At the beginning of every season, the writers get together and brainstorm story ideas for the coming year. We sit in a room, eat Chinese take-out, and spin, pitching out and discussing notions that are eventually listed up on the whiteboard with placeholder titles. Sometimes, these placeholder titles stick, as in the case of season 5’s Search and Rescue and Ghost in the Machine. More often than not, however, they’re discarded in favor of better titles, which is why the Gateworld Forum Episode threads never encouraged discussion on the likes of: Beckett Returns (aka The Seed), Sequel to Reunion/The Return of Tyre (Broken Ties), Flowers for McKay (The Shrine), Heist (First Contact), Monolith (The Lost Tribe), or CSI: Atlantis (Vegas). Or did they? Anyway, by season’s end, there are always a handful of story ideas that didn’t make the final cut for whatever reason (ie. similarities to other stories being developed, production issues, the other writers are all jealous of you and purposely kill your ideas so that they can look better by comparison, etc.). Rather than being abandoned, these ideas are filed away, the likelihood of their receiving future consideration dependent on a host of variables such as a fresh approach to the original pitch, fortuitous circumstances that dictate the need for serious re-evaluation, and, of course, sheer desperation on our part.
Well, after the episode slots for season 5 were filled several months ago, I started a potential season 6 list that was made up of some of the story ideas that didn’t make the cut. The list was comprised of only three or four titles at first but then, as time went on, additional titles were added, some in jest, some in hopeful earnestness. At the end of the day, even though it was all for naught, it proved a fascinating exercise in masochistic optimism.
All this to say, it’s easy to put titles up on a whiteboard. What’s hard is coming up with the stories to go with them. Of the two title/ideas we put up under the Season 6 heading, how many would have actually made it to the small screen? Most? No way. Some? Unlikely? One, maybe two? Well, stranger things have happened. Remember Childhood’s End and Irresponsible?
For what it’s worth, here is how season 6 would have probably (not) broken down:
#1 and #2: Now What I and II?: Our big two-part premiere would have picked up where we’d left off after the shocking events of our fifth season finale: Enemy at the Gate. Would have picked up? What am I saying? WILL pick up since the idea originally conceived for the opening two-parter will now be the basis of the first Stargate: Atlantis movie, the difference being that we’ll be able to tell our story on a much bigger, visual effects-laden, character-centered canvas.
#3: Children of the Corn/Fantastic Four: This was a story I pitched early in season 5 that involved our team, on the Daedalus, coming across a seemingly derelict ship. They board and, while searching the darkened interior, discover a group of children in stasis. They revive the kids who explain they were enroute to a planet where they were to be reunited with their parents, colonists who had completed work on a new satellite community. The children are welcomed aboard and are being ferried to their destination when a mystery ship appears and opens fire on the Daedalus. Our heroes try to outpace their pursuer and, as a game of intergalactic cat and mouse ensues, the team begins to suspect that their young passengers may not be as innocent and harmless as they appear…
#4: Carl’s Replicator Story: If there are two subjects that Carl Binder embraces more than any others, it’s ghosts and replicators (see: Progeny, The Real World, Phanthoms, Echoes, Lifeline, Ghost in the Machine to name a few), so we simply assumed that when he returned from winter hiatus, he’d have a script for us that focused either one or the other. The placeholder title is Carl’s Replicator Story but it could just as easily have been Carl’s Ghost Story.
#5: Classic Atlantis: Marty G. wanted to do a story that took place in the early years of the Atlantis expedition, sort of a flashback to an adventure we’d never seen (along the lines of the Lost SG-1 Episode Rob had discussed doing years back). Given Torri’s reluctance to reprise the role of Elizabeth Weir in Ghost in the Machine (after all, the whole point of doing the episode would have been to reconnect with some familiar faces) and Paul‘s reluctance to do a flashback episode that begged the question “Why the hell DIDN‘T we see this in season one?”, the story was shelved.
