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The Shrine - Review

The Shrine is the 6th episode in Season Five of Stargate Atlantis.

Review

In many ways The Shrine is an excellent episode: a story focused on how the characters deal with the decline and imminent death of one of their own while using the unique setting of the Stargate universe to provide the reason and solution for the predicament. It is a well-written piece that allows most of the cast to stretch their acting wings and, while not perfect, it is imbued with emotion at every turn. The downside is that this story has been told before in Atlantis; the details may have changed but Rodney McKay facing death is old news.

Back in Season 3, The Tao of Rodney was a fantastic episode that focused on McKay making peace with himself and his friends before he died. The Shrine changes the details on every level but the core of the story is the same: how McKay and his friends face his death. The echo of that past story does take something nebulous away from this – an emotional connection between the audience and McKay’s plight. The audience has been here before and ultimately McKay’s survival is never in doubt. For this viewer, it means that while I observe the emotion the story is filled with, I’m not connected enough for it to pull at my heart-strings, so the scene where Jeannie visits with her brother for the first time and his condition causes her to cry, hurrying from the room is well done by both David and Kate Hewlett but doesn’t raise a tear in this viewer nor do the poignant video diaries showing an ever declining McKay.

The video diary is a good device providing a narrative all of its own, showing the progression of the condition and how it slowly strips away that which is most important to McKay: his mind. The simplicity of the close up shot of McKay, the repetition of the details which he increasingly fails to remember, really drives home the sheer horror of the condition and how devastating it is for McKay. The video segments allow the audience to become a voyeuristic witness to the loss of McKay’s dignity and importantly, his very identity as by the end he claims he is no longer Doctor McKay but simply Rodney McKay; it’s uncomfortable yet compelling.

Hewlett really excels in these diary recordings and they provide a great stage for him to demonstrate his range as an actor and the complexity of McKay. More, the whole episode allows Hewlett once again to really unpeel the layers on McKay showing every aspect from the whining hypochondriac through to McKay the friend who confides his fear of losing himself to the flash of the argumentative and brilliant arrogance that is McKay the genius scientist. Just as in The Tao of Rodney, Hewlett has a gift for showing all these sides to McKay yet reconciling them into the one character.

He is not the only actor to excel though; Joe Flanigan does an excellent job. The scene of McKay and Sheppard on the pier, drinking beer and talking about McKay’s fears is so well done and is conceptually brilliant. Here at last is the underlying and deep friendship between the two men beyond all the surface conflict that the audience suspected existed. There is something in the way both men play the scene from the moment McKay wakes Sheppard in his quarters to the laughter at ‘You’re a good friend, Arthur’ that hints that this isn’t the first time that the two have sat on a pier in the darkness and shared both beer and fears. The scene is likely to be appreciated as a classic for a long time to come.

Jewel Staite also puts in a good performance. Her mix of guilt and medical dedication provide an interesting angle. Keller comes into her own in this story; she stands her ground at last. For the first time Keller came across as a credible CMO; tough, dedicated and caring. I admit that as I find Keller as a character a more believable romantic partner for McKay than a CMO, the suggestion of the two progressing with feelings doesn’t overly bother me although one drink and a fruit cup dinner date translating into McKay declaring love is a bit a stretch.

Sadly, it’s Jason Momoa and Rachel Luttrell who don’t get enough material to make an impact which given this is a Pegasus problem with a Pegasus solution they really should have had more screen time. Momoa does a fine job with what he’s given; the story of his grandfather is well done as his determination to take McKay to the Shrine but the wig is horrendous and a distraction from the acting. It just isn’t natural and Momoa seems to be fighting it at every turn. Luttrell is badly underused. She has no more to do than hover in the background and look sad. As a result she comes across as completely disconnected with events. The only time she seems part of the story is the motherly temperature check on McKay as they cling to the top of the Stargate (where that pull back to the wide-shot of the valley is fabulous.)

Outside of the main plot, Robert Picardo continues to delight as Woolsey. There is something joyous in his bureaucratic focus with his discussion on whether he had time to get breakfast just being very funny. His confiding his experience of his father’s disease was nice back-story. What is also good is that there is the sense still that Woolsey and Sheppard still don’t agree on everything: the length of time for the reports and the MALP.

Overall, this is a great story and Brad Wright deserves huge applause as its writer. It is different from The Tao of Rodney taking the inverse view – what if McKay gets stupid rather than more intelligent. It’s also incredibly intelligent and thought-provoking with scenes that definitely resonate on a human level with the audience - is it more important to say goodbye or to continue to fight for a cure being one example. It’s just a huge shame that the similar concept of McKay facing death was already done in The Tao of Rodney. The Shrine is a much better story and if I hadn’t had my heart-strings pulled with McKay facing death already, I’m sure there would have been tears shed.
 

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