A Spoiler-Filled Review of “Enemy At The Gate,” The Series Finale of Stargate: Atlantis

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…And just like that, it’s done. Five years, and it’s over, it all came down to this. If Stargate: SG1 was ‘The Little Show That Could,’ an unexpectedly popular show that came out of nowhere, survived several cancellations, and had a wildly successful ten-year run, then, alas, Atlantis was ‘The Big Show That Couldn’t.’ Don’t get me wrong – I’m unquestionably a fan, and there’s a lot to like about Atlantis – but it never enjoyed the mass-media popularity nor the crossover support from viewers who don’t generally watch Science Fiction that SG1 did.

SG1 was the series that finally put The Sci-Fi Channel on the map, and according to some demographic sources, it’s the show that ultimately pulled the plug on the Star Trek Franchise’s life support over on UPN. Very conscious of how lucky they were, and very aware that SG1 couldn’t keep going forever, Sci Fi decided to commission their own spinoff series. Originally intended as a spinoff vehicle for Amanda Tapping’s “Samatha Carter” character, SG1 proved simply too popular to throw away, and so that show’s contract was extended indefinitely. Atlantis launched without Colonel Carter, and the location of the “Lost City” was moved from Antarctica to The Pegasus Irregular Dwarf Galaxy simply so the Atlantis storyline and the “Ori” storyline over on SG1 wouldn’t bump in to each other.

It was successful, but it wasn’t a huge hit, much to Sci Fi’s confusion. It never drew the casual fans that SG1 did, mainly because it all-but-jettisoned two of the most enduring aspects of it’s parent-show’s appeal: (1) SG1 is an all-Air Force show. It’s practically a 200-episode recruiting commercial. Virtually everyone in the USAF watched the show, at least a little bit, and virtually all the families and dependents of USAF personnel did too. Instead of having a hokey Starfleet or Highguard or other poorly-defined military (Or is it paramilitary?) organization running around out there acting inconsistently, it was all about the Air Force, a well-known service with a well-known rank structure and rules. People on the show, more or less, acted like Air Force officers. This made it more palatable and instantly understandable to casual viewers. (2) SG1 takes place in the here-and-now, with each season happening in the year it aired. They spend lots of time zooming around in space saving an endless assortment of Pacific Northwest-looking planets from the bad guys, but they spend an enormous amount of time on earth dealing with politics, doing spy stuff, going to movies, and getting framed for murder. That is unbelievably sweet because the inherent problem of nearly all SF series is a lack of audience identification: Why should I give a crap about guys in fascist space pajamas who live 400 years from now?

Conversely, Atlantis was a show about yet another hokey international organization that had barely anything to do with the USAF (Though headed by an Air Force Colonel) and didn’t act like a recognizable military; and while the show was still in the ‘here and now’, it was set three million light years from earth, and almost never visited earth, so what’s the point? It may as well have been 400 years in the future. Or 400 years in the past, for that matter. One reviewer at the time characterized the show by saying “It combines the worst elements of Star Trek: Voyager and Star Trek: DS9, but without any of their charms. Assuming either of those shows had any charms to begin with.” That seems to sum up the ill-conceived “Why Bother” nature of the show to me.

Various changes were made to the format over the show, and ratings improved slightly, but it was obvious the show was still suffering from comparisons to SG1. “If it was ever going to be a huge hit,” thought the suits ad Sci Fi, “we need to kill off SG1 so it’ll be the *only* Stargate show on the block, and then people who want their fix will have to watch it bwa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!” They chortled in evil fashion whilst torturing kittens. By this time, of course, they had the new Battlestar Galactica, and they were quick to abandon SG1, which was now their second-most popular show. In other words, they cancelled their second-most popular show – which spawned a cultural phenomenon – in favor of their third-most popular show, which no one much cared about. A move of questionable logic, but then it’s the Sci Fi Channel: Most of their programming decisions seem to be made by randomly flinging darts at targets held by naked Canadian Hookers in between snorts of cocaine and wild derisive rants about how stupid their viewers are. Honestly, have they ever had a clue? (Answer: No.)

