Talking Stargate: Atlantis Season 5 w/ Joe Mallozzi

2008 has been quite a busy year for Stargate Atlantis’ Joe Mallozzi. As one of the show runners for the program’s fifth season (along with fellow executive producer Paul Mullie) he and the rest of the Atlantis production team as well as cast and crew have been hard at work since late February filming 20 brand-new adventures featuring Colonel John Sheppard and the rest of our heroes living in the far-flung Pegasus Galaxy. Writing-wise, a concerted effort has been made to make this year stand out a bit from previous ones.

“Throughout the first three seasons of Atlantis we were always sharing resources with Stargate SG-1, be it the TV series or the [DVD] movies,” recalls Mallozzi. “As a result, because of time constraints, we weren’t able to really sit back and, I think, plan out the [Atlantis] seasons quite as concisely as we could have, which is what we did in year four. We realized, for example, that we’d had a lot of Dr. McKay [David Hewlett] stories, so one of the things we set out to do in season four, which we’ve also been doing in season five, was give each character a story that focused on him or her and allowed them a chance to step into the spotlight.

“We did the same thing with some of our standing villains. We kicked off season four with the Wraith/Replicator war, and subsequently not only got rid of the Replicators but weakened the Wraith as well. Now in season five it’s sort of a step forward in the same direction where we’re introducing a couple of new alien races. It’s suggested that with the Wraith weakened, there are a number of other civilizations that are more or less standing up and assuming power.

“So in a big picture way that’s some of the things we’re doing this year. I should mention, too, that with Colonel Carter [Amanda Tapping] having departed at the start of this season [in the episode "Search and Rescue"], we’ve brought in a new commander of the Atlantis expedition. Again, looking back at last year, given the threats Atlantis was facing, especially from the Wraith, Earth’s military essentially flexed its muscles and wanted to exert some influence over the base. Hence, Carter was appointed as a compromised candidate.

“In season five, with the Wraith back on their heels as it were, the IOA [International Oversight Authority] has, in turn, flexed its muscles and appointed Richard Woolsey [Robert Picardo] as the new interim leader of the Atlantis base. That’s been a big change for the series and, frankly, a terrific one as well. We’ve been big Bob Picardo fans for years, and as most people know, he made his first appearance in [SG-1’s] "Heroes", and from there his character became a recurring one. So when the opportunity presented itself for him to join Atlantis as a regular, there was no hesitation on either side.”

Woolsey barely has time to settle into his new digs on Atlantis when he is faced with having to make some tough choices in "The Seed", written by Mallozzi and Mullie. “This character was sent to Atlantis because he’s a by-the-book type of guy and someone the IOA feels it can trust to follow protocol,” says Mallozzi. “However, in his very first crisis situation in episode two of this season, "The Seed", Woolsey has to throw the playbook out the window and he quickly realizes that in the Pegasus Galaxy you can’t just follow protocol in order to save lives. Instead, you have to react as the situation dictates and kind of play it by ear.

“That lesson becomes even more obvious to him in the ensuring stories, including "Broken Ties" [also penned by Mallozzi and Mullie] when Ronon [Jason Momoa] goes missing, and it will eventually culminate in episode 16, which is called "Remnants". In it, he’s up for review by the IOA, which isn’t exactly pleased with his performance. Woolsey was supposed to be like a ‘pit bull’ on Atlantis, but, instead, he hasn’t been following procedure and his job is at stake.

“I somewhat liken it to [SG-1’s] "Inauguration", where he played Senator Kinsey’s [Ronny Cox] pit bull and they sicked him on the SG-1 team. Woolsey was more than happy to do his job just as long as he felt he was doing the right thing. However, towards the end of the story he realizes that isn’t the case, and rather than continue to play along with Kinsey, he goes to see President Hayes [William Devane] and comes clean with him. That was our first step towards, I guess, ‘rehabilitating’ Woolsey and making him a character that audiences could ultimately sympathize with and grow to like.

“And you can argue back and forth about whether or not he’s leadership material, but I think over the course of the fifth season you’ll come to see that he is, in fact, just that, even though he perhaps doesn’t realize it himself."

Back in May, Mallozzi enthusiastically spent eight days on the Atlantis set watching the filming of the upcoming "Whispers", a horror-themed story where Colonel Sheppard (Joe Flanigan), Dr. Carson Beckett (Paul McGillion) and an all-female SG team are being threatened by creatures created by the human/Wraith hybrid Michael (Connor Trinneer).

