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FAN REVIEWS: 'The Shrine'

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    FAN REVIEWS: 'The Shrine'

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    Rodney McKay is stricken with a mental affliction that robs him of his knowledge and memories, causing him to revert to a childlike state.



    Calling All Writers! Tell the world what you think of the newest episodes of Stargate Atlantis! Rather than publishing a single review at GateWorld, we're letting you offer your thoughtful and well-reasoned evaluation of episodes. Some of our favorite reviews will be highlighted on, exposing your writing to tens of thousands of readers! But we do have some guidelines, so please read carefully before submitting your review.

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    Last edited by GateWorld; 04 February 2021, 12:23 AM.

    This has been a difficult week for fans of “Stargate Atlantis”. Despite all the various conspiracy theories, it appears that it was business as usual. The show is getting older and more expensive, and the ratings (still the measure of success for most network endeavors) have been low. With the show on the cusp of traditional syndication, it’s cheaper for a network to commission the studio for a new series than foot the bill for a beloved but barely successful show.

    For some time, I’ve been less than impressed with “Stargate Atlantis”. I thought the first season was quite good, with the perfect mix of plot and character, stand-alone and serialized elements. Quite frankly, I think it began to fall apart when the producers realized that certain characters were more beloved than others, and began tailoring their storytelling accordingly. I’m not sure the writers have ever been able to find that initial balance again.

    That doesn’t mean that the writers have been incapable of producing powerful episodes. This episode is a perfect example of how good the series can be. It’s hobbled a bit by the realization that McKay will obviously survive and the status quo will barely change, but the dreaded “reset button” doesn’t always have to ruin a story.

    The story works because it’s not really about McKay and his fate. Hewlett pulls off one hell of a powerful performance, and he deserves some serious awards for it, but his situation reveals more about those around him. In particular, I felt that this episode was all about McKay’s relationship with Keller. Every decision she makes is based on her desire to save his life within the bounds of her ability. It makes her seem intractable, but she’s simply desperate.

    The same desperation takes Ronon out of his usual comfort zone. Ronon seems just a bit out of character throughout the episode, but I think it’s intentional. Ronon is struggling to find a way to save his friend, and once he considers a solution, any delay is unfounded. It makes sense, though, that Rodney’s teammates on Sheppard’s squad would be the first to take that leap of faith.

    I could continue to rave about this episode, but it speaks best for itself. If there is one episode this season that has lived up to the promise of “Stargate Atlantis”. Fans will no doubt find it ironic that such an episode would air just after the cancellation announcement, as they need only point to the most recently aired episode as evidence that the show is still capable of powerful storytelling! If nothing else, it proves that the show has no intention of going down quietly.

    John Keegan
    Reprinted with permission
    Original source: c. Critical Myth, 2008
    All rights reserved


      In many ways The Shrine is an excellent episode: a story focused on how the characters deal with the decline and imminent death of one of their own while using the unique setting of the Stargate universe to provide the reason and solution for the predicament. It is a well-written piece that allows most of the cast to stretch their acting wings and, while not perfect, it is imbued with emotion at every turn. The downside is that this story has been told before in Atlantis; the details may have changed but Rodney McKay facing death is old news.

      Back in Season 3, The Tao of Rodney was a fantastic episode that focused on McKay making peace with himself and his friends before he died. The Shrine changes the details on every level but the core of the story is the same: how McKay and his friends face his death. The echo of that past story does take something nebulous away from this – an emotional connection between the audience and McKay’s plight. The audience has been here before and ultimately McKay’s survival is never in doubt. For this viewer, it means that while I observe the emotion the story is filled with, I’m not connected enough for it to pull at my heart-strings, so the scene where Jeannie visits with her brother for the first time and his condition causes her to cry, hurrying from the room is well done by both David and Kate Hewlett but doesn’t raise a tear in this viewer nor do the poignant video diaries showing an ever declining McKay.

