Wednesday, February 15, 2012

SGA Rewatch: First Strike

Hello! Welcome to the Stargate Atlantis Rewatch! Today we are going to be finishing season three with our discussion of the episode "First Strike." Wow, I can't believe we've already made it through three seasons, can you? Only two more left now. Craziness.

Spoilers should be expected for the episode and all that came before it, of course. Now, to the matter at hand.

What Happened

Elizabeth is walking through the city and is hailed by a young woman whom she greets as Doctor Keller. We quickly learn that Keller has stepped in to fill Carson's shoes as Atlantis' Chief of Medicine. We also learn that she is not so keen to keep the job, worried that she is going to fail spectacularly. Elizabeth does her best to reassure Keller that everyone thinks she's doing a great job, urging Keller to just give it some time for the position to feel more comfortable. After this conversation, Elizabeth then heads on in to her office, where Rodney is waiting for her with a complaint of his own. It seems the time has rolled around for senior staff to prepare employee evaluations and Rodney really doesn't want to do it. John walks in to the office in the middle of their debate and hands his own evaluations over. He turns to leave but Elizabeth, having opened up the file, stops him. She chastises him for just giving everyone on his staff an "excellent" rating. He tries to defend his evaluations and Elizabeth clearly wishes the two would just take this duty seriously.

The topic of evaluations is set aside for the moment when Elizabeth is notified that the Earth ship Apollo, fresh off the line and under the command of Colonel Ellis, has arrived in orbit over the planet. Ellis beams down and is glad to find both Rodney and John in Elizabeth's office already, saying that will make things easier. He is all business and leads the three of them to the conference room for a briefing. Apparently the I.O.A. has had the Daedalus make regular sweeps by the replicator planet Asuras in its comings and goings in the Pegasus galaxy.  The ship's most recent pass has turned up the disturbing information that the Asurans have begun to build a fleet of spaceships. The trio immediately jumps to the conclusion that the Asurans must be getting ready to attack Atlantis again and start to brainstorm on what they can do to defend the city. Ellis stops them short and explains that a plan has already been put into place. He has been sent to stop those replicator ships from ever leaving Asuras. The Apollo, coordinating with Atlantis, will launch a surgical strike on the shipyards and a few other key targets on Asuras. The ship is carrying six new Mark IX tactical warheads with which to carry out the job.

Elizabeth and John look at Ellis in stunned silence following this announcement, unbelieving that they have been kept in the dark about this plan. Rodney, on the other hand, launches into a diatribe about why the plan is doomed to fail. The obvious flaw being that the Asurans are replicators, "as in self-replicating," and such a strike isn't likely to slow them down at all, and will probably just make them mad. Ellis addresses Rodney's concern pointing out that for some reason, the Asurans are different than the Milky Way replicators and are not building their ships out of nano-tech, but rather using regular old raw materials. Bombing their shipyards will set the Asurans back. Rodney then asks why they don't just wait until the Planetary-Wide Anti-Replicator Weapons (PWARWs) in development are ready and hit the whole planet at once. Ellis admits that would be ideal but the I.O.A. doesn't believe that they have that kind of time. He reveals that I.O.A. is concerned that the Asurans are building ships not to attack Atlantis but to head to Earth instead. The Asurans do know its location since their occupation of the city earlier in the year. He says eventually they do mean to wipe out the whole planet but for now, they just want to buy themselves time to be able to do so, as well as to take away the Asurans' means of getting to Earth.

Ellis plows ahead with his orders, sending Rodney and Radek up to the Apollo to inspect the warheads and make sure they are ready for deployment. Elizabeth is not happy and not sold on the idea. She tries to talk Ellis out of it but he isn't budging, pointing out that she has no authority to stop him and he has every intention of following his orders. She gets on the horn and starts contacting everyone she can think of to try to put a halt to the mission, but no one will listen to her arguments. Rodney and Radek are also both dubious about the plan, but they agree that the Asurans are a real threat and don't feel like they really have a choice but to comply with Ellis. John, on the other hand, thinks that the plan is actually too good to be true. He isn't quite convinced it will work because to him it seems too easy, but he is one hundred percent behind it nonetheless. Ellis asks him to join the mission and he agrees. The Apollo heads to Asuras and they launch the attack. John stays behind for an hour in a cloaked jumper doing surveillance to make sure they got their targets. Everything seems to have gone pretty much according to plan.

