Stargate Atlantis: "Before I Sleep"
Total Episodes: 32 Viewing Time: 24.75 hours
If you just want the episode list without any pesky plot details to spoil you, click here!
In many ways the people who came to be called “the Ancients” form the foundation of storytelling in the Stargate universe. It was them — the people once called “Alterans” — who not only built the gate network, but also seeded the Milky Way and Pegasus galaxies with human-form life.
The Ancients are incredibly important to Stargate lore, so it’s no surprise that this has ended up being our longest watch list yet! It’s tailor-made for your next trip down memory lane, or if you are a newcomer who is looking for a list of key episodes for the gate builders.
At first the Ancients were just background material for the world of Stargate. They were responsible for building the gate network eons ago, but had long since disappeared. But as the show went on they became more and more prominent, as viewers discovered that the Ancients didn’t all die out but are actually still around. And when Earth sent an expedition to the lost city of Atlantis, the Ancients (known in the Pegasus Galaxy as “the Ancestors”) and all that they had left behind were a central focus.
We’ve included on our watch list some of those earliest mentions of the Ancients. They weren’t exactly major players in those stories, but these episodes they identify the gate builders — and their ancient alliance with other races — in ways that would prove to be fundamental to Stargate’s mythology.
Ready to meet the Ancients? Here is our watch list:
THE TORMENT OF TANTALUS
From the beginning Daniel Jackson suspected that the Goa’uld didn’t build the Stargates. And when SG-1 comes to the planet nicknamed “Heliopolis” to rescue Ernest Littlefield, they find an ancient meeting place where four advanced races came together. One of these four is the gate builders.
THE FIFTH RACE
SG-1 finds a repository of the knowledge of the Ancients’ civilization, and Jack accidentally has it downloaded into his head. This lets him program many new addresses into the dialing computer, to begin speaking the Ancients’ language (which is very much like Latin), and to build a power device that allows him to dial our first 8-chevron address. In another galaxy he meets the Asgard, who explain the significance of the long-faded alliance.
WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY
Exploring the addresses from the Ancient repository leads SG-1 to a world once home to an Ancient colony. On this planet the advanced race had built a machine capable of looping time — hoping to find a way to save their civilization, which was suffering from a deadly plague. Jack and Teal’c are trapped when the machine is reactivated.
In this pivotal episode, a living Ancient woman is thawed from the ice of Antarctica (near where Earth’s second Stargate was found). “Ayiana” has incredible healing abilities … but she also carries the plague that decimated much of the Ancients’ civilization. Perhaps more remarkably still, she is millions of years old — from a time long before humans evolved on Earth — and she looks just like us!
Having lived a year as an ascended being, Daniel makes a discovery startling even to him: the ascended beings are themselves the Ancients, who left behind their corporeal form eons ago. They are also partially responsible for the threat of the partially ascended Goa’uld, Anubis, but refuse to step in and clean up their mess as he rampages across the galaxy.
The discovery of another Ancient repository puts Jack’s life on the line once again, as he voluntarily takes the download into his brain to prevent it from falling into the hands of Anubis. What results sends SG-1 to a distant outpost on a planet once inhabited by the Ancients, and then back home to an astounding discovery that can change the future of the Earth.
IT’S GOOD TO BE KING
There’s another amazing discovery to be made on the otherwise nondescript planet where the Tok’ra resettled Harry Maybourne. He’s come to be revered by the locals as something of a prophet, but after SG-1 arrives Maybourne reveals that he has been translating a set of Ancient writings he found nearby. Not only was this planet once visited by an Ancient, but it was an Ancient with a ship that could travel through time.
The conflict between Earth, the Goa’uld, and the Replicators reaches its climax with an invasion of our galaxy, and a last, desperate hope to stop a seemingly unstoppable force. It brings our heroes to the planet Dakara, where long ago the Ancients themselves lived. There they created a device that could transmit a wave form through the Stargate … and now it has become the last hope of the Milky Way.
“Threads” follows up on “Reckoning” with a vital coda, not only dealing with Anubis himself but also giving Daniel Jackson a chance to see and to confront the Ancients themselves. What are the Others doing today? Don’t they care about the galactic catastrophe they are allowing Anubis to perpetrate? It will take one very special Ancient to finally get their attention …
As SG-1 kicks off a new story arc we meet the Ori, another ascended species from whom the Ancients separated many millions of years ago. But the Ori don’t have the same “hands off” philosophy, and instead enlist us mortal beings to worship them as gods. And when they find out that the Ancients created a galaxy full of humans after they left, the Ori begin preparing an invasion force to convert the Milky Way by force.
THE PEGASUS PROJECT
SG-1 finally visits the city of Atlantis, where Daniel wants to search the Ancients’ database for intel on where they might find a weapon that will be effective against the Ori. While the rest of the team try to take the enemy’s Supergate out of the equation, Daniel and Vala interrogate a Lantean hologram … only to discover that she is more than she appears.
SG-1’s quest for the Sangraal forces them to team up with two of their worst enemies. But after they surmount the many challenges along the way, they discover a living Ancient frozen in stasis: the legendary Merlin himself!
Stargate Command must decide whether or not they can trust their friend after Daniel himself is turned into an Ori Prior. He has a plan to complete Merlin’s anti-Ori weapon and use it against the enemy, while Adria tries to take the weapon to wipe out the Ancients instead.
