SGA "Tabula Rasa": Who Are You?

After Botanist Katie Brown and her team return to Atlantis from gathering specimens from their new homeworld’s mainland, things go terribly wrong. It starts innocent enough — with a headache and perhaps a bit of dizziness — but soon the entire base deteriotes into chaos: memories are disappearing. What’s worse, Expedition members seem to develop paranoia and resort to violence against one another.

Major Lorne holds weapon against Expedition members in "Tabula Rasa"

Tonight’s episode of Stargate Atlantis, “Tabula Rasa”, written by Alan McCullough, examines the inner workings of the Expedition’s members when they suddenly lose memories of who they are. Is what remains something expected or surprising?

There are two major storytelling features that executive producer and co-showrunner Joseph Mallozzi and script coordinator Alex Levine associated with this episode: its fabulous teaser and its extraordinary cinematography. Mallozzi wrote in his personal blog, “This week’s installment, Tabula Rasa, is one of my favorites of the first half, a wonderfully freaky entry that offers up a truly WTF (?!) tease. It’s also one of the most unique-looking episodes we’ve done.”

Dr. Rodney McKay in "Tabula Rasa"

The teaser throws the viewer into the middle of the turmoil, with Dr. Rodney McKay bound to his chair with no memory of who he is or where he is, and he doesn’t know anyone else. How did he get into this situation? Levine explained in his scifi.com blog that it is the method of storytelling that will draw the viewer into McKay’s plight. “It’s also a cutting edge visual story. As you will see, the story isn’t told chronologically. It takes place in flashbacks and in the present, and it cuts back and forth quite regularly. So they decided to “treat” the cinematic look of the present day story line to differentiate it. You’ll find it’s quite “pushed”, meaning desaturated and high contrast. I love that look personally. I think you will too. Jim Menard, the DOP [Director of Photography], did a terrific job (it was actually done in camera, not as a post-effect).”

There has been another Stargate episode that told this type of visual story, using a similar “pushed” look: SG-1‘s Season Six episode “Paradise Lost”. The viewer gets drawn into the effects of the paranoia of Col. Jack O’Neill and Col. Harry Maybourne as they are stranded together on a moon with a narcotic “arugula” plant they have eaten. At first they are trying to survive together, but the effects of the plant turn them against each other. O’Neill even manages to shoot Harry, something he had wanted to do ever since the two men met. Created with the use of bleach bypass and digital manipulation in post-production, the desaturated and high-contrast images draw the viewer into O’Neill’s point of view as he tries, through his addiction, to solve the mystery of their behavior by examining the clues left behind by the dead bodies in and about their camp.

In “Tabula Rasa”, McKay himself is both leaving the clues and trying to solve the mystery to save his friends and co-workers, all while he loses the ability to remember his previous actions and conclusions. Amazingly, through this challenge, he discovers that someone named Teyla may hold the key to their very survival — if only he can remember to find her.

Tune in to Sci Fi Channel tonight at 10pm Eastern to watch the mystery unfold (re-airs at midnight). If you are recording the episode, please keep in mind that the show is running about two minutes late because Battlestar Galactica: Razor “flashback” scenes are being shown during the show’s lead-in Flash Gordon (the midnight showing might be offset by as much as four or five minutes). After viewing, please visit our on-site forum to cast your vote and discuss the episode.

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