Well, another Wednesday has rolled around, and that means another installment of the Stargate Atlantis Rewatch! Today's episode is season four's "Doppelganger." Be advised of spoilers for the episode and all that came before it, as always!
We join the team in progress as they are exploring a lush jungle-like world. It is quickly made apparent that while scans of the planet revealed no life signs, they did find an interesting energy reading and are searching for its source. John, Teyla, and Ronon are all starting to believe they are wasting their time and that there is nothing of value to be found on the planet. John ready to call it a mission but an uncharacteristically enthusiastic Rodney insists that they should keep looking. Further questioning of his unusual persistence reveals that he had made a bet with Radek that they would find something valuable on the planet and he doesn't want to lose the bet.
John finally pulls rank and gives the order to return to the jumper when they stumble across a crystalline formation growing from the side of a tree. It is glowing and closer inspection reveals it to be the source of the energy reading Rodney had taken earlier. Rodney gets excited, thinking that if they could cultivate more of the crystal, they could literally have a source of energy that grows on trees. As he talks about the possibilities, John examines the crystal and seems to get drawn in, reaching out to touch it. The contact causes a sort of shock, throwing him backwards. Rodney berates him for touching the crystal and John acknowledges that he's not even sure why he did that. Rodney turns back to the crystal and is dismayed to find that John's contact with it seems to have "killed" it. The glow has disappeared and it is no longer giving off an energy signature.
Rodney wants to continue searching, hoping to find more crystals, but John and the others are done. John promises to send a science team back to the planet to explore the phenomenon more closely. In Atlantis, he heads to the infirmary, accompanied by Teyla, to get checked up after his shock. Keller gives him a clean bill of health and he decides he is ready to call it a night. He bids Teyla good evening and pats her on the back. As he touches her, there is a weird sort of glow at the contact.
That evening, as Teyla sleeps, she begins to have a very strange dream. She is back in an Athosian tent, her hair long like when she very first joined the expedition. John is in her tent, eating dinner with her. Ronon appears and tells her he always knew the two of them would hook up. She starts to protest this but hears the sound of wraith darts outside. A voice calls her name, and she thinks it is her father. She runs to the tent flaps to check but Bug!John (from "Conversion") bursts into the tent and backs her up against a table. He slams a hand into her chest as if to feed, wraith-like, and Teyla wakes in her quarters in Atlantis, out of breath and out of sorts.
The next morning she is breakfasting with Rodney and Ronon and tells them about her nightmare. John joins them and notices the uncomfortable silence at his arrival. Rodney tells John that Teyla dreamed about him and John's curiosity is peaked. Teyla elaborates that it was more like a nightmare and that she doesn't want to talk about it. To John's further questions, thinking maybe he had saved her from a big bad monster, Ronon tells him he was the big bad monster. Clearly uncomfortable, Teyla leaves the table, claiming a headache from lack of sleep. She goes to speak with Kate, explaining that the nightmare was unlike any she has ever experienced. It has left her deeply unsettled, and uncomfortable around John. She wonders if her subconscious is trying to tell her something. Kate says that if Teyla thinks she and John have any unresolved issues, addressing them might be a good idea, but otherwise, she shouldn't worry too much about it. When Teyla confesses that she is afraid to go to sleep, Kate sends her to Keller for a checkup. Keller doesn't find anything wrong with Teyla and prescribes her some sleeping pills to help keep any more nightmares at bay. Teyla takes them gratefully and leaves.
Later that evening Keller is woken from her own sleep by a radio call requesting her presence in the infirmary. She arrives to find Teyla on a gurnee, curled up in a ball and experiencing extreme abdominal distress. John is standing over her, concerned. As Keller looks on, something begins to crawl beneath the skin of Teyla's stomach. Before Keller can react to the situation, a creature bursts through Teyla's stomach, killing her. John looks on, appearing to be vastly entertained. Keller starts awake in her quarters, quite freaked out by her dream. She heads down to the infirmary to get some sleeping pills for herself.
