The Big Bang Q&A

For Mother Country by Chandri MacLeod

Heroically undertaken by the long-suffering Artemisia, who Did Not Know What She Was Getting Into, Until It Was Far Too Late.

artemisiabrisol: All right.

Deep breath.

The kettle's on, SG -1's on the telly box and sweaters are on. Let us begin.

So, welcome Chandri to the Q&A of your epic (and let me stress the epic part) Big Bang: "Mother Country."

chandri: You love it. :P

chandri: Seriously, though, I do appreciate you being the only one crazy enough to try and review this monstrosity.

artemisiabrisol: I do, I do.

And I do love "Mother Country" for all my griping and complaining about the cost of printing it. And the time spent reading it. And the ink spent writing little circle diagrams all over my copy.

So, my first question for you has to do with your inspiration for this story (and don't say that you found it in a cabbage patch). What made you chose the bureaucratic angle when given the prompt a political shift has repercussions on earth? Did you have some traumatic bureaucratic experiences in the past in your mother country? Because a lot of the little details (the paper pushing yuppie, filing things in triplicate) sounded eerily familiar and the anger seemed a bit...raw.

chandri: Oh, god. Inspiration? Okay, well, let me confess my
dearest secret desire for most science fiction shows since Babylon 5 ended, lo these many years ago; I picked the "political shift" prompt because I had some inkling of actually manufacturing a Lantean breakaway. Of course this has been done many times in SGA fandom, and probably better, but in my opinion, Atlantis Stands Alone is about as good as it gets.

Except I'd already started thinking about another such story, one that once I'd gotten about a thousand words into I knew was going to be not only wider in scope, but much, much longer, way too long for Big Bang. At least to be finished for Big Bang. So I needed another story, the same idea, but a different direction.

Also, as you so keenly observed, I may have been getting just a wee bit twitchy from two years of working at a college where three-fifths of my time was taken up with, well, filling things in triplicate and never actually getting anything done, so there was that.

There was also my general terror of writing action in any form - you'll notice that Mother Country actually has very little, and surprisingly little peril, and even less angst (I know!). Most of the story takes place inside the city, with most of the team well outside of immediate danger, but plenty of danger of the less tangible kind (the threat of the alternate future repeating itself, the threat of the IOA screwing everything up, the threat of the Team being separated, the threat of it all, at some point in the future, meaning something dire for Pegasus because their superiors just wouldn't listen, instead having them fill out form after endless form after endless form as all order and good sense crumbled around their ears... uh, yes, maybe a little bitter about the bureaucracy). The alternative to writing action (which would seem to be a must in a story of 40k or more) is to lock everyone in a bottle and... well, shake, and see how everyone reacted. And, poof! Lantean breakaway became quiet conspiracy. In my head, if this were ever to be continued, it would probably end with Atlantis quietly withdrawing from Earth control like Canada from the Empire. Politely. (Which of course cuts out Rodney as ambassador.)

artemisiabrisol: There is a lack of action (action of the stabbity-parry-thrust
-oh-no-I've-lost-my-shirt-in-our-heated-battle!-Is-the-glint-of-light-off-my-chest-distracting-you? variety), peril (of the tangible/bad guys in too much eye liner type that Stargate usually does) and angst in the story (which is surprising for you - especially the angst part).

But it was interesting to see Atlantis and the characters (the team especially) under a stress that they can't... shoot.

One of the characters whom I really enjoyed watching in this "witch hunt" situation is Zelenka with his background growing up under a repressive communist regime as opposed to the North Americans (Rodney, Sam and John). It just broke my heart to see him keeping his head down and trying to stay out of trouble.

What we didn't see so much is Ronon and Teyla's reaction to this (This is not so much a direct question, but a statement with a raised eyebrow). Do you think they make the distinction between Earth culture and the culture of the humans on Atlantis?

chandri: Radek actually provided a very helpful turning-point
when it came to needing Rodney to sit down and realise that oh, shit, this was really going to affect them. Because let's face it, there aren't a lot of people who could sit Rodney McKay down and explain that look, you're going to have to just suck it up, and not receive only blasting scorn for his trouble. Radek knows how to be careful, and he knows what's going on in a way that the other, say, five people alive (the Team, Sam, his sister) couldn't quite internalise. (I also just like having moments where we see that there are a lot of people who look out for Rodney, even if he doesn't realise it.)

I think that Ronon and Teyla both grew up in much more straightforward cultures and would have difficulties understanding the kind of redundant, multi-layered, well, bullshit Earthlings indulge in to justify the existence of otherwise completely useless people (on Earth, we call this bureaucracy).

I think it would have been hard for Teyla, being in Atlantis all these years without realising that the Lanteans are just weird; in Pegasus, on Earth, anywhere. Teyla, at least, understands by now that the group who first chose to come to Atlantis from Earth did so at least in part because they didn't have much to hold them there, and when he came to Atlantis, Ronon took a lot of his cues on assimilating from Teyla.

I don't think it's a distinction so much between the culture of the Earth-born Lanteans and Earth culture as between People Ronon and Teyla Know and Trust, and These Assholes In The Suits. After all, there have always been people in Atlantis with whom Teyla and Ronon didn't get along too well, people part of the first wave it would be hard to keep from counting as part of human culture on Atlantis; Bates and Kavanagh, for instance.

artemisiabrisol: People looking out for each other and the strange
relationship dynamics of Atlantis is an aspect of the show that I think you really captured well in "Mother Country."

