Wednesday, March 7, 2012

SGA Rewatch: Tabula Rasa

Ooh, we're in for a real treat on today's installment of the Stargate Atlantis Rewatch! We're talking about season four's "Tabula Rasa," which is pretty highly ranked among my favorite episodes of the series. Good stuff. Spoilers for the episode of course, and any that came before. Let's get to it!

What Happened

We open up on a very confused Rodney tied to a desk late at night. He looks around and calls out for help but receives no answer. On his lap is a tablet computer with a sticky note that says, "Press Here," so he does. A video appears on the screen. It is Rodney telling himself that he's sure he is confused but he needs to keep it together. He explains that he tied himself to the desk to make sure he'd see the message. The video tells him there is a knife under his chair that he can use to cut himself free, and then he needs to go and find "this woman." A picture of Teyla appears on the tablet. On the screen, Rodney tells himself that finding her is very important and the lives of several people, including himself, depend on doing so.

Fourteen hours earlier: Rodney stops by the botany lab to say hi to Katie. She has been out of the city for a while as part of an expedition to check out the mainland on their new planet. She shows him a new kind of cactus she discovered on her trip and says she wants to name it after him. He asks if she wants to get lunch and she says she would love to but she actually hasn't been feeling very well and was thinking about heading down to the infirmary. Rodney volunteers to walk her down there. When they arrive, Keller tells Katie she is the fourth person that day to complain of similar symptoms, and the second from the botany department. She points to a member of Katie's team, Doctor Baxter, who was admitted earlier. Keller takes blood samples from Katie, and Rodney as well, to check against the other patients.

As more patients come in with the same symptoms, Keller radios Sam and John in the control room to inform them of the situation and that she has decided to place the infirmary level under quarantine, just in case. She also points out that the majority of the people who have come in were part of the expedition to the mainland and asks Sam to isolate the rest of the people who were on that trip as a precaution. Another doctor comes by as Keller ends the call and informs her that she and he are both testing positive for what the others have. So is Rodney. So far, the most advanced case is just showing mild flu-like symptoms. They hope out loud that things don't get any worse than that.

Present: Rodney is walking through the city, alone, searching for Teyla. He finds a scientist slumped against the wall but when he shakes the man's shoulder, the scientist falls over and it is clear that he is dead. He hears a noise behind him and turns to find Radek approaching, clutching a pipe. Neither man seems to recognize the other. When Radek sees that Rodney is not a soldier, he lowers his guard and offers to let Rodney come hide with him. Rodney asks if he knows what is going on but he responds no, no one he has met does either. Radek says that all he knows is that he has to hide from the soldiers because anyone they find they are taking away. Rodney shows him the picture of Teyla and asks if he has seen her but he says no. Rodney wants to keep looking rather than go hide and Radek tells him that he is crazy before running away.

Ten hours earlier: Rodney goes to Keller to update her on his symptoms. He has started feeling a tingling in his knees. She doesn't seem to think it is anything relevant to the current situation though, since no one else is experiencing that particular symptom and Rodney is, well, Rodney. He heads back to Katie, who has been set up in a hospital bed. A nurse in a HAZMAT suit has just brought her a cup of tea. Rodney asks how she is feeling and she says her headaches are getting worse. She asks Rodney if he can have a nurse bring her some tea, and he points out the cup she just received. She had already forgotten about it.

There is a clangor on the other side of the infirmary. Overcome by dizziness, the nurse has fallen over. Keller notifies Sam and John. The nurse could have already been exposed to the sickness, but if not, then it has breached the HAZMAT protocol, which is bad news. Keller recommends that Sam suspend all gate travel immediately to prevent spreading whatever has infected Atlantis to other worlds. A little while later Rodney is sitting by Katie's bed while she sleeps. She wakes up and seems very confused. She doesn't know where she is or who Rodney is.

Present: Rodney is still searching for Teyla in an apparently abandoned city and he runs across Lorne and a group of marines. He tells them he doesn't want any trouble, but neither does Lorne, apparently. He shoots Rodney with a stunner and his men drag Rodney away, leaving his tablet behind. As they head down the corridor, Lorne takes a bottle of pills out of his pocket and pops some in his mouth.

