Hello and welcome back to my Stargate Atlantis rewatch! Today we'll be talking about the season one episode "Childhood's End." As always, spoilers for the episode and any that came before, with mild references (but theoretically no spoilers) to Stargate SG-1 from time to time. Now, on to the episode!
The episode starts off with a nice visual shot of a puddle jumper flying over a forested landscape. Inside, Sheppard asks Teyla if she recognizes the planet, to which she responds in the negative. McKay picks up on an energy signature and as they approach it the puddle jumper just dies. They make a crash landing relatively unscathed, and subsequently realize that none of their electronic equipment is working.
They start heading back to the gate on foot and Ford remarks that even his compass is acting wonky. After mocking him for bringing a compass to another planet, McKay then snags it and realizes it is pointing them toward the energy field he had detected earlier, so they take a detour to check it out. The compass leads them to some overgrown ruins, but before they can really explore the area they are ambushed by a group of heavily armed (with bows) children. The kid in charge is surprised that they are something he calls "Full-Growns" and declares that they must see the Elders immediately.
While they wait for the Elders in the village, they notice a pile of Wraith bones, arranged in some sort of shrine. Ford is worried that the villagers might worship the Wraith, but the kid who brought them there quickly explains that the bones came from a "death ship" that fell out of the sky years ago. They keep them there as a remembrance of the way life used to be, "before." He doesn't clarify beyond that, but McKay pulls Sheppard aside and says they need to find whatever it was that took the Wraith ship (and likely their own as well) down, because anything that could take out a Wraith ship would be quite useful to them.
When they are taken to the Elders, Sheppard is surprised to be met with more kids. The head Elder, Keras, explains that no one in their villages is over the age of twenty-four. Long ago their people instituted a tradition that on the eve of one's twenty-fifth birthday, each villager takes his or her own life. They believe that this a) allows them into the after-life because that can only be achieved if one dies peacefully, and b) keeps the Wraith away by preventing a "crop worth harvesting" growing up.
An appalled Team Shep mulls over this while the Elders confer over what to do with them. Sheppard asks Teyla if there is any truth to the whole "Wraith don't like to eat young" thing and she does not believe that to be the case. The Wraith are equal-opportunity ghouls, folks. McKay chimes in that the whole area is inside an electromagnetic field and that is what is actually keeping the Wraith away. Without any of their tech working, they can only approach on foot and are at a huge disadvantage if outnumbered by the villagers. Also, any probes or ships they send never come back, so they probably stopped thinking there was anything worthwhile on the planet long ago. Teyla and Sheppard both want to tell the kids about the shield so that they can stop killing themselves for nothing. McKay says they should hold off though, until he has had a chance to find and examine whatever it is that is keeping the Wraith away.
Keras joins the group and explains that they may stay long enough to repair their ship and then they must leave, because the presence of Full-Growns in the village is making everyone very uncomfortable. His second in command, Aries, is in particular very concerned that the mere existence of Team Shep will bring the Wraith down on them at any moment. You can tell Aries is gonna be trouble right from the start. Teyla and Shep want to stay in the village to talk to people and get a feel for things, so Ford goes with McKay to look for the source of the EM field, telling Keras that there may be something in the ruins preventing them from fixing their ship. Aries demands that the Full-Growns must be kept under watch, and Sheppard says that is fine, so Keras sends two little children (maybe about six or seven years old) with Ford and McKay. McKay is completely baffled by the kids' interest in him and doing his best to be a prickly pear so they leave him alone. Ford distracts them by introducing them to the wonder that is chocolate.
In the ruins McKay finds the EM field generator, which turns out to be powered by a ZPM, the holy grail of the Atlantis expedition. He disables the field and removes the ZPM, then radios Sheppard to tell him he is taking it back to Atlantis to see if it is worth keeping. Sheppard tells him to hurry back. He has just learned that Keras's twenty-fifth birthday is tomorrow, which means he has do to his ritual suicide that evening. Sheppard really wants to stop that from happening. Teyla is very unhappy that they are considering stealing the ZPM from a group of children, taking away their only real protection from the Wraith. Sheppard reassures her that it is a last-resort option and that the Wraith haven't been there in so long, there's probably very little chance that they would come back to try culling again anyway. Can you say foreshadowing?