After closing the medication cabinet, she turns around is startled to find Ronon standing right behind her. He says hi and John pops around from behind him, saying hello as well. The two explain that they were sparring and John managed to get in a lucky shot. Ronon has a gash on his forehead. Keller sets him down on a gurnee and looks at it, trying not to stare at John, still creeped out by her dream. She tells Ronon he will need stitches and Ronon sends John off, promising a rematch later. Keller watches John leave and Ronon remarks that he doesn't think John is seeing anyone, clearly amused. Shaken out of her distraction by the jest, Keller gets down to business and begins sewing up Ronon's wound.
As Ronon is leaving the infirmary, he begins to notice a distinct lack of people in the city. Growing more worried as he fails to encounter anyone, he heads to the gate room and finds it completely deserted. Growing more and more frantic, he runs through the city calling out but cannot find anyone. He reaches a transporter and activates it, surprised when the doors open to reveal a forest beyond. Cautiously he enters the forest and looks around. Energy bolts begin to fly by him and he runs, trying to evade the attack. A branch falls across his path and he runs right into it, getting knocked down. John appears and reaches out a hand to help him up but then knocks Ronon out instead. Ronon comes to at the bottom of a hole in the ground and finds John standing at the top, shoveling dirt in, burying Ronon alive. Ronon starts awake and finds himself still in the infirmary on the gurnee. Keller tells him he drifted off to sleep while she was sewing him up.
The next morning Keller discusses her dream with Teyla, Rodney, and Ronon. Ronon remarks that it sounds an awful lot like the movie Alien and Teyla says John talks about it all of the time. Keller agrees, admitting that it was the source of some of her worst nightmares ever. Rodney relates his own story about the first time he saw the movie (a disastrous first date) and Ronon remarks that he really needs to watch it. Bringing the topic back around to their dreams, Keller remarks that it is very strange that she, Ronon, and Teyla have all recently had such vivid nightmares featuring John so prominently. She also notices the interesting progression of those nightmares. Rodney and Ronon shrug it off but Teyla looks thoughtful.
Keller decides to take the matter to Sam, just in case. She explains the similarities of the nightmares (centering on John) and the fact that they seemed to be sequential. She also notes that they started right after the team came back from the jungle-planet. She admits it might be nothing but she wanted Sam to be aware. Before they can discuss it much further, a tech informs Sam that she is needed to deal with a situation in the living quarters.
In the living quarters, a barefoot and very distraught Major Lorne is standing in the middle of a small crowd with his gun pointed at John. John tries to get him to lower his weapon but he keeps calling for an ARG and insisting they need to shoot John with it. Teyla and Kate are also there and try to talk Lorne down but he claims that John is a replicator. Sam arrives and tries to diffuse the situation but Lorne turns his gun on her, claiming she is a replicator as well. He starts to get even more agitated and seems about to shoot when someone manages to hit him with a stunner. They get him to the infirmary's observation room and when he wakes up he is appalled to find out what he had done and relieved that no one was hurt. He explains that he used to sleepwalk as a kid and apparently had done so again.
Acknowledging that there is definitely something going on with people's dreams, the team meets with Keller, Kate, and Sam to try to figure out what to do about the situation. It seems obvious that the crystal from the jungle planet is somehow involved. They suspect it must have contained an alien entity of some sort that jumped into John when he touched it and is now impersonating him in other people's dreams. Based on the subject of those dreams, Kate and Keller think that the entity must be feeding on people's fear. Keller also thinks, based on the sequential nature of the nightmares, that the entity must jump to different people by touch. Sam gives orders to round up anyone that has come into contact with Lorne recently and decides to confine all non-essential personnel to their quarters until they can figure out what they are dealing with.
Sam's next move is to send the team back to the jungle planet to try to gather some evidence so they can start figuring things out. They take Radek along and return, clad in HAZMAT suits, to try to find what they need. They locate the empty crystal that John had touched and harvest it to take back to the city for study. They also find another "live" crystal and bring that back as well, to compare.