Eight hours earlier: Keller is updating Sam and John on the situation once more. She has been conducting random blood samples throughout the base and it looks like the whole city has already been exposed to the sickness. That suggests that it has a pretty long incubation period, although once symptoms begin it seems to be only a few hours before memory loss occurs. She sends them some brain scans for Katie and a few others who have started to show signs of memory loss. It seems that the sickness is doing something in the brain that prohibits normal memory functions. She tells them that if they can't find a way to treat the sickness soon, the memory loss could become permanent. She is frantically searching the city's database to find information on the sickness. Sam asks Keller how she is feeling and she admits that her headaches started half an hour ago. Before they end the call, she tells them that based on her research, she suspects she is about to get a new wave of patients very soon and the infirmary is starting to run out of room. John pipes up that they can set up the mess hall to treat the patients, since it is big enough for pretty much everyone. He leaves to get started on that.

Present: Rodney wakes up in the mess hall, which is packed full of very confused people, including Keller herself. No one knows who they are or what is going on. All they know is that the soldiers keep bringing people in. Rodney realizes that he lost his computer but he still knows that he is looking for Teyla. He asks if anyone knows who she is, but no one does.

Earlier: John and Ronon are getting the mess hall converted to a temporary infirmary. Ronon asks why the city's quarantine protocol hasn't engaged yet, but John doesn't have an answer for him. Ronon asks John how he is doing and John says the headaches have started. Teyla approaches and John leaves. Ronon asks Teyla how she is feeling and she admits that she feels fine and hasn't started to show any symptoms at all yet. He says he hasn't either. Teyla suggests he goes to mention it to Keller, maybe she can do something with that information. He goes to see her and she realizes that he and Teyla might have an immunity to the sickness. She take a sample of blood from him to start running tests.

Present: In the mess hall, Rodney is writing something on his arm. Keller asks what he is doing and he says he needs to remember. He can already feel himself starting to forget. He stands up and announces that he needs to escape and asks if anyone has any suggestions for how he can do that. Most of the people gathered think he's crazy and that trying to escape the soldiers is futile. From the back of the crowd someone speaks up that Rodney's right. Sam pushes through and says that escaping is a good idea. She doesn't think the soldiers know any more than they do. She says they need a plan.

Earlier: Since it's become clear that the entire city has already been exposed to the sickness, the quarantine on the infirmary has been lifted. Rodney heads to the control room to help John and Sam with damage control. He suggests that they go ahead and order all non-essential personnel to head to the mess hall, since everyone is going to end up there anyway. John is already on it, he's sent Lorne and a group of marines out to gather everyone up and get them to the mess. Sam gives John and Rodney some stimulants and explains that one of the doctors says that the medicine will help stave off the symptoms of the sickness for a little while longer. John says he'll hand some out to Lorne and the marines as well (explaining the mystery pills we saw earlier). Sam tells them she's also asked Radek to remove the main dialing crystal from the stargate just to make sure that no one dials out in order to prevent spreading the sickness to other planets or to Earth.

Ronon goes to see Keller and to check if she's found anything from his blood sample. She is already starting to show signs of forgetfulness--she doesn't remember taking his sample or their earlier conversation. As they are talking, Katie's friend Doctor Baxter, the most serious case so far, crashes. Keller runs over to try to revive him but she and the other doctors are having a hard time remembering proper procedure. They do all they can but not quickly enough. Doctor Baxter dies on the table.

Present: Lorne and his men head to the mess hall, but when they open the door, everyone inside rushes out at once, pushing through the soldiers and breaking off in multiple directions. The soldiers get over their surprise and start stunning and chasing people down but Sam and Rodney manage to get away in the confusion. They begin to search for Teyla.

Earlier: John and Ronon are leading a group of scientists towards the mess and one of them is complaining that he doesn't want to go there. The memory loss is starting to set in to more people. John takes a wrong turn but Ronon gets him back on track, eyeing him sideways. John tells Sam they are starting to see resistance and informs her that he ordered Lorne and his men to pick up some stunners so they can bring in the people who try to put up a fight. Sam doesn't like the idea of firing on their own people, but she admits they might not have much of a choice, and they can't risk a bunch of amnesiacs wandering through the city. John takes Ronon to the armory to speak to Lorne, saying he has an idea.

Present: Sam and Rodney are wandering through the city, clearly lost and with no clue of how to find Teyla. They come across Radek, who has managed to pick up a stunner since we've seen him last. Rodney recognizes him from their last encounter. He sees that Radek is carrying something else and asks for it, it is his tablet. He turns it on and sees the picture of Teyla. Radek joins them as they continue to look for her, at least now knowing what she looks like.

