Hello, and welcome to my Stargate Atlantis Rewatch! We have been plugging along through season three and we have finally reached the mid-season cliffhanger episode, "The Return Part 1." Today's discussion will include spoilers for the episode as well as all that came before it.
Ready or not, here we go...
Teams in the Pegasus and Milky Way galaxies have finally harvested enough gates for the gate bridge (remember the gate bridge?) that will shorten travel time between Earth and Atlantis from three weeks to thirty minutes. This is especially good news considering Atlantis no longer has a ZPM. The bridge works by using a macro that instead of rematerializing travelers when they reach the destination gate instead forwards their information along a series of gates until they reach the midway station poised between the edges of the two galaxies. Exiting one gate at midway, the traveler then steps through a second gate, the first in the series of gates for the destination galaxy, which forwards them on to their final stop (the SGC or Atlantis). With the gates in place, the SGC and IOA are eager to test out the bridge to ensure that it works. Since construction of the midway station is not yet complete (it hasn't been enclosed yet and is just a structure holding the two gates), they are sending John in a puddle jumper to do the test, with the Daedalus stationed at Midway to monitor the proceedings.
The first round of the test, from Atlantis to Earth, goes off without a hitch. During the test, however, Rodney does pick up an anomalous, though unrelated, reading on his sensors. They have picked up an object traveling at .999 the speed of light and it seems to be headed toward the Daedalus. Rodney is unable to determine what the object (presumably a ship, but no telling what kind) actually is because of the Doppler shift from traveling so close to the speed of light. When John arrives back at Midway Caldwell orders him to bring the jumper aboard the Daedalus rather than returning to Atlantis, due to the mystery object. Rodney, of course, wants to know what the heck the object is and Caldwell is inclined to oblige him. They can't match the object's speed, the ship wasn't designed for that, but if they max out the sublight engines they should be able to get close enough to the object for long enough as it passes to catch some readings.
The object flies by and Rodney is astounded to realize that it appears to be an Aurora class Ancient warship. Given the ship's speed, relativity would be in effect, meaning that the people on the ship would only have experienced a handful of years over the last several thousand. Meaning that the people on the ship are probably living, breathing Ancients. Rodney immediately wants to send the ship a message before it gets out of range, and as he and John debate with Caldwell over what it should say, the Ancient ship begins to slow down, basically slamming on its breaks. A holographic image of a woman in typically horrid Ancient-style fashion appears on the bridge. She announces that she is Helia, captain of the Lantean warship Tria. She states that her ship has suffered damage to the hyperdrive. A scan of the Daedalus has revealed that it has hyperdrive capability. She asks for the unknown vessel to render assistance. Rodney replies immediately to the holograph, forgetting that Helia can't actually see or hear him. Caldwell then opens up a channel to the Tria and replies that they would be honored to help.
Upon learning the current state of affairs in the Pegasus galaxy and that her people no longer inhabit Earth, Helia asks Caldwell to return her crew to Atlantis. All told there are about a hundred Lanteans. She explains that her ship was damaged and recalled to Atlantis toward the end of the war. Before they returned home, they were told of the evacuation to Earth and decided to just press on straight there. The damage was extensive, however, and their hyperdrive gave out before long. Still, they decided to press on as fast as they were able, even knowing that a million years might pass in "real" time before they reached Earth.
Elizabeth eagerly meets Helia and a handful of her people when they are beamed into the gate room upon arrival, along with John and Rodney. Helia thanks Elizabeth for the care the expedition has taken of the city. She then asks to speak to the person who might speak for all of the people of Earth. Elizabeth is a little puzzled at this but replies that it can be arranged. She asks why, and Helia makes a motion, causing a pedestal to rise up from the ground. She presses a few buttons and all of the expedition's computers attached to the Ancient systems and database go dark. She then replies to Elizabeth that the expedition's guardianship of Atlantis has come to and end and she is now in control of the city.
