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Phantoms - Review

Phantoms is the 9th episode in Season Three in Stargate Atlantis.


Having played mind games with Weir in The Real World, Phantoms attempts to do something similar with the rest of the SGA team, and in particular Sheppard. Unfortunately, the underlying story is not as successful as The Real World and is not particularly interesting but it does retain a good team feel and just about balances all six main regular characters.


The main arc of Phantoms is clichéd; team are stranded on a planet with something that tricks them into viewing each other as an enemy. It’s all been done before in wider sci-fi terms and there is little attempt to do anything original with the formula here and make it more interesting. The focus appears to have been on leaving the formula alone and instead, putting the ‘phantoms’ for each of the SGA characters centre stage. This might have elevated the story from cliché if something original had been done here either but alas no.

Ronon gets little to do but chase around the forest after his phantom Wraith. He shows little of the intelligence that was so evidently on display in Sateda and is drawn one-dimensionally as a gung-ho shoot ‘em up soldier. He is used effectively however as the main threat to the team and in particular, Teyla and Sheppard. His slowly closing in on them creates a great sense of urgency and tension in the final scenes.

The major focus is on Sheppard and his ‘phantom’ of rescuing an injured pilot in Afghanistan; his perceived enemy being the Taliban. The slide into the hallucination is well done; with Sheppard slowly seeing his friend instead of Teyla; hearing jeeps and voices before he loses all sense of his actual environment. The back and forth between the images in Sheppard’s mind and reality are beautifully done and seamless. Unfortunately, given the amount of time spent on it, the hallucination doesn’t really provide any further insight into Sheppard than the audience already knows; he will go against orders, he won’t leave people behind, he is a thoughtful soldier constantly thinking strategically. While the dualism of using a tactical situation in his past that might mirror the one in reality works well in terms of the shots and the imagery, there is the feeling this was an opportunity missed to reveal more about Sheppard the man rather than simply showing again Sheppard the ace soldier.

Indeed, this is probably the failing of the ‘phantoms’ because in every case the emphasis is placed on tying the phantom to the role of the character, his job and function rather than to the psyche of the person beneath the role. Hence nothing further is revealed about McKay; his phantom is the Wraith technology itself with the hallucination that the power is overloading. Equally, Beckett’s ‘phantoms’ are the Marines he is caring for and his enemy becomes McKay constantly pulling him away from his charges.

Beckett actually gets the most interesting ‘phantom’. The tease of when the second Marine died and his continued appearing to Beckett to encourage him to save his team-mate is exceptionally well done. There is the subtle suggestion that the doctor has been tricked into leaving one Marine to die by the device yet the ‘ghost’ ensures the survival of the other; was it the Wraith device or was it actually the ghost of the dead Marine? It’s an intriguing note that makes that element of the story very interesting and this whole section is pure quality especially as Paul McGillion delivers an outstanding performance.

Given the relative lack of success in establishing meaningful ‘phantoms’ for the characters, it is perhaps as well that Teyla doesn’t get one and it is good to see her getting to be the hero as she manages to focus Sheppard into helping her switch the machine off. It’s also great to see the writers once again remembering her Wraith DNA which here provides her with immunity from the device. Rachel Luttrell also puts in a good performance with her increasing frustration at not being able to reach Sheppard nicely acted.

It’s also good to see that Weir although back on Atlantis is not ignored either. Her scenes of escalating concern for the team help to break up the monotony of the forest shots and add to the team feel throughout. The sense of team also comes across because there is a role here for all six of the regular characters within the story. The final scene with the team on the radio to Weir having come together again ensures the ending is satisfying and leaves the viewer with a warm fuzzy feeling.

The episode overall is well executed and enjoyable enough to watch; good direction, great sets, suitably creepy and decaying corpses; the hallucinations, especially Sheppard’s, are done with great attention to detail, loved seeing the Kull warriors make an appearance, the musical underscore adds tension occasionally through absence as much as through being there. All the cast turn in good performances with the dialogue spot on and suitably in-character. McKay’s ‘Lieutenant Loony-Tunes’ was my favourite stand-out quote.

It is just a shame the story doesn’t quite deliver anything original either in terms of the genre or for the characters. While it would have been infinitely harder to write something that really delved into the psyches of the SGA team, it might have made this a much more interesting tale to watch. Overall, Phantoms is good but it could have been better.




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