Overall Rating: 8.6
This is one of the best-organized and most interesting pilot episodes I've ever personally reviewed. Stargate Atlantis gets launched with a furious BANG.
The action=packed pilot is explored in-depth by the Stargate Wiki.
Stargate writers were VERY shrewd when they prepared to launch their spin-off. They were going to be doing a very different kind of story and needed a way to keep SG-1 fans interested, so they did two things to ensure that they would keep their TVs tuned in (other than put Atlantis BEFORE SG-1 on Friday Nights. First they picked two of the series' key characters and introduced them in detail on SG-1, even going so far as to make SG-1 fans like BOTH of them. Elizabeth Weir (after a VERY rocky intro) was going to be an ideal leader for this kind of expedition once they'd established her as, rather than anti-military, being skeptical of military uses as the first response to threats (which is fine), and willing to listen. Letting her get her feet wet as the leader of the SGC was brilliant. And then...there's Rodney McKay. *sigh* How I love your incredibly nerdy and insecure humor and your hopeless lusting after Carter. She won't be around for you to pursue (which is probably a good thing), but you will consistently bring the funny and the fans KNOW it coming into the series. Second, they built up the critical nature of the Atlantis expedition for over a year (!), evne nearly sacrificing Colonel O'Neill in the search for it. As it turns out, we won't be needing Atlantis to defeat the Goa'uld, but other Ancient technology will be found that will play a crucial role and, meanwhile, Atlantis will enjoy a raised profile in the eyes of long time Gate fans.
So with all of that groundwork laid (at one point, it was just going to be a movie they were building up, but they did such a good job pitching Atlantis that it became a series), we give you...Atlantis. Which manages to restore the underdog status that has long-since departed from SG-1. We've become near-equals with the Goa'uld System Lords and are respected allies of the Asgard. We have ships that can fly just as fast as a Goa'uld Hatak vessel and command of a weapons platform that is capable of wiping out an entire Goa'uld armada. So...how do we become underdogs again? What enemy could scare us? Well, firstly, we could end up stranded far from home and resources in an alien galaxy with limited power reserves and no big guns. And second, you could be facing an enemy so endemic to this galaxy that it overwhelmed and destroyed the Ancients. Yeah...um...*gulp*. Especially when that new foe overpowered the Ancients by EATING THEM ALIVE. When we learn what unholy process created the Wraith, it will get even creepier, but for now, we simply know that they were, at first, a minor problem, but quickly, due to the forces of demographics (keep eating people faster than they can be born and you will eventually win), an unstoppable eating machine that showed no mercy and drove Atlantis into the sea. AWESOME!
We are given a quick (and admittedly weak) introduction to the supposedly controversial second-in-command of the military forces (who will soon be their leader) on the Atlantis expedition. John Sheppard is his name, and all of his controversial qualities evaporate the instant they walk through the Stargate, so I don't worry about that. For our purposes, we'll call that a dropped plot thread and think of him simply as "G.I. John." We also get a hilarious introduction to the timid and charming Carson Beckett. He's terrified of Ancient technology and nearly kills O'Neill and Sheppard on their way to the Antarctic base at the start of the episode. And, while we're seeking help as Atlantis' power reserves are depleted, we run across the fifth and final big name on the team - Teyla Emmagan (or as I always dubbed her, 'hot girl' - sorry ladies, but you can't deny the hotness). The sixth listed cast member will disappear after one season to be replaced by a more interesting figure who will go by the moniker "meat-head" when we come to it, so Aiden Ford will not get much airtime here. His character template just didn't sell well to fans and he was scrapped. And then we get the fun and exciting rescue mission to extract the dead-CO-walking (Colonel some-guy-whose-name-is-unimportant) that awakens the entire Wraith hive system, putting Atlantis in grave jeopardy.
SO! This pilot does everything it sets out to do. It introduces us to the villains (and they are scary mo-fos...especially their queens, yikes!!) and to the full nature of the threat (they know us and they want to get to Earth and those billions of juicy, tender humans). It gives us some very enticing characters, a couple of which we already like. And, it demonstrates that Weir's command will be flexible, honest, and decisive, as well as emphasizing their need to make friends and save lives while they're stranded in the Pegasus galaxy. It's a good solid introduction on all fronts, and you can't ask for more than that.
As pilots go, this one is fantastically engaging and well-written, hitting all of the major checkpoints for a fledgling franchise. There are parts that don't work to be sure. Sheppard's back story goes nowhere, the Athosians are written in a rather cliche sort of way and Teyla's "gift" doesn't really get interesting until later in the series - here it just seems contrived. Ford's generic "young, eager go-getter" character is bland and uninteresting. But on the whole, we're well prepared to stick with the show after just this first episode.
I joke a lot about 'hot girl' (Rachel Luttrell) as a sex symbol, but actually, I think she's a solid addition to this cast as a professional. And there can be no doubt that David Hewlett (McKay), Torri Higginson (Weir), Paul McGillion (Beckett), and Joe Flanigan (Sheppard) have great chemistry with each other along with Luttrell. This is a VERY good cast. And it shows right away. Even the guest playing Queen Succubus (Andee Frizzell) was on her game!
Two strong points here - first, we get the quick message that Weir is not so certain of her understanding of the universe that she won't listen to reasonable arguments in favor of an action with which she disagrees, but not so agnostic that she can't make the tough calls. We like pragmatic and efficient leaders and we like this version of Weir. And second, in a tough spot, we will not abandon our humanity in favor of protectionist logic (we will risk rescue missions, even if the chances of success are slim, as long as they aren't nil).