Behind The Scenes On The Tracker

It’s been over a year since Dr. Jennifer Keller joined the personnel of Atlantis, and in that time she’s had quite a ride. So much has happened to the young Dr., in fact, that she’s almost a different person – and that was exactly what writer Carl Binder wanted to explore with ‘Tracker’.

“I’d always been wanting to do a follow up episode to ‘Missing’, like a year later,” he explains. “I was trying to come up with a story in which I could once again throw Keller into some sort of difficult situation, facing adversity, so I could show how being a part of Atlantis for a year has changed her. She’s no longer the fish out of water, but somebody who can roll with it and face it. So I really wanted to show how she had changed. I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to do that. Obviously, she’s afraid, but she’s also taking charge of the situation. One, she’s trying to escape, and two, she’s trying to deal with this guy, and show some strength in the middle of this adversity.”

This ‘perfect opportunity’ came about with a story that had been pitched by writer David Schmidt. Having found his initial idea interesting, the producers bought his concept and wanted to turn it into an episode for season five.

“This story was pitched while I was on the writers strike,” Binder explains. “I had called the guys up from L.A, just to get an update on the show as to what was going on in my absence. They were running down some of the story ideas that they were doing, and told me they had taken this pitch which was a little bit different, but they had spun it into this idea of Ronan and McKay tracking Keller, who’s been kidnapped by another Runner. Because one of us was going to end up taking it on and writing it, when I heard that, I immediately said ‘I want to do this one very badly!’ So when the strike was over, and I was done with ‘Ghost In The Machine’, I jumped on ‘Tracker’.”

Another attraction of the idea was the addition of Ronon and McKay. “I always love unusual pairings,” chuckles Binder. “I love it when two characters, who are not thrown together that often, are thrown together. So I thought the idea of McKay and Ronon, stuck in the woods together, would be a lot of fun.”

Turning Schmidt’s original pitch into the final story took a bit of brainstorming on the part of Binder and the rest of the writing team.

“We needed a reason for this guy to kidnap Keller,” the writer explains. “At the beginning, we don’t know why he’s kidnapped her, so there’s this danger, and he’s kind of a cold, cruel character. But ultimately the reason he took her was a good reason. So that’s when I got the idea that he had a child with him. Then, with him being a Runner, we thought it sort of mirrors what happened to Ronon in ‘Sateda’ – he had gone to this village for just one night, and because of that the Wraith came and slaughtered the village and she’s the only one left. So it really started with giving him great humanity, because I wanted, about midway through the episode, for our attitude to him to start to turn.”

Apart from Keller’s interaction with the Runner, Kiryk, the story would also hinge on the scenes between Ronon and McKay as they struggled to find her. The seeds for a love triangle between the three characters had been planted back in season four, and the writers wanted to progress their story. ‘Tracker’ was obviously a perfect place to do that, though Binder explains that it was more complicated than may first appear.

“When we first talked about it the idea was that Ronon and McKay would be tracking them while at the same going at each other about their interest in Keller, and who’s going to win. But then, as I was writing it, it just seemed very petty and shallow to be bickering about this when Keller could be in great danger. So it became about the two of them and the difference in their personalities as far as tracking in the woods, and just outlining who they are in terms of people. Once Keller is okay, then they can start with the bickering. And I just loved the opportunities to do scenes like the log gag! I was so happy with how that came out. It encapsulates the two characters perfectly.”

Another crucial aspect of the episode was the casting of Kiryk. The role eventually went to ex-stuntman Mike Dopud, who had previously appeared in several episodes of Stargate SG-1.

“I wanted someone who was going to be tough and strong, but not look like Ronon,” Binder explains. “I wanted him to have a different kind of feel to him. So we cast a wide net. We went down to L.A, and looked at actors there, and we looked up here too. A lot of the guys from L.A were physically imposing, but they were acting tough rather than being tough. They had gym toughness – they work out really hard in the gym so they look really tough, but they just don’t have the worldly toughness. And this guy had it. He’s an ex-stuntman, and he’s also a little bit older so he has that weariness to him. He just sounds like a guy who’s done with all this – he just wants out. I thought he was really good. So much played on his face.”

The episode is an example of Stargate Atlantis adventure at its best – the viewers learn a bit more about our hero characters, as well as being able to enjoy an action-filled story. Binder is happy with how it turned out, and was particularly impressed with Jewel Staite’s turn as the newly-feisty Keller.

“God bless Jewel,” he laughs. “She made a comment at Comic-Con about how I have a thing about putting her in difficult situations and abusing her. And I told her, ‘It’s not that I have anything against you – I’m your biggest fan!’ For me, I like episodes that make things really difficult for the characters. I just thought she was so good in this episode. That’s the great thing about her – when you write for her, you just know she’s going to give it her all, and she’s going to do exactly how you envisioned it. She’s just terrific, a total pro.”

News article courtesy of the official Stargate web site