Friday, 27 April 2012

Trial By Gate (My Stargate Atlantis)

Many fans like to write about their fave shows and this was what I came up with quite a long time ago now for Stargate Atlantis.

The team arrive on a planet with adverse conditions: on the one side is the sun and on the other a violent storm, just like two sides to a person.  Only means of shelter are a series of runes akin to Stone Henge.  Sheppard accidentally knocks one of them over.  He finds he’s desecrated the holy ground of an alien race that are like Druids.  Having their own powers and spiritual beliefs.  They’re in a great place of dark and shadows.

 There are inscriptions in undecipherable language: similar to Hieroglyphics.  The writing reads, unknown to them, that punishment is an ancient form of trial.  Sheppard disappears and is transported to another part of the planet like a dark hall.  He stands before hooded figures.  They see such a desecration akin to murder.  He has disturbed the souls of their ancestors.  He trespassed along with his companions and must pay for this disrespect.  He must defend himself.

His pleading falls on deaf ears.  If he wants to see the others. He must undergo ‘trial by gate’.  This will test his worthiness to be spared and whether they can all leave.

Their runes have been there for eternity.   Forever and always there were two things ever present: their circle of light (the gate) and the runes.  The aliens are primordial: a race of aliens full of anger and hate.  It’s their nature and emotions; something he should be familiar with as someone who is called upon to kill.  Sheppard calls it defending, as he’s doing now.  He’s being denied justice.

Sheppard must be judge and juror of his own fate and those of the others but primarily his own as he has to survive in order to save then.

Double jeopardy taken to its illogical conclusion.  Applied to murder – in particular – that’s what Sheppard is “on trial” for.  Illogical because you wouldn’t expect someone like him to know about it; let alone use it in his own defence.  Wouldn’t have to defend himself ordinarily, therefore in literal terms, it would also be an alien concept to him.

Sheppard is his own judge/juror (perhaps even executioner). Facing up to, or coming to terms with his own mortality, morality: being in the military the two aren’t mutually exclusive but may be reconcilable here as this isn’t earth or normal circumstances.  Thinking about his actions or justification for them.

How things would’ve been different if he wasn’t here; how on the one hand he listened to Jack who kind of “coerced” him into coming and perhaps because he possessed the Ancient gene: curse or blessing?  Whole episode based around the line: - “I am haunted by the memory of my own being” and double jeopardy.

The responsibility of protecting people was thrust upon him and with this comes power: of doing what is right.  So this involves on the one hand juggling his military duties; whilst now also thinking about how the consequences of his actions will impact on others; those around him, his friends, colleagues, other worlds.  So his burden is even heavier to bear (and no one warned him about that.)  For example, having to shoot his leader, this was wrong in the eyes of the aliens.  To Sheppard it was a moment of insanity but needed to be done as he had to think of the others, since having his life sucked out of him was already killing him.  His action was towards a necessary end.

The aliens can’t try him for something he didn’t know about, i.e. desecrating their runes and can’t bring his past to light as he can’t be tried for his past actions.  As this was a part of his job.  Sheppard has made up for his mistakes and learned to live with them, more so he can’t go back and change them and at the same time be accused of something like murder when it wasn’t that, it comes with the territory.

To the aliens this is exactly what their own beliefs and culture entails: the past is an essential part of the future and both must be embraced: without the past there would be no present and without the present there would be no future which is tomorrow’s past.  Their runes/stones are part of their belief, the cornerstone of how their societies evolved, how they live today and are judged by.  Just as Sheppard’s past dictated who he is today.

If the aliens agree with him or take his side: move onto another gate that’s his reward.  He’s sent in to deal with various situations all involving his friends; who face doubts of their own about their own past and possible future.  Sheppard must reason with them and pull them out of this as they regress into possessing almost child-like qualities but faced with dilemmas encountered within their adult selves, like retreating into the safe haven of their childhoods.  Where nothing was expected or demanded form them.

Before he enters the gate for the first time, he sees a reflection in the pool of water: - an old face staring back at him, distinguished but recognizable, as Sheppard’s own.  He tells him he’s John Sheppard and that Sheppard’s fear of the future brought him to this fate: he’s alone, unloved and dreaded.  His lack of morality has led him to his solitary existence, existence in its bleakest.  He now faces the prospect of the end of his days alone.

