Team Sheppard is away, breaking in Ronon on his first mission with the group. They arrive through the gate to a new planet via puddle jumper and do a quick flyover. Neither Teyla nor Ronon believe they have been there before. Spotting smoke from a campfire, they set down the jumper and go to explore. They find a settlement that appears to have been recently (and hastily) deserted, only to discover that the inhabitants were actually lying in wait to ambush them.
The villagers manage to pin them down despite some rather rudimentary weapons. Ronon is shot in the leg with an arrow--and to McKay's bewilderment just breaks off the haft and then pulls it right out. Before much damage can be done, however, a ship appears and hovers over the village, chasing off the team's attackers. They hightail it back to the jumper, where they are hailed over the radio by the other ship. The voice tells them that the ship was dispatched as soon as the gate activation was detected and invites them to follow it back to the city.
The city, Olesia, turns out to be on another body of land. It is extremely modern looking and seems to be very technologically advanced, at least a bit beyond Earth's current capabilities. An aide named Marin meets them and apologizes for their encounter with the villagers. She explains that the gate is located on an island that the Olesians use as a penal colony. This raises all sorts of new questions but Marin deflects and escorts them to the Magistrate for further information.
The team is very curious as to how the Olesians have been left alone by the wraith long enough to advance their society so far. The Magistrate explains that the wraith do not bother them, because when the wraith come through the stargate, they feed on the prisoners and are sated. The team is more than a little uncomfortable at the idea that the Olesians just feed their prisoners to the wraith, but the Magistrate assures them that only the most violent criminals are sent to the island. In almost the same breath, however, he mentions what a great deterrent that is against crime and declares that it is actually almost nonexistent in Olesia these days. (Which brings up the unasked question: If crime is so rare, how are there enough people to keep the wraith from turning on the city, and why were there so many people on the island when the team arrived?)
A side effect to the stargate's location is that the Olesians have pretty much no access to it and thus almost no opportunity for trade with other planets. As a result they are very self-sufficient, but the Magistrate is very interested in negotiating trade relations with the Lanteans. (Their cover story is that they were in Atlantis, but the city was destroyed and only a few people escaped to set up shop elsewhere.) The Magistrate gives them access to a secure radio communication so they can report back to Elizabeth about what they found. The advanced science of the Olesians makes her willing to find out more about them and talk potential trade, despite their unorthodox method of capital punishment.
With first contact made, Sheppard and team load up in the jumper to head back to Atlantis. Elizabeth will go to Olesia later to meet with the Magistrate for the actual negotiations. On the way back, however, the prisoners are waiting and use a very primitive cannon to shoot down the jumper. Their first shot is lucky and damages the ship, causing it to crash. They are close enough to dial the gate, though, and do so, thinking to run for it on foot. The prisoners get to them as they are exiting the jumper, however, and take them hostage, helping themselves to all of the team's weapons and supplies. They tie the team up in a building and their leader, Torrell, reveals that he wants their ship so that his people can leave the island.
In Atlantis, Elizabeth is extremely worried when the gate dials in but no one sends an IDC code, radios in, or tries to come through. She knows that Sheppard was due in at that time and surmises that something probably happened to his team. She radios Major Lorne to get a jumper and a team ready to escort her to Olesia to find out what happened.
The team, meanwhile, test their bonds to see if they can manage an escape, but to no avail. Ronon gets very angry and starts talking about what he's going to do when he gets loose, but Sheppard tells him to calm down. They verbally spar a little bit but Ronon subsides after Sheppard makes it an order. Torrell susses out that Rodney will be the one to fix the ship and sends him with one of the prisoners, Eldon, to get to work. Rodney claims that the ship can't be fixed and Torrell says he doesn't believe that and thinks Rodney is lying. To motivate Rodney, he threatens to kill off the rest of his team one by one if Rodney doesn't comply.
Elizabeth and Lorne arrive on Olesia and cloak the jumper as soon as they are through the gate, thus avoiding detection from the prisoners. They head for the city and meet with the Magistrate, who is surprised to learn that Sheppard's team did not return. He tries to suggest that maybe they went somewhere else but Elizabeth knows they would have contacted her first, and he grudgingly admits it is likely they fell afoul of the prisoners. He offers to send out a few ships to search the island for the missing team, though he is very insistent that Lorne not take his own team in the jumper to search, claiming that his own people are much better prepared for such a search. Elizabeth and Lorne share a pointed look at this but do not argue the point.