Earlier: Keller finally managed to find a match for the bacteria that has infected the city. It is not exact, but it closely resembles a disease she found in Carson's records on the Athosians. After realizing that Teyla and Ronon were immune, she stopped looking in the database and checked those records instead. The bacteria closely resembles Kirsan Fever, a sickness that is common in children throughout the Pegasus galaxy (basically the Pegasus chicken pox). Ronon and Teyla both had it as children. Teyla says that Kirsan Fever doesn't affect adults though or cause memory loss, but Rodney quickly realizes the probable explanation for the differences. While the Ancients did visit that planet in the past, it did not have a stargate until the expedition brought Atlantis there. If the Ancients inadvertently brought that bacteria with them during their initial exploration, it would have been isolated from the rest of the galaxy for thousands of years and allowed to mutate into its current form. It is still close enough to the original strain that Teyla and Ronon are immune after their childhood afflictions and to prevent the city from recognizing it as a valid threat deserving of quarantine.

Keller says that while it is great that they've identified the sickness, it will still take months, which they decidedly don't have, to manufacture any type of cure. Teyla says that her people fight the original form of the sickness with a plant quite common in the galaxy. It is very effective and doesn't require much in order to fight the sickness. John offers to take a jumper and go collect some of the plant right away. There is a problem with that plan, however. They disabled the gate and they don't know where Radek put the dialing crystal. They try to radio him but get no answer. John calls Lorne to see if he has rounded Radek up. Lorne says that his men tried to take Radek to the mess but he fought back and managed to give them the slip.

John, Sam, Teyla, Kellar, and Ronon go looking for Radek but have no luck finding him. They are running out of time, however, and Rodney points out that if Radek is running away from Lorne, he probably is already experiencing memory loss and won't even remember where he put the crystal anyway. Ronon asks about the mainland and Teyla points out that the plant is pretty common, it is not unreasonable to hope they can find some there. Ronon accompanies John to go harvest some of the plant while Teyla stays behind with Rodney to work on a way to quickly distribute it to the city's population. As they head out, Ronon realizes that John's memory is starting to go. Rodney is not far behind him--Teyla needs to constantly remind him of what he is working on. He has figured out that he can aerosolize the plant and get it into the city's ventilation system. He just needs to write an override program to prevent the city's air scrubbers from cleaning the plant out of the air.

Present: Sam, Rodney, and Radek arrive at the infirmary in their search for Teyla. It has been pretty well torn apart, but there is no sign of her there. Before they can leave, they hear people approaching and quickly hide. Lorne and a group of soldiers come in and start looking around. They are hunting down more stimulants. They find them and leave, and once they are gone, Sam tells the others she has an idea.

Earlier: John and Ronon arrive at the mainland but John doesn't know what's going on. In the interest of saving time, Ronon shoots John with a stunner and ties him up in the jumper, then heads out to gather up the plant. In the city, Rodney has almost finished the program when he and Teyla hear a noise in the corridor. Teyla tells Rodney to continue his work and goes to investigate. She finds Lorne and his men. They try to take her, having forgotten everything but their orders to take anyone they find to the mess hall. Teyla fights back and manages to run away but Lorne and his men give chase. Lorne manages to stun her and they carry her off. Rodney, realizing something has gone wrong when she doesn't come back, picks up his camera and records the message to himself.

Present: Teyla has been taken to the brig. Lorne comes in to check on her, demanding answers. She's the only person he's met who knows what is going on, so he naturally assumes that she is the one behind the amnesia. She sees him take a pill and realizes that while he and his men are still more lucid than the other citizens, at this point the stimulants are only serving to make the soldiers paranoid and aggressive. As she tries to convince him of this, and that she is a friend, Lorne is stunned from behind. Sam, Rodney, and Radek appear and Teyla is grateful to see them. Sam explains that they followed Lorne to find her. Rodney manages to let her out and she leads them back to the lab.

On the mainland, Ronon returns to the jumper to find that John is gone. He drops off the plants and turns around to go look for John and John steps up from behind the jumper pointing a gun at Ronon. He wants answers and Ronon manages to talk John down and convince him that Ronon is on his side. They head back to the city. Teyla gets Rodney and the others to the lab but Rodney doesn't know what he is supposed to do. Teyla sits him at his computer and tells him that he had said he was almost done. He looks at the computer and presses "Enter" and the program begins to run. In the control room, the marines have picked up John's jumper returning to the city, but it didn't make radio contact so they assume it must be an attack rather than help. They go to confront the invaders and greet John and Ronon at gunpoint as they exit the jumper. Lorne arrives to find the confrontation and Ronon tells him to look in his vest pocket. Lorne does so and finds a picture of John with "this is your commanding officer, do what he says" written in his own handwriting. They acknowledge John as their commander and ask him what his orders are. Still not sure what's going on, John tells them to do whatever Ronon says.

