John Sheppard

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Character
Name: John Sheppard
Occupation: Air Force
Title/Rank: Major (2005-2006)
Lieutenant Colonel (2006-present)
Atlantis: Ranking Military Officer (2005-present)
Location: Atlantis, Pegasus Galaxy
Status: alive
Relationships: David Sheppard (brother)
Nancy (wife, divorced)
Patrick (father, deceased)
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
Other: Team Leader, Primary first contact team
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

U.S. Air Force Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard is the military leader of Atlantis. He is also the leader of Atlantis's primary contact team and the strongest known holder of the ATA (Ancient Technology Activation) gene on the Atlantis mission. He is a pilot who is comfortable with a large variety of aircraft.

The character is played by actor Joe Flanigan.
Drawing of John Sheppard by crysothemis published in the Surfacing zine.

Sheppard's Personality

"The appeal of John Sheppard, for me, is that he can be heroic and competent one minute, and then be the biggest dork in two galaxies the next. The dorkiness keeps him human rather than a cardboard cutout hero and makes him seem more approachable. [...] he frequently risks his own life rather than send someone else. This could get annoyingly heroic if he wasn't a big doofus at the same time."[1]

One of the big controversies about John Sheppard is whether at his core he is a psychotic killer or a pampered rich kid. (This is frequently framed as Psychokiller or Pretty, Pretty Princess. There was a panel on it at Escapade in 2007[2], and the question was asked of the character's actor Joe Flanigan at the BSG/SG1 con in Burbank in November, 2007.[3] Flanigan's answer, "Some of both.")

Sheppard the Suicidal?

Sheppard is capable of scary levels of self-sacrifice, and has more than once said that he is willing to give his life for his team. Ever since he chose the obviously suicidal mission of flying a nuclear bomb into a hive ship to save Atlantis in "The Siege", fans have emphasized this aspect of his character. Later canon seems to admit this too: in "Progeny", Sheppard fantasizes evacuating Atlantis and remaining behind to launch the self-destruct; in "The Prodigal", Sheppard asks, "How many suicide missions have I flown?" and McKay answers, "I don't know. I lost count." In "Remnants", Sheppard's subconscious concocts a truly terrifying scenario in which he is beaten and maimed by his dead enemy Kolya, who taunts him with all his failures and all the people who have died under his command. His inner Kolya tells him, "You're either someone with a death wish, or someone running away from something." Fans had written many of both kinds of stories long before the episode aired.

Mensaverse and Other Canon AU Sheppards

Fans learn about several other John Sheppards in canon. In "Before We Sleep", fans learn about one who died, along with everyone except Elizabeth Weir, the first time the expedition went through the gate. In the "Daedalus Variations," fans meet an AU Sheppard flying an F302 in defense of Atlantis; he and our Sheppard form a little mutual admiration society. Fans meet a Replicator Sheppard in "This Mortal Coil" and suffer a Sheppard-impersonator in "Doppelganger"--neither of these are the real Sheppard, but they provide fascinating glimpses--or reverse-images--of the character.

Mensaverse: Fans also hear about another John Sheppard in what fans call the Mensaverse (from season three episode McKay and Mrs. Miller). The Mensaverse gets its name from the fact that Rod McKay tells us that its John Sheppard "is very active with the Mensa club we have there." This Sheppard also sleeps late, doesn't play golf, and is extremely arrogant about his intelligence.[4] Fans have taken this as an indication of traits perhaps hidden or repressed in our-universe John, and have written many stories fleshing out the character.[5]

Vegasverse: We meet another canonical AU Sheppard in episode 5.19: Vegas. In this episode, John Sheppard became a detective in Las Vegas after failing to rescue a medic in Afghanistan. Consequently, he never went to Atlantis, nor was he ever discovered to be an ATA gene carrier. This Sheppard is described by the Vegasverse McKay as follows:

"I know everything about you. You've never been married. The only thing you own is a car. You have $2,363.00 in the bank and are $13,000.00 in debt…not counting the off-the-books gambling losses to a guy named "Mikey." What else? You finally passed your detective exam after four years and two failed attempts…and now barely scrape by on quarterly performance reviews. You were a helicopter pilot in Afghanistan, but were dishonorably discharged for disobeying orders and trying to rescue a field medic trapped behind enemy lines. You were shot down—obviously survived, but unfortunately the crash killed four American soldiers, along with eight civilians. You avoided jail time. The record was sealed for various "political reasons." These things happen, right? Somehow, you've managed to live with yourself since then, but I'm not sure other people would if they knew the truth."

