Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Conversion"

“Conversion’ is a loosely connected second part to “Instinct” in which Sheppard begins changing into an insect due after being infected with the retrovirus through Ellia. If you are expecting an homage to Franz Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, but away your beret and existential pretensions. “Conversion” is David Cronenberg’s The Fly meets “Spock’s Brain” from Star Trek: The Original Series.

As with The Fly, Sheppard thinks in the early going his metamorphosis into a bug is a boon. He is faster, stronger, and amorous towards Teyla. He begins to lose more of himself as the retrovirus spreads. Sheppard becomes violent towards weir, and eventually escapes his quarters in order to demonstrate his increasing bug-like abilities for the audience while evading capture by security.

In the interim, a retooled AR-1 travels to a planet in order to capture some stem cells from aratus bug embryos, but lose two men in the cave on the expedition because there are too many aggressive bug protecting their young. Beckett eventually figures out Sheppard has enough bug pheromone to enter the cave and safely retrieve stem cells without bugging the bugs, so they dope him up and send him in to do the job. He does, and Beckett creates a gene therapy treatment that eventually turns Sheppard back into a full fledged human.

A subplot involves weir reluctantly handing Sheppard’s responsibilities over to Caldwell. Caldwell, who is still butt hurt over not getting Sheppard’s job in the first place, begins making major changes as though the job is going to be his permanently. Weir is angry because Caldwell is pretty much throwing dirt on Sheppard’s grave before he is dead. One assumes a lingering animosity has now been established between Caldwell and Weir over decision making authority. Or not. The general distrust for Rodney after he destroyed a solar system a couple episodes back lasted only until the closing credits, so who can say for certain at this point. I confess I was mostly thinking that Steven Caldwell is no Walter Skinner throughout most of the subplot.

I have established The Fly elements within the episode. What about the “Spock’s Brain” similarities? They lay mostly in the unintentionally funny tone of the episode. Recall spock had his brain removed, a loss that will kill him in a short period of time, that is absurd, but necessitates a serious tone in the mission to retrieve his brain. Sheppard has only 48 hours to live. The probability of his death is treated seriously, particularly by weir in what must be some big shipper moments, but the action of the episode is too ridiculous. I literally laughed out loud watching AR-1 creep through a cave wearing night vision goggles while trying to avoid a bug attack.

A picture is worth a thousand words. Here is a double helping:

I cannot be the only one who had the similarities spring to mind. maybe someone was thinking Ghostbusters instead. I salute anyone for whom that is true.

The contrast in tone between the race to cure Sheppard, which is unintentionally hilarious from both AR-1’s attempt to capture stem cells and the mutated Sheppard’s finally successful effort to do so and the drama. Sheppard’s physical and emotional transformation is terrifying. His violent tendencies are particularly disturbing. Weir’s anguish over the certainty of his death is done well. But for every good, emotionally charged scene of drama, there is Rodney antics, Beckett and a giant egg, or Caldwell’s immature attitude over not getting the job he wanted. The difference in tone and quality of the episode’s aspects is too much.

I really cannot say anything more appropriate than “Conversion” is SGA’s “Spock’s Brain.” If the series wants to do an homage to a TOS episode, they could scarcely choose worse that that one. The only worse thing I can imagine is Pegasus galaxy hippies looking for a paradise away from the Wraith, but winding up poisoned by the environment. The aforementioned good dramatic moments are the only thing keeping “Conversion from a one tar rating. It is still the worst episode of SGA thus far.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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