Someone who worked on Stargate Atlantis season two clearly shares my view that Rodney McKay is the most interesting and well-rounded character in the whole thing as the writers have designed two episodes, “Grace Under Pressure” and “Duet”, to focus almost solely on his state of mind and ability to work with others – and this makes for some excellent television. We know how, through the course of the first season, he has become painfully aware of his weaknesses: arrogance and bad people skills – and we see how in these episodes he battles with his own arrogance in his mind, on one occasion trying to distract himself from going ahead with a plan that his ego insists would work, because part of him knows this is a desperate measure that will not work!
How pleasingly complex he is, and how much fun to watch him managing his conflicting desires: with his many, many fears pulling him one way and his loyalty to the team and a growing sense of adventure pulling him another way. And while he can be obsessive about women, we even saw his sense of honour in “Grace under pressure” when he would not consciously or subconsciously undress fellow-scientist Carter in his mind, knowing her well enough to know she would not do this for him, and grudgingly respecting her choice! The huge amount of depth in his character is welcome and refreshing, bringing the series into more personal territory. How would we react, if we had the burden and privilege of being in such an important position? Or when we know we are being counted on to run complicated tasks through crisis after crisis? How would it feel to watch another man die, because he knows that you are irreplaceable?
Meanwhile my main gripe is that the heroic military leader John Sheppard has become almost utterly boring and predictable this series, and his lines more often are there just to state the obvious – this is a shame as he proved himself to be the Bruce Willis of Stargate during season one’s two-parter, “The Storm”. I’ve also noticed that civilian leader Weir is always given similar reactions when new problems face the base. And Ronon and Teyla are still pretty dull as well.
Thank goodness for the interesting stories then, which deal with fragile alliances between different societies with different goals, the genetic development of the Wraith and plans to experiment on them and use them, a rogue soldier who, in his hubris, wants to prove his worth before he returns to the team, people’s consciousness entering other people’s bodies and sparking afresh an age-old war in Atlantis, and – the core of much science-fiction – the pursuit of dangerous new technologies. The questions they face of whether to work towards genetically altering their enemies remind us that science-fiction often touches on relevant issues of contention today - for instance, our own treatment of human embryos shows little regard for their actual life, and there are questions too that we'd rather not face about whether we ought to mix animal and human DNA.
Certainly not a perfect TV show, but a good package providing a good dose of action and character and a slice of something to think about pretty consistently in each episode. Recommended.