My Thoughts on SGA "Reunion"

by Paul William Tenny

stargate-atlantis.jpg Joseph Mallozzi is an executive producer and writer for Stargate Atlantis, one of many professional writers who blog about their job and (to a degree) their personal life as well. Along with this quick introduction in case you might be interested in this, I also give you the opportunity to skip this post if you've never seen SGA, don't particularly care about the finer points of television writing and are looking for something else.

This may not be for you.

If you are at all curious, read on. Joe wrote what amounts to a blow-by-blow of 4x03 - Reunion, from his perspective as an EP and the writer. I think as an amateur writer, this is a wonderful opportunity to write out my own thoughts, having seen the episode and read the post in question, and having been through the trials of writing myself. Joe and I are very far apart on this because I'm certain I would have scrapped this idea long before it made it off the drawing board.

Mallozzi wrote the script for Reunion which I enjoyed, but was generally disappointed, given a 2+ seasonal trend by the SGA folks for their inability or disinterest in trying to move the entire series forward every single episode, if possible.

Other series have done this, we know it's possible.

There are arguments from both sides as to why you would do this on purpose and I'm sure they are both quite persuasive, I simply don't care what they are. I hate clip shows and with SGA, they feel like clip shows on steroids. You can smell them a mile away and there is no mistaking them for the episodes that cause big changes in the overall series arc. Those are exceptionally good and obvious and they tend to make these fill-ins stand out even more than usual.

Feel free to read Mallozzi's commentary in full at his blog. I'm only going to quote and then address things I find interesting here so there are things that will be left out.

Well, judging from the feedback here and elsewhere, it looks like most of you enjoyed Reunion - which is most pleasing and comes as a relief to me as, history has shown, you never know how the fans are going to react. As promised, I’m going to dedicate this blog entry to my thoughts on the episode so if you haven’t already seen Reunion, you may want to skip today’s entry and come back to it at a later time.

As a fan, I thought the episode was enjoyable on a basic "shutup and watch it asshole" level, although I certainly agree with many other people that this is one of the most generic and predictable stories you can tell, one that has been told dozens if not hundreds of times on television over the years.

If one member of the main cast is a bit of a "rogue", his main stories involve his attempts and inevitable failures to "fit in" with the new group. Eventually, you introduce his old group which causes conflicts with the new group and you end up with a question "which one will he pick?" The decision is always made for the viewers by having the rogue's old friends "turn heel" - which means they are revealed as bad guys pretending to be good guys.

Our guy catches on to this a full act after we already knew what the deal was, making it boring, and eventually has his conflict resolved for him by having his new choice of loyalty removed by default. It's a weak conclusion to a weak setup that we've all seen played out on a dozen different series.

Thankfully, the show is otherwise well acted, produced, and written (the premise was bad and with such a bad premise there is little room for improvement even by the best imaginations) with decent dialog and a decent twist or two to keep things moving in what otherwise is not a lot more than glorified teen angst - only with adults.

I give the episode a thumbs up and actually give credit to Mallozzi for doing the best he could with a well-traveled premise because the episode was still watchable - that says a lot about his talent.

Entry to the village: These types of scenes are always a pain in the butt because you write so many of them it’s always a challenge to make this one different - even though it’s basically the same thing: heroes walk into new town and are greeted by the locals. Given that we were heading into fairly heavy territory with the rest of the episode, I decided to go with a little humor. The thing that stood out for me with this scene is Ronon’s protective big brother reaction to the villager pestering Teyla. It’s the first of a number of these little moments that will pop up over the course of the season.

I never gave much thought to this, but I can definitely sympathize with that problem. The solution is to stop opening episodes like that, though. The fact that it's hard because so many are opened that way means you need to stop opening them that way.

A lesson that's always stuck with me ever since I started learning about writing for television and film is that a good way to condense a scene down to just what you need is to avoid the natural urge to start a scene where it would actually start in real life, as if it was actually happening.

If you have a meeting in a conference room with all your principle players, it's natural to want to start the scene when the meeting starts. Unfortunately that leads you to scenes that are an hour long and squeezes you on the back end, and end up with no room left for everything else.

