Wednesday, October 26, 2011

SGA Rewatch: Grace Under Pressure

Welcome back to the Stargate Atlantis rewatch. Thank you for stopping by. Today we have another shiny episode for you, this time season two's "Grace Under Pressure." As per usual, there will be spoilers for the episode and any that came before it. Some mild mention of Stargate SG-1 in there too, but no real spoilers for that.

With all that in mind, let's dive in, shall we? (Pun so intended.)

What Happened

Rodney and a soldier named Griffin are taking Jumper 6 on a test flight to the mainland and back after Zelenka and his team completed repairs to it. This is the jumper that was shot down by prisoners back at the start of the season in "Condemned." They have made it to the mainland and are headed back to Atlantis, Griffin giving Rodney crap about the fact that almost all scientific discoveries are eventually disproved. As they engage in the (more or less) goodhearted bickering, something suddenly goes wrong with the jumper and the ship crashes into the ocean.

Rodney is awoken by Zelenka calling to him over the radio. Zelenka informs him that Atlantis has been trying to reach the jumper for over an hour now and asks their status. Rodney wakes up Griffin and tells Zelenka they could both use some time in the infirmary but are otherwise fine. The jumper is sinking, however. It is already twelve hundred feet down and dropping a further twenty feet per minute. As they discuss rescue options (Zelenka says they are able to trace the direction of the jumper's radio signal but haven't been able to get a bead on the actual location), the front windshield starts to crack due to the water pressure. Rodney and Griffin scramble into the rear compartment and try to seal it off but the rear door controls aren't working. Griffin says he has an idea and runs back into the front, closing the doors and sealing himself in the cockpit just as the windshield gives way and the front of the jumper floods.

Rodney is appalled that Griffin did that for him. He tries to resume contact with Zelenka, but the flooding of the cockpit knocked out the jumper's transmitter and he cannot reach Atlantis. Realizing he is alone in a sinking jumper and cut off from his only known avenue of escape, Rodney starts talking to himself, trying to talk his way through the situation.

On Atlantis, Zelenka, Elizabeth, and Sheppard go over the situation. Sheppard is working on the assumption that the only reason they lost contact was the flooding of the cockpit and that Rodney and Griffin did make it into the rear compartment in time. Zelenka says that while they had theorized that the jumpers could be used as submersibles, the incident with the windshield indicates that they have a specific depth limit before the sinking jumper is out of their reach for good. With the jumper's transmitter out, they need to find a new way to track it, and they need to do it soon.

Never one to sit still, Rodney starts poking around in the back of the jumper trying to see if there is anything he can do to get himself out of a bad situation. He manages to activate the jumper's emergency signal, but it is not as strong as he would like. He decides that he needs to boost the signal so that it can penetrate all of the ocean above him and reach Atlantis. He runs a diagnostic to see how much power the jumper has so he can begin working on boosting the signal and is dismayed to learn he only has three hours worth of power (which is necessary for life support). He sees that the jumper's inertial dampeners are still active and, saying out loud that those are hardly necessary underwater, tries to shut them off. The jumper doesn't cooperate, however, telling him that action is not available at that time. He also realizes he is very cold and worries that his head injury might be worse than he had thought, but then realizes that it is likely due to the jumper being submerged in the ocean. He dials the heat up a bit to stave off hypothermia, but it costs him forty minutes of his power. He vents his disappointment about this in a tirade at the jumper.

While Zelenka leads a team in trying to narrow down a more accurate search area for the jumper, Sheppard starts assembling scientists to adapt a jumper for the rescue mission. He has them attaching a high strength wench with a thousand foot long cable so that when they find Jumper 6 they can pull it up to a depth where he can have a team of divers go out and cut their way into the jumper to pull out their people.

A sea creature, emitting a series of sounds akin to whale song, is attracted to the jumper's emergency signal and starts swimming around it, singing. Rodney starts talking to it for a bit but gets sidetracked when he is struck by an idea. If, as he has supposed, the jumpers were meant to be submersible, then the propulsion system should work underwater too. He realizes that with some tinkering, he can probably "drive" the ship from the rear compartment, since so many of the ship's controls are housed there. He talks himself through the plan, saying that even if he can't make it all the way to the surface he can hopefully at least get close enough that the signal can break through. As he sets to work on his plan, he laments that another pair of eyes to check his work would be helpful and a voice speaks up behind him offering to help. He turns to find Samantha Carter standing behind him. He quickly realizes that he is hallucinating her, but she sticks around and he seems glad enough for the company, imaginary or not.

