by Taylor Brown
Call me a preemptive purist. Call me a resistant to change, but I was not looking forward to major cast change after one season of Atlantis. However, "Runner" did more to win me (and I suspect, more than a few fans) over to Ronon Dex than any pre-season hype.
The teaser lives up to its name with the banter between Parrish and Major Lorne (who, I'm assuming, have just arrived in Atlantis with the Daedalus), prior to finding a dead Wraith alone on the planet. To my genuine shock, the mysterious rustling in the trees is not the new guy looking scary, but Ford looking down at two team members. I'm always pleased to see secondary characters being used, to remind us that the Atlantis expedition isn't just the same six people. And I'm even more pleased when they're not forgotten after their first episode (and eventually get first names).
In this episode, Ford alternates between friendly and creepy, and the speed and manner in which he switches in between the two without warning are the most frightening part of Ford's storyline. Rainbow Sun Franks's acting here is better than ever, convincingly showing the violent shifts in Ford's demeanor. I couldn't predict at any time in the episode how Ford would react, especially when he is walking around the planet with McKay.
Ronon, in contrast, has no need to prove himself like Ford does. In a relatively short section of the episode, we learn how and why Ronon is on this planet, and why he is loathe to trust anyone, or to stay with anyone for long. While I enjoyed the stylized flashbacks in last's weeks "The Intruder," Ronon's flashbacks seem to go a little too far in marking off that they are flashbacks. The warped corners in particular aren't necessary, especially if he's just going to sum it up nicely for Sheppard and Teyla.
We do learn that Ronon was in the military of what seems like an advanced civilization (which is rare for the Pegasus Galaxy) and that he's been running for a long time. Two questions that the flashbacks do bring up: Why was Ronon chosen to be a runner? And what made the Wraith pause when he was feeding on him?
The fight between Ronon and Ford is among the best on the show, and that includes the numerous stick fights. At the very end of "Runner," Ronon finds out about the destruction of his homeworld, (which I'm intrigued about -- hopefully there is more Ronon backstory in the works). Using the fight and Ronon's reaction to cap off the episode is nice touch, because it works as a transition between the two runners and helps create more to the character of Ronon Dex than his fighting skills.
What made this a better episode overall is how it works well-established characters into what is essentially Ronon's storyline. McKay is back in fine form in this episode; since the season opener he was regulated to Science Exposition Guy. I suppose one could argue that that is what his job is about when he is in Atlantis, but in this episode he shoots Ford and ends upside down a few seconds later. If I had to choose between the two (and, happily, I don't), McKay on other planets wins every time.
Dr. Beckett grudgingly makes a trip through the gate to operate on Ronon (although the Ancient medical device he brings looks and works suspiciously like a tricorder -- come on, guys).
Sheppard comes up against the orders of someone who outranks him for the first time in a long while, and his propensity for ignoring the chain of command and his loyalty to his friends are still strong. But when he is faced with the decision of shooting Ford or letting him go, the scene has a feel very similar to the decision he makes in "Rising," which Caldwell reminded him of: Sheppard has "no trouble with mercy." In that same vein he doesn't kill Ford, but tries to stop him. Ford is not incapable of saving like Sumner was. Caldwell is not happy, of course, and the dynamic has changed now that Sheppard can't be answerable to just himself and Weir.
"Runner" does an excellent job of introducing a new character and a situation that that could have been easily fallen into cliché. The episode is successful because, if nothing else, it opens up a whole area of storylines with a new character.
Rating: * * *