Monday, January 9, 2012

SGA Rewatch: Phantoms

Hello! Welcome to my Stargate Atlantis rewatch! Today's episode for discussion is season three's "Phantoms." Beware of spoilers for the episode and any that came before it.

On with the show!

What Happened

John finds Elizabeth to report that one of his teams, led by a Major Leonard, has missed their check-in and is several hours overdue. They were sent to investigate a strange energy reading on an uninhabited planet. John wants to assemble his team to see if he can't find his missing men. Elizabeth agrees and tells him to take an extra unit of marines as well as Carson just in case there are any medical issues. 

They arrive on the planet and quickly realize that there is some sort of interference, possibly from the energy source, preventing radio communication. This could explain why Leonard's team has failed to check in. Beginning their search, they quickly discover the bodies of several Genii soldiers, apparently long dead. The evidence suggests that the Genii actually killed each other, quite violently. They wonder if maybe the Genii had decided to use the uninhabited planet to set up a testing facility for their nuclear research. There is still no sign of Leonard's team, so they continue searching, heading in the direction of the energy source, since that is what the team was initially sent to investigate. They find a cave housing a bunker of sorts. It looks like a wraith facility, and inside are several more Genii bodies.

Rodney quickly realizes that the wraith machine is the source of the energy reading. It is a generator of some sort, producing a steady series of low-level EM pulses. They are probably the cause of the radio interference. The generator looks to have been shot up pretty badly, though being of wraith origin it is partly organic and has already begun to heal itself. Rodney surmises that the Genii found the generator and turned it on without bothering to figure out what it was. They then dialed it all the way up and, realizing they couldn't turn it back off again, tried to kill it with their guns (unsuccessfully) before turning on each other.

While the others explore the cave, Ronon and Teyla continue searching for Leonard's team. Nearby they find the bodies of the missing men, all except for Leonard. They also find a video camera near the bodies. It shows that the team was killed by Leonard. Whatever caused the Genii to turn on themselves seems to have affected him as well. The footage also shows another oddity. As the soldiers fled from Leonard's fire, one of them was attempting to radio for help. He was trying to reach Prometheus though, which is a ship that was not only based solely in the Milky Way, but was also destroyed over a year ago. The team reaches the conclusion that the wraith machine and its EM pulses are likely what caused the Genii to turn on each other and Leonard to turn on his team.

Very disturbed by their discoveries, John decides they need to take the bodies of Leonard's team back to Atlantis. When they arrive at the gate, he orders one of the soldiers to dial it up. As the soldier starts to enter the address the DHD explodes, killing him instantly and wounding two more of the marines. As they are scrambling to recover, the group comes under gunfire. Ronon thinks it's the wraith and starts firing back, but John quickly realizes it is the missing Leonard. They manage to hold him off and he runs back into the woods.

Carson sets to work on the wounded men and Rodney goes to examine the DHD. It is totally fried, he learns, and there is no chance of fixing it. They are stuck on the planet until Atlantis sends help. Rodney tells John they need to head back to the cave with the wraith generator. John is reluctant but Rodney explains they need to turn the generator off. Otherwise, when Atlantis does dial in to check on them once they are overdue, they won't have any way to actually speak to them because of the radio interference. John agrees and they all make their way back, loading the two wounded marines onto stretchers to take with them but leaving the bodies of the dead by the gate to be recovered later.

In the cave John asks Carson for a status report on the wounded marines. One, Barroso, is bleeding internally in his shoulder but Carson believes it is under control and he is stable. The other, Kagan, is much more severely wounded. He needs immediate and extensive surgery. Carson is afraid that Kagan won't last very long unless they get him back to Atlantis. John tells Carson to do what he can and Carson nods in agreement but is clearly very worried. 

Rodney gets to work trying to turn off the machine but the Genii have screwed it up pretty badly. Ronon is standing guard outside and he starts to see the wraith shadows. He starts firing off into the woods and thinking he sees wraith gives chase, running off away from the cave. Hearing the gunfire, Telya and John go outside to investigate and then, realizing that Ronon has succumbed to the effects of the machine, go after him. With Ronon, Sheppard, and Teyla gone Barroso decides go sit outside the cave and act as guard. Carson objects, pointing out that he is still wounded, but Barroso insists. He promises to actually sit outside and not to go running off.

