Brad Wright came in with a notion: We follow our team on a seemingly typical day on Atlantis except things are not quite right. Ultimately, our heroes discover that they are not on the real Atlantis – and that they’re not even our heroes. They’re replicators who, over the course of the story, uncover the mystery of their creation and ultimately turn on their creators (Oberoth and co.), sacrificing themselves in the process.
We started spinning. While we loved the idea of the repli-heroes sacrificing themselves on a duplicate Atlantis, the fact that the story wouldn’t influence the real Atlantis in any way was problematic. Besides, Paul argued, the fun of doing duplicates is in having them meet themselves. So we decided that the mystery and discovery of their true identities should only be half the story. The other hand needed to involve the real team. Then, we had to decide why the Asurans had created these duplicates. The notion that Oberoth had created them as a means of studying their behavior in order to use this information against them just felt like a door in that wouldn’t have anything to do with the ensuing story. But what if…we had already hinted that some of the human-form replicators had always aspired to be much more than mere duplicates (remember Fifth? Reese?). They paradoxically desired and resented what the descendants of their creators (the Ancients) possessed: humanity, the ability to ascend. It made more sense to assume that this is what they were after. Yet it would stand to reason that not all of the Asurans would seek to become “almost human“. The majority, like Oberoth, would wish to destroy any threat to their unique nature. We created a schism within the ranks of the replicators (Could it be argued that Weir’s humanity, once integrated into the collective, may have exercised an almost virus-like influence, giving rise to this more human, sympathetic faction? Perhaps.) and, so decided, started breaking the story.
To those who say “Hey, this is too much like this episode!” or “This is too much like that episode!” my counter would be “Name me an episode of science fiction that isn’t in some way like something that has come before.”. Alternate worlds, time travel, duplicates – they’re all standard science fiction jumping off points. It’s how they are used, what makes them unique within the body of a given story that really matters. I think back to Window of Opportunity. When we first pitched out the story, it was very dark and very different from the finished episode. Robert Cooper gave us notes and steered us in another, lighter direction. “This is just like Ground Hog day,”I realized, expecting that would kill the idea. “Exactly,”was Rob’s surprising response. So we did the Stargate SG-1 version of Groundhog Day – and it became a fan favorite! Why? Because people who watched it were less hung up on the similarities of what had come before, and more intereseted in what made this particular situation unique to OUR characters. So, yes, duplicates had been done before in scifi. The challenge was to discover that made this story personal to Atlantis…
Let’s break it down –
Trying to get the gate up and running/An unidentified object hit’s the city: This opening scene was very different in the first draft. Originally, it went something like this –
McKay: “We’ve been able to eliminate a number of possible causes – including my streamlining program – and I’m confident we’re making progress and should have things up and running in no time.”
Weir (O.S.): “Great.”
All glance over at – a very much business-as-usual Weir who steps in an surveys their progress.
Weir: “It’ll nice to finally have things back to normal around here.”
And we END TEASE off a hopeful Weir.
But when I received notes on the first draft, Marty G. pointed out that having Weir appear right off the bat pretty much blows the mystery from the get-go (Of course this was assuming the SciFi promo and Gateworld spoilers wouldn’t do it for us even before the episode aired. Silly, silly us.) Better to save Weir’s reveal for later in the episode and build the weirdness. I thanked Martin for what, it turns out, was a great note – while silently cursing him for not having given me the note at the outline stage since it would have saved me a sizable rewrite.
And so, I rewrote the scene to include the crashing of the unidentified object. As Sheppard and co. go to check it out, we END TEASE. Except…it made for a mighty weak tease. And so, when it came time for the producer edits, I moved the end of tease. I remember being in the editing suite going “No, we can’t end it here. Nope, we can’t end it here.” Finally, we found the perfect spot – McKay’s nanite discovery. However, moving scenes from the first act into the tease meant it would necessitate our moving the Act I break (since each act must run a minimum of five minutes) which would force us to rethink the Act II break which would influence the Act III break and so on.
