Hello and welcome to another installment of the Stargate Atlantis Rewatch! Today's episode for discussion is season two's "Conversion." There will of course be spoilers, but if you are not deterred by that, brave reader, then let us proceed!
"Conversion" starts right where "Instinct" left off, with the team returning to Atlantis after their confrontation with Ellia. Carson has Sheppard on a gurney and is wheeling him into the infirmary to get a look at the injury on his arm where Ellia tried to feed on him. Rodney follows behind grumbling about the preference Sheppard is getting over him, and is reminded that he only has a splinter. As Carson cleans off the blood on Sheppard's arm, he gives the colonel a hard time about acting like a manly man and pretending that it doesn't hurt. Sheppard insists that it doesn't and to the surprise of both of them, when the blood is wiped clean, it is revealed that the wound has already healed completely. Unsure what to make of this, Carson wants to run some blood tests on Sheppard. Since Sheppard seems otherwise fine, he releases Sheppard to go about his day while the tests are processing.
Sheppard and Ronon decide to go running together, and Sheppard is surprised to find that he is outpacing Ronon the whole way. He says normally he can barely keep up with the Satedan and asks what is wrong with the other man. Ronon responds that he is fine and asks what's wrong with Sheppard. Sheppard is ready to keep on running but, completely winded, Ronon is done and tells Sheppard to go on without him. Later Sheppard is sparring with Teyla and once more he seems to have the upper hand where normally he is the one getting his butt kicked. Teyla remarks that he must have been practicing, but he denies it. Still, she notes, he is showing a very big increase in skill. He gets the advantage and pins her against the wall. Instead of letting her go, despite her obvious discomfort, he engages in some really weird and creepy flirting and then kisses her. AWKWARD ZONE ENTERED! He steps back, confused, unsure of why he did that, and before they can really discuss the matter, Carson calls him on his radio, asking him to report to the infirmary immediately. Teyla, flustered, encourages him to go with relief.
In the infirmary, Carson reveals the test results to Sheppard and Elizabeth. The good news is that they can confirm that Ellia didn't manage to drain any of his life. Unfortunately, due to the massive dose of the retrovirus she had just taken, she did manage to introduce it into Sheppard's system. Carson is unsure of what this will do to Sheppard, as it was never intended for human use. He wants to keep Sheppard under supervision, with check-ins every six hours to monitor the effects of the drugs. Elizabeth also recommends suspending all off-world activity for Sheppard until they are sure that everything is alright. Sheppard agrees to these measures and heads out.
Later that evening, Colonel Caldwell comes across Elizabeth in her office, remarking that she is working late. She responds that she isn't really, and sheepishly admits she is actually just playing solitaire on her tablet. She says she thought he was already headed back to Earth, but he replies that he postponed the return trip when he heard about Sheppard. Figured he should stick around until they know everything is okay, in case she needs him to step in and take over Sheppard's duties while he recovers. She looks a little surprised, but says she'll think about it. Caldwell then asks if her tablet has chess and she says, why yes, it does. Presumably the two begin a game.
Returning to his quarters, Sheppard discovers a weird scaly bluish spot on his arm, in the place where Ellia had attacked him. He radios Carson and says he thinks they need to move up his check-in. Shift to the infirmary, where Sheppard is lying on one of the beds and Carson is filling Elizabeth in on the situation in the semi-privacy of his office. He tells her that the retrovirus isn't breaking down in Sheppard's system as he had hoped it would, but is instead altering his DNA. Possibly related to the incident in season one where Sheppard was attacked by an iratus bug, the retrovirus seems to be turning him into something very similar to the creatures. Carson says they only have a matter of days until Sheppard's DNA is completely rewritten.
Elizabeth goes to talk to Sheppard and see how he is doing and he tries to shrug it off. He admits that even though he should be freaked out, he really isn't. He says he can feel the changes and he thinks he feels like Ford did when he got the wraith enzyme in his system. Elizabeth assures him that this isn't the same thing at all, but Sheppard isn't so sure. She tells him it will be fine and they will figure it all out. Sheppard is skeptical but goes along with it, knowing there is little else he can do but hope Carson comes up with a cure. Elizabeth asks Caldwell to temporarily take over Sheppard's duties while they work on a solution, and he readily agrees.
