Poisoning the Well

Summary | Analysis | Production | Transcript | Review

The team finds a world whose people are on the brink of a discovery that may make them immune to the Wraith feeding.

FAN RATING - 7.69 
NIELSEN - 1.8 
DVD DISC: Season 1, Disc 2
STORY BY: Mary Kaiser
TELEPLAY BY: Damian Kindler
DIRECTED BY: Brad Turner
GUEST STARS: Alan Scarfe (Chancellor Druhin), Allison Hossack (Perna), Paul McGillion (Carson Beckett), James Lafazanos (Wraith), Dean Marshall (Bates), Edmond Wong (Technician), Neil Maffin (Merell), Darren Hird (Dying Patient)
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Major John Sheppard's team have been visiting the planet Hoff for a day and a half, and have seen technology reminiscent of Earth's 1920's. Once Chancellor Druhin and his people begin to trust the off-worlders, they reveal their most prized discovery: a chemical defense that they believe will prevent the Wraith from absorbing the life energy of any human who takes it.

Dr. Elizabeth Weir is informed of the Hoffan drug, and thinks that if the entire civilization is committed to succeeding in developing a viable antidote against Wraith cullings, Atlantis should help in whatever way possible. Sheppard enlists Dr. Carson Beckett's aid and returns to Hoff. After looking over their work, the team meets Perna, one of the lead scientists responsible for developing the drug. Beckett is immediately captivated by her. She explains the origins of the original anti-Wraith prototype drug. Apparently they've been working for more than 150 years, surviving over three cullings, storing archives of their knowledge (floors and floors of books) deep inside their planet. If one is destroyed, the other archives survive to carry on the works of past generations.

Beckett is more surprised than anyone, but he believes that it's time Atlantis helps the Hoffans carry the drug to the next level. He tells Dr. Weir, saying he has already informed the Hoffans of the "guest" in the brig. Meanwhile, Sheppard talks to the Wraith captive, nicknamed "Steve," inquiring as to how many Wraith hive ships are floating about the galaxy. Steve says that the information they are looking for is only one human away – if he gets fed ...

Beckett admits he has only experimented on the Wraith arm the team brought back from Athos. But because hose cells have already decayed he will require completely active cells. Steve's prison cell is opened, and a Wraith stunner is used to take him down, so that Beckett can get the material he needs. He then returns to Hoff to continue his work with Perna. After five results they arrive at 100 percent cell penetration. All outcomes are nothing short of perfect. There is now a definite hope for a defense against the Wraith.

Beckett is alarmed when he learns Druhin and Perna are eager to take the next step – they want to use the drug on Steve.

Weir talks the matter over with Sheppard. They are talking putting a human in the same room as a starving Wraith. The Geneva Convention would never have allowed this, but Sheppard reminds her that if the Wraith had attended the convention, they would have tried to feed on everyone. The Hoffan test subject who has volunteered for the experiment is terminally ill. Eventually, Weir consents. Sheppard approaches Steve and tells him that if he gives him information of value, he'll allow him to eat. Steve agrees. He is soon bound and taken by Jumper to Hoff.

Merell, the terminally-ill test subject, has long been at peace with his fate, and is ready to face the Wraith. Injected with the drug, he enters Steve's new chamber and faces him. When the creature places his palm on his chest he quickly removes it. Merell survives, and Steve's condition begins to worsen almost immediately. Meanwhile, Druhin congratulates Perna and Beckett. He is eager to administer the drug to the entire population, but Carson cautions that several tests must still be run before that can happen.

Steve soon dies. Beckett determines that the Hoffan serum not only shields the victim from culling, but it is now clear that the antidote is transferred into the Wraith. Essentially, Steve was poisoned. All of his vital organs shut down simultaneously. If the serum was indeed the cause, not only is it a defense – but a weapon. Teyla and Sheppard approach Druhin with this information. When the Wraith discover the danger, they will wipe the Hoffans from existence, as well as anyone they have been in contact with, just to prevent fruition of the drug. But it's too late. The Chancellor has already made his recommendations to the Hoffan council: the serum is being inoculated into the population.

Perna tells Beckett that Merell has been found dead. The cause is still unknown. Beckett urges her to cease the inoculations, but she admits that she cannot be a part of it – she herself was among the first to be given the drug.

Soon the hospitals are overwhelmed with patients. Fifty percent of those inoculated are dying. To Sheppard's dismay, Druhin believes these are perfectly good odds, and says the entire population is going to take a vote on whether or not to administer the drug to everyone. Sheppard cannot believe what he's hearing, but is assured the word of the Chancellor that everyone will have a say, and the majority will win victory in the decision. Meanwhile Teyla informs Carson of bad news: Perna has become one of the sick. Beckett goes to her deathbed. Perna assures him she will die with peace – they have accomplished the unthinkable, and she has no regrets. Beckett stays at her side until she passes away.