Discover the drone: In the original version, the drone doesn’t hit the city. Short range sensors track its descent into waters close to the city, giving rise to this exchange –
#Weir: “Feeling up to a recovery mission?”
Sheppard: “Am I!”
Zelenka: “But – you’ll never find it.”
McKay: “Its energy signature should lead you right to it.”
Zelenka: “Six thousand feet under the ocean’s surface? It’s too dangerous.”
Sheppard: “Been there. Done that.”
To give the revised tease more weight, I moved the drone to the end of the opening scene and had it come down in the city – specifically, the reading room, which allowed me to get in my favorite line of the scene, McKay’s “#Thank God it hit the reading library or someone really could’ve gotten hurt.” Sad but true.
Lorne questions Sheppard: As at least one of you pointed out – Lorne’s reaction is kind of bizarre. Why does he want McKay focusing on the gate instead? The answer is obvious once you know what is really going on. They have recognized the probe for what it really is and don’t want McKay to uncover the truth. Better to have their fellow replicator, Zelenka, do the analysis and redirect them.
McKay discovers of the nanite code: And so, after much consideration, this became the new and improved end of tease,
McKay reports on his discovery: A fairly straightforward scene except that, in the original version, McKay and Zelenka report to Weir.
We discover the drone and McKay’s laptop have been destroyed: So the art department came in with a concept drawing of the partially destroyed table. It looked fabulous except for the fact that it was still standing in the picture. “Great,”I said. “So long as it’s not actually standing in the episode.” You’d assume an explosion would undoubtedly knock that table over. Right? Wrong. When I watched the dailies, the table was standing – exactly as pictured in the concept drawing. I chocked it up to a precise, localized explosion.
McKay confides his suspicions to Sheppard: In the original draft, we went straight from the last scene to the Sheppard-Ronon scene. In ensuing drafts, this little scene was added to build up the sense that “something aint quite right here”. McKay may sound a little paranoid here but in the next scene, when Ronon echoes the same suspicions…
Sheppard and Ronon spar and confide in one another: From a scripting point of view, a fairly straightforward scene, but from an editing point of view a really pain in the ass as we tried our best to hide Joe’s stunt double by using alternate takes and trimming frames off the end of shots to conceal his identity. It works fine in the end, however I remember pulling my hair out while trying to edit this particular sequence.
Sheppard pays Keller a visit: The reference to the retrovirus was added in a later draft because someone (Martin?) pointed out that, given the rapid healing abilities he displayed in Conversion, Sheppard might consider a connection here.
I had originally considered having Beckett here while we were pitching the story but ended up deciding against it as we all agreed it would detract from any potential, um, upcoming appearance. If that’s what we were planning.
Creepy Keller and Lorne discuss: In the original cut, this scene ended the first act. But because I had moved so much of Act I into the tease, I needed to move the Act I break.
Keller gives Sheppard a clean bill of health: It felt weird going from the night-time scene of creepy Keller to a daytime scene of sunny Keller without some sort of transition. In situations like these, we use visual cues to suggest the passage of time. Dissolves are a good example of this. Even though the audience isn’t being told that time has passed, they’ve been conditioned by the language of cinema to assume as much when they are presented with a slow fade out, fade in, or both signal. An establishing shot (Ext. Atlantis – Day) is also a great way to suggest a time cut.
The team tests McKay, fill him in: Best Joe Flanigan performance of 2007? In my mind, the way he casually smacks his lips and throws Rodney a look as he brings the knife into view. The actual cutting of McKay’s hand didn’t work as well on the day so we called for an insert – which is usually a close up of some object or detail (ie. McKay’s hand being sliced). The great thing about inserts is that, because they’re close ups, you don’t have to bring in the actual actor for the shot. The bad thing about inserts is that you have to be absolutely clear what it is you want. In Memento Mori, for example, we have a shot of the APB put out on Vala. In a later scene, one of the characters holds up the APB – and it’s a completely different picture of her. We called for an insert and got – another completely different picture! We called for yet another insert and were very clear about what we needed = the same picture as in the previous scene.