McKay later adds: "That field medic…the one you defied orders to go back and try and rescue…you knew her personally. You were…involved."[6]

Fan Response

Sheppard has always been an extremely popular character, and has built up a great deal of fanon. (surely there must be essays/manifestos/etc. where people talk about his popularity and his role in SGA's insane growth rate? also, examples of fanon and early popular fics that helped to establish it, arguments over, sometimes being Kripked or Jossed by canon as the show went on)

Some fans criticize fandom's immediate and continuing focus on Sheppard and McKay to the exclusion of other main characters. Other fans argue that the show shares this focus, although as previously stated on this page, little was known about John's background or personal life until mid-Season 4, in contrast to Rodney, Teyla and Ronon, all of whom had multiple episodes devoted to their personal lives, pre-Atlantis relationships, and history.

A Slashy Interest in John Sheppard

In 2005, Rodney McKay was the undisputed star of SGA slash fanfiction, with John Sheppard predictably the star of the het fiction. Even John/Rodney stories written from John's perspective tended to use John as a lens through which to watch Rodney.

By 2006, slash fans began to take more of an interest in John. He became more important partially because of the complications of "don't ask, don't tell" on the popular McShep, as well as a natural need to flesh out both sides of the pairing. Unfortunately, unlike Rodney, fans discovered the reticent John gave little clear information beyond the fact that he likes Ferris wheels and doesn't apparently read Tolstoy. Until "Phantoms" in the fall of 2006, fans did not even know the real story behind John's black mark in Afghanistan.

Sheppard's Life in Fan Fiction

Many stories during first season primarily had John as an adjunct to Rodney, such as in the Geeks and Goons series. Balcony Sessions by Leah gave John more of a chance to tell 'his side' of the relationship. But the military mystified a lot of fan writers, and so when Cosecant by Domenika Marzione was posted, it rattled the fannish cage a bit, for those fans that read gen as well as slash, in that it was clearly based in a military perspective.

Samdonne's John Sheppard opus, Your Cowboy Days Are Over, released in 2006, was a touchstone for many John Sheppard fans in a fandom that some of them considered Rodney-centric[7]. Combining the complexity of ethical dilemmas that had no real right answers with a harder, more modern sci-fi base, it quickly became popular in the LJ community.[8]

Ltlj's Retrograde series is a complex gen novel exploring an Atlantis that has gone native and did not reconnect again with Earth within a year. It focuses closely on Sheppard and the relations of other characters with Sheppard, while putting him through a lot of moral, physical and emotional challenges. Jack O'Neill (of Stargate SG-1) is also present in the story, and provides a kind of narrative mirror for Sheppard (the two characters were conceived by the Stargate creators as having similarities, at least on paper).

Sheppard is portrayed as closeted in most slash stories, which often frame it as a price he willingly pays for being allowed to fly. This is normal enough that there have been provocative stories which playfully invert the cliche; in If you want to kiss the sky by siegeofangels, John is the only straight officer in a gay world...but he hides it, in order to be able to fly. Similarly, where many fandoms have stories where a particular character woke up gay, in Straight as a Circle, John Sheppard wakes up straight.

Various Interpretations of John Sheppard

Where there are blanks in canon, fanfiction writers naturally build and comment on each others' stories instead of responding to canon.

Childhood

Fans have filled in the blanks with wildly different "John childhood" stories and AUs.

Some examples: John was the popular kid in high school in The Best Things in Life Are Free, John was scrawny and unnoticed in Experience, John could have anyone he wanted in Do I Know You From a Frat Mixer, or Another Galaxy?, and John is the gay-virginal product of rigid Christian conservatives in Lost in Waiting.

One common trope is the belief that John is a "military brat" whose distance and easy charm comes from moving from base to base, see Cartography by Touch.

Many fics picture a heavy-handed father who's left John uncomfortable in his own skin in social situations.

Relationships

Descriptions of how John is in relationships have a similar range, for different reasons: instead of a lack of information fans had too much conflicting information. Even when he was eagerly kissing the blonde in the episode "The Tower," he says, "I never see this coming." His behavior says "Kirk" while his words tell a different story. Was he a sexual carnivore who avoided relationships through casual affairs, or was he uncomfortable and shy and disconnected? Other darker, tougher, and less likable versions of John turned up in 2006 with this expansion of fanon!John. This, plus the tension between John and Rodney in episodes like "Trinity" brought about more complicated portrayals of their relationship in MVP and Your Inevitable Unhappy Ending.

