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Jewel Staite

Stargate Atlantis [Sci Fi Channel, Fridays 9/8C] closes up shop one week from tonight with its one hundredth episode – but before we get to that double milestone, there’s a small matter of a series of inexplicable murders in and around Las Vegas.

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Subtly entitled Vegas, the show’s penultimate episode opens as a clever riff on CSI: Crime Scene Investigation – but the murders under investigation are way beyond any normal cops and forensics units’ abilities. Fortunately, Detective John Sheppard [Joe Flanigan] is on the case – making it easier for Dr. Rodney McKay [David Hewlett] to trust him with a top secret tale of familiar dimensions. In an unusual and slightly unsettling way, Vegas sets the stage for the series finale.

Enemy at the Gate brings the battle with the Wraith to Earth in an unexpected manner. In the episode, sometime Wraith collaborator Todd [Christopher Heyerdahl] approaches Atlantis with news that an underling has taken over his hive ship – which is now equipped with a ZPM and being turned into an invulnerable dreadnought. In a twist foreshadowed in the previous episode, that bigger, better hive ship will cause a great deal of turmoil – not the least of which is the show’s second James Blish reference [that’s the only hint you get – look it up].

Atlantis’ final episodes do what the show has always done best – science fiction adventure with deft humor, intriguing characterization, and some show stopping effects [I suspect the SGA creative team may have cut a few corners to give the series a big finale and it definitely worked]. The writing is especially noteworthy for the way Robert Cooper [Vegas] and the team of Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie not only play with sci fi conventions, but the conventions of the series they’ve worked on for the last five seasons.

Cooper also directed Vegas and he definitely catches the essence of CSI before the ep moves back into a version of more familiar territory. Andy Mikita deserves commendation for taking the series home in Enemy at the Gate [which is another title that works on a couple of levels, as you’ll see in the ep’s final sequence].

Several old friends are on hand to give fans a last chance to enjoy series favorites like Amanda Tapping [Col. Samantha Carter], Paul McGillion [Dr. Carson Beckett], Mitch Pileggi [Col. Steven Caldwell], Colin Cunningham [Major Paul Davis], Matthew Glave [Col. Paul Emerson], Ben Cotton [Dr. Kavanaugh], and the inimitable Gary Jones [Sgt. Walter Harriman].

Stargate Atlantis ends on a high note. All we have to do is enjoy.

Final Grade: A

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The news came out, this week, that Stargate Atlantis was being cancelled in favor of one or two annual direct-to-DVD movies – the first one to wrap up the series’ final storyline – and where have we heard that one before? Still, the puzzling thing is that the series is being cancelled after its ratings rose this summer – which makes as much sense as the little pig in the straw house moving into his brother’s brick one and having the middle pig take it down with a bulldozer in a fit of envy.

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The main reason we’ve been given is that making the series in Vancouver, British Columbia is getting to be too expensive, though I humbly suggest that if the series was being produced in the U.S., its rising ratings would pretty much preclude such a move. So, why then, would MGM and the Atlantis production team go in this direction?

After a quick run through the season’s first six episodes, it’s certainly not because of any loss of quality – a potential reason that was rendered unlikely by the way that more people are watching, on a regular basis. With the franchise maintaining its usual high level of quality – of the six episodes, only Ghost in the Machine – which was hampered by Torri Higginson’s decision to not return] was less than a B effort – the rest ranged from A [The Daedalus Variations] to B- [The Seed]. Certainly, the show’s writing, production, direction, effects and performances have been as good as usual.

The answer is given, and quite clearly, in the press release for the upcoming series, Stargate Universe. In it, Brad Wright and Robert C. Cooper are quoted as saying, “In ‘Universe,’ we plan to keep those elements that have made the franchise a success, such as adventure and humour, while breaking new ground in the relationships between mostly young and desperate explorers, thrust together and far from home. Above all, we believe the Stargate self remains an enduring icon with infinite potential as a jumping off point for telling stories.”

It’s the “let’s get a cast of younger, more kick-ass military and civilians – nothing wrong with kick-ass civilizations – and punch up our numbers in the 18-24 demo… and the ‘tween demo.” After all, nobody’s watching the old fogies on Atlantis except, well, more people than did last year – thereby punching a bit of a hole in the typical variety of network thinking.

What’s the big plus, here? It’s that the mainstays of the Stargate creative team remain aboard – even though they aren’t the young pups they were when they convinced Richard Dean Anderson into signing up. Happily, unlike the creative teams of other series, they get to space out their writing in such a way that they are still capable of writing engaging and entertaining episodes – unlike the Star Trek duo of Rick Berman and Brannon Braga, who were completely out of touch with their audience by the time season two of Enterprise came around [not to mention that ghastly series finale].