John is leader but as Teyla says in the story, but they have to look after John and decide their own course of action in the end. They choose to follow John which is not exactly your traditional military power structure.

She'd said that to him early on, explained their strange equilibrium, explained that Sheppard was their leader but sometimes they had to make their own calls. That sometimes Sheppard let his loyalties get in the way of other things. It was what made him a good leader...

And Teyla taking care of everyone. Everyone. Even when she's giving birth.

Or Ronon looking out for Rodney and teaching him how to fight.

Or Rodney. Oh Rodney. There are a lot of people that look out for Rodney (even though he doesn't deserve it most of time). What I really liked (and found incredibly creepy) in the story was that you made Rodney and Kavanagh foils of each other. As John says, Kavanagh is Rodney without the Team.

chandri: John really is kind of hopeless, isn't he? Can't even hug
without help.

They're all such hopeless weirdoes, though, in descending order from Teyla, to Ronon, to Rodney, to John, who definitely is the worst of the lot. I like to think, though, that they all take care of each other, even if John seems to need the most attention. They do choose to follow him, in one way or another: Teyla makes an alliance with him and it's pretty clear from the beginning that she doesn't consider herself his subordinate (and John doesn't really seem to hold this opinion either). Rodney's obedience is always conditional, as it has to be because he can remove himself from the power structure whenever he chooses - also their dear co-dependence makes the whole ordering thing problematic. Of the four of them, only really Ronon seems to fall into a typical subordinate role, and only sort of, and only sometmes, and only after he decides he trusts John well enough to submit to his authority, and stop laughing in that lascivious way, I can hear you. :)

Ah, Kavanagh. I've found Kavanagh problematic as a character ever since Critical Mass. Before this episode, Kavanagh was just an asshole - unquestionably a brilliant asshole, because stupid people simply did not get chosen for the Atlantis Expedition, but such an asshole that even Elizabeth, who could stand Rodney, threatened to castrate him in a room full of people. Which led to the realisation that even Elizabeth, who actually LIKED Rodney, couldn't stand Kavanagh.

And then it stuck in my brain for a very long time. It didn't bother me that much, because Kavanagh was not a sympathetic character, didn't do heroic things like Rodney did - didn't come through at the last second, didn't perform unexpected feats of selflessness, and hadn't previously given us reasons (e.g. Rodney's thwarted ambitions for the piano) to think he had good reasons for acting like such a dick - didn't offer us any, either. He was just, unrepentantly, a jackass, and a coward, and thoroughly unlikable. He was easy to hate, which was why he was there, of course.

And then suddenly there was a Goa'uld plot to destroy Atlantis, and he was the prime suspect. And I thought, wait, what? Why? I mean, yes, he's a dick, but he's not a deliberately malicious dick. Also, galactic domination? Probably out of his sphere of interest. As this episode went on, I realised that the senior staff had decided to suspect him simply because they didn't like him. There's this moment in the interrogation room, where Elizabeth's threatening him, and he sits back and exclaims exactly that, that he's being persecuted because everybody hates him, period, and gods help me, I suddenly felt sorry for the guy. This was topped off when Rodney himself says something to the effect of "I hate him as much as you guys do, but I don't think he'd do this." And he looks so massively uncomfortable, that I thought: Rodney thinks this could have been him.

Which of course completely ruined my ability to hate Kavanagh as thoroughly as I once had. It was annoying.

That other story I mentioned? Casts him in a very different light. But in this one, Kavanagh isn't a threat in and of himself, he's an instrument - which is much more in line with the kind of misery he's capable of inflicting. He's not creative, but he is vindictive - and petty, and arrogant, and bad with people. And at no point in his life has anybody seen fit to look at him a second time and think, huh, he must have had a hard time, or to forgive a bitchy outburst because he always comes through. I'm of the opinion that Kavanagh has always been a foil for Rodney, and who better to realise that than the person probably most directly responsible for Rodney being different? I didn't write Kavanagh as sympathetic here, exactly, but I did want him to come across as having reasons for being the way he is, even if we don't find out what they are. I find this as creepy as you do, believe me.

artemisiabrisol: Lord knows, Atlantis kind of deserved it.

They cruise around the galaxy like the awesome older brother of SG1 and basically do what ever they want with very little accountability. And a small part of me was saying: "Yeah. Somebody should be there to make them a little more responsible for all the unethical crap that they pull."

Espcially Elizabeth. I don't know what diplomatic school she went to, but I'm think she skipped the ethics/cultural sensitivity class.

It's just that Kavanagh felt like an odd choice given his history with Atlantis. As you say, he had every right to be petty and vindictive and awful to everyone. They almost tortured him because sometimes he came up with the theory that everyone didn't want to hear. He's a good villain and works well for the story, don't get me wrong. It's easy to hate him (I think it's the ponytail) and easy to hate the IOA.

Do you think that in the story, Atlantis hated Kavanagh because he was Kavanagh or because he represented the IOA and outside forces?

Kavanagh in the story is a force of evil (just because of his history on Atlantis) but he is also a forcing them to re-examine their decisions, their projects, their impact on the Pegasus galaxy.

