Over the last few months I have been gradually working my way through Stargate DVDs (SG-1, now Atlantis). I don’t like adverts so I am generally about 5 years behind most TV series. I make no apologies for this. I am now very very very almost at the end of Atlantis. The quality has jumped around a lot in later series and it seems like it went through an identity crisis when they tried to make it dark and serious, but fortunately it mostly recovered from that and seems to be peaking for a strong ending. I’ve just got through the penultimate episode. It’s a weird episode set in an alternate reality where the main character (Sheppard), instead of being a space faring military commander, was discharged from the (conventional, not space) military and became a washed out barely functioning detective in Las Vegas.
I’m surprised because I really enjoyed this episode, even though it doesn’t really progress the story.
Regular Sheppard is a really great character. At the start of Atlantis I thought he was a weak character propped up by hair, too much like a stereotypical TV hero without much personality, but I was wrong. Sheppard is deep but you have to look for it. Sheppard is somewhere between brave and suicidal; He regularly disobeys orders, partly because he knows he knows better, partly because he doesn’t really fear the consequences; His only friends are his colleagues and the only non-work thing he really seems to care much about is his Johnny Cash poster; He has family but he tries (successfully) to avoid them. He gives the impression of a man who improvises as he goes along. He’s hugely respected because although he breaks the rules, everything seems to come together, but he walks a very fine line between being a hero and being a loser. He’s a slightly tragic character because his job is the only thing that gives his life meaning and he seems to use it as a means of avoiding every other aspect of his life.
Alternate Sheppard almost has all of those traits too. On paper, he is very almost exactly the same person. But he lacks one thing. He does not care. About anything. About himself or others. He made a mistake in the military taking the sort of risk that regular Sheppard takes routinely, people died, he was discharged, and now he’s lost interest in life. He is very much the logical conclusion of regular Sheppard if you simply add some apathy and time. Instead of being bravely suicidal, he’s just apathetically suicidal. He is drifting through his life with no real aims, he doesn’t really know what he wants, and he might not even care enough to try to get it. That is a pretty fascinating insight into regular Sheppard.
Something about the setting of Las Vegas makes the perfect backdrop for this. Vegas itself seems superficial and material, but the desert is surreal and mystical. The vast sparseness of the desert subtly notes that nature and existence goes far beyond humanity and maybe Sheppard’s right in his suspicion that life is a bit pointless. In the later part we see Sheppard driving down an empty desert road to the sound of Johnny Cash’s Solitary Man, which seems to perfectly sum up the whole character. The episode ends with Sheppard slumped against his car, dying of a gunshot wound, showing no apparent emotion about the whole situation.
overall: amazing. 11/10. Would watch again.