#6: Carter Rashomon: This was a story idea that didn’t make the cut in season 4 and ended up in the season 5 slush pile despite the fact that Carter was no longer the base commander. It was originally envisioned as our spin on Kurosawa’s 1950 classic. Colonel Carter faces a possible court-martial and dismissal after an off-world op goes awry. During the ensuing investigation, we are offered three different flashback versions of the charged events. What happened and what was she being accused of? Guess we’ll never know. Since it didn’t make the cut in season 5, I moved it into the potential season 6 episode discussion list.
#7: The Red Shirt Diaries: Carl wanted to do a story told from the POV of a red shirt, one of those ubiquitous no-names we lose over the course of various off-world ops who are instantly mourned then quickly forgotten in the episode tag when the team is yukking it up in the cafeteria. In this particular episode, Carl posits the possibility that this supposed red shirt aint so red after all and, rather than being killed in the line of duty, is captured. Of course, Stargate teams have a standing “No man left behind” policy and it isn’t long before Sheppard and co. mount a rescue op…
#8: Sheppard D.O.A.: Hey, remember the brilliant thriller starring Edmond O’Brien as a man who had been poisoned and had only a few days to find out who killed him and why? No? Remember the actioner starring Jason Statham as a man who has been poisoned (by a drug that will kill him if his heart rate drops) and has a limited amount of time to seek out some answers and dole out revenge? Yes? Well, close enough. It’s a great premise that would have been fun to do – seeing Sheppard race to uncover the truth about who afflicted him and why – except for a couple of problems. First, we were already doing an episode in which one of our characters is afflicted and living on borrowed time (qv The Shrine). Secondly, what made the original DOA so great (and Crank interesting) was that our protagonists were doomed. The light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t a cure. It was nothing more than the answer to great mystery. Well, the answer to a great mystery and, quite literally, a light at the end of the tunnel.
#9: The Replacements: Brad pitched out a story in which the team run afoul of an alien race and, while being pursued, end up victims of a temporal effect that catapults them six months into the future. They return to Atlantis to find they’ve been given up for dead and replaced. As they attempt to settle in to their new positions (and work with their replacements) the alien race indirectly responsible for their predicament pays Atlantis a visit…
#10 and #11: Mid-season two parter: Had we received that sixth season pick-up, we would have inevitably tossed around ideas for a big season arc or two. Atlantis ends up trapped in a pocket of space-time that completely cuts them off from Earth? With the help of some mysterious allies, the wraith become a resurgent threat to the Pegasus Galaxy? When the Atlantis Expedition becomes the target of some well-executed attacks, it becomes clear to all that a former friend is out for revenge? You pick. Whatever the big season arc, we would have undoubtedly touched upon it here.
#12: Hamster Ball: Sometimes you come up with an idea fully formed. Other times, it may be nothing but a vision. In this case, a vision of the individual team members trapped in giant hamster ball-like containment vessels. How do they get trapped? How do they get out? And, most importantly, what the hell else happens in this episode? You’ll have to ask Alan.
#13: Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow: McKay’s experiments with a time-traveling puddle jumper send the team both backwards and forwards in time. The story jumps from five years into the past (where one version of the team struggles to acquire the puddle jumper and undo the damage done without affecting the time line), five years into the future (where the wraith have taken over Atlantis and another version of the team is attempting to acquire the jumper so that they can warn their past selves), and the present (unaffected team) with developments in each timeline influencing events in the other. At the end of the day, despite my detailed, color-coded outline, everybody else’s head threatened to explode so the story was shelved.
#14: Hexed: Ah, the infamous Sheppard story that didn’t make the cut, much to the chagrin of the whumpers. While visiting a primitive off-world village, Sheppard is cursed by a resident witch. At first, Shep and co. laugh off the incident – until Sheppard runs into a spate of bad luck. Very bad luck! Suddenly, the team isn’t so sure what is going on and their search for answers turns up some very alarming complications. A fun premise that we shelved because, at the end of the day and despite being played for laughs, it would have painted Sheppard in a comical and potentially unheroic light, something that wouldn’t have sat well with Joe.
#15: Entropy: Paul wanted to do a story in which the effects of the McKay-Miller gate bridge have serious other-worldly repercussions for the city. As it turns out, we ended up doing an episode in which the McKay-Miller gate bridge ends up having serious all-too-worldly repercussions for a bunch of stranded scientists in season 5’s Brain Storm.
