Jun 24, 2014
Stargate Atlantis “Irresistible”
[Note from the editor: This article is by prospective staff writer Allison Venezio. Enjoy!]
While much of my allegiance with the Stargate franchise rests with Stargate SG-1, I’m also fond of both of its sister series, Stargate Atlantis and Stargate Universe (to a lesser extent). With a much larger cast than SG-1, it’s easy to say that I’ve met the majority of the cast, and after this year’s convention in Chicago (which, as of this writing, is less than two weeks away!), I will have met the entire main cast.
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And now, for the uninitiated…
Stargate Atlantis is one of two “sister series” (and the first spin-off) of Stargate SG-1. It ran on the Sci-Fi Channel from 2004 until its cancellation in 2009, for 100 episodes and five seasons. The series begins as an international collection of scientists and members of foreign militaries, the US Marines Corps, and the US Air Force (the two branches represented in Stargate Command, though the SGC is majority USAF), all led by Dr. Elizabeth Weir, go through the Stargate on Earth, and arrive in the Pegasus Galaxy, where it’s discovered that the city of Atlantis, truly lost, had sunk beneath the depths thousands of years earlier, after the original inhabitants, the Ancestors, or “Ancients,” left. The city, powered by Zero Point Modules, needs the precious power source to get the city going and to maintain its functions. They must journey to find these ZPMs, while discovering the mysteries of this newfound galaxy. However, a new intergalactic threat called the Wraith awakens and is now wise to the arrival of new blood.
The flagship team is led by Major John Sheppard, USAF (Joe Flanigan), who’s moved into the position after the original CO, Colonel Sumner (played by Robert Patrick—yes, that Robert Patrick) is weakened by the Wraith Queen, and sacrificially killed by Major Sheppard as a means of ending his misery, as he was near death during the expedition’s first off-world mission (see “Rising”, the first two episodes of season one).
Sheppard’s second-in-command during the first season is Lt. Aidan Ford, USMC (Rainbow Sun Francks), a young officer who’s overly excited about the expedition (so much, in fact, that he falls through the Stargate event horizon backwards as the expedition prepares to leave for Atlantis). Also on the team is scientist/pain in the ass/know-it-all Dr. Rodney McKay (David Hewlett), a Canadian astrophysicist with a huge ego, a fear of germs and the sun, and at times, the bane of Sheppard’s existence, as well as Teyla Emmagan (Rachel Luttrell), a young female warrior whose people live in constant fear of the Wraith and their ways. She joins the plight of the expedition team as a means of helping her people, the Athosians.
Various cast changes occurred during the course of the series. Rainbow Sun Francks was written out of the show after the events of the season one finale, when Lt. Ford escapes the city while under the intoxicating influence of Wraith enzyme. Jason Momoa joined the cast that season as Ronan Dex, a Runner implanted with a tracker and forced to stay one step ahead of the Wraith. After the removal of his tracker, he’s given shelter on Atlantis.
Even expedition leaders weren’t immune to cast changes: Torri Higginson, who played Dr. Elizabeth Weir for the show’s first three seasons, was replaced by Amanda Tapping at the beginning of season four. Tapping, who played Captain/Major/Lt. Col. Samantha Carter for ten years on Stargate SG-1, joined this show as the flagship series reached its end, after the events of the first SG-1 post-series movie, The Ark of Truth. She had received a promotion to full-bird Colonel by this time.
In a slightly more controversial casting change, actor Paul McGillion, who served as Chief Medical Officer Dr. Carson Beckett, was killed toward the end of season three and replaced by Jewel Staite as Dr. Jennifer Keller. It was only controversial in that it left fans upset over the loss (we’re a devoted bunch, to say the least—we did this over Dr. Daniel Jackson’s death on Stargate SG-1 in season five).
Carter is recalled to Earth at the end of season four (the basis for the plot of SG-1’s second film, Continuum), but is removed from her post and replaced by Richard Woolsey (Robert Picardo) for the fifth and final season. Woolsey is a member of the IOA, an oversight committee that keeps tabs on all activities of the Stargate program.
The show’s events coincide with the events of Stargate SG-1’s eighth, ninth, and tenth seasons, though both shows stand alone and only allude to activities on the other show. There are crossover opportunities (“The Pegasus Project” in SG-1’s tenth season) and guest appearances from each show’s stars on the other shows.
With all that said…
If you read my first article about the Stargate SG-1 episode “Avenger 2.0” (trust me, it won’t hurt you as much as it hurt me—go back and refresh your memory if you must), you’ll recall me saying there aren’t any truly bad Stargate episodes, but there are weak spots here and there. The same holds true for Atlantis, but even with solid writing and a large and devoted fanbase (this show has larger international appeal than SG-1, and my theory is this is due to the international makeup of the expedition members itself), there’s bound to be a weak spot here and there… right?