Do you think they're resentful just because they're used of doing what ever the hell they want and damn the consequences? Elizabeth was not the most strictest babysitter in the galaxy. And Sam was not any better.

chandri: In the first place I chose Kavanagh because he came into
the story at a point where everyone was asking: "God, how much worse can this get without us actually being under attack from orbit?" And on a non-combat level, Kavanagh is just about the worst thing that could happen.

On the other hand, Kavanagh is qualified for the job. He knows Atlantis, he knows Earth, and he has all the qualities of a good toady - selfish, self-serving, glory-seeking, prideful. Having spent a long time in a similarly over-bureaucratized job, I know that when there's a crappy job to be done that nobody wants to do, that's going to piss everyone off, the higher-ups always choose the worst possible person who is even remotely qualified. The IOA probably figured his interpersonal problems with the Atlantis crew would allow him to be more professionally objective, or something - which is something that the IOA would think, because its members don't get personally involved with their work. Woolsey says this often, even as far back as his first appearances on SG-1. He says "this isn't personal," he says "I take my job seriously." The IOA is by its very nature myopic, lacks perspective, and would probably believe that a guy like Kavanagh could actually set aside his personal biases and do the job without being led astray by the fact that everyone on Atlantis hates his guts, and the feeling is mutal.

And in fairness, he manages to do just that for most of his stint in the city. I won't claim it was due to any diligience of conscientiousness on his part, but for the most part he follows his orders to the letter - those orders just happen to direct him to be a petty little bastard without having to think up ways on his own. This is another way in which he was highly qualified for the post. He got to torture Atlantis without being to blame for any of it. He was doing what he was told, to the letter.

Until the very end, that is - when he was baited into reacting on a personal emotional level, by three of the people most aware of how to provoke him: Rodney, Radek, and Sam. And that's exactly what they did; baited him into saying something inappropriate and unprofessional that gave Sam (and Rodney and Radek, of course, but Sam got there first) an excuse to take him out of the picture. I don't know whether that was done deliberately or was just luck, but I have no doubt whatsoever that when it came up for inspection by her superiors, that's exactly how she defended punching his lights out - he said something unprofessional and inappropriate, and she decked him. The Air Force wouldn't question that, because Sam Carter is a good officer, and doesn't go around punching scientists, so if she did, the guy must really have deserved it. But it certainly gave her a good reason to lock him up in his quarters until she'd finished doing what she'd been planning on doing all along and the dust had cleared, didn't it?

I think Atlantis resented Kavanagh because he was Kavanagh, and I think they resented him as the arm of the IOA. I think the fact that both things were true made his interference more frustrating. I certainly think John's aware of their hand in making Kavanagh so determined to ruin them, so there's also guilt over how they treated him. John doesn't shrink from, say, torture, if it's necessary, but since it wasn't necessary, I always imagined him feeling the most uncomfortable about how quickly they jumped to conclusions during Critical Mass, how easy it was for everybody to get over their objections. After all, Elizabeth was a pragmatist, Rodney doesn't feel guilty over people who hate him back, and Ronon thinks very little of the humanity of the disloyal - I doubt he lost any sleep over offering to cut on the guy.

I think they would have been resentful of anyone sent by the IOA to interfere with them, to criticize them, but that it was Kavanagh made it a hundred times worse - because maybe he was a jerk, but he was one of them for a while - they couldn't just write him off as an outsider, because he's been there, even if he never wanted to be. He signed on, maybe never to come back, just like the rest of them, and that has to niggle, sometimes. A lot of the animosity in this story is that of us versus them, the conviction that people who aren't part of it just can't understand, that the Lanteans are different, are in a unique position, and that's how they justify themselves when they do things that are morally questionable - they put the city (the team, their people) first. Anything else is secondary.

The Lanteans - by which I mean those of them who've been there long enough to drink the Pegasus kool-aid - are used to having a lot of free reign and almost full autonomy, that's true. For a year they were a country, after all. And young nations spend a long time defining themselves, getting themselves into a position of security, before they feel safe enough to consider others first. This process was interrupted before it was finished - so Atlantis is still a young country, and a country that's expected to behave like an autonomous culture without being given the freedom to become autonomous in other ways - politically, economically, militarily. It makes for an unbalanced situation, and I think you're right, I think they do resent being controlled, but I think it's more complex than just being accustomed to getting to run amok without being called to task for their actions. I think they've been trying to reach a place where they can examine themselves soberly for a long time, and that until now, they've been prevented. By the Replicators, by attacks, by interference from Earth. It's kind of ironic that it manages to happen only because of something the IOA does, and I'm not sure it would happen if it had been anybody but Kavanagh. A total outsider they could dismiss, and the conspiracy would have been approached differently. It would have been avoidance, not manipulation. Subterfuge. Less personal.

Because it was personal, they had no choice but to examine themselves ethically while they were being forced to re-live the past four years in triplicate. They were pulled back from the action, and in a brief moment of calm the only place left to look was within. At the end of the story, they've gotten there, I think, if not explicitly. They've acknowledged this position they're in, this mantle they've taken up, as Teyla puts it. Pegasus has accepted them as part of itself and that means different rules, a situation in which Atlantis isn't just a bunch of freaks and geeks trying not to be eaten by cross-dressing bipedal catfish, but a society as part of a larger one. Reluctant, but still, a society, and aware of it.