      The video diary is a good device providing a narrative all of its own, showing the progression of the condition and how it slowly strips away that which is most important to McKay: his mind. The simplicity of the close up shot of McKay, the repetition of the details which he increasingly fails to remember, really drives home the sheer horror of the condition and how devastating it is for McKay. The video segments allow the audience to become a voyeuristic witness to the loss of McKay’s dignity and importantly, his very identity as by the end he claims he is no longer Doctor McKay but simply Rodney McKay; it’s uncomfortable yet compelling.

      Hewlett really excels in these diary recordings and they provide a great stage for him to demonstrate his range as an actor and the complexity of McKay. More, the whole episode allows Hewlett once again to really unpeel the layers on McKay showing every aspect from the whining hypochondriac through to McKay the friend who confides his fear of losing himself to the flash of the argumentative and brilliant arrogance that is McKay the genius scientist. Just as in The Tao of Rodney, Hewlett has a gift for showing all these sides to McKay yet reconciling them into the one character.

      He is not the only actor to excel though; Joe Flanigan does an excellent job. The scene of McKay and Sheppard on the pier, drinking beer and talking about McKay’s fears is so well done and is conceptually brilliant. Here at last is the underlying and deep friendship between the two men beyond all the surface conflict that the audience suspected existed. There is something in the way both men play the scene from the moment McKay wakes Sheppard in his quarters to the laughter at ‘You’re a good friend, Arthur’ that hints that this isn’t the first time that the two have sat on a pier in the darkness and shared both beer and fears. The scene is likely to be appreciated as a classic for a long time to come.

      Jewel Staite also puts in a good performance. Her mix of guilt and medical dedication provide an interesting angle. Keller comes into her own in this story; she stands her ground at last. For the first time Keller came across as a credible CMO; tough, dedicated and caring. I admit that as I find Keller as a character a more believable romantic partner for McKay than a CMO, the suggestion of the two progressing with feelings doesn’t overly bother me although one drink and a fruit cup dinner date translating into McKay declaring love is a bit a stretch.

      Sadly, it’s Jason Momoa and Rachel Luttrell who don’t get enough material to make an impact which given this is a Pegasus problem with a Pegasus solution they really should have had more screen time. Momoa does a fine job with what he’s given; the story of his grandfather is well done as his determination to take McKay to the Shrine but the wig is horrendous and a distraction from the acting. It just isn’t natural and Momoa seems to be fighting it at every turn. Luttrell is badly underused. She has no more to do than hover in the background and look sad. As a result she comes across as completely disconnected with events. The only time she seems part of the story is the motherly temperature check on McKay as they cling to the top of the Stargate (where that pull back to the wide-shot of the valley is fabulous.)

      Outside of the main plot, Robert Picardo continues to delight as Woolsey. There is something joyous in his bureaucratic focus with his discussion on whether he had time to get breakfast just being very funny. His confiding his experience of his father’s disease was nice back-story. What is also good is that there is the sense still that Woolsey and Sheppard still don’t agree on everything: the length of time for the reports and the MALP.

      Overall, this is a great story and Brad Wright deserves huge applause as its writer. It is different from The Tao of Rodney taking the inverse view – what if McKay gets stupid rather than more intelligent. It’s also incredibly intelligent and thought-provoking with scenes that definitely resonate on a human level with the audience - is it more important to say goodbye or to continue to fight for a cure being one example. It’s just a huge shame that the similar concept of McKay facing death was already done in The Tao of Rodney. The Shrine is a much better story and if I hadn’t had my heart-strings pulled with McKay facing death already, I’m sure there would have been tears shed.
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        The Shrine

        The character of Rodney McKay has always been one of questionability; on one hand he's good in that he's got scientific knowledge, a somewhat relatable side and a often hidden friendly side and on the other we got the side who's mostly annoying, tries to be funny/awkward and makes himself into the center of attention. Some people like one side, some like the other, others like both but I personally think that his emotional side has presented many of his best moments and here it provides what I think is one of the best episodes of Season 5 and one of the finest episodes yet. Additionally, it comes at a time where the 5 episodes preceding it have been meddling trife; I was almost worried that there would be nothing redeeming about this season at all.

