The original idea for this episode came out of a desire to do a Woolsey story. It’s no secret that, in the short time he has become a regular, Woolsey has become a favorite of mine and I wanted to continue the rehabilitation of the character we’d started as far back as SG-1’s 7th season episode Inauguration. To that end, I wanted to humanize him a little more by focusing on his vulnerabilities and the fact that, despite his officious nature and occasional abrasiveness, he is at heart a lonely individual.
I wanted to do an episode not unlike the play Harvey (later a movie starring Jimmy Stewart) which tells the tale of a softspoken, socially awkward individual with an imaginary(?) friend = a tall, upright-walking rabbit. In the Stargate: Atlantis version, a discussion on Woolsey’s apparent loneliness would segue into his encounter with a new addition to the Atlantis expedition, a female scientist who he ends up hitting off with. Over the course of the episode, pressured by the strains of his ongoing probationary review, he finds comfort and, inevitably, romance in Dr. Conrad. At episode’s end, however, the truth is discovered and the individual known as Dr. Conrad must leave him. It is a bittersweet moment and, with her departure, Woolsey returns to his lonely existence.
Needless to say, this original version with a lot more melancholy. And a huge challenge because, as I sat down tried to beat out an outline, I realized that the core of the story lacked any real conflict (Woolsey’s review aside) and, quite frankly, the idea couldn’t really support an entire episode. So I thought about it some more and remembered an idea we had pitched out and shelved seasons ago involving Sheppard on the mainland hallucinating an encounter with Kolya. Finally, I needed certain backstory elements that could be delivered piecemeal over the course of the episode – which was where the McKay-Zelenka story came in.
In the end, the episode wound up focusing on three seemingly dissimilar storylines that eventually turn out to be linked by common themes – the fundamental loneliness of these three characters and their deep-seated vulnerabilities which are exploited by the A.I.
The original version of this scene was a little longer and hinted/paralleled McKay’s own apparent loneliness:
TEYLA: He seems so lonely.
MCKAY: He does?
TEYLA: He never takes part in any of the city’s social activities.
MCKAY: Movie nights, mini-golf and yahtzee. Please.
TEYLA: He’s always eating alone in his office or back in his quarters.
McKay glances down at his own lunch tray and quickly takes a seat.
MCKAY: Maybe he’s got work to do. We’re busy people here.
TEYLA: I can’t remember the last time he took personal leave.
MCKAY: Like I said, we’re busy. And quite frankly, those two and half weeks on the Daedalus aren’t exactly a picnic –
TEYLA: I don’t even think he has anyone back on Earth.
MCKAY: Uh Jeannie.
RONON: We’re talking about Woolsey, right?
MCKAY: Uh, right. Look, he’s probably just a private person.
But I ended up losing the suggestion in the next draft because it was felt that, with the developments on the Keller-McKay front, this no longer applied.
ON THE MAINLAND
Also, in the original draft, Parrish was actually Dr. Lieberman, but Robert bumped on Lieberman’s enthusiastic botanical discovery, pointing out he had done a similar beat in Doppelganger. So I ended up changing Lieberman to Parrish and put added the “Lorne warned me about this.” line to make it a call back.
This episode was directed by Will Waring who has done some spectacular work over the course of the franchise run but particularly this season with enormously challenging episodes like Whispers and Tracker. As some of you may remember from reading Will’s Q&A with us, he has a signature prop that he puts in every episode: a pineapple. In this episode, eagle-eyed viewers may catch sight of a, uh, tropical-looking growth amongst the plants Parrish is enthusing over.
SHEPPARD DISCOVERS THE JUMPER HAS BEEN SABOTAGED
In the script, Sheppard comes back to the jumper to find it “trashed”. The only problem is that there isn’t that much to trash in a jumper given its sleek design. Enter the gang at SPFX and their one-of-a-kind magic. Nothing says damage like major spark age!
WOOLSEY MEETS DR. CONRAD
Actress Anna Galvin was recommended by my fellow producer Alan McCullough who had had her come in to audition for another role. I thought she was great in the audition and fantastic in this episode. By the way, some of your more dedicated fans may have noticed that this isn’t Anna’s first appearance on Stargate. Back in SG-1’s ninth season, she played the doomed Dr. Reya Varrick in Collateral Damage.
