Wednesday, January 25, 2012

SGA Rewatch: Tao of Rodney

Hello! Welcome to the Stargate Atlantis Rewatch! Today we will be discussing season three's "Tao of Rodney." Spoilers abound!

What Happened

While the Ancients were in charge of Atlantis for that brief period of time, they turned on a lot of lights and systems and machines throughout the city. They didn't exactly have time to turn any of that stuff off before they were killed by the Asurans, so now that the city only has one ZPM, someone needs to go find all of that stuff and turn it off to conserve power. Rodney and Radek are leading a team of scientists doing just that as the episode opens. They find a lab that has been left up an running and Rodney, showing off for a cute scientist, steps right on up to the central machine and fires up the console. Ostensibly this is so that he can figure out what it is and how to turn it off, but Radek tries to advise him to be more cautious. Rodney ignores the urging of his colleague, however, and he does something to the console that causes him to be surrounded by a pulse of energy. The energy dissipates and the entire lab goes dark.

In the infirmary, Carson has run pretty much every test he can think of on Rodney. He declares that he can't find anything out of the ordinary about Rodney. The device had no apparent harmful effects. Rodney is not so sure and his hypochondria kicks in to overdrive, but Carson goes ahead and clears him for active duty anyway. John offers to stay with Rodney in case anything happens. Accompanied by Radek, they return to the lab to (much more cautiously) see if they can't figure out exactly what the device was for and what happened to Rodney.

Later that day Rodney is eating lunch in the mess. His plate is piled with food and the remnants of what he has already shoveled down. As he continues to plow through the oversized meal, he hears his teammates discussing his eating habits in hushed tones from somewhere behind him. They are a little concerned about how much he is eating and wondering what the deal is. Rodney spins around to snap at them that he can hear them talking about him, only to be surprised to find that they are all the way on the other side of the mess. He gets up from the table, reaching for his datapad without looking, and therefore without noticing that it actually slides right into his hand seemingly of its own volition. Rodney goes to the rest of the team and lets them know he doesn't appreciate their speculation, but before they can get into it, the team is called to the control room.

They arrive to find that Major Lorne has dialed in from off-world requesting backup. His team is under attack and pinned down, unable to get to the gate. The team heads for the jumper bay, John calling for a team of marines to meet them, and they head out to rescue Lorne's team.

While she is waiting on their return, Elizabeth is called down to the Ancient lab by Radek. He tells her he has managed to get power to the device's research logs. Before he reports his findings, however, he would like her to take a second look at them to confirm his translation is correct. From what they can read, the machine seems to have been developed to manipulate human DNA. Elizabeth and Radek exchange worried glances, realizing that Rodney might not be as okay as he had first seemed after the encounter with the device. Elizabeth gets a call from the control room informing her that the rescue team has returned. She and Radek run to the jumper bay to meet them and to check on Rodney.

They arrive at the same time as Carson and a medical team. The jumper door opens and we can hear John and Rodney squabbling about something. Carson demands to know who needs medical attention and Lorne says nobody. He says they are all fine and unhurt, thanks to (his voice switches into sarcastic mode) Rodney. Everyone looks at Rodney for an explanation. He tells them that when the rescue team arrived, they saw Lorne's team surrounded by enemies all preparing to fire. He thought to himself wouldn't it be good if their weapons all jammed--and they did. No one really believes that he caused that to happen but disgruntled he decides to demonstrate. He gestures and Carson rises up in the air unsupported.

Back in the infirmary, everyone has accepted that Rodney has developed some new abilities. Carson asks him if he has noticed anything other than telekinesis and he mentions his improved hearing and says he thinks he is getting smarter as well. A nurse arrives with a huge tray of food and John points out he also seems to have a "super" appetite now. Radek and Elizabeth share their findings about the machine. They suspect that the Ancients were trying to artificially accelerate their evolution in order to give themselves the abilities that were often developed on the path to ascension. Rodney is super excited about it, but Carson, Elizabeth, and Radek are not so sure. Elizabeth and Radek get back to studying the machine to see if they can learn more. John, realizing the potential of such a device, starts badgering Elizabeth to let him be next (assuming they can prove it is safe, of course). Radek pipes up he wouldn't mind trying it either and Elizabeth just rolls her eyes at both of them and gets back to work.

Carson decides to release Rodney to his normal duties despite reservations about his current condition. He does require that Rodney remain under supervision, and assigns Ronon to keep an eye on him. As they are walking down the corridor, they pass the cute scientist Rodney had been trying to impress earlier. Rodney thinks he hears her say he's hot, only to realize she meant Ronon, only to realize she hadn't actually said anything out loud. The scientist scurries off, embarrassed, and Rodney realizes he is able to read minds now. He goes to Elizabeth's office and tells her he wants to use the city's control chair. He thinks his heightened intelligence will allow him to improve the power distribution of the city's systems. He has this whole conversation with Elizabeth and Ronon without either of them saying anything out loud, he just reads their answers in their minds and then responds before they can actually open their mouths.