STARGATE: THE ARK OF TRUTH
The big conclusion to the Ori storyline brings the SG-1 team to the original home galaxy of the Ancients themselves, where they hope to find a device left behind by the Alterans that can end the conflict. But taking on an ascended villain is going to require help from an unlikely ally.
If the Ancients on Stargate SG-1 provided the deep background of the gate network, the alliance of the four races, and the conflict with the Ori, on Stargate Atlantis they were more of a regular story engine. Since the spin-off series is set in the Ancients’ own lost city, details about who they were and how they lived seemed to be around every corner.
Thus, on Atlantis, the Ancients and their ambitions served as the catalyst for numerous episodes. We’ve picked a few key examples here because they showcase the history of the Ancients in the Pegasus Galaxy, including their science projects (including the search for ascension) and their conflicts with the Wraith and the Replicators. And, every once in a while, we actually get a glimpse at the Lanteans themselves — the living Ancients who once inhabited the city.
An expedition from Earth discovers the lost city of the Ancients in the Pegasus Galaxy, long ago evacuated and left beneath the vast ocean of an uninhabited world. But they also awaken the Lanteans’ enemy, a terrifying species the Ancients may have originally helped to create.
The members of the Atlantis expedition face an imminent and gruesome doom after stumbling upon a Lantean experiment inside the city. This is no ordinary virus, and points not only to the less savory things that the Ancients might have been up to, but also an enemy still to be revealed.
John Sheppard’s team finds a world that seems to be a paradise, untouched by the Wraith. But when they explore the potential of resettling refugees to Proculus, the people tell them that their goddess, Athar, will not permit it. And Athar herself? She’s very much still around … an ascended Ancient who has been bound to this world.
BEFORE I SLEEP
When the first attempt to settle into Atlantis goes horribly wrong, Elizabeth finds herself thrown 10,000 years into the past — when the last of the Lanteans were evacuating the city to return to the Milky Way. She meets living Ancients, including the scientist Janus, and takes action that will preserve Atlantis the next time her expedition arrives in the twenty-first century.
While Weir met Lanteans in the distant past, Sheppard’s team finds the crew of a Lantean warship still living in the present … well, after a fashion. Their bodies have long since died, but their minds live on in a virtual simulation. Sheppard enters the world of the Aurora to communicate with them, and eventually discovers that a Wraith arrived before him.
The Atlantis team finally stumbles upon the Ancients deep, dark secret in the show’s third season: a sprawling civilization of people who look like the Lanteans themselves are in fact Replicators. The Ancients created them, used them as a weapon against the Wraith, then tried to wipe them out. And now the Replicators have an ax to grind with the people living in the city of the Ancients.
The team discovers another ship of Lanteans, only this time they are all still alive (thanks to a little time dilation from traveling near the speed of light). The Lanteans return home to Atlantis, only to seize control of the city and ask the expedition from Earth to leave. That’s a hard pill to swallow … but it’s not nearly as bad as the Asuran Replicators showing up and taking the city for themselves.
This haunting story gives us a glimpse at the Ancients who once lived in the city of Atlantis — or, maybe more accurately, their ghosts. Teyla and then others begin to see visions of Lanteans in the city, and gradually it becomes clear that these people suffered a horrific tragedy. It’s an intriguing tale of the Ancients, their limitations, and how deeply connected they were to the planet and its other species.
TAO OF RODNEY
While exploring an untouched part of the city, Rodney McKay falls afoul of another abandoned Ancient experiment. He’s enveloped by energy from a genetic manipulation device, and soon manifests advanced abilities. The Lanteans were trying to crack the ascension problem technologically, and now McKay has to figure out how to ascend before he dies.
Let’s conclude our watch list with the premiere of the second spin-off series, Stargate Universe. The part that the Ancients have to play in this show is also elemental: they built and launched the deep-space exploration vessel Destiny millions of years ago (probably before Atlantis).
But while the Ancients provided the setting for the show, just why they built the ship — and the many automated seed ships sent out ahead of it to lay down Stargates — remains a mystery. Destiny has a specific mission, but the show was cancelled before the nature of that mission could be fully revealed to the audience.
With nine chevrons on every Stargate in the galaxy, it seems as though the Ancients were planning for this from the beginning: Earth finds one (and only one) 9-chevron address in the Atlantis database, and after figuring out how to power the gate the seemingly impossible connection is made. The gate connects to a ship launched by the Ancients eons ago, sent to discover the mysteries of the universe. Now a group of humans evacuate their base to the Destiny, and — at least at first — they are the wrong people to undertake this mission.
THE GREATER GOOD
This second-season episode is pivotal for advancing the story of the Destiny, and just what the Ancients wanted its mission to achieve. While the full story is still untold, here Dr. Nicholas Rush reveals what he has learned: the ship is collecting data relevant to the cosmic microwave background radiation left behind from the Big Bang. The Ancients evidently detected signs of intelligence here, before the universe itself began …
If you make use of this guide in your viewing, let us know! We’d love to hear how you are watching (or rewatching) Stargate according to individual story arcs.
Find More Watch Lists ❯
Want to see a Stargate watch list for a particular storyline, race, or character? Comment below to suggest a topic for our next viewer’s guide!