Various shots and scenes leading to Sheppard and Teyla’s discovery of the nanites teeming within them: In the original version, Weir is with them. What they discover in the hidden room is a sideshow of failed attempts at creating humanity, described as “mutated versions of Weir swimming in amniotic fluid”. Very Alienesque but, ultimately, expensive and unnecessary. Sheppard and Teyla’s discovery of the nanites became the new end of act one.
The replicators explain what’s going on: If I was to point the finger at the one sequence that made me seriously reconsider my writing career, it was this one – from the top of this act to the beginning of the replicator attack. There was a lot of information to cover (who were the replicators, what were they after, who and what was our team) and the challenge in scenes like these is to convey the information in as concise and entertaining a way as possible. No easy feat given the complex nature of the information. As I wrestled with these scenes, Paul gave me some advice. He confided that, as a writer, I would often assume too much of the audience. In other words, I can’t take it for granted that the people watching are necessarily familiar with pre-established backstory. There are times when people watching at home will need to be reminded of the seemingly obvious.
In any case, aside from the backstory on the replicators (That they are a separate faction from Oberoth’s group. That they created the duplicate Atlantis and our heroes in order to uncover the secrets to ascension.), the most important point I needed to get across here was the distinction between the replicators and the duplicates. Replicators are constructed OF replicator components. Although they may look human, they are not. The duplicates this faction has created (the team we’ve been following from the beginning of the episode) are constructed BY replicator components – nanites. They have been assembled at the molecular level so they look human because they ARE human. I remember reading a very interesting book on the future of nanotech and the fact that nanotechnology would allow these submicroscopic nanites to disassemble and completely reassemble something at the molecular level, changing their very being. The example given was that of a leather belt disassembled and then reassembled into a steak. It would look like a steak, feel like a steak, smell like a steak, and taste like a steak. Most importantly, it would have the same base chemical composition of a steak and, thus, hold exactly the same nutritional value and have exactly the same effect on your body. So the question that begs asking is – what makes a human human? Surely it goes beyond mere physiology. Intellect. Personality. A soul? In the minds of the replicator, their constructs are perfection – as human as you or I. But to the actual constructs, the duplicate team members in this episode, it’s not a fact they’re so ready to accept because so much of what they are has to do with their identity. And if someone has already lain claim to that identity, what does that make them? Perhaps not less than human but surely less than who they are? It sets up a real dilemma for these people (and I refer to them as people because they are) because unlike Harlan’s duplicates on SG-1, they are human.
Many interesting little revelations in this sequence of scenes, not the least of which concerns the ultimate fate of Elizabeth Weir. We learn from Repli-Keller that Weir is dead, killed by Oberoth because she exerted an unhealthy influence on the collective. Sad news that, from a series perspective, allows Sheppard and co. some closure on the issue and finally puts to rest any hopes of a rescue mission. On the other hand, can Repli-Keller be trusted? Is what she revealing the sad facts as she knows them, or is this an attempt by her to forestall any potential rescue attempt that would rob them of the precious template that has allowed them to create humanity? Is Elizabeth Weir really dead? Well, it depends on which producer you ask.
By the way, I found the new Act II break within the body of the Repli-Keller/Dupli-Weir scene, fading out on Weir’s reaction to end the act and then inserting an extra scene back at the cell to break up the discussion.
In the cell, the team comes to term with reality: I mentioned we were short and we needed some extra scenes? Well, this is one although, in all fairness, it wasn’t a wholly new scene. It was in the first draft and then lost (for reasons I can’t remember), but I needed to break up the Repli-Keller/Dupli-Weir scene to create the new act break (the original act break was the destruction of the duplicate Atlantis as witnessed by the team in the jumper). I also felt we needed to see their initial reaction to the news that they aren’t who they thought they were: Rodney – defeated, Ronon – angry, Teyla – desperate to make sense of it all, and John – focused on the big picture.