Rodney gets to work in the control chair, with Ronon and a team of scientists overseeing him. Whatever he is doing is causing lights to flicker and power to fluctuate throughout the city, though one of the scientists admits it does seem to be making improvements overall. One of the areas affected is the lab with the Ancient device, where power is pretty much shut down, delaying Radek's own research into the machine's purpose and effects. Elizabeth had managed to download some of the research logs, however, and continues to read through them. She and Radek had originally thought the Ancients had built the machine to help them fight the wraith, the added abilities would give them a definite advantage. But further research shows they actually meant for it to accelerate the entire process of ascension, leading to ascension itself, and an escape from the wraith, not defense against them. It also doesn't work properly, the results the Ancients experienced were varied and more subjects died than ascended. She and Radek go to speak to Rodney.

Elizabeth tells (well, thinks, and Rodney hears) him that his body will continue to evolve until it reaches the point where it will no longer be able to support his increased brain functions. At that point, he will need to ascend or he will die. But it isn't just a physical process, there is a mental component to it that Rodney must undergo as well, and he doesn't know how to do that part. Rodney is so freaked out by this news that he stops working on his project in the chair in the middle of a process. The abrupt stop causes power surges throughout the city. Radek, on his way to the control room, is caught in one of these surges and seriously injured. He is rushed to the infirmary and the doctors are trying to keep him alive when Rodney arrives. He steps forward and heals Radek--another ability has emerged. Everyone looks at him in wonder as he just looks at Radek in shame and then flees the room.

Elizabeth goes to talk to him about his situation and finds him in his lab surrounded by whiteboards and computers all full of equations. He tells her he has been very busy--even invented a new kind of math. She is impressed but brings the conversation back on topic. He says he tried to fix the machine but it just wasn't designed to reverse the process. Since he doesn't know how to achieve the mental portion of ascension, he has just decided to get as much done as he can before he dies. Elizabeth asks him to consider trying to ascend anyway, but he admits he never really saw the point of it, doesn't think he is cut out for it. She mentions that if he did manage to ascend, he could always descend afterward and resume mortal form. Rodney looks at her in wonder, not having considered that option.

Rodney retrieves an Ancient device and goes to the infirmary to have Carson hook him up. The device was meant to monitor how evolved a person's brain it. From their research, they know that ascension can only occur when a person's brain frequencies are at a certain very low level (a level associated with coma patients). They also know that his body can only survive until his synaptic activity reaches about 96% and right now it is at around 60%. Carson hooks Rodney up to the machine and they see that his frequency is way too high for ascension. He tries calming down, clearing his mind, but it doesn't do any good. Carson points out that Rodney keeps trying to approach it through science, as if it is just a simple process with specific tests. But the Ancients who ascended spent most of their lives dedicated to reaching that goal.

Elizabeth speaks with John about the situation. She thinks that maybe when he spent all of that time in the sanctuary designed to allow people to seek ascension he might have picked up some pointers on the mental aspect of the process. She thinks maybe he can help Rodney out. He sits down with Rodney and tries to talk him through meditating, but it isn't very successful. John admits he wasn't very good at it himself. For his part, Rodney is having a very hard time clearing his mind. Every time he does, he keeps thinking of a new scientific proof or realizing the answer to some great scientific question. After a while, he gives up on trying to ascend. He says he is just not cut out for it and decides to dedicate the rest of the time he has left to advancing science as much as possible. Elizabeth once more goes to speak to him, urging him not to give up. She says that she thinks the reason a lot of attempts at ascension fail is that the person attempting it maybe thinks he isn't actually worthy of doing so. She asks Rodney to reflect on any reasons he might feel himself unworthy and then think of a way to ease his guilt, or release his burden.

Rodney reflects for a bit and then begins going to his friends to try to make amends for his faults. He goes to Radek and tells him that he is a brilliant scientist and a good person who doesn't deserve all of the crap he has put up with from Rodney. Rodney apologizes for the way he has treated Radek and says he has been fortunate to work with him. He then goes to Teyla and says he has learned that the anniversary of her father's death approaches. He spoke with Halling and learned that there is a memorial tea ceremony that the Athosians perform on such an occasion and asks if he might share it with her, showing great respect for her culture and customs, which he has always kind of disdained. He goes to Ronon and asks about the scars on his back from his failed attempts to remove the wraith tracking device. He asks if they are a badge of honor or just a painful reminder of something Ronon would really rather forget. Ronon is quiet for a moment and answers that he tries not to let things he can't change get to him. Rodney hugs him and then says he hopes Ronon doesn't mind, but he healed the scars for him. For Elizabeth, he writes a book (500 pages!) detailing all of the good she has done as leader of the expedition, since he knows she gets a lot of flak about her decisions from the people back on Earth. He wanted her to know she is appreciated.