As they are going over the surveillance data back in Atlantis, Chuck calls Elizabeth's attention to the control room. The city's scanners have made contact with some sort of object in orbit. It is too small to be a ship, but from its movements it is clearly not just a normal piece of space debris. Elizabeth asks Ellis to check it out and he takes the Apollo in for a look. He reports back to them that it appears to be a satellite of some sort with a stargate in its center.  As they are trying to figure out what the heck the purpose of that is, the stargate activates. An energy beam shoots out of it straight at the Apollo. Ellis starts to open up fire but it seems to have little effect and he orders his ship out of the path of the beam, but the satellite has already reoriented itself. The beam moves until it is pointed straight at Atlantis. The city's shields manage to hold up to the beam and prevent any damage, however.

Of course, sitting in the shielded city with an energy beam steadily firing away at it is not really ideal, so Rodney gets to work trying to determine the full extent of the situation and attempt to find a solution. Unfortunately, it seems as if the satellite's shield draws its power from the energy beam, so as long as that is going, they can't just shoot it down. Even worse, the gate itself is being powered by the beam meaning that the standard thirty-eight minute limit on how long a gate can remain open is also not in play. As long as that beam is coming through the gate, it can stay on indefinitely. Rodney points out that the only two sources of that kind of energy would be a black hole or an unlimited supply of ZPMs. Assuming the second scenario is far more likely, they realize that the Asurans are probably behind the attack.

Because the second gate is in such close proximity to Atlantis and is active, it has overridden the city's own gate, leaving the inhabitants unable to evacuate to safety as long as the second gate is active. Elizabeth refuses to just sit around and do nothing and so she orders communications opened through the gate, hoping she can negotiate a cease fire. She is surprised to find Oberoth on the other end of the line but immediately dives into trying to get him to turn off the weapon. He refuses. She says that they only attacked Asuras in order to protect their own people. Oberoth responds that this attack is in the same vein. Atlantis is too dangerous and must be destroyed. Rodney, monitoring the communications channel, tells Elizabeth that the Asurans are trying to send a virus through to the city's computers. Frustrated, Elizabeth tells him to cut the communications. She asks Rodney how long the shield can hold up under this kind of bombardment and he tells her they have maybe twenty-nine hours until it fails.

John goes to see Ellis and tells him they need to take the Apollo back to Asuras and destroy the beam weapon at its source. Unfortunately, the ship took quite a hit from the beam when it first activated and Ellis responds that it is in no condition for a fight. He can see that John is feeling like this whole mess is their fault for making the first move and he tries to reassure him. He points out that at the very least, they have stopped the Asurans from being able to get to Earth, which is definitely not equipped to deal with them. Ellis remains convinced they did the right thing. Elizabeth, meanwhile, is pissed. She is in her office venting to Teyla about the whole situation. She is starting to get tired of her status as civilian and a woman causing the military and I.O.A. to dismiss her capability. She is furious she wasn't consulted about the plan to attack Asuras from its inception and thinks that the military is trying to undermine her authority. Teyla tries to soothe her but Elizabeth says it is clear that she is not trusted to make the big decisions. If they make it out of their current situation, she tells Teyla, she just might have to step down as leader of the expedition.

Rodney and Radek have been busily trying to come up with a solution to the current problem and they think they have hit on at least a way to buy themselves some time. Part of the reason that the Ancients submerged the city during the war with the wraith was to save the strain on the ZPMs powering the shield by dissipating the attacks coming from orbit. If they submerge the city, it should attenuate some of the beam's strength, meaning that the shields can remain up longer, giving them time to figure out a way to destroy or escape the weapon. Elizabeth orders it down but unfortunately the effect of the water on the beam isn't quite as strong as the scientists had hoped. They only manage to buy themselves an extra nine hours (after spending three coming up with the idea).

