Despite the 3-star rating, for me `Stargate: Atlantis' remains slick and absorbing television and it's still one of my favourite shows. But so often with season three there's a great deal of promise, only for little to be delivered in terms of engrossing stories with a moral core, or with convincing character development. I also find it disconcerting how the Wraith are being developed into a race devoid of any redeemable qualities and how despite their sentience they're treated as little more than base life forms, even when they take human form and gain the potential to do good, as evidenced in episode 2- `Misbegotten' (7/10).
Sadly, I also think the show is beginning to suffer from a lack of well-rounded, sympathetic characters- Rodney is central to a huge number of episodes in this season compared to his fellow cast members, episodes that see him learning valuable lessons, only to revert back to his usual rude, sarcastic, abusive self in the next episode, apparently having learned nothing from the experiences. Ronan proves himself once and for all to be completely one-dimensional in the fourth episode- `Sateda' (4/10)- he's violent, threatening, reckless, disobedient and has no other sides to his personality.
Episode 5- `Progeny' (10/10) is totally absorbing, tense and surprising, combining the best themes that the original Stargate and Stargate: Atlantis have to offer.
Episode 7- `Common Ground' (6/10) is the latest attempt to resurrect the way-past-its-peak/flogging-a-dead-horse Genii story-arc. The story has strong shades of an episode series co-creator and executive producer Brad Wright wrote for the Outer Limits a few years ago called `Quality of Mercy' exploring how captivity can mess with your sense of reality and alter your preconceptions, but the story is just too thin here. The Genii were once an interesting race and really convincing foes despite their technological inferiority, but since Colm Meaney was supplanted as their leader it's a storyline that's clearly become directionless. On the positive side, the Wraith prisoner in this episode is dealt with fairly and with some sympathy, which makes a welcome change.
In episode 15- `The Game' (7/10) Sheppard and McKay begin playing what they assume is an Ancient form of recreation, but which turns out to be absolutely real to the inhabitants of a distant planet. It's a fun idea, but the way the premise is constructed is just too implausible and the story is filled with so many coincidences that for me it just lost all credibility. It also has some really poor characterisation- Dr. Weir supposedly spent years as a talented delegate back on Earth, it was in fact one of the reasons she was awarded the leadership of the Atlantis expedition, but in this episode she can't even succeed in keeping two representatives from opposing sides at the conference table for a minute and a half (and they aren't even that uncompromising). This could have been Weir's chance to shine and for her character to finally be recognised as the talented, respected, useful member of the team we know she can be, but instead we have 44 minutes of Sheppard and McKay bickering like 5-year-olds.
Episode 12- `The Return, Part I' (9/10) is incredibly promising, as an Ancient transport is accidentally discovered travelling through space. Its crew members are subsequently brought back to Atlantis where the Ancient female leader takes abrupt and surprising action. But as the story resumes in `The Return, Part II' (6/10) it suddenly becomes another story entirely, the female Ancient representative vanishes into thin air and with the exception of Jack O'Neill swimming through a flooded area of the city the episode doesn't come close to realising its potential.
Then comes episode 17- `Sunday' (7/10) which is downright baffling. It starts off as a gentle sidestep into the personal lives of the expedition members and suddenly, right out of the blue the Atlantis team suffers a surprising loss in the form of one of their closest colleagues. All I can say is...prepare yourself for the end of an era.
The penultimate episode `Vengeance' (6/10) sees the return of part Human, part Wraith Michael in a much repeated story in the Stargate franchise. Is it just me, or is this the opposite direction most viewers would have preferred this character taking? There's no ethical conflict, or even any conscience left in the character at all, he's completely transformed into the clichéd villain and is now lumped in with the many other enemies the Atlantis expedition has managed to accumulate since arriving in the city.
The season final episode- `First Strike' (8/10) rightly continues on from the best episode of season three `Progeny' and also sets the all-action, guns blazing, no compromises, no retreats tone that has made the season finales of the previous two years so entertaining. Unfortunately, I think the story layout for the finale's has now become too familiar i.e. the stakes are set high for Atlantis, the mission doesn't go as planned, the consequences could be disastrous for all and then comes the obligatory cliff-hanger ending. Earth's military again involve themselves in the affaires of the city, but this time the implications are very ominous for the civilian contingent of the expedition, suggesting a movement towards an even more militaristic regime in future seasons, which I personally don't agree with, but I guess I'll have to reserve judgment until season four...