Hello, and thanks for stopping by the Stargate Atlantis Rewatch. Today we'll be looking at season two's "Instinct." Spoilers for the episode and all those before are sure to plentiful, so proceed at your own caution.
Sheppard and team are once more visiting a planet with an orbital stargate. We never really find out what, if anything, they are looking for on this particular planet though. After landing the jumper, they wander into a very medieval looking village at night. There are lanterns lit and the chimneys are smoking but no one is out and about so they find their way to the local tavern, where they are greeted with some low-level hostility for being strangers, especially strangers who travel at night.
It turns out that a creature the villagers call the "Daimos" has been plaguing the village and it primarily hunts at night. From the villagers' description of the Daimos, the team quickly realizes that they are speaking of a wraith. The leader of the village, Goran, says he and some others suspected as much but had no proof. Their only knowledge of the wraith comes from legends and history books, none has been seen on their world since the last great culling, and even those old accounts do not describe the wraith themselves, only their ships. Still Goran admits that he had wondered if the Daimos might be a wraith, since it arrived in a ship that crashed from the sky ten years ago. Goran tells the team about the incident, stating that they saw the falling ship from the village and found the crash site in the woods. Some wraith survived the crash and, unsure of what they were but unwilling to take any chances, the villagers killed all of the wraith and burned their bodies. Unfortunately, one must have gotten away, because people began dying by its hand that very night. Goran explains that since then it has haunted the forest, feeding a few times a year, taking one or two people each time. Ever helpful, and liking the odds of the four of them against one wraith, Sheppard and Ronon volunteer the team to hunt it down and rid the village of the menace for good.
They set out first thing the next morning and Ronon takes the lead on tracking the wraith, showing off the skills he learned while he was a runner. Teyla also senses something with her spidey-sense, but she says it feels different than when she normally feels wraith. Ronon manages to pick up the trail and they eventually catch up to it, chasing it through the woods to a cave. The wraith is a young female, and when they enter the cave, she retreats down a series of tunnels, eventually running through a door and into the arms of an old man working in a laboratory of some sort. The man puts himself between the wraith, he calls her Ellia, and the team, promising to explain if they will hear him out.
The man, Zaddik, tells them his tale. He was part of the search party that went looking for the crashed wraith ship ten years ago and helped to kill and burn the other wraith. But when he found Ellia, just a little toddler wraith, he couldn't bring himself to hurt her. So he hid her away in an old mine instead and raised her himself. At first she was able to eat regular food and water and survive just fine, but once she hit "adolescence" something changed and she began to hunger for human energy instead. Zaddik maintains she has never fed, however, because he is something of a chemist/herbalist and has managed to develop a serum that suppresses Ellia's wraith hunger and allows her to continue to survive without feeding.
The team are skeptical, of course, but do their due diligence and report back to Elizabeth in Atlantis. Carson is very excited by the news. He says that this explains why the wraith even have human digestive systems, since all of the other human traits they kept when they evolved from the iratus bugs have had a very clear function. He wants to meet Zaddik and do some tests on the serum. He thinks it could be very beneficial to his own research. He reveals that he has been developing a retrovirus that, when administered to wraith, would wipe out all of their traits received from their iratus genes, leaving them completely human. In addition to Zaddik's serum, working with Ellia would also help advance his research quite a bit.
Sheppard and Ronon return to the planet with Carson, and Sheppard sends Ronon on ahead with the doctor while he goes to check in with the villagers. Zaddik is very pleased to meet Carson and the two begin geeking out together in short order. Ellia tries to play good hostess to everyone and Ronon lashes out. He refuses to accept she is anything other than a wraith and really doesn't like the whole situation. Teyla and Rodney are going with the flow, though they both seem a little bit overwhelmed by their circumstances.
