. Outside of the newly human Wraith looking like the line for tickets to a phish concert, the episode deals with a serious subject in a rank manner. Our heroes may not have made the best choices, but I cannot fault an episode whose worst aspect is the main characters come off flawed. Heck, some viewers probably consider that a point in the favor.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"No Man's Land"

“No Man’s Land” is the third season premiere . The third season, huh? We are rolling right along with these reviews. The episode is part two of three. It is also jam packed full of stuff. Four storylines run concurrently, which runs the risk of George Lucas style overload, but the powers that be manage happenings well.

The four storylines are: The Daedalus and Orion intercepting the Wraith Hive ships before they reach Earth, Sheppard breaking into the Hive ship with Michael’s help, Ronon and Rodney escaping their cocoons, and weir facing the international Oversight Committee over allowing the Wraith to steal hyper rive specs and the location of Earth. Bouncing between these stories can be a bit dizzying in consideration of how little screen age is given at any one time, but it all dovetails nicely.

In a rarity, the opening teaser goes back to the battle that ended the previous episode to elaborate more. I assume the battle sequence was supposed to be longer in the second season finale, but ha to be edited down. Whether these are new scenes or stuff from the cutting room floor added in now is irrelevant. It is an exciting way to start the episode/season. If nothing else, it sets the hyperkinetic tone.

When Daedalus and Orion return to Atlantis minus the presumed KIA Sheppard, Weir sends them right back out to intercept the hive ships. Zelnka calculate the Hive ships will have to leave hyper space for a while after fourteen hours. She needs the two ships to ambush them then because earth has no defense against the Hive ships. Sheppard has not been KIA, but has instead attached his ffighter to a Hive ship hull, a la the Millennium Falcon in The Empire Strikes Back. (He subtlety alludes to the film when explaining the move to Ronon.) Sheppard inadvertently makes contact with Michael, who did not want to renege on the alliance, and the two of them plot to sabotage the Hive ship. Tonon and Rodney cut their way free and eventually hook up with Sheppard and Michael. Meanwhile, Weir travels back to Earth via stargate to get raked over the coals.

If the preceding summary comes across short and punchy, that is because the events occur in a short and punchy manner. Even the end, in which the crews of the severely damaged Daedalus and Orion use the retrovirus to clear up the one Hive ship not destroyed in order to use it to get back to Atlantis, happens at breakneck speed in the last moments of the episode. It is a pretty cool ending, however. Earth is saved.

“No Man’s Land” is an exciting start to the season. The episode is loaded with material, but juggles it all much better than some past efforts in which too much was done in too little time like “Critical Mass.” I am curious to see what is left for the final chapter. Since the episode has me curious to see more, it has done its job. I am not certain I would consider ’No Man’s Land” kicking it up a notch like a season premiere should, but I am happy with it nevertheless.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Monday, September 17, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Allies"

"Allies” serves as the second season finale. It is a direct continuation of ”Michael, as I guessed it would, although Connor Trinnear does not play his Wraith self. He does provide the voice, however, and it is kind o cool to hear a Wraith speak in a folksy Missouri accent. It turns out not suspecting the incoming Hive ship was Michael’s is not the only gullibility from which our heroes suffer.

Atlantis braces for the pending Hive ship attack by sending out the Daedalus and the Ancient ship Orion to take up defensive positions. Instead of attacking, the Hive ship contacts Atlantis and promises to keep the existence of the city a secret in exchange for an alliance. Te Wraith reveal that too many of them have awakened at one time. There are not enough humans for them to feed on, so factions are aligning to destroy the weakest Wraith. Michael’s hive wants the retrovirus to turn it enemies into humans to fed on them.

Our heroes jump at the chance, due in no small part to part of the deal being they get shematics of Hive ships in order to detrrmine the best way to deliver the retrovirus. They work nervously alongside the Wraith through a failed attempt to deliver the retrovirus until the end when they discover the Wraith have double-crossed them. The data the Wraith sent Atlantis had a worm that took information about the location of Earth and then erased all the hive ship data. To add insult to injury, Rodney and Ronon have been captured and Sheppard also missing. To be continued…

I do not even open an e-mail from someone I do not know for fear of a virus. Why would our heroes not expect something dangerous from downloading data from the Wraith? Especially when it is of the too good to be true variety? There is no way the Wraith would give away all their secrets like that. Something was obviously up, but no one bothered to use even the slightest bit of caution. The lack of care is even doubly odd since their Wraith “allies’ continue to demonstrate their belief humans are nothing but foodstuff. Geez, one of them even kills the retrovirus test subject while he is human just to see if the retrovirus ruins the flavor. It does not, by that way.

