Monday, October 31, 2011

SGA Rewatch: The Tower

Happy Halloween folks! Welcome to the Stargate Atlantis Rewatch. Thanks for joining me to close out October with a little bit of adventuring in another galaxy. We're getting close to the end of season two, so today we'll be checking out a fun episode called "The Tower." Spoilers abound, as per usual. Now, I am sure you guys want to get down to the business of tracking down candy, so without further ado, onward!

What Happened

Our favorite team is visiting a new world, trying to make friends with the neighbors. Rodney is highly unimpressed with the village in which they find themselves as it is clearly very low-to-no-tech. Sheppard and Teyla remind him that this doesn't mean it is without value and they are then joined by Eldred, who seems to be the leader of the village. He apologizes for the delay in speaking with them but explains that it is harvest time and they have been busy preparing their tribute for the tower. Sheppard asks what tower that might be and Eldred replies that they must be from very far off indeed. He does not know of anyone who is not protected from the wraith by the tower. Sheppard asks to see this tower and Eldred obliges. The team is very surprised to see, rising out of the middle of a dense forest, a single tower almost overgrown in vegetation but clearly identical to the central spire of Atlantis.

As they return to the village, Eldred explains that the Lord Protector keeps them safe from the wraith by calling forth "thousands of bright lights" from the tower capable of destroying wraith ships. The Lanteans look at each other knowingly, recognizing a description of the Ancient drones. Eldred adds that the wraith have not visited the planet in several generations but he has seen the lights, as the Lord Protector from time to time needs to "demonstrate" his power to the commoners. Sheppard says he would like to meet the Lord Protector and Eldred tells him that might not be possible. Only the royal court is allowed in the tower. Still, he will try. He leaves to speak to someone and Rodney pipes up that if they have drones, that implies that they also have a working ZPM.

Rodney wants to take some readings from closer to the tower to see if he can confirm the presence of such technology. He gets Eldred's son Baldric to guide him through the woods closer to the tower. Meanwhile, Ronon and Teyla return to the village and Sheppard heads back to the jumper to check in with Atlantis. He tells Elizabeth about the tower and she wonders if the Lord Protector and his court might be Ancients. Sheppard doesn't think that is the case, the feudal system doesn't really seem like their MO, still it is worth checking out. Elizabeth agrees.

As Sheppard returns to the village a constable and some guards from the tower turn up and start hassling some of the villagers. Sheppard and Ronon step in to stop them. The constable balks at the interference and the two sides square off for a fight. Before they get started, however, another man steps in and orders the constable to stand down. He introduces himself as Otho, the Lord Protector's chamberlain. He says that Sheppard and his team would never be allowed in the Lord Protector's presence armed as they are, all the while scanning the team with a handheld device as he speaks. He tells the guards to take Sheppard and the team immediately prepares to fight again. Otho sighs that it seems a demonstration is necessary and a drone is fired from the tower into the center of the village. No one is hurt, but Otho warns that if Sheppard does not come with him and Teyla and Ronon surrender their weapons, he cannot promise the next drone will spare everyone. Seeing no other choice, Sheppard acquiesces.

Teyla radios Rodney to inform him of the situation and calls him back to the village. When he arrives Sheppard radios in from the tower and asks Rodney if his scans found anything. Rodney says that there is definitely a ZPM in the area, but it is either only running at minimal power or is running pretty low on juice. He also reports that he noticed the ZPM seemed to be underground and so he did some more scans and says there is a large subterranean structure under the tower and village. He would not be surprised if it was as big as Atlantis itself. Sheppard says neither would he--he is inside the tower and everything looks pretty familiar. We see that he is standing in a chamber identical to Atlantis' control room, but without a gate and with some medieval redecorating.

The Lord Protector arrives and walks up to his throne (which is instantly recognizable to Sheppard as a control chair like the one in Atlantis). Sheppard starts to introduce himself but the Lord Protector already knows, saying he sees all there is to see in his domain. He activates the chair and pulls up a holographic video feed of the village, zooming in on Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon having a discussion in the village square. It is clear that the Lord Protector uses the control chair as a surveillance device to keep an eye on the villagers and his court, as well as to fire the drones. Sheppard asks if he is a prisoner and the Lord Protector says he is a guest, invites him to join him for dinner.