In tightening up an episode that wound up timing in at a little over 9.30 long, I had to do a fair amount of dialogue editing. In this scene, there is a call-back to the opening scene in which McKay mentions Yahtzee. Since I’d lost the McKay reference, I had no problems losing this one as well:
WOOLSEY: I’ve been here a little over nine months and I’m still getting lost. Well, I’m sure the gang at orientation will help you settle in. And, if you’re interested, Atlantis does offer a host of nightly social activities. Yahtzee tournaments, movie screenings, organized sports…
DR. CONRAD: You had me at yahtzee.
As we sat down to prep this episode, it was pointed out that we had never been inside a transporter when it actually transported someone. After much discussion, it was decided that the effect inside the chamber would conform to what we’d seen from the outside: a bright flash that quickly subsumes…
A brilliant bit of improvisation here from Bob Picardo who has really done a great job of coming up with some hilarious extras. In the script, Woolsey steps out of the elevator and, as the doors are closing, informs Conrad: “You can call me…Richard.” Too late as the doors have already closed. Bob, of course, changed “Richard” to “Dick” and gave it a truly memorable delivery.
ZELENKA PITCHES MCKAY HIS IDEA
There was a little more to this exchange that ended up being cut for time:
ZELENKA: We head through the gate every day, exploring distant worlds, and yet we’ve barely scratched the surface of the very planet we occupy.
MCKAY: That’s because there’s nothing here.
ZELENKA: We assumed as much on Lantea and then, three years later, ended up discovering a crashed wraith ship lying beneath the ocean’s surface.
MCKAY: The fact that the planet was ground zero of the Ancients’ war against the wraith ten thousand years ago probably had something to do with it.
ZELENKA: True, but we have no way of knowing who or what inhabited this world prior to our arrival. My points is it wouldn’t hurt be thorough.
MCKAY: My point is your point is pointless. And a giant waste of time.
SHEN INFORMS WOOLSEY HE’S BEING SENT HOME
Early in the season, we were contacted by the network and told that, as part of NBC Universal’s Green Week, they’d be asking all of their shows to produce a “green-themed episode” for the #16 slot. Since I was writing Remnants, that slot fell to me. Those who know me were barely able to contain their mirth at the thought of me, of all people, writing the green-themed episode. But I gave it some thought and pitched out the idea that the Sekkari (the alien race in this episode) had poisoned their own planet and this is what led to the inevitable destruction of their race. It was a backstory element that would serve the story but serve a power, POWERFUL LESSON on the capricious yet ultimately devastating effects of those who continue to use electricity or don’t recycle their own feces (shame on you). As it turned out, however, Marty G.’s story, Brain Storm, which we were spinning at the time I was working on Remnants already had an environmental angle – so we switched off and he took the #16 slot. Out of respect for my lost after school special message, I included a reference to it in Shen’s dialogue:
SHEN: In reognition of the great job you’ve done here, the I.O.A. is appointing you to chair their new environmental initiative. (beat)Congratulations, Richard. You’re coming home.
Egads! Not only is he being relieved of his command but, to add insult to injury, he’s been given the chair of the I.O.A.’s new environmental initiative!
SHEPPARD ENCOUTERS KOLYA
This episode is full of great act-outs. And the return of Kolya is definitely one.
THE DEVICE IS WHEELED INTO THE LAB
Hmmm. So, since Zelenka is really only a manifestation of McKay’s mind, he shouldn’t be noticed by anyone else except Rodney. I have to laugh every time I watch this scene because the tech wheeling in the device goes to great lengths to make this point VERY clear.
CONRAD PAYS WOOLSEY A VISIT
Ah, humor is so subjective and if there’s one thing we’ll disagree on in the room more than any other thing, it’s the gags. In this case, it’s the movie gag.
DR. CONRAD: Well – this may be wholly inappropriate but I was wondering whether you’d like to catch a movie?
WOOLSEY: A movie?
DR. CONRAD: They’re screening two of my favorites tonight: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels.
WOOLSEY: Well…the truth is, I’m having a horrible day and I’m not in much of a laughing mood.
DR. CONRAD: In that case, we can wait until tomorrow when they’ll be screening Mad Money and Kangaroo Jack.
Paul hated the gag. Marty G., on the other hand, loved it. Faced with two very different opinions, I deferred to Marty G. only because, as a former stand-up, he had professional training in the field of comedy and was thus capable of making a much more informed opinion. Also, I thought it was funny too.