The cliffhanger is the best part of “Allies.” it leaves the hint we may see earth in depicted peril. I know that does not happen, but the anticipation is still there. As is the mystery of how Ronon and Rodney are going to escape the Hive. One assumes Sheppard managed to tag along when the Hive jumped into hyperspace. The cliffhanger is a redeeming factor for “Allies.” it is the only part of the episode that feels big. Most every major character, including Hermiod, makes an appearance, but there are a couple intense space battles, but the story relies mostly on the novelty of Wraith roaming Atlantis as tenuous allies rather than anything more exciting. The lack of caution our heroes demonstrate borders on a level of incompetence not seen since Janeway and her hapless bunch stumbled their way through the Delta Quadrant. Perhaps the next two parts of the trilogy will elevate the story.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Inferno"

“Inferno” happily breaks the tradition of lackluster, budget saving penultimate episodes by offering an exciting, special effects laden story which accentuates everyone of the Atlantis crew’s talents so they can working together as a cohesive team. Style slightly edges out substance, but it is an entertaining episode regardless.

The AR-1 team answers a distress call from the people of Taranis. They have been using Ancient technology which maintains a shield around their settlement powered by geothermal energy. They have been using it continually since the Wraith awakened, but the shield is beginning to fail. It is also causing Earth tremors. Rodney determines that using the shield constantly has awakened an underground volcano which threatens to erupt. When it does, ash will spew into the atmosphere. All life will be wiped out.

The leadership of Taranis is suspicious the evacuation plan is a ruse so Atlantis can take an Aurora class Ancient ship the Taranis have been unable to get working. The dispute takes a backseat once lava flow destroys the state gate, thereby leaving some Atlantis crew stuck on Taranis and vice versa. The story becomes less one of paranoid suspicion than a techno babble solution of utilizing the volcano’s eruption to propel the non-operational Ancient ship into orbit with all the evacuees who agreed to leave their homes.

The preceding plot summary simplifies things, but there are a lot of fascinating character moments within. Rodney has a flustering crush on the scientist he is working alongside. Weir an the Taranis chancellor spar with each other over suspicions, then come to empathize with each other over the pressures of leadership in a survival situation. Ronon and Teyla continue to build their relationship when it appears when it appears their going back for more evacuees has prevented them from escaping the planet. Beckett gets back to his healing ways after developing a biological weapon in the previous episode.

As good as those moments are, the special effects steal the show. There are segments of the volcano erupting an its aftermath interspersed throughout the character scenes. In particular, the destruction of the stargate as it is engulfed by lava is impressed, though probably not scientifically accurate. Hollywood has a death grip on the idea objects sink in lava rather than melt. Stargate have proven tough, however, so maybe the scene is done that way for purposeful drama. The final eruption and aftermath is done splendidly as well.

Foreshadowing quibble: there is a lone Wraith hive ship on its way to Atlantis. I guess immediately it is Michael in charge, but none of out heroes do. Is that not strange?

“Inferno” breaks the mold of smaller, more subdued penultimate episodes. Usually, they are smaller to make the season finale seem larger in scope, so one wonders if the next episode has some big surprises in store to make ’Inferno” look small in comparison. I enjoy the episode. The special effects are more impressive than the story that accompanies them, but the combination is enough to make “Inferno” one of the better experiences of the second season’s back ten.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

As all good Parrotheads know, this is necessary under the circumstances:

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Michael"

The handsome Wraith/human hybrid up there is played by none other than Connor Trinnear, better known as Trip ‘Hold My Beer While I Try This” Tucker from Enterprise. It is ironic that an actor from the most painful to watch science fiction series of the last decade would star in what is the most uncomfortable SGA tory arc thus far. Adding insult to injury, I bet Trinnear’s appearance in SGA while renew calls for me to review Enterprise. Ugh.

