Monday, February 20, 2012

SGA Rewatch: Adrift

Hello, there! Welcome to the Stargate Atlantis Rewatch. Today we are kicking off season four with "Adrift." Join me, won't you, as we catch up with our heroes, last seen floating hopelessly through space in their broken flying city. Consider yourself duly warned about spoilers ahead.

What Happened

Picking up right where we left off last time, Keller and a medical team are rushing Elizabeth to the infirmary after her injuries sustained when the Asuran energy beam grazed the tower. Things don't look good for Elizabeth, as it's all Keller can do to keep the woman alive from the gate room to the infirmary.

Rodney, meanwhile, is frantically trying to restore the city's basic systems. He has met with some success but for some reason the ZPM's power levels are dropping rapidly. Radek is able to determine that this is because many of the tower's power conduits were damaged by the energy beam and are leaking power. The ZPM, as a result, is cranking up what it is sending through them to make sure enough gets to the systems that are on, hence, the rapidly declining power levels.

Keller gets Elizabeth to the infirmary and does some scans. Elizabeth received several injuries from being thrown across the room as well as a massive blow to the head. Her brain is swelling severely. Keller and her team are doing all that they can but the situation seems dire.

In order to preserve power to the ZPM, Rodney realizes that all nonessential systems in the city need to be powered down. Unable to do so from the control room, Rodney, Radek, and John organize some teams to go out into the city and manually shut down the systems. While the teams are out, an automatic protocol kicks in and the city begins to depressurize buildings on its outer edge. This is in preparation for the shield to be collapsed to cover a smaller area and therefore preserve power. Unfortunately, one of the science teams is caught in that part of the city as this process initiates. Rodney and Radek furiously try to override or stall the process in order to buy the team time to get back inside the safety zone but to no avail. The entire team is killed as the shield pulls in.

We take a break from the city and find ourselves at the almost completed Midway station. Colonel Carter and Doctor Lee are aboard working to finalize the process of bringing the station online. They are going over some data when the Pegasus gate activates. Carter answers the radio transmission and greets Colonel Ellis. He reports that the Apollo has reached the destination planet but Atlantis is nowhere in sight. He asks Carter if she has heard from them and she replies that she has not. Both are clearly concerned and Carter says that Atlantis should have beaten Apollo to the planet. Ellis says he will stand by at the rendezvous planet and wait for Atlantis to arrive or for further orders from Earth.

Going over the numbers, Rodney has realized that it would be a good idea to bring in the shield so that it only covers the control tower sooner rather than later. He makes sure that all of the science teams are back and there is no personnel outside of the new safety zone and then runs the idea by John (who is in charge while Elizabeth is incapacitated). John agrees and Rodney and Radek get it done.

Keller and team have been trying to keep the swelling in Elizabeth's brain down (and her other vitals stable) via medication but she is not responding to it. Keller makes the decision to perform surgery to relieve the pressure on Elizabeth's brain in the hopes that it will help her normalize.

Rodney gratefully discovers that the hyperdrive is not actually damaged. The city just automatically dropped out of hyperspace due to the power drain caused by the damaged conduits. If the scientists can get the conduits repaired (or at least patched up) they should be able to just jump back into hyperspace and resume their journey. The catch is that they have a time limit. Once the ZPM's power levels drop below a certain point, the city will no longer be able to jump into hyperspace at all and they will be well and truly stranded.

After Elizabeth's surgery, Keller updates John on her status. Even if Elizabeth survives all of her other injuries (and Keller stresses that it is a big if), she has sustained a great deal of brain damage. She will never be the same Elizabeth again if she wakes up.

