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Brain Storm - Review

Brain Storm is the 16th episode in Season 5 of Stargate Atlantis.

Review

Stargate Atlantis takes a step into quirky romantic comedy to highlight green issues with the latest episode Brain Storm. With the focus reduced to the romantic pairing, an Earth-based story and only the thinnest of links back to the wider Atlantis story, the episode bears little resemblance to the usual Stargate Atlantis fare. As a result, it needed to be brilliant in every respect to counteract the audience disappointment in their usual expectations not being met. Unfortunately, while Brain Storm is not a bad episode, it is not brilliant enough to offset the lack of, well, Stargate Atlantis.

Given the genre focus, the episode relies heavily on the chemistry of the romantic pairing. The story arc building the idea of a relationship between McKay and Keller has been in play since Trio but especially through Season 5, and Brain Storm puts it front and centre. Whether the viewer likes the pairing or not, thinks that the pairing works or not will greatly affect their enjoyment of the story. I happen to be both supportive of the show tackling romantic elements and I quite like the idea of these characters as a couple. For me it is a believable pairing; both are professional, intellectual, yet with a number of insecurities and phobias, and David Hewlett and Jewel Staite have a nice chemistry; they seem genuinely fond of each other and this plays out on screen. Still, despite my positive ambivalence toward the pairing, ahead of Brain Storm I would not have been entirely convinced that it is strong enough to carry an episode and, after seeing the episode, I’m afraid to say I remain unconvinced.

The whole story premise effectively revolves around McKay and Keller’s first real date at a physics conference where predictably things go very wrong; Keller ends up in danger; McKay plays the romantic lead hero and rescues her. It is a classic romance genre plot. There are some lovely moments; the opening trailer of McKay’s invitation and Keller’s acceptance; the holding hands in the auditorium; the rescue with McKay’s fervent plea to Keller (although like with The Shrine, I’m not sure that declarations of love on a first date are that believable).

What doesn’t work so well is that the rest of the story is very weak with neither the science-fiction element nor any comedic value really being outstanding. The space-time matter bridge is the only tie back to the wider Atlantis stories beyond the characters themselves and the idea of using it as a way of solving global warming is an interesting one. The presence of TV scientists Bill Nye and Neil de Grasse Tyson (who both put in great performances) imbue the episode with added scientific seal of approval. Here definitely is the ‘green’ focus. But some of the science of the weather fronts with tornados suddenly appearing and disappearing seems a little wishy-washy and the message gets preachy especially in the scene where McKay notes in the plane that ‘everyone has to do their bit’ and the scene where Keller tells the scientists that they are acting like sixth graders. The ‘you need to work together, the rest of us are counting on you’ beat is not exactly subtle.

With the science-fiction more fiction than science, the comedy aspect may have saved the story but comedy is always a bit hit and miss – people will either love or hate it. Here the entire joke seems to be centred around McKay’s reputation as a loser with his peers and people – especially Tunney – stealing his ideas. We’re all supposed to laugh apparently at McKay’s humiliation and outrage. Unfortunately, the joke falls flat. The way his peers gang up against McKay smacks of playground bully tactics rather than humorous mickey-taking. On a serious note, it does highlight the difficulties of maintaining a professional standing in the real world, but this is old ground covered in SG1. The funniest moment is probably McKay’s quick retort to Tunney over the term ‘freeze lightening.’ David Foley does a good job with Tunney displaying a McKayesque arrogance and abrasiveness while making Tunney a distinct character. Even the additional ‘joke’ of calling the SGC only for Walter to hang up is not funny.

The whole ends up being nothing more than OK but I don’t think it helped here to have Martin Gero pulling double duty with the writing and directing. The singular focus seems to have led to a lack of balance rather than the fulfilment of a brilliant vision. It’s definitely a long way from the brilliance that was needed to offset the lack of the usual Atlantis trappings. The spirit of the ‘team’ is sorely missed especially given the opening where there is a nod back to the romantic triangle nonsense when Ronon declares ‘who cares?’ The lack of team is underscored by just how little the rest of the cast is used; no Teyla or Woolsey, and a fleeting appearance only by Sheppard and Ronon. This isn’t helped with the Earth based nature of the story which reduces its links with Atlantis and makes it ordinary and mundane. Moreover, the city of Atlantis is missed. This story might have worked if it had been balanced by a ‘B’ plot back on Atlantis.

Overall, Brain Storm falls into what I call the fast food section; enjoyable and throwaway fulfilling a momentary want for Stargate but forgotten a heartbeat later. It’s insubstantial fluff. I liked it but I didn’t love it and I missed the elements that make the show for me; the team, and importantly, Atlantis.

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