Of course this is what the IOA was trying to prevent all along. They have this discussion, while getting soused on alien liquor during the party. And they're all completely paralysed with terror at the prospect. But at the very end, they're dealing with it, thinking about it in the context of the future.

artemisiabrisol: The other thing I enjoyed was the emphasis on the alien
culture with respect to Teyla (which they totally missed the boat on in the show - much to their detriment in my not the least bit humble opinion). The naming ceremony and the birthing rituals and the chanting and the austere old lady who castrates the men folk with one glare.

Why did you feel that depicting this cultural part of Teyla's character was important to the story?

chandri: Heh. Okay, well, first of all I must admit that
one of the first things I decided about this story was that Teyla? Teyla was going to rescue herself, damn it, because her boys were just falling down on the job. They tried, bless them, they kept up a brave front, they didn't give up, but as a team they kind of suck without Teyla's, well, adult influence. The birthing scene was kind of an extension of that - Teyla gets sick of waiting, Teyla takes matters into her own hands, Teyla holds Ronon and John together on the planet, and then when Teyla finally deigns to dust off her hands and go into labour, the boys have a chance to just curl up and be totally useless without feeling bad about it. And of course John and Rodney are twice as useless as Ronon, during the birthing scene, not because they're boys, but because Earth culture does not encourage the menfolk to be strong of will when it comes to icky terrifying female processes.

That latter part, though, was incidental - Teyla is stronger than they are not because she's female, but because she's practical, because she's Athosian, because she grew up in a world much more immediate and less abstract. Where she comes from, you don't endlessly discuss things, you don't record them on forms, you don't have reviews of their funding, you deal with them. You get yourself to safety. You speak plainly. You fight when you have to. You protect those you love. You accept no compromises when compromises are unacceptable.

And wow, I'm realising now (because I totally didn't do it on purpose, but hey! authorial intent is ninety percent crap) that all the discussion of Teyla's culture in this story serves as a parallel to the conspirators' efforts to escape the clingy tendrils of the IOA's bureaucracy, to be honest, to be effective, to take what happiness can be taken, when it can be taken. To keep promises. To define what home is.

Teyla cuts through a lot of nonsense that Earth people seem to take for granted - stuff I imagine she sees as unnecessary complications. She names her son of Athos and Atlantis. She tells Sam that home is where you make it, means what you want it to mean. She and Ronon frankly discuss things about their teammates that they know John and Rodney would never admit aloud, because it's so obvious. To be fair, it's not just about Teyla, because even Ronon thinks that the whole thing with John and Rodney? Is pretty damned obvious, that on Sateda, people would have assumed - so I think what I was trying to do here was express that being so aware of your mortality all your life, as most of the peoples of Pegasus must be aware, encourages you to stop wasting time on things that aren't needed, and to embrace what is.

Also, I have an embarrassing fondness for the mental image of the Marines toting Torren around the city in camo- print baby-slings. :)

artemisiabrisol: Torren: A New Hope (for the Pegasus galaxy).

But the difference between the Pegasus galaxy and the Earth culture are really powerfully illustrated in "Mother Country."

And done by Ronon of all people:

"Ronon remembered thinking that in the beginning, finding it odd, that sometimes they seemed soft, or they wasted time talking, or they fixated on things that seemed trivial or stupid or nobody else's business. So many of them were soft in body if nothing else, were used to being safe, or more, to believing in safety. It was such a foreign prospect that at first he'd thought them weak."

...what I was trying to do here was express that being so aware of your mortality all your life, as most of the peoples of Pegasus must be aware, encourages you to stop wasting time on things that aren't needed, and to embrace what is.

I love this because it's only after John and Rodney come to terms with the lack of safety, the loss of security in the Pegasus galaxy, that they're really able to acknowledge the change in their relationship and more importantly, make out.

artemisiabrisol: I love your Sam. She's warm, smart, scientific and really
has an awareness of the ten years of backstory that I feel you really used here, where the show did not.

In the show, I felt that there really was a divide between Sam and the rest of the Atlantis team (except for maybe Rodney but Sam and Rodney's relationship is... intense). John respects her as his superior but it's not the relationship of trust that he had with Weir. Neither is Sam's relationship with Ronon (did she even have a relationship with Ronon?) or with Teyla. Whereas with Weir, Teyla felt a kinship as a fellow leader. There was very little of this strong relationship building in canon.

Sam was the leader of Atlantis but she wasn't part of Atlantis.

In "Mother Country" you've really given her an opportunity to bond with these characters - especially John and Teyla. The divide between her and the rest of Atlantis is narrowed by this shared experience. There's still the distance between her and the rest of Atlantis and she knows it. She takes the bullet for them because she understand that she's not as important to the mission as John.

My question is not "Why is your Sam so awesome?" though. But it is, How did you approach the relationship building in 'Mother Country' between Sam and the other characters like John and Teyla with whom she did not have much interaction in the show?

chandri: Oh, Sam. Poor Sam. She was so ill-used in canon -
they could have done so much more with her, and I understand why they didn't (though I don't like it), but knowing what was going to happen, I started imagining alternate timelines pretty much from the moment she arrived in the city.