Before I take a scalpel to “Michael,” let me say the episode is structured beautifully up to a point.. The bulk of the story is told from Michael’s perspective. He believes he is an officer who has served on Atlantis for a short while, was captured by the Wraith, but has suffered amnesia since his rescue. But things do not add up. He knows there is something wrong with him by the way everyone acts around him, particularly the hostility of Ronon. Slowly but surely, he learns that he is actually a wraith transformed by Beckett’s retrovirus into a human. His discovery is the point at which the episode falls apart.

The issue of making grey moral choices in the name of the greater good has come up many times since I started reviewing science fiction television shows. I have justified some and lambasted others, but I do not think I have ever been so uneasy at a decision made by the suppose heroes as I have in “Michael.” the retrovirus that eliminates the insect aspects of Wraith leaving only the human parts has not been one of the better running storylines. Perhaps I am supposed to view the raith as insects rather than humanoids or as pure evil or as leaving our heroes with no choice but to eliminate them in any way they can. I probably would be sympathetic to one or all of those issues if I could get passed the issue that our heroes have kidnapped a Wraith and performed illegal experiments on him on him without batting an eye.

The worse part of the situation is Beckett. He is a doctor who has, as a major lot point, refused to go along with anything that violates the Hippocratic Oath of do no harm. Certainly, he has been forced to bend his moral code at times through pressure from his superiors, but beckett seems like the kind of doctor who would not go along with a kidnapping and experimentation plot. Indeed, he expresses pangs of conscience after Michael kills an airman during an escape attempt. His conscience is eased when weir takes responsibility because she approved the experiment. In other words, it is okay, Beckett. You were just following orders. Where have we heard that before? It did not absolve responsibility back then, either, did it? Weir certainly has gotten over her pcifist notions at this point.

Thr compelling part is that Michael points out the immorality of what they have done to him. We begin to sympathizer with him. Perhaps what the Wraith do is considered evil, but it comes naturally to them. Just how far can we go to survive actions that are natural to some other living thing? That is an easier question to answer as the dominant species on the planet, but it is still not black and white. We as a species can justify some incredibly evil things in the name of survival.

To bring the issue full circle, two points. One, it is revealed there was marked division among our heroes as to whether using the retrovirus was a good idea. Ronon and Rodney said no, Beckett was increasingly wary, and Weir was gung ho. I am beginning to see why Torri Higginson left the show over her character’s meandering character arc. The writers do not seem to know what to do with Weir as they take her in some very unpleasant directions. The second point is our heroes are going to pay for their mistake. Michael is recovered by the Wraith in te final sequence. While I know there is a twist coming, as far as our heroes know, the Wraith are now aware Atlantis is still around, so they are now in perpetual danger. There is some redemption here in knowing not everyone went alon with the idea of altering Michael and there will be consequences.

It pays to ask whether turning Wraith into humans solves the problem of the Wraith in general. Even if they all become human, they are still dangerous. Humans are warlike with ambitions of conquest. Even as humans, the Wraith would still be a more formidable enemy than the devastated populations of the Pegasus galaxy can handle. Would our heroes really have done anything significant by converting Wraith to humans other than change their method of killing other people? Not likely.

“Michael” winds up casting our heroes in a bad light. It is one thing for main characters to have flaws. It is something else to cross a moral line as blatantly as they have done here with little to show for it. But the episode is thought provoking, and there is much to be said for that. I ca get over the damage done, and I appreciate exploring the issues the episode brings up. It is not pleasant viewing, but it is worth the uneasy feeling.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Friday, September 14, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Coup D'etat"

“Coup D’etat” revisits the Genii story arc. Almost forgotten about them, huh? They are the ones who are building nuclear bombs, but got all exited over C4. Supposedly, they once ruled over a huge empire. One wonders how they managed. As the title probably, suggests, someone in the Genii has gotten ambitious. Unfortunately, it is not Kolya, and not featuring Robett Davi as the villain is a strike against the episode as far as I am concerned.

The AR-1 team responds to a distress signal from Lorne’s team. When they arrive, the corpses of Lorne’s team are discovered burned beyond visual recognition in a torched building. Upon AR-1’s return, Atlantis is contacted by Ladon, one of Kolya’s loyalists, who offers our heroes a ZPM in exchange for support in a coup. Cowen, the leader of the Genii, has apparently grown mad with ambitions of uniting all humans in the Pegasus galaxy under his rule. Ladon fears with the nukes, he might succeed or bring down the wrath of the Wraith, whichever is worse.

