Well, it seems that fans are still talking about Brain Storm, the Atlantis episode that has become a lightning rod for debate. And no wonder. This is the episode in which Rodney finally gets the gal – and the gal, in this case, is none other than Jennifer Keller, herself the source of some fan contention since her introduction in late season three. Since fans are touching on the topics of relationships in Stargate, and McKay and Keller in particular, I thought I’d take the opportunity to weigh in with my thoughts on the subject as well.
First of all, the big question: Why ship anyone? Does the show necessarily have to involve any sort of relationship? My answer to that would be that while, yes, it is science fiction, the characters at the heart of these stories are real people, subject to the same hopes, disappointments, and desires as you or I. They’re not emotionless automatons but grounded individuals who succeed, fail, exult, fear, despair, lose their tempers, and, occasionally, fall in love. On the one hand, the series wasn’t a space opera in the sense that it explored the constantly shifting relationships between our main characters but, on the other hand, we did aim at creating a realistic world within our scifi framework. It thus stood to reason that, over time, this would be something that we would explore simply because, over time, this would be something that would naturally evolve amongst people working together in such a close-knit environment.
“But what about SG-1?” some of you will (and have) asked. Why didn’t you ever confirm the Sam/Jack relationship in SG-1 but found the need to confirm the McKay/Keller relationship in Atlantis? Well, two reasons. 1) The Sam/Jack relationship was fraught with complications given that he was her commanding officer. Pursuing any sort of relationship would have been inappropriate for both and would only have really been possible late in the series after Jack’s retirement. Which brings us to – 2) Jack and Sam could have gotten together after Jack’s retirement, but it was never made canon because, quite frankly, it wasn’t my call. Still, despite the lack of official confirmation, it was only natural that they should get together after the events of Threads and, in my mind, they have been together ever since. An attempt to suggest as much in season 4’s Trio unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor when the episode ran long.
Also, it must be remembered that this isn’t the first romantic pairing explored on Atlantis, much less Rodney’s first romantic pairing. Before Jennifer, there was Katie Brown and, to be honest, this was a relationship that could well have gone another way if circumstances had been different. In fact, heading into season four, fellow writer-producer Martin Gero and I had discussed two possible developments for the show’s forthcoming year. The first, was to pair up Ronon and Keller. One of the things that struck me when reviewing Sateda was how much Jennifer resembled Ronon’s lost love. Add to that the fact that both women were caregivers and you had a pretty intriguing parallel. The second development we had in mind for the show was to make Rodney an unexpected father. It was a storyline that would not only offer great comic potential for David, but also allow for some seriously interesting character growth for Rodney. Of course, when we pitched it to fellow producer Paul Mullie, he balked at the prospect of introducing a baby into the mix. “What are we going to do with a baby?”he asked. “Who is McKay going to leave it with when he goes off-world? Will he want to go off-world once he’s a dad? Are we going to have to cut back to the baby every episode?” We tabled the matter for further discussion but, as it turned out, the decision was made for us when Rachel revealed she was pregnant. Rather than pursue an alien baby storyline or minimize the actress by constantly trying to hide the fact, we chose to embrace the pregnancy and work it into the central storyline (answering all of Paul’s anxious questions in the process). Since we couldn’t well have two of our main characters facing parenthood, we opted to drop the Daddy McKay idea.
A quick aside here to discuss developments on the Teyla front. If we were going to introduce a pregnancy storyline, and we weren’t about to embrace an immaculate conception twist, then it stood to reason that we would need a father. Two possible candidates emerged: John Sheppard and somebody else. Ultimately, we chose to go with the latter. Paul, again, was the first (and most vociferous) to balk at the prospect of making Sheppard the baby daddy. True, we had set up a mutual attraction between the two characters, but to suggest that these two had hooked up unbeknownst to everyone else (to say nothing of the audience) seemed a bit of a stretch. Furthermore, we felt it would do a disservice to the Sheppard character to, at the very least, suggest impropriety on his part. So, we went with a fellow Athosian, someone Teyla could well have spent time with away from the watchful eyes of her fellow teammates. Granted, it wasn’t the perfect solution but given the circumstances, the only one that made sense to us.
As for Katie Brown – well, it just didn’t work out. One of the things we became acutely aware of was the imbalance in the relationship. I have to smile inwardly at those who would criticize Keller for trying to change Rodney based on some comments she makes in Brain Storm given that nobody complained about the fact that McKay was incredibly passive, almost childlike in his last relationship. Initial awkwardness aside, he is significantly more confident and self-assured in Jennifer’s company and, in spite of suggestions to the contrary, more himself.
