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maryann johanson | #BlackLivesMatter

stupid ‘Stargate Atlantis’: please stop sucking

I caught up on Stargate Atlantis this weekend — yeah, all of the fourth season so far, all 10 episodes. Used to be, back, in the day, this was appointment viewing for me … if I didn’t actually make a point to be home to watch it live on Friday nights (because that’s what dorks like me do: stay home and watch the Sci Fi Channel on a Friday night), I didn’t let the weekend go by with it unseen. Not that I’ve ever been madly in love with Atlantis, but I’ve been madly in love with Stargate since the beginning (of the series, not the movie *shudder*). And when this came on right after SG-1, it made for a dorky-cool Friday night to watch two new episodes back to back.

But Atlantis has never been as intriguing as SG-1: it’s too heavy on action at the expense of character and, well, philosophy, as cheesy science-fictional as it may have been on the original show. It got easy to give the show a pass without its SG-1 lead-in, and so episodes piled up on my DVR.
And the first half of Season 4 has only confirmed for me that Stargate the franchise is past its peak. I was hoping that the arrival of Samantha Carter (the awesome Amanda Tapping) to command the Atlantis mission, plus that of way-cool Firefly alum Jewel Staite as the city’s new doctor would have given the show a boost. (If they had to kill off Dr. Beckett, at least they gave us a decent replacement.) I thought that perhaps a few of the SG-1 writers might have migrated to Atlantis with the wrapping up of their show — because where SG-1 really shone and where Atlantis has really fallen down has been with the writing. Atlantis’s lackluster scripts never seem to inspire the cast … except one: last season’s episode “Sunday,” which gave the characters room to stretch. That’s what I was hoping for more of this year.

But instead it’s been the same old SF-TV tropes: aliens run amuck so the crew runs around in circles trying to stop them. Bor-ring. The Memento episode, “Tabula Rasa,” started off with a glimmer of hope for something different, but rapidly devolved into the same old “space bug infects the crew” cliché that had been done to death before Stargate ever came to television. Atlantis’s “original” bad guys, the space vampire Wraith, are the dullest SF villains ever: without individual motivations beyond an animalistic need to feed, they’re limited in a dramatic sense. Even Star Trek: The Next Generation eventually figured out that hive creatures like the Borg quickly burn out their storytelling possibilities if you’re not willing to do something adventurous with them. Atlantis’s Season 2 episode “Michael,” in which a Wraith was de-Wraith-ized and all sorts of questions about species bigotry and just what constitutes a war crime were raised, was brilliant, one of the best single episodes of TV science fiction of any series, but all the promise of that episode has long since been squandered. Ditto the Replicators, the Erector Set alien intelligence that SG-1 seemed to have fully explored the ramifications of. Last Friday night’s half-season finale, “This Mortal Coil,” appeared to have given the Replicators some new dramatic life, but it was all a combination retread of two done-to-death stories: “the crew’s stuck in VR” and “the crew’s been duplicated as robots” (which SG-1 already did extremely well).

How much of a dork for science fiction am I? I’ll keep recording Atlantis, and keep watching it, and keep being disappointed. But I’ll keep wishing it better, too.

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