Upon secretly meeting with Cowen, Sheppard and Rodney discover Ladon only has a handful of soldiers working with him. Cowen assures them he is more concerned with rebuilding his people’s devastated lives than the minor threat Ladon poses. Sheppard suggests luring some of Ladon’s men to Atlantis, then conducting a raid on his headquarters to steal the ZPM. Weir readily approves the idea. She has seriously gotten over her pacifist inclinations.

Meanwhile, we learn the charged corpses are not Lorne’s men. What is more, there is a bounty on the heads of any Atlantis crew member who has the Ancient gene. CI assume we are not supposed to figure out the genii are the ones who put out the bounty. It is kind of difficult to not figure that out right off the bat, but perhaps one could be distracted by the question of how the Genii know who has the Ancient gene. I am trying to work through that one myself.

The whole plot is a ruse to lure an Atlantis strike force to Ladon’s headquarters, where Lorne and his men are already being held. The ZPM is actually dead and Ladon is in cahoots with Cowen to exchange the hostages for Puddle Jumpers. The people Atlantis is holding hostage, including Ladon’s sister, are terminally ill due to radiation poisoning Sine they are expendable, there will be no hostage exchange. Beckett announces he can cure several of the Genii, including Ladon’s sister. Whether that prompts him to overthrow Cowen or he was really planning a coup all along is not clear, but he murders Cowen with a nuke blast-overkill, that--and takes over the Genii. The genii and Atlantis part as chilly friends.

Ladon’s sister, Dahlia, is played by the hot Sonja Bennett:
So there is that. But there is not a whole lot else. The plot does not have enough twists to be particularly interesting. We know the fate of lorne’s men has to be tied in with the Genii, but none of our heroes figure that out. The Genii already have them hostage, so why go to such lengths to capture a few more? Cowen is an idiot to be so callous about dahlia in front of Ladon after he learns her life can be spared. How do the Genii know who has the Ancient Gene? Why is Rodney, who has no military training, in the middle of what is essentially a special forces raid? The biggest issue is Ladon is obviously meant to be Kolya. Kolya’s absence is highly conspicuous. I do not know if including the character would have saved the episode, but it would have been an imptovement.

I am ambivalent about “Coup D’etat.” It suffers from quite a few flaws in logic and plotting. I am happy to have an episoe featuring a villain other than the Wraith, so that is something. But there is not much about the episode to hold one’s attention. It is very disappointing.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"The Long Goodbye"

“The Long Goodbye” is another high adventure episode that minimizes production costs by not only setting all but the teaser on Atlantis, but by having the guest stars inhabit Weir and Sheppard’s bodies in order to pay the actors as extras for their very brief, no dialogue appearances. Pretty sneaky, if you ask me. There is not much new ground broken here, but watching Weir roam around Atlantis with a fully loaded P-90 stalking Sheppard is a highlight.

While out in a Puddle Jumper, the AR-1 team discovers two life pods floating in space. They contain a man and a woman. Taking the woman’s life pod back to Atlantis, they decide to revive her. Unfortunately, her boy is too far gone, but her consciousness enters Weir. Later in the infirmary, the woman possessing weir says her name is Phebus. The man in the other life pod is Thalen, her husband. Their ship was attacked by Wraith however many centuries ago. Since their bodies have both deteriorated beyond salvation, Phebus would like Sheppard to allow her husband to take over his body so the two can say goodbye. Under the promise Phebus and Thalen will fade away within hours, Sheppard agrees.

Unfortunately, it is all a ruse to regain physical form so Phebus and Thalen can continue the war their respective fighting. Armed with all the secrets of atlantis operations thanks to Weir and Sheppard’s minds, the two arm themselves up like Rambo and hunt each other down. Until, true to their word, they fade away before weir an Sheppard seriously injure one another. It is a wee bit anticlimactic all our heroes had to do was stall for time until Pebus and Thalen lost their hold, but there you go.

