Sunday, August 19, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Before I Sleep"

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.

My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.

He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound's the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.

The woods are lovely, dark and deep.
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening--Robert Frost

I am a sucker for the science fiction concepts of time travel and alternate realities., so ni was looking forward to “Before I Sleep.” the episode exceeded all expectations. First time franchise writer Carl Binder weaves a story that is both wide in scope and deeply personal revolving around the as yet underutilized Weir in what is so far my favorite episode of the young series.

While exploring more of Atlantis, Sheppard’s team discovers a laboratory with an old woman in stasis. Rodney estimates she has been in stasis for 10,000 years, so she must be an Ancient. He urges her revival so they can find out what she knows about the city. Against medical advice, weir allows the stasis to be turned off. The old woman turns out not to be an ancient, but Weir herself having time traveled back 10,000 years ago.

Old weir begins telling the story, with both clips from “Rising” and new footage seamlessly added, of how the expedition’s original arrival triggered an energy surge that caused the shield surrounding the submerged city to fail. Everyone except Weir, Sheppard, and Zalenka drowned. The three escaped in what is revealed to be a Time Jumper which takes them into the distant past. The time Jumper is immediately attacked by Wraith. Only Weir survives the attack.

She awakens to find the Lanteans around her. Janus, the inventor of the Time Jumper and presumably a two-faced sort of fellow, is thrilled to know his ship works and Atlantis survives far into the future. Weir wants to return to the future, but the city leadership does not want the timeline polluted any further. They are on the verge of evacuating ahead of imminent Wraith attack. They offer to allow weir to go to earth with them. She refuses, and Janus helps her instead arrange for a way to keep the shield going when her team arrives in the future. The catch is she will have to remain behind in stasis, waking up every 3,300 years in order to adjust the ZPM power source. In the event this plan fails, he plans a failsafe in which the city will surface itself in the event of shield failure, which is why the city inexplicably surfaces in the first episode when the shield fails.

Old weir is thrilled her sacrifice has given her younger self and colleagues a second chance to explore Pegasus. She leaves them the addresses of several ancient outposts with ZPM and dies in a hospital bed with her younger self holding her hand. The episode ends with Weir spreading the ashes of Old weir into the ocean.

As noted above, the title “Before I Sleep’ comes from the famous 1923 Robert Frost poem about a traveler riding through the woods as the snowfall becomes heavier and heavier. He is riding towards the forest owner’s house and cannot stop to rest until he arrives there. The same could be said of old weir’s lonely watch over Atlantis as she slowly ages in anticipation her actions will keep her alternate self and friends alive when they finally arrive.

“Before I Sleep” is a fantastically poignant episode. It is difficult to believe carl Binder is a newcomer to writing for the franchise. He weaves so many things perfectly into the mythos. It is Janus who invented the Time Jumper discovered in Stargate SG-1’s “It’s good to be King.”, the time Jumper is used by SG-1 to retrieve a ZPM from Ra, and Moros, the leader of the Council of Atlantis, is the Merlin featured prominently in the Ori story arc, etc. pretty cool continuity, there. Flashbacks and new scenes are fit together perfectly, including some impressive flooding effects when Atlantis is overtaken after the shield fails.

The best part is how Weir interacts with her old self. Torri Higginson plays both roles, which has to be tough considering how often they share screen time during some powerful moments. What would it be like to find out you have it within yourself to slowly sacrifice your life over 10,000 years in order to save other people, then watch yourself die of extreme ld age? It is difficult to imagine. The make up job done on old weir is great, too. It is far less fake and rubbery than the work used to age the SG-1 cast in “Unending". The difference in quality is strange, since “Before I Sleep” was made two years prior by the same make up team. The artists regressed, folks!

I cannot say at this point where “Before I Sleep” will wind up among my favorites, but it is at the top of the handful of episodes I have seen thus far. There are some of the usual issues with time travel stories. A couple matters like how weir survives the Time Jumper attack are ignored. There is even a blatant technical error when weir refers to Sumner as general rather than colonel. But I enjoy the episode too much to quibble over such matters.

Rating: **** (out of 5)

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