Rodney and Eldon don't have much luck with the jumper, but Rodney does learn that Eldon was the one who designed the cannon and explosives that shot them down. Eldon claims that he is innocent of the crime he was sent to the island for committing, but Rodney doesn't believe him. Torrell takes Rodney back to the rest of the team and ties him back up, telling him to decide which of his team members will get killed first, since he hasn't fixed the ship yet. Eldon sneaks in to the back of the hut and offers to cut them loose if they will take him with them when they leave. He once more protests his conviction, explaining that most of the prisoners (Torrell excluded) were sent to the island on trumped up charges or for very petty crimes. Despite what the Magister told the team, all criminals are sent to the island these days, not just the violent ones. (Unasked question answered.)
Rodney says it is all a moot point since he can't fix the ship, but Eldon declares that he knows that's not true, he can tell Rodney was holding something back. Sheppard agrees to Eldon's terms and then Rodney finally admits that while the ship itself can't be repaired, he might be able to rig the DHD to dial so that they can at least get out of there on foot. Satisfied, Eldon moves to cut them free, starting with Ronon, who quickly disarms him and wants to kill him just for being one of the enemy. Sheppard makes him stand down and they sneak out through the hole Eldon used to enter. As they leave, the camera pans to an active walkie-talkie hidden in the hut. Torrell had found it going through their supplies and planted it in the hut to find out if Rodney was telling the truth about the ship being irreparable. Luckily, Sheppard realizes that their escape went off too easily and they stop well back from the jumper, taking a good look and spotting the prisoners waiting to ambush them again. Eldon swears he didn't know anything about the ambush. As they are planning on a way to draw Torrell's men from the jumper to allow Rodney time to fix the DHD a wraith comes through the gate and the prisoners scatter, heading for cover.
In the city, the Magistrate tells Elizabeth and Lorne that a culling has begun on the island, interrupting their search for Sheppard's team. He then quickly excuses himself, saying he must deal with the situation. He heads for a dining room where a lavish meal is set out on the table and a wraith sits in one of the seats, clearly expecting him. He apologizes for being late and sits down to eat with the wraith. It is quickly revealed that the Magistrate and the wraith have an arrangement wherein the Magistrate ensures that a certain quota is met on the island and the wraith, rather than hibernating like his kindred, receives a steady diet of humans to feed on, in turn leaving the city of Olesia to flourish, safe from culling. The wraith informs the Magistrate that with the awakening of his kindred, he is going to need a larger quota filled. He has promised some of his friends he would provide for them, seeing as with all of the wraith awake at once there is something of a food shortage. The Magistrate says he will do what he can, understanding the thinly veiled threat that if he doesn't deliver, the people in the city will be on the new menu.
In the waiting chamber, Elizabeth and Lorne are getting anxious for news when Marin sneaks into the room and says they should leave the city right away. She tells them that the Magistrate has rescinded the order to resume the search for Sheppard's team. She also announces that several arrests have been made with no charges specified and that those people are being prepared for immediate shipment to the island. Elizabeth and Lorne realize that the Magistrate is beefing up the "herd" for the wraith, and Marin confesses that this has been going on for quite some time. She clearly hopes that the Lanteans might be able to help her put a shop to this. The Magistrate walks in as she is telling them all of this and has her arrested and dragged off. Elizabeth asks what will happen to her and all of the other people arrested and he tries to prevaricate, saying Marin was part of a group trying to overthrow the government. Elizabeth doesn't buy it and tells the Magistrate that she and her people are leaving. He looks for a moment as if he might try to stop her, but Lorne and his men are very persuasive and he backs down. She also calls him out on what is really going on with the island and tells him that she is calling off all attempts at an alliance between their peoples. Then she and Lorne's team leave.
Sheppard's team has made good use of the distraction provided by the dart and Rodney has gotten close to getting the DHD working. Ronon sees the dart leave and shortly after that Torrell's people return to the downed ship. Sheppard, Teyla, and Ronon move out to fight off the prisoners while Rodney and Eldon finish the repairs. Unarmed, Sheppard and Teyla use sticks to fight, and Ronon just says screw it and takes on everyone hand to hand, because he is that kind of badass. Still, the three are quickly overwhelmed, and just as Rodney finishes the repairs Torrell's group gains control of the jumper. Torrell orders Rodney to dial the team's home planet, planning to take more of their weapons and hopefully more ships. Rodney refuses and Sheppard tells Torrell it's not gonna happen. As they argue about it, a wraith cruiser descends upon the island.
Lorne and Elizabeth are in the second jumper, almost to the island, when Lorne picks up the cruiser on the jumper's scanners. He also picks up several more headed their way. Elizabeth orders him to cloak the ship and get to the island quickly so they can find their people before the wraith do.
