Wednesday, July 27, 2011

SGA Rewatch: Underground

Hello and welcome back to my Stargate Atlantis rewatch! Today we'll be talking about the season one episode "Underground."

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

The episode starts off with Teyla (with a lovely new haircut) briefing Weir and the team about a trading partner of the Athosians, a people who call themselves the Genii. She describes them as a simple, shy people, not very technologically advanced. They are an agricultural society. Basically, they are Amish. Atlantis is approaching a food shortage and the crops on the mainland are nowhere near close enough to being ready for harvesting, so Weir is very interested in seeing if Atlantis can broker a trade deal for food with the Genii. (Side note: That is an interesting aspect to interplanetary trade, you don't have to just depend on the growing seasons of your own planet, at any given time there is likely to be another planet with fresh food available for trade.) Sheppard and Ford both feel that they should be looking for allies who can help them defend Atlantis, but Weir feels that this mission takes precedence, so off they go.

On the Genii homeworld, they are met by a man named Tyrus and his (grown) daughter Sora, long acquaintances of Teyla's. Tyrus is suspicious of the Lanteans at first, especially because they are armed and he sees Teyla is dressing like they do now, rather than as an Athosian, but Teyla reassures him. She promises that she would not have brought them to meet the Genii if she did not feel them worthy. He agrees to take them to their village and while Sora is leading them on, he hangs back, speaking into a decidedly non-Amish communicator device on his wrist (which was hidden by his floppy sleeves).

The negotiations don't seem to be going very well. Atlantis is offering medicine in return for a portion of the Genii's staple crop, tava beans. The leader of the Genii, a man named Cowen, seems to be trying to make things extra difficult, stating they will need much more medicine than offered and telling the Lanteans they can just leave if they don't like the terms. Teyla is surprised at his unwillingness to bargain, as her people have always had very fair dealings with the Genii. Cowen explains that the Lanteans are asking for a substantial portion of their harvest, which means his own people will have to plant new crops, clear new land, etc. Very hard, laborious, time-consuming work.

Sheppard thinks to aid negotiations by offering the Genii a much quicker and easier way to clear their lands. They go outside to an old tree stump and Ford uses C4 to blow it up. Cowen is suitably impressed by the C4. He says if the Lanteans can provide a sufficient quantity, along with the medicine, they will gladly give them the amount of food asked for. Sheppard says he needs to go run the new terms by his boss and he and McKay head back to Atlantis to talk to Weir. Teyla and Ford stay behind to hold down the fort and Cowen says they will have a Harvest Ceremony that afternoon. Teyla looks nonplussed at this suggestion.

Weir is not happy that Sheppard has essentially made himself an arms dealer, but he argues that the intended use for the C4 is innocent enough and they do need the food. Weir reluctantly agrees and sends Sheppard and McKay back to seal the deal with Cowen. On the way back, Sheppard deviates from the path (preferring to go in a straight line) and they get lost. McKay's scanner picks up a strange energy signature and they go to investigate it. They discover a hatch hidden in an old barn, and the energy signature is coming from the hatch, so they decide to check it out. Down the hatch, they find themselves in what appears to be an underground bunker. McKay remarks that the construction is definitely beyond the capabilities of the Genii. As they explore, they wonder if maybe the Genii are unaware of the bunker, which leads them to a vast underground complex. Just as they discover the complex, they are surrounded by heavily armed soldiers.

Back at the Harvest Ceremony, Teyla lets Ford unwittingly take a big gulp of moonshine and she and the Genii laugh at his surprise. Other than that, it seems like a very boring event. Someone comes up to Cowen and whispers in his ear and he tells Teyla and Ford that he must excuse himself.

Back underground, Sheppard and McKay, under guard, speculate that maybe the two societies exist separately, unaware of each other's existence. This idea is quickly put to pasture when Cowen enters the room, dressed in the same uniform as the other soldiers. Cowen goes through their things, trying to decide what to do with them. He tells them that normally they would have already been shot for having discovered the complex, but their advanced weapons and possession of C4 makes theirs a unique situation (the Genii level of tech is about 1940s or so). Sheppard guesses that Cowen doesn't actually want the C4 to clear stumps, and Cowen agrees, stating they have a more "sophisticated" purpose in mind for it. Sheppard puts himself out there and says that his people are looking for allies against the Wraith, implying that the Genii might be as well.

