The Shrine

Summary | Production | Transcript | Fan Reviews

Rodney McKay is stricken with a mental affliction that robs him of his knowledge and memories, causing him to revert to a childlike state.

FAN RATING - 9.02 
NIELSEN - 1.2 
DVD DISC: Season 5, Disc 2
WRITTEN BY: Brad Wright
DIRECTED BY: Andy Mikita
GUEST STARS: Kate Hewlett (Jeannie Miller), David Nykl (Radek Zelenka), Sharon Taylor (Banks)
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Jeannie Miller ("McKay and Mrs. Miller") has come to Atlantis via the Daedalus and to say goodbye to her brother, Rodney McKay. She is deeply distressed as she, John Sheppard, Ronon Dex, Richard Woolsey and Dr. Jennifer Keller watch video McKay recorded mere days ago. A disease common among the elderly in the Pegasus Galaxy, called "Second Childhood," has stolen his intellect and his personality. Similar to acute and rapidly advancing Alzheimer's, the disease has left Rodney in a childlike state.

As Keller prepares McKay for his sister's visit, Jeannie learns of the mission to M44-5YN, where this started. Sheppard and his team went to investigate a missed check in from Dr. Nichols. Immediately soaked by rising flood waters, the team sought safety atop the Stargate itself. An ice dam had apparently given way near where Nichols and his team were camped.

By the time they were able to return to Atlantis, some nine hours later, McKay was unconscious. But he recovered quickly and seemed to be back to his normal self – nicer, even. Keller realized later that his stressed immune system provided a parasite the opportunity to take hold in his brain. It didn't kill the cells, but rather suppressed them. The recordings documented McKay's slide into the childish state Jeannie now sees.

Jeannie tries to talk to her brother, and is soon overcome with emotion and leaves the isolation room. Ronon is there to comfort her – and to tell her about his plan. At a place called the Shrine of Talus, people such as McKay are restored to their old selves, gaining the chance for just one day to enjoy the company of loved ones and to say goodbye. Ronon is willing to take them there despite the two Wraith hive ships and 10,000 Wraith who have occupied the planet since the Replicator war last year.

Adamant that she can still find a way to save McKay, Dr. Keller refuses to allow this. When asked if he wants to go to the Shrine, McKay is clearly unable to understand. Jeannie, as next of kin, gives the go ahead. Woolsey authorizes the mission, revealing that his own father suffered from Alzheimer's Disease. They send a M.A.L.P. through the gate to check the area on the Wraith-controlled planet, and Wraith ships on the highlands fire immediately. Before it is destroyed, the M.A.L.P. deploys a smokescreen which allows the team's Jumper to exit the wormhole and cloak undetected.

Flying toward the Shrine, Sheppard flashes back to a poignant moment he and McKay shared. Afraid and alone in the days after the disease began to take his mind, McKay bangs frantically on Sheppard's door. Reassuring his friend that everything is OK, Sheppard grabs a six-pack of beer and takes McKay outside to one of the piers. Under the glow of stars and moonlight, McKay tries to tell Sheppard goodbye while he is still in command of his faculties. Sheppard refuses to reciprocate or even accept McKay's gesture – because he will not give up hope.

Once the Jumper is camouflaged, the group hikes to a cave hidden behind a waterfall. Keller, using an Ancient scanner, detects an unknown type of radiation. Teyla touches a carved panel on a column, the source of the unusual energy. Afraid, McKay hesitates to enter the cave. Sheppard gives him a friendly nudge, and as he enters the cave McKay doubles over and screams. Just as suddenly, he stops and is his normal, obnoxious self again.

Having already said his goodbyes, McKay finds no joy in being restored to this state for only a day. He reluctantly agrees to share a last meal with his friends and his sister. But more intrigued by the radiation and the fact that the Shrine actually works, McKay studies the scanner. Keller moves him to the edge of the cave. Immediately, he screams. She realizes that the parasite dampening McKay's brain cells has contracted to protect itself from the radiation. Keller also knows that if McKay leaves the cave, he will die when the organism reasserts its presence.

Now Keller can do what she could not do in Atlantis: surgically remove the much smaller, contracted organism. Unable to return to the city for the appropriate surgical equipment, Sheppard takes Keller to the Jumper where they pick up the Ancient life-signs detector, a drill, her emergency medical kit, and a hammer. While Jeannie converts the life-signs detector into a basic medical scanner, the others talk McKay into this impromptu, but essential, surgery.

Rodney is sedated and, with Sheppard assisting, Keller drills several holes his skull. Studying the images on the scanner, Keller recognizes that the parasite is moving through McKay's brain. Sensing a way out (and away from the radiation), it is headed for one of the holes she just drilled. Warning Ronon to draw his gun, they all watch as the organism emerges. Keller flings it onto the ground, and Ronon dispatches it with a quick shot.

Fully restored to himself, McKay sleeps in the Atlantis infirmary until the conversation between Jeannie and Keller wakes him. Pleased with his progress and his peckishness, Keller goes off to order him a meal.

Throughout the ordeal, Keller has felt responsible for McKay's condition because she was taken in by McKay's sweetness. She remembers his insistence that consuming the fruit cup from his tray constituted having dinner together. In the privacy of her lab, she replays the special moment on Day 6 of his decline ... when he confessed that he has fallen in love with her. Now, as she watches that moment again, she knows he is going to be OK. She knows that now they might have the chance she fought so hard for in the Shrine of Talus.

