Hello! Welcome to 2012, and welcome back to my Stargate Atlantis Rewatch! I am so glad that you stopped by. Today's episode under discussion is season three's "Common Ground." There will be spoilers, of course, for the episode itself and any that came before that. So keep that in consideration as you read on.
We find the team under fire from an unseen enemy and running for the gate. Rodney manages to dial up Atlantis and radios that they are coming in hot. He and Teyla make it through while John and Ronon try to hold off their attackers. Those two then head for the gate as well. Just then, an unknown enemy fires a sort of grappling hook or harpoon at John and it catches in his tactical vest. Right as Ronon crosses the event horizon, John is yanked back from the gate and to the ground. The gate closes behind Ronon and John looks up as he is surrounded. A man kneels down beside him and is revealed to be Kolya, formerly of the Genii.
Elizabeth, of course, sends teams back to the planet immediately upon realizing that John did not make it through, but they find no sign or either John or the team's attackers. Rodney grabbed the last fifty addresses from the gate in the vain hope that they might be able to narrow down where John was taken, but since the IDC that called them to the planet in the first place came from the Genii, Elizabeth has decided to ask them what the heck happened. The gate activates and Ladon Radim steps through, ready to be of any assistance he can.
John is thrown in a dank cell by Kolya and begins pacing back and forth yelling about Kolya playing dirty. An unseen prisoner in the next cell speaks up, bemused at John's wasting of energy being angry about a situation he can't actually change. John shrugs the other guy off and when soldiers come to take him to Kolya, he makes a brief but failed attempt to escape before being carted off.
Elizabeth fills Ladon in on the situation and wants to know what Ladon knows about John's abduction, since the code used to lure him was one Atlantis had given to Ladon. He explains that the codes were recently stolen. They were only entrusted to two other people and he already has them in custody. He offers to cooperate fully in the search for John, and reiterates that he would really like to keep the alliance between Atlantis and the Genii in place. Rodney accuses Ladon of incompetence for allowing the codes to be stolen and Teyla wonders aloud if maybe this isn't another elaborate double-cross on Ladon's part. Meanwhile Ronon is just champing at the bit to be doing something to get John back.
John is tied to a chair and the Genii soldiers roll some sort of antiquated video camera into the room. Kolya pops in and he and John reminisce for a few moments before Kolya reveals that John is really just a means to an end. There is something, or rather someone, he wants, and John is the leverage to getting at that person.
Elizabeth and Ladon are notified of an incoming wormhole and go to see who it is. There is no IDC but they are receiving an analog video signal. Elizabeth orders it put up on the screen and the room goes silent as they all recognize Kolya (except for Ronon, who demands an explanation to the reaction). Elizabeth hesitates on answering the call but finally does. Kolya reveals John and Elizabeth demands he be allowed to speak. John is ungagged long enough to yell out that Elizabeth shouldn't give Kolya anything he wants. Kolya smirks and turns back to the screen, telling Elizabeth that his demands are simple. He wants Ladon in exchange for John. Ladon goes very still and Elizabeth looks at him before answering Kolya (who cannot see the control room, only hear them) that she will need time to consider the deal. Kolya seems to have expected this and offers up an "incentive." He gestures and his men bring a chained wraith into the room. When Elizabeth still doesn't agree to Kolya's terms, he has the wraith feed on John in front of the camera. After a few moments he has the wraith stopped and tells Elizabeth she has three hours to decide before he lets the wraith feed on John again, then he cuts the feed.
In his cell, John is suffering from the feeding and his fellow prisoner begins to talk to him. The other prisoner seems to think maybe the wraith is as badly off as John and after a few more minutes, John realizes that the other prisoner is the wraith.
Ladon explains to Elizabeth and the others the cause of the rift between himself and Kolya. Kolya had originally been the one planning a coup to overthrow Cowen, but Ladon did not feel Kolya was worthy of leading the Genii. Ladon turned Kolya in, forcing him to have to go underground, and then ended up taking over the Genii himself. Kolya believes that Ladon has usurped his own rightful place. Grateful that Elizabeth does not seem inclined to turn him over to Kolya, Ladon agrees to work with Rodney to try to narrow down the known Genii outposts and figure out where Kolya is holding Sheppard. Elizabeth wants to mount a rescue mission before their time runs out.
