Welcome to today's installment of my Stargate Atlantis Rewatch! Today we'll be looking at my favorite episode of pretty much the entire series, season three's "McKay and Mrs. Miller." All kinds of spoilery goodness headed your way, folks.
The episode opens with a woman playing trains with her daughter. As her daughter pushes the train across a toy bridge, the woman gets a look of inspiration on her face. She goes to her daughter's drawing pad and grabs some finger paint, beginning to paint on the paper. Sometime later, the woman's husband comes home to find his daughter watching her mother, who is surrounded by pages and pages of finger paint equations. That night, the husband encourages the woman to send her proof in to a scientist. She seems reluctant but ends up deciding to do so (rewriting the equations out on paper). Some time later there is a knock on her door and we find Samantha Carter on the other side, asking about the proof. We next find ourselves in Atlantis, where John is telling Rodney to pack his things for a trip back to Earth. John says that Carter is requesting Rodney's help. Rodney gets a look of satisfaction on his face and asks what Carter needs help with. John replies, "your sister."
Rodney arrives on Earth and immediately starts badgering Carter to find out what his sister has done. She explains that his sister Jeannie has come up with a math proof that has bearing on Rodney's own research. Rodney looks it over, impressed, but trying not to show it. He explains to Carter that Jeannie showed promise of becoming a brilliant theoretical physicist much like Carter until she got pregnant in school and "her priorities changed overnight." Jeannie dropped out of school to start her family, and Rodney admits he hasn't spoken to her since, which was four years ago. Carter tells him that she needs Rodney to convince Jeannie to help them apply her proof to his research. Rodney asks why Carter needs his help and she responds that Jeannie has refused to sign a nondisclosure agreement to learn about the stargate program and is kind of just being a pain in the butt. Carter is hoping Rodney can convince Jeannie to help them.
Rodney isn't so sure he'll be of much use at this task, but he goes to visit Jeannie. She is surprised to find him on her doorstep, considering how long it has been since they last spoke. She quickly realizes he is there about the proof. He tries to talk her into signing the NDA so he can tell her about the real-world applications of her proof but she stubbornly refuses, not wanting anything to do with the U.S. military. They argue back and forth about it for a little bit in the doorway until Jeannie's husband Kaleb and daughter Madison come to find out what is going on. Jeannie explains that her brother has stopped by. Madison runs up and hugs a bewildered Rodney and Kaleb invites him in to dinner.
After dinner, Rodney once more begins trying to convince Jeannie to come work with him. She asks how long she will be gone and he says a couple of months at the most. Jeannie balks at this, not wanting to miss out on, among other things, Madison's first ballet recital next week. Rodney scoffs that Madison is just four and will never remember. This sparks another argument about Jeannie's choice to drop out of school and academia and Rodney's disapproval of her life. She also renews her objections to working with the military (she and Kaleb are kind of mild-level hippies/pacifists). Saying that she has left him no choice, Rodney grabs Jeannie's hand and presses a button. They are immediately beamed aboard the Daedalus, where Carter is waiting for them. Jeannie is surprised enough to finally listen as they explain to her about the stargate program and that her proof will be of great use in the fight against the wraith.
Back at home, Jeannie is unable to sleep, sitting up in bed staring. Kaleb tells her she has to go, this is something she just can't pass up. The Daedalus heads back to the Pegasus galaxy with Rodney and Jeannie on board. Carter (over the comm, as she is staying on Earth) and Rodney explain to Jeannie that they have been trying to find a way to generate energy cleanly by drawing it from subspace. They have, unfortunately, hit a roadblock because doing so tends to create dangerous exotic particles that they have been unable to contain (explains about the Arcturus project). Carter explains that Rodney has been working on the idea of drawing the energy from an alternate or parallel universe, which would create the exotic particles over there. Jeannie's proof is the missing piece of the puzzle. It is about bridging alternate universes and would allow them to draw the energy from the other universe while leaving the created exotic particles on the other side.