BDSM iIterpretations

The BDSM fans have also had their own interpretations of John Sheppard, with both a submissive and a very dominant and possessive John Sheppard. Xanthe's BDSM novels, General & Dr. Sheppard and Coming Home, while controversial, had an impressive impact on the fandom. As Helen notes, tongue-in-cheek, even Xanthe's detractors seemed intimately familiar with both novels. While most 2006 AUs take place in a world closely related to SGA canon -- such as the Mensa AUs sparked by the brainy Sheppard and Rod in "McKay & Mrs. Miller" -- Xanthe visualizes a unique reality with entirely different BDSM social mores, normalized by the fact that it is a fluffy, pink-around-the-edges romance.

In a rare direct response (normally with fanfiction one can only guess based on timing and theme) Helen's Take Clothes Off As Directed then revisualizes the implications of Xanthe's BDSM world as one where submissives are discriminated against.

Sheppard Whump

Sheppard, whumped

Some fanfic authors, mostly gen Sheppard fans, call themselves "Shep-whumpers", and take great delight in whumping their favorite character up to or past breaking-point. While most of these stories are classic hurt/comfort, the focus is much more on the hurt than the comfort, with Sheppard enduring physical, mental, and emotional torture. The sheppard_hc comm runs regular challenges, including the 30 Days of Shep Whump theme challenge.[9]

Psychokiller or Pretty, Pretty Princess

The question of whether Sheppard is at heart a Psychokiller or a Pretty, Pretty Princess (see Sheppard's Personality, above) often gets worked out in fanfiction. Few stories literally portray Sheppard as either a psychokiller or a pretty, pretty princess, though some do, including Pru's Share (wherein Rodney sets up Sheppard's IM account under "princess.sheppardina"), and astolat's Under the Sea (in which John goes to a fraternity ball in drag and Rodney calls him "Princess Ancienta" until he finds out his real name). In kHo's Dexter fusion "John", John is literally a sociopath. But more commonly, psychokiller and pretty princess represent a broader spectrum of characterization.

Psychokiller: Many stories are interested in Sheppard's apparently black ops skills, which seems unusual for a pilot; it has been speculated that he might be a pararescue.[10] The Sheppard-as-super-soldier characterization really took hold with Season 1's mid-season two-parter, The Storm and The Eye, in which Sheppard takes out the invading Genii soldiers, one by one, Die Hard-style. Exigencies by rivier is one of the best known fics in the genre, and as it was published during the season one to two hiatus, may be the first of the trope.

Relatedly, Sheppard's characterization has been influenced by his terrifying and unhesitating self-sacrifice (e.g. in The Siege, in which he takes it upon himself to fly a nuclear bomb into a hive ship.) Extended, this characterization suggests to fans a suicidal impulse or a deathwish[11]--or at the very least, a military pragmatism that borders on ruthlessness, as evidenced by the torture of Kavanaugh in Critical Mass.

Joe Flanigan's cool, often deadpan acting style[12] has influenced this interpretation as well, with some fan fiction writers speculating that the only explanation is that Sheppard is actually a robot.

Notable Sheppard-as-a-robot stories include Tannhauser Gate by Trinityofone (in which John is a replicant), The Difference Engine by copperbadge (in which John is a robot), and Male Enhancement by Lavvyan and Male Enhancement (The Soul and the Company Store Remix) by Leah[13] (in which John is a sex-bot, or may be a whole lot more than a sex-bot, respectively).

Sheppard with his pony, an outtake from Outcast

Pretty, Pretty Princess: In part, this comes from the fact that Sheppard's life in season one is a Cinderella story: he is a pilot who chose friendship over duty and was thus exiled to the wilderness of Antarctica, where his talents and skills are unappreciated and underutilized, until the moment when he sits in the command chair and is revealed to be the heir to the Ancient Empire. This characterization has also been bolstered by the late revelation of Sheppard's past as the son of a utilities magnate (DEX: This the house you were raised in? SHEPPARD: One of them.[14]), but the writers may well have based this choice on Joe Flanigan's own wealthy upbringing, rejecting their initial sketch of him as the son of a Cold War colonel. Even before fans got a hold of the outtake photo that suggests Sheppard had a pony, fans began to intuit his upper class status through items such as his canonical love of golf (he's been playing since he was six); it's also possible that some of this is bleed-through from the actor, who is known to have grown up on a ranch, attended boarding school[15], and worked in politics.[16] In fanfiction, this pretty princess characterization has led to stories emphasizing John as a fairy-tale hero, as a poor little rich boy, or literally as a girl.