The replicator attack/the pitch to Repli-Keller: The linchpin to this scene is the humanity that exists within this faction of replicators. Even though they, at heart, consider themselves less than human, it is Weir’s appeal to the humanity they aspire to (and no doubt does exist within them) that convinces Keller to let them go free. Again, I think back to Fifth and Reese, two replicators who wished to be human but who failed miserably because the steps they took to try to achieve their goal actually undermined whatever shred of humanity they sought to grasp. In Repli-Keller’s case, it is that shred of humanity, of empathy, that convinces her to let the team go. Was her faction always possessed of this kernel of humanity, or was this a result of the influence Weir may have played on the collective? Good question.
The team makes their escape: And the Seer’s prediction comes true. A future event important to the expedition comes to pass. Atlantis is destroyed. But not the Atlantis we know. Oberoth has seemingly destroyed his opposing faction, but not before they gave the duplicates the means by which to track every replicator ship in the galaxy – something the real Atlantis will need if they stand a chance of stopping Oberoth and co. from targeting human worlds.
The Sheppard-Weir jumper scene: An important scene, partly because it gives us insight into their game plan (in large part dictated by the predictable reactions of their true selves), and partly because of Weir’s admission that she draws solace from the fact that she is “the only Elizabeth Weir out there”. She is unique and, as the inevitable meeting with their other selves will demonstrate, uniqueness is key to identity.
Sheppard and McKay receive a message from Athos: Again, to emphasize just how human these human duplicates are, I have the real McKay echo the duplicate McKay’s idea for the streamlining program. Also, with this scene, the original act breaks envisioned in the script pay off as planned. Weir’s: “Hello, John.” and Sheppard and McKay’s stunned reactions end Act III.
Dupli-Weir delivers the 411: In the original draft, Sheppard was much more cool and stand-offish but I preferred the more concerned and confused reaction we ended up with. I love the fact that, despite what he has been told, McKay desperately wants to believe. And even the ever-vigilant Sheppard displays surprising sympathy.
If we had wanted to see Carter in this episode, this would have been the place – insert a scene in which Sheppard fills her in and she makes the call. However, she would only have appeared in this one scene since she wouldn’t have headed off-world and, in the end, the scene would have amounted to little more than a replay of the information we’d just received. Finally, with Amanda contracted for 14 episodes, we needed to be judicious about which ones we put her in and putting her in this episode for what would really amount to a meaningless scene felt unnecessary.
The two teams meet: This scene was a lot of fun and the exchange between the two McKays a high-point of the scriptwriting process. Kudos to Marty G. for offering up Sheppard’s line upon setting eyes on his duplicate: “Oh great. The last time I came face to face with myself I ended up kicking my own ass.”
The Sheppard-Weir walk and talk: In the original draft, the conversation played out slightly differently:
#Duplicate Weir: “I can empathize. Quite literally, a part of me is gone and I can’t tell you how sad that makes me. But the part of me that’s still here wants me to tell you that Elizabeth isn’t gone; that she’s right beside you whether you want to accept it or not.”
Sheppard:“From what I understand of all this, you are her in almost every way. And I wish I could take some comfort from that, but I can’t. I’m sorry.”
Duplicate Weir: “I didn’t expect this to go any other way. From the moment I learned the truth, I knew there’d be no going back to the way things were. Not for me. Not for any of us.”
Sheppard: “That doesn’t mean you can’t be a part of Atlantis in some way. You can still contribute. Things will just be different.”
Duplicate Weir: “To be honest with you, John, that isn’t really the issue. I guess what really bothers me is knowing you and the others will always consider me as less than what I really am.”
Sheppard: “Eliz – look that’s not true.”
Duplicate Weir: “Of course it is. You can’t even say my name.”
They walk in silence.
Duplicate Weir: “Because it’s not your name. Not really. That’s what you’re thinking right now. And I don’t blame you, John. But if you could get inside my head, you’d know – I am the Elizabeth Weir you knew. In every way.”
Sheppard doesn’t have an answer for that.