While they travel to Atlantis, Jeannie and Rodney work with Hermiod on the specifications for building the bridge and the energy device. Rodney explains they already have a containment chamber in Atlantis that they can repurpose for the project. He sends the modifications to Radek so that the team on Atlantis can work on getting the generator built before Rodney and Jeannie arrive. Radek and his team get the containment room ready just as the Daedalus arrives. Elizabeth and John are very curious to meet Jeannie, wondering what Rodney's sister might be like. After the introductions, they head to the containment room to give their bridge a test run.
Rodney looks over all of the specifications and readings and deems things ready to go. They fire up the generator, holding it steady at five percent power. Everything looks to be going well and the project seems to be a success. They decide to leave it running at the low level and monitor it just to make sure no problems arise. Of course, this being Atlantis, you know something has to go wrong. Late at night there is a flare of energy and the technician on duty picks up a foreign object in the containment chamber. She calls for Radek and orders the generator shut down. They go to the containment chamber to investigate and find Rodney, well, a Rodney (slightly cooler looking than our Rodney) in the chamber. He looks around and asks to speak to the person in charge of the project. A bemused Radek replies, "that would be you," and this strange Rodney asks to speak to himself then.
Meanwhile, Rodney has wandered into the mess for a late-night snack and he finds the rest of the team at a table with Jeannie, all of them laughing loudly. He asks what's going on and quickly learns that she has been telling them all sorts of crazy (and mostly embarrassing) stories about his childhood. He starts to grumble at her but is interrupted when Radek calls over the PA, requesting John and Rodney in the isolation room. They go, Jeannie tagging along, and find Elizabeth and Radek looking down into the isolation room where the other Rodney waits. Elizabeth explains that he appeared in the containment chamber, indicating he came through the matter bridge. Jeannie rounds on Rodney, mad that he had told her the odds of them finding an inhabited universe were astronomical. He retorts that they were, she saw the math, and asks Elizabeth what the other Rodney wants. She says he wants to talk to Rodney.
Rodney drags Jeannie down with him and goes to talk to his alternate self, who prefers to go by Rod. Rod guesses at the nature of their experiment and when they confirm his suspicions he explains that the exotic particles created by it have made a tear in the fabric of his universe. His people tried to send a message through the tear, but since our Atlantis didn't have any sort of receiver set up in the containment chamber, they didn't pick it up. Rod tells them when it became clear their message hadn't gone through, his Sheppard suggested they send a person through to get our Atlantis to shut down the experiment. They beamed Rod into the matter stream, protected by one of the Ancient personal shield devices, and that is how he got to our universe. Basically, he just needed to get them to turn off their generator. Rodney replies that they have already done so and Rod sits back, satisfied that his work is done. Rodney and Jeannie ask how Rod is going to get back to his own universe and he reminds them that the matter bridge they created is unidirectional, which means he can't go back. He's stuck in our universe. Rodney is less than thrilled.
Rod begins settling in to Atlantis, golfing with Sheppard and breakfasting with Jeannie. He seems to be a bit more personable than Rodney and fits in pretty well with everyone. Rodney wanders into the mess to find Rod and Jeannie sitting with the team, once more all laughing up a storm. Rodney starts to rant at them but is cut short when he and Rod are summoned to the containment room. Radek explains that he had to start the generator back up. When they shut it down, it didn't close down the bridge. Energy was still being drawn through and was starting to build up like water against a dam. Leaving the generator shut down would have resulted in a catastrophic event. Unfortunately, this means even more exotic particles being created in Rod's universe. If the tear is left, it will continue to expand and could result in Rod's whole universe ceasing to exist. He tells them that they had estimated a week and a half before the tear reached their city, so they all get to work trying to find a way to shut the bridge down as quickly as possible.
