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'Stargate Atlantis' Season Five Premiere: A Summer Space Romp

Heading into its fifth season, launching July 11@10p., SCI FI Channel’s Stargate Atlantis is enjoying something of a resurgence.  The series concluded the previous year on a ratings upswing, and at some point during the upcoming season, the series will hit the landmark 100th episode.  

First, a word about the Stargate Atlantis opening credits.  I heart the opening credits.

The season five premiere, penned by executive producer Martin Gero, lets viewers bask  in a happy place - at least for now.  A little warmth?  A happy resolution?  What a unique concept.  (Battlestar’s Ron Moore: are you listening?) 

I’m pretty burned out at this point with the conspiracies within conspiracies, death, destruction, and the relentless drumbeat of amoral, and/or despicable, characters. 

Not that I don’t love The Shield, adore (adore!) The Wire, and devote myself to a full season of Damages.  I’m girding myself for HBO’s Generation Kill (from the creators of The Wire).   But….it’s all very taxing.  

I need a breather, a respite, once in awhile.  Stargate Atlantis is respite - like a frosty Corona on warm summer Friday night after a long work week.   Also (and I’ve said this a gazillion times, but it bears repeating) Stargate production values are A+.  Visually, it’s always a treat.

SGA is unpretentious television, and I truly do mean that in the nicest possible way.  The show seeks to entertain and have fun, mostly.   But there’s just enough drama, angst, and chemistry to make you care about the characters.  

Okay.  Your backgrounder:

Atlantis, a submerged city located on a planet in the Pegasus Galaxy and built by an extinct, technologically advanced race called "The Ancients."  Earthlings make their way to Atlantis. They get to toy with lots of cool technology left behind by The Ancients, and they encounter a host of new races and challenges.

Their mission, among other things: to hold the line against the loathsome Wraith, a race that snacks on humans.

At one point, the whole city lifted off and settled down on another planet.  Anyway…it’s complicated.

The characters:  a hot-dogging, wise-cracking fly boy; a hawt warrioress (who also sings beautifully); a young but kindly doctor; a brilliant socially inept, phobic scientist who babbles during panic attacks; a hot tempered (but hawt) warrior with dreads.  (Did I say hawt?)  Yeah - there’s definitely some eye candy in Stargate Atlantis.


season five cast photo:

Teyla, the resident warrioress, was preggers much of last season.  As season five opens, she’s imprisoned on a Wraith space ship.  Michael - the resident Wraith nemesis who "has great plans" for Teyla’s baby - does not get to snatch the child. 

So far, Stargate Atlantis is not the Jerry Springer of science fiction.  "The Wraith kidnapped my baby!"  Maybe next week….but so far, not.

Robert Picardo, as Richard Woolsey, is the newest addition to the SGA cast.  The Picardo shot in the opening credits is surprisingly warm, given his character’s uneasy history with the Stargate program. 

(Picardo’s television resume is extensive and can found by clicking on his name above, or here.)

Woolsey steps in to assume command of the Atlantis base.  He replaces Colonel Samantha Carter (Amanda Tapping), the Stargate Atlantis base commander.  Tapping appears in the season five premiere, but her character is abruptly dismissed at the conclusion.  (Tapping has reportedly moved on to manage her own production, Sanctuary.)  

Picardo’s character, Richard Woolsey, has been around for a long time.  Woolsey was first introduced as a recurring character in season seven of the original Stargate SG-1

Woolsey has ties to the NID, a shadowy quasi-governmental organization with questionable accountability (per Wikipedia) and now he’s part of a civilian oversight committee keeping tabs on the Stargate program.  (R. James Woolsey, Director of the CIA, under Clinton.  hmmm.)

Richard Woolsey’s backstory: also, former lead counsel for the Army Corps of Engineers.  (The real ACE faces legal hot water these days for their decisions leading up to the New Orleans disaster of disasters.)

In the past, Woolsey was a thorn in the side, and at one point lobbied for the closure of the Stargate program.  (If he thought the Stargate program was reckless, wait until he has to play parental unit to Colonel John Sheppard, the aforementioned hot doggin’, wise-crackin’ fly boy.)

In Picardo’s own words in an interview posted on the MGM site:

“…. they’ve rehabilitated a character that was originally introduced, not so much as a villain, but as an unpleasant bureaucrat…[the producers] rehabilitated him quite a bit by making him a guy that may rub people the wrong way and may be annoying, but at least he means well."