Back on the surface, Teyla and Ford are starting to get a really weird vibe from their hosts. They decide to try to leave and see if they can make contact with Sheppard and McKay. Tyrus and Sora stop them however, stating that a Wraith ship has been sighted in the area and no one must leave or they will draw the Wraith's attention. Teyla, with her spidey-sense, knows this to be a lie. She and Ford try to leave anyway and the Genii start to surround them when Tyrus gets a call on their communicator. A shocked Teyla watches as all of the Genii pull out guns and tell her that she and Ford must relinquish their weapons. They are then escorted to the bunker where Sheppard and McKay are waiting.

Everyone is eyeing each other uneasily and trying to size one another up, deciding if an alliance will work or not. McKay deduces that the Genii are trying to build atomic bombs to use against the Wraith. They think the C4 will solve the current roadblock in their project. Cowen is surprised and impressed that McKay figured this out and asks if the C4 will do what he thinks. McKay says that it probably will, but it all depends on their design. Cowen takes them to the lab where the bombs are being built so McKay can check it out. He points out to Cowen that radiation is a risk they need to be aware of. Cowen seems flippant about this, says his scientists have assured them that it's not a problem. McKay tells him he is wrong, but assures Sheppard that as long as they are only down there a couple of hours the team should be fine.

Before McKay can go too far on explaining to the Genii what they need to do to fix their project, Sheppard asks if they are allies or still prisoners. A tentative alliance is struck between the two groups, but it is clear that there is still not a lot of trust on either side. Cowen and Tyrus reveal that their plan to defeat the Wraith is to sneak the bombs aboard all of their hive ships while they hibernate and detonate them simultaneously, vaporizing them while they sleep. Thinking they have decades before the next big culling, their plan is to test their first bomb in five years. Seeing the obvious flaw in this plan (the Wraith are awake), Teyla reveals to them that their plan may no longer be possible. She explains what happened and that the Wraith are now starting to wake up. Cowen is furious and storms out, with Sheppard chasing after him.

Sheppard manages to talk Cowen out of taking his team prisoner and interrogating them before leaving them out for the Wraith to find. He explains that what they have with them is just the tip of the iceberg in their arsenal. He still thinks they can take out the Wraith, but only if they work together. He tells Cowen about the puddle jumper (making it sound like they only have one) and believes that with that they stand a real chance. Mollified, Cowen returns to the meeting to find Tyrus and Sora arguing with the rest of Sheppard's team. Cowen tells them that Sheppard has convinced them that working together is still in everyone's best interest. McKay says he can help them get their bomb program back on track and easily make up for the lost time.

Cowen then shows them the crucial bit of the next step of their plan. Generations ago some Genii managed to shoot down a Wraith dart, from which they recovered a data device (the Wraith equivalent of a flash drive). Tyrus and Sora were able to access the data on the device using some really primitive computers. From the device they learned the location of a nearby hive ship, as well as its layout. Their plan was to infiltrate that ship, use the device to interface with the ship's mainframe, and learn the location of all of the other hive ships so that they would know how many bombs to make and where to take them. With the Wraith awake, infiltrating the ship would be almost impossible--except for the puddle jumper. Sheppard goes back to Atlantis to update Weir and get a jumper so they can do the mission. Weir is pissed, understandably, but realizes that at this point they really have no choice but to go through with it.

The mission does not go very well. Tyrus and Cowen go with Sheppard's team in the jumper. They get onto the hive ship alright and then split up: Teyla and Tyrus head back to the ship to keep an eye on it, Cowen, McKay, and Sheppard to go hook up the device and download the data. McKay manages to get the data they were looking for, but as Teyla and Tyrus are heading back to the jumper, one of the people coccooned for later feeding breaks through his containment and begs for their help. Teyla goes to help him but Tyrus stops her, stating that the Wraith can never know they were there. The man in the cocoon starts making even more noise and, irate, Tyrus shoots him to shut him up. Of course, this attracts the Wraith's attention (smart move, there, Tyrus). He is shot as they are running away and Teyla cannot get to him before the Wraith and she has to leave him behind.

