Review by Sharon Fetter
Overload -- critical mass is reached and exceeded in this episode. The plot, with two strong storylines, is overloaded and, consequently, rushed to resolution. There is so much in the episode that is good, so much that deserves more worthy solutions, so much worth discussing. The question is, where to start?
Overloading the Atlantis Z.P.M. is simple, but elegant. Having the idea be the brainchild of the Trust infiltrated by Goa'uld is also clever and allows for the realistic crossover with Stargate Command on Earth. The polite but cut-the-crap Landry suits the tense situation. And the briefing conducted by Dr. Lee, with its references to the "twilight bark" and lighting of the beacon fires was inspired. (It also makes me want to know who would marry Dr. Lee and just how many kids he has.)
Making Caldwell the Goa'uld emissary is a great twist, especially because he is now an accepted and trusted member of Team Atlantis. He, like Ronon, finally has that "settled-in" feel. Yet the resolution of Caldwell's storyline, what with Rodney's quip about Asgard brain surgery, is one of the most unsatisfying elements of the plot. Since we like Caldwell, we need to see his remorse and rehabilitation if we, like the rest of the team, are ever to trust him again.
There are the Zelenka moments, where quality of screen time trumps quantity of dialogue. And that quiet moment when Sheppard tells Weir to have a look: it speaks volumes about the relationship between Weir and Sheppard.
Teyla and the Athosian ceremony is detail we have wanted, but this secondary storyline is worthy of a stand-alone episode. Removing it would have allowed ample space for expansion and resolution of the major story. Adding it here deprived the major characters of a huge opportunity to strengthen their ties. The absence of Weir, Sheppard, and Ronon at the ceremony of the ring gives the scene a hollow quality. Now more than ever, these three are Teyla's family.
Expanded to a full episode, this sub-story could have fleshed out the Athosians, cemented their bonds with the Earthers and given Teyla the opportunity to examine her life in its new context, something death demands.
Can't leave out the Rodney-Cadman-Beckett triangle. Cadman rattles Rodney's cage, revealing herself to be a worthy adversary, especially since she wisely ignored his order to stop working on the gap she found which led to Caldwell's unmasking. She is proving herself to be a strong character entitled to more regular appearances.
Almost lost in a plot overstuffed with the S.G.C., the Wraith, the red herrings (Barrett's intel about a low-level operative, Cadman, and the snide Kavanagh), the inability of the S.G.C. to communicate with Atlantis, Teyla and the Ring Ceremony as well as a crisis which morphs as it escalates, is Elizabeth Weir. She juggles three major challenges to her leadership.
We see her handle the Z.P.M. overload crisis adroitly. The challenge by Kavanagh is excellently begun. It was hard, raw, and brilliantly delivered in a shrill and emotional manner by a man whose advocacy of reason would have led to the sure destruction of Atlantis. His standard male diatribe is surely something Weir, the internationally known diplomat, has heard before and dealt with. Herein, by implication, it pushes her toward torturing Kavanagh. She would know better than to let it influence her. If anything, it would make her more cautious in her dealings with Kavanagh.
It would have added more visibly to her hesitation and ramped up the psychological tension when she faced her third crisis: the issue of torture and when to use it. The issue of torture itself presented a lost opportunity to examine a hot-button topic of our time, not only as it applied to humans, but when used against a ruthless adversary such as the Goa'uld.
Female fans often comment that the male writers don't always serve their female characters well. Such is the case in "Critical Mass." As a woman who has been on the receiving end of Kavanagh's criticism, I found Weir's response to be a false note that led to her all-too-hasty acquiescence to torture. If the plot had not been so overloaded, her responses to these challenges to her leadership might have been more fully addressed and not dismissed by Sheppard's noting that Kavanagh was not hurt. I can only hope that her concern that she crossed a line will someday be more fully examined and not simply dismissed.
And finally, who could not love Teyla's lovely, haunting song performed so well by Rachel Luttrell?
Despite the overloaded plot and the rushed resolutions, "Critical Mass" was, by far, my favorite episode of the season so far.
Rating: * * *