Rodney pulls Jeannie aside and tells her that he doesn't want her hanging out with Rod anymore. He reminds her that he is her "real" brother, not Rod. She begs to differ, pointing out that Rodney hasn't been there for her ever since she decided to quit school. They have a big blowout. Rodney goes to John's quarters to pace and rant about the situation, and John halfheartedly tries to calm him down, though he clearly seems to think it is not as big a deal as Rodney is making it. Once more Rodney is paged to the containment room. Radek and Rod tell him that a message has come through from Rod's universe (after his arrival they set up a receiver just in case). The exotic particles have begun spiraling out of control much faster than they had originally estimated. They only have about six hours before the tear reaches the other Atlantis. The other Atlantis has a plan to save their universe--unfortunately it will mean destroying their city and pushing all of the exotic particles back through the bridge, causing a tear in our universe.
Jeannie comes up with a possible solution that will save the other universe and prevent the particles from moving into our universe. A massive burst of energy sent through the bridge could collapse it completely and destroy the existing exotic particles. The downside is that it will severely deplete their ZPM, as in, probably not even enough for the shield to be powered anymore. Unfortunately, John and Elizabeth don't see that they have any other choice and Elizabeth gives the go-ahead to collapse the bridge.
Rod pulls Rodney aside. He has realized that their plan might actually provide a chance for him to get back to his universe. The Daedalus can beam him into the energy that they send through to collapse the bridge. Rodney is surprised that Rod is willing to take the risk, because it is a dangerous chance, and he has been fitting in so well in our Atlantis. Rod shrugs and says that may be so, but he misses his own team and universe, and it is worth the risk to him. He gives Rodney his calculations that show how Rodney will know when Rod has safely made it back to his own universe. They begin collapsing the bridge and manage to do it, leaving the ZPM with a little juice still. Radek calls out that they should shut it down but Rodney sees that Rod hasn't made it back yet and he and Jeannie say they need to wait. Finally the readings show Rod is back and Rodney orders the ZPM cut off, but it is too late, it has been completely depleted. The day has been saved, but at a very great cost.
Later, John goes to visit Jeannie and he shows her the video letter that Rodney made for her (but apparently never sent) in "Letters From Pegasus." She is more than a little surprised by his sincerity in the video, and says now she has seen three sides of her brother that she never saw before. Rodney comes by to visit with Jeannie, the Daedalus heads back to Earth the next morning, and John hides the video player and skedaddles. Rodney tells Jeannie that Elizabeth is not terribly happy about the outcome of the project, but at the end of the day he did save the universe and so it all evens out. He hands Jeannie a "gift" for Madison, a statue he swiped off of Elizabeth's desk. He tries to apologize to Jeannie for his failings as a brother and they have a very touching scene where you can see that reconciliation has begun. They discuss their intention of staying in touch this time and of Rodney's determination to visit more and actually be there for Jeannie and her family.
Later that night Rodney wanders into the mess and again finds his team together and laughing. He is disgruntled but they tell him they were just talking about Rod, wondering if he made home safe. They admit they were actually glad to see him go. Rodney is surprised by this but they point out some of Rod's more annoying tendencies and Rodney sits down to join them, relieved to be the only Rodney in Atlantis once more. The conversation moves on to other things and we zoom out on the team bonding, ending the episode.
As I said, this is pretty much my favorite Stargate Atlantis episode ever. For one thing, I love alternate universe stories set in the Stargate universe. The idea of the same people being so different based on just little choices or events is truly intriguing to me. There were a lot of nice touches with Rod to embellish his differences while still showing him as convincingly McKay. I liked the mentions of the alternate versions of the other team members as well, especially the joke about Rod's John having joined MENSA and being kind of an intellectual snob. Just the little mentions here and there of differences (like that Rod's Earth and Atlantis each had a ZPM, enabling easier travel between the two) really sold it. I think my favorite bit was Rod's pictures of alt-Jeannie's family, showing Jeannie the "kids she hasn't had yet."
The acting in this episode was also pretty stellar. David Hewlett of course did a fantastic job of portraying both versions of Rodney. The fact that his real life sister, Kate Hewlett, was cast to play Jeannie was also a wonderful coup. David Hewlett has often said that the character of Rodney is imbued with a lot of his own mannerisms, and many of these are mannerisms that Kate possesses as well, making their task of playing siblings on screen that much easier. Their brother-sister banter was perfect. After this episode aired and until the very end of the series, I never stopped wishing they would bring Kate Hewlett back as a full time (or at least frequently recurring) character. Watching those two on screen together is an absolute delight.