John and Teyla find Ronon and he seems to be staring intently at nothing. They try to grab his attention but he hushes them. From nearby Leonard pops out from behind a tree and opens fire on all three. He hits Teyla and she goes down. Ronon, seeing not Leonard but a wraith, fires on the marine and gives chase when he takes off deeper into the woods. John turns to check on Teyla and instead sees a wounded man lying on the ground. He greets the man in surprise, calling him Holland. He shakes his head and blinks and suddenly is looking at Teyla once more. She has been shot in the leg and is looking at him with concern. He shakes off his momentary vision and field dresses her wound, then gets her up as they get moving back toward the cave. They stumble across a hidden tent that Leonard must have set up and he gets her inside to get her wound bandaged more securely. Teyla comments on his momentary confusion but he brushes it off, saying he is fine. He asks if she has seen anything or felt any violent tendencies but she says no. He speculates that maybe her wraith DNA renders her immune to the machine.

From outside they hear shooting and they crawl outside to investigate. They find Leonard emptying his weapons into thin air. When he runs out of ammo, John approaches him calmly, trying to reassure him. This does little good, however, as Leonard perceives John as a Goa'uld super soldier. He looks around and suddenly sees several of the super soldiers surrounding him and closing in. John watches helplessly as Leonard pulls a grenade out of his vest and activates it. John manages to dive out of the way in time but Leonard is dead. While Teyla is trying to calm him down he starts thinking he hears jeep engines in the distance. Teyla tells him that she doesn't hear anything.

Carson is tending to Kagan's wounds when the marine stops breathing. Carson begins CPR but his attempts to revive Kagan are to no avail. A little while later Barroso comes in to find Carson morosely sitting next to a sheet-covered Kagan. After a moment, Barroso calls out to Carson, he has noticed that Kagan's hand is moving. Kagan is still alive, Carson had hallucinated his death. Carson goes to speak to Rodney, deeply unsettled by the occurrence. Rodney explains that he has figured out the machine's purpose. The wraith wanted to improve upon their ability to manipulate the minds of their prey, to make them see things that aren't there. Rodney also reveals that thanks to the Genii's attempts to shut down the machine, its power regulation is all kinds of unstable, it keeps experiencing surges. 

John is once more tending to Teyla's wound inside of Leonard's tent when he begins to hear noises and people talking outside. Teyla insists that there is nothing out there but he goes to check anyway. He steps out of the tent and finds himself in the desert, dressed in desert camouflage. He is with Holland again, amidst the wreckage of Holland's helicopter in Afghanistan. Holland berates John for coming back against orders to extract him, and we also learn that John's own chopper was shot down on the way. They are stuck in the middle of Taliban territory, but John is determined to get Holland out of there to safety. He glances back at Holland and we see a very worried Teyla watching him as she realizes John has succumbed to the machine.

Atlantis, meanwhile, has been trying to contact the team since they missed their check-in. When they could not make radio contact they sent a UAV (unmanned aerial vehicle) to see if they could learn anything that way. Unfortunately Ronon (who has reverted back to his runner days, believing himself alone and surrounded by wraith) sees it as a dart and shoots it down. Hesitant to send a third team into unknown danger, Elizabeth asks Radek how far away the Daedalus is, thinking maybe it could swing by the planet. Radek replies that it is a day or two away at least, though.

John, now fully immersed in his hallucination, thinks that Teyla is Holland. She tries to convince him otherwise but without any success. He only vaguely hears what she is actually saying to him, more or less reliving a previous experience. 

Kagan crashes again and Carson manages to get him revived with the help of Barroso. Rodney, needing help with the machine, comes back to enlist Carson and finds the doctor coming back down from the rush of the moment. He tells Rodney that he and Barroso managed to save Kagan and Rodney is confused. He gestures to Barroso, who is slumped unconscious against the cave wall. Carson goes to check on him and is horrified to realize that Barroso is dead, and his body is stone cold, indicating he has been so for hours. Barroso's help with Kagan had only been an illusion.

Ronon has stumbled upon Leonard's tent and he and John square off (Ronon seeing John as a wraith and John seeing him as Taliban). John manages to wing Ronon in the arm. He tells Teyla that he didn't kill the guy but he did at least slow him down, buying them time to get out of there. He grabs Teyla and begins making his way back to the cave. Ronon, only mildly wounded, follows, and the two continue to trade fire along the way.

Carson has given into Rodney's demands for help with the machine, but while they are working, he sees Barroso again. The young marine tells Carson that Kagan is crashing again and needs the doctor's help immediately. Carson is torn, not wanting to abandon a patient in need of his help, but Rodney tries to convince him that he is seeing things again. There is no one there. Carson cannot ignore the apparition of Barroso, however, and he runs to Kagan. Kagan is semi-conscious and freaking out. Carson scoops him up and runs out of the cave, promising to help him.

