Wednesday, July 6, 2011

SGA Rewatch: Rising (Parts 1 and 2)

Hello, and welcome to my Stargate Atlantis rewatch! Starting today I will be working my way through my all time favorite television series and will be posting about a new episode every Monday and Wednesday. I will be writing these posts with the assumption that my readers are at least passing familiar with the Stargate universe and with Stargate Atlantis in particular. While each post will be chock full of spoilers about the episode it covers (and all those that have come before), I will try to avoid spoilers for any future episodes or for episodes in Stargate Atlantis' sister series. I will probably point out from time to time, however, when something foreshadows future events, though I will not go into specifics about said future events.

So, are you still here? Yes? Oh yay! Good, I'm glad you're coming with me on this. Now, on to the episode!

What Happens

"Rising," as the series opener sets out to establish the basic premise of the new show. We get an introduction to the characters, a brief background about the stargate program itself, and then we find out what this show will actually be about. The writers fully intended for "Rising" to be a solid jumping on point for people who were unfamiliar with existing Stargate lore, and from my point of view, they did a pretty good job. I jumped into Stargate Atlantis having seen the original movie once years before and only having seen snippets of the original series in commercials up to that point. For all intents and purposes, I was a noob in this world, but still I was able to follow along and found myself quite intrigued (indeed, I enjoyed the show so much I wanted to know more and eventually went back and caught up on the entire original series).

Watching it again now, after many viewings of all three Stargate series, I find "Rising" no less entertaining. Some of the infodumps are more obvious, because to me these are things I know without even thinking about them. They are still fairly amusing though, because we are introduced to the stargate program through Major John Sheppard, who kind of gets thrown into the thick of things while on a routine trip to shuttle a general (our general, General O'Neill) to a research base in Antarctica. While Stargate Atlantis doesn't have any "main" character, per se, it is after all an ensemble cast, Sheppard is the one that newer viewers can identify with the most readily, since we get to learn all about this wondrous new thing right alongside him. From the very beginning of the series, Sheppard finds himself in over his head, yet he somehow finds a way to swim to shore. This is something that recurs not only throughout the episode, but also throughout the entire series. Watching the beginning once more, I am impressed at how consistent that aspect of his character has remained.

As I mentioned, the episode starts off with a research base in Antarctica. This base was once an outpost for a race of beings known to our characters as the Ancients. The Ancients built the network of stargates that pepper our galaxy, and that Stargate Command (the SGC) uses to travel to other worlds. The SGC believes that the Ancient outpost in Antarctica is the key to not only learning more about the Ancients and their technology, but also to finding their original seat of power, referred to as the "lost city." and better known to mythology as Atlantis. Very quickly we learn that the team at the research base has discovered what they think is the gate address to Atlantis. It turns out the reason they were having such a hard time locating the lost city is because they were thinking locally, so to speak. They were looking for a six symbol gate address which when combined with a seventh point-of-origin symbol on the dialing planet would enable them to open a wormhole and travel there. It turns out though that Atlantis is actually in another galaxy, requiring an additional gate symbol. Dialing another galaxy requires a tremendous amount of energy, so Dr. Elizabeth Weir assembles an expedition to Atlantis with the knowledge that their trip will likely be one-way unless her team can find another source of energy in the Pegagus galaxy where Atlantis is located.

The expedition arrives in Atlantis to find the city intact, but abandoned, and submerged at the bottom of an ocean. As they begin exploring the city it starts to power up, sensing their presence. A hologram is found explaining that 10,000 years ago the Ancients found themselves on the losing side of a galactic war. With their city under siege, they submerged it and gated back to Earth (where they had lived before venturing to the Pegasus galaxy) where they lived out the rest of their days. Much of the technology of the Ancients is genetically locked, meaning only an Ancient can initialize operate it. But thankfully some of the long-ago Ancients mixed bloodlines with the people on Earth after their return and some members of the expedition carry the ATA (Ancient Technology Activation) gene, which allows them to make things work. Included in the ATA carriers are Major Sheppard and the chief medical officer, Dr. Carson Beckett. Not included is the chief science officer Dr. Rodney McKay, and boy is he irritated about that.

