Stargate Atlantis: The Complete Second Season – DVD Review

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Joe Flanigan … Lt. Colonel John Sheppard
David Hewlet … Dr. Rody McKay
Rachel Luttrel … Teyla Emmagan
Torri Higginson … Dr. Elizabeth Weir

The Show

Season one of Stargate Atlantis spent a lot of time establishing that it wasn’t Stargate: SG-1. As a result, there were an awful lot of formulaic episodes (meet new society, befriend society, see society overrun by Wraith and/or learn alien society has a dark secret). By season two the show had well-established its own identity. This allowed the writers to make the series less formulaic and more enjoyable. Oddly enough, they also made the show feel a bit more like its predecessor, but did so without compromising the feel of Atlantis.

One of the big changes in season two involves a cast member being replaced by a new character, Ronon Dex. In his first few episodes, Ronon fails to impress. He’s supposed to be a bad-ass and he does bad-ass things, but he just feels like generic bad-ass #418. Fortunately, over the course of the season, he gradually grows into a well-developed and quite likable character.

Two more additions come in the form of Colonel Caldwell and a new ship, the Daedalus. Colonel Caldwell adds some tension to the show as he frequently butts heads with both Weir and Sheppard, particularly in the earlier part of the season. But its the Daedalus that has the most impact on the show itself as it provides a convenient plot device for a wide variety of situations.

I always thought the Wraith were rather interesting villains. Apart from vampires, I can’t think of any other race of beings that have sentience, individuality and no choice but to feed on humans. While it’s a bit contrived that the Wraith can suck energy only from humans and not from any other lifeforms, it places an interesting constraint on Wraith behavior. A Wraith needs humans to live; if a Wraith were to decide it’s morally wrong to feed on humans that Wraith would die in much the same way a human would die if they decided it was wrong to eat plants or animals. As such the very of valuing humans is completely alien to the Wraith; it’s a basic survival instinct. While season one didn’t really touch on any of that, season two devotes a few episodes to exploring Wraith behavior and motivation.

There is no major story arc running throughout the entire second season of Stargate Atlantis. Instead there are series of smaller story arcs that are interspersed amongst the standalone episodes – primarily the Ford arc and the retrovirus arc. This approach has the benefit of allowing the plot of the show to move forward while keeping the standalone episodes from feeling like mere filler.

While weak episodes do turn up from time to time, for the most part this season is really strong. It also manages to leave lots of interesting directions for the show to go in the future.

The Episodes

Disc One
“The Siege (Part 3)” – As the name suggests, is the third part of the Wraith siege of Atlantis. The Daedalus shows up to help out, but will that be enough to save the city? Or does the series end in the first episode of the season. The answer may surprise you.

“The Intruder” – The Wraith pull a reverse Independence Day and infect the Daedalus with an alien computer virus.

“Runner” – While trying to track down the still missing Lt. Ford, Sheppard and friends have a run in with a new cast member.

“Duet” – After some highly improbable (even for sci-fi) hi jinx involving a Wraith dart, Rodney McKay ends up sharing his body with Lt. Laura Cadman. Wackiness ensues. Fortunately for McKay and Cadman – and really fortunately for us – they don’t form some sort of hideous hybrid ala Tuvix. In an unrelated plot, Sheppard tries to convince Weir that Ronon would be a good addition to Sheppard’s team.

Disc Two

“Condemned” – Sheppard’s team finds a surprisingly intact society that keeps the Wraith at bay by offering up their worst criminals as tasty Wraith snacks. Believe it or not, there’s more going on than meets the eye.

“Trinity” – Sheppard’s team discovers a planet surrounded by lots and lots of Wraith debris. A little investigation shows that the Wraith were destroyed by a weapon the Ancients were tinkering with but never completed. Rodney, however, feels that he can complete the device, giving the team a powerful weapon to use against the Wraith. Elsewhere Teyla and Ronon are on a trading mission when Ronon runs into some people from his past.

“Instinct” – While helping some villagers track down a stray Wraith, Sheppard and his team come across a young Wraith who has been raised by humans. Not only is she much more friendly than your standard Wraith, she also is given a serum by her adopted father that keeps her from having to feed on humans. A rather interesting episode and the first one we get exploring what makes a Wraith a Wraith.

“Conversion” – Dr. Beckett has been working on a retrovirus to turn Wraiths into humans. Unfortunately he hasn’t got it quite right just yet (in that it does the exact opposite and converts all human DNA resulting in a primitive, Wraith-like creature). Even more unfortunately, Sheppard’s just been infected. While Sheppard’s transformation is fine, the more interesting part of this episode is watching how everyone else deals with his new condition.

Disc Three

“Aurora” – Upon learning the location of a long lost Ancient ship, the Dadealus is dispatched to investigate. Sheppard and his team beam aboard the ship to find the crew in stasis, but still conscious in a virtual world.

“The Lost Boys” – Lieutenant Ford returns to capture Sheppard’s team. Ford decides that the best way to convince the others of the benefits of Wraith juice is to force the team to try the drugs themselves (sans Sheppard who is left to be an impartial observer). As part of the demonstration, Ford brings the team in on his plan to destroy a Wraith hive ship.

“The Hive” – After Ford’s plan turns out to have a few flaws, the team finds themselves prisoners of the Wraith. To add to their worries, the lack of Wraith juice has everyone going through withdrawal.

“Epiphany” – While investigating some mysterious energy readings, Sheppard ends up being trapped inside a colony for descendants of the Ancients. Not only is the colony being plagued by attacks from some sort of monster, but time passes much more quickly inside the colony leaving the rest of his team (still outside the colony) very little time to mount a rescue mission before Sheppard dies of old age.

