Today we see Beckett’s new invention fuck everything up.
The team are off again, this time finding themselves in a medieval village during the middle of the night where everyone is taking shelter for the night. It turns out that some kind of creature that hunts the villagers is killing a villager every few weeks or so via sucking out the victims lifeforce itself, suggesting the village is under attack from the Wraith but just don’t know it. The story is that some kind of object, likely a stray Wraith Dart, crashed outside the village and the Wraith survivors were killed and burnt by the villagers and that clearly one of the Wraith must’ve survived and is now taking vengeance on the village. The team decide to land a hand and hunt down the Wraith the next day in the nearby woods, tracking what appears to be a female Wraith to a nearby cave only to find an old man along with her who claims to be her father.
The man, Zaddick, relays his story of how he’d found the female Wraith, who he’s named Ellia, amongst the crash wreckage and has for years fed her normally until she reached an age where she needed to feed on others to survive. Desperate to protect his pseudo-daughter Zaddick came up with a drug that seems to allow Ellia to survive without feeding. This story is of interest not only for the drug but also Zaddick’s story that there must be another Wraith who survived the crash and is really the one who’s haunting the village, later confirmed when another villager is killed while Ellia is with the others. Back on Atlantis Beckett decides that he wants to go to meet Zaddick as if the drug truly works the way it does it may provide valuable insight into Beckett’s current work on a drug that would turn Wraith back into humans or at least allow them to eat like humans.
While Beckett and Rodney work alongside Zaddick with the drugs in the cave the others use Ellia to help them hunt down the other Wraith, who uses her telekinetic abilities to pinpoint the Wraith’s location to the nearby foothills. In the cave Rodney beckons Beckett and Zaddick outside when villagers approach nearby, having joined the hunt for the Wraith. As they leave however Ellia, who overheard Beckett explaining what his retroviral drug will do, decides to use it without realising it’s unfinished and injects herself with it. Rodney and Beckett leave again to try and find her only for Ellia to reveal herself once they leave to tell Zaddick the truth regarding his drug, it doesn’t work and never did. Instead Ellia has been using the other Wraith as cover to allow her to feed when needed. As she tries to apologise to her father the retrovirus finally takes effect, driving her feral as she takes a form more akin to that of the Iratus Bug and running off.
In the forest Rodney and Beckett are ambushed by the other Wraith, only for Ellia to appear and kill the Wraith before advancing on Rodney. Beckett manages to drive her off with a gunshot only for Ellia to find Zaddick, who’d emerged from the cave to find her, and mortally wound him before moving off again. Both Rodney and Beckett along with the party from the village find Zaddick as he dies whereupon it’s revealed that Zaddick is in fact the artificially aged son of the village leader, having allowed Ellia to feed on him as needed while he was still perfecting his drug.
Sheppard’s group move to hunt down Ellia, who by now has almost fully reverted to an Iratus-like state, in the woods only to be split up when Teyla is injured. Sheppard ends up confronting Ellia alone, taking a minor injury to the arm during the brawl when Ellia tries to feed on him, only for Ronon to turn up and turn the tide which results in Ellia being killed. Upon return to Atlantis however Sheppard’s wound seems to have healed itself.
While things initially appear to go on as normal on the city people begin to notice odd changes with Sheppard, such as increased stamina, eagerness, and impulsiveness. It turns out that during Ellia attempt to feed on him the retrovirus was passed to his system and is starting to have an effect on his genetic makeup, displaying itself in his new behaviours. As Sheppard is placed under minimal medical observation for the time being Caldwell, who had been prepping to take the Daedalus on a standard trip back to Earth, stays around as ranking military officer to take up the gap left by Sheppard’s removal from duty. This turns out to be the right call when Sheppard notices Wraith tissue growing out of his arm.
Given that the situation with Sheppard will only get worse, with his body now basically Wraith down one side, Beckett decides to lead a mission back to the planet where they found the Iratus Bug in an attempt to gain a genetic sample they can use to counter the retrovirus and hopefully restore Sheppard to normal. Things start to grow tense on base however when Sheppard’s public outbursts and Caldwell’s policy changes start signalling that things don’t look good for the former commander. Things get even worse when the Iratus mission ends in disaster, with multiple Expedition members being killed, and Sheppard’s condition rapidly growing worse.
