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FAN REVIEWS: 'Tabula Rasa'

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    FAN REVIEWS: 'Tabula Rasa'

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    When a virus causes amnesia in everyone except Teyla and Ronon, the Atlantis team must work together to find a cure before their memories fade entirely.



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    Last edited by GateWorld; February 4, 2021, 01:55 AM.

    4x06 Tabula Rasa

    This season is 6 for 6, and all very repeatable, all among the best episodes ever.

    Tabula Rasa was very engrossing, requiring the viewer to pay close attention to keep up with the time shifts between the present and the past and with what each character was doing when. It made the end of the episode come all too soon. The difference in lighting and picture quality and the flashes of light were well done and made the time shifts easier to follow. The use of flashbacks was a good choice here and worked to draw the viewer into the story and create suspense.

    Tabula Rasa was another episode of a season that is confirming that Sheppard’s team really does think of themselves as friends and family. They are relating to each other with a naturalness that has often been missing from their interactions in the past. Sheppard reaches out to touch Teyla’s arm and says, “I’m fine,” when she shows concern for him. Teyla touches McKay’s arm several times as she talks to him to help keep him focused. Ronon guides Sheppard into the jumper and later pulls his head up by his hair to apologize to Sheppard’s unconscious face for stunning him and tying him up. McKay wants to bet Sheppard who will lose their memory the soonest. Ronon tries to convince the amnesiac Sheppard that they are friends. Sheppard asks about McKay when he wakes up.

    The out of character moments were memorable. Zelenka is always enjoyable; having him acting completely out of character was delightful. The mad Czech running around the halls with a pipe evading the soldiers will be hard to forget. McKay not knowing about a computer. Teyla prompting McKay with the definition of pi. Ronon realizing that he and Teyla are not sick and going to tell the doctor. Lorne et. al. acting like the hopped up Gestapo on stimulants. Ronon in command. Sheppard not in command.

    Carter and Sheppard actually look like they are working together and sharing the decision making. They seem to have a more adult relationship than there was between Weir and Sheppard. Carter is not behind the desk, she is moving around the office with Sheppard; they make eye contact; they are behaving as equals. The choice of Carter to join SGA was questionable, but she proves herself here. She fits into the story seamlessly, from making command decisions with Sheppard to skulking around with McKay. In TR she has become very much a part of Atlantis.

    Favorite scenes: The ones between Sheppard and Ronon. Their friendship has become the second most interesting in SGA; the Sheppard and McKay friendship is by far the most interesting. Ronon calls Sheppard his friend and it has never seemed more true than in this episode.
    -Ronon tells Sheppard that flying the jumper is in his blood. Always good when the gene comes into play.
    -Ronon stuns Sheppard. (“Never gets old.”) Totally unexpected.
    -Ronon ties Sheppard up so he won’t slow him down, and leaves him in the jumper while he finds the medicinal plants.
    -Ronon comes back and to find Sheppard untied, armed and missing. Predictable but still fun.
    -Sheppard is laying in wait and gets the drop on Ronon. See above.
    -Ronon tries to convince Sheppard that they are friends ("We're friends. The things we've been through together – I don't care what anyone says, no disease can wipe that away, not completely.") A rare explicit reference to friendship. I love this season.
    -Sheppard tries to remember that they are friends and almost does before caution reasserts itself.
    -Ronon tells Sheppard that he will be all alone in the dark forest if he shoots him. That works.
    -Ronon tells Lorne to look for the picture. (How did they know what a commanding officer was?)
    -Sheppard uses his command authority to hand off the decision making to Ronon, when he says, “Do what he says.”

    McKay is so sweet with Katie. If Sheppard had been the one showing emotion over a female coworker, he would have been neglecting his job and allowing his nether regions to control his actions. Good thing it was McKay, he gets praised when he is acting normal. Interesting how our perception of a character colors our reaction to their actions.

    * Teyla’s patient encouragement of McKay was wonderful, her best scenes ever, and well within her credible skill range. The fight scene was fun especially Teyla’s peeking around the soldier.
    * Keller was more believable here than in any previous episode.
    * Katie’s Rodneyana-phallic plant with bristles that pierce skin.
    * Sheppard ordering McKay to take the stimulants, effectively shutting him up.
    * Carter saying, “How big can this place possibly be,” then walking out and seeing the city. That would be an awesome unexpected sight.