It did work, a little bit, I guess, kinda’ sorta. Viewership did go up some, but not by the levels anyone had hoped for. Galactica was the big hit now, and Atlantis – the first big-budget made-to-order specifically for Sci-Fi show – was just kinda’ there. For all it’s numerous charms – great cast, interesting enemy, some very clever writing, high production values – it has suffered greatly in comparison to other shows – SG1, Galactica, WWF Raw, you name it. The Suits did what they always did – they panicked and screwed around with the format of the show some more – first making random cast changes (Why was Dr. Beckett killed off again?), then trying to save the show by extended stuntcasting (“Hey, let’s bring over Colonel Carter from SG1 and kill off that Higginson chick!” “Yeah! That’ll get those viewers we hate to quit their bitching!” And let’s add that ‘Kaylee’ chick from ‘Firefly!’ Everyone loves her!”) Then when that didn’t work, they brought in a somewhat more antagonistic leader for the expedition (Which was a good move, actually.) Though the show never really lost its balance, these cast changes began to make it look like it’s wheels were slipping, failing to find traction. It wasn’t, but it looked that way to the casual viewers who only watched it occasionally, and to the Sci Fi Suits who caused those changes to begin with.

Ultimately, the producers and the Suits just decided to cancel the series and try again with a second spinoff, finally giving up on their underachieving “Show that couldn’t.” The decision was made evidently very quickly more than three-quarters of the way through the filming of Season 5, and the news was broken to the cast while they were filming the “Vegas” episode I reviewed last week. http://www.republibot.com/content/spoiler-filled-review-%E2%80%9Cvegas%E... “Hey, guys, I know you all have another year on your contracts, but you’re fired.”

Which brings us to last night’s Series Finale:

Todd The Wraith contacts Atlantis to warn them of a huge new experimental Wraith Hive Ship that’s powered by some of the ZPMs Todd stole from the Replicators in mid-season 4. The Daedalus is sent out to take it down, and is crippled in a pretty good combat sequence. Before the Wraith destroy it, though, they receive the signal sent by the parallel-universe Wraith in last week’s episode, and the hive ship zooms away. The Daedalus makes repairs – which we’re told take days – and limps back to Atlantis. In the intervening period, the Apollo and the Sun Tzu (A ship we’ve never seen nor heard of before) engage the Superhive, and are likewise crippled.
Back at Atlantis, Rodney and Shepherd discuss using the city itself to chase down the Wraith, since it’s really a huge starship itself. Woolsey approves the plan, and they make preparations. They talk Todd in to giving them more ZPMs to power the whole deal. Meanwhile, back at Earth, Colonel Carter is in temporary command of the SGC, and she recalls Shepherd to earth to run the Ancient Defense Chair, which, as in last week’s parallel universe episode, has been moved from Antarctica to Area 51 in Nevada. The Superhive is already hiding behind Earth’s moon.
The Wraith send darts to attack Area 51, and Shepherd leads a squadron of F-302s to fight ‘em off. They fail, and several darts kamikaze into the base, destroying it and the chair: Earth is now defenseless! Shepherd immediately seizes the opportunity for yet another suicide mission, and flies his fighter *into* the approaching Superhive, intending to detonate his nuclear air-to-air missile inside the thing and die in the process. Meanwhile, Atlantis – still en rout – manages to contact a gate inside the superhive, and sends Shepherd’s SG team through as a desperate commando raid. Things get worse, and eventually Atlantis gets to earth, where it trades blows with the superhive in orbit in a battle that never feels quite as spectacular and awe-inspiring as it probably should, but is nice just the same.
Ultimately the Superhive is destroyed, but Atlantis is smashed up really badly in the process and makes an emergency landing in the pacific ocean, just a few miles outside the Golden Gate. “They can’t see us, right?” Dr. Keller nervously asks. “We’re cloaked, and the Navy has this entire area under quarantine.” We’re treated to a nice, homey lump-in-the-throat shot of the entire cast on a balcony, smiling at the Golden Gate Bridge, reflecting on the fact that Atlantis has come home after 10,000 years.

And that’s the end.

It’s actually not a bad series finale, even though it’s not where they intended things to stop when they wrote it. It had already been written and filmed before the announcement of cancellation came through, and evidently it was going to set up some of the now-annual format changes in the show. My wife said, “So next season would have been ‘Stargate: San Francisco?’” Maybe. I honestly don’t know. I doubt we’ll ever know, now.

