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Review: "Enemy at the Gate" ('Stargate Atlantis' 5x20)

The Atlantis team says goodbye, for now

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating
User Rating 2 Star Rating (2 Reviews)

By

David Hewlett as Dr. Rodney McKay in the 'Stargate Atlantis' season finale,

David Hewlett as Dr. Rodney McKay in the 'Stargate Atlantis' season finale, "Enemy at the Gate."

MGM

Cast:

  • Joe Flanigan … Lt. Col. John Sheppard
  • Rachel Luttrell … Teyla Emmagan
  • Jason Momoa … Ronon Dex
  • Jewel Staite … Jennifer Keller
  • Robert Picardo … Richard Woolsey
  • David Hewlett … Rodney McKay
  • Christopher Heyerdahl … Todd the Wraith
  • Mitch Pileggi … Col. Steven Caldwell
  • David Nykl … Radek Zelenka
  • Kavan Smith … Major Evan Lorne
  • Michael Beach … Col. Abe Ellis
  • Martin Christopher … Major Marks
  • Gary Jones … Sgt. Walter Harriman
  • Amanda Tapping … Col. Samantha Carter
  • Paul McGillion … Carson Beckett
  • Colin Cunningham … Major Paul Davis

Written by Joseph Mallozzi and Paul Mullie. Directed by Andy Mikita. Air date: Jan. 9, 2009.

Plot Synopsis (Contains Spoilers)

Todd contacts Atlantis and reveals that a Wraith subordinate has managed to acquire several zero point modules that he has used to power a formidable new hive ship. He urges Woolsey to attack and destroy before it becomes a threat to Atlantis.

On board the Daedalus, Colonel Caldwell, Colonel Sheppard and the rest of the team, rush to engage the new hive ship. But the ZPM powered vessel proves itself an impressive opponent, crippling the Daedalus before making a sudden and inexplicable jump into hyperspace.

Puzzled over the Wraith's sudden departure, the team picks up a weak subspace signal in Wraith code. McKay is quick to recognize that the communique was sent, through subspace, from another reality. Once deciphered, their worst fears are realized. The Wraith message contains a familiar set of coordinates. The hive ship is on its way to Earth!

The Big Goodbye

Christopher Heyerdahl as Todd the Wraith in the 'Stargate Atlantis' finale, "Enemy at the Gate."

Christopher Heyerdahl as Todd the Wraith in the 'Stargate Atlantis' season finale, "Enemy at the Gate."

MGM

Stargate Atlantis has had a tumultuous five years. Being one of the most fan-engaged sci-fi series has had both benefits and drawbacks for the production team, especially considering the creators' stubborn propensity for writing out--and even killing off--popular characters. Even before Rainbow Sun Francks's Aiden Ford, a first-season regular, was reduced to recurring and then dropped in season 2, the unexpected death of Peter Grodin (Craig Veroni) at the end of season 1 signaled the writers' intent to dramatize the danger of Atlantis's mission by forgoing the assumption that regularly seen faces were sacrosanct. Even the pilot kills off the top-billed military commander, Colonel Marshall Sumner (Robert Patrick).

This reached fan-infuriating extremes when the popular Carson Beckett (Paul McGillion) and mission commander Dr. Elizabeth Weir (Torri Higginson) were killed off in season 3. The death toll continued, taking in the likes of psychologist Kate Heightmeyer (Claire Rankin). Meanwhile even the addition of Stargate heavy-hitters Amanda Tapping (as Samantha Carter) and Robert Picardo (as Richard Woolsey) caused grumbling from some quarters as bad fits for the show.

More problematic than casting decisions, though, was the softening of the Wraith as enemies that occurred over the last few seasons. As introduced in season 1, the Wraith were a massive threat that Pegasus societies could not withstand, with abilities and technology the Atlanteans could not overcome. The show then spent the ensuring seasons moving away from that (admittedly difficult-to-sustain) premise.

Knowing the Enemy

More recently, the focus has been on individual Wraith leaders, and the fight with the Wraith has seemed more and more like galactic politics (thus making the presence of Richard Woolsey more apt than it might otherwise seem). Oddly, this made this cast-killer of a show progressively more safe.

In season 4 the confrontation with the Wraith spun out into an eddy focused on Michael (Connor Trinneer), a once-fascinating character who became difficult to project as a threat to the galaxy once it was clear he was obsessed only with stealing Teyla's baby, like some extra-nostriled Rumpelstiltskin. In season 5, the emphasis shifted to the genial Todd the Wraith (longtime Stargate bit-player and current Sanctuary co-star Christopher Heyerdahl), who was as often an ally as an enemy. All of this has had the marked effect of diluting the peril faced by John Sheppard and his Atlantis team.

So the effort in the last two episodes to reassert the danger posed by the Wraith is welcome, if belated. The final two stories--the outstanding one-off "Vegas" and the finale, "Enemy at the Gate"--stand together as a reestablishment of all the strongest possibilities of Stargate Atlantis. Sure, it's a shame this correction came at the very end of the series, but it came, and after a few intermittently great, often fallow seasons we finally get the best Atlantis has to offer.

Climactic Confrontation

Rachel Luttrell as Teyla Emmagan and Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex

Rachel Luttrell as Teyla Emmagan and Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex in the 'Stargate Atlantis' season finale, "Enemy at the Gate."

MGM

A threat to Earth is perhaps the unavoidable subject for an Atlantis finale. This means interaction with Stargate Command, and so we get the welcome return of Samantha Carter and Major Davis (Colin Cunningham) assigned to liaise with Atlantis and deal with the new Wraith danger, the much-too-brief reappearance of the clone Carson Beckett, and both SGC starship commanders, Caldwell (Mitch Pileggi) and Ellis (Michael Beach). There are a few a couple of other fun cameos, too; but "Enemy at the Gate" has so much plot to pack into its running time that it barely has time to be self-indulgent.

In fact the main problem with "Enemy at the Gate" is that it tries to do too much, whipping up a massive problem and resolving it with so much haste that one wonders why it wasn't a two-parter. The execution, if rushed, is technically excellent, with impressive space battles and other examples of the consistently strong effects that are hallmarks of the franchise.

Ultimately the finale needs to feel like the issues that have developed for the lead characters have some resolution, and these, too are handled adeptly if quickly: Teyla and Ronon's feelings about being aliens in a sea of humans, for example. Interestingly it's Woolsey who seems to have gotten the most out of his year's experience with Atlantis, having grown into the leader it didn't realize it needed.

"Enemy at the Gate" is an entertaining hour's television, but it also successfully shoulders the heavier burden of closing out (for now--there are TV-movies coming) a cut-above series that, for all its unevenness, will be missed.

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