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?

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