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FAN REVIEWS: Tao of Rodney

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    FAN REVIEWS: Tao of Rodney

    Visit the Episode Guide

    After an Ancient device gives Rodney superhuman powers, his enhanced brilliance is checked only by his impending death -- unless he can learn how to ascend.



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    Last edited by GateWorld; February 6, 2021, 09:24 PM.

    Every so often Stargate doesn’t just have one of its characters taking the lead within a story, but it focuses the entire story to the actual examination of that character – what makes them tick, how they think, their relationships with others; the Tao of Rodney is the latest in that repertoire as McKay is put in the spotlight. What results is a tight character study that is both touching and humorous, excellently performed by the cast and polished to a high quality by the overall production. Yet in amongst a great deal of sweetness is one odd sour moment.

    This sour note is struck by an early cafeteria scene where McKay sat on a table across the cafeteria and overhears the rest of his team discussing his weight and eating habits. It makes it feel like McKay is an outsider to the team. It’s such an unnecessary moment as the objective of the scene – to demonstrate McKay is beginning to develop abilities – could have been achieved in any number of ways that didn’t exclude McKay from the team in this way. Luckily, the rest of the episode more than makes up for this one frankly bizarre moment.

    The team dynamic is much better represented in the death-bed scene as they all congregate around him to say goodbye and much of the touching scenes between McKay and his team-mates come in the third and final acts when McKay attempts to ‘release his burden’; his heartfelt apology to Zelenka, his healing of Ronon’s Wraith-runner scars, his memorial tea with Teyla, the book he has written in defence of Weir’s leadership, imparting his last wishes to Sheppard, and the death-bed thank you to Beckett; all are deeply touching and give a window on how McKay feels about each individual. The music underscoring the scenes tugs at the right emotional heart-strings; every cast member excels but David Hewlett is superb.

    Hewlett turns in a wonderfully moving performance as he deconstructs McKay in front of us; peeling off layer by layer to reveal the core of the man McKay wants to be and who he truly is underneath the outer shell of scientist. He portrays a sensitive McKay who loves and cares for the people around him even though he usually has a hard time expressing that; who admires and respects Ronan and Zelenka, who appreciates Beckett. It is a great achievement not least because Hewlett provides a remarkable contrast to his portrayal of McKay the Superhero in the first half of the episode. ÜberMcKay is annoying, arrogant, dismissive and intolerant of those around him and Hewlett easily conveys it with subtle smirks, gestures and quick-fire dialogue (especially in the scene where he mind-reads his fate from Weir and Sheppard without them saying a word). Within the story the turnaround of the character is aptly portrayed through McKay’s relationship with Ronan.

    The first half, as Ronan is assigned to watch over McKay, their banter over the idea of Batman and Ronan, and Ronan’s half-serious plea to Weir of ‘Can I shoot him now?’ gently paints a picture of two very different men merely tolerating each other. Yet in the second half, McKay’s approach to Ronan before he heals him and the actual act of healing reveals how much McKay cares for Ronan just as Ronan carrying an unconscious McKay onto the device platform reveals how much the Satedan cares for McKay. When Ronan hugs him and welcomes his ‘buddy’ back at the end, it is believable and touching. The pairing of McKay and Ronan is great and provides a change of the usual dynamic of Sheppard and McKay.

    Not that the Sheppard/McKay dynamic is missing; their scenes of meditation are laugh-out-loud funny as Sheppard is ordered to help McKay ascend thanks to his experience with the Ancients in Epiphany. While the scenes are great and the reason given, they do highlight the shocking under-usage of Teyla who should have been the natural choice to assist McKay with meditation and finding an inner peace. At least McKay also gets time with Weir as she tries to help him with Ascension and coming to terms with his fate. Higginson turns in another good performance demonstrating a compassionate Weir whose leadership and friendship shines in how she gets McKay focused. The end scene with McKay teasing Weir over telling him they loved him, heading out for an afternoon snack together and bantering about Sheppard is very sweet.