Rodney, meanwhile, looks back at his equipment and sees that the the generator's power surges have come to a head. It is about to overload. He runs through the cave trying to find Carson to help him stop it, but when he cannot locate Carson he runs outside, throwing himself to the ground to avoid the shock of the explosion. Nothing happens, however, and he looks up and back, realizing that he has begun to hallucinate as well. He hears Teyla call out and turns to see John approaching with her in his arms.

John, still deep in his hallucination, sees Rodney as Taliban and in between him and safe haven. He raises his gun and fires before Rodney can so much as object, hitting Rodney in the side. From behind Ronon fires and John stumbles, dropping Teyla. Rodney, seeing Teyla, tells her they need to get the generator shut off immediately and tells her how to do it. She turns to John, who is trying to hold Ronon off and radio for help. He tries to shrug her off, but she makes him listen, telling him that inside the cave is a machine that the enemy is using to disrupt the radios. They need to turn it off if they are to be rescued. He carries her inside and Ronon emerges from the woods, passing by Rodney (who looks to him like a wounded wraith) to follow them. Teyla shows John how to shut down the generator and he manages to do it just as Ronon stalks up behind them, gun drawn. As soon as the machine is off the hallucinations stop, and everyone breaths a big sigh of relief at the narrow miss. John goes searching for Carson and finds him not far away with Kagan, who is amazingly still alive.

With the machine shut down the team is finally able to make contact with Atlantis. They cannot use the gate to return, but Elizabeth diverted the Daedalus and it will pick them up as soon as it can. She sends supplies through to hold them over until it arrives. Everyone's wounds have been treated and everyone seems to be more or less stable. Teyla takes advantage of a quiet moment to ask John how things played out with Holland. He admits that he wasn't able to save the other man. Teyla gives him a sad look and then reminds him that this time, at least, he did succeed, because they both survived. He doesn't seem much reassured but accepts the offered comfort. As the episode closes, he is drawn out of his funk by Rodney's griping about being shot and the team shares a laugh.


Okay, the wraith can already make people see "shadows" to freak them out and make them easier prey. But then one of them went and invented this machine to see if they could amp that up a bit. I think the best word to describe this is insidious. Maybe diabolical. Every once in a while, it is easy to stop and think, gee, maybe we can just reason with the wraith and they might be willing to negotiate some sort of truce or peace. After all, they only eat people to survive. Surely there has to be a compromise in there, right? But no, there really isn't. They wraith do need to eat people to survive, but they also take great delight in playing with their food. Episodes like this serve as a reminder that as a whole the wraith and humans are not two species that can coexist peacefully. Either the humans have to wipe the wraith out in self-defense, or the wraith are just going to eat all of the humans (gleefully and violently). There might be one or two wraith willing to seek alternative methods, just as there are a handful of humans willing to worship the wraith and sacrifice their own kind to their "gods." But overall, there is no peaceful end to this conflict.

Other than that, the largest purpose of this episode was to fill in some of the missing pieces from John's past. It has been hinted at since the pilot that there was an "incident" in Afghanistan where he went against direct orders and almost ended up court-marshaled. Now we know what that incident was, and why both O'Neill and Elizabeth felt it made him a good candidate for the expedition. We also see the guilt that John has been carrying around because of that incident. Despite everything he wasn't able to save his friend. I like Teyla's gentle reminder to him that dwelling on the past serves little purpose. 

I always think of this as a completely John-centric episode and forget that it does also give us some insight into Ronon, Carson, and Rodney as well. We learn a lot about their greatest fears through what they experience while under the machine's influence. I also liked seeing the characters' interactions with each other in the middle of the whole kerfuffle. It was very telling about the strengths of their bonds to one another, methinks.

All in all, a pretty interesting episode. This is pretty much a stand alone, it serves no real purpose in the greater arc, but it is a very nice character piece. This series seems to be good at balancing those within the larger story of each season. I think that's one of the reasons I love it so much.

Favorite Quotes

"I'm picking up that puzzling energy reading." (Rodney)
"What is it?" (Carson)
"Did I not just use the word puzzling?" (Rodney)

"Oh for God's sake. Enough with the bodies!" (Rodney)

"Is that what made all these people kill each other?" (Teyla)
"I hope so." (Rodney)
"You hope so?" (John)
"Otherwise there are two bizarre things going on, and one is more than enough for me, thank you very much." (Rodney)

"You shot me!" (Rodney)
"Yes Rodney, I shot you. I said I was sorry." (John)
"You shot me too." (Ronon)
"I'm sorry for shooting everyone!" (John)


There we have it, folks. See you back here Wednesday as we hit the mid-point of the season with "The Return Part 1."

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