In his cell, John continues to argue with the wraith, not wanting to see the wraith as just as much a victim as himself. John says none of it really matters because he is finding a way to escape, and even if he doesn't manage that, his people will come for him given enough time. He just has to keep surviving. The wraith says he hopes John holds onto that belief the next time he feeds on him. Kolya sends for John again, and Kolya explains his motives to John while they wait to dial in to Atlantis. Koyla is rather bewildered that Elizabeth has already held out this long. He believes that protecting Ladon is a waste of his time and of John's life.
Rodney and Ladon find a planet that they believe is where Kolya is hiding out. The planet turns out to be a bust though. They find a lone Genii at the facility, a caretaker, and Rodney shoots a mouse, but that's about it. Ladon tells Elizabeth their only hope now is to let him return to his world so that he can further interrogate his possible traitors and find out Kolya's location. Before they can really argue over that course of action Kolya dials in again. Elizabeth still refuses to turn over Ladon and Kolya gives the order to the wraith to feed once more. The wraith looks John in the eyes and seems to hesitate for a moment before doing so. When Kolya stops the wraith he turns to Elizabeth and gives her three more hours then signs off again.
In their cells, John is still determined that he can get out of this situation. The wraith tells him his hope is pointless, there is no chance of escape and he doubts there is any likelihood of rescue. John realizes that the wraith knows the facility pretty well after being held captive there for so long and asks if he knows it well enough to get them out of it. The wraith is taken aback by this, realizing John is proposing they work together to escape. He thinks on it for a moment but then shakes his head, telling John escape just isn't possible.
During the next call, Kolya is increasingly frustrated that Elizabeth will not just hand Ladon over. Ladon steps in, offering Kolya amnesty if he gives John back and returns to the Genii homeworld. Kolya says it is too late for that and orders the wraith to take his fill from John. The wraith begins feeding and then stops, turning to Kolya to say that John is almost dead and asking if Kolya wants him to finish John off. Kolya says no and tells Elizabeth this time she only has two hours, clearly indicating it is her last chance. Carson laments to Elizabeth that there is no way John can survive another feeding, and the chances of him surviving the ones he has already experienced are slim at best. Ladon once more implores they let him return to his world to get the information from his people. Elizabeth relents, despite Rodney and Ronon's misgivings.
John wakes up, surprised to be still alive. He asks the wraith why he stopped himself and the wraith replies that John is one of the strongest humans he has ever fed off of. Still, every time he is fed on, he grows weaker, and the wraith says that John will need his strength when they escape. John shakes his head, bemused that the wraith has finally agreed to an escape attempt.
When soldiers next come for them, they work together to take them out, the wraith feeding on one to gain strength. They make their way through the facility, taking out the Genii they meet on the way and arming themselves. When Kolya finds the bodies of his soldiers, he realizes that John and the wraith are working together. He orders ten armed men to guard the stargate and sends the rest out to hunt down the escapees. The wraith was wounded during their escape, and without being able to feed again, he begins to slow them down. He tells John to go on without him but John refuses, pointing out that they have a higher chance of getting past the guards at the gate together. They stop to rest for a while and after a few questions John realizes the wraith doesn't actually know the way to the gate. The wraith confesses it has been many years since he was brought to the facility and he has forgotten. John is angry for a few moments but shakes it off, saying that at least they've bought time for his people to find them now.
Elizabeth is starting to get worried, the deadline from Kolya has passed with no contact from him. Ladon also has not radioed in. Ronon thinks that maybe Kolya and Ladon were in it from the beginning but Elizabeth does not believe it. Rodney thinks they are all just afraid to say that maybe John is already dead but Elizabeth refuses to even entertain the notion. The gate finally activates and it is Ladon. He apologizes for the delay, explaining that the interrogation took longer than he had planned. Still, he was successful and has finally gotten Kolya's location. He says it will take him about an hour to marshal a brigade to send through and thought that Elizabeth might want that time to send a cloaked jumper through and retrieve John. He asks that they leave Kolya for his men to deal with but she tells him she will make no promises on that account. He responds that he understands.
Morning dawns and the wraith wakes, realizing that Kolya's men are almost upon them. He tells John that they are coming and reaches over to feed off of him, draining almost everything John has left. He then proceeds to slay his way through the eight soldiers that came for them, killing them all and feeding on several. He goes back to John who tells him to just finish already. The wraith shakes his head, telling John there is still much about the wraith that John doesn't know. He reaches down and places his hand upon John.