At any rate, you can click here to read the Gateworld omnipedia and catch-up on the Woolsey backstory.

Woolsey, as the Stargate Atlantis base commander, was a surprising and intriguing choice.  If the producers were hoping to perhaps whip up a tad more conflict, well….there you go.  But perhaps the warmth conveyed in the opening credits pic was designed to telegraph some additional softening around the edges.

Executive producer/writer Marin Gero seems to heart the Stargate audience and he plays to it.  (I wonder if he lurks LiveJournal.)  This is truly a team episode.   

Gero scripts have certain hallmarks.  His scripts are briskly paced, accomplishing a lot in a short amount of time without leaving behind a trail of unpleasant plot holes. 

The season 5.1 episode starts off fast with a one minute, trippy flight through space.  The point of view emerges from the interior of a collapsed city (base?), then "looks" down at a rapidly receding planet.  The viewpoint zips through galaxies, passing planets and a bright nebula before swinging around a planet and finally slipping inside an orbiting Wraith spaceship.

This cross-galaxy ride doesn’t drive plot or serve the story per se.  The editor could have simply cut to the next scene.  One minute is an eternity in episodic television.   Sure, maybe the special effects help keep the male trigger finger off the remote, but it was still fun to watch on the big screen.

There are women with big guns blasting away at Wraith fighters, and boys with big guns and C4 explosives.  Mostly, though, it’s a team episode chock full of heroics, self-sacrifice, and team bonding.  It’s fan fiction heaven.

The Daedalus  - a truly bad-ass space/destroyer/ship, armed with "rail guns, Mark-8 tactical warheads and a bay of F-302 fighters" (per the Gateworld Omnipedia) - also makes an appearance.  Daedalus Commander Colonel Steven Caldwell (Mitch Pileggi) gets to deliver one of the best lines of the episode:

"As a rule I like to keep daring rescues down to one a day." 

As reported earlier, one of my fave characters - Dr. Carson Beckett (Paul McGillion)-  returns for five episodes this season.  I’m not sure what has become of the colorful, geeky supporting character Dr. Radek Zelenka (David Nykl).  Hopefully, the showrunners have left open some slots for his return.

ETA:  click here for Nykl’s blog.  lots of set pics, so he’s back.

Gotta love fanvids!  Here’s "Geeks of Atlantis," set to Aretha Franklin’s "Think."

And, oh yeah - Dr. Daniel Jackson (Michael Shanks) of the original Stargate SG-1 - guest stars at some point during season five, too.  Shanks’ official website is running an auction benefiting MS Society of Canada (Shanks preferred charity) where you can bid on memorabilia. 

The following is purely speculative on my part, of course.  MGM’s senior executive vice president finance and corporate development, Charlie Cohen, is fiercely protective of, and loyal to, the franchise.  But, with the American and Canadian dollar now at parity, it must be increasingly difficult to pencil out the Vancouver-shot Stargate Atlantis budget.  I think audiences should enjoy Stargate Atlantis while they can. 

ETA:  well, not so speculative.  These very recent remarks are culled from the blog of Stargate Atlantis co-showrunner Joe Mallozzi.  My editor characterized the remarks as "wistful." 

If and when Stargate ends, will I choose to remain in Vancouver? Will I return to my hometown? Or will I try my luck in L.A.? I suspect that opportunity will pretty much dictate my decision…..Waiting in the wings is Stargate: Universe, the third entry in the hugely successful franchise that should inevitably make its way to the small screen sooner than later…..

So what does this mean for Atlantis as its fifth season premiere approaches? Can it go 10 seasons like it‘s big brother? To be perfectly honest - it’s highly unlikely….as a show moves past its fifth season, the odds are stacked against it. Ultimately, it comes down to the numbers - less the ratings and more the bottom line. The longer a show is on the air, the more expensive it is to produce. Throw in the resurgence of the Canadian dollar, once pegged at 63 cents to the U.S. greenback, it now hovers at par, an approximate 37 cent bump which adds a significant hit to the production budget…..

….And yet who knows what the future holds. WE certainly didn‘t nine years ago when we expected production on SG-1 to conclude after it‘s fifth season. But if and when Atlantis does come to an end, I don’t think it should be cause for anger or resentment. Both MGM and SciFi have been great supporters of the show and, if you go by SG-1’s example, fans can be assured that the end of the series will not be the end of Atlantis. Like SG-1, it will live on in longer form dvd releases.