Well, here we are, come to the final episode of season four in our Stargate Atlantis Rewatch. Join me as I talk about "The Last Man." Spoilers for the episode and all that came before, as always.
Things kick off with John meeting Lorne off world in front of a stargate. Lorne asks how the meeting went and John says that his contact never showed. Lorne is not surprised, as the meeting was with a Genii (Lorne has good reason not to trust them, completely aside from the very valid reasons he provides to John). Technically the Genii are still allied with Atlantis and (Ladon having sworn he had no part in that mess with Harmony) John thought he would see if they had any intel on Michael to pass on. John decides to head back to Atlantis to report and orders Lorne to hang back for a few hours just in case the contact does show after all.
John steps through the gate to find the gate room completely deserted, extremely warm, and lit with a very red light. He tries to raise someone on his radio to figure out what's going on but gets no answer. He heads to a nearby door, which has to be pried open manually, and steps outside. On the balcony he finds the city in the middle of a desert, most of it completely buried in sand.
At a loss for an explanation, he heads back inside and tries his radio again, checking the control room and finding the city without power. He starts to pick up a garbled transmission and with a little bit of fiddling a voice answers him. He is quite relieved to hear that it is Rodney. Rodney, for his part, seems relieved that "it" worked but does not elaborate. He asks John to describe where he is and what he's seeing and John tells Rodney about the deserted gate room and desert. Rodney makes a comment about the planet's climate undergoing some serious changes, then tells John to get to the hologram room. John goes but points out that the city has no power. Rodney says that is no problem, the hologram room has an independent energy source. John activates the hologram and Rodney appears in front of him, looking much older than John remembers (though still with all of his hair). Holo!Rodney explains to John that when he stepped through the gate to go back to Atlantis, his wormhole was intercepted by a solar flare and he was sent forty-eight thousand years into the future.
While John tries to digest this surprising news, Holo!Rodney tells him that he took advantage of some recent developments in hologram technology to create the program that John is interacting with. It is hooked up to the city's sensors so Holo!Rodney can see and hear and go anywhere in the city with John. He is also designed to think and respond like the original Rodney would have as well, and seems to have all of Rodney's memories up until the program was installed in Atlantis. Holo!Rodney explains that there is nowhere near enough power in the generator to dial Earth, and this far in the future there's no telling what humanity is like or the state of either galaxy. But that's okay, because the purpose of the Holo!Rodney program is to get John back to his own time. Now that John is here, Holo!Rodney wants to put him in stasis (for seven or eight hundred years, a thousand tops) while he looks for a solar flare capable of sending John back within two months of his original disappearance. It has to be within two months, Holo!Rodney says, or it will be too late.
They make their way to the stasis chambers and Holo!Rodney explains to John that after he disappeared things in the Pegasus galaxy started to go very badly and just kept on getting worse. Two months after John disappeared they finally found Teyla, but she was dead. She had already had her baby, and apparently once that had happened Michael had no more need of her. If they can get John back before the baby is born, however, armed with the address of where Teyla was found in the original timeline, they have a chance of changing everything. With the baby, Michael was able to perfect his process of creating the wraith/human hybrids and managed to create an army vastly superior to any other force in the galaxy.
Once his army was large enough, he went to work stepping up distribution of the Hoffan virus throughout the galaxy. Jennifer and her staff worked diligently to treat anyone who fell ill and to find a cure, but they couldn't even hold the illness off, let alone stop it. Atlantis did what it could to fight back and try to prepare the human population of the galaxy but it wasn't nearly enough.
As more and more humans either died or became immune to feeding, infighting between the wraith increased dramatically and the whole population was severely weakened. Michael took advantage of this to wipe them out and within a year had all but managed to do so. Once they were dealt with, he visited all of the worlds that had already been struck by his virus and culled the strongest members of the surviving population. Those people he turned into hybrids. The rest he killed.
With Teyla's baby Michael was able to sweep through the galaxy, adding to his army of hybrids and all but wiping out the human and wraith populations at the same time. Holo!Rodney is convinced that if John can save Teyla and prevent Michael from getting her baby, he can prevent all of that from happening.
On their way to the stasis chambers they encounter a corridor completely filled with sand. There is no way through it and Holo!Rodney is at a loss for how to proceed. He wasn't even sure Atlantis would last long enough for John to arrive, he says. There was no way he could have predicted the ocean drying up and the city being buried beneath the sand. John says if he goes a few levels up there is another way to the stasis chambers. He just has to go half a mile across the plaza outside. Of course, at the moment there is a heck of a sandstorm raging outside, with winds gusting at fifty miles an hour. John gets to his exit and then hunkers down to wait for the storm to subside. While he waits, he asks Rodney what happened to the others.
