Wednesday, May 23, 2012

SGA Rewatch: The Shrine

Hey there folks! It looks like it is time for another installment of the Stargate Atlantis Rewatch, huzzah! Today we'll be looking at season five's Rodney-centric episode "The Shrine." Spoilers for the episode, of course, and any that came before it.

What Happened

Things kick off with a sad looking Rodney sitting in front of a camera. "Day 15" is stamped on the bottom of the screen. Off screen we hear Jennifer tell him to begin and he says he doesn't remember where to start. She encourages him to start with his name and he states it, forgetting that he is a doctor. He says he isn't smart anymore. Jennifer reminds him that this is what they are trying to fix, although he seems less than convinced. He starts calling for John. The picture pauses and they pull back to show Jeannie watching, appalled that her brother is so ill and that they didn't call her sooner. She is with Woolsey, John, and Jennifer, who say they got in touch with her as soon as they were aware of how serious Rodney's condition was and brought her to Atlantis so that she could have a chance to say goodbye.

Jeannie watches Rodney from observation and asks John how this happened. He explains that their last mission encountered a bit of a problem. Flash back to them going to check on a team that had missed their check-in. There is muttering that Woolsey is being maybe a little too strict about check-in procedures. Woolsey tells the gate tech Amelia that he is going to head down to breakfast before John's team checks back in but before he can leave the gate activates. They don't get an IDC but John comes on the radio and tells them to not lower the shield. If they do, he says, the entire tower will be flooded. Woolsey asks what is going on and  John tells him that the valley holding the stargate is flooded, the gate is underwater (and Rodney pipes up that it is freezing). He asks them to send a jumper to come get them. The jumper gets ready to leave but the gate with the incoming wormhole won't shut down. Rodney realizes it is the pressure of the water against the event horizon keeping it open. They will have to wait the full window of 38 minutes for the gate to shut down automatically before Atlantis can redial and send the jumper through.

While they wait, John tries radioing the research team they had come to check on, which was located further up the valley, but they get no answer. Rodney starts shivering and they realize he is running a fever. By the time they get him back to the city he is passed out. Jennifer gets Rodney to the infirmary and everything seems to be more or less okay. She says she wants to keep him under observation for a little while longer, just in case, but he otherwise seems in good spirits.

Jump back to the present and Jeannie goes in to see Rodney. She goes to talk to him and he still seems to know who she is. She has a hard time keeping it together though in the wake of how unlike himself he is. She leaves the room so she can break down without upsetting him and Ronon finds her in the corridor and comforts her. He tells her there is a way that they can have the chance to say goodbye to him, the real him. There is a place they can take him. Jeannie asks why they haven't already gone and he tells her it is dangerous, but he is willing to risk it if she is.

The scene changes to another video interview with Rodney, this one stamped "Day 6." He seems more himself, griping about the silliness of the videos. Jennifer reminds him it was his idea, to keep track of how quickly his memory is deteriorating. He is listing details about himself and his life, tracking what he still remembers. He stops shortly into it though to tell Jennifer there is something he has been meaning to say and that he wants to say it now before he forgets. She tells him to go ahead. There is a knock on the door and Jennifer pauses the video, which she had been watching, as Jeannie comes in.

Jeannie tells Jennifer she needs all of the information she can get so Jennifer reads her in. There is a parasite in his brain, it has grown too large and too entangled in his brain to remove with surgery. She tells Jeannie that in the Pegasus galaxy, it is fairly common for the old to fall prey to this parasite. Jeannie asks why Rodney has it and Jennifer thinks that because of his weakened immune system when he was sick during/after the underwater gate mission, he was unable to fight it off. She explains that the parasite doesn't actually kill any brain cells but it does render them nonfunctional. But either way, as the parasite gets bigger, brain function continues to diminish until motor control and organ regulation are lost.