Sheppard's Many AU Lives

In AUs, fans have written Sheppard as: a dog walker[17], a private investigator, an artist's model, the owner of a junk store[18], a lifeguard[19], a violinist[20], an oddjobsman, a dance instructor, a baker[21], the lead singer of a rock band[22], a supermarket owner[23], an Iowa farmer[24], a rodeo rider[25], a fisherman[26], an assassin, a fair trade coffee roaster[27], and many, many more.[28]

Who Is John Sheppard?

Some fans have complained that over the five year run of SGA we learned less about John Sheppard than any other character; however, this perception has encouraged many different characterizations. In her post "Who is John Sheppard?" Kate, aka greendreaming, answered the question through a survey of stories. Her answers included:

Kate concludes, "So: who is your John Sheppard?"

Fans have had no trouble answering this question:

J Is For John, Overcome by a Hug: Sheppard in Fan Art

Sheppard as pretty, pretty princess.

Adding to repressed-John fanon, John was depicted as meeting his death through being "overcome by a hug" in Argosy and kiden's magnificent, Gorey-inspired artwork, The Pegasus Tinies. Other Sheppard-centric art includes:

Sheppard-centric Vids

John Sheppard is by far the most popular SGA character for songvids.

Sheppard-centric LJ Communities

Links and Resources

References

  1. We Can Name it Later essay on John Sheppard by _medley_ at Idol Reflection, 29 April 2006. (Accessed 10 May 2011)
  2. Escapade Panel Brainstorming on Rachael Sabotini's LJ, Accessed October 31, 2008
  3. "OH JOE..." LJ post by dajaje, 18 Nov. 2007, Accessed October 31, 2008.
  4. SHEPPARD: Well, you can't blame a man for his intelligence. ROD: No, but I can blame him for reminding all the time. SHEPPARD (amazed): He doesn't! ROD: Mmm, trust me. My Sheppard makes your Rodney seem modest in comparison.
  5. Mensa AU Masterlist
  6. Transcript of the episode Vegas
  7. Comments, because it is very early and i'm very awake at Seperis's Livejournal, September 23, 2006
  8. midday, later than by Seperis, September 20, 2006
  9. 30 DAYS OF SHEP WHUMP posted by x_erikah_x, 9 Jan 2009 (Accessed 19 February 2009)
  10. somewhere in the back of a dresser drawer, John Sheppard has an old maroon beret posted by marythefan, 20 Nov 2005 (Accessed 19 February 2009)
  11. MVP by Speranza
  12. "[...] maybe the guy is some kind of weird method genius. Maybe he sits in his trailer and makes little pencil marks on his script, all 'stare stonefaced at the wall and react oddly and a beat too late.' and make a totally inappropriate face.' and 'unconvincingly simulate sexual attraction to someone.' and 'act like a rageaholic, while speaking in a monotone.'" Yes. I am excited by Helenish, posted 11 July 2006
  13. Male Enhancement by Lavvyan and Male Enhancement (The Soul and the Company Store Remix) by Leah
  14. Episode transcript for Outcast
  15. Joe Flanigan Tv.Com Biography Accessed November 21, 2008
  16. IMDB Joe Flanigan Biography
  17. Walk This Way, by Yin Again.
  18. Junk Cheap, by Devildoll.
  19. Converging by Purna, April 2007. (Last accessed December, 2008)
  20. String Theory, A Concerto for Violin in D Minor by Toft, [1] August, 2006. (Last accessed December, 2008.)
  21. Foster's Bakery series by cesare and anatsuno, (Accessed 11 May 2011).
  22. Four Quarters by trinityofone, March, 2006. (Last accessed December, 2008.)
  23. A Supermarket in California, by Taffetablue.
  24. A Farm in Iowa, by Sheafrotherdon.
  25. Animal Husbandry by Casspeach, January, 2006. (Last accessed December, 2008.)
  26. Romance At The Roadkill Grill by Lamardeuse, December, 2007. (Last accessed December, 2008.)
  27. Fair Trade by Esteefee, March, 2009. (Last accessed April, 2009.)
  28. For more examples, see the hundreds of additional stories, sorted by John's AU profession, listed at the Giant McShep AU themed list by elderwitty. (Accessed 11 May 2011)