Let’s just say it happened twice in Atlantis’s season three. Can you see why there were two major casting changes to close out the season?
Every series in this franchise has a Dr. Jay Felger-esque character, who’s bumbling and incompetent, and feels the need to inflate his own ego by means of latching onto the characters who are actually important. Someone writes one episode about them, viewers target it as a low point of the series… and the writers assume our hatred means they have a chance to redeem the character in the eyes of the fans.
It’s a bad assumption.
In this article (and in the article that will follow it), I plan to educate you on why the writers should have steered clear of another Felger-type writing misstep of “Avenger 2.0”-size proportions… and decided not to. Twice. Don’t these guys learn the first time?
As I thought would be wise when I wrote the “Avenger 2.0” article, I’m going to get down on my knees in advance and beg for the forgiveness of the Stargate fan community. I know we all have differing opinions. This just happens to be mine.
After life signs are found during an investigation of Stargates being collected as part of a fast track from the Pegasus Galaxy to the Milky Way (later to become the short-lived Midway system in season four), the expedition team arrives on a lovely “backwater hamlet” (referred to as such by Dr. McKay), where the locals are all just a little too excited at the prospect of visitors. What’s more, the overly happy residents are excited for one particular local to meet the new visitors.
I should mention that in this scene, Sheppard is suffering from a head cold, which will become important later. Not because he gets everyone else sick and destroys a whole galaxy (leave that to Dr. McKay, Colonel!), but… oh, you’ll find out why this is important later.
They all meet the one specific person all the villagers are hot for, who turns out to be Lucius Lavin, an equally jovial man surrounded by the overly happy residents, as well as several lovely wives. The locals (and Lucius himself) are surprised that the expedition team has never heard of him before.
If Dr. Jay Felger were an alien, he’d be Lucius Lavin. He’s played by Richard Kind, who you’ll recognize from his long career as a character actor, most notably on sitcoms like Mad About You and Spin City. Fun fact: he was scientist Dr. Gary Meyers in the original Stargate feature film. He’s decidedly not a scientist here, and is actually a troublemaking, attention-seeking alchemist with the formula for making him irresistible to, well, everyone.
After the opening credits, the team is having a meal with Lucius and his devoted people. Lucius tells them of his talents, and then insists he wants a Puddle Jumper like the one he saw the team fly in on. He gets pouty about it and demands one, to which Sheppard flat out tells him no. It’s obvious that Lucius is not used to not getting his way. The team insists that they have to go to “a very important thing.” And whatever galaxy you’re in, that’s a bad excuse for anything. But the team does manage to leave, after Sheppard promises a medical team will come and take a look at the medications Lucius has to offer.
It’s at this time that we see who’s responsible for writing this… wonderful episode.
Which leaves me to wonder/worry about who directed this episode.
But the expedition team makes good on their promises, and sends one Dr. Carson Beckett to check out the medicines and such that Lucius has for them. And Lucius manages to break down Carson’s defenses and worm his way back to Atlantis.
But not before telling the people of his own planet a harrowing tale of how he saved a baby that wasn’t breathing after being found almost frozen to death. He then tells the people of how the baby grew up to become this guy…
Slightly brain damaged.
Okay, now I’m just getting annoyed. Way to go, show. Now you’re showing your insensitivity towards the disabled!
Lucius arrives on Atlantis, and all “violation of rules” talk gets thrown out the window as Lucius winds up managing to charm the residents of the expedition, including the formerly skeptical Teyla and Ronan. But the only two people who haven’t submitted to Lucius’ charms yet are Sheppard and McKay, and they’re not about to be easily influenced.
Lucius, meanwhile, begins persuading Dr. Elizabeth Weir with his intel of an uninhabited planet, which Sheppard informs her is actually the site of a Wraith outpost. Sheppard relays this to McKay, the only other levelheaded person on the base. McKay is attempting to find out what Lucius was caught drinking on camera. However, the sample is insufficient, so Sheppard says he’ll go back to Lucius’s village to get more. McKay is not fine with being left behind, but Sheppard says someone needs to stay on Atlantis and keep an eye on the growing influence Lucius has.
Sheppard returns to the planet to find the once overjoyed natives (including Lucius’s many wives) to be in deep despair over Lucius not being there. They’re convinced he was kidnapped. Sheppard begins to question the people about life before Lucius’s arrival, and they tell him that when he first came, things were different, but then one day, he returned and told a tale of something he had stepped in, and from then on, he became more appealing to the people. Sheppard asks about the drink Lucius always has, which the wives describe as “his medicine”. I guess it’s like the Dos Equis of the Pegasus Galaxy, and Lucius is the Most Interesting Man in the Galaxy.