Woolsey and O'Neill are sent to Atlantis to speak with Helia on behalf of Earth and the expedition. She explains to them that she and her people had given up any hope of ever seeing their home again. Now that they have returned, they need some time to readjust to all that has passed in their absence. Alone. She wants the expedition gone. They implore with her to let the expedition remain, pointing out all they have done in defense of the city and galaxy, but Helia will not be swayed. Elizabeth, John, and Rodney are gathered in Elizabeth's office, extremely upset. O'Neill comes in and tells them that Helia has given them forty-eight hours to vacate the city. He says he knows they are angry at losing the city and Elizabeth chirps up that it isn't just that. They are also losing the chance to speak with and learn from living Ancients. O'Neill says that he thinks eventually Helia will be willing to let some of them back. Speaking with Elizabeth privately, he also reveals that the Ancients are willing to let one person remain behind to liaise between Earth and Atlantis in the hopes of building a future alliance. Before Elizabeth can jump at the chance, however, he stops her, saying that the IOA is demanding that Woolsey be that person.
Everyone begins packing up and preparing to leave the city. Ronon and Teyla stop by John's quarters to say goodbye to him. Teyla reveals that the Ancients don't even want the Athosians remaining on the mainland. They have found a new planet and are relocating her people. She and Ronon will be going with them, since they aren't welcome in the city anymore either. It is a big letdown for Teyla's people and for Ronon, since they had always thought that the return of the "Ancestors" would be a joyous affair, not a summary dismissal. John makes the offer to Teyla and Ronon to come back to Earth with the expedition but they decline. Neither is ready to leave their responsibilities in the Pegasus galaxy behind. Teyla extends an offer to John to stay, but he also declines, doubting the Air Force would let him. Carson, Radek, and Rodney are packing up in a lab and discussing where they will each be going next. Radek says he will probably be going to a university back in his country to teach and do research. Carson has been offered a position at the SGC, and Rodney will probably go to Area 51. As they discuss this it dawns on them all that they are approaching a true parting of the ways and the air is full of the sadness of the moment.
The time comes for the last of the expedition to leave Atlantis. Rodney dawdles until the last possible moment, giving Helia all sorts of updates on the status of the city (damaged areas and suchlike). Eventually Elizabeth calls him down to the gate and he grudgingly goes down. Ronon and Teyla have stayed behind to say farewell to their friends. Elizabeth, John, Rodney, and Carson walk towards the gate together, though Elizabeth stops and turns around to take one last look at the city before stepping through.
Flash forward to Earth about six weeks later. John is returning to the SGC from a mission with his new (and very green) team. He is obviously kind of disappointed by them, lamenting out loud that he never could have believed he would miss having Rodney on his team. As they clear out from in front of the gate it activates once more. Landry tells John to stick around, as it is probably O'Neill calling in from Atlantis. John is surprised that O'Neill went back but Landry explains that the Ancients needed someone to help them deal with Woolsey. Woolsey and O'Neill report that talks are proceeding, but then they throw out that the Ancients have picked up an Asuran ship (remember the Asuran replicators?) headed toward Atlantis. John tenses but O'Neill comments that no one seems that worried about it. When John asks why, Woolsey pipes up that the Asurans have a law in their base code preventing them from attacking Ancients. They are heading toward Atlantis expecting the expedition. If they continue to attack once the Ancients make their presence known, they will be in for a nasty surprise.
Later John is on the phone with Rodney, who is griping that he hates his new assignment. He admits to being lonely and missing a lot of the people from the expedition. For example, he tells John, Elizabeth has completely fallen off the radar, refusing to answer any calls or letters. John tells Rodney to cheer up and we learn that Rodney is actually flying in the next night and will be having dinner with John and Carson. Rodney isn't the only one who has noticed Elizabeth's withdrawal. Carson drops by her place in a surprise visit. She is kind of a mess, and clearly having a hard time accepting her situation and adjusting to life outside of Atlantis (as indicated by her ponytail). She tells Carson she is just trying to move on but he is skeptical. He tells her that Rodney is coming into town the next night and invites her to join their dinner. He doesn't give her the chance to say no.