What is surprising is how little of “The Long Goodbye” is about Phebus and Thalen. They share only three scenes together, and one of those is a shipper tease in which they kiss while pretending to be married. In the other two, they are shooting at each other and little else. It is the other characters who steal the show. Caldwell in particular plays a big role as he takes charge of Atlantis while weir and Sheppard are possessed. There increased screen time offers an opportunity to demonstrate his true, more pleasant personality now that the Goa’uld no longer possess him. Other characters are in fine form, such as Beckett performing emergency surgery on Ronon with the power out and Teyla unable to shoot Sheppard, even when ¾ of the expedition’s lives are at stake, because of her latent feelings for him. Even Rodney adopts some humility as Caldwell impresses him during the crisis.

Very little attention is paid to convincing Phebus and Thalen the futility of fighting a centuries old war in which they are the only two survivors. As far as the two are concerned, the novelty of Weir engaging in hand to hand combat and firing a P-90 at Sheppard is all the amusement needed for the situation. The plot is merely an excuse for that. The general story ideas of two enemies as the last of their kind still fighting has been done in the past with far better intellectual results in Star Trek: The Original Series“Let that Be Your Last Battlefield” and Doctor who’s “Dalek.” I would look to either of them long before I would recommend “The Long Goodbye.”

The plot is terribly thin here, and it does not get much traction at all, but “The Long Goodbye” has its entertaining points. It is exciting to watch weir do her Rambo thing, although I get the definite vibe Torri Higginson is not into the role. She does no feel like she is naturally cutting loose. I do not buy into her sense of menace. But the rest of the cast help save the episode. They work together like a cohesive unit. What is even cooler is they can do so without weir and Sheppard. “The Long Goodbye’ could have been much better if Phebus and Thalen had gotten more character moments, , but there is still some goo stuff here amid the shallow plotting.

Rating; ** (out of 5)

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"The Tower"

It is pretty cool that after a long streak of Wraith arc and character drama episodes, “The Tower” comes along as a straightforward adventure laced with humor. The episode is such a fun adventure that it is easy to overlook the most blatant budget saving move I have seen in the Stargate franchise outside of a clip show--the tower of which the title refers to part of another city identical to Atlantis which serves as the bad guys’ lair.

The AR-1 team makes contact with a backwards agrarian society that has not been culled by the Wraith in centuries because of their Lord Protector living in his high tower. The tower turns out to be part of another city like Atlantis which has been largely buried for ten thousand years. The Lord Protector lives there with his noble court in lavish while the people, who also have to make harsh harvest offerings, starve. Otho, one of the lord protector’s advisors meets with AR-1 and separates Sheppard from the rest to enter the tower.

It turns out the Lord protector and his ancestors are the only ones with the ancient gene, which is how they have controlled the city’s weapons and, by extension, held onto power. It appears for a bit there the dying lord protector would like Sheppard to take his place when he passes on, but in reality, his death is by slow poisoning. The slow assassination attempt is traced to an ambitious idiot named Tavius, but the real culprit is Otho. Otho is killed by his own poisoned knife in a brie fight with Sheppard,. Beckett begins gene therapy on the planet’s population so that any number of them can operate the defenses against the Wraith, so all is well that ends well.

Well, sort of. You have to suspect considering the people have been crushed under a brutal dictatorship for centuries they do not understand freedom. The ones who have the Ancient gene and can work the weaponry are likely to enslave the ones who cannot. Take your pick for the reason; either those who have been bullied become bullies themselves when they gain the power to do so, or that newfound freedom is as paralyzing as slavery when slavery is the only thing the people have known. Perhaps it would be best to accept the supposedly happy ending without speculating beyond the closing credits.

I would not exactly label “The Tower” groundbreaking. It is obvious from the moment Otho appears on screen that he is the true villain of the story. It is obvious mostly because Otho is played by the great Peter Woodward. I may be biased here, because practically any character Woodward plays reminds me of his brief stint as Galen in Crusade. Thirteen years later, and it still burns me that show was cancelled after only thirteen episodes. Woodward is one of the biggest reasons I regret the show’s short life.

Other than Woodward, I appreciate the French Revolution feel to the lord Protector’s court. They are a bunch of aristocratic drunks an gluttons who dress up to the nines in a hodge poge of varying styles solely to amuse themselves. Seriously, someone threw open the doorrs to wardrobe an told the extras to grab whatever they felt like wearing. I noted all sorts of party dresses, what looked like American colonial gentlemen, and some wild costumes in the background. It may be strange to consier the costumes a highlight considering they are ancillary to the story, but there you go. I calls them as I sees them.