Radek and his team manage to narrow down the search area significantly. The only real problem is that the area where the jumper fell goes down to six thousand feet deep. Even if the rear compartment of the sinking jumper can hold up to that kind of pressure, the rescue jumper won't be able to reach it if it gets that far down. Sheppard asks Zelenka if there is any way to reverse the process they used to turn the city's shield into a cloak and instead convert the jumper's cloak to turn it into a shield to help stave off the pressure. Zelenka says it is possible but would take too much time to get ready. Sheppard tells him to throw his gear together and work on it in the jumper while they are searching. Zelenka seems surprised at this, he had clearly not intended to go on the rescue mission, he is scared of the water and cannot even swim. Sheppard talks him into it, however, and he agrees, going to gather the necessary gear.

Rodney starts bouncing his plan off of Hallucination!Sam but when he tells her that it will consume most (if not all) of his remaining power she says it is a bad idea. She tells him he is better off doing nothing, concentrating on life support and staying alive as long as possible in order to give his team enough time to rescue him. If he does try his plan and it doesn't work, he is screwed. Better to just sit tight and wait. He says he can't do that, and it is clear that Rodney doesn't really believe (at least on the conscious level) that they are coming after him. He tells her they are already busy planning his memorial ceremony.

The jumper lurches suddenly and Hallucination!Sam points out that they've stopped sinking. The jumper has caught up on a ledge, right at the very edge of a steep drop off. Rodney is overjoyed that the ship has stopped, saying that implosion is no longer a concern, but Hallucination!Sam cuts his celebration short, pointing out the water leaking in from the door. The impact with the ocean floor damaged the jumper's hull and it is taking on water. Rodney manages to slow the leaking by amping up the pressure in the compartment, but it only buys him a little bit of time. Looking at the power supply, he realizes he only has about ten minutes left to implement his plan before it is no longer a possibility. He has a brief rant about how the whole thing is Zelenka's fault--Zelenka was in charge of repairing the jumper. He was the one who declared it ready for flight and he should have been the one on the test flight, but he was scared of flying at all, let alone on a test flight and asked Rodney to take his place.

In the rescue jumper, meanwhile, Zelenka, while terrified, is stepping up and has managed to get the converted shield up and running. Unfortunately it is drawing power at an enormous rate. He tells Sheppard that once they get into the deeper water, they are only going to have about thirty minutes before the shield gives out.

Rodney is getting very close to trying his plan when Hallucination!Sam starts putting the moves on him. He is momentarily distracted but then realizes that she is just trying to prevent him from going through with his attempt to drive the jumper. She tries to convince him one final time that his friends are coming and he just needs to wait, and to conserve power so he can stay alive as long as possible, but he ignores her. He fires up the drive pods and, of course, it doesn't work. Nothing happens except Rodney managing to burn all but twenty minutes of his remaining power.

Zelenka picks up the sea monster on the rescue jumper's sensors and suggests they stay away from it, as it is many times larger than their ship. Sheppard, however, sees that it is circling around one area as if it has found something interesting. He decides to go check it out, in case that interesting something is the crashed jumper. Zelenka picks up the jumper on their sensors but is alarmed to see that not only does it have no power, but it has also taken on a great deal of water. Their wench will not be able to lift it even a little of the way to the surface. Seeing that it is on flat ground, however, he tells Sheppard to land next to it and extends the shield to cover both jumpers. That way, they can get out and just walk over to the other jumper, hopefully finding their people still alive inside.

Rodney, without power, is starting to succumb to hypothermia. He is getting a bit introspective when he hears the sound of the shield engaging outside of the jumper and then Sheppard's voice over the radio. Sheppard tells him he just needs to open the back hatch and walk to the rescue jumper. Rodney makes his way to the door release and hesitates, worried that he might be hallucinating Sheppard, too. Hallucination!Sam reasons with him and convinces him to open the door, however, and he does. Sheppard and Zelenka run in and grab him, asking after Griffin and learning his fate. They carry Rodney to the other jumper and the sea monster swims overhead as they do. Rodney taunts it, telling it that it won't get to eat him today. Sheppard quips that it's the reason they found him. As the back hatch of the rescue jumper closes, Rodney takes one last look at the downed jumper and sees Hallucination!Sam standing in the doorway. He waves goodbye to her.


