View Full Version : FAN REVIEWS: 'Vegas'

December 6th, 2008, 08:31 PM
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<FONT SIZE="4"><A HREF="http://www.gateworld.net/atlantis/s5/519.shtml" STYLE="text-decoration: none">VEGAS</A></FONT>
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In the city of Las Vegas, Detective John Sheppard must solve the case on a long string of unusual murders -- perpetrated by a Wraith in hiding.

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January 5th, 2009, 04:10 PM
I don’t often mention it, but I find the entire “CSI” franchise to be a waste. What could have been a far more interesting series was quickly revealed as style over substance. In particular, the writing and acting is abysmal, and the directorial style seems based on a combination of ADHD and excessive drug abuse. I have yet to get through even one episode of that series, despite multiple attempts on the advice of others.

So it’s not hard to understand my reaction to this episode. As clever as it was to co-opt and mock the “CSI” formula to tell a very different kind of “Stargate” story, I found it very hard to enjoy. I’ll give everyone full credit for the effort that was put into the presentation and characterization, and the cast (particularly Flanagan and Hewlett) pulled it off beautifully, but I kept waiting for things to return to some semblance of normalcy. After all, we like to say that change is good, but that only applies if the changes are actually palatable.

In terms of plot, this was also a bit of a cheat. The writers wanted to set up a major Earth/Wraith conflict at the end of the season/series. So why not build up to it over the course of the season? Instead, they use this alternate reality episode to jump-start the plot, thus allowing for the invasion without the need to spend time on setting it up. Considering some of the questionable plotting decisions this season, including entire episodes that have felt like a waste of time (even without the cancellation in mind), this feels like a massive plot convenience.

I’m sure this will appeal to a number of fans (especially those who love anything involving Sheppard and McKay). It does provide a prelude to the finale, and for that reason alone, it justifies its existence. That said, for me, the style was abrasive and made it hard to enjoy. In fact, my reaction to “Vegas” was similar to my reaction to “Sateda”, another episode directed by Robert Cooper where style was very much in the forefront. When style becomes an unwelcome distraction, the results will always be hit or miss.

John Keegan
Reprinted with permission
Original source: c. Critical Myth, 2009
All rights reserved
Link: http://www.criticalmyth.com

January 6th, 2009, 02:57 PM
Vegas is not just a step outside of the box entitled Stargate: Atlantis but an entire leap. On one hand, this is a clever and stylishly told alternate reality story with Sheppard at its centre yet on the other it leaves behind just about everything familiar about the show that the audience has tuned into see beyond the Atlantis mythos itself.

The absence of the familiar is the most wrenching aspect. From the get-go, the startling difference in the style shoves the audience into uncomfortable territory. It’s Earth; it’s John but not as we know him; and the differences make the truth sink in fast: this is not our reality. This is supported by the use of CSI style flashbacks and filming techniques which give an unfamiliar framework and underscores to the audience that this is not the Atlantis that we know. It is on this single aspect that Vegas both excels and fails.

It fails because it doesn’t deliver Stargate Atlantis; there is no team here. These characters are not the characters that we have supported for five years but doppelgangers living the road not taken …and Teyla and Ronon don’t even get to make any kind of appearance at all. Neither does the city of Atlantis feature. Not a shot of the city nor the Stargate is in sight. Everything is Earth based and the entire story is set in a parallel universe with no interaction with our own.

I love AU stories; some of Stargate’s best episodes have touched on AUs; SG1’s There But For the Grace of God being the first and arguably best of these but I also love SGA’s Before I Sleep. Yet the draw of these stories has always been the Alice in Wonderland nature of seeing ‘our’ characters interact with their doubles or have to deal with the alternate reality. That is missing here and that loss is felt.

Instead what we do get is an original take: the story is completely within an AU and told primarily through the double of John Sheppard who is used as the outsider to hold up a mirror to the Atlantis expedition. Here Sheppard is the anti-hero; a loner with gambling debts, barely scraping by professionally, and no lasting connection it seems to anything but his car. Yet scratch the surface and given a chance, and a very recognisable Sheppard emerges from the shadows; intelligent, heroic, and saving the Earth. Joe Flanigan acts his socks off.