    Although much of the story revolves around McKay and character interaction, it does provide some good moments of action; the opening scene of McKay getting zapped by the machine, Zelenka’s injury and McKay’s healing of him, McKay’s own rescue by the team to the end. This latter scene is highly dramatic and tense thanks to the urgency imbued by the shot of the team running down the corridors with McKay on the medical bed, the darkened lab and not least the superb music. The special effects of the device reactivating help to bring the scene to a great climax. Indeed the special effects throughout are great whether the subtle slide of the notepad into McKay’s hand, Beckett’s levitation, the healing of Zelenka or the device. All add a quality polish to a quality episode.

    There is little to quibble about in the Tao of Rodney; the story is well-planned, well-constructed and beautifully contrasts every facet of McKay and every relationship. Damian Kindler deserves praise for the script but with every part of the episode shining from performances, make-up and special effects, Martin Wood also deserves recognition for pulling it altogether as director. However, the main honours should go to Hewlett for a masterful performance in a fabulous episode that showcases what SGA can achieve when it focuses on a character-driven story. More of the same for the other characters, please.
    Last edited by kiwigater; February 11, 2007, 12:05 PM.
    Women of the Gate LJ Community.
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      If there’s one complaint that seems to rise above the rest, when it comes to “Stargate: Atlantis”, it’s the lack of balance in character exploration. One might argue that the writers rarely get character development right, since there seems to be little change over time, but they do write episodes that focus on certain characters. More often than not, such episodes focus on either Sheppard or McKay.

      Both complaints come together in this particular episode. First and foremost, Rodney McKay is the focus of this episode and there’s not a shred of doubt about it. The title makes that plainly obvious. And what happens in this episode will probably mean nothing in the end, despite the fact that the circumstances could and should result in a massive shift in Rodney’s personality.

      These issues become a point of contention because it didn’t have to be that way. Many fans remember how the first season was constructed and note the delicate balance: plot and character arcs, consistent world-building, and a true sense of isolation. Taken in context with the sagging creativity on “SG-1” in the same time period, and it gave many fans hope that the series would revive the best aspects of the franchise. Since then, expectations have cooled, because the producers have fallen into predictable patterns and the series has been struggling against that tide.

      This is pertinent to this episode because many fans will ask a pointed question: does anything in this episode really matter? If this were a series like “Babylon 5” or “Lost”, Rodney’s experience would likely result in a massive change in the character’s progression. More than that, there would be a clear path for the character leading to this moment of personal revelation.

      Instead, one is left to wonder if all of Rodney’s soul-searching (as good and necessary as it is) will stick, or if he’ll go back to being the snarky, arrogant genius that he’s been since the inception. Just as Sheppard’s experience with the Ancients is ignored until it’s convenient for this particular plot thread, I expect McKay’s epiphany to be handled sporadically at best.

      I could be wrong, but when it comes to a character as iconic as Rodney, whose personality quirks are practically his entire reason to exist, change is incredibly rare. There’s simply too much to lose. And for me, that renders so much of the meaningful work in this episode moot. That’s a shame, because this is one of the better character pieces for the franchise in quite some time. The episode itself is a great use of a familiar plot device, but I’m concerned that it will lose something in the long view.


        Tao of Rodney

        Obviously McKay is the writer's favorite, there's just something about him that the writers love; whether or not it's the ego or the geek references or the fact that they're all fans of David Hewlett.. I don't know but the premise of this episode had the writers salivating over the mouths. McKay episodes have usually been three things, really good episodes that explore his character, middle of the road episodes that are nothing special or terrible episodes we wish we could forget. Well for those of you worrying, threat not, this episode is actually pretty good; maybe even one of the best in Season 3.