This is just one of a series of standalone episodes this season but it is an amazingly powerful one. I suppose, given that it is a largely McKay-centric episode, it is no surprise that I really like this one, but I defy anyone to not be impressed with David Hewlett's acting in this one. Amanda Tapping also puts in a nice turn as Sam, doing a very good job of portraying Sam as Rodney would imagine her but still being clearly Sam. While character-wise it makes total sense that Sam would be the person Rodney imagines in this scenario to keep him company, it is also a nice tribute to the SG-1 episode "Grace," in which Sam was stranded alone on a derelict spaceship and trying not to succumb to hallucinations.

I really, really like that when Sheppard was putting together the rescue jumper, there was an explanation for why each piece of combined equipment was in Atlantis. It was nice to get a little bit of a window into the types of research that go on in the Pegasus galaxy. With Sheppard and his team being our guides through the world, it is easy to forget that they are, in fact, on a scientific expedition. This was nice little reaffirmation of that fact though.

One thing for the overall series is that this episode establishes the jumpers as underwater vehicles as well as space vehicles, so there's that.

I do think as far as the rest of the season goes and where this episode fits into it that "Grace Under Pressure" is the final stage in Rodney's redemption for the Arcturus debacle. As much as he consciously doesn't believe that his friends are out there looking for him, he subconsciously hopes that they are, and wants to be able to believe. The fact that not only are they really out there, but are also going to such lengths to get him back, shows that he is valued not only as a scientist but as a friend. Sheppard especially was extremely determined to get Rodney back no matter what, and that was very heartening to see. Sheppard and Rodney are my favorite bromance, and this shows that they are right back firmly in "best friends forever" territory despite all of the crap they have been through lately.

I was also quite proud of Zelenka for overcoming his fears and doing everything in his power and then some to help with the search and rescue. He may be second to Rodney on the science staff, but he is clearly equally as crucial to the expedition. I mean, someone has to be able to save Rodney when he's the one in trouble, right?

I think my absolute favorite thing about this episode is that Rodney absolutely positively could not stop talking. Even when he was by himself, even when the end was clearly upon him, he just kept up a constant stream of chatter. I am not even sure he realized he was doing it half of the time. I particularly enjoyed when he was formulating his plan and explaining it out loud as if he was telling his peons what was going on. I mean, I know from an outside perspective, he needed to keep talking so the viewer wasn't just watching forty minutes of him sitting there messing with his data-pad, but I also feel like it was entirely within character for him to react that way. It completely worked.

Favorite Quotes

"Well, we always theorized that jumpers could be used as submersibles." (Zelenka)
"Yes yes yes yes, I theorized it!" (Rodney)

"You do not need inertial dampeners while you sink!" (Rodney)

"Do you even have an opinion anyways, you, Why? Because you are an inanimate object, huh? Does that stop me from talking to you? Oh no no no no no, my inanimate friend, because I have been struck upon the head, you see!" (Rodney)

"You and Rodney have been bugging me for a chance to try a jumper as a submersible, but you sure went a hell of a long way to make me say yes!" (Elizabeth)

"Look, I need to be the one on the surface saving the poor bastard stuck down here, not actually be the poor bastard stuck down here!" (Rodney)

"You are very clever. I will even give you brilliant. But there is brilliant, and then there's me." (Rodney)

"You are essentially arguing with yourself. You realize that, right? Your mind is creating me." (Hallucination!Sam)

"I can't even hallucinate right today!" (Rodney)

"Don't play mind games with me!" (Rodney)
"I am a mind game." (Hallucination!Sam)

"I wonder why we never hooked up?" (Rodney)
"What, aside from the fact that you're petty, arrogant, and treat people badly?" (Hallucination!Sam)
"...Yes." (Rodney)
"Nope, that's pretty much it. Petty, arrogant, bad with people." (Hallucination!Sam)

"Oh wow, I'm arguing with myself about who had an idea first--me or me. I really am petty, aren't I?" (Rodney)
"And arrogant and bad with people, yes." (Hallucination!Sam)

"You're a figment of my imagination! The least you could do is take your top off!" (Rodney)
"Your subconscious mind knows that I would never be into that." (Hallucination!Sam)
"You are the worst hallucination ever!" (Rodney)

"[String of cursing in Czech.]" (Radek)
"I think my Czech's getting better, because I know what you mean." (Sheppard)

Phew! That's a lot of favorite quotes. Which is what you get, I guess, when you have no one around to make Rodney stop talking. That's it for today. Come back Monday when Sheppard gets sucked into royal intrigues in "The Tower."

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