Warning! There are multiple spoilers in the following review!
I've watched STARGATE ATLANTIS from the beginning and have more or less enjoyed it from the start. I definitely plan on continuing to watch it, but I have some concerns about the show that I'm convinced have to be addressed for it to continue to be worth watching.
First and foremost, ATLANTIS has always had and continues to have serious cast problems. They have now had three complete seasons to address these problems and while they have played with it some, most of their decisions have been odd at best. I really like Joe Flannigan as Sheppard and David Hewlett as Rodney, but beyond that the cast is mainly made up of liabilities. There was one other actor I liked a lot on the show, Paul McGillion as Beckett, but inexplicably in remaking the cast they chose to kill off one of the few strong characters on the show. Rachel Luttrell as Teyla is more baffling. Her character has never been very interesting, but I'm not convinced that Luttrell is untalented. I suspect that for whatever reason the writers have simply not been willing or able to come up with any interesting arcs for her (apart from having an interesting connection to the wraiths, which by and large has been underutilized). My hope is that they will rethink Teyla and either do both her and us a favor and kill her off, or become more aggressive in writing her character and give her some significant arcs and character development. Jason Momoa as Ronon, however, is probably a lost cause. He is perhaps the most wooden actor on television today and they have done virtually nothing of interest with his character. David Nykl, however, is good as Zelenka. I always enjoy his scenes with Rodney. Finally, I really want to like Torri Higginson (not least because she bears a scary resemblance to an ex-girlfriend of mine). I love shows that feature strong and interesting female characters, but after three years she remains yet another character with whom they've been unable to do very much. In her case, however, it appears that the producers have decided to either write her out of the show entirely or reduce her merely to a recurring character. I will continue to watch and sometimes enjoy STARGATE ATLANTIS, but they really need to do some serious rehabilitation.
Some help is on the way. We know that Amanda Tapping and her character Samantha Carter will be moving over from the cancelled STARGATE SG-1 to become the new head of the Atlantis project. I think she will bring more strength to the role than Torri Higginson did. Normally I would also applaud the casting of Jewel Staite as the new base doctor. I loved her on FIREFLY as Kaylee, but I still regret Beckett's leaving the show. But I honestly feel that the cast needs several more major changes. The show has had to rely far too heavily on Sheppard and Rodney.
The end of Season Three did, however, leave hope for new and better things. Atlantis has emerged as the name not of a location that cannot be moved, but of a truly mobile city that can relocate . . . well, to anywhere. The season ends with the city blasting off into space. I'm anxious to see what happens next. But whatever they do, I would like to see the show continue the risks it started taking in Season Three. Killing Beckett was an abominable mistake (especially given that there were some other characters who could have been killed with far greater profit to the show), but it at least started giving the show something that both it and SG-1 have always lacked: a body count. The good adventure shows have body counts. SG-1 had next to none. The only truly heartbreaking death in ten seasons was when Dr. Frasier was killed. It is no accident that that the episode in which that occurred was one of the finest in the series' run. If you don't have a body count, you get no sense of danger. On shows like BUFFY, LOST, and BATTLESTAR GALACTIC they have killed off some important characters. As a result when a character is in danger you get a degree of danger that you never, ever get on ATLANTIS or SG-1. Well, at least until they killed off Beckett and at least seriously injured Weir. I dearly hope they continue doing this in the future.
I also hope that we see Season Four taking the stories of the Wraith and the replicators to newer and more complex levels. The series has had some great moments over the first three seasons, especially when they let situations get really desperate. Hopefully they will continue to do this.
While Season Three frequently left me wanting more due to the weaknesses in the overall cast, there were some great moments. The season finale (both SG-1 and ATLANTIS have had some fine season enders) was splendid. And the season featured what may be my favorite episode of the entire series so far in "Common Ground," in which the Genii kidnap Sheppard and enclose him with a wraith who is allowed to feed on no one else. Christopher Heyerdahl has played several wraiths on the series, but in this episode he was allowed to give this particular wraith a dignity and complexity not allowed any other wraith with the exception of Michael. He gradually drains the life out of Sheppard out of sheer necessity before the two of them, cooperating as human and wraith never have before, manage to escape from the Genii. Then, in a moment that could lead to interesting plot developments in the future, we discover that the wraiths cannot only drain another creature of life, they can also imbue them with it, and as a sign of comradeship he heals Sheppard. I want arcs like this one! On a host of other series some of the most interesting characters have been those who came over from the other side. On STAR TREK: VOYAGER, we had Seven of Nine; on BUFFY we had Angel, Anya, and Spike; currently on BATTLESTAR GALACTICA we have Sharon Agathon and (possibly) Caprica Six; and on SG-1 we had Teal'c. I think it would be fascinating if they could do something like that with a wraith.
So I wait for the beginning of Season Four with some nervousness. The show has some weaknesses and problems, but they are fixable. The series has not lost any of its potential. But until we see how the new city in the air Atlantis works in terms of story and how the new cast changes affect the chemistry we won't know for sure. One thing is for certain. Season Four should bear little resemblance to any of the first three seasons.