Sam had a tough job coming in, and she knew it. She knew exactly what a team is, she knew how a team treats outsiders, how a team reacts to being threatened with separation, interference, or persecution. I think in a lot of ways this made her a many-times better commander for this kind of situation than Elizabeth, who was more emotionally involved with the people of Atlantis, and might have had more trouble handling a threat to her team than she had dealing with a threat to herself, like that time the IOA tried to place the plame for an impending Wraith invasion at her feet.

Sam, though, has spent most of her career in the Stargate program dealing with assholes just like these, and knew exactly how far she could push. Sam didn't rage, she didn't argue, she didn't speechify - she picked up a red pen and started looking for loopholes.

I don't know what she was imagining when she came to Pegasus, but I'd be surprised if she imagined anything at all beyond her duties. Sam has, historically, had to be forced into socialising even with people who've proved they like her. So Atlantis was her command, but they weren't her people - they were John's, they were Rodney's, they were Teyla's. But suddenly there was a threat, and Atlantis became, in all the ways that mattered, hers, and these people became her people, her responsibility. She learned how to be a leader from Jack O'Neill and George Hammond, after all. To her, in some ways, it's simply not a complicated prospect.

This is where the bottle-plot came in really handy, because any antagonism that may have remained between Sam and the old hands all but evaporated the moment she walked up to John and told him she didn't like it, either. John's kind of oblivious in a lot of ways but he's actually a pretty good judge of character, for the most part, and he had to sense Sam's frustration from the outset, even before she expressed it to him directly.

So I guess that in terms of relationship-building, I cheated a little. I created a situation where they had no choice but to trust each other, where shake shake shake, they all turned around and realised Sam was one of them in all the ways that counted, for this situation. Sam wasn't one of us at the beginning, but when the orders came down she made it pretty clear she wasn't one of them, either, which was close enough.

Teyla (who is also a very good judge of character) actually appealed to Sam early on, patiently, tentatively, extending a hand, as Teyla usually does - but it took this situation for Sam to reciprocate, because Sam? Is not so good with the reaching out. She's a lot like Rodney, in that respect; other people have to make a lot of noise for her to realise they're there.

artemisiabrisol: In the story, Atlantis becomes to represent to the rest of
the Pegasus galaxy, hope and home and safety.

It's sort of a benevolent colonial experience.

And the IOA wants to stop all this.

Why do you think the characters in the story don't rebel against this (well... other than the fact that it would take up many, many more pages)? Why was John so well behaved during this entire investigation despite having seen a future where this behaviour led to that disgusting sweater/old man pants combo on Bad!Future!Rodney?

chandri: Well, different people in this story have different
reactions to the bureaucratic invasion. But let's restrict this to the Team, Radek, and Sam, because otherwise we'll be here all year. :)

Okay. Ronon thinks its ridiculous, full stop. He sets the Plan on fire. This does not apply to him. Actually I think it's interesting how Ronon and Rodney's reactions mirror each other - Rodney wants to set the damned thing on fire, but John stops him. They all think it doesn't apply to them, but Ronon's the only one free to express the sentiment. I think he represents the general feeling of the city's populace when the orders come down.

Teyla. Teyla is careful. It's what she does. She watches, she waits, she does what's necessary until it's time to make a move. And in this, she's looking to her team, she's looking to Sam, becaus Teyla understands, probably the best of all of them, that none of them is alone in this.

Rodney. Oh, Rodney. Rodney doesn't think it applies to him. In fact he all but ignores it until he's forced to deal with it - there are, quite rightly, bigger, more important things to be worrying about. He reacts this way because otherwise he can't ignore that he's panicking. And when Radek sits him down and makes him admit that this does, in fact, affect him, that's when Rodney starts losing his cool. Well, as cool as Rodney ever gets.

And Radek. Yes, Radek keeps his head down. I imagine Radek putting himself in charge of double-checking everybody's reports to make sure the wording is favourable and doesn't get anybody in trouble - I imagine Radek's been doing this for years, and is best-prepared of all of them to live under scrutiny. But Radek's not doing nothing, either. He's working on alternatives, on contingencies - the second Sam gives the word, he's ready to stage a mutiny. He just needed to be sure it would work.

Sam's been through this before. She probably expected something like it since not too long after her arrival. She knew Atlantis was weird, was permissive, was primed for being poked at by myopic bureaucrats. She tells John this - that she's used to it, that she was prepared for it, that she knows he's not handling it well. She starts planning how to get around it from the moment it happens, and she knows how, and she's good at it.

chandri: And John is not, in fact, handling it well.
He's behaving, technically, because he doesn't have a choice. John only does reckless stupid things when it's a) necessary and b) possible, but in this case he doesn't get the opportunity - the IOA grounds them, first thing, and on top of that, his friends are well aware of what John does when he's restless and threatened. When she gets the message, the first message from Landry giving her a head's-up, what's the first thing Sam thinks? That Sheppard's going to blow his damned lid. And she's surprised by how well he keeps his reaction in check - how calm he seems. But I think it's less a matter of John behaving than of everyone around him realising he's going to twitchy and do something stupid and then acting pre-emptively to keep him in check, Sam and the Team both.