After making peace with all of the people Rodney feels he has wronged, he meets up with John and attempts meditation once more. His brain frequencies have dropped significantly, but he is still nowhere near ascension levels. He shakes his head and declares his situation hopeless. He asks if John will deliver his eulogy. John doesn't want to entertain such thoughts, but Rodney persists. He tells him what kind of funeral he wants and also that he thinks Carson should do a full autopsy on him. John is at a loss for how to respond to this when Rodney suddenly collapses.

Rodney is moved to the infirmary and Carson tells him his synaptic activity has climbed to 90%. He doesn't have much time left. His friends have gathered round him and John asks him to meditate one more time. Rodney agrees. He tries to clear his mind and let go of everything holding himself to the physical world. He loses consciousness and his brain frequencies start dropping. Suddenly, he sits up and grabs Carson, staring at him intently before passing out again and flatlining. Carson immediately calls for a ventilator and Elizabeth reminds him that Rodney ordered no extraordinary measures. Carson says she doesn't understand. In that last moment, Rodney told Carson how to save him.

They rush him to the lab with the Ancient machine and lay him on the pedestal. Carson activates the machine and Rodney is once more surrounded by the energy pulse. After it subsides he sits up and seems to be fine. He tries to read everyone's thought and move something with his mind and is relieved that he can't. He is back to his old self. He explains that he was just drifting in a void when he realized the answer--the machine couldn't reverse the process because it didn't have his original DNA to compare to the evolved DNA. Carson keeps blood samples of everyone on the expedition as a baseline in case of disease or mutation, and once he introduced that to the machine, it was able to repair Rodney to his original state.

Afterwards, Rodney is back in his lab trying to make sense of the work he did while in his heightened state. Elizabeth stops by and he admits that he can't understand any of the new math he created. She comforts him by showing him his last EEG reading from his final meditation. His frequencies were right in the ascension zone. He could have done it if he hadn't decided to tell Carson how to use the machine to save himself. He is smug that he wasn't so hopeless after all. He teases Elizabeth a little for telling him she loved him when he was dying. She tries to defend herself in that she clearly meant it in a friend/family kind of way and was talking about the group as a whole. He knows it is the case but is having fun giving her a hard time about it. He asks if she has eaten and she agrees to keep him company while he goes to get lunch.


Again, the Ancients? Kind of jerks. They created a species that was an absolute menace to an entire galaxy and instead of trying to figure out a way to fight them, they just decided to try to accelerate their own escape process. Yeesh. Although this episode does give us a fascinating insight into the process of ascension, the supposed science of it as well as the more spiritual side.

I love that Rodney was very much Rodney throughout the whole ordeal, and the way his friends rallied around him. I especially loved his attempts to make amends with everyone by trying to show respect for the aspects of them that he usually treats with disdain or disregard. It shows that he does actually understand who they are as people, even if he doesn't always act as if that is the case. I also very much like that there is no scene of him trying to make amends with John. To me that shows that those two are close enough already that they know where they stand with each other. It is a bromance of epic proportions.

Although the whole "release your burden" plotline had all of the John/Rodney shippers (yes, it is actually a pretty prevalent group) in fandom giggling like twelve-year olds. Not gonna pretend I wasn't immune to that either.

Overall a very good episode with some amazing acting from everyone involved. Rodney-centric episodes always seem to shine the brightest to me. I don't know if that's because he's my favorite character or if it is because the writers seem to have so much fun writing for him, or some combination thereof. Either way, this is a good entry. It doesn't really do much to add to the overall story of the season, but it does make good use of everything that has happened up to this point. It also shows a nice little slice of the daily life and perils of the inhabitants of Atlantis.

Favorite Quotes

"Rodney?" (Elizabeth)
"Believe me, I find this as disturbing as you do." (Rodney)
"Like bloody hell you do!" (Carson)

"Does super-ego count as a power?" (John)

"Anyway, it's not like you...or these guys could stop me from leaving anyways." (Rodney)
"No, but I could." (Ronon)
"Oh, you care to put that to a test?" (Rodney)
"Do you?" (Ronon)
", not really." (Rodney)

"She wants you to shoot me if you think for even one second that I might be trying to take over the city for my own evil purposes." (Rodney)

"Look, you're teaching me how to meditate. Not exactly good odds there to start with." (Rodney)
"I realize that." (John)

"Now, is Sheppard still bugging you to let him use the ascension device to turn himself into some kind of a superhero?" (Rodney)
"Oh yes." (Elizabeth)
"Despite the fact that the Ancient database states that its effects on people are wildly unpredictable and that I'm just lucky I wasn't instantly melted down into a pool of protoplasm." (Rodney)
"Yes." (Elizabeth)
"Yes, well. Maybe you should let him." (Rodney)
"I think not." (Elizabeth)


That's all for today folks! See you back here on Monday when we continue the journey through season three. Next up, "The Game."

P.S. In not entirely unrelated news, yesterday this piece of fan fiction, by Live Journal user Bitter_Crimson, came to my attention. It tells tells the tale of a romance between John and Rodney, if they were Girl Scout Cookies. In pictures. It is pure crack, but amusing crack. Some strong language and, um, well, cookie sex, so be warned. But very, very silly and funny. 

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