Review by Taylor Brown
"Don't talk to me about screwed!"
- John Sheppard
When you strip away all the science fiction, "Thirty Eight Minutes" is the classic stuck-in-an-elevator scenario with fatal consequences -- and a big-ass bug thrown in for kicks. After taking fire from the Wraith while leaving the planet, the Puddle Jumper is damaged, and gets lodged in the gate. Meanwhile, Major Sheppard is fighting for his life against a parasitical bug he picked up on the Wraith planet, but because of the way this episode is set up, the viewer doesn't get all these details until midway through. The teaser to "Thirty Eight Minutes" throws us right into the action, and it's a much better episode for it.
"Thirty Eight Minutes" is partially a flashback episode, moving back and forth from the team's run-in with the Wraith on the surface, to the events occurring in real-time on the Puddle Jumper. With the Puddle Jumper getting stuck at the end of the teaser, and minus the commercials, the rest of the episode comes out to -- surprise -- a bit over 38 minutes. The immutable laws of wormhole physics are convenient for giving this episode an immediacy that doesn't exist when a story occurs over the course of a day or more.
Immediacy also comes across in the close up, shaky camerawork in the Puddle Jumper. Contrasted with the quick but smoother direction in the Atlantis scenes, it makes the scenes in the Puddle Jumper scarier and more tense. Director Mario Azzopardi, whose other Stargate credits include "Children of the Gods," also connects the two points of view in this episode with a transition between Dr. Zelenka working in the Puddle Jumper at Atlantis and McKay doing the same thing on the ship stuck inside the Stargate. It's the little things that make me happy.
I'm only going to nitpick one thing here. It's been well established that gate travel is one-way, so it doesn't make sense that they could pull Ford back through the gate and into the cargo area. However, having Ford not be dematerialized is helpful to the overall story, so I'll let it go -- this time.
What I liked about this storyline is that it is the first time we see the off-world team working, albeit crudely, as a unit. Each person helps them get out of this seemingly impossible situation. Teyla makes the connection between the bug and the Wraith, and Sheppard figures out a way to save himself with that information. McKay finally gets the drive pods retracted and Ford blows the hatch so the Puddle Jumper gets through in time. But they don't get by without some serious tempers flaring.
"Thirty Eight Minutes" is also a big episode for Dr. Weir. Viewers follow her around in Atlantis in this episode. Such a crisis is a real test of her leadership, and while she succeeds on one level, other problems crop up. Her mini-showdown with Kavanagh shows that she won't suffer anyone questioning her authority, while her refusal to let Halling perform the death ritual for Teyla seemed almost cold. I wouldn't be surprised if Kavanagh was the one who told Halling that the death of the team members trapped on the Puddle Jumper was "all but inevitable." (Interestingly enough, Kavanagh isn't the first scientist to be pessimistic about being able to solve a Stargate problem. That would be McKay himself in "48 Hours.")
I hadn't really noticed the show's musical score until this episode. But this isn't a bad thing, as the music supports the story without getting in its way. However, it's interesting to hear drums in the background that sound like a heartbeat as they all realize that Sheppard cannot go through the gate until the bug is off him. When Sheppard comes up with the idea to use the defibrillator, the drums ominously stop.
Like I said before, it's the little things in this episode that I enjoyed or disliked. The silent expressions that these actors made, whether it's the glares that Teyla throws at McKay or Weir quickly closing her eyes before allowing Sheppard to speak, add a lot to the dialogue. More irksome, however, is Rainbow Sun Francks overacting in the very beginning of the episode. I know it's a crisis situation, but something doesn't quite fit with the cool and collected Lt. Ford we've seen before -- and in the rest of the episode.
In the end Sheppard and the entire crew are saved, and we are left wondering what Sheppard was really going to say. Meanwhile, I'm still impressed by how well this show is doing. "Thirty Eight Minutes" keeps up the tension between the situation and the characters and gives Atlantis it's first "team" episode. I'm glad this was it.
Rating: * * * 1/2