Back on Atlantis, Weir is on the same page as Teyla. She understands their need for a ZPM though, so she lets McKay get on with the testing. McKay flippantly tells her that if it is worth taking, they can just bring all of the kids back to Atlantis. Weir is shocked that he can so lightly suggest uprooting an entire culture and does her best to impart on him that that is not what the expedition does. She also wants to know more about the suicide pact. Evidence seems to suggest that it was implemented at the same time that the shield went online, and she thinks the two things might be related.
Back on Kid Planet, Aries is talking to the other Elders behind Keras' back, worried that Keras' interest in Team Sheppard will prevent him from going through with his Sacrifice. He is also increasingly concerned that letting the Full-Growns stay is putting the villages (we learn there are twelve in total) in danger. He suggests that a "forced" Sacrifice might be necessary, but agrees to allow Sheppard's group until that evening to leave before he and the other Elders take more drastic measures.
McKay's tests on the ZPM reveal that it is pretty depleted. It only has enough energy to power Atlantis' shield for a few hours. Weir asks about the energy field it was being used to power. He admits that it could continue to power that for quite some time yet. Deciding that the ZPM is of more use to the kids than to Atlantis, Weir orders him to take it back to the planet and reinstall it in the field generator immediately. He also explains that he has figured out how the suicide pact is related to the shield. The shield isn't powerful enough to cover the whole planet, only a small portion of it. The people who built the shield implemented the suicides as a method of population control, to keep the villages from ever expanding outside the protection of the shield.
Night has begun to fall and the village has started Keras' cleansing ceremony, leading up to his Sacrifice. He has asked Sheppard to stand witness. As the ceremony is getting underway, Sheppard notices that a transmitter of some sort on the Wraith bones is blinking that it is active. Realizing the import of this, he calls Teyla's attention to it and they disrupt the ceremony destroying the device. Rodney had arrived back on the planet and they tell him over their radios he needs to put the ZPM back immediately because they are in very real danger of a Wraith attack at any moment. Aires uses the destruction of the Wraith bones as an excuse to kick Team Sheppard off of the planet. He goes off on a tirade about how they have broken their laws and defiled the remembrance and are putting the villagers in danger just by being there. Keras steps in and calms everyone down, stating he will take them back to the gate himself, after which they will resume the ceremony. Aries isn't completely mollified, however, and sends a group after Keras and Sheppard to make sure they actually do leave.
At the ruins, McKay managed to break something while trying to put the ZPM back in place. Sheppard and Teyla arrive with Keras in tow, and McKay tells them he needs more time to fix the device and get the field back up. Keras, confused, says that this doesn't matter and they need to leave immediately. They explain to him about the field and that they cannot leave until it is back up and running. Keras is appalled to learn that his people have been sacrificing themselves for all of these generations because of a lie.
Aries people report back that Sheppard's people stopped at the ruins and are loitering, so Aries rallies the "warriors" of the village that clearly the Full-Growns have no intention of leaving and they need to just kill them and be done with it. They confront Sheppard at the ruins and he manages to buy a hidden McKay some time to fix the machine, claiming he is back at their ship and they are heading there now. Aries escorts them none-so-gently to the jumper. Of course, just as they arrive, a Wraith probe of some sort shows up. It scans the jumper and flies off. Sheppard tries to shoot it down but isn't successful. As he moves toward the jumper to go after it, Aries and his people surround the team and refuse to let them move. Aries doesn't buy that destroying the probe will keep the Wraith from coming and blames Sheppard for bringing the Wraith down upon them. Sheppard and team really don't want to shoot the kids, they know it will be a slaughter, but he tells Aries they will defend themselves.