Sheppard is escorted (still under guard) to a chamber to rest until dinner is ready and radios in with his team again. Rodney says he's gone over the scans some more and has found that the structure underground isn't just similar to Atlantis but is completely identical. The tower is all that is left of what was once a cityship just like Atlantis. The lower part of the city has been buried over thousands of years as the forest grew in, likely toppling the city's other towers. Sheppard is convinced that the Lord Protector and his court are not Ancients, but the Lord Protector and his family definitely have the ATA gene. Though from what he's seen in the tower, it seems like they only use it to access a few systems via the control chair. Most of the city's systems are powered down or are running on autopilot.

Rodney, Teyla, and Ronon sit down to a meager meal with Eldred and his family. Through discussion they learn that a full half of every harvest is sent to the tower as tribute. The team shares dark looks at that knowledge and they continue their meal.

In the tower, meanwhile, Sheppard attends a very gluttonous feast in the throne room. The Lord Protector's daughter Mara flirts with Sheppard a little while his son Tavius challenges Sheppard's actions in the village. He doesn't understand why a military man would object to the constable's "discipline." Sheppard says he doesn't really think that whipping is the best motivation. He changes the topic to the "lights" the Lord Protector uses, asking where they come from. Everyone kind of looks at him like he's daft, saying the Lord Protector calls them with his mind. Sheppard presses on though, asking where they are called from. Has anyone gone to look? Mara asks if he means the catacombs and asserts that no one goes down there. They are dark and dirty and unstable. The conversation is derailed when the Lord Protector has a fit of some sort and is ushered back to his rooms. Otho assures Sheppard that he will be just fine, this is a common occurrence.

In the village, Rodney complains quietly about the slim pickings and Teyla admonishes him. She says they should be grateful that those with so little would choose to share with them. She and Ronon then discuss the situation in the village in regards to the oppression from the tower. They both clearly think it is wrong and are also clearly thinking about doing something about it. They have been quite touched by the villagers' plight. Rodney warns them not to be so hasty, pointing out that while the Lord Protector's methods are clearly questionable, they are also clearly effective. They need more time to observe the situation.

As Sheppard is settling in for the night Mara comes to visit him. She asks if he has everything he needs and dissuades him when he thinks he should just leave and come back when the Lord Protector is feeling better. She asks if there is anything she can do to make him more comfortable in his visit and disrobes and starts kissing him. Sheppard is surprised but doesn't really object. Mara asks if he meant what he said at dinner about the way of their rule needing to change. He affirms that he did and she says she knew he would make a good ruler. He is thrown by this, and she says that her father has promised that if they are wed the succession will fall to her. He starts to slow her down to discuss the matter rationally but is then distracted when she jumps him.

The next morning Sheppard goes to visit Otho and tells him about Mara's revelation of the night before. He says that everyone seems to be assuming an awful lot about his intentions in the tower. Otho explains that the bloodline of the royal family is deteriorating, and the bloodline (the ATA gene) is necessary to use the throne chair to defend from the wraith. He believes that Sheppard actually knows all of this due to his complete lack of awe when the Lord Protector demonstrated his power the day before. He also points out that Sheppard is very right about the inequality of their government but that as it stands, with the Lord Protector very ill, Tavius is next in line for the throne and he's perfectly fine with the way things are, he might even be worse, in fact. But if Mara can promise renewal of the bloodline--say by marrying someone like Sheppard with a super strong ATA gene--she will inherit the throne. Then they will have a chance to actually change things. He explains that they are running out of time, as the Lord Protector is very ill. If they wait too long Tavius will have the throne and he will likely kill Mara just for spite. Sheppard offers to help with that, calling in Carson to see if he can do anything for the Lord Protector.

Carson arrives in the village and the rest of the team escorts him to the tower, telling him what they know so far. Rodney says that Baldric knows a way to get into the "catacombs" and he is going to go check it out. If he can find the ZPM he will be able to disconnect it and remove the Lord Protector's method of harming the people of the village.

Tavius stops by and pays a visit to Otho, commenting that he has been very busy scheming with Mara and Sheppard and bringing in a doctor to look at the Lord Protector. He tells Otho to remember their "arrangement" in a very thinly veiled threat and leaves, with Otho looking after him pensively.