In many ways this is a compressed mirror of our Sheppard’s story, certainly told in broad strokes and skewed through the AU differences but the same: a disgraced, isolated man who finds redemption by saving Earth from the Wraith. There is a poignant character journey within the story as AU Sheppard travels the path from the depths of his disgrace to redemption. And there is no doubt that this is a compelling story, a compelling character study for John Sheppard, because despite the AU, this is the Sheppard the audience knows and loves underneath all the outward differences.

Just as this is Stargate: Atlantis underneath all the outward differences. The story is a story only Atlantis could tell and it focuses on the true purpose of the expedition: to be the frontline against the Wraith and prevent them ever setting foot on Earth. As McKay walks Sheppard through what has happened, how the Wraith ended up on Earth, the darts, their true nature, this also informs the audience again of these very things within our universe. The interrogation room scene and the end scenes between McKay and Sheppard were very well done. Hewlett also provides a good turn as another McKay; a more confident less insecure McKay; more reminiscent of SG1’s The Road Not Taken’s McKay than any other. That last scene between them when McKay verbalises his faith in Sheppard and his understanding that sometimes things don’t go to plan, how one action can lead to disaster or success and change the outcome of an entire life, is extremely well-played.

This part of the story with McKay informing Sheppard of the truth also helps make the Wraith seem newly alien again: their differences in physiology, strength and telepathic abilities highlighted. By taking them out of the familiar setting of the Pegasus Galaxy and reintroducing them to us via AU Sheppard’s eyes, their threat is once again made real to us. The make-up and prosthetics used for the hunted Wraith and also for crazy Todd (a wonderful cameo by Christopher Heyerdahl) is fantastic.

The music used to underscore the hunted Wraith’s presence on screen is loud, brash, challenging. It rightly unnerves and suits the sneering arrogance of the Wraith’s inner nature. Personally, the musical choices were not to my taste despite the creative and artistic reasons I can guess at for choosing them given the different style for this episode.

Still, the episode’s originality does deliver another story this season which doesn’t deliver what the audience expects of an Atlantis episode, namely the team and Atlantis. In any other season this may not have mattered but as the penultimate episode of the entire series, as a viewer I crave the familiar; to have more of the show I know before it disappears from our screens.

Yet, I also feel that Atlantis as a series would be much the poorer if it had never given us Vegas. For me, it has enriched the overall story. It is a stylishly produced episode; one Robert Cooper deserves plaudits for as its writer and director, Joe Flanigan as its lead actor, and the entire team for the work of art they have produced. While I might have preferred to have received this stand-out piece of work another time, perhaps there is symmetry in an episode that reminds the audience of so many of the fundamentals to the Atlantis story providing the prologue to the series finale.

January 8th, 2009, 03:18 PM
Surely, the penultimate episode must be a big deal. There must be a point to it, it must serve the arc as no episode that has gone before. To air instead an episode that gives all the appearance of irrelevance to the five years past is a bold move indeed. The very irrelevant and strange beginning of Vegas indicated that it was going to be that rare creature: a brave episode. Brave: synonymous at times with inspired; brilliant... and at other times with misguided; failure.

So which was Vegas?

I won't equivocate: it was brilliant. The risk paid off. It was no small risk either, given that most fans would have expected something very different for 5.19.

We began by wondering why familiar faces did not seem to be who they should have been. Are the guys acting for the benefit of civillian onlookers? Halucinating? Is it another reality? It's a game we've played before, in SG-1's marvellous 'Changeling' and Atlantis' less successful 'The Real World'. It could have felt like old ground. What kept it from feeling remotely as if we'd been there before was the style of filming, the editing, the camerawork, the score.

Usually these technical facets are in the background of any Atlantis episode, behind the plot and acting or visual effects. Tonight they took centre stage for significant portions of the episode. Jerky camerawork, awkward artfully angled shots, and disconcerting edits, which would all be so out of place in the usual setting of Atlantis, combined in Vegas to create a vivid atmosphere for the city in which Detective Shepard lives his unlovely life.

