Season one of Stargate: Atlantis was a powerhouse of new cultures, enemies and technologies for us to discover. We kick off with Rising, the introduction to Pegasus and all it has to offer. The moral standard our characters would adhere to had been set and with this done, they move on to new places with courage, compassion and cachet from the audience.
But what if it hadn't happened as it did? What if the city didn't rise on cue?
This eventuality is explored in my favourite SGA episode; Before I Sleep.
Right from the start, there is an unusual similarity between Elizabeth and the old woman in the stasis pod. And it becomes apparent they are connected as we are given a shot of Weir in the foreground with 'Aged Weir' (whom I will refer to as AW) just over her shoulder. Fade the scenery around AW to the table in the middle of the room and she awakens to see the team around her. She gives no clue that she recognises them and turns her attention to the window upon which, smiles and announces "It worked," then falls asleep.
While writing this I fell into an old habit of mine where I give too many irrelevant details so from this point on I'll assume you don't need a blow by blow 95% accurate script read to you. If something is really important I'll reference the time (MM:SS) on the DVD. This is the point in the episode where it changes from a good episode to a great episode.
09:10, Weir looks down upon AW in a hospital bed and seems to be reflecting upon all the things that she feels she would have or could have done, in that time. AW awakes and begins telling her story to the best person to understand it, herself. The first scenes in Atlantis replay with subtle differences. Rodney tells AW that he was able to access the controls instantly and she replies "...Not the first time". This is where we start to see the sacrifice she's made to talk to our Weir. She continues her epic tale later in the episode as she is constantly falling in and out of consciousness.
12:30, Weir requests a stimulant for AW and Carson refuses claiming it might kill her, Weir responds "I believe she can handle it, and i know she'd want it" This scene is among the most powerful in the whole first season and allows us insight into Weir's strength of character. It's well shot with a beautiful music choice, it resonates her drive and determination and the level of detriment she would endure for those she serves.
13:55, Weir escorts AW to the Gate room, operational in all its' glory. Another amazing scene, it's a 'oner' which begins in a hallway behind AW then pans up and around the Gate room, the control room and back down the stairs to AW who sits in her wheel chair admiring 'what could have been'.
14:10, AW: "Seeing the city like this, sitting on the surface of the ocean, you can't imagine how relieved i am,"
McKay: "what are you saying, the city didn't rise the first time round?"
AW: "No, no, the city was in serious trouble, the very moment we arrived"
This conversation reveals to us not only; the key moment in the pilot that separated our reality from her own, but also AW's heroism which up to this point we took for granted. She continues the story and at this point i will add that all of the flashbacks are very well done, the subtle differences creating a big difference and the things that needed to be the same remained unchanged.
16:05, The severity of their situation slaps us in the face catching us off guard, as we hear over the radio the death of Col. Sumner and his men with the crashing of ocean as windows break and screams for help fading away.
17:55, The bulk heads throughout the city close, cutting people off from the Gate room, their escape, and their lives. Rodney tries to reopen them to no avail.
18:20, Weir tells Rodney and Grouden not to wait too long before moving to the jumper bay, this is Rodney's finest hour up to now, he remains where he is and drowns while trying to save others lives. This says a lot for his character as we don't often see him being the heroic one and shows the audience he is as strong as John when he needs to be.
Rodney: "I... died?"
AW: "You never gave up trying... right until the end."
21:05, Cue time travel and major disorientation. The wraith attack the jumper and AW while telling the story, becomes overwhelmed with emotion and she passes out.
23:00, Ship fight, crashes, weir awakens to find Janus.
I'm really sorry I'm going to have to cut this short because i have lots of work to do, and i don't want to have to finish it later either so I'll just put the important stuff in. I've already gotten too detail oriented anyway.
AW is brought before the Lantean council, her request to return with a ZPM is refused and the time machine is destroyed at their order. Saying that there has been enough tampering with time. She is extended an invitation to return to Earth with the Lanteans: 'You are welcome to return to earth with our people, you will not be returning to yours'
Janus argues for AW's case and disobeys the council to send her back to the future with the stasis pod. The way AW talks about Janus seems to allude to somewhat of a crush developing.
32:00, The last transport the ancients were waiting on is destroyed and conveyed to us in a similar way to that which Col. Sumner died by. This repetition of circumstances increases the meaning we gain from the events by drawing further parallels between the Ancients and ourselves. And also shows that the wraith were indeed as ruthless then as they are now, if not more so.
