Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Instinct"

“Instinct” is the first part of a loosely connected two part story. The atmosphere is that of a highly effective Victorian superstitious villagers v. a mysterious creature preying on them from the woods at night. It is one of the few times thus far the “Dark Ages’ level of development for Pegasus galaxy societies due to Wraith cullings retarding development is a real virtue rather than a way to save on set budgets. The episode also prominently features Jewel Staite, a personal favorite, albeit heavily covered by Wraith make up.

The AR-1 team encounters a village on a remote planet wherein the people huddle indoors at night for fear of a creature that kills victims at random every few months over the last ten years by sucking the life out of them. The story goes a ship crashed a decade ago, and all the passeners were killed because of their similarity to those responsible for cullings in the distant past. One of the aliens managed to escape and has been a terror ever since. Our heroes recognize the creature immediately as a wraith and offer to kill it.

Upon hunting, they discover it is actually a wraith child name Elia who was secretly saved by a villager named Zaddick from the mass execution. The two of them have been holed up in a cave home for all this time. Elia was able to live on human food and water up until her teenage years when the hunger for human life became too much. Zaddick, a scientist of some sort, claims to have synthesized a formula that quells Ellia’s need to consume humans. Our heroes are skeptical considering a wraith is obviously out there killing people, but they allow Beckett to study her in hopes of finding a way to end the Wraith threat.

The episode sets up a compelling story with a potential message about prejudice. Ellia has been civilized by Zaddick. She is polite and knows right from wrong, but is still considered a monster even by AR-1 after they get to know her. She knows she will never be accepted by other people, so when she overhears Beckett telling Zaddick about an experimental retrovirus he has been working on to turn Wraith completely human , she steals it to use on herself.

At this point, the story peters out. She becomes an uncontrollable monster. Elllia’s serves only to give AR-1 something to kill in a final action sequence. It is revealed that Ellia’s has been feeding off Zaddick, who looks like an old man, but is only 34, and his serum has never worked. I am a bit confused as to whether she is responsible for any of the villagers’ deaths. There is another wraith out there whom she kills, but it is not clear whether she confesses to murders or not. Zaddick’s dying breath is a denial she ever fed on anyone but him. She does kill the other Wraith, but does so in a homicidal rage rather than out of a moral concern over his feedings. Sheppard and Ronon are forced to kill Ellia. Sheppard’s wounds lead to the loosely connected second part tomorrow.

I do not know exactly what I was expecting, but the final two acts go downill in terms of substance. Perhaps I thought there would be more heart in the resolution. Ellia comes across as a sympathetic soul until you realize the suspicions about her were right all along. The episode then becomes a general action/horror film with armed soldiers hunting down a monster with whom you no longer sympathize. It is not that the episode takes a turn for the worse in doing this. On the contrary, the conclusion is exciting. It just does not feel like where events were leading up. I suppose we are supposed to be upset we have lost sympathy for Ellia after the truth is revealed about her. If so, it is not very effective.

Iti s through no fault of Staite, however. She plays Ellie with the sweetness of Kayley up until she ingests the retrovirus. Then she effortlessly morphs into River tam at her wildest. How is that for some Firefly references? The make up job is awesome, too:

I am very happy the make up work is that good. She is virtually unrecognizable, which is a point that will help a lot when she joins the cast in the latter seasons as Jennifer Keller. The Stargate franchise recycles character fiercely. Most of the time, it is inconspicuous enough to not bother me. Without covering Staite in make up the first time around, her recycling would irk me.

I like “Instinct” far more than I should given the diminishing returns, but it has high points like the atmosphere, action sequences, and Staite’s portrayal of Ellia to save it.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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