Wednesday, July 13, 2011

SGA Rewatch: Thirty Eight Minutes

Hello and welcome back to my Stargate Atlantis rewatch! Today we'll be talking about the third episode in season one, "Thirty Eight Minutes." (Yes, I know, there should be a hyphen there, but the official title doesn't seem to have one. Yes, I am actually rather irritated about that. I have issues.)

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!

What Happened

Sheppard's team (Major Sheppard, Lieutenant Ford, Dr. McKay, and Teyla) along with Sergeants Markham and Stackhouse head back to the Wraith's planet from the pilot in order to do some recon. Unfortunately, when they get there, the Wraith base is just...gone. What they had thought was a facility in the side of a mountain turned out to actually be a massively huge space ship (a hive ship) that had been parked there so long it had become overgrown with centuries worth of trees and such. 

The Wraith may have taken their ship and left, but they did leave a small force of their soldiers on the planet (I am not actually sure why. Housekeeping, maybe?) and Sheppard and team encounter the Wraith shortly after discovering that the base is gone. While hightailing it back to their puddle jumper, Sheppard runs into a giant web and is attacked by a big ugly bug, which attaches itself to his neck and starts trying to feed on him. Ford and crew find him and get Sheppard back to the jumper. While they are heading for the gate in orbit the jumper is hit by some of the Wraith's weapon fire. This results in one of the jumper's drive pods failing to retract as it goes through the stargate, causing the jumper to get stuck in the gate.

Markham and Stackhouse, in the front half of the ship, have gone through the event horizon and are demolecularized already. Meanwhile, Team Shep is stuck in the rear compartment, still whole, and freaking out. No part of the jumper can rematerialize in Atlantis until all of the jumper has gone through the gate. Stargates have a default setting that detects whether matter is being transmitted through a gate or not, and will usually automatically shut down if nothing is going through after a set time has elapsed (they can be manually shut down from the dialing or receiving end as well). A gate will remain open if it senses something is only partly transmitted, but it can only do so for thirty-eight minutes. That is the longest time a gate will remain open (on its own, there is a list of extenuating circumstances that can keep a gate open longer, but none of them are good things). 

So from the moment that the ship gets stuck in the gate, the clock is ticking.

If it shuts down before they manage to get the jumper unstuck, the ship will be severed in half by the closing gate. Markham and Stackhouse, as a partial transmission, will be lost (i.e., dead) and Team Shep will be exposed to the vacuum of space and subject to explosive decompression. Fun, eh?

McKay quickly gets to work on trying to find a way to get the ship the rest of the way through the gate. The first thing he does is to close the bulkhead doors, which are thankfully behind the event horizon line. It won't save them completely if the gate shuts down, but it will buy Atlantis time to try to send a rescue of some sort. Meanwhile, Sheppard is still being fed on by the killer bug he picked up planetside. Things look pretty bleak for our heroes.

On Atlantis Dr. Weir is running between three groups trying to solve the two problems:

  • Doctor Zelenka and team are in the jumper bay running simulations to determine if there is a way to close the drive pods manually from within the rear compartment of a jumper.
  • Doctors Grodin, Kavanagh, and Simpson are heading up a team to try brainstorming another solution.
  • Doctor Beckett working with a medical team and over the radio with Ford and Teyla to try to get the dang bug off of Sheppard before it kills him.

Just another day on Atlantis, really. 

Zelenka (yay, Zelenka!!) manages to find a schematic of the command crystals in the rear compartment and sends them to Rodney (radio transmissions through the gate are still working just fine). Rodney thinks this takes the chances of getting the pod closed in time down from one in a million to more like one in a thousand, so that's something at least.

Beckett asks Ford and Teyla what they have on hand in the jumper so that they can try to MacGyver a solution to the bug problem. He gets a description of the critter and also asks what they have tried so far to remove the bug. Ford reveals that they have tried to burn it, cut it, and even shoot it off, all to no avail. Teyla says she believes the creature might be related to the Wraith in some way because with each attempt it just sucked some of Major Sheppard's energy to heal itself. McKay theorizes that the Wraith had to evolve from somewhere, so maybe this is an ancestral species. They go through a bunch of trials with the items on hand (iodine, salt, water, alcohol, etc.) but none of them help. In fact, they manage to piss off the bug and it digs even deeper into Sheppard's neck. This also results in Ford getting thrown back from a flailing Sheppard, distracting Rodney and causing him to accidentally hit a circuit that fires the ship's thrusters briefly. Unfortunately, this moves the ship just a little bit further in to the event horizon, breaching the bulkhead doors, which now means instant death for the team in the back of the jumper if the gate shuts down.

Weir goes to check on Kavanagh and Simpson to find them having a huge argument. Kavanagh (thbbt) is convinced that McKay's poking around in the ship's systems will cause a catastrophic overload, making the jumper explode and sending a force equivalent to that of a very large bomb back through the stargate, which would be bad for Atlantis. He wants to raise the gate's shield immediately to protect the city in case this happens. Simpson and the rest of the team agree that overload is a possibility, but a very slim one. They feel that raising the shield should be a last resort as doing so would likely kill Markham and Stackhouse, stuck in limbo. Weir defers to Simpson and the rest of the team and Kavanagh throws a huge hissy fit. He tracks her down and berates her for not being better than the military (he left the SGC for the Atlantis expedition because he was sick of being under military command and wanted to work with a civilian leader). She in return calls him out for wasting time and being an egotistical asshat, more worried about his own hide than those of the people he is supposed to be working on saving. 

