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Harmony - Review

Harmony is the 14th episode in Season Four of Stargate Atlantis.

Review

A fantasy tale of McKay and Sheppard escorting a child through a forest on a quest to become queen really had the potential to be a complete disaster, yet Harmony turns out to be a surprisingly successful story. The writing is tight; the direction and photography beautiful; and the acting by all three main actors wonderfully executed.

The story skims the fantasy cliché right from the start; the mock medieval setting, the two beautiful sisters, the rite of passage for the young queen-to-be. The flirting with the cliché continues with the beast in the forest and an evil sister plotting to kill her sibling. Yet somehow the tale maintains its integrity despite these clichés and lack of originality. In part this is due to the final denouement which brings the tale back to sci-fi and Atlantis with the pendant being a key to the Ancient technology that enables them to defeat their enemy. This marries the fantasy with the sci-fi heart of Stargate extremely well and elevates the story above its fantasy standard fare.

If I take one issue with the actual story it is in the use of the Genii as the evil bounty-hunters. Given that Ladon and the Genii are considered allies of Team Atlantis, their sudden turn to child killers in order to attain a trade agreement is a little unsettling. Yes, we know the Genii are ruthless; yes, there is an explanation provided in the dialogue; but it still feels awkward. It feels like there was a need to have an outside enemy and someone suggested the Genii in order to negate the necessity of having to create something new. While I appreciate that a completely new group of soldiers who we’ve never met before would have been difficult to explain within the parameters of the story, it still feels a little odd that it’s the Genii when a group of random bounty hunters from Harmony’s own planet would have fit the bill.

Still, it is a minor irritant and the rest of the story is extremely well-written. Kudos has to go to Martin Gero. The banter between the characters is snappy and witty – humorous without getting too childish – and the plotting of the tale and events extremely well-crafted. It all flows wonderfully. Will Waring’s direction is also just superb. The pacing is fantastic; the shots all seamlessly executed. The fantastic panorama views are just stunning and the photography of them elevates those shots to art. Beautiful; simply beautiful.

The writing and direction provide a good framework and hold the story together but the success of the piece is heavily reliant on the quality of the acting as with such a thin plot, the interaction between the characters is key. The decision to use McKay and Sheppard is good because the dynamic continues to be the strongest between the Atlantis characters. Their back and forth is perfectly timed; their knowledge of each others’ strengths and foibles just adding realism to their partnership. Joe Flanigan and David Hewlett have this down to a fine art; the looks, the repartee – it’s all excellent while the material never stretches them.

If the Atlantis regulars put in accomplished performances so to does Jodelle Ferland who is just fantastic as Harmony. The character could have so easily become a caricature but Ferland delivers a very talented and mature performance. She demonstrates the regal, arrogance of Harmony, the girlishness of the child who is not yet a woman, the child-like vulnerability of disappointment and the stubborn brattishness. Harmony springs from the screen as a three-dimensional character as a result. In fact, I would go as far to say that I wouldn’t mind a revisit from the character in another episode – which is somewhat of a surprise to me.

The story also works well to redeem McKay’s character somewhat beyond the events of the previous episode. If Quarantine showed the worst of the character, here is a more rounded view. The character can be arrogant, whiny and heavily into self-preservation but he’s also heroic in his own way even if that isn’t an obvious heroism in contrast to Sheppard. It’s good to see the juxtaposition.

The humour of the piece is well done and relies on the natural comedy of the situation and the characters rather than any particular set pieces beyond the last scene with the portrait – that was worth it for the expression on Sheppard’s face. Harmony and McKay’s ‘I don’t not like you’ exchange; the ‘what do they teach you in Genii school?’; Sheppard’s ‘I know which way I’m leaning’ to Harmony’s proposal. All is neatly interwoven.

My only other complaint about Harmony is that there is no explanation why McKay and Sheppard are there without the third member of the team, Ronon. Teyla’s absence is no surprise given the arc but there is no clear reason given for why Ronon isn’t with them. At least the character is mentioned though which is an improvement on the ‘let’s not mention them at all’ approach which seems to be in place for the female characters.

Minor irritants aside, Harmony is a well-executed tale. The fantasy clichés, the child actor and the humorous focus of the story had the potential to create a disaster but instead deliver a credible episode. While it possibly doesn’t qualify as a classic episode in the way of a Sateda or Common Ground, it is a solid outing for cast and crew, and very enjoyable.

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