Holo!Rodney tells John that once Michael started to rise in power the I.O.A. really didn't want to commit the extra resources to trying to protect the entire human population of the galaxy. Sam, however, wouldn't take no for an answer and talked them into giving her their newest ship, the Phoenix. With it, she and her crew started to attack Michael's fleet in a guerrilla style strategy, hitting his ships as they approached to attack human worlds and inflicting massive damage before bugging out. For a while it seemed to be helping but eventually Michael was able to leak some intel about an upcoming attack and lured Sam into an ambush. The Phoenix took heavy damage and Sam beamed her crew down to the planet, intending to follow shortly. She was unable to, however, and since she and her ship were already doomed, she decided to make her last act count. She sacrificed herself to engage in a kamikaze run that took out three of Michael's hive ships in one blow.
After telling John about Sam's death, Holo!Rodney leaves for a while to input their new solar flare requirements to get John back to his time. When he returns he tells John he found out what happened to the ocean. It turns out the sun in this system is dying, turning into a red dwarf. As it expands, the planet will keep getting hotter and hotter, eventually burning the atmosphere off. Unfortunately, it looks like that will happen within five hundred years at the most. Which mean that when John steps out of stasis, he will be instantly killed. John asks if the generator powering the hologram program and gate can be used to fire up the city's shields, which would maintain life support within the city at least. Holo!Rodney says it is feasible, but with the amount of time they are talking about there won't be nearly enough power to make it last long enough and still do what is necessary to get him home. John then asks if they can't just use the sun's power. The city has all kinds of solar panels and Holo!Rodney realizes they can use those to power the shield. With the sun just getting bigger and bigger, it will be more than enough energy for what they need.
John realizes that the sandstorm is not going to be dying down any time soon. He isn't in very good shape so he decides to go ahead and brave it to get to the stasis pods. As he walks through it he asks Holo!Rodney to tell him about what happened to Ronon. Holo!Rodney explains that after losing John and then finding Teyla dead, Ronon couldn't say on Atlantis anymore. He convinced Sam to let him go offworld and start recruiting his own strike force to act against Michael and his hybrids. He even talked Sam into providing some weapons and other equipment for the cause. He trained up human volunteers into a very effective force, but they were still fighting a losing battle. Michael was still too powerful. Eventually, Ronon got word of a wraith lab that Michael was using to create hybrids and decided to destroy it. He and a team managed to infiltrate the facility when it was pretty understaffed. As they made their way through, Ronon ran into an old acquaintance: Todd. Todd revealed that he is there for the same reason as Ronon, to destroy the facility. Before they could get any further, however, a wraith ship arrived and Ronon's men warned him they were about to be overrun. Ronon ordered his team back to the gate and he and Todd remained behind to finish their mission. They did manage to destroy it, but not before they were trapped inside, dying in the explosion.
John finally makes it to the stasis chamber and Holo!Rodney has a panel slide open with a data crystal inside containing all of their information on Michael and where they found Teyla. John takes the crystal and turns to Holo!Rodney, saying he never told John what happened to Rodney. Clearly he survived. Holo!Rodney sadly tells John that is only because he quit.
After Carter's death the I.O.A. put Woolsey in charge of Atlantis and ordered that the expedition's first priority was to defend the city. All humanitarian efforts (helping out victims of the plague, trying to protect the galaxy's humans, fighting Michael, working on a cure for the virus) were suspended. Basically, the I.O.A. decided to leave the rest of the galaxy to Michael and just focus on keeping Atlantis out of his hands. They believed that, knowing its capabilities, he would be unwilling to attack it directly. When Jennifer was told to stop helping the galaxy and to give up her research on a cure, she couldn't handle it. She refused to just sit by while people all over the galaxy were dying and ended up resigning from the SGC. Rodney agreed with her and he decided to leave the program as well. The two of them spent most of their time together on the journey home aboard the Daedalus, and by the time they got back to Earth they were more than just colleagues and friends.
At this point in the story John interrupts Holo!Rodney--not only to express surprise at Rodney and Jennifer hooking up but also to point out that if he changes the timeline, that might not even ever happen. Holo!Rodney says that is what he is counting on, and when John looks puzzled, he continues. They had both gotten new jobs and were starting to settle in to life on Earth when Jennifer became sick. Regular doctors were unable to diagnose what she had but she had her own suspicions. They found themselves back at the SGC, where the program's doctors confirmed that she had developed complications due to repeated exposure to the Hoffan virus. Her internal organs were all shutting down and there was nothing to be done for her. She died not long after her diagnosis.
At a loss, Rodney came up with a crazy plan. He had already long-since figured out that John's disappearance had sent him into the future and even had a decent guess of how far, not that anyone else at the SGC actually believed his theory. He realized if he could come up with a way to get John back, he could change the timeline and prevent all of it from ever happening. He spent the next twenty-five years working on a way to get John back to the present after going to the future, but in the end he finally came up with the solution. Of course, once he had it he realized he had a small problem. He would have to actually go to Atlantis to set things up, and he didn't exactly have many friends left at the SGC. Of course, he only needed one. He went to visit Lorne, now a general and in charge of the SGC, to tell him about his plan. Lorne didn't really believe that Rodney could change the timeline like he claimed, and wasn't sure they had the right even if he could, but in the end he decided to give Rodney a chance and let him go back to Atlantis. So Rodney installed his hologram program and there it remained, waiting for the day when John would step through the gate again.