I struggled with this and I still struggle with it, but when I can remember to "just drop in" on your characters as they go, things happen faster, you get to see more stuff and the writing is generally tighter.

Hardly ever do you see an episode start that way though, and I think that's a wonderful tool you can use to avoid starting episodes in the same way every single week. Don't start with the car chase, start with the end of the chase as they all crash and explode or start in the middle and let us hang out there for a while trying to figure out what the hell is going on.

That's fine, as long as we do find out what's going on in a reasonable amount of time.

This happens on House, even though you don't give it any thought, people only end up in House' diagnostic ward when everything else with their medical treatment has failed - we're coming into their treatment in the middle, nearer to the end, right from the start of the episode.

In my mind, there's no reason the episode couldn't have started in the bar with Teyla doing her thing. We miss nothing and jump right into the meat of the story.

We learn that Carter will be assuming command: A number of fans were upset that McKay seemed far too cavalier given that they had just lost Weir in the last episode. The impression is that the events of Lifeline just happened a day or two ago and he’s already forgotten about her. Not true. In my mind, it’s been several weeks since the events of Lifelife and while the loss of Weir still resonates (as demonstrated in some later scenes), some time has passed.

I had this exact same problem. Even though Mallozzi wrote the episode, whatever is "in his mind" is totally irrelevant to us as viewers because we're not him. If this is several weeks or months later, then we need to be either told that, or see it, even if it's simply inferred.

A scene could be created to get this point across and have it last no more than 30 seconds. That we're expected to just know that several weeks have passed is precisely the reason people didn't get it in the first place. This should have been picked up on and fixed early on.

I am reminded of the SG-1 episode right after "Meridian"; there is a scene between Amanda Tapping and Christopher Judge while they are in a Goa'uld cargo ship. They have some time to talk about things not related to the immediate plot and Carter is clearly having a really hard time dealing with the "is he dead or not" loss of Daniel, as you would expect.

I found this moment to be amongst the strongest in the entire series because, and I don't mean this in a sexist way, Carter was on the verge of crying it seemed. What's important is the strong expression of emotion, the kind you just don't see in a series like SG-1 or Stargate. People die all the time and the characters brood and get angry, but nobody cries. Nobody spends time reflecting on the loss, trying to understand it, or to come to terms with it.

That's real drama, that's compelling drama. SG-1 had it for Meridian and had it again for a few scenes in the episode immediately after. Come to think of it, they had it several more times over the next season every single time the ascended Daniel showed up. The episode Chris Judge wrote that featured Shanks was absolutely brilliant at this.

SGA has never had those moments and personally, I feel as a viewer and as a writer that just skipping over all that is a cop out. Beyond that, it was surrendering a perfect opportunity to explore territory that these two series don't often see. SGA has lost more than one original main character and as far as the casual viewer would know, they never existed.

That's bad...real bad.

I certainly think spending an episode (or at the very least spending a B-story) exploring the loss would have been well worth the time, and ended up a better experience than Reunion was, as-is.

When Jason came back from hiatus, he surprised us with a new tattoo - so we found a way to work it into this episode. What better reason for him to get a new tattoo than to commemorate his reunion with his old buddies.

Personally speaking, I would have been furious about that. While in the end there's absolutely nothing you can about it after the fact, regardless of how big of a guy Jason Mona is, I would have let him have it. That is rank unprofessionalism that I would not let go unchallenged on my show. (As a staff writer I would have appropriately kept my mouth shut.)

I'm not saying I'd fire the guy, but I'd make damn sure he and everyone else knew something like that is not to happen again.


As a writer, I have no problem detaching myself from a character I've created and personally enjoyed. I can kill them off and make a million more that talk and look just like them, it's what I do. If tossing a character into the meat grinder gets me a more professional actor, so be it.

If expecting professionalism from my actors and berating them when they screw up makes me unfit to ever run a show, so be it. I'll just kill them in my specs, instead.


