Thursday, October 04, 2012

Stargate Atlantis--"Sunday"

I noted way back in the Stargate SG-1 seventh season episode ”Heroes, Part II” the virtue of watching a series I have virtually no previous knowledge of is the genuine surprises. In this day and age of omnipresent spoilers, particularly in science fiction where geeks are obsessed with opening their Christmas presents before putting them under the tree, it is refreshing to be surprised by events. Mercy, was I surprised by the turn of events in “Sunday.”

I knew Beckett was not going to make it to the end of SGA. Of course, I knew Janet Frasier was going to depart before the end of SG-1. Nevertheless, both deaths came at what in television terms regular episodes rather than premires or finale as one would suspect. The unexpected deaths are a punch in the gut because of the surprise element. I am extra pained because Beckett was the character I foun most amusing. He was used sparingly enough that most all his screen time was something special. Such was my feelings about Frasier, too. It does not pay to be an play an appealing, recurring doctor in the Stargate franchise, does it?

Comparisons with “Heroes, Part II” are inevitable considering both kill off their respective series’ doctor character while in the midst of saving a life. Both episode are also told in less traditional form. I appreciate the effort to differentiate them. “Heroes, Part Ii” is a tense battle scene in which it is not revealed until the end Frasier has been killed. “Sunday” is a character driven, humor laden story of what the characters do on a lazy Sunday told in non-linear fashion. We see the events leading up to a cataclysmic event from everyone’s different perspective unil the climax when fatal tragedy strikes Beckett.

Up until that pnt, the episode presents the impending disaster as a bomb going off in the teaser, than going back eihth hours for the first act to show our characters happily going about their day beforehand. Weir has a date with Dr. Michael Brandon, Sheppard and Ronon bounce around from activity to activity like bored schoolboys, Zelenka enjoys a chess tournament, Teyla goes off to play volleyball, Lorne paints a landscape, and Rodney rekindles his kinda sorta romance with Dr. Katie Brown. The latter is poignant because roney arranges the ate so he does not have to go fishing with Beckett. In fact, Beckett cannot convince anyone to go fishing with him, so he goes back to work. It is because he is working that he is killed.

The explosion in the teaser is caused by one of two AR team members who recently discovered an Ancient evice an turned it on before realizing it was exposing them to high levels of radiation. The device creates tumors in people that eventually explode. The first one, in a woman, explodes in a hallway. The second explodes after Beckett removes it safely from the other team member. Beckett is caught in the blast. To make his death more tragic, we are supposed to have a sense of relief the surgery is successful. We are not supposed to think the tumor is going to blow up anyway.

An emotionally touching point is Rodney’s guilt over weaseling out of going fishing. Had he gone, Beckett would still be alive. Ronon, of all people, offers words of encouragement. In what could either be a hallucination or evidence beckett ascended, he an Rodney have a conversation to close out the episode in which Rodney admits Beckett is the only best friend he has ever had. Beckett assures him his death is not Rodney’s fault, and the two say goodbye.

I am having a hard time rating “Sunday.” It feels like the wriers were trying to lull the audience into thinking the episode will be about gaining insight into our characters by way of their downtime interrupted by a bombing plot device that will not have much impact. Then we are blindsided by the death of a major character instead. The light character moments are funny and entertaining,. Beckett’s death and memorial service are effectively moving emotionally. “sunday” ought to be on of the best in the series. But it is not.

Two things can happen when a series kills off a beloved character. The death can be a bittersweet experience that elevates the series. Or it can be a big mistake. You have to make your own judgment how you feel about these things. You may believe Beckett’s death kicks the series up a notch by creating a very sad episode. As much as I liked Frasier, I think her death added a seriousness to SG-1 that had not been around in a while. Others think her death was a mistake in light of the series being renewed. I am of the opinion that Beckett’s death is a mistake. There is much more interesting things that could have come from him. His death, while well done, should not have happened. Since it does, I have to rate ‘Sunday” down a notch. Not too bad. There are still no major flaws with it, but killing off Beckett is a bad move.

Rating: *** (out of 5)

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