#16: Revenge: A certain alien race seeks revenge on Atlantis after we screw up their plans (qv that season 5 episode in which we screw up the plans of that alien race).
#17: Payback: Not to be confused with Revenge. A certain individual seeks payback on Atlantis after we screw up said individual’s plans (qv that season 5 episode in which we screw up that individual’s plans).
#18: Turn of Events 2: Okay, there was no original Turn Of Events. Almost – but not really. Years ago, we bought a freelance pitch from a writer who suggested the aforementioned title for the episode. Seriously. Turn of Events? Why not Suspense to Climax? Or A Teaser and Five Acts in Focus? Or The Happening? The fact that we didn’t use it notwithstanding, it proved such a popular title within the writing department that Alan thought it only right that we include it in the season-that-never-was mix.
#19: Pre-finale: Remember that big season-long arc we discussed earlier in the year? Well, this episode sets up the big pay-off.
#20: Finale: Our big VFX-studded season finale sees the pay-off to that significant story arc, the answers to lingering questions, a few surprises, and the cliff-hanger ending that will smoothly segue into our season 7 premiere…
Some further thoughts on Sarah Langan’s The Missing:
Antisocialbutterflie writes: “I loved the slow build of suspense through the tension of the characters rather than the overall description of the actions. It made me feel more attached to the characters, their lives, and their decline.”
Answer: Which goes to what I was saying about the importance of creating characters the audience (be they readers or viewers) can connect with. Like you, I loved the fact that, as events developed, we weren’t simply served up a blow by blow description of events. Rather, we experienced the horrifying developments through characters, predator and victim alike.
Antisoscialbutterflie also writes: “Fenstad (whose name I loved) was a whole different kettle of fish. He added a whole different dimension to the story in that he wasn’t infected but he still broke down and became homicidal. His madness was natural rather than a result of the infection. I thought it provided a nice counterpoint to the insanity of the virus.”
Answer: Yes, that was very interesting. It leads one to wonder how many would become totally unhinged when faced with such a scenario. Courage or insanity, there’s strength to be derived from both.
Antisocialbutterflie also writes: “ The virus was totally cool. It was manipulative, constantly keeping everyone off guard, and it was adaptable, recognizing it situation and adjusting to not only survive but thrive. It was sneaky and insidious, and evil, and awesome.”
Answer: And, again, that’s what I found so frightening. At least in the case of regular zombies, you have the mental edge. In the case of the virus in The Missing, your matching wits with neighbors, friends, and family members who, in the end, may know you better than you know yourself.
Iamza writes: “I was initially put off by the complete unlikeability of James Walker, who struck me as a somewhat stereotypical bad kid with no redeeming qualities.”
Answer: We never really learned as much about James as we did the other flawed characters in the book (since he was compromised so early) so it didn’t really bother me that much. Had he stuck around a little longer, I’m sure we would have found out a little more and, if not sympathized with him, then at least understood him a little better.
Iamza also writes: “I really liked that, in this novel, none of the characters is particularly good, and with the exception of James, none of them is all bad.”
Answer: True. They’re alternately likable and loathsome – just like regular people.
Iamza also writes: “I also wondered a bit as to how the darkness spread so quickly across the world. I mean, the infected seemed to turn very quickly, and I couldn’t really see how they’d get on a plane without arousing suspicions…especially once they started trying to eat the other passengers. Perhaps I misread, though, and it was a purely North American phenomenon.”
Answer: Hmmm. I never really thought about it but now that you bring it up, that’s a very good point. The outbreak did spread very quickly, even if it was limited to the United States.
Terry writes: “ . Since we jumped from one sightly off-balance character to another, I found it difficult to engage with the characters or to care much when things started to unravel.”
Answer: Certainly there were some characters I liked more than others, but I couldn’t help but sympathize with, say, Meg, despite her affair and marital issues, and Lila, despite the fact that she killed and dismembered her own children. I appreciate colorful characters.
Final day to post your questions for author Sarah Langan!
Today’s blog entry is dedicated to Maggiemayday and her brother, and birthday girl Jennifer H.