Ronon makes the decision to leave: In the end, it’s his loyalty to his former friends and his concern for their safety (ie. he doesn’t want them to end up like Marika and Hemi) that dictate his decision. To those who have complained that the wraith-worshiper revelation robs Ronon of having to make the choice, the fact is he does make the choice here.

That's great, but it was screwed up anyway because Ronon's "choice" is removed from him the instant his friends were written in as bad guys. In the end, it doesn't matter when the choice is made, because we all knew he would come back before the episode ended.

That's why it's a bad premise, the choice was never really a meaningful one because it was going to revert to the status quo before the end of the fifth act.

You have that problem when putting your regular characters in mortal danger, too, but at least you can do cool things like cripple them, or drag it out for a few episodes. This kind of "I'm leaving to hang out with my old crew" turn into "I'm back because they suck now" is about as interesting as an episode starring a fern.

This scene is pretty much the same as in the original draft except that, in the first draft, rather than say: “Compared to us, you guys are amateurs.”, McKay says: “Yeah, we're definitely more headline material. We're The Rolling Stones to your Hootie and the Blowfish.”

The old line was much, much better. The replacement is so bland and uninteresting that you could replace it "your mom." Regular viewers don't even have to hear McKay speak to know what he thinks of competition, but expressing it with spice and style is what makes it so enjoyable. Most people aren't clever enough to say something like that off the cuff, which is why TV and film are so great.

You get to see, hear, and experience things that never happen in real life and for some reason somebody took a great burn by Mallozzi and turned it into a tasteless cracker. I thought writers rooms were supposed to /improve/ scripts, not water them down.

In the original draft, in keeping with the gag from the previous scene, after stunning McKay, Rakai glowers down at McKay and mutters: “Who’s Hootie now?”.

Again, a great line completely ruined by banal dialog a grip could write.

Ronon comes sliding through the gate firing: And Jason ends up scraping the crap out of his arm on one take.

Yeah but man, that was an awesome shot. I guess that makes up for the tattoo.

Originally, I felt that the fact the wraith had their stunners trained on Sheppard would be enough to keep him in line but Joe felt Sheppard would resist regardless - so we had him zatted instead.

I don't think you can defend that decision (not Mallozzi but the actor) because there have been other scenes where precisely this sequence has happened, but instead Sheppard stood his ground (in Wraith confinement, replicator confinement, and Ancient confinement.) It would have perhaps been more convincing if he actually managed to take down one of the Wraith guards before being sent off to la la land for an hour instead of walking point-blank into the gun fire.

One would think that with that kind of military training, they'd know better than to attack someone pointing a gun at you when they are out of reach.

Besides, the dialog retort is more consistent with the relationship between McKay and Sheppard than Sheppard's sudden interest in getting shot needlessly. But hey, it looked cool on camera.

The two jumpers - a little hint as to what Carter has planned.

I assumed this was nothing more than ordering up a second assault unit, I was pleasantly surprised to see otherwise. Well played, yet why bother? If the first jumper with our Heroes inside approached cloaked, why was there a need for a decoy in the first place when nobody could see it?

Carter leads the rescue op: Not such a stretch given her experience with SG-1, what’s at stake, and the fact that the chain of command kicks in on Atlantis (as it did whenever Weir went off-world).

Huge, huge disappointment. I remember reading that this wasn't going to happen very often because if it did, it make both her and Sheppard redundant to each other. The same could be said for Carter and McKay, to a degree, and both of these issues are why I think adding Tapping to the cast was a terrible idea.

Even if Carter never does that again, it still left a terrible taste in my mouth. In one episode, she has completely de-balled Sheppard by having to rescue him and everybody else in the main cast (that was in danger) and now in a way, Sheppard can't be placed in Jeopardy again without having viewers wonder why Carter doesn't just come in and save him.

I'm not saying she will ruin the show, I've heard about those complaints and they are really ridiculous. I'm complaining about her use in this episode, nothing more.

She's the boss, she can be the top military commando, and she's as smart as Rodney. Right, so why do we have the other characters again?