But back to the original topic. With the McKay fatherhood storyline dead, we decided to start seeding a potential Ronon-Keller relationship. Quarantine was the first episode in which we suggested a possible mutual attraction between the two characters. Trapped in the infirmary during a lockdown, their almost kiss is interrupted but the stage is set. Until three episodes later when, in Trio, Keller asks McKay out for a beer. It was a small, almost insignificant invitation between co-workers that perhaps wouldn’t have amounted to much…except that our season finale, The Last Man, turned out to be a time travel episode that explored the potential futures of all of our characters. It was decided that Carter and Ronon, the consummate warriors, would sacrifice themselves. Teyla would never escape Michael’s clutches. And Rodney would live out the rest of his life attempting to undo the past…but not alone. That drink invite in Trio presented the kernel of an idea – an actual relationship between two of our main characters, albeit one that takes place in an alternate future. And, given everything that these two characters go through in this future – defeat, the loss of friends, and their mutual decisions to abandon their positions on Atlantis – it made sense that they would find solace in one another’s company, and that that would develop into something more.
And so, heading into the show’s fifth season, we were faced with the prospect of a love triangle, with two very different suitors vying for the gal. Further complications were suggested in the first draft of Search and Rescue with the introduction of Captain Alicia Vega who, in the episode’s final scene, essentially asks Keller out. The prospect of introducing a gay character to the Stargate universe was always an interesting possibility, but one that would require the right circumstances. In fact, for several years now, there has been one recurring character who, in my mind, is gay but there has never been an opportunity to confirm the fact. While I feared that suggesting it in a throw-away (“I’m heading back to Earth to spend time with my boyfriend. See ya!”) would seem like a truly forced WTF moment for fans, alternately, making a big deal of it felt wrong as well. So, unless the right circumstances present themselves for this character, the fans can simply go ahead assuming he is heterosexual until such a time that, in a Rowlingesque postscript, I can add: “And, oh yeah, by the way – he was gay.” The character of Alicia Vega, meanwhile, did offer an opening that an established character did not: she was new and the final scene of the season five premiere felt neither forced nor insignificant. Of course, as Paul pointed out: “Do we really want to make this love triangle a love rectangle?”. Well, again, the decision was made for us when the episode ran waaaay too long and a good portion of Vega’s scenes, including the last one, had to be cut for time.
So, we were pursuing a love triangle and looking ahead to the events of Tracker in which things would come to a boil with the admission on the parts of both Ronon and Rodney that they were interested in Keller. However, while Carl was writing Tracker, Brad was writing The Shrine and, with Rodney’s admission revealed in the final scene of that episode, the results of the love triangle had, for all intents and purposes, reached a pre-emptive conclusion, a fact all but confirmed at the end of the mid-season two-parter. I remember actor Jason Momoa coming by the offices after First Contact and The Lost Tribe had been shot and my asking him what he thought about the resolution. He shrugged and admitted that, while he liked Keller, he didn’t see her as a match for Ronon. In fact, he thought a far more suitable match would be “Character X”. I remember smiling and informing him “Well, it’s funny you should say that…”
With the potential for a relationship set up and all obstacles removed, it was only a matter of time before McKay and Keller got together – and they eventually did in Brain Storm which offered the perfect setting for the final confirmation.
So, what about the other characters? Well, Teyla has someone now (remember Kanaan? No?) and we’ve already established Woolsey’s inherent loneliness (in Remnants). Ronon – well, don’t give up on the big guy yet. As for Sheppard – I consider him an even bigger loner than Ronon, an incredibly tough nut to crack. If anyone was going to do it, I don’t think it would be someone who just walked into his life. Rather it would have to be someone he knew (and knew him well in turn), someone he had a history with. Teyla would have been a possibility but, alas, she has settled down with the babysitter of her child – Kanaan. And there is one other alternative, one that I’d originally envisioned exploring when I was first spinning the story that would eventually become Remnants: John’s ex-wife, Nancy. In a very early version of the story, Nancy, who we have established works for Homeworld Security, is appointed to review Woolsey’s probationary record. Finally privy to the secrets her ex-husband had to keep from her all those years, she is actually able to empathize and understand him a little better. Of course, with better understanding complications arise… No idea where it would have gone, but I imagined it playing out as part of an extended episode arc.