Jeannie says that Ronon's people call the disease "second childhood," and Jennifer gets defensive. She tells Jeannie that she is doing everything she is able to find a treatment. Jeannie asks why they didn't recognize the symptoms earlier if they are aware of the affliction. Jennifer explains that he was already showing the symptoms when he came back from the mission and she didn't see it. Flash back to Rodney in the infirmary eating a meal cheerily. Jennifer comes to visit and check up on him and he offers her his fruit cup. He flirts for a bit, calling it a dinner date. She laments to Jeannie that she was so taken in by the "new" Rodney that she didn't realize it was a symptom of something insidious. She promises that she hasn't given up on finding a cure and Jeannie brings up the place that Ronon mentioned and that he told her Jennifer is the one who won't let him go.

Jump back again and Ronon updates them about the place, explaining that it is on one of the original worlds of the Ancestors. He went there with his grandfather when he was a kid. John and Woolsey point out that the planet has since become a wraith outpost. Ronon says that has never stopped them before and John hesitates to give the other reason for not going. Teyla realizes he does not believe the shrine is real. John says that's not what he's saying but Woolsey says he is. Ronon protests that he's been there and Woolsey points out he was six at the time, and prone to believe more easily.

Jennifer is also very skeptical and Teyla says the Shrine of Talus is also known to her people as a temporary cure for the second childhood. Ronon insists that it works and Woolsey tells them about his father having Alzheimer's and having a moment of absolute clarity like what Ronon is describing, he thinks that maybe that is what Ronon saw. Ronon says he owes this to Rodney and he is going even if he has to take him there himself. Teyla says she will go too. John says hold on, the wraith presence is too much, they need to all go. It seems that sold on the idea or not, he will not let his team go without him. Jennifer pipes up that this is all well and good but Rodney isn't going anywhere without her permission, which she won't give until they talk to him first.

They go to see Rodney. Ronon tells him he wants to take him to a place that will give him a chance to be himself again for a little while. He seems to think about it. John says they don't really know what will happen, but they are willing to try if he is and he says "okay." Jennifer wants to tell him about the wraith even though the others think he doesn't need to know. Jennifer says she is still working on a way to treat him but if he leaves then it is over, she can't help him anymore. They realize he doesn't understand, not well enough to make a decision. She says that means that the ultimate decision is up to her, and she still hasn't given up on trying to cure her patient.

Back in the present Jeannie is not happy about this decision. She asks Jennifer how long she has been working on a solution without any results. Then asks how long he has left. She knows Jennifer has done everything she can and feels responsible and wants to keep trying, but now that she's here, the decision falls to her as Rodney's next of kin. She says they are going.

We change to another video entry, this one dated "Day 1." Rodney cockily rattles off his list of credentials and the purpose of the log. There is a little bit of memory loss evident already, but it is something he can laugh about rather than be frightened by.

John and the team load up to take Rodney to the shrine. Keller and Jeannie go with them. Woolsey tells John that if it works to say goodbye to Rodney for him. They send a MALP through to distract the wraith and the team takes the jumper through and cloaks it to avoid detection. They get underway to the shrine.

Flash back to Rodney running through Atlantis in his jammies screaming John's name. He makes it to John's room and bangs on the door waking him up. Rodney woke up alone and freaked out, worried that he had already lost everything of himself. John reassures him and offers to take him back to his room but he doesn't really feel like going back to sleep. John grabs some beer from his fridge and they go sit on a pier to drink and hang out for a bit. Rodney is still mostly himself at this point but clearly starting to slip and he confides his fear about the whole situation to John. He tells John he wants to say goodbye now. John flat out refuses saying that he will be there right until the end. They share a laugh and kick back.

In the present, John smiles at the memory and they approach their landing area, which is thankfully clear of wraith. They help Rodney to a cave behind a waterfall. Rodney freaks out a little when they arrive and Jennifer says she is picking up faint energy readings on her scanner, radiation of some sort. Teyla finds a tablet engraved in the wall with Ancient script and suggests Rodney stand closer to it. Jennifer thinks it is the source of the radiation, but they move Rodney over anyway. He struggles but once they get him over there he looks up and sees Jeannie. He is clearly confused but now it is because he is back to himself and he doesn't know what the heck is going on.

We see the "Day 10" video log and Rodney is struggling to remember his duties in Atlantis. Jennifer tries to reassure him that it is okay but he is extremely frustrated. He can barely remember Atlantis and Pegasus galaxy. Jennifer asks if he wants to stop and he says he keeps seeing a face whenever he closes his eyes. He thinks it is his mother but he doesn't recognize her. She is saying words but he doesn't know them.