- S. Fetter


  • "The Shrine" is the 300th episode produced in the Stargate franchise, excluding DVD movies – 214 episodes of Stargate SG-1 and 86 episodes of Stargate Atlantis.
  • The episode title "Amort" first appeared on concept art documents shown at executive producer Joseph Mallozzi's blog. When the working title for this episode was originally announced, it was called "The Shrine of Talus."
  • Actor David Nykl ("Radek Zelenka") is credited for this episode ... but where is he? He actually did film a scene for the episode, which was cut for time.
  • "The scripts are flying fast and furious. Brad Wright turned in his first draft of a fun if atypical McKay driven story." (Script coordinator Alex Levine, in a post at his blog)
  • "We also have a final draft of episode 6, 'The Shrine of Talus,' written by Brad Wright. David [Hewlett] e-mailed Brad to tell him how much he loved it. And it apparently made Jewel cry. But, in all fairness, I was giving her a Hertz Donut at the time." (Executive producer Joseph Mallozzi, in a post at his blog)
  • "'The Shrine of Talus' will be a David Hewlett tour de force." (Executive producer Joseph Mallozzi, in a post at his blog)
  • "The title of Brad's episode, 'The Shrine of Talus,' has been changed after running into clearance problems. I suggested an alternate, 'The Shrine of Glapnok,' which, alas, nobody else liked. Instead, the episode has been re-titled 'The Shrine.'" (Executive producer Joseph Mallozzi, in a message at his blog)
  • "Today we're shooting the entire Atlantis away team, looking like drowned rats, cowering atop a submerged Stargate. OK – Joe, Rachel, and Jason are crouching, and look more like the glistening sea-panthers ... but I'm doing my part and representing for the bedraggled geeks with sinus problems. The interesting part of today's filming is that all this takes place in the studio! Jim Menard, who shot our 'A Dog's Breakfast' film, is having all sorts of fun with little P2 cameras and snorkel lenses and aquariums in a bid to turn our corner of the studio into a massive glacial lake. So they hose us down, we climb up on half a gate and (apart from the fish tank) they put the water and the scenery in later. ... Got to love that green-screen technology." (Actor David Hewlett, in a post at his blog)
  • "It is the inverse of 'Flowers For Algernon,'" writer and executive producer Brad Wright told GateWorld. (In the award-winning novel by Daniel Keyes, a man with an IQ of 68 has experimental surgery to increase his intelligence – but the effects gradually begin to wear off.) "McKay ends up suffering from the effects of something that is very common among the very old in the Pegasus Galaxy that is equivalent to fast on-set Alzheimer's, that is called 'Second Childhood' in the Pegasus Galaxy. And he very quickly not just loses his memory, but becomes quite childlike.

    "Interestingly, the first symptom is that he's a wonderful person. Nobody notices that there is something wrong at first, because they all like it – until it is too late to operate. Ronon comes up with an idea, and the story takes off from there."

    "It's a character study for practically everyone in the cast, and David gets to play as an actor in a very big way. I've heard it from a few folks reading the script that it has choked them up. Hopefully it has the same effect on the audience when they see the scenes. It's moving. And everything is OK ... I don't kill anyone!" (Writer and executive producer Brad Wright, in an interview with GateWorld)
  • "My favorite script of all time is 'The Shrine of Talus,' [which] Brad Wright has just written. It's good to have Brad. It is the one that is going to blow everyone away. It's unbelievable. It's a wicked acting piece. Kate [Hewlett, David's sister] is coming back – we've got Jeannie back. It's just brutal. It's a total tear-jerker."

    "For McKay it's fantastic, because there is this whole deterioration thing happening. It is the one that I am, without a doubt, the most looking forward to right now." (Actor David Hewlett, in an interview with GateWorld)
  • Is the parasite foreshadowed when a full-grown creature is seen floating through the water, while the team is on top of the Stargate? It sure looks like it. But executive producer Joseph Mallozzi says "that wasn't the parasite. That was a piece of floating gunk. Sorry."
  • "David did a remarkable job. He's a gifted actor and he and Joe Flanigan, much to his credit as well, had some terrific scenes together. Brad Wright wrote a wonderful script and the guys just went to town with it. It's not so much a shoot 'em up action/adventure as it is a character study and David had some real layers that he had to deal with.

    "The art department put together yet another impressive set for this episode. It was basically a shrine inside a cave underneath a waterfall with little window views looking out at the waterfall. We had to re-create that visually with some rear-screen projection and practical components as well. The SFX guys put little pressure washers underneath the set to kick the water back up a bit, and the greens department added moss and lots of other things that interacted with the water to add to the illusion of a waterfall.

    "For me, the main challenge with this episode was that, because it was performance-based, I didn't want to cloud it with trying to get too creative with the camera. At the same time I didn't want it to be so slow that it would become boring. With a script like this it's easy for the pace of scenes to really slow down, and sometimes I did let that kind of get away from me a little bit. Consequently, we wound up being close to five minutes over on our first cut, so we had to make some fairly substantial changes to how the original script was laid out in an effort to get it back to TV time.

    "That was unfortunate, but I'm still pleased with the end result, again, thanks to a solid script and amazing performances from David and his sibling Kate Hewlett, who reprised her role as McKay's sister Jeanie and just did a tremendous job. Everyone did. Even though it was a McKay-centric story, it was also very meaty for the rest of the cast, all of whom really rose to the occasion." (Director Andy Mikita, in an interview with Newsarama)