As the expedition begins to explore the city Dr. McKay and the other scientists realize that doing so is draining the city's power drastically, which is causing the force field holding back the ocean to weaken, and in some areas of the city collapse. They call everyone back to the gate room but the damage has already been done. They need to find either a replacement power source--none have been detected in the city--or a place to evacuate until they can find said power source. Dialing Earth is out of the question (the power requirement is far beyond their capabilities), but dialing an address within the Pegasus galaxy isn't. They pick an address from the city's database at random and Dr. Weir sends a team through, led by the chief military officer Colonel Marshall Sumner (played brilliantly by Robert Patrick). Also on the team are Major Sheppard (whom we quickly learn is not in Sumner's good graces), Lieutenant Aiden Ford, and Sergeant Bates (the security officer).

On the new planet they meet a group of nomadic traders who call themselves Athosians. The Athosians are led by a woman named Teyla Emmagen. We also meet a man named Halling (Christoper Heyerdahl, who is awesome, and plays at least two roles in every television show he is in, this one being no exception) and his son Jinto, along with Jinto's friend Wex. Sumner is kind of a jerk to Teyla but Sheppard smooths it over and they begin the process of getting their two peoples acquainted. It is quickly revealed that the Athosians (and everyone they have ever met) live in constant fear of beings called the Wraith. While Sumner and Bates explore a set of ruins near the Athosian camp (left abandoned because the Athosians believe to return to the city would bring the Wraith upon them), Teyla takes Sheppard to an old system of caves to show him thousands of years of drawings depicting the attacks of the Wraith upon the people of Athos. Teyla explains that the Wraith cull humans as if they are cattle. They return in great numbers every few generations and wipe out anyone they can find, but there are longer periods in between where only small parties come occasionally to keep their prey in line. Those taken by the Wraith never return. Sheppard speculates (correctly) that the Wraith are the beings that drove the Ancients from the galaxy all those years ago.

Of course, once all of this has been dropped on us, who should appear on the planet but the Wraith? They come through the gate in ships and use a kind of transporter beam to capture as many humans as possible. Many people from both groups are taken, including Colonel Sumner, Sergeant Bates, Teyla, and Halling. The Athosians' camp is demolished and Sheppard ushers all of the survivors back through the gate to Atlantis, only to find out that Weir was just about to give the order to evacuate the city. Sheppard sees Jinto and asks if he knows any addresses to safe worlds they can gate to. While they are running to the dialing console, the entire city begins to shake violently. We are then treated to a really stunning visual sequence of the city breaking its moorings on the ocean floor and rising up to the surface. That was pretty cool, not gonna lie.

So. The expedition finds themselves now more or less safely free to explore the city. The generators they brought with them can give the city enough power for day-to-day functioning and to use the gate within the galaxy. Unfortunately they don't have nearly enough power to run the shield, so on the surface they are now more or less sitting ducks if anyone malevolent decides to drop by. Still, they have the advantage of being in a city that had been submerged for more than 10,000 years, so unless they give anyone reason to know that it isn't underwater anymore...yeah, I think you can see where this is going.

Now that the question of whether or not to evacuate has been answered, Sheppard begins to press Weir to let him mount a rescue operation for the missing expedition members and Athosians. He had the foresight to have Ford memorize the symbols the Wraith ships dialed when leaving Athos, so they just need to run the permutations of those symbols to find the right planet. Weir is skeptical, however, not wanting to take the risks unless they can be sure of some sort of tactical advantage. Things begin to look even bleaker when they find the right gate address and it leads to a gate parked not on the Wraith's planet but in orbit around it.

Enter McKay to save the day!

