Monday, August 15, 2011

SGA Rewatch: Hot Zone

Howdy folks! Welcome to the Stargate Atlantis rewatch! Today we have made it all the way up to the season one episode "Hot Zone." As always, spoilers will abound for the episode and any that came before it, but I will try not to tell you what happens next. Onward!

What Happened

Rodney and Zelenka (Zelenka!) are leading a team of scientists, along with an escort of soldiers led by Ford, in exploring a section of the city that was damaged in the flooding of the recent storm. Zelenka and Rodney are playing a game called Prime, Not Prime (in which someone throws out a big number and the other has to say if it is a prime number or not). They are teasing Ford because every time they have talked him into guessing, he has guessed wrong, which is statistically odd since it is essentially a true-false game. As this is going on, they meet up with the rest of the group and Rodney declares that they are done. They realize that two of the team are missing and contact them on the radio to tell them to fall back. Over the radio they hear one of the two scream something about being attacked and then gunfire reports. The group races to the others but it is too late, they are both dead.

It turns out that during their explorations, they had come across a lab where the flood damage had broken a storage container. That container was holding a virus of some sort. The virus appears to cause people to see things and then freak out and die, due to a large hemorrhage in the brain. Whee, fun times! Rodney and Zelenka immediately contact Weir in the control room and notify her of the situation, suggesting a level four quarantine and requesting Carson to send a medical team down to assess the threat. Weir agrees and gets on the loud speaker to initiate a self-regulated quarantine, asking everyone to remain where they are until more is known. Carson and his second, Dr. Biro, get a team into hazmat suits and pack up a mobile lab to head down to Rodney's position. While all of this was going on, Sheppard and Teyla had been sparring in a workout room, which meant that Sheppard didn't have his radio on and couldn't be reached by Weir to help in the decision making. He is really not happy about being stuck in the workout room for the duration of the situation, he wants to head up to the control room immediately but Weir tells him no and that he needs to respect the quarantine, at least until they know more.

In the lab, Carson and Rodney start going over the Ancient database and Carson's team does autopsies on the deceased. A third victim died just before the medical team arrived. All three bodies had hemorrhages in the exact same part of the brain. Rodney manages to identify the virus in the database and they figure out it has a six hour period from contact to death. They are unable to figure out who made it or what its purpose was though. Zelenka starts going over the logs from the scientists' search and realizes that Rodney and a scientist called Hayes were the next people to come in contact with the third victim, and after that himself and Ford appear to be next.

One of the scientists, Peterson, has been freaking out about the situation since they discovered the first victims. During all of the hoopla, he makes a break for it and tries to head back into the occupied part of the city. Realizing he is gone, Rodney notifies Weir and Sheppard (who has appropriated Teyla's radio). Weir, Grodin, and Bates track Peterson through the city and start ordering the doors in his path to close, but he keeps manually overriding them and is only slowed down, not stopped, by their efforts. Fearing that Peterson could infect the rest of the populace, Sheppard breaks quarantine to go after him, taking Teyla along. Weir tries to stop Sheppard by having Grodin shut down the workout room doors but he orders Bates to open them back up and Bates follows Sheppard's order. They swing by the med lab to get their own hazmat suits and then have a very pissed off Weir tell them where Peterson is so they can stop him. It doesn't go quite as planned though--to let Sheppard and Teyla get to Peterson, the control room had to power up the transporters in that part of the city and as they get to the scientist he bolts for a transporter and takes it straight into the mess hall, which is full of people. Sheppard gets a few shots at him, trying to stop him, but to no avail. He is already in the throes of the final stage of the virus, however, and dies shortly after his arrival in the mess.

Once Peterson is back in the main part of the city, Atlantis itself initiates a shutdown. It locks the expedition out of the Ancient systems and slams shut all of the doors that are working properly. It turns out the city has its own quarantine protocols--they didn't activate earlier because the sensors in the part of the city where the virus was kept were damaged by the flooding. Sheppard and Teyla find, however, that they are still able to move about the city freely (without the use of transporters though) and Grodin realizes it must be their hazmat suits. He explains that it is only logical the Ancients would have designed the quarantine protocols to allow protected individuals to get to those who were infected and provide treatment. Sheppard and Teyla decide to head to the mess hall to try to calm everyone down.

Back in the lab, Rodney is awaiting his death and starting to try to make his last wishes known when Hayes has his final freakout and dies. Rodney, however, keeps on kicking, and everyone gapes at him for a moment. Then they all try to figure out why. Out of everyone that has completed the virus' cycle so far, Rodney was the only one with the Ancient gene. They realize that somehow the disease was specifically targeted toward humans and Ancients (or those with the ATA gene) are immune. Weir suggests giving everyone Carson's gene therapy but he says it is no good, the therapy only takes in less than half of the people it is administered to.