Carson completes his initial examination of the Lord Protector and says he is in pretty bad shape. He tells Otho and Sheppard that he needs to run some more tests to see if there is anything he can do for the man. While they wait Otho asks Sheppard to come with him. He takes Sheppard to the tower's jumper bay, showing him an abandoned jumper and lamenting all of the technology that his people don't have access to. He is still trying to convince Sheppard to marry Mara, and quickly, so they can have a chance to reinvigorate the bloodline. Sheppard is clearly very uncomfortable at being ensnared in the royal machinations and he offers up an alternative solution. He tells Otho about the gene therapy and says if they give it to the villagers half of them would be able to use the Ancient tech. Then they wouldn't need to rely on the old way of government and wouldn't lack for candidates to use the throne chair. He offers the therapy in exchange for some of their drones. Otho is interested, but wary.

Rodney and Baldric makes it to the catacombs and Baldric balks at going down inside, saying it is very dangerous. Rodney tells him not to be so superstitious but Baldric explains that the catacombs are actually very prone to earthquakes. Several people have died trying to explore them. Rodney hesitates but then says they don't really have a choice, and down they go. As they get into the underground portions of the city, Sheppard radios Rodney. The connection is breaking up but he manages to ask Rodney to see if he can find the drone storage and find out how many drones are left so they can make their deal with Otho.

Carson finds Sheppard and informs him that he has completed the tests. The Lord Protector is definitely dying. Carson has also learned the cause--someone has been slowly poisoning the man over a long period of time. Sheppard glances across the room at Tavius and says he has a good idea of who is probably responsible for that.

Rodney and Baldric make it to the drone storage area. Rodney taps into the city's systems to turn on the power so he can do inventory. There are oodles of drones left, which means plenty for everyone. Rodney's next plan is to make his way to the ZPM and remove it, but earthquake shakes the catacombs, just then, likely brought on by turning on the power in that area. It cuts off their way out of the catacombs, as well as their access to where the ZPM is housed. He tries to radio Sheppard and Teyla to let them know he is stuck but cannot make a connection. The signal isn't getting through.

In the village the constable and his guards have returned to collect the tribute. The constable says it is not enough and demands more. Eldred's wife protests that they have given everything that they can and he says that maybe he will take out the rest of the payment in other ways. He begins to drag her off and Ronon and Teyla step in to stop him. Ronon kills the constable and his guards and they look around in dismay, knowing that the Lord Protector will likely not let the altercation go unpunished. Teyla radios Sheppard to warn him of the situation and explain what happened.

Sheppard and Carson go to Otho to tell him about the incident and that the Lord Protector has been poisoned. Sheppard says that if they talk to the Lord Protector, maybe they can convince him to hold off on retaliation until the whole "poisoning" thing has been dealt with (putting Mara in charge instead of Tavius). Otho tells them that is impossible, however, as the Lord Protector has just died. Tavius will inherit the throne and likely his first act will be to destroy the whole village for their transgressions. He will also likely see the offer of the gene therapy as treason. He tells Sheppard and Carson to go, and to gather their team and get out of there while they can. Sheppard leaves him a vial of the gene therapy, just in case, and tells him it is not too late to use it and overthrow Tavius.

As they leave, Sheppard tells Carson to go on to the village and he will be right behind but has to take care of something first. He goes in search of Mara, worried for her safety now that Tavius is in charge. He finds her and asks her to come along, saying he can find somewhere safe for her. She seems surprised to realize he really means it and a look of regret crosses her face. Just then Otho shows up behind Sheppard and says that he really should have left while he had the chance. Guards show up hauling Carson along and Otho says that as the new Lord Protector, he is placing the two of them under arrest.

Sheppard and Carson are thrown in a cell with Tavius, who was arrested for poisoning his father. Otho comes by to gloat and reveals that he was actually the one who poisoned the Lord Protector. He had made a deal with Tavius to do so in exchange for Mara's life and her hand in marriage once Tavius had the throne. But when Sheppard arrived, Otho saw an opportunity and played Sheppard (about the whole wanting change thing). Once he had the gene therapy he realized he didn't need Tavius any more. He can marry Mara and be Lord Protector.

With his avenue of escape shut off, Rodney manages to make his way to the city's auxiliary control room. His first thought is to turn on the city's internal communications so he can get a message to Sheppard about being trapped in the catacombs. Unfortunately the ZPM is almost completely depleted and there will be no way to get them online. With Baldric's help he hacks a drone and fires it in order to punch a hole through to the surface, opening up radio communications once more. He manages to get hold of Teyla and she updates him on everything that has happened since he has been out of contact. She has lost contact with Sheppard and Carson and fears an attack on the village is imminent. She asks if he can unhook the ZPM but he cannot get to it.