With the arrival of the cruiser, Rodney attempts to dial out so they can all get the heck out of there, but it fritzes out. His repair was only a temporary fix. He isn't sure he can get the DHD working again quickly enough so Sheppard asks him about the weapons capability. Rodney is able to do a quick reroute to power the firing of one drone. Sheppard takes the shot and does manage to do some damage to the cruiser. It changes course, leaving the area to avoid taking more fire. From the second jumper, Lorne and Elizabeth see the drone and are able to zero in on Sheppard's location. Elizabeth contacts Sheppard on the radio to let him know they are there and that the cruiser is leaving but that more are inbound. Sheppard orders Lorne to dial one of the back-up Alpha Site locations and tells Torrell that any of his people that want to leave the island need to get gone now. The prisoners flee through the gate and once they are all gone (except Eldon), Sheppard has Lorne dial Atlantis and they all go home.
Deprived of people to cull on the island, the remaining cruisers head for Olesia, and the episode closes on a horrified Magistrate watching from a window as a cruiser arrives in the city.
Season two seems to be largely about exploring what lengths people in the Pegasus galaxy will go to in order to avoid being culled. Certainly when the Magistrate originally made his "arrangement" with the wraith, he was able to convince himself that he was only sacrificing the worst of the worst. But as the episode goes to show, the wraith are greedy, and they have no qualms about going back on deals or finding loopholes around them when it suits their purposes. So for this particular episode, I guess the moral is, "don't make deals with the wraith." This will be very important later in the season. Also, possibly another moral might be "don't trust people who are stupid/deluded enough to think they can safely make deals with the wraith." I do feel sorry for the majority of Olesia. Perhaps the whole society was complicit in the atrocity committed by the Magistrate by allowing prisoners to be placed on an island with the stargate, thus marking them for the wraith. But there were plenty of people, like Marin, who would object to the process upon realizing its true scope. Also, an entire society like that is chock full of innocent people who are now wraith-chow just because their leaders were morally corrupt. So, I guess a third moral is "politicians suck and they don't do anyone any good."
I am amazed at how the whole episode, being about the death penalty, manages to skirt around taking any sort of stance on whether or not it is a good thing. That is kind of impressive, and I guess a little disappointing. It's one of many issues that gets brought up in this series as something that needs critical examination and thorough, careful consideration but then never actually gets debated. It's...weird. But given that at its heart Stargate Atlantis is really the most lighthearted of the Stargates, maybe it isn't all that surprising that the show tried to shy away from serious discussion on some of these darker topics. Either that or the writers just didn't know how to comment on these issues once they brought them up in the story. You choose.
Another big point of this episode was integrating Ronon into the team dynamic. Whereas Ford was just a by-the-book, follow-orders-without-question Marine, Ronon needs to test his limits. Part of this is finding his place on a team, as a soldier, again. But part of it also is testing Sheppard to make sure he really is worth following. Ronon didn't join Atlantis because he was lonely, or at least that wasn't his primary reason. He joined because he wants to kill as many wraith as possible. Teyla managed to convince him that Sheppard and his people are the key to doing this, but he now needs to see for himself and be absolutely sure. It's very cool to watch the process and see him figure out where and how he fits in.
The last thing about this episode is that it gave us a little bit more information on the wraith. For one thing, we learn that they can eat regular food. They just don't get any sustenance from it. This will come into play again very soon, actually. Another tidbit is that while we know the wraith as a whole are opposed to letting humans get very technologically advanced, some of them are willing to look the other way if it means a steady diet of humans they don't have to hunt for. Also, the wraith are willing to work with humans, as long as they get something they want out of the deal.
"There's no sign of any settlements. At least, nothing recent." (Rodney)
"Other than the smoke from that campfire." (Ronon)
"Ah, yes. Well, I mean other than that." (Rodney)
"Margaret Thatcher wasn't creepy. Okay, well, maybe a little." (Rodney)
"You're referring to the ship you just shot down? The one that doesn't stand a hope in hell of ever flying again?" (Rodney)
"The ship that you're gonna fix, yes." (Torrell)
"What am I, MacGyver? Fix it with what?" (Rodney)
"I was beginning to think you were afraid to fight." (Ronon)
"No, I'm just naturally lazy. But I will if I have to, and it's starting to look like we have to." (Sheppard)
"How's it coming Rodney?" (Sheppard)
"Slower than I expected, but faster than humanly possible." (Rodney)
And there you have it for today, folks. Now, back to your Monday with you, and I'll see you back here on Wednesday for the next episode, "Trinity."