The Asuran vessel drops out of hyperspace over Atlantis. O'Neill watches nervously as they send up a lone jumper to warn it to turn back. They open communications and Helia announces that the city is back in Lantean control, ordering them to stand down or face the consequences. The Asuran vessel makes no reply, just blasts the jumper out of the sky and continues on toward the city.
Elizabeth, John, Rodney, and Carson are at dinner, catching up with each other. Things are starting to wind down when suddenly Elizabeth, John, and Rodney's phones all blow up with calls from the SGC. Carson exclaims in dismay that he didn't bring his and asks what is going on. They head back to the SGC and Landry shows them a databurst he received from Atlantis. O'Neill and Woolsey called in, telling them that Atlantis was under replicator attack. The Asurans somehow managed to rewrite their base code to be able to attack Ancients. They have pretty much taken over the city. O'Neill requests immediate evacuation and the transmission cuts out. Landry tells the team that O'Neill and Woolsey never made it through the gate. He demands to know how the hell the Asurans managed to overwrite their base code and Rodney realizes he might have enabled that when he altered their code during the last encounter.
Per O'Neill's standing orders Landry has already sent the Daedalus back to Atlantis to nuke the city. They cannot allow the Asurans to have access to Earth, or to the gate bridge--he fears they could just rewrite the code to come out at another gate in the Milky Way galaxy without a shield like Earth's gate. The Daedalus will arrive in four days, he tells them, and then he asks them what is the best way to get a nuke through the city's shields. Everyone immediately starts to protest, wanting to mount a rescue. Carter has just developed some new weapons, anti-replicator guns (ARGs), specifically designed to fight replicators. They think with those they could easily take back the city. Landry refuses though.
After the meeting, the four of them gather in John's office to go over the situation. They refuse to just sit back and let the Daedalus blow up Atlantis if there is anything they can do to stop it. Rodney points out that he should be able to rewrite the macro so that instead of Atlantis it takes them to another Pegasus gate, such as perhaps the one on the new Athosian planet where Teyla and Ronon are. He also admits he built a back door into the Atlantis gate shield. That should allow him to keep the Asurans from raising it if they gate into the city. They agree that they have to try. They just need to "borrow" some of the ARGs and the jumper the SGC is studying.
Unfortunately, Rodney has been denied access to the SGC jumper, so they will need to get around that. Dr. Lee is in charge of the project. Access can only be granted from his office, which he is in, so Rodney takes Elizabeth along to distract Lee. While Rodney gives his keycard access to the jumper lab, Elizabeth talks World of Warcraft with Lee and flirts (badly). With all of that taken care of, they gear up and sneak to the jumper lab. On the way they encounter one of John's new teammates. He realizes John is going on a mission without him and they stun him and stick him in a closet so he can't alert Landry. Then they get to the jumper and stun Siler, the scientist on duty in the lab (this is really funny if you also watch Stargate SG-1, Siler is always getting knocked out). They fire up the gate and head to Midway.
At Midway, they pause for a few moments so that Rodney can rewrite the Pegasus macro to take them to the Athosian planet instead of Atlantis. While they are waiting, the Milky Way gate activates and Landry sends a transmission. He orders them to turn back immediately, starting to promise retribution if they don't, but John cuts the transmission. Rodney gets the rewrite done and they gate to Pegasus.
Ladon Radim of the Genii is paying a visit to Teyla and Ronon in the Athosian settlement. Having learned of the expedition's eviction from Atlantis, he realizes that the Genii are now the most likely source of serious resistance to the wraith. He has come to try to recruit Teyla and Ronon to work with his people and fight back. They decline and he leaves, but Teyla seems to be considering the offer. She is discussing it with Ronon when John and the others step out of the night. She and Ronon are overjoyed to see their friends again but quickly realize that something must be wrong. John briefs them on the situation and tells them that they have a plan to take back the city and rescue O'Neill and Woolsey from the replicators. He asks if Ronon and Teyla are in and they are of course eager to join. They all load up in the jumper and John dials Atlantis. Rodney sends a signal through the gate and when the Asurans try to raise the shield they are unsuccessful. Sheppard takes a deep breath and flies the jumper through the gate.