In the midst of all of this, Halling and a group of Athosians come to Weir. Halling explains that among their people it is very rare indeed to know when one's time of death approaches, and they have a special ritual for those situations. He would like to get on the radio and perform the ritual with Teyla. Weir flat out refuses this request. She explains that her people do not embrace death but do everything they can to stave it off. Halling protests and she apologizes for stepping on his toes and traditions but goes on to explain that she will not send the jumper team the message that they should expect to die. 

Sheppard starts to get all maudlin and says he is a goner. He explains that before the team found him, a Wraith came across him and, seeing the bug on his neck, just left him there. He believes the Wraith wouldn't have done that if there was a way to get it off. He starts to make a final speech to Weir when Ford interrupts with the suggestion that maybe they can send him through the event horizon, putting him in suspended animation until they can get the jumper back to Atlantis and the waiting medical team. Carson is against this idea, having heard more about the bug. He is worried that the shock of going through the gate will cause the bug to kill Sheppard. 

Sheppard then gets a brainstorm. He suggests using the portable defibrillator they have on hand to give him a shock. Ford is appalled, stating this will kill the Major, which Carson responds, cottoning on, is the point. If the creature is related to the Wraith and the subject is it feeding on dies, it will likely stop feeding and let go. Acting quickly, they can then shock Sheppard one more time to revive him, and failing that, throw him in suspended animation to try to revive him in the city. They go for it and manage to get the bug off. Ford shoots the thing up and then they try to shock Sheppard back awake. Of course, that doesn't work so Teyla drags him back through the event horizon to await revival in Atlantis.

Rodney and Ford are now down to seven minutes left to get the ship back through the gate. With two minutes to spare, Rodney manages to close the drive pods but the ship doesn't move. It lost all forward momentum when it got stuck in the gate, so they have to figure out how to push it through. Kavanagh pipes up that if they blow the rear hatch, the resulting depressurization should give the jumper just enough thrust to nudge it through. The only problem is the hatch switch is right by the door. Ford pushes McKay through the event horizon and blows the hatch, holding on for dear life as everything not tied down (including a just starting to wake up bug) vents out into space. The jumper slides through the gate and the medical team races to save Sheppard, successfully. 

Yup. Just another day on Atlantis. The episode closes with the team and Weir visiting Sheppard in the infirmary, the first of many, many similar scenes. 


I like how the writers used the first couple of episodes as a sort of Stargate 101 for people who didn't watch SG-1. The thirty-eight minute window was explored quite a few times on the other series, but this was a good way to get it across to noob viewers (as well as members of the expedition who hadn't come across this particular problem before). The early part of season one does a good job of establishing the preexisting rules of the universe while also giving new and old viewers an introduction into the new setting (Pegasus galaxy) and its own unique set of rules. This episode is a pretty stellar example of this, taking a classic Stargate scenario and turning it on its head to give it a uniquely Atlantis flair. It also introduces the Iratus bug, which becomes quite an important element in the mythology of the series.

I think that this episode was also mostly in real-time which was pretty neat. That's a hard concept for most shows to pull off, but I feel like it worked quite well in this case.

Doctor Zelenka makes his first appearance in this episode, yay! I love Zelenka! We don't get any of his interaction with Rodney yet, but we get hints of  what is to come (Rodney being unable to remember Zelenka's name, for instance). 

Kavanagh. Oh, Kavanagh. I am not sure if the writers actually intended to make him the benevolent villain (is that a thing? I am making that a thing) of the series. The fact that he is the one that came up with the "blow the hatch" solution makes me think they were trying to redeem him, but it was too little, too late. He became a favorite for fans to hate on. Seriously, if you are brave, go check out a Stargate Atlantis fanfic archive (Wraithbait is my favorite, but you can also check out Atlantica) and do a search for stories involving Kavanagh. I think about ninety-eight percent of them involve him getting soundly pummeled in one way or another (the other two percent involve him hooking up with Bates, another fan favorite to hate, but I don't want to think about those). 

I truly love how much Ford steps up in this episode. It is so easy to forget that he was the original second-in-command of the expedition, under Sumner, and resumed the position once Sheppard was in charge. He is just usually such a happy-go-lucky puppy. But with Sheppard out of commission, McKay occupied trying to fix the jumper, and Teyla out of her element, he really had a chance to shine as he stepped up kept everyone together. You can really see the potential in him to become a great leader right here.

The other thing I really noticed about this episode was the diversity of clothing. Weir is wearing this really cool (though kind of weird stylistically) shirt throughout most of the episode, and we never see it ever again. Then at the end, she's got a completely different outfit on and Rodney, McKay, and Teyla are all dressed in civvies as well. It was actually almost disorienting. By the second half of the season, at the latest, each character pretty much has a set uniform/outfit and it is a very rare occasion that you see them in something else (though later in the series Teyla does get to branch out a bit, and Sheppard and McKay at least get updated uniforms from time to time). You would think, with limited resources, each team member would only have three or four outfits each (with the military of course being in uniform) that they would rotate. I would expect a couple of sets of clothing for each character that we see regularly, not just one. But these outfits never appear again. It's weird. My guess is that the show ran over budget somewhere and ended up cutting out further costuming for the main characters. But what happened to what they wear in this episode, huh? It's a mystery I guess.

Also, yes, I am a girly girl at the weirdest times.

Favorite Quotes

"The cockpit is, uh, regrettably demolecularized at the moment..." (McKay)

"I'm told you have something of a cling-on." (Beckett to Sheppard--think Star Trek for a second and you'll get it.)

That's it for this week folks! See you next Monday for "Suspicion."

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