And the music. The first opportunity the show has had to use a well-known song in its soundtrack, and we get 'Beautiful People'. Based on the lyrics alone it would have been an amusing and apt choice, but for it to be sung by Marilyn Manson, to whom wraith queens have so often been compared, is particularly pleasing.

The scene which it accompanied was a joy to watch. The wraith in full disguise looked credible as a wraith in disguise and as a human; a feat for the make-up artist. And off he walks, a goth, to the no less apropriate 'Sympathy for the Devil.'

It is soon after this that the episode threatens to drag. The poker game and its mobster players adds little, and perhaps a quicker way could have been found for the low-spirited Detective to encounter the wraith's remarkable abilities. We've seen plenty of this scenario by now, and it's high time we got handed a clue or two: simulation? alternate reality? come on, tell us! McKay's appearance soon afterwards, with the promise of answers to be had, is none too soon.

Alternative reality then.

This raises problems. We don't care, you see, about other versions of our heroes, because they are not our heroes. Alternative Woolsey even says as much, from his own point of view. So to make the people of the alternative reality matter, stories set in alternative realities tend to import one or more of the regular versions of characters for us to focus on. And they tend to give love interests or fulfilling lives to the alternates, so we can empathise with how much they have to lose when they face danger. Vegas didn't do that. Vegas contented itself with a few mere mentions of our John Shepard. Could that be enough to keep us engaged with the alternates on our screen? It was certainly risky.

Not to worry. McKay's comment to Detective Shepard, that he and our John shared the same spirit, was surprisingly effective. Both as a way into the Detective, and as a link to our distant Shep, it worked. How much can be read into McKay's words! What an impression our beloved Shep must have made on this stranger-McKay, that he'd trust washed-up stranger-Shepard just on the memory of one brief meeting! That's the Shep we've watched with pleasure for five years alright. And as the Detective storms the wraith caravan alone, Detective Shepard almost becomes our Shep. His end is truly moving.

And then, suddenly, in the closing moments, there is a point to the whole story. The wraith know where Earth is and our heroes are blissfuly ignorant of the danger. What a big deal - could it get bigger? Roll on next week. Sorry, Vegas, for assuming you were irrelevant, my bad.

Not that I'd have minded much if there hadn't been a point to it all and an effect on the arc. Quirky, brave Vegas was quite good enough on its own.

Madeleine W

October 26th, 2012, 03:25 PM

Okay, who's the wiseguy who's replaced my Stargate: Atlantis with CSI: Crime Scene Investigation?

This is obviously the requisite alternate reality episode people have been talking about; just think, another Sheppard, a small change that can lead to a radically different path, all of our characters in different positions with different personalities, Vegas! It's definitely an interesting concept and thousands of other sci-fi series that've done it but it's just an idea and an idea is only as capable as the guys behind it; and the guys behind it decided to do a homage to the most overrated crime show in history. This is evident by the various camera shots which rely on flashiness and edge; they often move across it with quick speeds, all while blur and desaturated colors make themselves known, oh and some CGI representations of stuff. It would mean something if it was trying to parody or make fun of something but no, it's here to enhance the feeling, those jarring inconsequential shots which don't mean anything and often get in the way; I felt annoyed because this is supposed to be a character exploration episode, not a gimmick and you can't forget about those action sequences set to hard rock music, it's like they were pandering to the audience the way they focus on guns and guns and running and you know; it had the usual compellingness of average action scenes but it lacked soul, I didn't get the feeling that there was any involvement to be had in any of our characters, it felt like they were pouring on the action, trying to excite the audience while at the same time providing a situation for our character until they either find a new lead or the guy's either dead or arrested, the fact that SGA would resort to this just stuns me, they even included an obvious act break. At least they filmed the entire thing in Vegas; the various settings like the Planet Hollywood building, sunset strip, deserts... You just can't have an episode like this unless it's in Vegas and it's impressive.