The results of the vote are in. Ninety-six percent of the Hoffans are in favor of disseminating the drug among their people, no matter what the cost. Druhin says that when next Sheppard's team returns, they'd like to discuss plans for passing the drug to all the worlds in the Pegasus Galaxy, but John believes that no one will be around when they come back.

- D. Read


  • Atlantis has now been holding the Wraith commander captive for almost two weeks. Sheppard decides it is high time to name him and calls him "Steve."
  • Beckett has taken samples of Steve's Wraith cells which perfectly match compatibility from Wraith cells (taken on Hoff) that are 150 years old.
  • Atlantis still possess Wraith rifles from Steve's capture. Incapacitating him once again is a simple matter. Two shots are required to take down a Wraith commander.
  • "Regular" food has no effect at staving off the hunger of a Wraith.
  • According to Steve, all Wraith hive ships have become active since Sheppard awakened the first one. They will travel their normal feeding grounds and gather strength, and then they will join force and come for Atlantis.
  • When the Wraith cull, they release a poison into the body of the victim, essentially preparing the victim for life-absorption.
  • Trickery is not a way of the Wraith.


  • "One day on the set, Martin Wood, who directed 'Rising,' had mentioned to me that there was a big Beckett episode coming up. He suggested that I go have a chat with the writer, Damian Kindler, so I did. Damian and I talked about the story and my character, and when I received the script I was just blown away. Beckett has so much to do in it. He even has a love interest, so to speak.

    "Out of all the episodes my character has been in, this one is by far the most dramatic. You get a strong sense of who Beckett is and the human side of him is really apparent. I think the passion of the Scots comes out. He has a big heart and can shed a tear as well." (Actor Paul McGillion, in an interview with Starburst magazine [#314])
  • "There was one [episode] just recently [shot] where there was a question of using a prisoner for scientific research. And it was a very military and scientific decision, and she got the final say. I think that, to begin with, she felt bowled over that ... she didn't actually have the choice, because she's not the one actually out there on the lines. These people are going out ... and seeing these worlds, and she's back here trying to keep Atlantis going, so she's making decisions based on their information. And it was a very difficult journey for her ... to give up her own sense of ethics and right and wrong and her own need to fortify her power in that moment. ... She eventually said, 'OK, yes, I condone this action.'

    "Joe had a great line where I was bringing up the Geneva Convention and those ideas, and his line was, 'Well, if the Wraith were at the Geneva Convention, they would have ate everybody.' So you suddenly realize ... this is a different world, so a different set of values. So that was a fun arc to play." (Actress Torri Higginson ["Elizabeth Weir"], in an interview with Science Fiction Weekly)
  • "Every culture that we encounter has been vastly handicapped by the fact that the Wraith come in, wipe them out within 5 percent of their population, and allow them to propagate. They leave after they harvest their life force, because they're like space vampires, they drain their life force. And then that population is left for a hundred years or so to repopulate, and then they're wiped out again. So their technology can only get to a certain amount.

    "And the way in which they deal with this continuous harvesting is fascinating. All the worlds are post-apocalyptic, and they all have different ways of dealing with it. Some of them go underground, some of them think that they have to commit ritual suicide to stay away from them, others try to use antiviral medication to try to put the Wraith off, some of them try to become androids. They're all very desperate because every hundred years, 95 percent of their population is completely wiped out. So they all deal with it in different ways. 'Poisoning the Well' is in fact what I just said, which is a culture that is trying to develop an antibody that will prevent the Wraith from feeding.

    "And that's a big episode for the Beckett character, the Scottish guy, Paul McGillion. Paul McGillion is great, by the way, and so is McKay. They're just hilarious together. Love those guys." (Director Peter DeLuise, in an interview with the Richard Dean Anderson Web Site)
  • "As an actor, to get a script like that so early on in the first season of a TV show is such a blessing. I thought Damian Kindler did an amazing job of writing it, not to mention Brad Turner, who directed the episode. I've had the pleasure of working with him before. Brad is a terrific guy and he has a real understanding of storytelling and script analysis. I think that's evident in the way he talks to you about your character and helps you tweak your performance to make it the best it can be. I worked really hard on this episode and was grateful to the producers for the opportunity to further flesh out Beckett." (Actor Paul McGillion, in an interview with SciFiAndTvTalk's Steve Eramo)