The team, making their way toward's John's locator signal, hear a scream and rush into the clearing. They find the wraith crouching over John and are about to attack when John jumps up, restored to his full health, and calls out for them to stop. The wraith somehow gave him back all of the life that had been taken from him. Teyla asks how this is even possible and the wraith explains that the "gift of life" is something his people reserve for their most devoted worshipers and brothers (looking directly at John as he says that bit). They make ready to leave and Ronon asks what John wants to do with the wraith. The wraith braces himself to be killed, fully expecting John to go back on the deal. Instead, John stuns him and they take him to the jumper, dropping him off on a wraith-inhabited planet. The wraith wakes, surprised that John honored the bargain. They exchange nods of respect, reiterating that should they meet again all bets are off, and then they part ways.
Gah, this is such a freaking intense episode. I remember the first time I watched it just being absolutely amazed and appalled at watching John's aging progress as he was fed upon. I couldn't believe the show was actually going there, nor could I figure out how they would undo it. That they would undo it was pretty much foregone, this is Stargate, after all. But still. Wow.
The effects of John's aging were pretty well done, and I particularly enjoyed how the "older" he got, the more "cranky old man" he became while still very clearly remaining himself. It was very interesting (and amusing) to watch. Ronon and Rodney also got to shine a little in this episode. Ronon's clear impatience at the diplomatic way that Elizabeth tried to resolve the situation, as well as his obvious distrust of Ladon and the Genii in general were telegraphed extremely well. I loved Rodney's "take-charge" attitude. The bit where he was giving the rescue team a pep-talk was quite giggle-worthy, but it was also some fascinating character development, because it didn't for one second feel unbelievable. The fact that he was the one who led the jumper team in the final rescue also seemed quite natural, even though with a moment's thought it maybe shouldn't have. Comparing this Rodney even to just season one Rodney, it is impressive how well he has settled in to life in Atlantis and found a place where he truly fits--both in his role and with the people around him.
Of course, it is always a joy having Kolya back to loom menacingly. As ruthless as he is, he still manages to convey an interesting depth of compassion. The more times I watch this show, the more I realize what a well-written and well-acted character he really is.
The other big thing we get in this episode is a hefty dose of wraith mythology. We now see that, unlike the wraith from the end of season two, there are wraith capable showing honor and of respecting humans. The fact that they are capable of restoring life energy as well as taking it is also a neat piece of information. That could have easily been one of those magic abilities that the writers put in and immediately regret because of the potential to just be the go-to easy out going forward. I don't think it is, though. For one thing, the wraith really aren't inclined under most circumstances to undo their feedings, and they aren't terribly easy to convince. For another, it seems like it would be considerably more difficult for our heroes to find themselves in a situation where such an option was viable than otherwise.
Finally, much like Michael with Teyla, this wraith seems to want to drive home to John that humans (or at least some of them) are much more like the wraith (or at least some of them) than either race wants to believe or admit. It is very interesting food for thought, methinks.
"Kolya! I didn't kill you last time, remember? You promised me points for that." (John)
"You just crossed a line Kolya." (Elizabeth)
"So what? I say we turn him over and let them fight it out." (Ronon)
"We can't do that!" (Rodney)
"Why not?" (Ronon)
"Because...well, can we?" (Rodney)
"You realize he is torturing both of us?" (Wraith)
"Oh yeah? What'd he do to you?" (John)
"He stopped me." (Wraith)
"They're never gonna make the trade Kolya. Why don't you just finish this?" (John)
"I think you underestimate the sympathetic nature of Doctor Weir." (Kolya)
"Well, then, you underestimate Elizabeth." (John)
"How far is the stargate?" (John)
"It will be guarded." (Wraith)
"We've got guns." (John)
"They will be waiting for us." (Wraith)
"Don't be so negative." (John)
"You are more like wraith than you know." (Wraith)
"I'm not sure I like the sound of that." (John)
"There is much about the wraith you do not know, Sheppard." (Wraith)
"Is it possible they were in on this from the beginning?" (Teyla)
"No, I don't think so. Why would Ladon come here in the first place?" (Elizabeth)
"Throw us off the scent." (Ronon)
"What kind of plan would that be?" (Rodney)
"Buck up. We got a deal, remember? We both go home alive." (John)
"And if we were to meet again in the future? What then?" (Wraith)
"All bets are off." (John)
"Then let us hope we do not meet again." (Wraith)
"Sheppard gave me back my life. I merely repaid the debt." (Wraith)
"What debt? Are you kidding? I mean, he looks younger than he did before!" (Rodney)
Alrighty folks, that's it for today. See you back here on Wednesday for what is probably my favorite episode of this entire series, "McKay and Mrs. Miller."