Later on, John wakes up in the infirmary. Ronon and Teyla are there to greet him. They tell him that he has been out for about a day. Some people were hit a lot harder by the sickness than others. Teyla says Lorne would like to talk to John once he is feeling better, in order to apologize for the whole "crazy soldiers" thing. John says he's just glad Lorne still had the picture he gave the man and Ronon tells him that was a good idea. Teyla agrees, stating that many more people would have died had they not been able to convince Lorne and the soldiers to help them get the medicine distributed. Realizing that her words mean that people did die, and noticing the missing member of the team, John asks them where Rodney is. We see Rodney sitting next to Katie Brown's bed, also in the infirmary. Keller comes by and tells him to get some sleep, he hasn't left her side but has been waiting for her to wake up. She was one of the earliest cases to develop the amnesia so there is some concern about her memory loss being permanent. After Keller reassures Rodney that Katie is a fighter, Katie starts to stir and then wakes up. She is confused for a few moments but recognizes Rodney and tells him she is glad to see him. Relief washes over his face as he says he is glad to see her too.


Oh man, I love this episode, all of it. Granted, the idea of getting a group of characters in an isolated place and taking away their memories is not a new one (probably my all time favorite episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, funnily enough also titled "Tabula Rasa," uses a very similar plot device). Still, Atlantis managed to do it big--giving the entire city amnesia. I think what I love most about this spin on the story was that it all seemed pretty plausible for the most part. No one acted completely out of character as their memory loss set in, which made it all the more difficult to tell who was losing it and who was just distraught by the circumstances. There were less wacky hijinks than this kind of episode usually inspires, and more thoughtful exploration of how such a scenario might play out, especially when the people falling under the memory loss knew it was coming ahead of time.

I also really like the spin this episode gives on the possible consequences of exposing a new group to an otherwise common, and usually harmless, illness. While it could have easily been the people from Earth bringing some new innocuous disease to devastate the Pegasus galaxy, it stands to reason that the SGC would have strict protocol in place to prevent such an occurrence, especially after more than a decade in operation. But that a mutated strain of a Pegasus disease might so fell the inhabitants of Atlantis is clearly an unanticipated event. I think the writers really hit it out of the park on this one.

I also really enjoy that Ronon and Teyla got to be the heroes in this particular adventure. They got to showcase their competence and rebut the easy to fall into assumption that they are just primitive "natives," good only to fight and serve as guides. This episode really lets them shine and shows how much they both have come to care for the city and its inhabitants, as well as highlighting their own resourcefulness. That it was Ronon (who you'll remember used to date a doctor before Sateda was destroyed) who realized the significance of his and Teyla's apparent immunity really just tickles me pink.

So, mostly a stand-alone episode. There's not really a lot of backstory here, and I think the random newbie viewer could stumble into this and enjoy it quite a bit without any trouble following the events. But because it showcased so much of the cast and let many of them run a little free, it really feels like a classic and integral episode to the series as a whole. Win all around.

Favorite Quotes

"Oh, god. It's happening to me too, isn't it?" (Rodney)
"You have to remain calm." (Teyla)
"Oh, no no no no, you don't understand. My memory was lousy to start with. I mean, people's names, birthdays. I once forgot Mother's Day five years in a row." (Rodney)
"What is the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter?" (Teyla)
"Well, that's pi. It's three point one four one five nine two six five etcetera etcetera. It doesn't count--that's easy." (Rodney)
"You are a scientist Rodney. That is what you care about. That is what you will hang onto the longest." (Teyla)
"Right. Right. So...wait a minute. Doesn't that make me a really bad person?" (Rodney)
"It makes you the type of person who is going to save all our lives." (Teyla)

"I know you don't remember anything. You have no idea what's going on. You're confused, maybe even a little scared. I know I would be. But you have to trust me." (Ronon)
"...." (John)
"We're friends. The things we've been through together--I don't care what anyone says, no disease can wipe that away. Not completely." (Ronon)

"Now what?" (Sam)
"Well, now we just have to hope that Colonel Sheppard and Ronon completed their side of the mission." (Teyla)
"Right. Right... "(Rodney)
"Who?" (Sam, Rodney, and Radek)

"That's right, I am your commanding officer. should do what I say." (John)
"Yes, sir. What are your orders?" (Lorne)
"Do what he says." (John)


That wraps up another week. Join me on Monday when we'll get into some personal drama with "Missing."

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