Absolutely, utterly fantastic.
This is, quite probably, my favourite episode Atlantis to date. It is, for me, Enterprise’s ‘Cogenitor’, or SG-1’s ‘Abyss’: the episode that rises above the average or mediocre content surrounding it, and elevates itself into not only a good episode, but simply one of the strongest.
It contains two of my favourite scenes in all of Stargate. The first, and I am stunned to say this, is from Richard Woolsey. His recollection of his father’s Alzheimer’s is poignant, moving, and magnificently delivered by Picardo. The storyline around it and the circumstances the Atlantis team find themselves in, make it a perfect and believable analogy, and one that is eerily haunting in his delivery also. Fantastic.
The second, which is my overall favourite, comes in a flashback as Sheppard is flying the team to the Shrine of Talus. We see McKay running, terrified to Sheppard’s quarters, terrified. McKay has woken up alone, forgetting who he was supposed to be with and wondering if he’s gone crazy. David Hewlett is an excellent actor at the best of times, but this is magnificent. His fear is so real and believable that we get drawn right into the scene. But what makes this scene work so perfectly is a fantastic piece of acting from Joe Flanigan, who finally delivers some of that subtle, poignant acting that one of our readers, freidag, spoke of in the comments to my Daedalus Variations review. “Personally I find Flanigan’s acting subtle and quite good. Sometimes an expression says more than words can.” How right you were.
The scene is perfected as Rodney and Sheppard sit along the edge of one of Atlantis’s pier, sipping beers, with the amazing backdrop of a night-time city skyline behind them. Rodney wants to say goodbye, before he forgets everything. Sheppard won’t accept it, refusing to give up hope. What makes this episode to excellent is that it can affect anyone watching it. The feelings of both McKay and Sheppard are core, human feelings that any one of us can relate to. We often don’t know how we would feel or react to a horde of mutant aliens coming towards us in Shining-esque fashion; but we do know how much it can hurt to say goodbye. Full marks to writer, Brad Wright, who fully capitalises on this.
Coincidentally, looking at Brad Wright’s credits, it’s easy to see this guy gets it. He is packed full of talent for writing moving stories. Hell, he wrote Abyss. Can this man do no wrong?
Other strong performances come from Jewel Staite and Jason Momoa who, as Dr Keller and Ronon Dex, put in a great shift portraying the emotions of friends struggling to come to terms with McKay’s predicament. The underlying love theme between Keller and McKay could easily have been overdone or made clichÃ©d and nauseating. Not so. Once more, Staite and Hewlett prove their acting mettle by firing off a generally unspoken, yet nonetheless touching bond of both professional admiration and complete affection for one another.
Another great moment comes as the team arrive at the Shrine of Talus, where McKay’s affliction is successfully reversed. Upon regaining his memories, McKay is furious, believing 24 hours as himself knowing he is going to die as torture. We’ve been rooting for the team the whole time, and then suddenly, as a result, we viewers feel guilty that we too have wanted McKay to return to normal, even if it is unspeakably unpleasant for his character. It’s a complete dramatic U-turn, and it is a trademark of quality writing that it succeeds.
The video-diary that Dr Keller has Rodney make, and we see glimpses of throughout the episode in different orders, is excellent. Again, it could easily have been clichÃ©d, but Hewlett’s performances make it genuinely moving, and it adds to the emotion of the episode. The growing frustration as Rodney forgets that which he holds dearest, his knowledge, is tragic, and we empathise easily with his pain. McKay’s declaration of love at the end of the episode, performed against some excellent music, is one of the most moving moments of the episode.
Man, is this episode full of moving moments, or what?
Jeanie’s inclusion in the episode is a nice touch. Being real-life siblings, the Hewletts always work nicely off one another. It’s a little unnecessary, she doesn’t really have a major impact on the storyline, but I think it was a good decision to have her there for two reasons. It’s adds a sense of depth and poignancy to the atmosphere of the episode, and also adds another dynamic and opinion to the moral dilemma of whether curing McKay for 24 hours is the right thing to do, if it means he will die afterwards. Is it selfish? Is it what McKay would want? These are great moral questions that Stargate rarely asks; yet, when placed in the hands of a writer like Wright, they are asked, and asked brilliantly.
The jumpy-flashback nature of the episode, something which oft goes awry, actually works very nicely here. The juxtaposition of scenes with lucid Rodney and afflicted Rodney is excellent, and really helps contrast the two.
However, is there a single flaw in this episode? Absolutely, yes.
I couldn’t help but feel that the resolution was a little rushed – the surgery a little too quick and easy. The creature jumps out, Ronan shoots it, and all is well again. It’s not actually a bad ending, relatively speaking, but it just didn’t quite live up to the brilliance of the rest of the episode.
It doesn’t detract too much, however, from what is a magnificent hour of television.
Grade: 96% (A+)
Revised 8th September 2008