He shows Sheppard a bay of small space shuttles that had been discovered in a room directly over the gate room. They are perfectly sized to fit through a stargate. While figuring out if he can fly it, Sheppard also discovers that the ship has a cloaking device, which will allow them to sneak up on the Wraith undetected. Conceding this is a good enough tactical advantage, Weir gives the rescue mission a go. Sheppard takes Ford and a few other men on a rescue mission to the Wraith base. Sheppard is suitably impressed with the ship, which he christens a "puddle jumper," and which seems to have a kind of telepathic or mental link to its pilot. As he is wondering how they will find their people in the Wraith base, a panel opens up beside him and provides a tracking device he can use for just that purpose. He then tries thinking about how much he'd like a turkey sandwich, but sadly, to no avail.

Once in the base, which seems to be only minimally manned, Sheppard and Ford find their people fairly quickly, only to learn that Sumner had just been taken away by the Wraith. He goes to look for his commanding officer, leaving Ford to guard the prisoners and the rest of his men setting up C4 all around the place in order to create a distraction for their getaway. I will take a moment here to note that I was surprised, though I probably shouldn't have been, at how early in the series C4 makes its debut. This will continue to be one of the go-to tools of the expedition for the entire series. These people love blowing stuff up.

Sumner, meanwhile, has been finding out first hand just how much the Wraith don't care about the humans beyond anything as a source of food. He has been taken to a Wraith queen to be interrogated, since it is clear that his people are new to the neighborhood. The queen uses her mental kung-fu (the Wraith are very skilled at frakking with people's minds) to discover that Sumner is from a planet called Earth, that is not of the Pegasus galaxy. She also learns that Earth is home to billions of humans and declares that the Wraith feeding grounds have not been so rich in over 10,000 years. She tries to find the location of Earth but Sumner fights her. She then attempts to weaken his resistance by feeding on him, but is interrupted when Sheppard starts shooting her.

[Side note: For those unfamiliar, the Wraith have often been called "space vampires" and this is not entirely inaccurate. It is pretty much the same principle. They feed on life force rather than blood, and use a weird mouth thing in their hand rather than fangs. It's really creepy and gruesome.]

The queen just shrugs off Sheppard's shots and siphons off more energy from Sumner to heal herself up, causing him to age and waste away drastically (think the aging scene from the end of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, though not quite as dramatic). Sheppard is torn on what to do until Sumner gives him a look and a nod, and Sheppard then shoots his commanding officer, a mercy shot to stop his suffering and prevent the Wraith from gaining the location of Earth from the man. The queen then gets hold of Sheppard and is about to feed on him when Ford intervenes and distracts the queen enough for Sheppard to kill her. With her dying words she states that she was merely a caretaker for those who slept. With her death they will all wake up, and they will come looking for the expedition and find a way to the rich new feeding ground of Earth.

Sheppard gathers up his people and gets the heck out of there. Back on Atlantis, Weir tries to reassure him that he did what he had to do and there was no way he could have saved Sumner. He remarks that he is going to have live with that for the rest of his life though. Weir then tells him he should start thinking about who he would like for his gate team. He is now the chief military officer. He is unsure he is fit for the command, worrying that he's brought more trouble upon them than anything else. Weir tells him to look around at all of the new friends he has made them already, indicating the Athosians. Teyla hears this and comes over, agreeing with Weir and promising the help of her people to the expedition.


Whoo! That's quite a bit. It is a double episode though, so I guess that's to be expected. It is so odd to me to see some of these characters so early in their development. Carson, for example, seems so timid and unsure of himself, reluctant to take any risk at all. I guess the fact that I haven't thought of him like that in a very long time is a sign that he got some really good character growth and development over the course of the series. We do get a peek at his stubborn side, at least, even this early.

I could be wrong, but I think this episode marks the first time in franchise history that we get to see the Ancients in their native environment, and in their native dress. Which means this is the first time we get to see their truly horrid sense of fashion. I mean, come on. Even the Wraith have better fashion sense than these folks appeared to. I think that sign of poor judgement should have been flashing neon to us in terms of what we could expect to find out about the Ancients the more we delved into their world. I won't say anymore just now, but, yeah, I would consider the crappy clothes foreshadowing, is all.