Sheppard arrives back on Atlantis to find that the DHD hasn’t been disabled per his instructions to McKay, and McKay is now under Lucius’ influence. Even worse, Teyla, Ronan, and Beckett all are on a mission (which could only be a dangerous thing, given their giddiness and influence) to check out the planet Sheppard found out is dangerous. But Lucius tries to convince McKay and Sheppard that everything will be just fine. It only works on McKay. Of course, they return safely, but under fire. They come back bearing an herb that Lucius sent them for, but this is where Sheppard has officially had it. He informs Dr. Weir (and everyone else in the vicinity) that it’s his head cold getting the better of him, and he says he’s going to get some rest.
Oh yeah. “Rest”, he says.
What he actually does is wait until he can get Dr. Beckett by himself, stun him, and escape in a Puddle Jumper. Beckett begins to go through withdrawal, much like the natives of Lucius’s planet. Sheppard explains to Beckett that the drink Lucius drinks contains a chemical that causes him to release a pheromone that creates gamma activity in the prefrontal cortex, leading to positive emotions. Closer contact and longer exposure cause addiction and easier influence. So, like drugs, then?
But why isn’t Sheppard easily influenced? Remember that little plot device—er, cold he said he had at the beginning of the episode? He can’t breathe, so he obviously can’t pick up the pheromone Lucius gives off. Sheppard comes up with a plan to kidnap Lucius and bring him back to his planet, but Beckett is having a hard time coping with everything. And he does exactly what I’m doing as I write this: he starts crying.
Just when Sheppard thinks he has Dr. Beckett finally coming to his senses, McKay, Ronan, and Teyla arrive to take them back to Atlantis. For his troubles (seriously, I kinda feel bad for Sheppard right now), he gets stunned by Ronan. He needs a hug.
Of course, Sheppard is fine, but is now locked up on Atlantis. He then finds out everything he needs to know about Lucius. Turns out Lucius was a baker (of bread, mostly, and the occasional muffin at festival time), who stumbled upon an herb that changed his life forever once he baked it into his bread. And then the planet that his magical herb was native to became a Wraith outpost. And since he was able to win friends and influence people, they were all too happy to go and get some for him.
And then he tells Sheppard that he’ll be receiving the ATA gene therapy (which allows people to operate Ancient-created devices; it was first mentioned in the season two Stargate SG-1 episode “The Fifth Race”, when it was discovered that Jack O’Neill had the gene).
Lucius receives the therapy, but he’s “tired” and is told to rest.
After his rest, Lucius is given the opportunity to test-fly a Puddle Jumper, but is apprehended by Sheppard, as well as Beckett. Turns out the gene therapy that Beckett said he was administering to him was actually a serum that effectively neutralized the chemical that Lucius used to win everyone over. Beckett also injected himself with the same serum, making Lucius non-influential. Sheppard then takes off in the Puddle Jumper with Lucius (though everyone excitedly believes Lucius is successfully piloting the Jumper).
Sheppard tells Lucius he’s giving Beckett enough to time to administer the serum to everyone on Atlantis, as well as on Lucius’s home planet, to which he will return him. Because hey, he’s a nice guy and all.
Meanwhile, back on Atlantis…
Sheppard and his team return, and brief Dr. Weir on Lucius’s return. Apparently, no one wanted to kill him (why, I have no idea), but Sheppard foresees plenty of divorces in Lucius’s future. And if he reveals the location of Atlantis to anyone, Ronan has promised to string him up by his feet and cut off his… but he’s interrupted by Dr. Weir.
So what happens when an episode involves a situation that’s later decidedly embarrassing to the main characters? The one unaffected character decides to make light of the situation at their expense. Why not? It’s funny.
Of course, it’s found out that McKay is keeping a teeny, tiny sample of the herb in his lab, to which Weir informs McKay to destroy it. Oh Rodney, you’re that lovelorn and lonely, aren’t you?
The episode ends with one of those “oh dear lord” exchanges between Drs. Weir and Beckett, and as the scene fades, we’re left with the joyous feeling that only comes from knowing that Lucius will never be seen nor heard from again…
…Until the next time we see him, ten episodes later. To be continued, I guess.
Seriously, no lesson learned?
Allison still loves the Stargate franchise, despite these hiccups. When she isn’t discussing the doldrums of the Stargate franchise, she’s writing articles of varying topics over on her blog, Allison’s Written Words, and is a contributor to Retroist. Drop her a tweet @DancerChick1982, she’d love to hear from you!
She promises there’s only one more Stargate episode she’ll write about.