“One of the great things about Stargate is that we can tell a wide variety of stories; I mean, we do funny episodes, serious ones, ship-based stories, etc.,” notes the executive producer. “One day I realized that we’ve never really done a horror episode,” notes the executive producer. “We’ve done monster movies, but never a true scare fest.

“I’ve always been a big horror fan, so I pitched some stuff out to the guys and they really liked the idea. So we actually made a little mini-horror movie with "Whispers" and teamed up two of our regulars, Joe Flanigan and Paul McGillion, with an all-female SG team on an off-world adventure. I thought it was important to add this all-female team for two reasons. One, with Amanda Tapping leaving I felt there was a sort of gender imbalance with the show that I wanted to address by bringing in, or at least, introducing some potentially recurring characters. And two, I wanted to have audiences invest in characters who by the end of our story might not all survive,” he teases.

“So it was a really fun episode to do. Not too long ago I went by to see Mark Savela, our VFX supervisor, who showed me some of the temporary VFX. I was like, ‘Gosh, I hope this isn’t one of these [scary] episodes that angry parents will write to the network about.’ Hopefully it’ll be an atypical episode and one that people will enjoy, especially fans of the horror genre.”

Atlantis’ mid-season cliffhanger, "First Contact", and its conclusion, "The Lost Tribe", features a visit to the base by a familiar face from SG-1 as well as the introduction of yet another new adversary. “Daniel Jackson [Michael Shanks] will be dropping in for an appearance,” says Mallozzi. “That’s going to be huge for a number of SG-1 fans who I’m sure have missed him and have been asking what the hell has taken Daniel so long to come over to the Pegasus Galaxy.

“Well, he gets the opportunity in the mid-season two-parter, and like last year’s "Be All My Sins Remember’d" it’s full of surprises, action, spectacular VFX and some wonderful character moments, particularly with regard to McKay and Daniel Jackson, two characters who haven’t had a chance to play off each other, and they play off one another very well. I’ve said this before, these two guys – Hewlett and Shanks – are the fastest talking actors in sci-fi bar none, so fans can expect a lot of rapid fire exchanges between both their characters.

“I don’t want to give too much away, but what happens is Daniel Jackson comes to Atlantis because he’s following a lead and needs McKay’s assistance. The two of them put their heads together and make a discovery. By doing so, they alert an alien race that has also been in the midst of seeking out the exact same device. These aliens end up coming to Atlantis and it’s not a very friendly ‘house call.’ We introduced another new alien race this year in episode four, "The Daedalus Variations". I love the look of these aliens and hope to bring them back at some point. In fact, we’re already discussing the possibility of doing just that.”

At the time of this interview, Mallozzi was working on the aforementioned "Remnants", which he considers one of his toughest writing endeavors so far this season. “It’s really three different stories in one,” explains the executive producer. “There’s a story involving Sheppard that takes place on the mainland. Then there’s another story involving Woolsey and a potential love interest that’s going on in the midst of this probationary review he’s undergoing and that clearly looks like it’s not going very well.

“There’s also a story involving McKay and Dr. Zelenka [David Nykl] that explores a bit of their friendship, or as some would say non-existent friendship, although there’s definitely a mutual respect between the two. They discover a device at the bottom of the ocean and one or two hundred miles away from the city that they decide to investigate further.

“So the script jumps back and forth between these three stories, but as things progress you realize that the three seemingly unrelated stories are, in fact, connected in a very big way. Again, I don’t want to give too much away because I don’t even know what’s going to make it to the screen, but the Sheppard story is very dark and there are one or two instances that a couple of my fellow writers balked at, but that a couple of other writers loved. I just thought they were very important to keep in the script. I’ll be interested to see what the network says and what the rewrite will look like. You know, every script is a challenge, but this one has been particularly so.”

Production on season five of Atlantis is set to wrap in late September. The final episode to be shot will be the show’s 100th, which Mallozzi promises will be different from other landmark Stargate stories. “Our 100th episode falls in the number 20 slot, and while there is the temptation to make it an off-the-wall, weird, fun episode, we really feel that because it’s our season finale – and hopefully not a series finale – that we want to go big and a little more serious.

“As such, don’t except another 200 romp [referring to Stargate SG-1’s 200th episode], but, I guess, something more along the lines of "Be All My Sins Remember’d" as well as year four’s finale ["The Last Man"] and this season’s opener ["Search and Rescue"]. So not so funny, but something that the fans will, I’m sure, enjoy a great deal.”

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