In the cave Rodney starts demanding explanations. He realizes that he is better and then gets mad when they tell him he's not, that he only gets a day and then he dies. He says fine he'll just stay there but they tell him that's not an option. He is pissed, saying this was a bad idea, voicing pretty much all of the same concerns that Jennifer brought up when objecting to the plan. But then he calms down and asks if they have a plan for the day. Jennifer is still perplexed, she really didn't expect it to work. She shows him her readings and she, Rodney, and Jeannie start theorizing about what is actually going on.

On a hunch, Jennifer starts to lead Rodney out of the cave and as they get to the entrance he doubles over in pain. She hurries him back to the tablet and explains that she is pretty sure that the radiation is causing the parasite to contract in order to protect itself, which is what is allowing Rodney to be himself. John asks what this means and she says it's a sure bet leaving the chamber will kill him, since as soon as they get away from the radiation the parasite will rapidly expand back into his brain. They can't take him back to Atlantis. She steels herself and says they are going to have to find a way to operate on him and remove the parasite right there.

John and Jeannie pull Jennifer away for an explanation. She tells them that they have never encountered this kind of radiation before, which is why she didn't think to try it on Rodney. The parasite must be specifically sensitive to it, which is why the shrine works. It also explains why most people can only stay for a day (the radiation isn't harmless) and die soon after their visit (the parasite comes back with a vengeance). She wants to radio Atlantis to send a jumper with the equipment she needs to operate but John says they can't. There's no way the wraith would fall for the same trick twice and they can't risk alerting the wraith to their presence in the shrine.

He asks her bare minimum what she needs to operate. He has an idea and he takes Jennifer back to the jumper, telling the others to keep Rodney as far away from the radiation as he can stand. The jumper has a set of power tools that he thinks will work, and they can use the life signs detector (modified) to find the parasite to remove it. It's a long shot but it is their only shot. Rodney is resistant to the idea (his hypochondria has returned in full form as well as the rest of his personality) but they manage to talk him into it.

"Day 18" of the video log and Rodney is saying bye to his team members, apologizing for being mean "sometimes." It is extremely heartbreaking.

Jennifer and John prep Rodney for the surgery. The rest of the team and Jeannie watch tensely as she gets on with it. Jeanie is worried that she took too long modifying the life signs detector, she is afraid there's not enough time left to operate before the radiation completely kills Rodney's immune system. As Jennifer opens up Rodney, she realizes the parasite is moving. It instinctively wants away from the radiation and they've just opened up an escape hatch. That makes their job a lot easier.  It crawls out and Jennifer tosses it aside where a waiting Ronon shoots it. A follow-up scan reveals his brain to be clear.

Back in the infirmary Jeannie is waiting for Rodney to wake up and Jennifer stops by. While the two women are talking he wakes up and everything seems to be okay. Rodney is back to his old self. We see the "Day 6" video log again and Rodney gets to the something he had wanted to tell Jennifer. It turns out it was "I love you." Jennifer watches the video in her lab and smiles a small happy smile.


Man, if only there was a real-life cure for Alzheimer's that was so simple. This is such a heartbreaking episode. All of the acting in it is absolutely fantastic and it is full of wonderful character moments and reinforcement that the team loves Rodney and is willing to do anything to keep him alive and whole. I also thought the science of it was kind of interesting as well. I wonder how accurate any of that actually was. I mean, we're dealing with alien parasites, so who knows.

It was wonderful having Jeannie in Atlantis again, and I like how easily she gets on with the rest of the team. She's family to them just as much as Rodney is, which is so awesome to me. Gah. I really really wish they had found a way to make her character a bigger part of the show!

I also loved Ronon's insistence on taking Rodney to the shrine, getting that chance at goodbye. The fact that he felt like he owed it to Rodney was very interesting, and I can see where he was coming from on that. But it was also extremely evident that he was concerned and that he didn't want to lose his friend. The fact that he had already lost one clearly cherished family member to this illness only spurred him on more to do what could be done for Rodney.