When Weir informs Sheppard of the mission’s failure their former commander, now practically gone, he assaults Weir and then escapes from confinement causing a city-wide manhunt that sees him eventually restrained by Ronon. Sheppard’s advanced state of Wraithness however allows him the chance to save himself in the process, as he can pass for Wraith and the Iratus bugs should allow him into their nest. Weir approves a mission back to the Iratus planet so that Sheppard can get the cure, with Beckett’s theory that Sheppard can pass for Wraith proving to be correct. While Sheppard manages to grab the samples needed the inhibitor wears off on the way out, forcing the others to restrain him once more.
After returning to Atlantis Beckett is able to synthesise a cure for Sheppard’s condition and slowly reverse it. After recovering Sheppard apologises to Teyla for what happened earlier on.
Instinct and Conversion as a two parter really is a tale of two very distinct halves. The first is a rather sad tale of family and heartbreak while the latter is a very individual specific story of Sheppard undergoing the consequences the reckless actions displayed in the first part.
The item that connects the two halves together is the development of a test retrovirus by Beckett, designed in the hopes that one day they can revert Wraith to either a human form or one that does not require the feeding on humans. It’s this optimism of a miracle drug, based on the one used in Poisoning the Well, that sees the situation deteriorate quickly. Much like in the reference episode from season one here the team quickly get way too invested in a supposed cure to the Wraith condition to their detriment, this time with a local man claiming to have a cure to the Wraith’s need to feed already for his Wraith daughter.
This pseudo-family aspect displayed by Zaddick and Ellia is one of the most interesting put forward in the show’s entire lifespan, with their father-daughter bond both touching and heartbreaking to watch as we see that Ellia’s initially successful bonding with Zaddick slowly turn to ash as Ellia’s true Wraith nature begins to emerge despite their hopes it wouldn’t. Even though the focus is on Ellia’s transition away from her more human side the reactions by both of them are remarkably so, with Zaddick offering his own life to save hers while she later on claims his anti-Wraith drug works to save him from the knowledge that his daughter is killing innocents and he couldn’t bring himself to stop her. While these decisions by both lead to the suffering of others it’s far more understandable than other reasons we’ve seen in the past.
This wanting to stop each other from suffering further is what leads to the tragic circumstances at the end of the episode where Ellia, overhearing only a partial conversation about the retrovirus, decides to try it out when the others aren’t there which eventually leads to both the deaths of herself and Zaddick, who she pushes out of the way almost instinctively but accidently causes fatal injuries in the process, but not before Sheppard also faces the repercussions of the retrovirus himself when he faces Ellia alone.
When it comes to the second half of the story the pseudo-family narrative is switched out for one that focuses entirely on the story of Sheppard and how the retrovirus affects him and the nature of the Expedition itself as a result of his condition. Over the course of the remaining 40 minutes we see Sheppard slowly try to come to terms with the fact he’s dying and no one can stop it, flying into a rage when his team fail on a last-ditch mission to save his life. It’s a serious shift in personality for the former Lt. Colonel as he grows more and more unstable over the course of the episode until he’s no longer human at all, losing control entirely due to the retrovirus.
Interestingly this personality shift is also used to display more of the feud between Caldwell and Weir that’s been growing over the course of the episode. This time the focus is once again on Caldwell’s desire to move up the totem pole, using the situation as the basis to place his mark on the city and make it harder to be removed if things go badly. It’s quite a cold and cynical move but also one that does make sense objectively, with it well known that Sheppard had run things in a way that was very adhoc and against procedure. Once more it’s a conflict between the more civilian and military elements on the show that make it distinct from its predecessor but also placing the groundwork for an episode later this season.
Instinct and Conversion is hardly the most exciting or bombastic of the show’s two parters but It’s probably the most intimate, providing a closer looker at both the Wraith and family, with it ending with a tragic tale of loss and hardship that is hard to watch and a brilliant piece of story.
· What is it with villages being built in the middle of nowhere?
· That lab looks more like a mad sorcerer’s lair.
· The use of glass by the Ancients was probably one of their worst ones.
Quote of the episode: “Did Ronon shoot me?”
“You had it coming.” – Sheppard and Weir