Sunday, September 02, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Condemned"

“Condemned,” as you might guess, deals with the topics of capital punishment. It is obvious the powers that be at SGA are anti-death penalty, but the episode thankfully does not descend into a preachy tirade. It does, however, send some weird messages on the subject which have me scratching my head. There is a line between presenting both sides allowing the viewer to make up his own mind about an issue and going in so many directions the story becomes schizo. “Condemned” is the latter.

The AR-1 team lands on an island upon which a primitive civilization lives. The settlement turns out to be part of an island penal colony. Security forces from the planet rescue AR-1 and open trade negotiations in spite of misgivings about the justice system. The most violent criminals are placed on the island. When the Wraith come through the stargate, they feed on the inmates. The mainland is let alone to thrive technologically. Macabre, but it has worked for centuries.

On their way back to the stargate, AR-1 is shot down and taken prisoner by the inmates. They force Rodney to repair the Puddle Jumper under penalty of death so they can escape. Here is where the issue of using condemned prisoners as Wraith food gets murky. Or murkier, if you are not open to the death penalty in the first place. Capital punishment has been such an effective deterrent, violent crime has become almost non-existent, which is an argument in favor of capital punishment. However, the people need to keep the Wraith satisfied, so the justice system keeps lowering the bar for crime so the island can be well populated for the cullings. A lot of people are undeserving of their imprisonment. However, many of them still are. The leader of the inmates, Torrell, has murdered eleven people.

The AR-1 team manages to get free just before the next culling with the help of a Weir and Lorne rescue team. The Puddle Jumper is beyond repair, but Sheppard orders the stargate open so all the prisoners--including the murderers--can escape the Wraith. Weir complies. Then AR-1 dials out to Atlantis. The result is an army of vicious murders is set loose heaven only knows where because either capital punishment is a no no to our heroes, or being killed by Wraith is too cruel and unusual. Whichever the case, cutting all these guys loose is not a good solution. I understand the sentiment it is better to let ten guilty men go free then one innocent man be wrongly convicted, but Sheppard and weir made far too casual a decision to let the condemned go free. Sheppard knows it, too, because he refuses to let them dial to Atlantis with AR-1. But it is the best of luck to the populations of the planets these cutthroats wind up on.

So is capital punishment good because it has been such an effective deterrent the bar for earning a death sentence has to periodically lowered to keep up a steady supply of Wraith chow, or is it such a cruel and unusual punishment it is moral to allow everyone who has drawn a death sentence ro go free even if they are guilty? The way the issue is set up, one feels squeamish arguing either position, but with the Wraith deciding to feast on the general population once the prisoners have escaped…well, who knows? All one can say for certain is AR-1 leaves about as large a swath of destruction as SG-1 does in many of its adventures.

The Wraith villain in “Condemned” is unusual. He is a cultured guy who enjoys food and spirits. He has bern perfectly willing to maintain the “civilized” relationship as long as there is a steady supply of prisoners upon which to feed. In a twisted way, he is supposed to come off as more humane than the human leadership does. The Wraith sipping wine and talking business is one of the few highlights of “Condemned.”

I am not particularly impressed with “Condemned.” I am especially disappointed because it iwas penned by Carl Binder, whom I have given high praise before. There are too many mized signals here for “condemned” to be thought provoking. The problem, if for no other reason, is how little thought appears to go into character’s moral decisions. There are some amusing bits, such as the epicurean Wraith, Weir toughening up from her old, pacifist ways, and Rodney’s perpetual quips, but none of those points save the episode from a moral morass.

Rating: ** (out of 5)

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