Back on the Genii homeworld, Cowen pulls a double-cross as soon as they land. He tells Sora (already pissed that she had to stay behind) that Teyla killed her father and tells Sheppard that the Genii will be keeping the data device (which the two peoples were to share) and the puddle jumper as well. Sheppard, however, was ready for something like this and had two cloaked jumpers waiting in the air. He has them materialize and his team takes the data device and leaves. Cowen says that the Lanteans do not want to make an enemy of the Genii and Sheppard responds that it works the other way too.

Back on Atlantis, Grodin manages to crack some of the data on the device and finds that there are at least something like sixty hive ships, spread out all over the galaxy. Many of them are already on the move. Even if the ships had all been still in hibernation, there were far too many for the Genii to ever have been able to attack simultaneously. Their plan never would have worked.

The episode wraps up with Weir informing Sheppard that while he was gone Bates managed to secure a deal for food with a group of traders called the Menarians. They then discuss the implications of the information they found, worried about what they will have to face in the future.


Amish Nazis. This is what science fiction is all about, folks. Make no mistake about it, the Genii were definitely intended to be comparable to the Nazis. From their level of technological advancement to their belief that they should be the ruling power in the galaxy. Even if the mission had gone off as planned, even if Sheppard had never woken up the Wraith, I doubt the Genii would ever have played nicely with the Lanteans. They are an untrusting bunch to begin with and their superiority complex would never have stood up well to being in the shadow of the Lanteans. They also come across as very isolationist, by choice. Even their closest trading partners (like the Athosians) know little to nothing about their true nature. Only when it is of benefit to themselves do they allow someone who discovers their secret to live.

Cowen's closing words? So true, folks. We have not seen the last of the Genii. Not by a long shot.

Hearkening back to my last post and all of the Star Trek references, "Underground" really ramps it up with the casting of Colm Meaney as Cowen. That was a connection that initially went over my head, as I wasn't aware that Meaney was a Trek alum until well after I had fallen in love with Stargate Atlantis.

Ah, and once more, we have Sheppard trying to solve the galaxy's problems with C4.

Another thing established in this episode is Sheppard's absolutely terrible sense of direction when on the ground. Guy can fly like it's nobody's business, but he can't get from point A to point B on his own two feet without a guide, I swear.

We continue to see the banter between McKay and Sheppard level up in this episode as well. It is also quite interesting to see how shaken Teyla is to discover how wrong she was about the Genii. I think this does a lot to establish how her character grows and progresses throughout the series, even though it is a small moment overall.

Favorite Quotes

"I know. It's getting desperate, we're almost out of coffee." (McKay)
"Well maybe you should stop drinking eleven cups a day." (Sheppard)

"You have no idea which way to go, do you?" (McKay)
"Just trying to get my bearings." (Sheppard)
"Translation: I'm lost." (McKay)

"Define strange." (Sheppard)
"You don't know what strange means?" (McKay)

"You know, if people could just learn to keep their secret underground hatches locked..." (McKay)

"You know how to make an A-bomb?" (Sheppard)
"Major, most of my high school chess team could design an A-bomb." (McKay)

"I built an atomic bomb for my grade six science fair exhibit." (McKay)
"They let you do that up in Canada?" (Ford)

And that's all for today. See you back here next Monday for "Home."

Also, in related news, Gateworld is starting its Stargate rewatch next week, with the original movie. So head on over to that site to find out what that's all about if you are interested. They aren't doing episode-by-episode posts, but they will be hosting forum discussions and having podcast discusssions and such. Their goal is to do a season a month, starting with SG-1 and then moving on to the other series after that. It's not a pace I could possibly keep up with, otherwise I would blog along with that, but if you just want people to watch the episodes at the same time you do and talk about them with afterwards, that is definitely the place to be hanging out!

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