by Sharon Fetter
Pitch-perfect performances and crisp writing turn a familiar plot -- Rodney in mortal danger -- into an engaging crossover episode with echoes of Stargate SG-1's "48 Hours" and "Grace." Highlights include Rodney managing his own hysteria, his hallucinated Sam Carter, the coordinated team effort that rescues him, and the hint of intelligent whales.
Everyone delivers memorable performances in "Grace Under Pressure" -- even the proverbial red shirt, Griffin (a.k.a. the tomato guy). His discourse on scientists and tomatoes (eliciting Rodney's "Oh, yes, of the Barcelona McKays") creates a character we feel sad about losing when he sacrifices himself without hesitation for Rodney.
In a situation reminiscent of Carter being alone on Prometheus in Stargate SG-1's "Grace," Rodney finds himself alone on a Puddle Jumper, facing death beneath the ocean's surface. Having finally, after a season and a half, learned a thing or two about facing imminent death in a pro-active fashion, Rodney is pushed even further. This time, his survival hinges, ultimately, on trust in the other people in Atlantis -- trust that they care enough to rescue him and trust that they actually can.
While this will likely do nothing to reduce his arrogance, it is, nonetheless, a significant epiphany for him. Likewise, the moment when he argues about who is right -- him or him (in the form of Sam) -- and he realizes that he is, indeed, petty, is significant. And after
initially turning away from Griffin's sacrifice, Rodney finds the courage to acknowledge the man's bravery, bravery he knows he doesn't quite have. Hewlett plays Rodney with the perfect balance of hysteria, arrogance and, yes, pettiness.
That Rodney's inner voice of reason is Samantha Carter is a terrific way to exploit the comedic and competitive chemistry between the two scientists, seen in Stargate SG-1's "48 Hours" and "Redemption." The qualities with which Rodney's subconscious imbues Carter -- dignity, charm, likeability, superior intelligence, competitiveness tempered with compassion, trust in others -- are traits buried so deeply in himself that he can only access them by giving them form in the person who is all Rodney could be, and perhaps, would like to be. For all of his bluster, Rodney does know, albeit deep down, that he is petty, arrogant, and bad with people.
In the face of Rodney's fantasy re-creation, Amanda Tapping maintains the inherent integrity of Sam and adds a playfulness that would be fun to see occasionally on SG-1. Her quick switch from scientist to vamp is one of the episode's best moments.
Meanwhile, back in Atlantis, we see the episode's truest resemblance to Stargate SG-1's "48 Hours" as the rest of the team works frantically to save their friend. While Rodney, if he were the one "saving the poor bastard stuck down there" might manage both to plan and help execute the rescue, a number of people with diverse specialties and skills must organize and work together as a true team in order to rescue the Puddle Jumper. Zelenka and his people manage the science, while Sheppard has a vision of how to effect the rescue. Weir, acting as the link between the two sides, keeping both focused and moving forward, performs as a leader should.
All of the actors are their characters in this episode. There are no false notes. The quiet, conveyed-in-a-glance rapport between Weir and Sheppard is a good example, as is the way Zelenka pushes himself beyond his own fears -- a calm counterpoint to Rodney's noisy, controlled chaos method of pushing himself in the Puddle Jumper.
The pacing of the episode maintains the tension and action shifts smoothly between Atlantis and the downed Jumper, creating an episode that, for once, does not feel rushed to resolution. The process Rodney goes through to try and save himself is realistic, well delineated and fleshed out. The science gets a little dodgy when it comes to the cloak-shield device, but with such a full, well-acted script, it's a minor quibble.
"Grace Under Pressure" is probably one of writer Martin Gero's best efforts. But, should he be forgiven for the title pun?
And then there is the whale. It clearly signals the Puddle Jumper's location to Sheppard and Zelenka. Could it also have guided the Jumper to a shallower resting spot, preventing it from sinking the full 6,000 feet possible? Could the whale be a descendant of whales brought to this planet, whales accustomed to working with the Ancients, a la Anne McCaffrey's dolphins on Pern?
There are more stories begging to be explored now that we know the Puddle Jumpers are submersible. Who knows what else the Ancients have hidden beneath the waters of the planet?
Rating: * * * *