        For much of the first half of the episode, we get to see Rodney McKay with superpowers; yes that means telekenesis, mind-reading, super-hearing, super intelligence and a heightened sense of egotism. The first half can be somewhat fun, seeing him use his superpowers, using his vocal inflictions to reflect his new position, the catchphrases and dialog that comes out of him. He's one of the things that most fans will enjoy, some will get a quick laugh, others will be laughing their heads of; however it feels like the only time these scenes are actually fun are with McKay as most of the other times it seems boring, like nothing is actually happening. The other characters do their usual conversations, Weir shows some concern, Sheppard is the cocky one, Beckett is concerned... It really doesn't seem like they understand the fact that McKay has superpowers, they really could of made some fun stuff instead of trying to relate it to an SG1 episode (mine would of been "Upgrades" solely for the fact that he eats more.) These scenes do help in making us understand the situation, establishing various hints as to what could be happening while establishing a sense of concern and tensity through Zelenka so they're not completely worthless.


        The moment where it gets good however is in the second half where it quickly transitions to "McKay has superpowers" to "McKay could die". This obviously gives both the writers and the actor a chance to really dig deep into McKay; analyze the egotistical and overthinking personalities of him. It is really worthwhile to see what he does as he thinks he's going to die; showing off the various stages of his character; the various mathematical formulas and prototypes he leaves behind really shows how much his character wants to be remembered as having done something worthwhile, (he may have an ego but he has a sense of worth behind that ego.) while also showing his "can't think" personality. There is an ascension aspect related to the second half and what I said above applies here as those scenes also involve some pretty decent arguments regarding spirituality and comfort as a whole; the scenes involving McKay and Sheppard trying to ascend are scenes that reflect both of their characters, Sheppard as the person trying to be spiritual and McKay trying to ascend; it's good in that both McKay's "light" aspects come out while his worry, overthinking and hopelessness comes into play here, we can't help to laugh while watching these scenes but we also can't help to take him seriously as he gives into his own beliefs; and this establishes a running trait throughout the episode, him learning to let go and move on.

        McKay really goes with that running trait as he goes around and resolves things he wasn't able to resolve with his specific situation and throughout these scenes McKay is showing his true feelings, how he really felt behind the often iffy persona that he showed throughout the show. He's actually admitting that he's jealous and irresponsible to several people, he's getting involved in certain people's actions showing just how humble he can be and he even goes the extra mile by fixing some people's unfixable flaws. This is amazing stuff for his character, it shows that beneath that comedic exterior lies a character that people can learn to love and care for; it's hard for anybody not to care for these scenes, if McKay manages to adapt these changes and use them in future episodes then he could become more then just the annoying comedic foil and the stuff that he does isn't intrusive, it's progressive; he has the doubts and the worries and even though he's doing all of this stuff, it's still there, by the end of the episode; he goes through a beautiful moment, reflecting the lessons he learned and bringing the entire thing full circle. Watching it is amazing but seeing his life saved by a deus ex moment kind of diluted the impact of it... Still, amazing.

        Learning to let go.

        As for the other characters, there isn't much to say but Zelenka's character has the most screen time in this episode then he does in any other episode; we really get to see his work ethics, how devoted he is to his job and the famous Chezchian swearing that he's known for and much of that adds into his character. You can see how much he cares for his work, dislikes anybody doubting him and the conversations between McKay and Zelenka add to both of their characters, it shows the type of awkward bond they have; they hate each other but they also have something in common as they chat about whatever. If there are Zelenka fans out there well this is the episode for you; and Weir I have to say was like her Season 1 self, caring, compassionate and there for her team; you can just see the amount of investment she has for Rodney as she goes through this, trying everything she can to support him and giving him some strong words of advice; though she appears less frequently in the episode, her impact is significant enough that even McKay has some words of praise for her. She is an indispensable part of the SGA team and to show her in the caring, reflective position just proves that.

        I'm surprised, this is actually a pretty impressive episode. Once you get past the first half, (which you may or may not like depending on which side of the fence you're on.) you'll find some pretty amazing stuff that more then grows McKay's character; the fact that we get to see a side of McKay that's often buried by his egotistical side really makes the watching of this episode worthwhile and the journey he is put through will keep people engaged through it's 44 minute running time. One of Atlantis's best outings and one of the best in Season 3.

        Back from the grave.