33:05, Weir: "Are you in any pain?"
AW: "Would we admit it, if we were?"
This is another brilliant reminder that they are the same and reinforces Weir's decision to give AW a stimulant by revealing that she still holds the same level of drive and endurance our Weir holds.
33:40, AW tells Weir to enjoy the moment and enjoy her Birthday,
AW: Life is quick
Weir: Not for you
AW: It was my choice Elizabeth, i didn't second guess it then and i don't regret it now
This shows us how much seeing the city saved means to both Elizabeth's and how much they would sacrifice to that end to see it through.
35:00, Janus admits his plan might not work and AW says she'll take the chance, Janus however is convinced she will survive, and tells her of the failsafe he has created.
36:10, Janus actually kept his research, he plans to rebuild the time machine.
36:30, AW: Thank you.
Janus: Thank you, for giving me the hope that Atlantis will survive another 10000 years, after you discover it again.
This reveals how much it meant to have his work validated by a descendant and that the submersion (which may well have been his plan too) worked.
37:20, Janus looks back at AW, smiles and departs through the gate leaving AW all alone, and we see that the solitude hits her as she looks around aimlessly and the camera zooms out on her at the top of the stairs while the music fades away giving us what is the most scenically beautiful shot in the whole episode.
38:20, AW enters the stasis pod and it slowly fades her young self out, and her old self in.
38:35, This is the point that turns Before I Sleep from a great episode to the greatest episode in my opinion.
Weir: "It worked, the stasis, the failsafe, you gave up your entire life..."
AW: "No, because we are the same person, the best part of my life is just beginning, im exploring a new galaxy, i have years ahead of me still.
Trust yourself Elizabeth, all that matters is right now." As she says this, she begins to cry. Those old grey eyes glisten with emotion which resonates in her voice as the words echo both sadness and great joy at a life (and i mean a WHOLE life) dedicated to those she served, that she was able to save each and everyone of them, even if not the first time. This is the final reminder that concretes our opinion of Elizabeth Weir as a strong and compassionate leader who would do anything for any of those under her command.
39:45, Weir turns to tell Rodney what the note means then AW's head slowly slumps onto her shoulder as the heart monitor moves from a regular beep, to a monotonal constant. Weir turns back to her side, and holds her hand as a single tear gathers in her eye.
40:20, Weir is alone on the balcony she was standing on during the opening scene and in her hand is the pot the Athosians made for her that John gave her for her birthday. Inside are Her aged self's ashes and as she sprinkles them over the balcony the music fades. John comes to tell her the mission briefing is starting, and Weir tells him she'll be right there. After a pause reconsiders and requests a minute’s grace.
41:10, The scene ends quietly with Weir leaning over the balcony in deep thought the same way the episode began and we can't help but feel as though so much has happened, yet so little has changed for everyone. Only Elizabeth has been deeply affected not only gaining a huge amount of respect from her team, but from herself too. Her older self told her not to be so hard on herself and to enjoy the moment, and this is far better than any birthday present she could hope for, as she can legitimately take this advice from someone who truly knows her.
The whole episode has focussed on Weir's development as a character and allowed us a better view into who she really is. Through the amazing camera work and the wide range of music providing a second layer of meaning to the story we gain insight into what it's like to be in a position of power such as hers but also more importantly see the level of personal sacrifice she endures and would endure for the people under her command. The overall growth of her personality and her determination resulting from this episodes events come because now she knows she owes it to herself, quite literally, to do what she can for the sacrifice her older self made.
While i don't believe that a complex opinion about a 45 minute episode of a television show can be summed up accurately into a numerical figure, there are always people who either won't read the article or won't accept it without that figure so. Assuming that 0 is unobtainable level of terrible and 10 is an unobtainable level of perfection.
On a scale of 0 to 10 i award 'Before I Sleep' a 9.75 out of 10.
This was kind of a spur of the moment thing, and i doubt i will be writing more reviews, it came about because i was rewatching season 1 when i realised how utterly amazing this episode really was. As such, i feel that with more preparation or time (which i lack, year 12 exams etc) i could have A) cut back the useless details and B) organised it more logically.
Thanks for reading, Not the shortest thing... it's around 1900 words.
I'd really like discussion on the episode, other great episodes and also some constructive criticism for my writing if anyones an english wiz.