Speaking of the Wraith. I have seen lots of reviewers over the years deride the Wraith for being over the top, overly dramatic, or just plain cheesy, and I have to day, I do not agree. They are creepy. Even knowing all that I know about them now, seeing the queen interact with Sumner gives me the chills. I think it is the fact that they know humans are a sentient race very similar to themselves in many aspects but still consider them nothing more than food that gets to me. That is just...unsettling.

The Pegasus stargates differed greatly in design from those in the Milky Way, and I have to say, they are just so freaking cool. I love the design of the Pegasus gates so much. Even the DHDs (dial-home-devices, used to enter a gate address from a planet) are snazzier than their Milky Way counterparts. 

I very much enjoyed the interaction between Ford and Sheppard from the start. When Sheppard is about to go through the stargate for the first time and asks Ford what it's like, the younger man quips, with a completely straight face, "Hurts like hell, sir." Then he smirks and lets out a "Woohoo!" as he leaps backwards through the gate. Smartass. There is also the whole bit about Ford being banned from naming things. Ever. Though I do notice that he was the one to come up with "life signs detector" for the tracking device, which stuck. 

We also get a little bit of interaction between Sheppard and McKay (a relationship that will become the heart of this series) early on, and you can already feel how fun it is going to be. From McKay being surprised by Sheppard's quick mental math to the little quibble about what to call the puddle jumpers (McKay and Ford want to go with gateship). It is nice to see that there from the beginning.

The banter! Oh, the banter! It is there even in the first episode, and it is one of the things that made this show so delightful. Even the one-off characters often get their own quip in, and the exchanges between the principle cast (primarily Sheppard and McKay, but the interplay is there with almost everyone) are spectacular things to behold.

One thing that really stands out for me every time I watch this episode again, now that I am familiar with the original series as well as Stargate Atlantis, is Daniel, one of the main characters from SG-1, who makes a guest appearance in the Atlantis pilot. I still giggle every time I see the scene in the beginning where he walks in, sees Weir and McKay, declares, "Just the people I need to see!" and then buggers off, leaving them behind staring at each other in bemusement, before walking back in and saying, "Come with me!" It is good stuff. Then there's the bit where the expedition starts going through the gate and he makes a quick last-minute plea with O'Neill to join them (which O'Neill of course shoots down). I liked these bits before I knew who Daniel was, but after? Man, I am bummed out by them a little bit too. In any sane sense of character development, Daniel Jackson should have been part of the Atlantis expedition. He just should have. From a story point of perspective it made very little sense that O'Neill, moving away from off-world travel, would keep Daniel from going (unless you are a Daniel/Jack shipper in which case, well, there you go, motive explained). This is a prime example of real life interrupting the story. With SG-1 still on for another season, there was no way Michael Shanks could leave the show, and therefore no way Daniel Jackson could go to Atlantis. I would loved to have seen that though, and a part of me will always wonder how differently the series would have played out if Stargate Atlantis had started after Stargate SG-1 ended.

Favorite Quotes

"That was different." (Major Sheppard)
"For me? Not so much." (General O'Neill)

"Let's say we get to the part where you start talking real fast." (O'Neill to Daniel)

"So you can fly that thing. It doesn't mean you can pull off a rescue." (Dr. Weir)
"Doctor, this is why you brought me here." (Major Sheppard)

"We can name it later!" (Sheppard to Ford)

"It's a ship...that goes through the gate..." (McKay)

"We don't require our food to agree with us." (Wraith queen to Colonel Sumner)

"How come I never make friends like that?" (Carson Beckett, observing Sheppard and Teyla)
"You need to get out more." (McKay)
"We're in another galaxy, how much more out can you get?!?" (Beckett)

And that wraps up the first installment of the rewatch. Thanks for stopping by! Join me next week for the next episode, "Hide and Seek."

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