Repairs on the power conduits actually go very quickly and smoothly. Rodney gets barely a moment to relax, however, before a new problem crops up. The city's course has taken it directly into the path of an asteroid belt. Thankfully, they are just headed for the edge of the belt, but they are still going to pass through it--with its house and car-sized asteroids--for at least two minutes. They can't steer around it because their subspace engines are still completely out of commission. Without the shield over the whole city, two minutes in the belt will do irreparable damage to the city, and likely cause systems failures to the tower as well (not all of the systems they need are actually housed within the tower). John asks if they can put the shield back up just for the two minutes they are in the field but Rodney tells him it is a no-go. Even that would completely eat up the power/time that Radek needs to finish repairing the power conduits and would leave them unable to jump to hyperspace. John next suggests that he use the city's control chair to fire drones at the asteroids, clearing a path through the belt for the city. A good idea in theory, Rodney tells him, but unfortunately the chair is outside of the shielded area.

John is not out of ideas yet, however. He calls everyone in the city with the ATA gene (about twenty people) to the jumper bay. He sends everyone up in a jumper and coordinates them to use those drones to clear a path for the city. The prospective pilots (only two or three of them actually trained as such and with practical jumper flying experience) are a bit dubious about the plan, but John is confident. He talks everyone through it and they manage to clear a pretty decent path. A few asteroids do manage to get by them but the damage is confined to the outer edges of the city.

They return to the city, proud of a job well done. Rodney tells John that Radek should have finished his repairs by that point and they should be able to finally jump back into hyperspace and get the heck out of dodge. Of course, that would be too simple. Radek reports that the hyperdrive has gone offline. One of its control arrays was in the portion of the city where an asteroid did get through. They can't jump until the array has been fixed. John and Zelenka don a pair of space suits and use a transporter to get as close to the array as possible, then they must walk through part of the city that has been exposed to space in order to get there. They only have about fifteen minutes to get to the array and get the repairs done before the power drops too low. As an added bonus, although they are through the asteroid belt, they still have micro-asteroids (bullet-sized rocks that extend beyond the belt itself, pulled by its gravity) to look out for.

While they get to it, Keller finds Rodney and informs him that Elizabeth is officially beyond the ability of their medicine to save. She has one last idea, however, but she needs his help. He follows her to a lab where she shows him one of Elizabeth's scans and points out the nanites that are still present throughout her body. The nanites are inert, but if activated, they could be used to repair Elizabeth's body and brain completely. They would need to be reprogrammed first, of course, which is why she needs Rodney. They radio John with the idea but he is dead-set against it. Rodney says that he is pretty sure he can reprogram the nanites so that they won't harm Elizabeth like they tried to do before and so that they won't be able to communicate with the Asurans, giving away the city's position and leaving Elizabeth vulnerable to the replicators' control. John tells him "pretty sure" isn't good enough and they aren't going to do anything until or unless Rodney is one hundred percent convinced and can convince John as well.

John and Radek make it almost to the control array but find a big chunk of the walkway has been taken out by an asteroid, leaving the array out of reach on the other side. John tells Radek they will have to jump the distance. Radek is not so sure about this, but John joins them with a tether and then tosses Radek across the gap, demagnetizing his boots before the tether catches so that he is pulled along by Radek's momentum. It works and they make it to the array and get to work on repairs.

Rodney continues working on a program to reprogram the nanites, trying to find a safe way to use them to save Elizabeth. He manages to get the subspace communication capability turned off, as well as to ensure that the nanites would never turn on Elizabeth. But he has come across a pretty big hurdle. The nanites can repair Elizabeth, but they would do so by using replicated materials, meaning that they could not be rendered inert after repairs were complete without killing Elizabeth. She would be part replicator for the rest of her life. Keller tells Rodney that John will never go for that and he agrees. He thinks maybe he can program the nanites to use organic material instead and gets to work on trying to implement that.

Repairs on the control array are slow going, Radek is having a hard time working from inside the spacesuit. While they are out there, a micro-asteroid shoots right through his leg. John wants to take over the repairs but Radek insists that will take too long and keeps on going.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth starts to crash. Keller radios Rodney and tells him that they have reached the now or never point of activating the nanites. He still hasn't figured out how to get the nanites to use organic material but they are out of time, so he sends her the new program and joins her in the infirmary.