Upon realizing that McKay was not in the jumper, Aries sent a group back to the ruins and they find McKay as he is almost done fixing the generator. He tries to explain to them what he is doing but they aren't inclined to listen. Just then, the Wraith probe makes it to the ruins and while they try to shoot it down with their arrows, McKay manages to get the EM field back online, disabling the probe. The kids run back to Aries to tell him that Sheppard was telling the truth, but they get to him a little too late. Keras is shot with an arrow (while defending Sheppard), but the wound is not too bad and he ends up being okay. Aries finally stands down in the face of the evidence.
The episode wraps up with the villagers seeing Team Sheppard off. McKay tells them that he managed to boost the field's coverage so that it can sustain a considerable population growth, meaning the kids can stop killing themselves. Keras says that much of their ways will need to change in the face of this discovery, but he thinks that all will work out. As a parting gift, and a birthday present for Keras, the Lanteans leave the villagers with a big bag of chocolate. Yay, chocolate!
Considering the very dark concept of this episode, I am surprised by how light it comes across. Stargate Atlantis was always the lightest of the Stargate shows in tone, even when it dealt with some pretty heavy stuff, so I guess I shouldn't be so surprised. Still. I mean, this show originally aired less than a week before I turned twenty-four, so you can imagine how disturbing I found the whole thing, I am sure. I noted that the previous episode felt like filler, but I think this one really is a filler episode, more so than "Suspicion." It could easily be a stand-alone, viewed by someone who wasn't familiar with the rest of the story. Yes, Kid Planet is mentioned from time to time again as the series wears on, but nothing that happened in this episode, with one exception, holds any sort of bearing on the rest of the series, or even the rest of the season.
I have said before that the first half of season one does a lot of establishing episodes, setting up how things work in the universe of the show. What "Childhood's End" really does here is to establish just how far the expedition is willing to go to obtain a ZPM. They will consider uprooting an entire culture and smashing down its long-held religious beliefs if that will buy them the power they need to defend the city. It is the conundrum of Stargate Atlantis, I think. The show has a very light-tone, as I said, but the underlying themes actually tend to run toward the dark side of things when you actually stop to think about it. Season two will really ramp this up, but we're not there yet, so I'll just move on.
One other thing about this episode is worth mentioning, however and that is that I love how McKay managed to name-drop SG-1's Samantha Carter into conversation with the team at the start of the episode. He actually appeared on a few earlier episodes of SG-1, and he and Carter clashed like it was nobody's business. Despite that, he wound up carrying quite the torch for her, a torch that burned (and was referenced more than once on Atlantis) for quite some time. In this episode he does imply that he and Carter had something of a romance, though whatever romance they had was totally in his head.
Funnily enough, McKay was never meant to be a character on the spin-off. David Hewlett auditioned for a completely different role, but the show runners loved him so much, they decided to just bring over his previous character. I have to say, I can't even begin to imagine what Stargate Atlantis would have been like without the character of Rodney McKay, whether David Hewlett had ended up on the series or not. McKay completely stole this series from start to finish. It's no secret that he is my favorite character on the show, but I am definitely not alone in this.
"So, you think it's worth checking out?" (Sheppard)
"I'm sorry, yes. Energy field good." (McKay)
"You brought a magnetic compass to another planet in another galaxy?" (McKay)
"You don't think they worship the Wraith do you?" (Ford)
"That'd be a first." (Sheppard)
"It'd be disturbing." (McKay)
"You do know of the stargate?" (Teyla)
"It's a big round...thing." (Sheppard)
"You're mean!" (Castas)
"Thank you for finally noticing." (McKay)
"Far be it for me to cause a panic, but..." (McKay)
"What did you do? What did you do?" (Ford)
"There's the slightest possibility that in my haste I may have broken it." (McKay)
"Do you think I am a fool?" (Aries)
"No. I just think you're a little cranky." (Sheppard)
Here endeth the blog. I hope to see you back next Monday for "Poisoning the Well."