 He gives him a word of warning as he steps though the gate: this existence will come to him slowly, little by little and every time he catches his reflection in a pool, puddle or mirror he’ll notice the onset around the eyes, the curving of his mouth.  Sheppard doesn’t react to the seriousness of this and thinks he’s been in this place too long and it’s beginning to affect his mind.  Before he steps through he replies to his reflection that he didn’t notice before but the gate is like a Ferris wheel: a rather wet version of one, instead of riding on it you ride through it or in it.  Even at a time like this his humour doesn’t wane.  He doesn’t think he looks like that; at least he’ll have more hair.  Ah the vanity.

Every time he goes through the gate he meets one of the team: Weir struggling to overcome her inadequacies as a gifted political scientist and tactician.  She’s attempting to negotiate a peace treaty between the humans and the Wraith.  The aliens ask if Sheppard sees this as a travesty of justice: how can there be peace between two warring races, who by their very nature demand war.  One preys upon people for food and steals their dying breath from their bodies as sustenance, whilst the other lies and betrays and call it self-preservation.  Weir has a fear of failure.

 Sheppard tells them that they are different; by their very nature humans have morals, morality and right and wrong.  They battle with the Wraith because humanity’s survival depends upon it.  Hence Weir can’t be failing in her quest since peace can never be negotiated with the Wraith who demand domination, subservience and kill for food, for pleasure.
Wherever they go they end up stirring up trouble or trouble finds them and earth is jeopardised, or the planet of some peaceful innocents minding their own business and living their lives, isn’t that a travesty of justice?

Someone is trying to break their will and try his so he can’t save them.  Do they need saving by him of all people?  He questions his own abilities.  Sheppard asks why they didn’t try the most obvious solutions against the Wraith – they’re similar to vampires, preying on the innocent, feeding on their life force to gorge, satisfy their basest desires and needs.  Garlic wouldn’t have helped much d’ya think?  Neither would holy water or a stake or two through the heart, as they don’t die the first time round.  Right now he could murder a steak or two!

Sheppard finds himself back through the gate: he may have succeeded in arguing that point.  He thinks if he was a lawyer he wouldn’t be here right now.  But if he were a lawyer he’d probably do a better job.
He says druids are pagans and they didn’t really believe in much of anything anyway.  He’s insulting their culture again, adding more fuel to the fire.  That was their past, but they’ve evolved now, they can understand what the druids meant with their runes.  He doesn’t want them to start that past/future thing all over again.

He steps through the gate once more: though he feels entering the stargate is like riding a roller coaster -which is too fast for Sheppard.  After all where’s the fun when the ride’s over in seconds.  He prefers the moment to linger.  But what he’s made to go through is an emotional roller coaster.  He meets McKay who can’t solve a simple conundrum: something along the lines of how rainbows are formed, what makes a wormhole, E=MC2, what is gravity, how can he help them explore the Pegasus galaxy and why doesn’t he see a flying horse to take him far away.  No more puzzles.  How can he be as good as Sam Carter.  Though he knows he’s good and maybe even better. If she were here, she’d laugh at him right now and solve this simple puzzle: how many in a baker’s dozen; who was the Pied Piper?   McKay fears he’ll lose his scientific mind.  A baker’s dozen isn’t science it’s math.  McKay talks of seismic phenomena, measuring how earthquakes occur, more importantly the impact on the earth’s crust.  Sheppard tells him everything boils down to food with him, even science.

Rainbows are formed by the rain and sun: the simple process of evaporation of droplets absorbed and giving a prism effect.  Sheppard tells him that’s high school physics and not Nobel Prize winning stuff.  Even he knows the answers and he’s not even a science geek.  He tells McKay he doesn’t have to be a geek since his knowledge began from little things: small discoveries like science itself which led to bigger things, more technology, the big bang; but that came first.  Perhaps McKay would prefer living in the dark ages where there’s no planes. Stargates, no science and more importantly: food.  All his favourites.

