Hello! Welcome to the Stargate Atlantis rewatch, where we are slugging our way through the back half of season one. Today we'll tackle the episode "The Defiant One." As always, spoilers for the episode and any that came before are considered fair game, though I try to remain spoiler free for everything else.
Sheppard is escorting Rodney and two other scientists, Gall and Abrams, to check out a Lagrangian point satellite that Gall had discovered in Atlantis' database. Sheppard is giving Rodney lessons in flying the puddle jumper, and Rodney is having a bit of a trouble keeping their path on a straight line. They approach the satellite and see that it is a massive weapons platform, originally intended as a sort of last stand by the Ancients if the Wraith got too close to Atlantis. Unfortunately, the readings seem to indicate that it is completely dead. Sheppard and Rodney are speculating on whether it could be restored or not--Rodney thinks that its power source might just be depleted, rather than the satellite being damaged--when Abrams picks up a signal from the nearby planet.
The signal turns out to be a distress beacon from a downed Wraith ship, presumably shot down on its way to the final battle between the Wraith and Atlantis ten thousand years ago. The signal is very weak, which explains why no Wraith ever picked it up and came to answer it. Sheppard and Rodney want to go down to the planet and explore the downed ship. The wealth of intel on the Wraith and their technology is worth taking the time to check it out. They radio back to Atlantis and with some persuading Weir gives them the go ahead. She does remind them that they are fifteen hours away by puddle jumper so they are kind of on their own on this one. Gall pipes up that there is some sort of ionic something in the atmosphere that will also likely interfere with radio communications to Atlantis once they are on the planet. Weir tells them to check in again in three hours and signs off as they head down to investigate.
They land on the desert planet a little ways away from the ship (to much grumbling from some of the scientists) and Sheppard cloaks the jumper as they head toward the downed Wraith ship. On their way they encounter some of the planet's indigenous life, a sort of glowy alien bug. (Point of interest: A different kind of alien glowbug has appeared in each of the three Stargate series.)
The Wraith ship is much smaller than a hive, but still big. It is a new kind of ship that the Lanteans have not encountered before though. The ship was clearly shot down by the satellite. Sheppard makes Rodney scan for life signs, and getting no hits, they head on in to the ship to see what they can see. One of the first things they come across is a dead Wraith who clearly wasn't killed in the crash. When they try to get some samples for Dr. Beckett, they discover that it was fed upon by another Wraith. This is the first evidence they have found of Wraith cannibalism and they are all more than a little disturbed and creeped out by the revelation. As they continue on they find a large chamber full of storage pods for humans, like there are on Wraith hive ships but in a much larger quantity. Sheppard deduces that this must have been a supply ship headed toward the battle lines to provide food for the Wraith there.
Back on Atlantis, Weir tells Ford to get a rescue team together and put on standby, just in case.
Sheppard decides to split the team up, leaving Gall and Abrams in the storage room to get readings while he and Rodney head off to look for the ship's bridge.On the way there they discuss the dead Wraith they found how long a Wraith can survive in hibernation and come to the realization that there very well could be a living Wraith still on the ship (they don't show up as life signs if they are hibernating, as Wraith are wont to do). They decide to scrap the mission and radio Gall and Abrams to let them know what's up and tell them to fall back to the ship's exit. As Gall and Abrams are making ready to leave the ship, however, they are attacked by a Wraith. It kills Abrams and drags Gall off.
Sheppard and Rodney come across Abrams body and try to radio Gall but get no answer. Sheppard tells Rodney that he is going to go after Gall and then they are going to get the hell out of there. He takes Abrams' gun and ammo so that they have extra, and when they pass by the dead Wraith again, he also takes two grenades it had been carrying.
We are briefly back on Atlantis, where Weir orders Ford and his team to go ahead and take a jumper to the planet even though Sheppard isn't even overdue for his radio contact yet. She tells Ford she just has a bad feeling about this mission and would rather be safe than sorry.
Back at the downed ship, the Wraith is going through Gall's belongings and starts to question him about how he got to the planet. The Wraith is quick to realize that newcomers mean a ship, which means a chance of escape for itself. Once the Wraith has the information it needs, it feeds on Gall, who screams. Hearing his scream, Sheppard and Rodney race to that location. The Wraith bugs out, stopping its feeding before Gall is dead. While still alive, Gall is in bad shape. He can't move at all and appears severely aged. He tells Sheppard that he gave up the jumper's position to the Wraith and that the Wraith took his remote for the jumper as well.
Rodney tries to reassure Sheppard that there isn't much the Wraith can do with the jumper since without the ATA gene it can't fly the ship. Sheppard is still worried however. He points out that they have food and weapons aboard the ship that the Wraith will now have access too, as well as the subspace communicator. He asks Rodney if the Wraith will be able to contact others of its kind for help and Rodney grudgingly admits it is a possibility. Sheppard decides to go after the Wraith and leaves Rodney to watch over Gall.