In fact, I think John spends a pretty substantial portion of this story having a noisy internalised freak-out, only occasionally mitigated by the input of his friends at strategic moments. He keeps thinking about that other future, about everyone dying, about what he should tell people about what he saw, about losing everything - he thinks about it almost constantly. In the end it's the thing that makes him crack, and only because Rodney yells at him and makes him fess up.

John's actually pretty thoughtful and delibrate, when he wants to be, and he's more so since he saw a future in which everything he cared about came to pieces because he wasn't there, which in John-speak means because he was reckless, because he wasn't paying close enough attention. John's listened to Rodney talk about time enough to know that choices change things, and he's well aware, now, of how much weight his choices carry. Usually John reacts to stress by doing stupid dangerous things, but I decided that seeing everyone die, everything end, seeing Rodney give up his life like that, struck him so deeply that he reacted differently than he usually would. John's an idiot and is really good at blaming himself for things that aren't his fault. He spends the whole story fighting his true nature, almost afraid to act because he's gotten paranoid - not despite having been to that future, but because of it.

artemisiabrisol: Much of the actions of "Mother Country" are done in
Elizabeth and Carson's shadow (Michael, the trade links that Elizabeth brokered, etc.) How important to you was keeping the dearly departed in the minds of the characters?

chandri: Okay, this right here is one of my flaws as a writer -
kind of like how these responses keep getting longer and longer and longer - and conversely I think it's one of the things I'm best at, too. I get way, way too involved with my characters. I've had people compliment me on this (except mik100, who by now has probably deduced it as the reason I don't dislike anybody on SGA, even characters I possibly should, because I can construct a justification for any behaviour or trait in five seconds flat; people who know me IRL doubtless find this tendency hilarious), because it lets me (apparently) write people with, y'know, nuance and stuff. I don't actually do this deliberately - I can't help it. Sometimes (often) it causes me to give way too much detail.

I can't bring myself to write a character unless I feel I know them inside-out, and so I think about who they are, and why they're like that. In Rodney's case, for instance, this means thinking way, way too much about what might have contributed to him being, say, a hypochondriac. In my personal history of Meredith Rodney McKay this is because he was neglected in his formative years, to the point where he internalized the certainty that nothing is ever safe (there's a lot more on Rodney's backstory in another story I will, at some point in the near future, actually finish). Like that.

Where was I?

Oh, yes. Grief. (I swear that's where I was going. Bear with me.)

We don't dwell much on grief in SGA canon. Or, hey, emotional fallout of any kind. There are reasons for this, time constraints being chief amongst them. Much as we would sometimes enjoy it, the writers can't spend entire episodes on the airing out of personal issues. Such things must take place in the context of action and plot, because not all of us want to watch TV shows that are extended therapy sessions.

This is a primary difference between the visual and the written media. On TV, there are no internal monologues, and in fic, there are lots of them. In the written medium we get to see inside the characters' heads - writing tells, television shows.

So I suppose I think I wasn't creating anything that I didn't already imagine being there. Carson and Elizabeth were a big part of their lives for a long time, and when someone significant is suddenly gone, it leaves an impact - an absence that makes itself felt. I think that Atlantis always feels the absence of Elizabeth and Carson, but it's not always relevant to the plot of a given episode to talk about it all the time - nevertheless, the grief is there. It's just that in fic, where we are privy to every thought that passes through our characters' heads, we get to see it when something triggers it from the unconscious into the conscious, briefly transforms it from a constant sense of loss to the actual thought of "I miss them."

And as you point out, many of the specific things happening around them (e.g. Michael, discussions with their allies) bring Carson and Elizabeth explicitly to mind. They were family, and since Atlantis (or at least, the Team) was basing most of its new identity on the wants and needs of this dysfunctional family they've formed way out here at the ass-end of beyond, it made sense that they would be remembering people who had had such a hand in defining the parameters of that familial relationship at its outset. Though I very much doubt that was a conscious motivator on anyone's part (except maybe Teyla's, because she is Smart), it was certainly a significant one, and probably had greater influence than any of the very good reasons they kept giving themselves. A lot about this story was silent processes, things realised as opposed to things said, little things contributing to major avalanches leading to explosions visible from space.

artemisiabrisol: So... Michael.

Why did you chose to blow him up off-stage rather than having the shoot-em up bar room brawl with a huge emotional payoff for Teyla?

chandri: I don't think Teyla's all that interested in revenge.

No, hear me out!

What's one of the first things we learn about Teyla? That she would like, one day, to live in peace. What does she tell Sora, who's determined to gut Teyla over her father's death? That vengeance is destructive and wasteful. Who's always defusing tense situations? Who cons her team-mates into meditation practice? We could look at these as coping mechanisms - Elizabeth used to, if you recall her reaction to Halling's attempt to perform that little bid-goodbye-to-life-ceremony in 38 Minutes. Or we could look at them as indicative of something deeper.

Teyla's antagonism towards Michael has never been personal - at least, it isn't hatred, or blame. In fact, she blames her own people for his situation. The first several times they encounter one another, after his escape, she tries to reason with him. She sympathises with him. She doesn't hate him. She has nothing against him until he, well, abducts and tortures her people and then experiments on her unborn child, which I think we can agree would tip the serenity-meter on even the most forgiving person. But even then, she is very reasonable about the whole thing. She's angry, yes, over what Michael did, but not for herself - she's angry because Michael upset the balance of her world, including herself and the people she loves. Which means he's dangerous, certainly. Means he needs to die, absolutely.