Teyla frets over the responsibility of doing wrong by her people.  She joined the humans and perhaps if she didn’t they would still be on their home planet.  Now she wouldn’t encounter these spirits, “ghouls”, as Sheppard would call them form the scary stories he told the children at night.  Voices call out to her telling her she’s doomed her people to destruction.  Voices of the souls of her ancestors, her father, signifying the end of the Athosian race.

Sheppard sees the flying spirits and attempts to reason with her.  How long would they have lasted on their world, alone, defenceless with the Wraith, sensing their every move, taking her people one by one indiscriminately until all of her race would disappear.  Who’d teach him how to bang around some wooden sticks so effectively and he wasn’t very good at playing drums either.  She’s made him a better person and leader.

She had the opportunity to move on from her planet, their daily drudgery and fight against the Wraith; to join forces with new allies who share common goals and values. Explore other planets and worlds, a new way of life, than the one she’s known.  They still fight the Wraith but it’s not a daily battle…at times.

Perhaps she never had a childhood, how would he know anyway.  Sheppard is just someone who tells happy stories from his own world and things he likes, things she doesn’t understand or know about.  If she gives up she won’t have the chance to see half of what he’s told her about but not if she reverts into her own past.  She fought for her people and now must fight for herself.  She has to be selfish now and think about herself, for a change and her own future.

Doesn’t she want to grow up or old, fall in love; experience marriage,  (or her version of it) have children of her own, not being sexist but a family is something all women want.  Explain sexist: they have an equal society; she’s strong – a woman and a leader, revered by her people.  Women are hard-pressed to be accepted as leaders and being better than men, well just as good as, in his own society.  Look at Elizabeth, she had to struggle to get where she is…The spirits begin to vanish.

He realizes they all fear their deep, dark side; with Weir it’s failure, McKay losing his scientific mind and Teyla it’s her fear of judgement, committing to the wrong side.  Aside from Sheppard who is in fear of losing his own life, but what does he fear?  As For Sheppard’s fears, he has none or won’t talk about them.  Deflecting their question by saying heroes are bold and brave.  He’s too busy playing hero to be afraid of anything and even if he was, they’d be the last ‘people’ he’d show his fear to.

He struggles with his conscience. As a leader these are the sorts of calls he’s allowed to make, or as a military man, deciding who lives, dies in the realm of humanity.  He’s a pilot turned soldier; does this make him a judge, juror and executioner even if it’s for the greater good?  He protects Weir’s interests as she’s overall commander of the base; scientific, technological, on the other hand he also wants his interests represented, i.e. those of the military.  He’s a loner, like a soloist; he’s worked mostly by himself but also as a team though he took orders.  Being a pilot all the combat he saw was from the air as opposed to ground warfare.  So he wasn’t a soldier in that sense. What about his fears, his dark side?  Would he sacrifice himself to save his friends; he’s a man of honour but how can this be reconciled with his duty and his actions here?

The aliens say a soldier feels no remorse for their enemy, regardless of who this is.  He replies this is war but not one of their own choosing or making.  The measure of humanity is judged by how we do something to help others, to put them first and to save lives, how these actions affect others are important as well as how others perceive them.

After all this, they want to send him through the gate again.  Sheppard refuses.  He saved all his friends and they’ve got to live up to their side of the deal.  Hence double jeopardy.  He was on trial for murder and he’s been tried for that once; he went through their ‘trial by gate’, wait that should be trials by gate, same gate three times; and he’s been judged innocent.  They themselves said he proved to be a worthy opponent so he won’t do anymore gating or talking.  If the aliens can’t respect these concepts of double jeopardy, a fair trial, concepts unknown to them in their tribunal, then how was he to accept their traditions and rituals especially when these were oblivious to him?

Sheppard dares to defy these odds and their gods.  They speak of honour in him now they must do the honourable thing and let them go.  Which they do.  He tells the others they were faced with their vulnerabilities; that the only way to live with yourself and with others, is to confront your fears and doubts and move on to the next day or moment.

The aliens lift the hoods/masks on their robes to reveal the Atlantis team: Sheppard, Weir, McKay and Teyla.  Though as cruel irony it would’ve been good to have the hooded figures revealed as the SG 1 team who subjected them through all this torture!  Showing they can manipulate their destinies no matter where they are!