Unsurprisingly, the Wraith beats Sheppard to the jumper. Sheppard decides to try to lure the Wraith out and starts shooting the second it is clear of the ship. The Wraith has already found the weapons hold, however, and shoots back, winging Sheppard in the arm. The Wraith goes back to fiddling with the ship and Sheppard hides to regroup. He gets out a power bar to eat and finds that this attracts the attention of the alien glowbugs. He decides to try another tactic and uses a smoke signal to get the Wraith away from the jumper, this time attempting to sneak onto the ship while the Wraith is gone. The Wraith is not an idiot, however, and turned on the jumper's shields before leaving, so Sheppard can't get in. So he goes back to doing recon and fending off the glowbugs, who keep bugging him for food (they really like power bars apparently). He next tries to blow up the Wraith with one of his appropriated grenades, but it is only stunned.
Back in the hive ship, Gall is starting to be able to move his hands and arms a bit but is still in pretty bad shape. He tells Rodney he knows he isn't going to be recovering from this, says the Wraith left him just enough life so that his people would have to watch him die. Rodney, in radio contact with Sheppard, has been growing increasingly anxious about the Major's safety. He wants to go help Sheppard but is torn because he does not want to leave Gall unprotected. Gall has been trying to talk Rodney into going on without him but Rodney is refusing, so Gall shoots himself so he will no longer be part of the equation. Rodney is clearly horrified but doesn't stop to think about it, taking off after Sheppard immediately.
Sheppard and the Wraith are pretty much now in a knock-down drag-out fight. Evidently the Wraith has gotten fed up with Sheppard's antics and has decided to just kill him so that he can get back to work on the jumper, or better yet, use Sheppard's dead hands to fly the thing off the planet. Ford and team, almost to the planet, radio Sheppard at this junction and he is quite relieved to hear from them, though dismayed that they are not in range to help him out just yet. He tells them to hurry and goes back to fighting with the Wraith. Just as Sheppard runs out of ammo and the Wraith is advancing upon him, Rodney shows up and starts shooting the Wraith. The Wraith decides to handle the new threat and while it is caught between Rodney and Sheppard, Ford radios back in that he is now in range and has locked on to everyone's life signs.
Sheppard gets a flash of inspiration and unwraps one of his power bars, launching himself at the Wraith and sticking the food in its belt. As the glowbugs start swarming the Wraith for the food, Sheppard radios Ford and tells him to lock on to the biggest life sign and fire. Ford is reluctant because he thinks Rodney and Sheppard are too close and will be hurt as well but Sheppard insists and Ford takes the shot. The Wraith is obliterated and everybody is safe and happy (except for Gall and Abrams, of course). The episode ends with Sheppard promising Rodney he can fly the jumper home, provided he can get the shield down, of course.
This is a (mostly) fun little episode with a lot of disturbing overtones. It also serves to give us a lot of explanation about the Wraith without just doing one big info dump. While the title of the episode is probably intended to describe the Wraith, it also easily applies to Sheppard, who refuses to just give up and let this seemingly unstoppable killing machine win. This is still early days in the expedition, and Sheppard and the other Lanteans are still learning how to best fight--and kill--the Wraith.
I do feel like Weir's "bad feeling" mars the episode a little bit. It is just too convenient. Granted, Ford is not the type of soldier to just take off on a rescue mission without approval, but the way it played out on the Atlantis side of things just felt a little flat to me. Perhaps we can chalk it up to Weir's regret at the hasty decision to give in to Sheppard and Rodney's pleas without bringing them home and sending a more prepared team to explore in the first place.
One thing this episode does very well is to illustrate Rodney's growth as a person. The Rodney McKay first introduced in Stargate SG-1 would likely have been perfectly content to stay on the ship and wait for Sheppard to deal with the Wraith on his own. He also probably wouldn't have tried to be so encouraging to Gall after he had been fed upon. I think part of it is him coming into his own and part of it is the influence of Sheppard upon him.
Random bit of trivia for you: The character of Brendan Gall was named after a real-life actor who is a friend of David Hewlett's sister Kate. Brendan Gall the actor went on to guest in a few episodes of Atlantis later on down the road (I won't say as who, though, because that would kind of be a spoiler).
"How could either of you resist exploring a crashed alien spaceship?" (Weir)
"He's aboard my ship!" (Sheppard)
"What are you, Captain Kirk?" (Rodney)
"If we play the waiting game, the guy who's been around for ten thousand years is gonna win." (Sheppard)
"Major, what the hell was that?" (Rodney)
"I almost blew myself up." (Sheppard)
"Stay off the radio, I'm busy." (Sheppard)
"He's busy." (Rodney)
"All you need is a good meal, a pot of tea, and to stop talking!" (Rodney)
"I can't hear you threatening to suck the life outta me 'til you hit the button on the radio." (Sheppard)
That's all we've got for you today. See you back here next week for "Hot Zone."