Friday, August 10, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Childhood's End"

“Childhood’s End” is Logan’s Run meets Lord of the flies in the middle of a political science lecture on the theories of political economist Thomas Malthus. U wrote my undergrad thesis on Malthus, but I will mercifully spare you any longwinded discussions on his theories of overpopulation outstripping resources causing constant human misery. I shall justify wasting four years earning a BA in Political Science. Besides, the episode skips much of the grey morality behind any of the related issues it raises. A cop out? Meh. Maybe.

A Puddle Jumper carrying our heroes crash lands whilwe investigating an energy field. They soon run into a tribe of children who believe sacrificing themselves on their 25th birthdays has kept them safe from wraith attacks for five hundred years. In reality, it has been the energy shield which will not allow equipment to work properly, so the wraith have not bothered to show up in half a millennia. Rodney finds the shield is powered by a ZPM and takes it back to Atlantis to find out if it is usable. Meanwhile, the tribe elder, Keras, is planning to commit suicide because it is the eve of his 25th birthday.

We have our two moral dilemmas here. One, Rodney thinks it is fine to take the Zpm should it work for Atlantis. If worse comes to worse, he says they can just uproot the kids to Atlantis, too, since it would be a step up from living in trees. Two, Sheppard feels compelled to convince these kids ritualistic suicide is not necessary to keep the Wraith away because it is the energy field protecting them. However, the ritualistic suicide part o their religion. Our heroes have no business attempting to alter the religious beliefs of aliens they encounter.

The former issue is solved when the ZPM turns out to be too weak to use on Atlantis. It only has enough power to create a relatively small energy field. However built the energy shield also introduced the ritualistic suicide in order to keep the population low enough so the people would not make settlements outside the energy field. Convincing the kids it is the energy field and not the ritualistic suicide keeping the Wraith away becomes easy when Wraith probes attack while Rodney has the ZPM disconnected, but fall out of the sky once it is hooked back up. In perfect television logic, five hundred years of religious tradition is abandoned on the spot with no trouble whatsoever.

All right. There is a minor power struggle between keras and the next in line for leadership, Ares, but it is so superficially presented, one suspects it is thrown in just to pad out the climactic scenes. The matter is resolved even more easily than the dropping a five hundred year history of suicide.

I am never eager to be preached to by a television writer, particularly if he is not going to leave the issue presented up to me to decide. But presenting issues and then dropping them like a hot potato can be just as bad. What if the ZPM would have worked for Atlantis? Would out heroes be right to take it because they can make better use or can relocate the kids to a safe place against their will? Maybe it would have been interesting to explore that rather than all complications getting wrapped up conveniently in the end without any messy consequences whatsoever. The resolution is awfully pat, especially when Rodney finds a way to increase the energy field to allow for steady population growth. Fairy tales do not end with this perfectly.

I am hardly ever impressed when science fiction shows do stories centered around kids. Star trek does the theme the worst. The Stargate franchise has done a more decent job over the years, but not well enough to et over my personal aversion. “Childhood’s End” is no exception. Any interesting issues raised are dealt with unsatisfactorily in the hopes, I assume, the emotionalism of having children involved will carry the story for the audience. It does not.

I will say this, though--the main characters are really coming into their own. Sheppard is growing on me as a looser version of Jack. Rodney as toned down his obnoxious behavior enough to pass himself off as a hero while still retaining the humor surrounding the character. Ford is a likable guy. It is a shame something awful is going to happen to him. The weakest point is Teyla. She reminds me much of Teal’c as the stoic one who clearly states the obvious so the other characters can be witty and sarcastic. I fear she will become frequent wallpaper as teal’c did in many episodes during the middle seasons of the parent series.

The bottom line is the script is weak. Too many interesting possible moral quandries are raised only to be dropped unceremoniously for an implausibly pat ending. Some fun character moments keep “Childhood’s End’ out of the basement, but not by far. Hey, we are six episodes in before I have any serious complaints. That is a good sign of things to come.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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