Mara visits Sheppard to apologize for playing him. She wants to help him and Carson try to escape before Otho can execute them. She has also brought his radio so he can warn his people in the village to leave immediately. Ohtho's first act as new ruler will be to destroy the village, just so none of the other villages under his protection get the idea to resist. Sheppard radios Rodney instead, asking if he has found the ZPM yet. Rodney once more explains he is cut off from it, but he thinks from the control room he can fire up enough of the city's systems to drain the ZPM completely, preventing Otho from attacking. The only problem is finding the right combination in time. Sheppard suggests the city's star drive. Such a massive system would drain the ZPM almost instantly.

Rodney fires up the star drive just as Otho launches an attack on the village. Stuck underground, the city can't actually fly anywhere, but it begins to shake violently. Sheppard and Carson take advantage of the distraction this causes to escape from their cell and run to the throne room to confront Otho. As the ZPM is drained, the throne chair shuts down and the villagers watch as the incoming drones fall inert from the sky.

Otho is enraged and Sheppard tells the rest of the court that they don't need to bow down to Otho or the "royals" anymore. Otho attacks Sheppard with a knife but he manages to evade the blade, getting it from Otho's possession. Otho is cut on the arm and Sheppard stands ready to continue fighting. Grabbing his arm, Otho looks at Sheppard and remarks that he does know his poisons very well, then drops dead. Apparently he had coated the blade with a fast-acting poison.

On Atlantis Sheppard finds Elizabeth on a balcony and reports to her that he managed to get new drones and even a few jumpers. She asks what he offered in exchange and he said they offered supplies and medicine, as well as help with them restructuring their government if they want it. She tells him she's surprised they didn't offer to make him king and he sheepishly remarks that they did, but he turned it down.


I like that when the episode starts out the team is clearly looking to just make friends, even if the villagers obviously don't have anything in the way of technology to offer them. That's nice to see. It does, however, really irk me that the Lanteans (and gate teams in the franchise in general) keep going around interfering with every government structure that doesn't resemble our own. Okay, yes, clearly in many cases the way things work on these other planets is bad or oppressive or wrong. I get that. But that doesn't automatically make our way of doing things any better. It's not like our system isn't without its own flaws, is it? I mean. Just saying. Sigh. It's one of those things that seems all noble and just on the surface, but as soon as I start to think about it too much it just really irritates me. Especially when the Lanteans very rarely catch any sort of backlash for their interference. But moving on, aside from that minor quibble, this is a really fun episode. It's silly and fast paced and our heroes get to be truly "heroic." Everyone gets their moment to shine.

At this point I think we do need to acknowledge that Sheppard has firmly established himself as the Kirk of the Pegasus galaxy. I just hope that STD screenings are standard for every post-mission exam, is all I'm saying there. For the most part it makes for good entertainment, though, and it gives Rodney something to give him crap about for the rest of the series.

Finally, lest you might be worried (as I was at first) that by draining the ZPM the Lanteans have left this planet defenseless from the wraith--they do have the new Mark II naquadah generators that are capable of powering a control chair. For the needs of the people on that planet, that is probably sufficient to keep them going (maybe even with more functionality in the tower than they had before, even).

Yay for replenished drones and new jumpers, too. Huzzah! They're, um, probably gonna need them.

Favorite Quotes

"They can't all be planets with cool technology and open-minded women." (Sheppard)
"I don't see why not!" (Rodney)

"Oh wow! I...I never see this coming." (Sheppard)

"Without the drone chair they're just a bunch of primitive thugs with axes and knives." (Rodney)
"Axes and knives can cause damage, Rodney!" (Carson)

"We may need to panic a little." (Rodney)

"Remember what happened the last time you started turning things on?" (Baldric)

"I really need to stop making house calls." (Carson)

"Well this is better. I guess." (Rodney)

"We got the drones, we got a few jumpers. I even got the girl!" (Sheppard)
"You got the girl?" (Elizabeth)
"Well, I mean, I could have got the girl. I turned her down." (Sheppard)

That's it for today folks. See you back here on Wednesday with the next episode, "The Long Goodbye."

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