KOLYA TORTURES SHEPPARD
The first draft of the script was so detailed in its description of the beating Sheppard takes at Kolya’s hands that a number of the writers felt I’d gone too far. In response to the note, I simply took out the more elaborate description, banking on director Will (God bless him!) to really put Sheppard through the ringer. Then, when actor Robert Davi dropped by my office to offer me his script notes, most of his suggestions were requests to add punches. I was more than happy to give him the green light. “Go to town!”
Another request from Robert David was that he call Sheppard “Johnny Boy”. At first, I hesitated because it seemed so out of character for Kolya and really an Earth colloquialism but, as Robert pointed out, it’s all a manifestation originating from Sheppard’s mind. True enough. By the way, I again must mention what a great job Robert Davi did in this episode. It was great having him back.
Also, Sheppard’s response in this exchange –
KOLYA: You can tolerate more than any man I’ve ever known. Now why is that?
SHEPPARD: I was married once.
– compliments of Carl Binder.
Finally, because this episode was nine and half minutes over, I had to trim a significant amount of dialogue. Like this line delivered by Kolya as he is working over Sheppard:
KOLYA: #Dr. Weir was just one in a long line wasn’t she, Sheppard? Just another one that…slipped through your fingers.
ZELENKA PAYS MCKAY A VISIT TO SEE HOW THINGS ARE COMING ALONG
In the first draft of this scene, Zelenka brings McKay a cup of tea, explaining that he had a professor at the Czech Academy of Sciences who always drank black tea because he maintained it helped promote lateral thinking. I thought it was a nice touch. Don’t remember why we lost it.
SHEPPARD GIVES KOLYA A HAND
Ah, my favorite act-out ever. A number of the writers thought that this episode was too brutal and that cutting off Sheppard’s hand was going too far. I fiercely disagreed and Carl was the most vocal in support of losing the hand. So this element stayed. By the way, love the sound effect of the machete cleaving flesh and bone.
The challenge of editing down an episode that has run long is in finding bits and pieces to lose from the various scenes that won’t compromise the integrity of the episode. In a best (and easiest) case scenario, you’d be able to excise an entire scene. But if you were able to do that, that would mean the scene didn’t really belong there in the first place. Which was the case with this scene that originally started the third act:
WOOLSEY UNDER REVIEW
INT. WOOLSEY’S OFFICE — DAY
Woolsey is seated across from Shen, all business. Shen flips through her notebook.
SHEN: You really want to go through the motions on this?
WOOLSEY: Every last one.
She glances down at her notebook, then fixes Woolsey with a look.
SHEN: In your very first crisis situation, you demonstrated a shocking disregard for procedure by refusing to deal directly and decisively with a threat to this city.
WOOLSEY: You mean I refused to kill Dr. Keller when she was infected by an alien contagion. True. Instead, I adopted an alternate course of action that ultimately allowed me to eliminate the threat and save the life of my Chief Medical Officer. I believe the I.O.A. cleared me of any misconduct.
SHEN: Yes, but what concerns us is that the incident was the beginning in a pattern of behavior; not an aberration, but the first in a series of suspect decisions.
She glances down at her notebook.
SHEN: Ronon Dex was permitted free reign of the city only days after swearing allegiance to the wraith.
WOOLSEY: There were extenuating circumstances. They were detailed in my report if you’d bothered to read it –
SHEN: You allowed the replicators to establish a corporeal presence here on Atlantis –
WOOLSEY: And, in so doing, dealt with them directly and decisively.
SHEN: The fact that it all worked out for you in the end is beside the point. You of all people should know that. You certainly used to.
WOOLSEY: That was before I took this job. But it didn’t take me long to realize that the solutions to the problems this city faces on a daily basis aren’t to be found in some official manual of conduct. They’re to be found in the people who risk their lives to be here.
SHEN: A noble yet wholly impractical sentiment that will, sooner or later, come back to bite you in the ass.
WOOLSEY: Well, until then, Xiao, I urge you to back off.
Off Shen –
DR. CONRAD POACHES WOOLSEY’S PRIVATE SPOT
Another Bob Picardo extra – not so much an alternate line reading as an inspired delivery: “This is where I COME…to be alone with my thoughts!”
There was also a little more to this scene that played to an element Carl suggested at the outline stage – that Woolsey’s ideal woman is based on someone he once knew, “the one that got away”:
Woolsey considers, then –
WOOLSEY: You know, when I first laid eyes on you in the transporter this morning, you reminded me of someone.