    Not so good:
    When all the effusing over the team interactions and the cleverness of the time shifting are done there remains a big problem. It is the fact that in a city full of brilliant and experienced people, it is only McKay and Sheppard that think ahead and put a plan into motion to minimize the impact of the coming amnesia and neither one of them does enough. Most of the people that got sick after the first group had plenty of time to implement some measures. They had about 6 hours between the onset of the headache and the amnesia. They could have made a joint plan and printed out directions for each person to follow. They could have broadcast, repeatedly, a calming and explanatory message with directions to look in their pockets for written instructions, given each person a note, written big signs to look in their pockets and to tell them the memory loss was caused by a disease and to remain calm and sit tight, the problem was being addressed, or write it on their arms the way McKay later did. Instead, Carter and Keller do nothing to guide their actions as the amnesia takes over. Keller could have left a detailed summary of what was happening to them and her theory about why. Carter could have left herself a summary of the decisions made and the actions taken and what was being done to solve the problem. Sheppard gives Lorne a picture of him. He should have given himself a picture of Ronon, Lorne etc. and wrote himself a note to remind him of his goals. He should have given Lorne instructions to go to the mess hall when he couldn’t remember anymore. (How did he remember what he was doing and to keep taking the pills anyway?) McKay leaves a video tape to himself without any explanation saying that he wouldn’t remember it anyway and not to trust anyone. He should have left a hard copy of Teyla’s picture and an explanation and instructions that he could keep referring too. There were plenty of things these smart people should have done to ameliorate the problem and ample time to do them, but it would have been the viewer’s loss.

    Character mistakes often drive a plot. If the characters make no mistakes the plot can be predictable and boring. If the characters here had made no mistakes the solution would have come more efficiently and with a lot less suspense and almost no humor. Suspension of disbelief allows the viewer to overlook the mistakes and enjoy the consequences.

    The Ancients must have brought the plant as well as the disease to the planet since it could not have been disseminated through the stargate (unless there had been one there before). Good planning on their part.


      When an episode is as accomplished as Tabula Rasa, it is difficult to find what it is that causes the slight feeling of dissatisfaction after the credits roll. Great direction, good acting and an overall polished production quality surrounds the episode; the core of the story is an original plot with a lot of wonderful stand alone moments that develop the characters and provide the all-important team feel. But, and there is a but, while the whole gives the illusion of a great episode, it masks the familiar devices and gaping plot hole that causes the whole to come undone.

      Most of the plot holes are dealt with within the unravelling of the story during the flashback sequences; the varying times that each individual falls prey to the symptoms, the reasoning why Lorne and his men prowl the corridors rounding up people, why some hang onto some pieces of information while others are lost – all of these are cleverly dealt in the flashback elements which provide the explanations and do so in a way that is subtle. This is clever writing as is the weaving of the subtle sociological study of a military regime and citizen rebellion into the sub-text.

      In fact, the entire story idea is great; a Pegasus Galaxy disease that the Milky Way expedition is susceptible to is a wonderfully Stargate-y story. Simple yet brilliant given that it is a realistic scenario. The memory loss complication provides an opportunity to sneak a peek at the characters at their most vulnerable, stripped of their usual outer armour. Carter and McKay’s interaction, stripped of the professional rivalry, shows what a great team they can make when they work together; Ronon’s persuasion in convincing Sheppard to trust him provides a real buddy-buddy moment; Teyla’s patience in dealing with McKay shows her belief in him. Teaminess seeps from the screen. It’s great to see the character interaction both between the regular team and their wider community of players including McKay’s girlfriend. Once again this season, the audience is given an opportunity to care about the characters.

      While all the cast turning in accomplished performances, Jason Momoa and Rachel Luttrell shine as their characters are provided with the opportunity to save the day. Teyla’s unique combinations of warrior, leader yet compassionate human being are beautifully showcased by Luttrell especially in the scene with McKay and the fight with the soldiers. Ronon is quickly becoming the character to watch; Momoa brings depth to the Satedan demonstrating his softer side when taking orders from Teyla yet demonstrating his own protective leadership with Sheppard – even when shooting him. In a story that is mostly told from McKay’s perspective, these two are not only given an opportunity to shine but stealthily steal the show.

      Yet for all that is great about the plot, the gaping hole is a big one; why, if you were aware you were going to lose your memory, wouldn’t you do more to leave yourself information and support? You’ve organised food and blankets so why wouldn’t you also, knowing people are going to forget their names, provide everybody name tags? Why not record an audio message telling people what happened and have it on a continual loop playing throughout the city? Given that everyone in the expedition is supposed to be crème de la crème and, more importantly, intelligent, it is frankly unbelievable that more wouldn’t have been done to mitigate the impact of the memory loss other than McKay’s video message, arm writing and Sheppard’s photo before the situation becomes as dire as that shown in the ‘present’ scenes. The lack of such mitigation suggests the expedition team are stupid which they’re not and while people do make mistakes, this is not a believable mistake for the characters to make – especially when they are shown to do some mitigation; it’s an irritating plot hole that is glossed over in order to tell the main story.

      As a result, the whole plot is without foundation and therein lies my own dissatisfaction with the episode; I dislike a plot that relies on the characters being stupid and I cannot suspend my disbelief this extra step that they were all so quickly overcome with memory loss that these things weren’t thought about. Because of this, I just cannot engage with the story. Add to that the familiar use of the ‘start with dire situation in the present and flashback to the past to tell story’ device and that this is the third episode in a row to provide a ‘oh no’ moment when suggesting the loss of a character only to reveal said character safe and well, and my irritation factor was high.