Once they get the crystals back to Atlantis, Rodney and Radek get to work on studying them (with lots of extra precautions in place). They think if they can isolate the frequency of the energy signature emitted by the crystals they will be able to scan people to see if the entity is inside of them. Keller comes in to check on their progress and leans in to examine the live crystal. Her eyes lose focus as she gazes at it and begins to lean in, almost touching it before Radek stops her. She blinks and comes to, saying the crystal had mesmerized her. Radek and Rodney tell her they think that the crystals do that to get people to touch them so that the entities can jump into them.
After they get the energy signal isolated they scan Lorne, still in quarantine, and are unpleasantly surprised to learn that the entity isn't in him any more. They realize that it must have jumped into the city's power conduits in order to travel, and so could be in anyone now.
Teyla steps out onto a balcony to find Kate standing on the railing, poised as if to jump. She is clearly terrified. Teyla tries to talk her into getting down and she says she wants to but can't. Teyla moves to help her and John appears, pushing Teyla away and keeping her from getting to Kate. Kate falls from the balcony. A door opens and Keller steps into what are obviously Kate's personal quarters. Kate is lying motionless on her bed in her nightgown, Teyla standing over her clearly upset. Teyla tells Keller that Kate did not report for duty that morning and when Teyla could not get her on the radio she came to check on her and hasn't been able to wake her. Keller does a quick check and announces, appalled, that Kate is dead.
John is in his quarters and seems to be at a loss. After a moment he seems to come to a decision and heads for the door. He opens it to find Teyla standing there. He tells her he was just going to see her, although he didn't know if she would want to see him. Teyla says nothing but hugs him and begins to cry.
Radek gets the citywide sensors calibrated to track the entity and is able to pinpoint his location. He takes it to Sam and they realize that the entity is in Rodney. They get Rodney into quarantine, padding the walls of the room with rubber so that the entity can't use the city's conduits to escape. Now that they know where it is and have it trapped, they just need to keep Rodney awake and find a way to get it out of him.
John wonders if maybe they can't reason with the entity, since it clearly seems to have a consciousness. If it knows it is trapped, he reasons, maybe it would take the offer to return home, to go back into the crystal and be taken back to its own planet. The tricky part is communicating with it. They think it might be possible to hypnotize Rodney, put him into a waking dream so that he can be aware enough to communicate with the entity and ask it to leave, but the likelihood of that actually working seems slim. John comments that it would be nice if they had a way to let someone else actually go into Rodney's dreams, and Sam gets an idea. She has Earth send over some technology that SG-1 found in its exploits. It was originally intended to allow multiple people to experience and interact within one virtual reality. The SGC has since been using it as a training tool, but for the current situation, they adapted it to tune in to subconscious brain activity, allowing John to interact with Rodney while Rodney is dreaming (and hopefully see what Rodney is seeing).
They sedate Rodney and we enter his dream. He is in a rowboat on the ocean, trying to get to Atlantis and it is pouring rain. No matter how hard he rows, he doesn't seem to get any closer to the city. To make things worse, his whale friend is circling the boat and seems to have turned hostile. John appears in the boat and starts trying to convince Rodney that failure is inevitable and he should just go ahead and give up. Rodney is rather affronted that his friend is being so unhelpful but then another John appears behind him and says that the other guy isn't him. John starts encouraging Rodney to just keep trying and even moves to help him row. Not that it does any good. The two of them keep on rowing without getting anywhere as Evil!John mocks them, and then the whale surfaces beneath the boat, swallowing it up. John comes awake to find Keller and the medical team furiously trying to revive Rodney, who has gone into cardiac arrest. They are unsuccessful and Keller declares Rodney dead.
John leaves the infirmary and is walking through the city, clearly unsettled. Teyla confronts him, telling him it is his fault that Kate and Rodney are dead. Ronon joins in, quickly followed by Sam and Keller, all blaming John. From the corner of his eye, John notices something. He looks up and sees Evil!John lurking in a corner, gloating. John lunges for his alter-ego, realizing he is still dreaming and the entity has moved to him.
In the waking world, Keller and team do manage to revive Rodney. They tell him that the entity has moved to John. Observing John's vitals, Keller laments that he is in trouble. Rodney surveys his friend, thinking furiously, and then asks to be hooked back up again. In the dream, John and Evil!John are having a knock-down-drag-out fight through the city and have ended up in the gate room. John is not doing too well but he refuses to give up. Evil!John gets him pinned and tries to talk him into surrendering, reminding him that it is all his fault, including Rodney's death.