Back in the village Sheppard learns that another villager has been taken. He only disappeared within the last few hours, so Sheppard radios back to Teyla to confirm that Ellia has been with them the whole time. This proves that she didn't feed on the missing man and that there must be another wraith out there who has been preying on the village. The villagers are finally fed up after seeing how eagerly Sheppard's team was to just hunt the thing down. They start to get riled up and organize their own search. Sheppard manages to talk them down for the moment though, trying to keep them out of the woods to keep Zaddik and Ellia hidden, knowing they will not understand.
Teyla pulls Ellia aside as the team gears up to hunt the other wraith and asks if she is able to sense him. She answers that she tries to keep him out and that she doesn't like what he shows her. Teyla responds that she understands, and explains that she has some of that ability as well, which makes Ellia feel a little better. With Teyla's encouragement, Ellia is able to connect with the other wraith long enough to give them a direction to start their search. They want to find him as quickly as possible and kill him before the other villagers discover Ellia.
While the others are gone hunting, Rodney and Carson remain behind with Zaddik. Rodney keeps a lookout at the entrance to the mine so Carson and Zaddik can continue their research. Zaddik worries to Carson that he will not be around for much longer and he worries that the other villagers will never accept Ellia. He doesn't know what will happen to her when he is gone. Trying to reassure him, Carson tells him about the retrovirus he is working on, showing him a vial of it. Carson explains that they haven't had much success with it yet, and it is far from ready, but with Ellia's cooperation, he thinks that they will be able to complete it before too long, making her fully human. Unknown to the two men, Ellia eavesdrops on this conversation, and when Rodney pulls Carson and Zaddik out of the lab, she sneaks in and injects herself with the retrovirus. Carson, Rodney, and Zaddik return (having discovered that the villagers have finally mounted their own search party), to find the empty vial and Ellia gone. Carson freaks out, exclaiming that it isn't ready yet and there is no way of knowing what effect it will have. He radios to Sheppard, who is getting close to the other wraith, so he and Rodney go look for Ellia on their own.
Shortly after they leave, Ellia comes back to the lab, looking for Zaddik. He is relieved to see her but admonishes her for taking the retrovirus, explaining that it wasn't ready yet. She says she heard that but didn't have any other choice. He asks what she means and she replies that once they kill the other wraith she won't be able to pretend anymore. Zaddik listens, horrified, as she tells him that his serum doesn't work. She didn't want him to know, though, because he worked so hard on it, so for the last few years, she has gone out when she sensed the other wraith feeding and fed at the same time, so that it still looked like it was only one creature behind the attacks. Zaddik tries to comfort her, but the retrovirus starts to kick in and she freaks out and flees.
Searching for Ellia, Rodney and Carson accidentally find the other wraith. He clearly intends to attack them but is stopped by Ellia. She is starting to turn blue and scaly and acting very wild. She snaps the wraith's neck and then starts toward Rodney in a very menacing manner. Before she can do anything, however, Carson shoots at her, just winging her with the bullet. It is enough to cause her to run away, however. Carson realizes that the retrovirus must be having the opposite of its intended effect. Instead of eradicating her iratus bug traits and leaving behind the human ones, it is wiping out all traces of humanity and leaving her with nothing but the predator's traits.
Zaddik has chased after Ellia and when she finds him she hurls him aside, injuring him severely. Carson, Rodney, Sheppard, and the rest find him just before the rest of the villagers show up. Carson says that his injuries are fatal. Goran does not recognize Zaddik and demands to know who he is, until Zaddik speaks up, disappointed that Goran does not remember him. It turns out he is Goran's son. Goran says that's not possible, his son was taken by the wraith two years after it arrived, and would only be thirty-four now, not the aged man before him. Zaddik explains that while he was still working on the serum he allowed Ellia to feed off of him, just a little bit each time, enough to survive. As a result he still lived, but he aged greatly. He faked his death because he knew he couldn't hid the effects of her feeding and because he also knew that his father and the other villagers would never understand, but he couldn't leave her, she needed him. With that he dies.
