Things kick off with a crime scene out in the desert. A reporter photographs the victim and stops when an old muscle car pulls up. John steps out and she greets him as Detective Sheppard. He is very wrinkled and unshaven, with a fresh cut under one eye as if he's been in a recent tussle. He seems annoyed to see her and moves to greet the officer on the scene and get the info dump. We learn this is yet another in a string of similar killings. The body is revealed to be almost mummified with a chest wound matching the other bodies they've found so far. The officer also notes that the vehicle used to dump the body was leaking radiator fluid.
The body is moved to the Las Vegas morgue and John gives the man's ID to the coroner, who turns out to be Jennifer. The two do not act as if they know each other. In fact, she seems rather irritated by his questions, letting him know he'll get a copy of her report when the autopsy is done. He tells her about the other bodies, and she says she read those reports. She gives him a clear dismissal and he throws out one last piece of information, the chest wounds on the previous victims all had traces of radioactive residue. He clearly wants her to check for the same in the newest case. He asks her name again and he expresses frustration that he's had eight victims in three months and now the lead coroner has been taken off the case and replaced with someone he's never met. He's not happy about it. She suggests maybe someone just wanted fresh eyes on the case.
As John leaves he makes a phone call asking someone to give him information about anyone treated for radiation poison within the last three months. It seems like he's got a source inside a hospital.
Elsewhere on the strip, a man is in a rundown hotel room being sick. He picks up the phone and resumes a conversation with someone we can infer is his wife and tells her the doctors don't know what's wrong with him. He ends the call and tries to sleep but his neighbor is blasting some very heavy music. He bangs on the wall calling for the neighbor to turn it down but gets no response. He drags himself outside and next door, knocking to ask in person. The door opens and we get only a small glimpse of the occupant of the next room, though we do see the back of his hand--it is a wraith feeding hand.
John goes over files in his office, looking over photos of the other victims. His captain stops by, asking what happened to his eye, and introduces a visitor, Richard Woolsey of the FBI. John instantly goes on the defensive, worried that he is about to lose his case. Woolsey says the jurisdiction hasn't moved yet, and he's not at liberty to disclose the FBI's interest, but he would appreciate John's cooperation. John says he's got nothing. No leads. Woolsey is disappointed. He notes that the killer has stopped hiding the bodies of his victims and wonders if the killer is either getting sloppy or more bold. While they are talking the coroner's report on the latest victim comes in and John asks why it shows no radioactive isotopes. It's strange to him that the eighth body wouldn't have them when the first seven did. He excuses himself, saying he has to go see a nurse.
At the hospital he gets a report from the nurse he had called about someone who was treated the day before with symptoms that could have been radiation poisoning. It didn't stand out at the time but when John started asking, the nurse put the pieces together. She gives John the address to the guy's motel and John heads out to try to talk to him. The hotel clerk says the man checked out the day before.
In a hotel room we see a wraith undergo a heavy cosmetic routine to make himself look human (and seriously goth). He makes to head out to the night and we see a desiccated body on the floor as he walks out, the man from the night before, presumably. In the parking lot, John sits in his car watching the hotel room next to the wraith's, where his radiation victim was staying. He watches the wraith leave with interest and sees him walk by an old school aluminum trailer.
Back to the strip at night and the wraith wades through the crowds and into a hotel. He strolls through the casino past the blackjack and roulette players and heads upstairs to a private poker game. The table is full of assorted Vegas types, and the wraith sits next to a few goodfellas as he plays, a large pile of chips stacked in front of him. He tries to ignore his opponents and one of the goodfellas takes offense, says it's like the guy can read minds or something.
John comes in and joins the game, meeting the wraith's eyes as he sits down. The wraith clearly senses something is up with John but they just play, eventually it comes down to the two of them. John folds and the wraith gathers up his winnings to leave. The goodfella says he can't leave now and tries to stop him. The wraith throws him out of the window and jumps over the table. He runs and John gives pursuit. Someone takes a few shots at the wraith but it doesn't even slow him down. John chases him through the hotel and out the kitchens to a roof. The wraith jumps over the side and when John runs to check on him he watches in disgruntled amazement as his suspect gets up from the several story fall and just walks away.