I liked the humor as well. Sheppard descends into full frat boy mode when a maiden drops her clothes for him. Rodney learns he ought not be dismissive about the people’s supposedly superstitious warnings about exploring the underground city because the actual danger is cave ins due to earthquakes. Beckett laments making house calls when he is thrown in prison by Otho. There are a lot of humorous moments like those. The lighthearted tone helps overcome some weak points in the story. I have the impression “The Tower” is not popular among fans, but I like it enough to recommend.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Grace Under Pressure"

Like “Cricial Mass”, “Grace under Pressure” appears at first glance to be cashing in on the popularity of SGA’s parent show for boosted ratings by featuring elements from it. In this case, Amanda Tapping plays a prominent role as Rodney’s hallucination of Sam. I say at first glance because the assumption short changes ‘Grace Under Pressure.” Tapping’s appearance is brilliantly played, not a gimmick, and “Grace Under Pressure” is my favorite Rodney-centric episode thus far. Truth be told, it is one of my favorites in the series thus far period.

The episode opens with Rodney and the SGA equivalent of a red shirt taking a newly repaired Puddle Jumper out for a test run. The Puddle Jumper crashes into the ocean during the trip back to Atlantis and begins taking on water as it sinks. Griffin the red shirt sacrifices himself by locking Rodney in the back of the Puddle Jumper as the cockpit fills with water. Griffin’s act of sacrifice is even more poignant considering the two were verbally sparring over whether Rodney is wasting his time as a scientist since so much science is later discovered to be incorrect. One can imagine Rodney’s response, though perhaps not his dismissive response to Griffin’s death until some important epiphanies later in the episode.

Rodney’s plight creates a ticking clock. He has a serious head injury which makes it difficult for him to manage his hysteria while looking for a way to save himself. The Puddle Jumper is continually sinking. He friends have only a short amount of time to find him him before the ship sinks to deep for a rescue. The script is tight and tense as we bounce between Rodney trying to stay alive and his friends struling to find him.

Rodney’s subconscious mind creates an hallucination of Sam as a coping mechanism. What she is really there to do his convince Rodney he needs to calm down and trust in his friends to rescue him. With her help, Rodney comes to the realization making his own effort to save himself is doing more harm than good, but it is a struggle to let go of the arrogance that will not let him trust anyone else. I liked the mix between Sam as the brilliant scientist trying to appeal to Rodney intellectually and as the seductive vamp she becomes later in the episode when the Puddle Jumper begins taking on water, making Rodney’s situation more desperate, but it also more important that he do nothing but wait. The comic relief bits of Rodney upset even a creation of his own mind will not strip off more clothes is perfectly low brow and funny even uner the circumstances.

The interesting part is how little of Tapping there is. A great deal of Rodney’s experience is him talking to himself while barely in control o his faculties. It is not easy for an actor, especially one as animated as David Hewlett, to pull off pages upon pages of manic, techno babble soliloquy without coming off as self-indulgent. I am talking William Shatner over acting here. Hewlett manages to avoid that splendidly. He turns the usual comic relief Rodney into a sympathetic character who suddenly realizes his own faults of arrogance, pettiness, and selfishness while likely facing the last moments of his life.

I cannot forget the other characters, either. They are all working perfectly together as a team here in order to save Rodney.

If there is a flaw in “Grace Under Pressure,” ii is the inclusion of a whale that keeps swimming around the sunken Puddle Jumper. It is implied the whale nudges the ship onto a ledge to keep it from sinking further and continues to swim around it. The whale’s pattern behavior leads Sheppard’s rescue team to Rodney. Call me jaded, but that is a bit corny. There is quite a bit of fan chatter the whale is an homage to intelligent dolphins in Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern series of fantasy novels. I have not read any of them, I am unable to comment. Take it for whatever it is worth.