But it isn't about her. It's about everybody. And the best thing for everybody is for Michael to get blown thoroughly to smithereens as far away from innocent bystanders as possible. If anybody was upset about the lack of emotional payoff, I think it was probably John. Maybe Sam. But Teyla (and in this case I think Rodney would agree with her wholeheartedly - I imagine them having this conversation some time, as she forces him to drink tea) is practical. He's dead, the world is safer for it. It's all good.

Sometimes when someone says "I just want to live in peace," it means "I can't face this anymore." Perhaps for many Athosians, that's just what it does mean. But I actually believe that Teyla means it. Teyla can forgive, and she'd rather forgive. After all, it's much easier to forgive a dead man.

artemisiabrisol:...Well, okay.

But he killed all these people. Lots of people. He took her people. He made them into zombies. He took her and threatened her kid. He made her Alien Lover into a make-up disaster.

I get your reasoning but don't you think she'd be a little bit inclined to see him blown up into little bitty pieces?

chandri:Oh, I'm sure she wouldn't have turned down the chance
at front-row seats - I don't think she's sorry he's dead. I don't think she'd have hesitated, had the opportunity arisen, to kill him with her own bare hands, and then danced a merry dance on his grave.

I just don't think it was one of her driving motivations. All that mattered to her was that he be stopped. Who stopped him, and specifically how, was a technicality. Teyla's practical like that - it's why she's the only real adult one on the team. She can do helpful grown-up things like defer personal satisfaction in favour of the greater good. She says it to Ronon: “We are all here. We are all safe. That is all that matters, and all else will work itself out.”

Not that I don't think there wasn't dancing. Just... later. When they had nothing more pressing to do. :)

artemisiabrisol: Teyla. Rescues. Herself.

I cannot stress how perfect that is.

While I was watching the Season Five premiere, I couldn't help but think that canon kinda paled in comparison. Teyla uses her mad Wraith skills and her bond with Kanaan (whom I agree, should have been killed off) and her initiative to escape from Michael on her own and go and rescue her boys.

It was just perfect. Perfect.

Why did you chose Teyla Warrior Princess route instead of having the boys rescues their princess in distress?

chandri: You mean aside from the fact that they'd proven
themselves to be really, really bad at it?

I think I covered a lot of this above when you asked me about culture, and why there was so much of Teyla's culture in the story: You fight when you have to. You protect those you love. You accept no compromises when compromises are unacceptable. Teyla doesn't talk about things, she does things, because there's no point wasting time when you might be eaten by a space vampire any second (the Pegasus Galaxy equivalent of "you could get hit by a bus tomorrow," I suppose). Teyla rescued herself because she had to rescue her boys - which meant she had to be rescued now, which meant she simply had to find a way to bring it about, even if it meant doing something she found repugnant, like touch Michael's mind.

So she did. Necessity is the yellow sun to Teyla Emmagan's superpowers. Like how Rodney breaks the laws of physics at the last second because it's absolutely necessary that he do so (and because it makes John smile at him).

But there was another reason it was important: Teyla rescues herself. Teyla rescues the boys. Teyla... kind of saves the world. And then they go home and find out that the IOA has ordered them to ignore that example of what Pegasus is making them. It's insulting. It's probably the big bang (ha ha) that makes them angry enough to fight back. Teyla does this huge, impossible thing in defence of this great ideal of peace and safety and integrity and the protection of their freaky little family and... and the IOA tells them to take a nap, because they're being silly. And then carries on to imply they've done something wrong by doing the right thing. It's a premise they simply cannot accept, because it doesn't fit in the reality they now occupy.

Besides. It was awesome. Wasn't it? *grins*

artemisiabrisol:That's what I like about the story. Is that Teyla, who
proved so important to the future that everything fell apart when she died, seemed inconsequential in canon.

Her only purpose in the show seemed to be to spit out the baby and give good photo ops for the boys.

And it was awesome.

artemisiabrisol: The other, other, other, other point that I appreciated
about "Mother Country" is that it depicted the fluid nature of power in Atlantis.

The question of "Who is Really in Charge Here Anyways?" really runs through the entire story. Is it Sam? The IOA? The Government? The paper pushers?

And by the end of the story, I would scarily enough have to answer with, gulp, John.

John is a manipulative bastard. Hot. But a manipulative bastard. He's a master at gathering all the right people around him and engineering situations to get the result that he wants. It feels like in "Mother Country" he is just biding his time until someone makes a move to restore the proper order in Atlantis. And the move with Torren in the gate room? Smooth. Bismark would be proud.

But in a way, so is Teyla. Teyla has a hold over many of the characters there. Her approval and acceptance mean a lot. During the climax of the story, I would argue that her finally being able to call Carter "Sam" finally marks Carter's inclusion into the Atlantis family, as it were.

The IOA only thinks that it's in charge. But in "Mother Country" it feels like the IOA is only in charge as long as Teyla and John let it be. Although there's the simmering conspiracy, do you think that a break with Earth is inevitable in the story had it gone on any longer? Do you think that a break is inevitable period? Who do you think is in charge of Atlantis?

chandri: Oh, god. "Fluid." That's putting it mildly.