The pair goes back to brainstorming but eventually they run out of ideas. John comes in to ask how they are doing and Radek remarks that there is nowhere on the planet where they will be safe from the beam. John and Rodney look at each other, clearly sharing a light bulb moment. They rapidly begin discussing the possibility of the idea they just had while Radek gets more and more lost. Eventually they explain: If nowhere on the planet is safe, they should just take the city and leave the planet. Normally one ZPM wouldn't be enough power to provide the city's star drive, mostly because of the tremendous power requirements for the initial takeoff process. Luckily for them, the underwater drilling platform is just about operational and Rodney thinks it will be able to get them to ninety percent of what they need for takeoff. (It is connected to the city by way of an extension cord umbilicus that will pipe in the power until they have gotten high enough to snap the connection.) Of course, the ZPM is devoting so much power to the shield that Rodney's not too sure it will be able to provide the rest of what they need. But John has an idea about that, too. The planet's moon has a lot of asteroids and John thinks it would be relatively simple to send Lorne with a flight of F-302s to go get one and tow it into the path of the beam. That would ease the strain on the shield and buy the city a minute or two's relief from the energy beam, just enough time to launch the city out of its path.

Elizabeth decides to approve the crazy plan and Lorne leads a team of pilots to go get an asteroid. The progress is slow but they do manage to get one and using the F-302s drive it toward the beam. All non-essential personnel are beamed up to the Apollo and Rodney picks out a new planet for Atlantis' relocation. Once everything gets underway Ellis stops by Elizabeth's office before heading up to his ship. He apologizes to her, not for the original plan, but for giving the impression that he didn't respect her and her authority in the city. It's not perfect, but Elizabeth accepts it gratefully. John heads down to the control chair to get ready to fly the city since the timing is going to have to be pretty specific.

Once Lorne's team gets the asteroid into position, the F-302s let go and it continues to drift into the path of the beam. The fighters head back to the Apollo and Rodney starts the process of raising the city back to the surface of the water. The drilling station gets its power output cranked up to eleven and the crew is beamed out of there. The asteroid enters the path of the beam and John begins the takeoff process. Even with the relief on the shields, the power is not enough to get them launched and Elizabeth orders the shield dropped completely. This gives the star drive the boost it needs and the city begins to head for the atmosphere. Elizabeth moves out of the control room to look out the window as they leave the planet's surface. As soon as liftoff has been achieved, Rodney enters the command to raise the shield. As the shield is coming up over the city, the beam succeeds in breaking up the asteroid, punching through to the city once more. Just before the shield is fully up, the beam hits Atlantis and the tower is shaken by the impact. Elizabeth is thrown across the room.

In the chair room, John is unaware that the city was struck and takes it into hyperspace. He sits up and breathes a big sigh of relieve before opening up his radio to check with Rodney and Elizabeth. He gets no answer but instead hears Rodney calling for a medical team to the tower immediately. He races up to meet them and find out what happened. We see the tower in disarray, damaged consoles and broken glass everywhere. Keller is busy trying to sort out the critical patients from those who can wait to be seen. John finds her loading Elizabeth onto a stretcher and Keller informs him that she took a pretty nasty blow to the head. Elizabeth is carried off and Ronon goes to check on the rest of his team. Rodney tells him that the beam just grazed the tower before the shield went up completely. He thinks the actual damage is minimal though and is just going to pull up some readings when the city drops out of hyperspace. Teyla asks if they have arrived at their destination already and Rodney replies there is no way that is possible. Things go from bad to worse as Rodney realizes the full extent of their situation: The city dropped out of hyperspace for unknown reasons, probably damage to the drive. Their power is severely depleted, they only have twenty-four hours left at their current consumption rate, after which they lose the shield which means they lose atmosphere which means they die. There are no planets or stars anywhere around them for Rodney to be able to get their bearings, meaning they are lost. They aren't in range of anyone they can contact to call for help, and they can't use the gate because without knowing their exact coordinates, they have no way to calibrate it to be able to use it at their current location. Basically, they are screwed. Insert your own Lost in Space joke here.