“Grace Under Pressure” has many similarities to the Stargate SG-1 episode “Grace.” In that episode, Sam is stranded alone on Prometheus and begins hallucinating in order to save herself. The episode was the highest rated original series episode to air on the Sci Fi Channel for a good while there, so no surprise the plot should be duplicated on SGA. “Grace Under Pressure” does not feel like a rup off by any means. It is a very tense episode that goes a long way towards humanizing Rodney. I have a hunch the changes will not last, but the effort is noble.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

This song feels appropriate under the circumstances, does it not?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Critical Mass"

Interesting. Both ‘Critical Mass” and the following episode have strong ties to Stargate SG-1. Was SGA fumbling at the time, so the powers that be brought in elements from the more popular parent show to boost ratings? ’Critical mass’ sends mixed signals on the issue. On the one hand, it is a budget saving bottle show that takes place entirely on existing sets, so it makes sense to add include something special to distract from the limited scope. However, so much stuf is packed in, it looks like “Critical Mass” was not an easy episode to write. I do not know which, if either, is the case. I can only review what is on screen.

The Goa’uld infiltrated Trust has planted a bomb on Atlantis to be set off the next time earth is dialed via stargate. Dr. Bill Lee figures out a way to relay a message to Atlantis not to dial the stargate, but the bomber has a back up plan. An automatic signal is sent to nearby wraith ships, forcing Atlantis to cloak itself for safety. The Zpm powering the cloak is set to overload if they do so. Our heroes have a short time to find the Trust operative and get the failsafe code from him to keep the Zpm from going kaboom.

The plot would appear straightforward from the description, but there are way too many subplots running simultaneously. The biggest is Teyla’s family friend dying of natural causes, which prompts a big funeral ceremony complete with Rachel Lutterll herself singing. The main plot is even more loaded. Rodney is hsving a hard time working with Cadman because of their shared body experience earlier in the season. There are red herrings everywhere, including cadman, but particularly Kavanaugh. Cavanaugh is still butt hurt over weir’s dressing him down last season. She is not one of his fans, either, and when he becomes the prime suspect, she is quick to authorize Ronon to torture him for the failsafe code. Not that there is much of a torture debate in the episode. There is simply no room with everything else going on.

In the end, it is revealed Caldwell has been taken over by a Goa’uld. A couple taser shots allow him to resume control of his body long enough to relay the coes, thereby keeping Atlantis shielded from the Wraith. Not to mention hopefully changing his ornery personality. I have complained about that already. At least now we know the cause of his over aggressive behavior.

What really gets me is the Teyla and torture debate subplots could have made for entire episodes individually, but they are instead crammed into one episode along with a ton of other stuff. Too much stuff. “Critical Mass” is another term for overload. I wonder if the writers were being ironic about the script when they decided to call it that.

A quick note on the subject of torture. I am a big advocate of terrorist incarceration at Gitmo “Enhanced interrogation” is a touchier subject, but I am generally in the mindset of these inmates want to kill as many Americans as possible, so sympathy from me is not very forthcoming. But the question of whether to brutally torture anyone--beating, electric shock, etc--in order to find the location of a bomb set to go off in twenty minutes is dicier. I am an advocate of greater good morality. In other words, steal a loaf a bread to feed your starving family if you have to do so, but accept the consequences. Weir and Sheppard draw that conclusion, too, but not much soul searching is done by the two later realize Kavanaugh is innocent. The episode avoids being preachy by dropping the issue so quickly, but it should have been afforded an entire episode to explore the ramifications. That is just my couple pennies.

I hope something terrible happens to Kavanaugh eventually. What a utter jerk. Someone tell me he gets devoured by a Wraith or something. I love it when hermiod casually tells him to shut up. The finishing touch is the passive aggressive thank you once Kavanauh does.

“Critical Mass” is aptly named. It is overstuffed with material. T least half the goings on could have been cut out without suffering any loss. That said, it is still an entertaining episode. It definitely should have been scaled back some, it is not bad at all. Zelenka’s small bit before and after being stuck on a planet full of children is enough to make the episode itself.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Epiphany"

Considering how pivotal a character he is in virtually every episode thus far in the series, it is strange to have a Sheppard-centric episode--one entitled “Epiphany,” no less--that reveals next to nothing about Sheppard other than what he already figured. He is a reckless guy who lives in the moment rather than dwell on the consequences of his past actions or fret over what might happen because of his actions in the future. His attitude turns out to be a virtue here, so what can be said about it?

While investigating energy readings on a remote planet, Sheppard is sucked into a portal. On the other side, time flows at a 250/1 ration than the real world. To prevent you from digging out your calculators, it takes about two hours for Sheppard to be rescued, but six months pass inside for him. In that time, he joins of village of people who have come there to prepare for ascension. They spend their days meditating in prearation for what amounts to the afterlife for the virtuous.