Carson tells Sheppard that he still might be able to reverse the effects of the retrovirus in Ellia if they can capture her alive, and quickly. Sheppard, Ronon, and Teyla go after her. Teyla finds her first and is knocked unconscious. Sheppard continues on, ordering Ronon to stay behind and keep an eye on Teyla. When Teyla regains consciousness, she is surprised to learn that Ronon let Sheppard continue the pursuit on his own. Ronon tells her he was ordered to stay behind, and he was just following orders. Teyla tersely explains that there will be times when they will need to use their best judgement to override Sheppard's orders. It is enough to send Ronon after Sheppard. He finds them both as Ellia is attacking Sheppard, attempting to feed off of his arm. Ronon shoots her, stunning her, but she starts to pop back up, and both Ronon and Sheppard shoot her, this time killing her.
Ronon tells Sheppard that she was never going to let them take her alive. Sheppard agrees and they turn to go back to the others, ending the episode.
So, I didn't realize this for a long time, but Ellia was actually played by Jewel Staite, of all people! I think she was even nominated (and possibly won) an award for the guest role. How random, and crazy. Still, her turn as Ellia was pretty fascinating. This is definitely a nature versus nurture episode. One of the big overriding arcs of this season (and more or less throughout the series) is the nature of the wraith. Are they really that evil, or just misunderstood? Zaddik wagers on misunderstood. While Ellia quite clearly wasn't anyone's definition of evil--at worst she was desperate--she also quite clearly could not repress her less desirable wraith tendencies.
Ronon is still testing his boundaries with Sheppard, as well as proving his usefulness as part of the team. This time he is learning that there will be times when he will need to ignore an order. Replacing Ford with Ronon definitely throws the traditional military structure of the gate team out the window. It was always a little fluid, but now it is just something else entirely. That's fitting, though, since Sheppard has never been set up to be your typical military officer.
We also see in this episode just how deep down Ronon's hatred for the wraith goes. Intellectually, he understands that Ellia does not think and act like a typical wraith, but his instinct tells him that none of that matters. She is a wraith, and if the rest of his team are willing to give her the benefit of the doubt, then it is his job to remain suspicious and ready for betrayal at all times.
Then there's Carson. Sweet, mild-mannered, lovable, friendly Carson. Playing God. Seriously, what the heezy? I mean, I get that the wraith are a threat and that technically the Lanteans are at war. But he's developing a retrovirus that will essentially wipe out an entire race of beings. That's genocide right there, that is. Clearly Carson doesn't see it that way. He's lost in the science of it all. Since arriving in Pegasus he has been learning about the wraith, figuring out how they came to be, how they work, and now, how to fundamentally change them. That's a pretty heavy implication that is just thrown at us and then completely glossed over. It's only now, with the benefit of hindsight, that I even see how insane the notion is. So as lighthearted as Stargate Atlantis might be, we should also realize that it is something of a cautionary tale as well. What happens when you decide to try to "fix" a whole group of people who is bothering you? Well, I guess we'll find out, won't we?
On a happier note, I love that while getting ready to leave the village and look for the wraith, Rodney found himself the focus of attention of a very inquisitive child. They are drawn to him, and it drives him nuts. It's awesome. Running gag: Approved.
"Are you interested in science?" (Zaddik)
"I'm not sure that's what I'd call this, but yes." (Rodney)
"So it's a teenage thing? Pimples, rebellion, life-sucking?" (Sheppard)
"McKay, stay here and help Beckett." (Sheppard)
"Ah...medical research? Not really my thing." (Rodney)
"And hunting wraith?" (Sheppard)
"Uh. I could...stay...and...help Beckett." (Rodney)
"Aren't we supposed to follow his orders?" (Ronon)
"Sometimes we are allowed to make exceptions." (Teyla)
"And who decides when it is one of those times?" (Ronon)
"We do." (Teyla)
"That's good enough!" (Ronon)
Good enough, indeed. That's me done for the day. Hope to see you back here on Wednesday, when we'll catch up with some of the fallout from this episode in "Conversion."