Vegas baby!

The characters featured all regress to being stereotypes, everywhere you look it seems like they're are completely different characters with barely any traits whatsoever. You have Dr. Keller who seems like your hard-headed, independent doctor instead of the humble, socially awkward, determined doctor we've known for a long time; you have Woosley who is your generic bureaucratic self that could perfectly fit the role of someone in CSI, even the characters specific to this episode talk with a bit of gruff and blandness. It felt like these people didn't have any history, barely had any character whatsoever that people would be interested in. They'd have the catchphrases, they'd have the minor tidbits that give them some depth but they wouldn't be able to branch out in different directions like O'Neill. It got to a point where I was hoping that McKay would go on a tirade, do something annoying, maybe even a citrus reference; He felt awkward trying to make his dialog direct and concise, it made him look like an actor reading his lines instead of a character who at least knows how to be vivid and alive at time; sure Zelenka appears and sure they get into arguments but they treat it as the only outlet where McKay comes out, it may have seemed funny but it certainty wasn't substantial or even consistent with his performance. Sheppard is the most evident and it's clear that this episode is supposed to be about him and explore a side that isn't possible in our reality. He acts like he was in CSI himself, the objections, the car, the looks, the tone; there is nothing that reminded me of Sheppard at all, if I was new to the show than I would believe that this was the character of Sheppard, a hard edged person who says catchphrases. Everything we see about him we've seen before, We know he breaks the rules, we know he has some form of insanity, we even know that he's determined and willing to do anything, even his catchphrases are similar... The fact that they had to have someone tell us about his history shows that the writers are desperate to invoke the illusion of character. We're not supposed to let our thoughts somehow enhance the situation, we're supposed to witness it upfront, the character who's supposedly hit rock bottom and a detective in Vegas.

There is a story about a Wraith and he himself is interesting; he listens to rock music, he puts on a disguise, he plays poker, he shows a bit of individuality that the writers have hinted at for decades; to think, we're finally seeing a race that could immerse themselves in our culture and fit in if they wanted to. Unfortunately, the Wraith proves to play the role of the generic antagonist who is either caught or killed, he has some past but he has barely any personality, his methods of killing differ only because he's feeding on them and don't get me started on him playing poker; the fact that it's a Wraith makes it interesting and the fact that he's going around killing people and there are subtle hints to his ultimate intentions make this compelling but take away his white skin and what do you have? Nothing. Oddly enough, there's an inconsistent focus with his plot; for much of the episode they focus on him and only him but for nearly 10 minutes at a time, there is needless exposition that tells us about the Stargate program which we already know about. In those 10 minutes, there could of been a furthering of his character, of his intentions, of his motivations; it would of made us care in a way similar to a Criminal Minds episode, we know that he's the villain but he has something that makes him likable and something that could of proved beneficial as a whole. Instead we're treated to attempts to force sci-fi cleverness through clever sayings of possible variations, space-time, destiny and even poetry which ultimately seems shallow. So what purpose does this CSI-ripoff have? Well we finally get to hear Sheppard listening to Johnny Cash, we get to see Sheppard die and oh yeah, it sets up the 100th episode. The setup here feels forced, as if they needed something to support the plot at hand but didn't want to further deprive themselves of the audience they have; what's shown here is long drawn-out scenes of face offs and obvious indications that lead to obvious results, how else could you explain the obviousness of the bomber planes and the lack of care involved? And to make matters worse they try to make viewers pay attention to what they want to pay attention to. Hint: Insistence is everything.

Vegas baby!

The only good thing, it's nicely filmed, it has a certain cinematic charm that can only be afforded by it's unique structure but really, this is the worst of SGA. Homages that appeal to the lowest of lows, characters that seem more like stereotypes than anything else, character exploration that is tacky and cheap and gimmick after gimmick after gimmick. To end this, I'm going to take a page from Dr. Rodney McKay here and tell you to watch "Babar" Friday Afternoons at 11:30 AM on ION Television.