        The premise of this episode is very interesting; Rodney gets infected by a parasite which causes him to revert to a childlike state; the very idea of him slowly losing his knowledge, finding himself without a purpose in the world, it's something that's unlikely to happen to Rodney yet one that can fuel thoughts and an entire episode. There may be some worry that Rodney can't pull it off due to what happened before in the season but for that worry is quickly evaporated as soon as you see David Hewlett act; he's ridiculously convincing in his portrayal, every word is appropriately slurred in the incorrect way, the timing and pitch seem on point never going too fast, too slow or too coherently, the sentences are fractured and flawed and the unintentional innocence he portrays is almost captivating. Though there are some times where he acts like he's drunk, he manages to bring this down to an exact science/artform; it's almost stunning in it's surrealism. The addition of scenes that detail his decline through the occasional framing of video logs is a nice (if not gimmicky) touch that makes you think more of a character who's been around us all this time; randomizing the days was a nice touch as it allows us to see various stages relating to what's going on at screen, the placement of a McKay who can remember everything in the middle indicates hope while the McKay who can't remember things as quickly as he did serves as a contrast between an aware McKay and an emotional McKay, one that really dives into the soul, it does wonders for his characters in a way, making us think more of a character who's been around us all this time.

        Poor old Rodney.

        Of course it's not all about Rodney; it's as much about the people around him and the people around him really get to let out their emotional side. Kate Hewlett returns to reprise her role as Mrs. Jeanie Miller and she provides an exceptional performance that proves to be the best to date. She seems to think of her not as an actor or a brother but as a character throughout the entire ordeal as she attempts to process it all and deal, seeming devastated at the state he's in even pouring on the waterworks when she communicates with McKay, she show's that he means an important part to her, so much so in fact that she's willing to risk tooth and nail just to get one last chance to see him again. Keller proves essential here as she brings a new side; she relies of the trusty tools of Atlantis, working as hard as she can, having doubts but not giving up hope, it's like she's indulged in the reliable, in what she knows in order to provide some sense of comfort within her inner state even though she isn't getting anywhere. She proves the life of a doctor is hard, especially when McKay himself got in the way of his own diagnosis by charming her; there's a sense of professionalism to hold up but there's also a bond between the two they can't help to share, it's like a gift and a curse, one that's effective for her character. Even Sheppard gets a chance to show how much they've grown in one scene which has them sitting on the pier, drinking beers while McKay provides his insight and Sheppard provides his head-first perspective; it's sweet but it did feel a bit shippish for me, as if this were the writers version of slashfic.

        Anybody would just love a chance to spend one moment with him, to do the things that they wanted to do and the aforementioned shrine is that place where one gets that chance. It's one of those things that provide many aspects to the episode itself; the mystique of it provides a certain charm that provides the characters with something to grow on, one example being Woosley; His description of a moment when his fathers had Alzheimer's was both vivid and impactful, I could almost sense the type of emotion he was feeling when he had that moment, possible pride, followed by disappointment; It made Ronan's stance seems like the impassioned pleas of hope and really, wouldn't we get a similar reaction? The reality of it provides engagement that is just pure drama as Rodney is put in a situation where he has only one chance to be saved, the presentation is serious showing every detail and the solutions are common and almost brilliant. The amount of time provided combined with the environmental factors provides a sort of risk that makes us care for the situation at hand, makes us worry whether or not he's going to make it out okay; the very idea of his death is horrifying but the crew stick around to the very end, they show the amount of effort they're willing to go to help him, taking him to the shrine, utilizing their extensive skillsets, sticking together even during the toughest of times and they're a cohesive working unit all the way, gripping us in and making us hope that McKay makes it out of it alive.

        There for Rodney.

        If there were any flaws, I would have to say that Ronan and Teyla don't appear to play much of a role and it does end a bit anticlimactically but aside from that, this is a fine episode of Atlantis; a masterpiece of acting, drama, character and emotion, this will have you on the edge of your seat as McKay provides the most convincing portrayal he can have. It shows that like it or not, McKay is a valuable part of his team and in regards to the show, his place can't be understated. The realities of television production will eventually catch up but for now, we have this episode.

        Back from the grave.