Written October 2005

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Actors Need A Break...

There has been a long-running contention that certain TV shows in countries around the world do not represent the general, cultural population.  Not only in terms of the characters, but actors too.  TV is seen as an educational medium, although it does have its dissenters.  People are and always have been influenced by TV, not only events shown in programmes, but how these are perceived and portrayed on TV.  Albeit in documentaries; drama, or even soaps.

It has long been held that many Australian soaps do not cater to ethnic minorities in their cast.  In the UK, black and Asian viewers of these soaps talked about the "White Australia policy" of these shows as far as scouting and casting for actors.  Former Home and Away actor, Jay Laga'aia launched a scathing attack on the producers of this soap for wanting his character, Rev Elijah Johnson, off the show.  He Tweeted, "As someone who lost his job on Home and Away because they couldn't write two ethnics that weren't together, I'd like the chance to ply my trade."

The producers denied this was the reason and told the Sun Herald in Australia that he was written out as his character's storyline "had reached its natural conclusion."  Though it must be asked how stories involving a man of the cloth could be concluded.  There aren't many reverends in shows on TV these days, religion is side-stepped a lot for many reasons, whatever country we're in.  It could also be argued that certain other character's storylines and plots have reached their logical conclusions too.  Yet they appear on shows like permanent fixtures; never really doing much of anything.  The producers went on to say, "Jay's comments are offensive.  We have great regard for Jay and his work on Home and Away during the last two years."

This news comes on the trail of the other rival Aussie soap, Neighbors, introducing its own Asian family in the form of the Kapoors.  Ajay, (Sachin Joab) a local councilor, who was accused of corruption and now his wife, Priya, (Menik Gooneratne) has been made Acting Principal of Erinsborough High.  As well as including their daughter, Rani (Coco-Jacinta Cherian).  The question being how long will their storylines continue?  Said executive producer, Susan Bower on their inclusion and arrival; "viewers already know them because of their role in the community and link with other characters and their cultural background is secondary...we have had many individual characters who have been representative of Australia's diverse cultural have a family of Indian and Sri Lankan heritage join the neighbourhood is very exciting."

The inclusion of an Indian family to neighbours also heralded uproar back in December 2011, as racist remarks were left on the Neighbours' website from fans finding out the Kapoor's would become show regulars.  Neighbours' staff had to remove offending material and racist remarks, stressing "racism and small mindedness won't be tolerated."  Actor Sachin Joab who was born in Melbourne and is of Indian descent put this down to a "lack of eduction."  And that "having a show that shows different families coming together can only be good for the community."  Strangely enough no such racist comments were posted from British fans of the show.

In 2008, Neighbours was accused of being "too white" and led to the inclusion of Korean exchange student, Sunny Lee (Hany Lee).  Bower also blamed Australian ads for showing a distinct lack of having ethnic actors.

Jay who was also in Water Rats and Star Wars Episode 2: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith, feels children's TV in Australia is far more progressive and "commercial TV should take a leaf out of children's TV in this country. We are a rainbow nation in kids."

Haven't we come far enough in time where TV, well media in general, should be without borders and colours.  We should be able to watch drama which is accessible to everyone and include all cultures and minorities, as much as anyone else.  No group should take precedence over another.

The same criticism is not limited to just Aussie TV, last year British TV and particularly drama, Midsomer Murders, was under attack for not having any black/Asian characters in the cast.  Though it's a fact that many minorities will live in urban and city areas and not venture out to the countryside.  The show was accused of not reflecting the ethnic consensus of the UK.  Anthony Horowitz commented, " a village in Midsomer, all outsiders are equally unwelcome whatever their colour.  It was a foolish observation to make because colour is not an issue." Anyhow British shows do represent ethnic minorities even though sometimes this is seen as a token gesture, other times they are usually portrayed as stereotypical.  Such as Asians owning shops and grocery stores.

In the twenty-first century it is disturbing to see that progression and ensuring equality reaches the TV screen still needs a long way to go yet.  TV is capable of having a positive effect and impact in leading the way forward for ethnic characters.  Maybe one day, they will headline major dramas and other types of shows.