John goes back to the motel and has the manager let him in to the wraith's room. They find the body of the man from next door and John also finds a bag full of cash. He leaves, taking the cash with him, and notices that where the trailer had been is a puddle of fluids. He remembers the comment from the officer about the murderer's vehicle being leaky. Before he can go a line of black SUVs pulls up to the motel and out steps Woolsey.
John tells him he's found another body and was just about to call it in. Woolsey says he heard about what happened in the casino. John asks if they are following him and Woolsey says there is a satellite locator on his car. He invites John to join them for a drive. Realizing he doesn't really have a choice, John accepts. The SUVs head to a facility in the desert and Woolsey admits that he's not really FBI.
Inside Woolsey steps out of a room and Rodney walks up to him. Woolsey tells Rodney that John won't sign and Rodney says they should tell him anyway, he might be able to help them. Woolsey doesn't seem so sure but Rodney asks that he at least get to try. Woolsey nods and Rodney goes in.
He introduces himself and says he needs to ask John a few questions about his investigation and contact with the suspect. John says he's not going to sign anything and Rodney says that John needs to understand that if he doesn't cooperate, Rodney has the power to ruin his life. John says Rodney doesn't realize how little he has to lose and Rodney quips that he knows everything about John. He runs down a list of notables: never been married, only thing he owns is his car, broke and seriously in debt before you take into account his gambling problem, took him three tries to pass his detective exam, only rarely ever solves a case, and the charges hardly ever stick because he doesn't exactly follow the book when investigating. He doesn't have a partner because no one can stand to work with him. Rodney asks if he is getting it right and John covers his surprise and quips that he also like spearmint gum. Rodney hands him a pack. Rodney then goes into John's service record and his dishonorable discharge after the failed rescue attempt he underwent against orders. It is clear that John is a washout.
Rodney tells him that he once met another version of John and he was very different. He tells John that nothing is what he thinks it is and John says that doesn't surprise him. Rodney continues, trying to explain that they aren't the bad guys, they just want to keep the planet safe. John doesn't really buy it. Rodney starts to tell John about the stargates and multiple realities, and yes, even aliens. John tries to play it off as a big joke but he realizes that Rodney is completely serious.
The wraith, meanwhile, is hiding out in his trailer. He relives a battle with a hive ship over Earth. He had been in a dart and it crashed after the hive was destroyed.
Rodney takes John on a tour of the facility, Area 51, and shows him the control chair. He explains about Ancients and stargates. John asks if there are more aliens and Rodney says, yes, lots, but thankfully they are in another galaxy and for now don't know where Earth is. Next he takes John to a hangar and shows him the wreckage of several darts. Rodney explains that the murderer is an alien, a wraith. They got most of the stragglers after the attack on Earth but one apparently got through.
Rodney explains that his team usually operates out of Atlantis in the Pegasus galaxy but was called back to Earth to help with the situation due to their expertise with the wraith. John asks what they normally look like, since he has only seen his suspect disguised as a human. Rodney takes him to a cell and shows him a wraith in captivity. It's Todd. A very addled Todd who keeps reciting sort of poetry. He calls John by name and Rodney tells him that wraith can get in your head.
In the corridor Jennifer walks by and greets Rodney. John connects the dots and asks about the radiation residue. Rodney admits it was in the eighth victim as well. Jennifer was put in place to try to help cover up the fact that an alien was going around killing people, but John found the wraith before they could do that. He says with serial killers you are supposed to look for the victims that haven't been found yet, which is how he found the motel. Rodney says that the radiation sickness the man was suffering was likely due to exposure to being so close to the wraith. He comments that they didn't think to look for bystanders accidentally exposed.
Rodney explains that the wraith himself isn't radioactive, but he has something that is. It's unfortunately shielded from them though. Rodney thinks the reason the target is feeding so frequently is to counteract the effects of the radiation. He is building a device of some sort, though they don't know what it is meant to do. The wraith managed to salvage some parts from the crashed dart before they got to it. It also explains why he is playing cards--that way he can win untraceable money to buy what he needs for his device.