Carter has not been sitting idle at Midway all this time. She has been working on trying to figure out a way to find or at least contact Atlantis. She has guessed correctly that since the city only had one ZPM and was designed to run on three that it likely dropped out of hyperspace early. She thinks that the best way to find the city would be to fly back over Atlantis' course to the new planet. Of course, that would take about a million years without hyperspace, and their ships' long range sensors aren't designed to work in hyperspace. She is not dissuaded though, telling Lee that the ship could make several "jumps" and scan at each stop with the long range sensors. Of course, they would need to boost the sensors current capabilities to make that a practical solution. She asks Lee if he is up for a trip to the Pegasus galaxy.

Radek manages to get the repairs done at last. John calls for a jumper to pick them up and then radios the control room to tell Teyla to have Rodney jump to hyperspace as soon as they are picked up. She replies that she can't. They have just dropped below the minimum power requirements to drop into hyperspace.

John gets back to the tower and goes to check on Elizabeth. He sees Rodney and Keller leaving her room and realizes what they have done. He is, unsurprisingly, pissed, that they went ahead and activated the nanites against his orders. They explain that time had run out and they had to make the call. John orders them to shut the nanites down and when they refuse he calls for an EMP generator to be brought to the infirmary. Before he can complete the order, however, a nurse calls to them from Elizabeth's room. She has woken up and is completely healed. Elizabeth is put into quarantine until they can figure out where to go next. She is caught up on current events and really unhappy at the risk that Rodney and Keller took in activating her nanites. She tells Teyla is was too reckless.

Radek, unable to sit idle, gets back to work as soon as his leg is patched up. He tells John he has an idea. He explains that the reason the city can't jump to hyperspace at the low power level is simply due to a safety protocol. He is pretty sure he can override it. they won't be able to get very far, not to their original planet or to the nearest stargate. But they can possibly get to a habitable planet and get everyone off the city before it loses power completely. Rodney doesn't like the idea, for lots of reasons, but mostly because there is a fifty-fifty chance that entering hyperspace with such a low power level will cause the city to be ripped to shreds (hence, the protocol).

While they are discussing this, Rodney gets another idea. While he was under the influence of the ascendomatic machine, he had begun work on outfitting a puddle jumper with a hyperdrive. He actually got pretty far in the project and it was one he was still able to understand once he was back to normal. The project is almost complete. It is still untested, of course, and as he and Radek discuss the idea they agree that they will be lucky to get maybe two jumps out of the ship. But it is enough for a round trip. Rodney and Radek agree that the range of the jumper will get them to a few stargates and, looking at the map he pulls up, Rodney realizes even a planet with a few ZPMs to spare--Asuras. A ZPM or three would allow them to power up the hyperdrive and get back on track immediately. Rodney turns to John and asks if he is feeling up to a heist.



Gah. Oh my goodness, the pacing in this episode is insane! I mean, don't get me wrong. It is very well done and makes this an amazing episode to watch, keeping you on the edge of your seat the entire time as it jumps from story bit to story bit. But, wow, is it is a bear to keep up with when you are trying to take notes!

I think that this easily qualifies as my favorite season-opener of the series. It is just amazingly tightly scripted and well acted and it just flows. Also, there are a ton of gorgeous and mind-blowing effects shots of the city as it drifts through space and the jumpers going through the asteroid belt and the damage to the city by the rogue asteroids...just, wow. I am quite astonished that they had any SFX budget at all left over for the rest of the season after this episode. Of course, this was the first year that Stargate Atlantis aired after Stargate SG-1 ended its run, so I guess their budget had, if not doubled, at least increased a bit. It shows. Also, damaged or not, the city floating through the void of space is a damn impressive sight. Sigh. Life sucking aliens or no, I want to go live on Atlantis.