Carson assembles the medical staff for a brainstorming session to try to come up with a solution. Two of the doctors seem to be disagreeing on one of the suggestions--to try overriding the rewrite by introducing more human RNA into Sheppard's system. One of the doctors argues that this will only give the retrovirus more fuel and speed up the conversion. Carson still thinks it is their best bet, but he thinks what they need to do is use iratus stem cells instead of human. They can program the iratus cells with human RNA and therefore sneak it past the retrovirus and allow it to do its work. Everyone agrees that this could work. The only problem is that their iratus bug cell samples are not gonna cut it, since they are old. Carson agrees, saying they will need fresh iratus eggs--which means sending someone to get them.
Carson and Rodney bring in Lorne and run their idea past Elizabeth. Rodney explains that there is plenty of information in the Ancient database about the iratus bugs, so they should be able to find a nest on the planet where they originally encountered the creatures. The tricky part will be actually getting the eggs, but Lorne tells Elizabeth that everyone going is aware of the risks and he believes Sheppard would do the same for any of them. Elizabeth gives them a go and Lorne tells them to gear up and meet back at the gate in an hour. Shortly afterwards, Sheppard comes by Elizabeth's office, guard in tow, and asks to be part of the mission. His mutation has progressed, now his entire right hand and arm are blue and scaly, with claws on his finger. The blue can also been seen creeping out of his shirt and up his neck. She flat out tells him no, but he tries to persuade her. When he is unsuccessful, he angrily punches the window to her office, shattering it. This seems to bring him back to himself and realizing he has lost all chance of going on the mission, he turns and heads back to the infirmary.
Meanwhile Caldwell has been a busy little bee. In the course of an hour he has sent out a city-wide memo instituting big changes to the security procedures and protocol in the city. He also has started trying to rearrange how the gate teams are configured. Elizabeth finds him to confront him about this, seriously pissed off. He says that Sheppard has mostly done a good job but has made some rookie mistakes and he is taking the opportunity to correct them. When Elizabeth is clearly still angry he asks which changes in particular she objects to. She tells him that's not the point. He goads her by saying that they both know it is unlikely Sheppard will be returning to active duty and that he will probably be around for the long haul so she might as well get used to it. Elizabeth says that she doesn't have a problem with the changes themselves, she has a problem with his timing. He should have waited a day or even a week before doing that. By acting as he has, he has sent the message out to everyone in the city that Sheppard won't be coming back, no matter what they do. It sends the message that they should just give up on trying to save him.
After bitching out Caldwell, Elizabeth heads to Sheppard's quarters to check up on him and to give him an update on the mission to collect the iratus bug eggs. He is sitting in the dark moping and we eventually see that the mutations have spread even further. His eyes have changed and become very cat-like, and there is more visible blue scaliness. He says that the inhibitor Carson has him on isn't slowing the retrovirus' progress, it is only just barely keeping him lucid, and even that is starting to wear off. She needs to increase the security detail on his room. Elizabeth tries to tell him that's not necessary but he insists, and as she leaves, she tells the soldier on duty to double the guard.
Unfortunately the mission to recover the iratus bug eggs is not a success. They find the cave and then the iratus bug nest without any trouble, but the place is crawling with the bugs. Despite Carson's cleverness in shooing them away with saltwater (which we learned in "Thirty-Eight Minutes" that they definitely do not like), they still attack the team once it becomes evident that their eggs are in danger. Two of Lorne's men are killed while providing cover fire for the retreat, and in the end Lorne has to throw a grenade in the cave to keep the iratus bugs from following the rest of them. He pulls the plug on the mission and takes them back to Atlantis. Rodney starts to protest but Lorne tells him until they have a viable way to get to the eggs, there is no point trying again, more of them will just get killed.
Sheppard is less than pleased when Elizabeth tells him the mission failed. His conversion has progressed even more, and he is barely holding himself together. He tells her she needs to try again and she refuses, saying they lost two men and she won't risk any more lives. Sheppard says she should just kill him then, because he won't be himself for very much longer. She refuses that as well and he grabs her by the throat and pins her to the wall, but she stands firm. Before she can react, he lets go of her and makes for the door to his quarters, knocking out both guards and escaping down the corridor.
Rodney and Carson get the city's biometric sensors online so they can track Sheppard. Caldwell organizes a group of search parties and sends them out to bring him back, telling them to use whatever force they deem necessary. Elizabeth, angry, tells them such force should only be a last-resort measure. Caldwell tells her she needs to accept that Sheppard isn't Sheppard any more but she's still not quite ready to give up. Teyla and Ronon's team manage to find Sheppard first. He is climbing the walls like a bug and manages to take a hit from a wraith stunner without so much as blinking. Thankfully, Ronon's gun on its stun setting is enough to knock him out.