      However, the fact that it took me a whole twenty-four hours from watching Tabula Rasa to identify why I was dissatisfied is largely due to just how accomplished the episode is, if one side-steps the gaping plot issue and familiar devices, and that is largely down to the acting, fantastic direction and production quality. The different visual effect of the dark, scary present contrasted to the warm, reassuring colours of the past; the camera shots particularly in Teyla’s fight with the soldiers, the special effects of the city in the dark; all enable the story to be told in a way that flows, and the pacing is perfect.

      Indeed, so much is right that I really want to overlook what makes me irritated; I can overlook the present/past device because it does work for the story; I can overlook the ‘oh no’ moment because it is admirable that the producers have successfully brought back a real unpredictability to a character’s fate. But, alas for me, I cannot overlook the gaping plot hole which could have been so easily dealt with and, while I admire the quality of this episode on so many levels, I cannot honestly say that I liked it.
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        Tabula Rasa

        In sci-fi, anything is possible; such as this episode where everybody encounters memory loss and it is up to one person to save the say. It is definitely a concept which Atlantis could do wonderfully, it has the dark themes, it has the characters and it also has the style... These things should ensure that their take of the concept is unique and wonderful, so is it? Well...

        The first thing you recognize off the bat is the style with it's dark tones and overly bloomy lights, all around you there is this ominent feeling that chaos is around us and as you watch our heroes roam Atlantis it slowly becomes more evident; in fact I'm willing to go as far as to say that with a few tweaks, this could pass as a Stargate Universe episode. From the getgo, it immediately sets up that this is a different environment and that what you'll see won't be anything light but I can't help to feel that this seems overdone; the blooms are bright, the dark tones are there but it just seems like they had to make it obvious in order to make people aware of the environment compared to previous episodes which made minor changes and as a result they make something that can be distracting and dilutes the focus from the characters. If I were producing the episode then I would just made everything a bit derilict and darkened the tones just a little bit, it would of been subtle but it would of worked better then what we got. Additionally, this is just a minor complaint but it seems like they also feel the need to make it aware that it's the present. (while also changing the font indicating the hours) Sci-fi is supposed to be an intelligent genre, the viewers are obviously going to be intelligent; indicating the present when it's clear that it's the present is just pandering to the audience.

        McKay the Amnesiac.

        Also right off the bat you notice McKay and his dramatic stylings. Focusing on him was oddly enough a nice choice as he certainly fits the mood well; being unaware of his surroundings, trying to do something despite his incapability, being worrisome... Every scene of McKay is well acted and wonderfully done, for every moment you're with him; you're not thinking of him as McKay but as someone who has lost his memory and is just like the rest of them and the fact that he manages to raise up and beyond, the fact that he manages to go the extra mile and prove to be the potential savior does wonders for his characters; I have to say that whenever McKay is focused or drops his usual shtick, he can provide an amazing performance and this is no exception and the people he teams up with are also done well. Sam managed to provide a performance that is surprisingly well done, proving that she does good when she stops acting like a leader and instead acts like herself; this is a person we can relate too and there's no doubt in my mind that this is the one we would want leading Atlantis. Zelenka also does good and him being the worrisome fellow who manages to evade capture is awesome, for much of Atlantis we've seen him as the scientist who wasn't combat-ready at all so it's such a surprise to see him holding a pipe, acting like an unwitting action hero, doing heroic stuff; who knew he had it in him? All three manage to have a chemistry that proves effortless and makes watching them do their thing pretty engaging.

        The scenes in the present are decent if a bit generic; the whole "soldiers" roaming around, being trapped, totalitarian atmosphere all around... Many of those things do work as obstacles for our heroes to overcome and they do serve as a decent homage but these feel like things are designed to appease the sci-fi audience; this hurts the scenes because they serve to derail all of the unique stuff that's going on and while the characters are good enough to sidestep most of these flaws, it can't exactly defeat the notion that these are characters going through a formulatic scenario. One can't deny the awe-inspiring moments seen from the perspectives of the amnesiatic characters and those moments truly provide something compelling but alas, they decide to focus on the flashbacks for one reason or another. The flashbacks themselves are good (if not a bit dull at some parts) as they show our characters dealing with the catalyst for what would be the memory loss and even letting us in on some essential plot points, it's nice to see them in their elements as they do their things, worrying about what's going to happen to them; really helps providing a sense of naturalness to the situation. There are three standouts who get to show off what made them who they are and they each play an essential role in their own way. Dr. Keller being forced into a heavy situation, McKay's love interest being the sign of impending doom and Ronan and Teyla being the only hope left. Each of these characters are well acted, get moments to show off what makes them so unique (Ronan in particular) and while some may be more visible then others, they all make do with what they have and they help to make the flashbacks more engaging then usual but they can't help to dilute what could of been had the flashbacks been given less focus.

        These two are important.

        "Tabula Rasa" is an episode with potential but it doesn't exactly reaches the pinnacles of a masterpiece. That doesn't mean it's good though, you get a good sense of drama, good character moments, a good focus on McKay and a good premise; however you have to put up with the overly obvious attempts to get the theme across and some pandering. Episodes like this are sort of a gift and a curse but if you manage to get past the curse them you'll find a gift here that's surprisingly pretty good.

        Back from the grave.