Behind the Scenes – Quarantine

“It actually came about from a meeting we had when we realized we had some very, very big episodes,” says writer Carl Binder, of where the idea for ‘Quarantine’ came from. “Because we had these huge episodes, we needed to do a small episode. So we talked around various ideas about a contained episode on Atlantis. I think it was Joseph Mallozzi that came up with the idea of isolating various people in parts of the city. And as soon as he said that, I jumped all over it,” he laughs. “I said, ‘I wanna do it, I wanna do it!’ I love the small episodes, the character pieces.”

Binder has been part of the Stargate Atlantis writing staff since day one, and says that this particular episode is a good example of how collaborative the process of writing the show is. Though it was eventually him that sat down and penned the actual script, the story was developed in close discussion with the rest of the writing staff.

“‘Quarantine’ was a real group effort as far as molding the various parings and how the storyline [goes],” he says. “It kind of evolved, because originally, our first instinct was Teyla and Ronon get stuck together and McKay and Carter get stuck together. [Then] we said, wait a second – that’s exactly what we expect. So let’s try and think of something different.”

That ‘something different’ involved putting together some very interesting character combinations.

“I thought it might be fun to have Carter get stuck with Zelenka, who’s kind of like McKay’s rival,” Binder recalls with a laugh. “That’s an unusual pair – we hadn’t really seen them do any scenes together, and how would that dynamic play out between the two of them? So I played it that Zelenka has always had this kind of secret crush that he would never, ever in a million years admit to, but that’s the undercurrent playing throughout their whole story. I can’t remember who thought of the idea of Ronon and Keller together. As soon as I heard that I thought, that’s a great idea. Then Teyla and Sheppard together – because right at that time we were working on ‘Be All My Sins Remember’d’ and also ‘Spoils of War’, which was the whole Teyla/Sheppard relationship playing out with regards to her baby and her place in the team. So it felt like a good fit to explore that some more. And we’d planned all season that McKay would propose to Katie at some point, and then that would end up not coming to fruition, so we decided this would be the perfect episode to put it into.”

The scenes in which McKay and Doctor Katie Brown are trapped inside her botanical lab are as funny as they are painful. Inactivity doesn’t bring out Rodney’s best nature, and the writer confesses that he was very much looking forward to writing the character’s discomfort.

“I really liked that one in that I got to express a lot of my own feelings,” chuckles the writer. “I’m like McKay in one aspect and that’s when he [is] always imagining the worst and being prepared for it. That little spiel he gives is straight from my heart! When she says, ‘Well you know, with that sort of mindset you’re going to live in a state of constant worry and fear’ and he says ‘You forgot despair’… that’s kind of my life in a nutshell! So it was a lot of fun writing that because it was in a way good therapy for me. That was a very personal story that I was looking forward to doing. I was also looking forward to doing McKay starting to believe that he’s actually getting sick – I thought that was going to be a lot of fun.”

Though most of the episode takes place within familiar rooms in Atlantis, there is one particularly dramatic shot that shows the City from an angle we’ve never seen before. When Sheppard realizes he simply has to get to the control room, there’s only one way to get there: a dangerous climb up the outside of the tower.

“Once I started working out the story and the beats of it, I realized that Sheppard, at a certain point, isn’t going to sit still,” the writer reveals. “He’s going to do whatever he can to get out of that room to figure out what’s going on – especially when he finds out he needs to get up to the control room. The other thing I was aware of was an episode with all these pairs of people trapped in twos in rooms throughout Atlantis is going to start feeling very claustrophobic. That’s okay for a couple of acts, but at a certain point I needed to breach the quarantine. That’s when I thought, ‘Oh! What about a free climb up the side of the tower, which is something I’d never seen. We never really get, in my opinion, enough shots that really show just how big this city is. So what I thought would be great is this helicopter shot of Sheppard climbing the side of the city. So that was the big moment.”

James Robbins designed and built a 20 ft wall set that the Visual Effects department then slotted into a matte painting of the rest of Atlantis.

“I was very pleased,” Binder says of the finished effect. “Watching the evolution of it from the animatics to the finished effect was very exciting. I wanted it to be like there’s a helicopter flying around him and we just keep puling out wider and wider to really get the scope of this city. So I was thrilled, especially with the high-angle looking down. That was a shot that (director) Martin Wood put in there, that I hadn’t originally envisioned. I thought that was a great idea.”

News Article Courtesy of the Official Stargate Website