I would like to take a moment to reflect on what an amazing fake-out the previous episode was. It got us all focused on Michael and the threat he poses to Atlantis, and it made the return to the Asurans as villains for the final episode kind of a surprise. A nice surprise, in my opinion. Well done there.

Welcome to Doctor Keller, by the way. It is good to meet the new head of medicine in this episode. I know that a lot of people never seemed to warm up to Keller, but I loved her almost immediately. I mean, yeah, she's not Carson. No one could be. But she is awesome in her own way. Also, she's played by Jewel Staite, whom I adore to bits and pieces. We only get a brief glimpse of her in this episode, but I think it serves very well to establish the character and give us some sort of idea of what we will be dealing with in her for her tenure in Atlantis.

I love the conversation between John, Teyla, and Ronon about the Fantastic Four. To me it is an excellent example of how the daily interaction of that team actually works (in a good way). I also enjoy that it reinforces the development of John as kind of a closet geek despite his "cool guy" attitude most of the time.

It was really spiffy to get the see the city in flight as well. In fact, this episode contained quite a few wonderful effects shots. I know that the show is on a budget and they have to be careful with how they allocate their funds, but in this case I felt like it was money very well spent. I love getting to see more of the city than just the basic establishing shots we see in between scenes from time to time.

All in all, a very fascinating episode. Of course the Asurans were going to want to strike back eventually, and of course taking the fight to them without completely wiping them out in one fell swoop was a Bad Idea. But after seeing the havoc that the expedition has managed to introduce into the galaxy by way of Michael, it is kind of refreshing to see such a straightforward threat as the replicators. A threat not of our own making, and while yes, the team certainly exacerbated the situation, they really were only seeking help and then just trying to defend themselves and protect their people in their encounters with the Asurans. They  were never the root of the problem.

No surprise that we got a cliffhanger here, it is pretty standard Stargate fare for a season-ender. I can tell you that in this case, the cliffhanger definitely had me hooked. I could not wait for season four to start so I could find out how the heck these people would get themselves out of this situation.

Favorite Quotes

"Okay, look, asking me to do performance evaluations is ridiculous. I am the first person to admit I don't know who these people are, nor do I care to. Look, if you'd like, I could take you down the hall to the labs and just point at the people who annoy me more than the rest, but that's about as useful as I get." (Rodney)

"So we can assume the replicators are behind this." (Elizabeth)
"Well, I hope so." (Rodney)
"You hope so?" (Elizabeth)
"Well, otherwise we've discovered yet another super powerful enemy." (Rodney)

"You should be running Atlantis, not Doctor Weir." (Ellis)
"Well then I'd be The Man, and who would I have to rage against?" (John)

"We don't need the history of your idea, Doctor. I'll let that be a surprise when I read your autobiography. Just tell me the plan." (Ellis)

"I need to learn some science." (Ronon)
"What for?" (John)
"I'm not all that useful in situations like these. If we get into a fight or we need to break out of somewhere, you know, kill someone, I'm your man. But a laser attacking the city's shield, I don't know where to chip in." (Ronon)
"Well that's why we're a team. Like the Fantastic Four.... It's a comic book where superheroes fight crime and stuff. See, I'd be Mr. Fantastic, Ronon would be The Thing, McKay would be the Human Torch, you'd be the Invisible Woman." (John)
"I am not invisible." (Teyla)
"No, no, and McKay's not a human torch." (John)
"Well, how come you get to be Mr. Fantastic?" (Teyla)
"Because he's the leader and I'm the.... I'm just saying that they were a cool team and we're a cool team and they use their strengths to, you know.... I'm gonna go check on McKay." (John)

"You wanna bring an asteroid towards us? Is that wise?" (Ellis)
"Well, today it is." (Rodney)


And there you have it, season three in all of its entirety. But  no breaks for us, nosireebob, I'll be back here on Monday to start up season four with "Adrift." I hope you'll join me.

Until then!

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