Rodney,with a new lease on life, starts to think about how precise the disease is, however. He does a bit more research and realizes it is a nano-virus (people are being infected by microscopic machines designed to kill them in a very specific way). The clock is ticking on Ford and Zelenka, so Rodney has Sheppard go to his lab and try to set off an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to kill the nanobots. It doesn't work, unfortunately, the pulse generator in his lab isn't powerful enough and they burnt it out on the first attempt. Sheppard asks Rodney if he is certain an EMP will kill these things. When Rodney responds in the affirmative, Sheppard suggests that he take a puddle jumper up above the city and drop an overloaded naquadah generator from it. Overloading the generator will cause a nuclear explosion, which will cause an EMP sizable enough to hit the entire city at once. Weir is skeptical but allows it and Sheppard's play works. The day is saved. Almost immediately the city's quarantine program shuts down and the expedition is allowed full access once more. Rodney and Zelenka share a really awkward celebratory almost-hug-then-no-maybe-a-handshake-or-possibly-a-fist-bump that is a thing of beauty.

Weir has not forgotten Sheppard's breaking of the quarantine though. She acknowledges that he did manage to save the day, but she also points out a lot of the grief with Peterson could have been prevented if he had stayed put. She accepts that he has full command in a military situation but reminds him it is her call whether a situation is military or not. She tells him this sort of thing cannot happen again and ask him to please trust her. He half-heartedly argues that he does trust her, but before he can elaborate they are interrupted by Rodney and Carson. Further research still hasn't revealed who created the virus or why it was on Atlantis, though they can safely rule out the Wraith. The episode ends with them hoping that whoever did make that virus isn't still around.


Something I really truly enjoy about Stargate Atlantis was its knack for stand-alone episodes like this one. They seem to just be one-offs but still manage to pave the way for future events in the series. They often have ramifications that aren't seen until years later, but that give those later episodes a much more natural feel because they have an already established background in the show's mythology. I also enjoy that these episodes manage to give us lots of little facts, details, and trivia about the city or the galaxy over the course of the hour, without in any way turning into an infodump.

Some of the interesting little tidbits we learned in this episode:

  • Sheppard really doesn't take well to sitting around doing nothing when any of his people are in danger, even if there is nothing apparent that he could be doing to help them. (I think he needs to consider taking some lessons in meditation from Teyla.)
  • If Teyla is not actually involved in an emergent situation, Bates is remarkably cool-headed and well-behaved, even almost likable. He also has no problem respecting the military chain of command in said situations. (This is the kind of detail that allows his character to gain a bit of redemption later on down the line, if the writers had made more moments like this for Kavanagh, we probably wouldn't all just think he's an ass.)
  • Rodney has a sister that he has not been in touch with for some time.
  • We learn why, even with the ATA gene therapy, access to and use of the Ancient technology is still pretty limited for the expedition.
  • Ancient tech is EMP resistant. Cool.
  • Naquadah generators are awesomely compact and portable. They fold up like little transformers, which is kind of spiffy.
  • Even when clearly irked, Weir is willing to put her personal feelings (and professional disgruntlement) aside until a problem is resolved and the other issue can then be addressed.

I thought it was interesting how, aside from Peterson, it was largely the soldiers doing the freaking out in this episode. Once they learned there was a virus and they were all likely infected, the scientists just got to work on trying to figure it out and beat the problem, rather than standing around and complaining about the situation or waiting to die. I think part of it was because in this situation it was the scientists, and not the soldiers, who had the skills needed to solve the problem, but I really liked the way that played out. Win one for the nerds!

This episode also showcases another great step in Rodney's personal development into a decent human being rather than just "petty, arrogant, and bad with people." As soon as he realized the potential situation, he stepped up as a true leader, and even once he realized he was next on the virus' hit list, he kept working and encouraging others to do so as well. I also love how his working relationship with Zelenka continues to grow in this episode. They are completely in tune with each other--to the degree of finishing each other's sentences. It is wonderful to watch them interact. Not just their dialogue but their facial expressions and body language, everything. It's marvelous. Then there is Rodney's working relationship with Carson. Those two also play off of each other very well. It was always implied throughout the series that they were actually pretty good friends, and you can see that shine through here. Also, huzzah for Carson acting very Carson-like, and not being a whiny complainer for half the episode!

Finally, completely unrelated to anything really, I totally dig Teyla's "training" skirt, even though it seems highly impractical for actual workouts. It is still very awesome. If I had an even remotely in-shape body, that outfit might be my favorite cosplay ever. 

Favorite Quotes

"You have not been practicing." (Teyla)
"Yes, I have." (Sheppard)
"If this was really a fight..." (Teyla)
"If this was really a fight, I would have shot you by now. You know, no matter how many hours I put into this, you're still gonna kick my ass." (Sheppard)

"Look, you seriously have to stop interrupting my last thoughts!" (Rodney)

"Okay. I should be dead now." (Rodney)

"You're saying the virus is designed to only kill humans?" (Weir)
"Well, I'm human." (Rodney)

"Should I pay attention to all of these warnings?" (Sheppard)
"Not today, no." (Rodney)

That's it for now folks! See you back here again on Wednesday for "Sanctuary."

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