Complicating matters is an invisible monster which periodically attacks the people. Sheppard battles it alone an unsuccessfully twice before the people are forced to conront the reality the monster is the personification of their fears. Once they overcome the fear by confronting the monster, they ascend. It is Sheppard’s urging for them to live a little that prompts their new found courage. Conveniently, ithe people discover their backbones at the exact moment Sheppard’s friends come to rescue him.

Sheppard’s predicament is quite similar to Jack’s in “A Hundred Days,” without the hint Sheppard may have left the female guest star pregnant in the end. Joe Flanagan, who worked as a journalist before becoming an actor, helped develop the story. One would have hope his input might have made up for lack of originality by delving into his character, but no such luck. The portal is a good hiing place for human looking to escape the Wraith, too, but I will bet the possibility is never brought up again.

Disappointing is a good word to describe “Epiphany.” It is way too much like “A Hundred Days.” We do not gain any insight into Sheppard. The monster is pretty cool special effect. It reminds me of a translucent version of old Smokey from Lost although based on its origin, I will bet is it meant as an homage to the id Monster from Forbidden Planet. I suppose if you are a big Flanagan or Sheppard fan, you will like “Epiphany.” For my taste, it is too shallow.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"The Hive"

“The Hive” is the opening episode of the back half of the second season. As such, it concludes the story begun in “The Lost Boys” and establishes plot threads for the remainder of the season. At least I think it does the latter. Not much jumps out at me other than the Wraith are collapsing into warring factions over food sources.

The episode begins with the resolution for the cliffhanger. It is a disappointing one. The Queen’s interrogation is interrupted by some issue unknown to the audience until a couple scenes later. She just walks off, sparing Sheppard torture. The issue with the Queen is another Hive ship’s appearance. The tense ensuing conflict, which conveniently remains a staring contest until the final act, is enough distraction for the character hooked on wraith enzyme to suffer withdrawal while imprisoned. The bulk of the episode is the drama surrounding the withdrawal.

That would not be so bad if the B-story did not detail how Rodney takes an overdose of ensyme in order to fight his wife off ford’s Planet and gate back to Atlantis. He manages to kick the enzyme habit in what seems like a day or so. He is none the worse for wear as he clear-headedly leads Caldwell on a rescue mission to the hive ship. Meanwhile, Ford’s lieutenant dies from his withdrawal. Ford would have, too, if not for his killing more Wraith and restocking. The contrast between withdrawal experiences is jarring. Too much so for them to happen so different simultaneously.

The fight scene in which a juiced up Rodney does his kung fu on ford’s men is great, however. It is played mostly for laughs, but is not so over the top that it sticks out like a sore thumb against the serious tone of the rest of the episode. Do not get me wrong about Rodney’s DT experience, either. As miraculous a recovery as he makes, David Hewlett plays the cold turkey process wonderfully well as both deliriously funny and tragically painful.

Ford apparently sacrifices himself after far too conveniently escaping the Wraith off screen in order to save his former comrades. Sheppard tricks one hive ship into thinking the other has attacked. They wind up destroying each other while AR-1 uses a stargate in order to return to Atlantis.

‘the Hive’ reveals the Wraith are breaking off into factions and fighting one another. They are also employing human slaves that work for them in exchange for not being consumed. The arrangement is strange considering a limite food supply of humans is the source of the Wraith conflict, but perhaps some light will be shed on that in the future. Some of these humans worship the Wraith, though whether the Wraith have establishe themselves as gods or are taking advantage of superstition is not clear.

“The Hive” is not as epic as most midseason premiers. The problem is more than just my ambivalence at ford’s story. By mot accounts, he disappears from the serries completely until a single appearance in the final season, so I am probably not alone in my boredom. The story jusy feels small up until the battle between the hive ships at the end. It is largely character suffering the Dts until Ford escapes by means we never learn to free our heroes. A few more blanks could have been filled in to make the story more satisfying. There are some good points, most of which involve Rodney’s plight, but ’The Hive” is just an average episode. Not bad in spite of its flaws, but not as monumental as one would hope after months of wating for it.

Rating: *** (out of 5)