Shep and co. unwittingly spring the replicator: Uh oh!

Actually it looked like Sheppard did it on purpose. While it looked like the evil replicator might be set loose by accident from a power failure a little bit before the scene in question, that never materialized. Instead, Sheppard rushes into a room he knows nothing about, starts mashing buttons and controls on a computer console he also knows nothing about - with no /apparent/ motive for doing so - and frees the replicator.

Regardless of whatever was meant with that scene, it is clear just by watching it that Sheppard let that sucker loose on purpose. That, frankly, is going to bug me the entire season because it looked like there was intent.

The replicator makes his escape: And he’s got only one thing on his mind: Kill the wraith! Still, love the shot of Carter standing alongside the team, opening fire on the enemy.

Didn't care for it at all myself, for the above reasons. Her butt should have never left Atlantis this entire episode. Unlike moments in SG-1 when Hammond went through the gate, he never did it as a pluggable character, and he didn't do it lightly either.

I hope this never happens again. I hope Carter will find non-Carter things to do on this show since all her major attributes are already covered by other characters. I'd be tickled to death to see her grow into something she has never been before (with many spectacular failures along the way because that's where all the good stories come from.)

Ronon vs. the Satedans: Mark Dacascos is a friend of Ben Browder’s and sometime last year...

Totally sweet fight. The woman getting her throat slit was a nice surprise, I've never seen that kind of violence on a Stargate show before. Now knowing that such a thing is possible in the future, that makes it all the more of an exclamation point about the brutality of her death and how she had it coming.

That though is something I actually didn't get from the flashbacks of the other Satedans being tortured by the Wraith. Viewers can't associate with having the life sucked out of you, put back, and sucked out again. We can't experience that, we can't associated with it. I can't think of a better way to illustrate the torture though, off the top of my head, and maybe that was the only way to get it done.

Still, great fight. I can't complain about this scene at all.

I have a lot of negative feelings towards this episode but this is not how I feel towards Mallozzi, this season, or the series in general. The first two episodes were beyond fantastic and I have little more than nitpicks concerning them.

I think to a degree, many of this episode's faults can be traced back to it being a lousy, mined-out premise to begin with. Seeing Carter take on Sheppard's role is not something viewers wanted to see, not something I wanted to see, and not something I would have ever written.

The last thing in the world you ever want to do is write where others have written before. On the whole, it was still a lot better than most of the crap on TV.
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In one episode, she has completely de-balled Sheppard by having to rescue him and everybody else in the main cast (that was in danger) and now in a way, Sheppard can't be placed in Jeopardy again without having viewers wonder why Carter doesn't just come in and save him.

I find this line of thought perplexing. How exactly did Carter "de-ball" Shep by rescuing him?

There have been several occasions throughout the course of the show where Shep and Co. have had to be rescued...typically by Colonel Caldwell (Siege 3, Trinity and Inferno come to mind right off the top of my head). Were Shep or his team "de-balled" then having to be rescued like that by someone else? Do we now wonder why Caldwell (or Ellis, or whoever) doesn't "just come in and save him" when he's in peril now or does this line of reasoning only apply to Carter?

I hope I'm reading this wrong because I'm getting a bit of a sexist vibe here...that Sheppard was emasculated because he was rescued in this case by Sam, who is a woman...and yet apparently the same is not and was not ever said when Caldwell was the one saving his butt.

Don't get me wrong here. I don't support the idea of Carter always jumping in and leading a mission. But in this case, I felt that it worked as it established to the characters and the audience who might not be aware of her history that her first instinct is to go in and get her hands dirty. It's what she did for a decade and it's going to take a little time for her to dampen that instinct and let other people do that kind of work (which we know will be the case since she'll only go offworld a scant 3 times or so).

At any rate, in this one establishing scene, it showed those under her command and the audience at large that she's hands on and that she can and will provide more than just administrative support when needed...that she's not afraid to get into the trenches. And I imagine that she earned the respect of many, including the still somewhat reticent Ronon, by showing her support with actions rather than just words.

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