It was interesting to me that for this episode Keller and Radek seemed to take over for Teyla and Ronon on the team. I mean, it makes complete sense, and it was really cool to get to see John and Rodney working with the other people in the city. It really helped to emphasize that this whole expedition really is one big team and that they all do work together pretty well, especially after all of this time (even though Keller is the relative newbie). Also, it isn't as if Teyla and Ronon were sitting on their hands for the whole episode. Teyla stayed in the control room coordinating all of the various efforts of, well, everyone, while Rodney, Radek, and John were running around getting things done. She served to keep everyone calm and reassured through what had to be a very harrowing experience. Ronon actually had his own whole little subplot that I left out of the recap because it was woven in so deftly but I just couldn't figure out how to write it in without being overwhelmed. After his injury when the beam hit the tower, he got to be all badass about his wound and then he actually stayed with Elizabeth and kept an eye on her most of the time. He had a very touching moment where, believing she would soon die, he went to say goodbye to her and thank her for letting him come to live in Atlantis. It seems to reinforce what he was talking about in the last episode, about this not being his type of situation to handle. So rather than feel useless, he decided to stay out of the way and keep to where he could feel like he was doing some good. I know John appreciated having Ronon there to keep an eye on Elizabeth when he couldn't, and I am sure Elizabeth would have been grateful to  know she had a friend nearby.

I did find the little "power struggle" between John and Rodney kind of interesting to watch as well, in that there really wasn't one. Despite being so anti-military and loudly objecting on previous occasions when the military swooped in and took over, Rodney very quickly acquiesced to John's authority. It just took one reminder early on that he needed to at least keep John in the loop and he was fine. Until the whole thing with the nanites, at least. While I am on the "that was a Bad Idea" side of the line, I get what he and Keller did and why they did it without letting John know. I like that as mad as John was about the situation, he accepted that too and he and Rodney were able to continue to work together to resolve the other pressing issues. I think the whole thing was just very indicative of how much the two men have grown to trust each other and respect each other's decisions, even if they don't always agree on them. It was a nice (and mostly fairly subtle) show of how much those two characters have grown.

I do have to wonder about one thing, however. When they were getting the city ready to take off, there was already a lot of concern about having enough power for the process and for using the city's stardrive. Why in the world were so many unnecessary systems still on to be draining power in the first place? They had already evacuated all of the nonessential personnel via the Apollo. It seems odd to me that they wouldn't have been running only the systems critical to the city's flight processes and life support from the start. of those things you notice when you watch the episodes so closely together, I guess.

Also, do you think the Asurans are still firing their energy beam at Lantea while all of this is going on? I mean, how would they know how long it would take for the city to be destroyed? This is of absolutely no bearing on anything, it just occurred to me to wonder.

Anyhoo, overall, a fantastic episode, in my opinion. One of the best that the series has to offer. It also set up quite a few things to come in season four, though I won't say more about those just now. I will say I was rather impressed with how many seeds I could see being planted, though.

Favorite Quotes

"If you dumb this down any more, you're gonna get hit." (John)

"There's actually a chance we might make it through this thing! I am ecstatic! I'm gonna do a little--" (Rodney)
"Colonel Sheppard. Doctor McKay. Please report to the control room immediately." (Chuck)
"That lasted, what, like a second?" (Rodney)

"Looks like the old video game Asteroids." (Rodney)
"Well, whatever works for you." (John)
"I was terrible at Asteroids. I think actually scored a zero once." (Rodney)
"Well there's only one way to go, and that's up." (John)

"So Zelenka and his team should have the conduits repaired by now, so I think we're finally out of the woods!" (Rodney)
"Colonel Sheppard. Doctor McKay. Please report to the control room immediately." (Technician)
"Oh, come on!" (Rodney)

"Remember when I was zapped by that machine a few months ago and I got, well, even smarter than I normally am?" (Rodney)

"You feel up to a heist?" (Rodney)


There you have it. Season four is officially underway. The action continues in the next installment, so join me on Wednesday for "Lifeline" to find out what happens next. See you then!

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