Random observations:
- Walter sighting! This is the third one this season!
- Generals Landry and O’Neil both get name checks, but neither show up on screen. I really felt Landry should have been in the episode – the SGC feels a bit empty with just Carter there – but obviously they blew the doors of the budget with this episode and just couldn’t afford another guest star.
- Nice to see Becket, Carter, Cavanaugh, Colonel Caldwell, Colonel Ellis, and the other SGA recurring characters and washouts again. The episode felt very much like a homecoming.
- The F-302 Battle was very cool.
- This is the first time we’ve seen the old SGC sets since “Midway,” last season (Episode 417).
- There was a very nice, awkward-yet-touching scene between Carter and Shepherd at the SGC. Carter mentions they’ve got another Daedalus-class cruiser in construction, but it’s not ready yet so it won’t be able to take part in the battle.
“You mean the ‘Phoenix?’” Shepherd asks.
“No. We’ve decided to rename it: It’s going to be called the ‘General Hammond’ now.”
“Oh,” Shepherd replies with an awkward pause, “Yeah, I heard about that. Very sudden. Heart attack, right?”
“He was a good man.”
”Yeah, he really was,” Carter agrees.
That was touching, and I’m really glad they were able to give some recognition to the late Don Davis, who played Hammond for seven years on SG1.

There are, however, still a lot of balls in the air:
- Area 51 is destroyed! Gone! Since this is where all of earth’s covert alien technology is stored and studied, and where the USAF starships themselves are built and stored, what does this mean for Earth?
- The Wraith Civil War continues in the Pegasus Galaxy – that needs to be resolved.
- What of the emerging “Pegasus Coalition?” How will the Coalition react to their heaviest hitter – Atlantis – no longer even being in their own galaxy?
- What about Laren and The Travelers?
- The SGC is only able to use the Apollo and the Sun Tzu to intercept the Superhive. Colonel Caldwell says “The Odyssey is off on some secret mission that I’m not even supposed to know about.” So what are they doing? Would it have tied in with the never-to-be-filmed Season 6, or perhaps with Stargate: Universe? Or was it just to let us know there’s more going on in the Stargate project than what we see?
- Is Todd still in favor of Dr. Keller’s “Dewraithification” plans to stop his people from feeding on humans, or is that yet another dead end?
- They said that they intended for Atlantis to go back to Pegasus eventually, but that it would take a long time for that to happen since the city took a lot of damage in the battle they needed to repair first.
- How will Rodney and Radek’s new “Quantum Stardrive” affect the functioning of the rules the Stargate Universe plays by? Or is this one of those deus ex machinas that we’ll never hear of again?
I suppose the already-announced “Stargate: Atlantis TV Movie” will resolve a lot of these questions. That’ll function as a consolation prize for the fans. Unlike the ongoing SG1 Straight-to-DVD franchise (Which would have done a 3rd movie by now, were it not for the writer’s strike last year), I doubt there’ll be any more SGA movies after that one. Even in the afterlife of SF series, “The Big Show That Couldn’t” Can’t.

And there are a few quibbles as well:
- Why weren’t there any backseaters in the F-302s? In a major battle like that, I’d imagine you’d want your gunners along!
- They were using nukes *IN* the atmosphere? At close range? Granted, all of ‘em were shot down quickly, but wow!
- I know Shepherd has got a deathwish, but seeing him instantly volunteer for a suicide mission for like the fifth time this year is becoming a bit cliché – not counting the gay parallel world Shepherd who actually did manage to die on a suicide mission.
- There are two things that SGA has always done entirely too much of: wandering through the woods fighting, and running through the papier-mâché hiveship sets fighting. There were no woods in this episode, but I felt a bit disappointed that ten minutes of screen time were taken up with something we’ve seen entirely too many times before.
- Killing Ronon and bringing him back to life again was a cheat. A big, dumb cheat.
- What the heck was up with Amelia Banks suddenly putting the moves on Ronon in that last scene – after a year of “Hailing frequencies open, Captain” lines, suddenly she’s Ronon’s love interest? Where did that come from, and where would it have been going in the never-to-be-filmed next season? Frankly, I didn’t even recognize her out of uniform and away from her console. Yikes! Talk about heavy-handed!

All in all, though, I really liked the episode. It didn’t quite feel as huge as it should have, simply because it was never intended to be the ‘Grand Finale’ for the whole series, but it was far above average and really enjoyable. It was a good example of what kind of things this show was capable of, and while it never really found it’s niche, I, for one, am very sorry to see it go. I’ll miss it. I really will.