Then there is the scene with John and Rodney on the pier, and the fact that John is the one Rodney seemed to be clinging to the hardest. Their friendship so often appears to be an antagonistic one that moments like these, where it is clear just how close they have grown and how important they are to each other, especially given John's emotional issues, that just makes these moments all that much sweeter.

Of course, then we come to Jennifer. I love her so much but she annoyed me so much in first half of this episode. I get that she's skeptical and she doesn't believe in magical cures, but I am honestly surprised that she was so quick to dismiss the phenomenon of the shrine after everything she's seen and experienced since coming to Atlantis. Especially when Ronon had been there before and Teyla was also aware of it. That...that's the point when, if I'm in her position, you start looking for the scientific explanation of the shrine. Still, she wasn't so stubborn as to not go along when they went, and once it was clear that the shrine was working, she was damn quick on the uptake about figuring out why so they could make the remission last. I also think, after seeing Rodney's reaction once he came back to himself, that maybe Jennifer was being a little hyper-skeptical precisely because Rodney couldn't be, if that makes sense. She was trying to act on his behalf and to not make any decisions that he would not have agreed with.

Also, it was very clear she didn't want to lose him. That "I love you" may feel like it comes out of left field at this point in the development of their romance, but when you think about it, it kind of makes sense. I mean, let's be honest, how long does it take you to really realize you love someone once you start seeing them in a romantic light? It's just that we usually take a long time to say it because we want to be sure the other person feels the same way. It is made clear in the episode that they haven't really been dating exactly but that they both felt like they were headed that way. Looking back at the last few episodes, you can see them growing closer to each other, and despite Jennifer's much sunnier disposition, they are actually frighteningly similar people. Anyhoo, so to me, that little bit just seems like a piece of the puzzle clicking into place rather than a random romance hastily shoehorned in because someone was trying to force the issue.

All in all, a pretty good episode and a wonderful character study of Rodney. I like that the last few episodes seem to have been focusing on reestablishing the team and their relationships with each other and where the newbies (Woolsey and Jennifer) fit into the equation as well. Build that up for us, and it means that when the season's big conflicts start emerging we will have a much easier time watching how these people work together.

Favorite Quotes

"I used to be the smartest person ever and...and now, and now I'm not." (Rodney)

"I'm telling you that in a matter of seconds I saw my grandfather go from someone who couldn't speak his own name to the man that taught me how to track and hunt." (Ronon)
"You learned to hunt when you were six years old?!" (Woolsey)

"Oh, I thought you didn't believe?" (Ronon)
"Is that a prerequisite?" (Jennifer)

"John, John, I've never been so scared. I'm slipping away, I'm slipping away and I don't know how to stop myself." (Rodney)
"Look, you're still here alright? You're still here." (John)
"Right. I am." (Rodney)

"How about we say goodbye now?" (Rodney)
"No." (John)
"What do you mean, no?" (Rodney)
"I mean I'm not saying goodbye." (John)
"Well I'm saying it anyway!" (Rodney)
"Well I'm not listening!" (John)
"Yeah, but pretty soon I won't even know who you are!" (Rodney)
"Then I'll remind you." (John)
"Yeah, but I don't want you to see me like that. I want you to remember me as I am, as your genius friend, not as some..." (Rodney)
"Not happening." (John)
"Please." (Rodney)
"You're stuck with me Rodney, just accept it." (John)

"Jeannie?" (Rodney)
"I'm here Mer." (Jeannie)
"Yeah. Obviously." (Rodney)

"Well. You can start with: what is this place?" (Rodney)
"It's the Shrine of Talus." (Ronon)
"That means nothing to me." (Rodney)
"It's a planet of the Ancestors. We brought you here." (Ronon)
"Thank you Mr. Information! Look, since when did he become Ronon the Explainer?" (Rodney)

"Look, my brain is not some new deck off the back of your house!" (Rodney)
"I'm not the one doing the surgery!" (John)
"Yeah. (To Jennifer) And as my parting advice, you need to stop letting these guys talk you into stupid things!" (Rodney)


Well, there you have it. I'll be right here on Monday with another episode, "Whispers." I hope you'll join me!

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