This episode also keeps up the running joke that kids, for some baffling reason, are attracted to Rodney like flies to honey, despite the fact that he has no idea what to do with them. I love the way Madison just runs up and hugs him asking for presents. Rodney's response that he didn't know that was a rule is just lovely. It makes me giggle every time.
This is the episode that introduces us to the fact that Rodney's full given name is actually Meredith Rodney McKay. Despite the fact that he prefers to go by Rodney (for somewhat obvious reasons), I love that Jeannie just doggedly calls him nothing but Meredith or Mer. The delight that Carter and John get out of learning this information is very amusing to watch as well. I mean, yes, Meredith actually is a traditional boy's name, but it is so far out of fashion as such that it is so easy to imagine poor Rodney, who was already going to be bullied for his personality and intellect, doing everything he could to distance himself from the appellation. Meanwhile, his little sister refused to acquiesce to such desires. The main writer for this episode clearly had siblings.
I love how Jeannie seemed to integrate so seamlessly into Atlantis. This was another reason I hoped to have her show up more in future episodes, truth be told. She instantly felt like part of the team. I think it says a lot about how much the people of Atlantis embrace Rodney (despite his antagonistic relationship with most of them) that they so willingly accepted his little sister as one of their own with pretty much no questions asked.
Having two Rodneys running around was quite fun to watch, of course. I'm with Elizabeth on this one, two McKays are definitely better than one. But more than just serving to amuse the audience, Rod also allowed us to once more see how much Rodney has grown during his time in Atlantis--this time in his relationships with others. Namely with his team. I am pretty sure pre-Atlantis Rodney wouldn't have been that fussed about potentially being replaced in his circle of friends (or with his sister). Despite John's seeming indifference to Rodney's plight (which is belied anyway when he shows that video to Jeannie), the fact that Rodney went to John to talk out the situation shows, I think, a remarkable amount of growth for his character.
"Um...hello little one." (Rodney)
"Did you bring me a present?" (Madison)
"What? No! I didn't know that was a rule." (Rodney)
"It is!" (Madison)
"Boy, Madison's sure grown, huh?" (Rodney)
"Since she was born? Yeah. Yeah, she has." (Jeannie)
"What have you gotten yourself involved in here Meredith?" (Jeannie)
"It's a long story." (Rodney)
"It's his name." (Jeannie)
"Your name is Meredith McKay?" (Carter)
"Meredith Rodney McKay, yes. But I prefer to go by 'Rodney.' Look, can we just stick to the point here? Look out the window. Much more interesting than my name." (Rodney)
"Your name is Meredith?" (Carter)
"I solved your problem in my spare time. With finger paints." (Jeannie)
"Now, I don't want to scare you but you need to know the stakes. We are at war." (Rodney)
"Did you start it?" (Jeannie)
"What? No! Come on!" (Rodney)
"John Sheppard." (John)
"Yeah. She's married, and she's my sister." (Rodney)
"I'm just saying hi!" (John)
"Yeah, no, I know exactly what you're doing. I've seen that look before...Kirk." (Rodney)
"My Sheppard makes your Rodney seem...modest by comparison." (Rod)
"Say what you want. I know what this is about." (John)
"Oh really, Mr. MENSA in a parallel universe? What is this all about?" (Rodney)
"You think Jeannie likes him more than you." (John)
"What? That's crazy. That's...that's...that's possibly true." (Rodney)
"Look, what, my Sheppard is a know-it-all, my Teyla is hard to talk to and my Ronon is...well, actually those two are pretty similar." (Rod)
"How'd it go with Weir?" (Jeannie)
"Oh, um, well she wasn't too happy about the whole killing of the ZedPM, but, you know, in the grand scheme of things we did prevent the destruction of the universe. So, you know, not fired." (Rodney)
"Am I just not getting the team emails anymore?" (Rodney)
...and that's it! Join me on Monday for another episode. Next up, "Phantoms."