To Be Continued...
This episode sees the payoff of a lot of little things that have been building up so far over the course of the season. It is actually really impressive how the writers managed to drop so many casual hints throughout the previous episodes to set the stage for these events. It really is a case of reaping what you sow. As Elizabeth told Landry, they only messed with the Asuran base code because they believed it was their only option for saving Atlantis. Yet that very thing might see it lost forever. The readiness with which John, Elizabeth, Rodney, and Carson (only one of them a soldier, mind you) are willing to defy Landry and the SGC to try to save the city, despite the odds, is really telling about how much the expedition sees Atlantis as home. They know their chances are slim to nonexistent, but they'd rather die trying to save Atlantis than just sit back and let it be destroyed, knowing it is lost to them forever. I find it fitting that it is in this season where the expedition manages to really separate itself from the SGC, given that the final season of SG-1 ran this same year.
This episode is also a wonderful character piece. All of the actors were going at full tilt, very convincingly portraying a wide range of (often conflicting) emotions. Watching this episode it is so easy to believe these people are a true family. Seeing them torn apart without any sort of regard for that fact is gut-wrenching.
For the record, my least favorite character in all of Stargate Atlantis? Frakking Helia. What. The. Hell? It is my firm belief that she was a low-level, underachieving, unpopular officer (probably due to incompetence--her lack of personality sadly probably didn't hinder her at all given the other Ancients we've met) who agreed to do the whole "head back to Earth at not-quite-light speed" because she knew that meant she wouldn't have to report her screwups to anyone when she got there. I imagine she ran into the Daedalus, learned that her crew (a group of people already inclined to taking orders from her) were the only Lanteans left in existence, and realized with glee that she could easily take over Atlantis. The whole time she was riding on the Daedalus she was probably thinking, Mine mine mine! Bleah. Clearly she couldn't let the expedition stay because they were actually capable of getting things done, it would only make her look bad by comparison to have them around.
Um, where was I? Oh, right. Sorry about that. All of that is to say, it is hardly a surprise that everyone was let down by their encounter with true Ancients. Everything they have learned since coming to Atlantis (and probably even before then) should have prepared them for the fact that these guys had kind of gotten away from themselves by the time they decided to abandon Atlantis.
Anyhoo, I have to say, one thing that I love about this franchise as a whole is how the stargates in each galaxy look a little bit different. It tickled me pink that you can very clearly tell the Milky Way and Pegasus gates apart at Midway. That made for a happy Cori.
"You're just mad you didn't get to fly the maiden voyage yourself." (Landry)
"General, I am quite fond of both maidens and voyages. I mean, put the two together and..." (O'Neill)
"You're not a test pilot anymore Jack." (Landry)
"That's what the President said." (O'Neill)
"You're taking this rather well." (Elizabeth)
"Actually, I'm pissed. For one thing, I'm only a quarter of the way through War and Peace." (John)
"It is impossible for them to harm us." (Helia)
"I could use some enemies like that." (O'Neill)
"What's going on?" (Landry)
"I don't know, sir. The gate just started dialing on its own." (Walter)
"It doesn't do that!" (Landry)
"I know that, sir." (Walter)
"My turtles!" (Carson)
"I just bought some wee baby turtles and no one knows to feed them!" (Carson)
That leads us in to the mid-season hiatus. When this season originally aired, Syfy waited seven months to broadcast the back half of the season. It was...frustrating is the nicest thing I can think to say about that. Especially since in Canada and Britain the season resumed after only a few weeks. Avoiding spoilers was not fun, let me tell you. Luckily for you, I am not nearly that mean. You only have to wait until Monday for our discussion of the conclusion of this adventure. Join us then for "The Return Part 2," won't you?