Carson puts Sheppard in a medically induced coma so they don't have to worry about him trying to escape again. Carson tells Elizabeth they have less than twenty-four hours before Sheppard is completely lost to them. Ronon wants to go back to the cave alone and get the eggs but Elizabeth doesn't want him going on a suicide mission. She is clearly on the verge of giving up when she receives a call on the radio from Carson, who has had an idea. Carson has realized that Sheppard is actually emitting the same pheromones as the iratus bugs at this point. They can use that to get close enough to the eggs without being attacked by the bugs. There is no time to manufacture more of the pheromone, however, so that means that Sheppard himself will have to go in. Elizabeth realizes it is their only hope of saving and agrees to the mission.
They give Sheppard a massive dose of the inhibitor to allow him one more hour of lucidness, enough time to hopefully get to the cave and retrieve the eggs. His team and Carson escort him to the cave and from there he must go on his own. He is able to walk right in to the cave but it quickly becomes clear that he is barely holding it together. Still, he manages to get the needed eggs and get out of the cave just before he goes all wild once more. Ronon is ready though and stuns him again. Back in the infirmary, Carson reports that he has given Sheppard the treatment and though it might take some time to fully turn him back, it has already started to work. Sheppard should be back to normal before too long.
Indeed, a few weeks later, he is up and about, almost completely back to normal. There is still a bit of blue on his arm but his DNA results show he is one hundred percent John Sheppard again. He finds Teyla training with another Athosian and after she is done he tries to apologize for his "out of character" behavior when he was changing (i.e., kissing her). She tells him to give it no further thought, indicating that he is forgiven. She also says that it is nice to have him back, and the two walk off together.
I think there are some people who might disagree, but in my mind it is this episode that finally closes the door on the possibility of a romance between Teyla and Sheppard. As much as she tells him not to think about it, he will always remember the circumstances of that kiss and I think that would taint future romantic endeavors. Also, she was visibly flustered by the whole thing, and not in the good butterflies, melty knees sort of way. While she understands logically that he was not himself at the time, she was still afraid of him in that moment. That would complicate things I think. Anyhoo, it is clear that both value their friendship, and I think this is where they both decide that it would be better by far to just keep it that way than to risk losing it altogether as a consequence of pursuing a romance likely to just sour their relationship. Could be just me, but that's how I see it at any rate.
I don't really know what the point of this episode was in the overall scheme of things. I think it is just a filler episode. It does serve to lay the groundwork for a few things that will happen on later in the season, but I won't go into them now because, well, spoilers for what lies ahead.
They did seem to ramp up the competition between Caldwell and Elizabeth in this episode, while at the same time giving them this oddly flirtatious vibe with each other. It is very clear that Caldwell thinks he could do a better job running Atlantis than Sheppard could, and while he seems willing enough to work with Elizabeth, he also doesn't have any problem overriding her if she turns out to have been "compromised" by Sheppard's style of leadership. Elizabeth just as clearly views Caldwell as an attempt by the SGC to "rein her in" and make sure she tows the company line, rather than letting her use her own judgement to run things. She resents that they seem to resent being forced by the IOA to put a civilian in charge of the expedition, and as such she is much more comfortable with Sheppard, who has a tendency to flaunt the rules.
On a slight tangent, I often refer to the transcripts for episodes over at Gateworld when I write these up. It helps if I have forgotten a one-shot character's name or want to confirm a detail I missed because I was being kicked by a two-year old. It made me giggle reading the transcript for this episode where the writer makes note of "toy envy" in the fandom when mentioning Elizabeth's tablet. So true. I have seriously been looking for a similar device ever since I started watching this show, and still can't find anything as cool or functional (because it's on television, and therefore not real, no matter how close to actual technology it might appear, I know). It was just an amusing moment for me.
"I know I should be in pain or at the very least freaked out by this, but hey! I'm not...and that freaks me out more than anything." (Sheppard)
"You are just keeping Sheppard's chair warm, Colonel, don't lose sight of that." (Elizabeth)
"How are you?" (Elizabeth)
"My body's mutating into a giant bug. How are you?" (Sheppard)
"Maybe we should make a diversion?" (Rodney)
"Are you volunteering?" (Lorne)
"I'll shut up." (Rodney)
"I'm not good at sitting still." (Ronon)
"Did Ronon shoot me?" (Sheppard)
"You had it coming." (Elizabeth)
That's it for today folks. See you back here next Monday for a super nifty episode, "Aurora."