And a pretty apt description of exactly the kind of thing the IOA is trying, all along, to prevent. Because they're idiots, but they're not actually stupid. They may be totally lacking in perspective, but they have a fairly solid idea, in theory, of the kind of mentality that develops when a group of very smart people are given power and little oversight. They saw it happen at the SGC - hell, it's why the IOA was created. And if it was dangerous and unpredictable, bred unpredictability and dissent, when it existed within a primarily military structure, it's got to be downright chaotic, in a civilian-run operation like Atlantis, which happens to be safely out of reach in another galaxy.

It's basically this: The IOA has rules. It likes its rules. Its rules harbour no sympathy for human weaknesses, for right and wrong in a moral sense, for instinct, for family. In an industrialised, secure society, that's lovely. Works great. The problem is, the SGC was never a secure society, and Atlantis is even less so. Atlantis is not an auxiliary of Earth, it is a city in another galaxy that is subject to more and greater pressures than the expectations of its bureaucratic overlords. It occupies a position in Pegasus that demands its citizens think on a human level, as well as a strategic or economic one. And the IOA hates this, because human beings are unpredictable. Luckily, this also means they can't predict what the Lanteans might do. It's the main reason they have such an easy time circumventing them.

I... don't know who's actually in charge. I don't think that the members of the conspiracy thought about it in those terms, rather imagining the technicalities would sort themselves out when necessary. You refer to John biding his time until somebody restores the proper order, and I think that's accurate - I think that by this point, they really do believe there to be a "proper order," one so deeply ingrained that they may later have difficulty codifying it and giving it structure that outsiders will understand.

At the end of "Mother Country," I think the Team is in charge, certainly. But of them? I suppose, yes, you're quite right, it's John. At least, many years from now when they do become independent (slowly, I hope quietly, awkward but peaceful), I'm quite certain that's what Teyla, Rodney and Ronon will tell anyone who asks. "Yup, John Sheppard is our leader. That's him over there with the crazy hair."

John's certainly the directing force, the one who connects the rest of them together and directs them as needed, but he's not exactly the impetus. Like you said, John waits - he bides his time. Without his team, he wouldn't be very useful, would he? I'd even go one step further, and suggest that John could only be in charge of very particular people, or types of people, and it's fate or blind freaky luck that he ended up with these people. John's an excellent manipulator, but he can only work with what he's given, and his Team knows what to give him, how to contribute themselves. This means that whatever he ultimately does, it's the right thing. Whoever rules Atlantis in the name of John Sheppard is The Right Person. This does have its creepy aspects, but if John is in charge, so is Teyla (is Teyla ever), and so is Rodney, and so is Ronon, and so are the people they empower, so are Radek and Lorne and the rest of the inmates in the asylum. Ultimately I think maybe Earth will let them go because they're just not worth the bother. Freaks, the lot of ' em. :)

artemisiabrisol: Aw... Freaks.

You like your freaks, don't you?

John is useless without his people - except when it comes to killing people with guns in a manly and cinematic fashion.

Atlantis is not an auxiliary of Earth, it is a city in another galaxy that is subject to more and greater pressures than the expectations of its bureaucratic overlords.

What do you think Atlantis then represents to the IOA? Other than a danger and drain of resources?

chandri:Yes. Yes, I do. :)

John and guns. See, that's the thing. John behaves as though he prefers to be alone (to sulk in the dark), but when he is alone, he kind of... well, loses it. It's worse when, as in this case, he actually, miraculously finds himself in the company of people he actually likes, wants around him, and then is threatened with their loss. Remember the storm? One threat to Rodney and Elizabeth and John goes from lazy guy with a Game Boy and a slightly disturbing obsession with college football to scary-ass man with a gun. John doesn't do well alone in any situation, really. He's just usually able to fake it.

What does Atlantis represent? I think to the IOA, they're a huge, obvious risk that is worth taking. I think that's what they've always been. Remember that when they spent the first untold billions of dollars on the expedition, there was a pretty good chance they were wasting all that money and all those resources on an endeavour doomed to failure. Everybody in the first wave signed on knowing they might never come back, or even survive. The IOA is made up of idiots, mostly, yes, but that's in practice. In theory, they still exist to ensure that the Stargate Program is used for the betterment of humanity. I say in theory, because actually what they do is interfere and penny-pinch and generally behave in a callous and uncivilised manner.

I think they still see Atlantis as a risk worth taking. Certainly someone in that structure must, or they would be shut down. Undertakings like this one don't go on being undertaken simply because it would be more trouble to close the shop - we know this is true, because in the alternate future, they did pretty much that. They go on being undertaken because somebody considers the effort to be justifiable. The certain risks are outweighed by the possible benefits. As long as Atlantis isn't an outright threat, I think the IOA would continue trying to squeeze some profit out of it; they probably considered the Plan low-impact. A strategy of minimum interference.

We are, of course, not dealing with a body of persons known for their perspective.

artemisiabrisol: Well, that was intense.

And Epic-al.

Just as expected for something inspired by your brain.

Hope others find it as illuminating as I have and go and read the awesomeness of Sam and Teyla in the story. And the fabulous-ness of John and Rodney, of course. And Ronon's pretty good.

... Everyone except Keller.

In conclusion, go and read "Mother Country."

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