They get to a briefing that Radek is giving the staff about a possible worst-case scenario. Radek thinks it is a bomb but Rodney doesn't. He thinks that the device is intended to signal up a flare for the other wraith to see and to tell them the location of Earth. They quibble over this theory while John watches. Radek doesn't think that's what the wraith is doing because it would require way less power than what he is trying to assemble. Rodney says he does if he wants to reach the Pegasus galaxy and hope to be rescued in his lifetime. Radek fires back that would take an insane signal boost, more power than the wraith has now, and unless he had a ZPM, it would be an uncontrollable burst that could cause all kinds of anomalies.
Rodney storms out and John follows. They make their way to the exit and Rodney thanks John for his cooperation and gives him his card in case he thinks of anything else that can help them. John asks if the wraith isn't done yet, why h as he stopped hiding the bodies? Rodney thinks it is overconfidence that he can't be caught. John pauses and tells Rodney that the wraith left some money behind but when Rodney asks how much he tells him two thousand (much less than it actually was). Rodney says it's not enough money for the wraith (or them) to be worried about.
They start to say goodbye and John wonders why Rodney even trusted him with the info in the first place. Rodney says he knows something else about John, something that wasn't in his file. The field medic he defied orders to try to rescue, he was personally involved with her. John tries to shrug it off but Rodney says it must have been a hard choice. He knows John didn't intend for things to go as badly as they did, sometimes things just don't go according to plan. He reminds John of the other version of him that he met. Rodney tells him they opened an inter-dimensional rift a while back and met another team on another Atlantis, but this one was led by John. He was a hero there. Rodney says it is amazing how one single incident can change the whole course of a person's life. He tells John he believes that he shares the same strength of character as that other version of him that he met, and that is why he told him the truth about the wraith.
Radek and Woolsey start getting damage control ready in case the wraith actually is building a bomb, despite Rodney's assertions otherwise. Woolsey wants to know how they have been looking for this wraith for months and yet a "nobody" detective was able to get closer than they ever had. He tells them he's done listening to excuses and waiting for the wraith to screw up. He wants the wraith found before anyone else is killed.
John returns to the police department and packs up his desk. His captain asks him what's going on and John hands him the box, clearly quitting his job. John cranks up the Johnny Cash and hits the road in his car with the bag of money he liberated from the wraith's motel room. He replays his conversation with Rodney and something that Todd said to him during their brief encounter. He remembers the trailer and the leaked fluid and starts putting pieces together. He pulls a u-turn on the highway and heads back the way he came.
Rodney and Radek are discussing ways to track the wraith when they get a call from John. He tells Rodney he's found the wraith. He tracked the trailer to a power grid, which the wraith can use to get his required power boost. Woolsey has the air force send a formation of planes to John's coordinates and Rodney tells John not to engage the wraith. Inside the trailer the wraith starts to boot up his device.
After a moment's thought, John drives up to the trailer. The wraith hears his approach and seeing him out the window grabs a shotgun from the closet. John pulls a gun out of his glove box and heads toward the trailer. The wraith opens fire and John retreats to behind his car, trying to hold his own as the wraith attacks. John is hit and the wraith moves in to finish him off. Before he can, the planes arrive. Realizing what that means, he runs into the trailer and activates his device.
In their command center Radek calls out that they are getting reports of power outages from throughout the state and that the Daedalus is sending new readings. Rodney calls out that it is picking up a massive subspace event, more powerful than a stargate, and increasing the longer it stays active. It is a transmission coded in wraith. Rodney starts trying to decode it. Walter reports that the target has been acquired and Woolsey orders it taken out. The planes destroy the trailer and the device's signal is shut down.
Rodney, having decoded it, says that it contained the location of Earth. Woolsey asks if there is any chance it reached Pegasus and Rodney answers him no. But Radek says he's seen this energy signature before. Rodney says it looks like it tore a small hole in the space-time continuum. The transmission might have made it through to another reality. Rodney says that if John hadn't found the wraith when he did then the signal definitely would have reached Pegasus.
John, meanwhile, double checks the wreckage to make sure the wraith is dead. Then he limps away from the flames and lies down in the desert to die.