The Ronon-Teyla walk and talk: Again, very different. In the original version, it was more a quiet scene between the originals. Teyla is walking through the forest when she discovers Ronon sitting off on his own –
Ronon: “Was the other you making you uncomfortable?”
Teyla smiles, approaches.
Teyla: “Actually, it was the two McKay’s who eventually drove me out here in search of some peace and quiet.”
She grabs a seat beside him. Beat.
Ronon: “I can’t believe she’s gone.” (beat) “If it wasn’t for her, I’d probably still be out there somewhere, a runner. She did a lot for me and I’m sorry I wasn’t able to help her when she needed it.”
Teyla: “We have chosen lives in which the tragedy of sudden loss is to be expected. And experience tells us that this will not be the last time we grieve.” (considers) “To many, Elizabeth was a vital part of Atlantis, but to me she was more than that. Elizabeth was my friend, and that is how I will mourn her.”
Teyla, downcast, looks like she’s about to lose it. Ronon puts a brotherly arm around her and pulls in her close to comfort her.
Ultimately, it was felt that the scene was too on-the-nose and simply repeated what had already been discussed. Paul came up with the twin walk-and-talks which I thought worked beautifully.
The replicators appear: Well, you knew they’d catch up with them sooner or later.
On the run: Did you record the episode or buy it off I-tunes? If so, play the Sheppard-Dupli-Weir run from the explosions in slo-mo. See that look of utter terror on Joe Flanigan’s face? Terrific acting you say? Well, I heard that on the day, those explosions were a little too close for comfort according to Joe. On the bright side, I don’t think I’ve ever seen Joe run so fast.
Also, it’s a little thing, but there’s something about seeing Weir hitting the dirt and Sheppard stopping to help her up before resuming their run that I love every time I see watch this episode.
The puddle jumper is shot down while the real team makes good their escape: The question I’ve seen asked is “Why did all of the duplicates sacrifice themselves in the puddle jumper?” The answer is: because they didn’t think they’d necessarily be sacrificing themselves. Although their intention was to draw the replicators away from the gate so that the real team could get away, the duplicates were attempting to escape themselves.
The McKay-Zelenka scene: Remember when I mentioned we came in short and I wrote two extra scenes. The team cell discussion was the first. This was the second. Still, for an added scene that didn’t really add anything to the actual story, I thought it added significantly in terms of character moments. We have McKay who is so overwhelmed with grief that he chooses to lose himself in his work rather than, yet again, face reality. On the other hand, we have Zelenka who, in a simple gesture suggests that, despite the endless seemingly endless bickering between the two, there is a friendship here.
The final scene: Closure. I wanted to make it clear that John had not given up on Elizabeth until the very end. And neither did Rodney.
Finally, I’ve always referred to this episode as a tenuous two-parter in that it tells a story but sets up another – in this case, via the device that will allow Atlantis to track the movement of replicator ships and, ultimately, take the fight to them (remember those cool new Asgard weapons fans have been wondering about?). But given how heavy this episode was, I thought it would be great to end it on a humorous note. Humorously foreboding, but humorous nevertheless. When I watched the Day One Mix, they had Rodney say “Oh, crap.” onscreen, then hit the sting, then go to dark. I called up Joel Goldsmith and told him what I wanted to do. And he knew exactly what I was looking for –
McKay: “On the other hand, my duplicate did say they were building more.”
Suddenly: BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP-BEEP. A whole whack appear.
McKay: “A lot more.”
Off our stunned heroes –
Musical sting and FADE TO BLACK.
So, there you have it. I apologize for all of the spelling and grammatical errors (and long, meandering sentences that on second and third reading don’t make any sense) that you’ll no doubt find in the write-up but I’ve been at it for the past five hours straight and am not in a proof-reading mood. And I don’t have the strength for a mailbag today. But, as always, all of your comments are much appreciated (and read). P.S. Check my May 23, 2007 entry for more behind-the-scenes pics.
Finally, I’d like to dedicate today’s blog to our friend Mags. Wishing her well.