"Thirty-Eight Minutes” is the first--and to my knowledge, only--episode to occur in real time. Dedicated Gaters ought to know thirty-eight minutes is the longest time a wormhole can stay open, so that has to be a plot point. It is, but with a goofy looking bug attached to Sheppard’s throat in order to add a medical emergency to the situation. The results are a mixed bag.
A recon team is surveying a planet when they are ambushed by Wraith. Sheppard provides cover for the others to escape, but winds up crashing into the web of a huge insect which subsequently attaches itself to his neck. In the haste to get Sheppard back to Atlantis for medical treatment, the puddle jumper becomes stuck halfway through the open stargate. Our heroes have thirty-eight minutes to get unstuck before the wormhole closes, chopping the puddle jumper in half. To make matters worse, a complication with the bug means it has to be removed in order for Sheppard to enter the stargate. What ensues is a load of techno babble and emergency surgery on the fly. Think Apollo 13 meets E/R.
There is good and there is bad within ’Thirty-Eight Minutes.” The best thing about the episode is how the characters are coming together to fill their roles in these situations. Sheppard risks himself to save his comrades. McKay the genius devises a way out of their predicament in the nik of time. Cool, calm ford has to perform the field medical procedure on Sheppard that may well kill him, plus he comes up with the final 9literal) push to send the Puddle jumper through the stargate. Weir demonstrates heavy is the head that wears the crown as she has little patience for issues rising up to prevent a solution to save her people. A ticking clock is also a great way to add tension.
What is bad? The bug, for one. I will admit the idea of any creepy crawly attaching itself to a person and literally sucking the life out of them is incredibly disturbing in concept alone. But this bug is not as intimidating in appearance as one would hope. Someone else may think a scary parasitic bug is a scary parasitic bug, but considering the plot involving it killing Sheppard is the main focus of tension, I expect something a little nastier than a rubber critter from Toy ’R Us. Another weak point is how much of the back story is told in out of sequence flashbacks. It is disjointed and a tacit admission there is not enough real time material to fill the thirty-eight minutes.
When it comes down to it, the bad points I listed above are technical flaws rather than those of drama. In regards to drama, ’Thirty-Eight Minutes” is effective. If nothing else, it rises above its typical sitcom plot of characters being trapped in an elevator and having to deal with a crisis. Some of the trappings are there. Rodney is claustrophobic. The No Exit, hell is other people of clashing personalities trapped together in cramped quarters under stress is there, too. At least no one had to deliver a baby.
The bottom line is “Thirty-Eight Minutes” is worth watching as a character piece. It will likely wind up a so-so episode in the long run because there is not that much to recommend about it. I am still learning about these characters and the overall set up of SGA, so I am going to be merciful in rating it with three stars. I will bet had it come later in the series when I am familiar with everything, it would have been a two at best.
Rating: *** (out of 5)