Stargate has survived big changes in the past. When Michael Shanks left, Corin Nemec stepped in and the show rolled on [and a lot of fans wouldn’t have minded if Nemec had stayed on]; Richard Dean Anderson left – for perfectly good reasons – and was replaced by Ben Browder, whose character injected a fresh enthusiasm to the series that almost made up for the introduction of the Ori. Claudia Black came aboard the SG-1 franchise at the same and her charming thief/con artist fit in – after awhile…

Then there were the changes on Atlantis, where a first-season regular departed after getting a buzz from Wraith venom; Dr. Elizabeth Weir, the leader of the Atlantis Expedition, became a Replicator and was replaced by Col. Samantha Carter – whose successes while in command got her moved out and fussy, protocol-happy Richard Woolsey took over [and discovered that protocol is pretty much just another word in the Pegasus Galaxy].

Throughout the changes – not to mention some of the best humorous eps on any SF series – the quality of the Stargate shows has been kept well above average. Now we’re going to be getting a series that features a younger cast that is stranded even farther away than the Pegasus Galaxy. The chances are that its creative team will be looking for fresh ideas – or at least, fresh spins on ideas – and that it will be worth watching.

It’s just too bad that Atlantis has to suffer cancellation because of it. And that idea for finishing off the final season cliffhanger with a direct-to-DVD movie? Still little more than an blatant cash grab.

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One thing you can say about the Stargate franchise – it may rarely reach brilliance, but it’s equally rarely less than fun. Season four of SG Atlantis found Torri Higginson’s Dr. Elizabeth Weir leaving her command for a pretty good reason – to keep the Replicators from destroying Atlantis. In her stead, the Atlantis Expedition welcomed [all except for maybe David Hewlett’s Rodney McKay] Col. Samantha Carter [Amanda Tapping] as their new commander.

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Along with other familiar villainous faces [like the Genii], season four also brought the former Wraith Michael [Connor Trinneer] back and tied his arc into the story of Teyla’s [Rachel Luttrell] pregnancy [Luttrell’s real pregnancy sparked the writers’ ideas]. We got to see Rodney attempt to propose marriage; the deserted Atlantis of twenty-eight thousand years in the future, and a fable about a little girl who was about to become queen. The season’s creative high point may have been Tabula Rasa [with everyone’s memories gone, including his, Rodney has to save the city], but I particularly enjoyed Midway wherein Col. Carter asks Teal’c [Christopher Judge] to help Ronan [Jason Momoa] prepare for his IOA interview – and things go, of course, hilariously wrong.

Overall, Atlantis’ fourth season rarely disappoints. The writers have a firm handle on the characters and seem able to produce interesting new riffs on the many aspects of the series. The cast is a well-oiled unit, figuratively speaking, and each has shown the capacity for bringing new shadings to their characters as the writers delve more deeply into them.

Features include: Audio Commentaries on nineteen of the twenty episodes [excepting only the one I wanted most, Midway]; four Mission Directive Featurettes [Doppelganger, This Mortal Coil, Quarantine and Outcast]; A New Leader: Amanda Tapping Joins Stargate Atlantis Featurette; The Doctor is In: The Return of Paul McGillion Featurette; The Making of Trio Featurette; A Look Back at Season Four Featurette; Bloopers; Deleted Scenes, and the usual collection of Photo & Design Galleries.

Grade: Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Season Four – B

Grade: Features: A+

Final Grade: A-

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Even more than its parent series, Stargate SG-1, Stargate Atlantis has embraced the fluidity of life. Every season has had some kind of major change. By now, most Atlantis fans know of the change in command that’s coming to the returning series [Fridays, Sci Fi, 10/C], in tomorrow’s season premiere – which kind of spoils the surprise of the ep’s final seconds. Fortunately, with all the various instances of cliffhanging peril to be resolved, there’s plenty of opportunity to be surprised before then.

Search and Rescue finds members of the Atlantis team buried under tons of rubble from Michael’s imploded compound; Teyla [Rachel Luttrell] about ready to give birth on Michael’s [Connor Trinneer] flagship; and the city itself, for a change, is fine…

Rescuing Teyla

With all the action and mayhem in Stargate Atlantis’ fifth-season premiere, the scariest image of all might just be midwife Rodney [David Hewlett]. That’s right. Rodney McKay is the only one with Teyla when the baby decides to make its debut. That is more unsettling than earlier scenes with Rodney and Lorne [Kavan Smith] buried under Michael’s compound, or Sheppard [Joe Flanigan] and Ronon [Jason Momoa] about to be pulled from the rubble by members of Michael’s crew – or even a badly injured Sheppard leading the mission to save Teyla when what he really needs is surgery and a transfusion.

To say that Search and Rescue is another entertaining Atlantis episode is to understate the situation. Writer Martin Gero has produced an ep with space battles, hand-to-hand combat, exploding hyperdrives, lots of weapons fire and even a few more moments where Rodney’s spine solidifies briefly. Veteran Atlantis director Andy Mikita keeps things moving at a [mostly] breakneck pace – making certain implausiblities virtually unnoticeable. Combined with sharply observed performances, the result is definitely a lot of fun.

Final Grade: B

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