With all of the stories told and all of the plans in place, John steps into the stasis pod to wait for the solar flare that can send him back home.
In present day Atlantis, the gate activates and Chuck exclaims that it is John's IDC. Sam and Rodney run to the gate (along with an armed group of soldiers, just in case). John steps through and is very relieved to see Sam. He asks how long he has been gone and she tells him twelve days and again he is very relieved. It worked, and he is in time. He then tells them that he knows where Teyla is and they are on a clock. Despite the urgency of the matter, Sam insists on clearing John medically (to make sure he is who he says he is) and having Rodney verify his story about the solar flare. Once both of those are done, however, she is ready to listen to him.
John's team and Lorne's, as well as several marines, load for bear and head to the location where Teyla was found in the alternate timeline. It is a warehouse on another abandoned world. They get there and infiltrate the building, splitting up into groups to search more quickly. Rodney, accompanied by Lorne, finds a data terminal and gets to work powering it up and hacking it to see if he can get any information on where Teyla is. John and Ronon, meanwhile, find a lab that John recognizes from Holo!Rodney's description of where Teyla had been found. They find evidence to suggest that it has been set up to house a baby, but it is currently unoccupied. John realizes that they are early but knows that this is where Michael will bring Teyla to have her baby. Rodney gets into the terminal and declares that he's found the mother lode of information when the screen suddenly blanks out and then a countdown appears. Lorne realizes it is a booby trap and radios for everyone to get out of there immediately. Everyone scrambles to exit the building but it is too late, an explosion goes off and the building collapses, with everyone still inside.
Well. That's certainly one way to end a season.
I actually really love this episode, and not just because there is so much Lorne (and he ends up in charge of the SGC, and sympathetic to Rodney). This is just a really powerful episode. It gives many characters a chance to shine and has a lot of emotional resonance. Watching so many of the citizens of Atlantis, even Sam who is a relative newbie, give up everything and fight to their dying breath to stop Michael, all while the I.O.A. blithely decides the rest of the Pegasus galaxy can go to hell, makes some extremely powerful television.
We get shown a bleak future that has a very real chance of happening if something isn't done in the present. Michael gets upgraded to serious baddie here, and we begin to see just how dangerous he truly is. I am actually a little surprised that the I.O.A. could believe that once he had conquered the rest of the galaxy he would just let Atlantis--and Earth--alone. There's no way he wouldn't have come at them with everything he had, and by just stepping back and letting him take over the rest of Pegasus, they were only letting him gather as much ammunition as he needed to do just that.
I also really like that it's not all about John. While we're told that it all went to hell after John disappeared, it's not because of that. Sending John back to the present isn't the answer because John being there is the only way to stop it. It's the answer because knowing that John will be in the future gives them a chance to send back information they never would have had otherwise, which will allow them to have a chance at prevailing. It's never explicitly said, but I think the implication is strong that if John hadn't gone into the future, they would still have found Teyla too late and all of that would have happened anyway, just with John also dying in the fight more than likely. That solar flare was an insane stroke of luck in one way, because it afforded them with a real opportunity to change things.
It's all wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey. I get shivers just thinking about it. I love it.
After the last episode's focus on how sometimes people do get left behind no matter how hard you try, this episode stands out in sharp contrast. Rodney gave up everything to get John back when everyone in two galaxies had given up on him. And he succeeded against impossible odds. Of course, we don't find out if it was worth it or not, what with the whole building blowing up with everyone inside. But we just need to be patient and we will have our answers.
"All right. This is either the most elaborate practical joke of all time, or I'm in serious trouble here." (John)
"You look, uh...different." (John)
"That's because you remember me the way I was." (Holo!Rodney)
"What, you mean earlier today?" (John)
"This is a practical joke!" (John)
"No, I'm afraid not. Freak accident. Sorry." (Holo!Rodney)
"You're telling me I just traveled forty-eight thousand years into the future in ten seconds?" (John)
"I know. It is kind of cool when you think about it, isn't it?" (Holo!Rodney)
"Surfing a thirty foot wave in Waimei is cool. Dating a supermodel is cool. This is not cool!" (John)
"You intend to complete your mission." (Todd)
"Damned right." (Ronon)
"As do I. I was going to write an elaborate program designed to slowly create a fatal error in the primary capacitor, but I doubt there'll be time for that now." (Todd)
"I was just gonna blow it up." (Ronon)
"In the past twenty-five years, did you happen to notice who won the Super Bowl?" (John)
"Oh, uh, afraid not." (Holo!Rodney)
"Oh. Stanley Cup? World Series?" (John)
"I was never really much of a sports fan." (Holo!Rodney)
"Right. Had to ask." (John)
"Look, um, I know you've already been debriefed about the future events--all the things we were hoping to avoid--but there's just one more thing I need to know." (Rodney)
"Did I still have hair?" (Rodney)
Wow, that's a wrap on season four. We'll find out how things play out on Monday when we kick off season five with "Search and Rescue." See you then!