Disc Four

“Critical Mass” – After learning that someone at the Atlantis expedition is a double agent in the employ of The Trust and bent on the destruction of Atlantis, an investigation is launched to uncover the saboteur before he or she can complete his/her mission.

“Grace Under Pressure” – Much like the episode, “Grace” (for which this episode is named), a crew member is left alone in a perilous situation with only a hallucination for company. In this case it is Rodney sinking to the bottom of the ocean with a hallucination of Samantha Carter to help him out. Things get pretty grim for Rodney but at the last minute he’s saved by a whale. Yes, that’s right, a whale.

“The Tower” – In yet another “Sheppard’s-team-finds-a-society-that’s-doing-surprisingly-well-but-then-uncovers-a -dark-secret” episode, Sheppard’s team finds a planet protected from the Wraith by a tower that looks an awful lot like the central spire of Atlantis. Their meeting starts off pretty well until that pesky dark secret rares its head.

“The Long Goodbye” – Remember the episode of Star Trek: TOS, “Let That Be Your Last Battlefield”? That’s the episode where Frank Gorshin and some other actor are the last two survivors of a pointless war. Well, if the aliens had their consciousnesses transferred in to Kirk and Spock and the episode lost its message about the foolishness of racism, then it would be “The Long Goodbye.” Definitely the weakest episode of the season.

Disc Five

“Coup D’etat” – Ladon Radim, one of the Genii we met last season, asks for the Atlantis crew’s assistance in overthrowing the current Genii government. The plot of Coup D’etat could have easily become too convoluted, but it manages to avoid that, resulting in a rather neat episode.

“Michael” – It turns out that guest star Connor Trinneer has long been a valued member of the Atlantis team. Unfortunately, after a run in with some Wraith, Michael has lost his memory. But the rest of the team is determined to help him cope with his newly memory-free life (well, other than Ronon who really doesn’t like Michael for some reason). This is a good episode, but it could have been a great episode if not for the fact the writers seemed determined to build to a shocking twist which everyone in the audience is going to see coming several hundred miles away.

“Inferno” – When attempting to repair some Ancient technology on another planet, Rodney realizes that said technology has been over-used and the entire planet is about to be devastated by an erupting super-volcano. Since said eruption will kill all life on the planet, a plan to evacuate everyone is quickly enacted. The evacuation efforts are complicated however, when the gate falls into a pit of lava. Whoops.

“Allies” – Remember Michael from all of two episodes ago? Well he’s back, though he looks strangely different somehow (Connor Trinneer wasn’t available for this shoot so another actor was cast (but was then redubbed so it still sounds like Connor Trinneer even if he looks different)). Michael proposes an alliance between the Atlantis team and a faction of the Wraith. Will the Wraith and the humans be able to work together? Will mistrust get in the way? Or perhaps some third thing?

The Video
Video is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen format. Not surprisingly given most recent Sci-fi TV show DVD releases, the video looks great. Everything from the scenic establishing shots to the space battles come off looking crisp and clean.

The Audio
The sound is pretty good, for the most part. There were a couple episodes where I found myself having to adjust the volume a lot to compensate for the action sequences being much louder than the non-action scenes but that’s pretty much par for the course.

Special Features

We get commentaries on all twenty episodes. In most cases there’s some combination of a writer, director, actor and/or crew member involved in the commentary (though there are a couple episodes with only the director). The commentaries are quite well done, filled with lots of interesting and amusing anecdotes and very little dead air.

For those of you who care most about having the actors involved in the commentaries, some are definitely around more than others. A quick tally shows that David Hewlett does, by far, the most episodes, turning up on eight commentaries. Joe Flanigan and Gary Jones do three a piece (Gary Jones plays Walter on Stargate: SG-1 and, from what I can gather, is mainly participating because he was nearby and available at the time of recording). Rachell Luttrell, Torri Higginson and another SG-1 alum, Amanda Tapping each show up in a single commentary.

Mission Directives
These are ten-minute behind the scenes pieces hosted by the director of the episode. There’s one for “The Siege Part III”, “The Intruder” and “Instinct.”

Profile on: David Hewlett, Paul McGillion
These are about twenty minutes a piece and detail how the actors ended up on the show, what they think of their characters and things like that. The mood of these is rather light with a lot of tongue in cheek comments from Hewlett, McGillion and others.

Stargate Atlantis: Stunts
An 18-minute piece on the stunts of Stargate Atlantis, centered around stunt coordinator James “Bambam” Bamford. You aren’t going to gain any shocking new insights into stunt work, but it’s an enjoyable bit of fluff.

Road to a Dream with Martin Gero
A tongue-in-cheek piece about writer Martin Gero preparing for his first ever acting role. Sometimes it gets almost a little TOO silly, but an entertaining piece nonetheless.

Introduction to a Character: Ronon Dex
As the name suggests, this fifteen minute featurette is about Ronon’s introduction to the show.

Photo Galleries
The ever exciting photo gallery. If you are a fan of these, you’ll be happy to know this DVD set is jammed packed with photos; every disc has its own galleries.

The Inside Pulse
If you liked season one, you’ll almost certainly love season two on DVD. And even if you didn’t really care for season one, now might be a good time to give the series a second chance. And if you’re a fan of the show, you’ll certainly appreciate the myriad of special features.

The DVD Lounge’s Ratings for Stargate Alantis:
The Complete Second Season
(OUT OF 10)