DR. CONRAD: Who?
WOOLSEY: Emma Reese, a fellow law student back in the day. She was smart, sincere, beautiful…
DR. CONRAD: And, let me guess – she broke your heart?
WOOLSEY: Never got the chance to.
WOOLSEY: There wasn’t a day that went by during my senior year that I didn’t think about asking her out. But of course I never did. We went our separate ways and, well, I still wonder what could have been.
WOOLSEY: Vanessa, would you care to join me for dinner tonight?
MCKAY INFORMS WOOLSEY OF HIS DISCOVERY
Although no one asked, one thing I wanted to make clear is that the information McKay is looking at is not the retrievable data (otherwise there would really be no dilemma if that was the case). Rather, it’s a table of contents of sorts that offers an overview of the data contained within the device.
BANKS INFORMS WOOLSEY THAT THERE IS NO DR. CONRAD ON THE BASE
Whenever we would watch this scene in the writers’ room, and Banks would reveal: “There is no Dr. Conrad on Atlantis.” and then go CLOSE ON a stunned Woolsey, I would allows pipe up with my own Banks ad-lib: “No, wait a minute. She spells her name with a K. Here she is.”
MCKAY CONFIDES IN ZELENKA ABOUT THE DEVICE
In the original draft, McKay was a little more earnest and up front about his feelings on retrieving the data. He confided in Zelenka more who drew it out of him:
MCKAY: Just waiting for Woolsey to give the green light so I can start the data retrieval on this thing.
ZELENKA: You think he will?
MCKAY: Of course. This is huge. The chronicled achievements of an alien civilization. Are you kidding me?
ZELENKA: And yet you seem…bothered.
MCKAY: I’m not feeling one hundred percent. I think it was the cherry cobbler I had for lunch.
ZELENKA: I think we both know it isn’t the cherry cobbler.
Rodney and Zelenka exchange meaningful looks.
ZELENKA: If this doesn’t feel right to you, you should say something.
MCKAY: What’s the point? It’s not like I’m making the call. And besides, I should be ecstatic. This is one of the biggest discoveries we’ve made in the Pegasus Galaxy. I’ll be heading the research into a treasure trove of technological marvels.(beat) Why aren’t I ecstatic?
ZELENKA: Because, Rodney, you may be egotistical, arrogant, and incredibly stubborn – but you’re also a good man.(beat) Go. Talk to Mr. Woolsey.
OFF a torn McKay –
THE CLIFF SCENE
Quite a drop, huh? No, not really. The cliff face was, in reality, all of twelve feet high. Extra special thanks to Mark and Krista and the rest of the gang at VFX for the magical transformation.
SHEN RECEIVES A MESSAGE FROM THE I.O.A.
Not only is she not receiving the promised Atlantis position, but she’s instead going to be chairing the new environmental initiative. Is there nothing lower?
SAYING GOODBYE TO THE SEKKARI
So it’s clear that John is a tortured soul, that this fact is reinforced not only through his hallucination in this episode but his selfless, often dangerous, drive to protect his fellow members of the Atlantis expedition. We’ve seen glimpses of it in past episodes like Phantoms in which we learn he disobeyed orders to go back and save a friend left behind – only to lose the friend and some other personnel as a result of his decision. But was this incident the impetus for John’s disposition or was it just another symptom stemming from a much bigger problem. For the sake of canon, it remains to be seen but, in my mind, there was another incident that preceded the aforementioned event, a dark and personal loss that changed John Sheppard. And it was hinted at in the first draft of this script when the A.I./Conrad says:
CONRAD: #As for you, John. Stop blaming yourself for what happened to your mother. It’s time to move on.
Alas, it was argued that the line was too pat and the general feeling was that it was a road we shouldn’t go down. So I changed the line but filed the piece of the puzzle away…hopefully for future use.
THE TEAM HAVING LUNCH
I occasionally use a framing sequence in my scripts, parallel scenes that open and end the episode, giving it a nice, self-contained feel. I also thought it was important to conclude with our team together, inviting Woolsey to join them and complete the picture. I think it’s important to suggest that these individuals are friends as well as co-workers, that they enjoy each other’s company and hang around when they’re not off-world. It’s something I loved doing in SG-1 and included here in my final episode of Stargate: Atlantis.