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)

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