So, this entire episode (often referred to as "CSI: Atlantis" within fandom, for somewhat obvious reasons), takes place in a reality alternate to our own Atlantis. In this reality, John Sheppard never joined up with the stargate program because after that failed rescue attempt he ended up getting kicked out of the military rather than just landing crap duty in Antarctica. Instead, he became a lousy loner detective with a grumpy disposition and a serious gambling problem. Because fate is a funny thing, however, he still ends up eventually getting drawn into the world of stargates and aliens, however. Of course, in this reality it doesn't really end that well for him, does it? Still, at least he ends up with a little bit of hope that Rodney's initial faith in him, despite his clear tendencies as a screw-up, might not have been that misplaced after all.
This is, for the most part, a completely stand alone episode. These are not our characters. Everyone carries themselves just a little bit differently, the dynamics are just a tad off. This is just one of the infinite number of ways these people's lives could have played out. One hive, perchance belonging to Todd, managed to find its way to Earth somehow (there have certainly been a few opportunities along the way). Earth was able to deal with it, but the fallout of that was a wraith loose on the planet, trying to find a way to get back home and to earn favor with his people by showing them the way to a new feeding ground. It is a fascinating concept to explore.
Nothing that happens in this episode has any bearing on our Atlantis though.
Not until the very end, at least.
I can freely admit that the first time I saw this episode I completely missed that one throwaway line at the end about the wraith's signal punching through to another reality with the location of Earth. The full implications of that comment were totally lost on me. But when you stop to think about it, there's no reason to feature an episode set completely in an alternate reality like this one unless it leads to some complication for our own familiar reality.
And that's exactly what "Vegas" does. It sets the stage for the next big conflict. Remember, at this point, things are actually pretty quiet in Atlantis. The wraith are busy fighting each other and so, while a problem, aren't really a big one. Michael has been dealt with. Carson is working his way through the galaxy helping to heal and care for those affected by the Hoffan virus. It's just business as usual in Atlantis at the moment. Until something goes awry in another reality, that is.
A few things about this episode that I just really enjoyed (sorry for the wacky formatting but it did that on its own and I am having trouble fixing it):
- Love, love, love the use of Johnny Cash. John's appreciation of The Man in Black has always been a background staple of his character throughout the series, and carrying it over into this other version of himself was quite beautifully done. It gives us that little extra insight into this other John Sheppard that helps us to understand our own just a bit more.
- The washed out lighting. It is subtle, but fitting. It is a small visual cue that what we are dealing with here is something other than the familiar.
- Similarly I like how everyone was all dressed up in suits and much more snazzy looking than usual. It made an even starker contrast with John's own super rumpled and disheveled appearance.
- Like I said, everyone in this reality acted just a little bit differently than our versions of them, and this was most apparent to me in Rodney. He carried himself with more confidence than arrogance, it seemed, but also his demeanor was much quieter and more serious. I can't help but think that might be due to the lack of an epic bromance with John like the one their counterparts in our reality have developed.
- I also really love that we are just dumped into this alternate reality and left to figure out for ourselves that this is what's happened. That cold open really puts us in the right frame of mind to understand how upside down John's world has been turned by all of these new revelations.
"Am I getting this right?" (Rodney)
"I also like spearmint gum." (John)
"Have some." (Rodney)
"I was joking." (John)
"No you weren't." (Rodney)
"You know, I once met another version of you. He was very different." (Rodney)
"Nothing is what you think it is." (Rodney)
"It doesn't really come as a surprise to me." (John)
"We met a team much like the one I work with, only you were the leader. You were a hero, saved the world several times over." (Rodney)
"Doesn't sound much like me." (John)
"I don't think there's much difference between you and that other John Sheppard I met. It's amazing how one incident can entirely alter the course of your life. Still, I like to believe you have the same strength of character. That's why I told you the truth." (Rodney)
Well, only one more episode left. See you back here on Wednesday for the series conclusion, "Enemy at the Gate."
Also, don't forget to vote in the poll for my next rewatch series! Today is the last day to vote and the winner will be announced next week!