From behind them, Rodney appears, piping up that he is not dead. Evil!John turns, surprised, and attacks Rodney. Rodney smirks at him that he knows now that the entity is vulnerable to electric shocks. It jumped to John when the med team started to revive Rodney, leaving before "finishing the job." We see Evil!John suddenly shudder and flash to the waking world, where Keller is using the defibrillator on John. In the dream, John takes advantage of Evil!John's momentary weakness to get the upper hand, throwing him through the open stargate. Forcefully evicting the entity from his mind like that sent it back into its crystal, which was also hooked up to the two men. Once it is back inside, Radek unhooks it and both men wake up. Everyone makes Relieved Face.
They take the crystals back to the planet and dump them on the grass. When they do so, hundreds of crystals start to light up throughout the jungle around them and they wisely skedaddle.
Back in Atlantis, John is sitting in the mess late at night, unable to sleep. Before long Teyla joins him and then slowly Rodney, Ronon, Keller, and Sam all trickle in as well.
So, first real stand-alone episode of the season, yay! This one holds up pretty well. I think it's one the relative novice to the show could stumble upon and enjoy, maybe hooking them to check out more episodes. That's always a good thing. I like that this episode features so many of the people in Atlantis, not just the main team.
As far as the larger story of the season, this episode does do a good job of making us more familiar with both Keller and with Sam. We get to see how they integrate with the rest of the players in the city as well as how they work under pressure, and we get to know them a little better personally as well. In fact, one of the most fun parts of this episode is the peek it gives us into everyone's subconscious. Dealing with nightmares is a great way to show us what our characters' fears are, as well as how they deal with them both in the light of day and when they are defenseless at night in their beds sound asleep.
I mean, it sucks that they had to kill off Kate, but nice as she was, her character always felt a bit bland to me anyway. I wish they would have seized on the opportunity to replace her with with a more interesting shrink who could have been more integrated into the city's stories. In my head canon, she was replaced with Lance Sweets from Bones (as so marvelously portrayed by John Francis Daley). Man, I know it was never in the realm of possibility, but I would have given a lot to see a Bones/Stargate Atlantis crossover.
Um...where was I? Oh, right, the episode.
So, I thought it was interesting that they had Sam point out the events of the SG-1 episode "Cold Lazarus" here (from season one of that series), since that was clearly the repurposed idea behind this episode. Still, in true Stargate fashion, they took the seed of an idea and manage to run an entirely different direction with it, growing a completely new and interesting story. Quite well done. It still amuses me when they have the characters hang a lantern on similar story ideas by mentioning previous exploits. Still, it's not like every situation they come across is completely unique, and it's nice to have the characters acknowledge continuity every once in a while.
I also feel like there need to be signs up all over the city with the admonition "No More Touching Strange Stuff" because that is clearly the source of most of the trouble these people find themselves in. At the very least, they should print up a few reminders to put in the ready room and next to the gate where people can see them when leaving for a mission, am I right?
"What are we doing?" (Ronon)
"Exploring the Pegasus galaxy! It's what we do!" (Rodney)
"Looks like one of those toys you play with when you're a kid." (John)
"What, Commodore 64?" (Rodney)
"Triple-barreled shotgun?" (Ronon)
"....A kaleidoscope." (John)
"Is she really mad at me? I can't control what's in her dreams!" (John)
"Really? You think you can't control a person's dreams? My father read me Moby Dick when I was seven years old. I mean, seriously, what was the man thinking? Do you have any idea how long I had nightmares about being eaten by a whale?" (Rodney)
"They haven't stopped, have they?" (Ronon)
"Your planet has some truly strange rituals." (Teyla)
"Based on what's been described to me, the personification of Colonel Sheppard in everyone's dreams is behaving much like a sociopath." (Kate)
"Did I have a goatee?" (John)
So ends another installment of the rewatch. Join me again on Monday for our next episode, "Travelers."