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starsandatoms ([personal profile] starsandatoms) wrote2012-03-31 08:55 am
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the stargates and missed narrative opportunities

I realized the other day that it has been almost eight years since I started watching Stargate. To celebrate, I thought I would do some rewatching, which got me thinking about the storylines the writers chose and the storylines the writers could've chosen.

Case number one: Aiden Ford in Stargate: Atlantis.

Ford was in a strange position. He was on the main team, but he didn't usually, you know, talk or really do anything. Over the course of the season he was in, we learned that he 1. was young (probably the youngest of the expedition), 2. liked explosives, and 3. had a comic book in his room that was never explained or expanded upon. While we had episodes of McKay and Sheppard and Teyla bonding, Ford was never really as big a part of that as he could have been.

So after the first season, he was written off. His character (one of two main characters of color at that point) became addicted to a Wraith enzyme and left Atlantis to fight the Wraith separately, getting other people in the Pegasus Galaxy addicted to the enzyme and eventually kidnapping his former teammates to try to prove himself to them.

Which, in my opinion, was pretty damn problematic.

But I can see the writers' dilemma (even if I don't necessarily agree with it). Here they have a character taking up space on the main team that they haven't really done a lot with. He's not an alien so they can't make him interesting like that, they already have a military character on the team so they can't make him interesting like that, and they can't think of anything else to make him interesting. On top of that, they have this idea for a new, more interesting character who they want to put on the team. So they write Ford out in a way that gives him something to do (probably not realizing that it was a terrible idea to have one of the two main characters of color be the one with the barely-veiled drug-addiction storyline) and bring in Ronon.

The problem with that, I think, is that the writers got lazy and looked to a scifi MacGuffin for conflict instead of looking at the conflict that could have emerged naturally from the characters. If the problem is that Sheppard's going to prefer having Ronon on his team over Ford, a more interesting solution is not to write Ford out to make way for Ronon, but to allow that conflict to play out naturally when Ronon comes to Atlantis.

I don't think it would've even been that hard, especially taken from the end of The Siege Part II. Ford has to be injured, because we've essentially seen him flung off one of the balconies, so let him be injured - but instead of the quick-fix of the Wraith enzyme, maybe he is actually given a long-term injury with realistic consequences. For that matter, you can stop right there - you want to write Ford out, well, you just threw him into the ocean after being attacked by a Wraith. Now that the Daedalus can take people back to Earth, it would not be that difficult at all for Ford to be honorably discharged, and you have at least one episode's worth of conflict right there if Ford doesn't want to go back to Earth but has to. Then you not only have Ford written out, but you up the stakes - not only can Pegasus kill you in new and exciting ways, but it can still fuck you up in the old ways, too.

But even if you take the usual Stargate way out and handwave the injury's consequences, you have already added what the bulk of Ford's character development over the enzyme plotline was - the fact that he looked up to Sheppard, felt inadequate, and wanted to prove himself. If he's out of commission due to an injury even for a little bit, then once he's back, so is that element. Ford's a Marine, so maybe when he gets back he's pushing himself too hard because he wants to show that he can still hack it.

Then, enter Ronon. If the writers feel like Ford hasn't really been jelling with the team, whereas Ronon does from the second he comes in, then the audience probably feels like that too. (Of course, how much Ford jelled with the team is the writers' fault, but still, let's ignore that for the moment.) So have the characters feel it, too - there can be an awkward episode where Sheppard is trying too hard and they go on a five-person mission which only makes it clearer than Ronon works better with the team than Ford does, and Ford can struggle with feeling marginalized and resentful of Ronon while Sheppard tries to deal with the fact that this approach really isn't working.

And then they can do what they should've done in the beginning and put Ford, who is ostensibly the second-highest-ranked members of the military in Atlantis in season one, on a second gate team so that if something happens to Sheppard's team they aren't all fucked. And then Ford has his own team and his actor can be downgraded to recurring, Ronon is on Sheppard's team, and everybody's happy.

Or, hell, if the writers had a problem with Rainbow Sun Francks, then they could've just avoided it all by sending Ford back to Earth. It makes sense that if Ford did well in Atlantis, his promotion could be, unfortunately for him but fortunately for the writers, on an SG team based on Earth. Or, hell, maybe he's just fucking homesick and wants to go back to Earth. Atlantis is weird and isolated and dangerous, but the narrative always seems to support that it's better; so challenge that by having this character that we know and respect actually choose to go back because he just misses his family and his life on Earth.

I guess the upshot of all of this is that having Ford become addicted to the Wraith enzyme just seems lazy and contrived to me. Instead of taking the challenges that the writers were having and turning them into challenges that the characters were having, they took the easy way out and introduced a plot element out of nowhere that didn't really make sense and didn't really hold the characters accountable for their actions. On top of that, the writers didn't really commit to the storyline they were writing - after three episodes of looking for Ford, they pretty much drop it entirely until Ford comes back for two episodes and then drops out again.

I do have to give the writers serious props for unexpectedly bringing him back (and uncredited, so it wasn't spoiled before the episode aired) in that dream sequence in season five, since it showed that even though the writers forgot about him, Sheppard hadn't - but no matter how much Sheppard's still waters run deep, one episode three seasons later isn't enough to convince me that the writers didn't just forget about him after they wrote him out.

So, in short, that entire storyline strikes me as the writers avoiding the character and conflictual heavy-lifting in favor of an easier resolution that used scifi as a crutch. There were a lot of rich, character-based directions that they could've taken his plotline, and instead the writers chose one that, in terms of long-term characterization and conflict, I feel had the least repercussions. (It's never made clear how accountable Ford is or should be for his actions under the influence of the enzyme - partially because they never brought him back to face that, which would've been a lot more interesting, IMHO.)

Also, seriously, did nobody in the writers room take a step back and say, uh hey guys, maybe we shouldn't reduce half the cast of color to a thinly-veiled drug-addiction plotline?

Anyway, this got really long, so I'm not even going to go into the other thing I was going to talk about (how I feel the writers used the Sam and Jack relationship to milk it for conflict without actually dealing with the more intricate - and interesting - possibilities of the storyline, like having them actually confront and talk about the issues of what their possible relationship means for their careers). Especially because, um, I don't actually remember seasons eight through ten that well and I think that's where the writers might finally have addressed some of my concerns. XD;