The increased emphasis on character this season has been an answer to my hopes and dreams for the series since the first season. The writers are stretching out in some good directions, and generally speaking, I have few complaints. Unfortunately, since this has not been the strength of the writing staff in previous seasons, the occasional misstep comes with the territory.
I'm not entirely sure that this is a problem with the character development itself, though it is ultimately part of the overall effort. The issue comes with the story itself. The plot is chock full of clichés, predictable to the point of tedium. I found my attentions wandering throughout the entire episode, and that includes the requisite glamour shots of Harmony's older sisters and their endowments.
Harmony is the youngest sister of three, and the one who has been chosen to be the new queen of Generic Human Planet #87924803. Harmony needs to complete a trial to seal the deal, and sure enough, Team Atlantis gets roped into playing chaperone. (Or, rather, Sheppard and McKay, the default characters for any cookie-cutter episode.) As one would expect, one of the older sisters wants to be queen, so assassins are sent against Harmony and her protectors. Hilarity ensues.
The writers had to know that anyone with a third-grade reading level knows this story better than their own family history, so they tried to emphasize other elements to make up for it. Sheppard gets to lord it over McKay for most of the episode, with Harmony happily helping the process along, until an amusing reversal puts McKay on top. I cannot fault the comic timing; it is easily the best aspect of the episode. Many fans will love it simply on those merits.
But in the end, this episode tells us nothing new about Sheppard and McKay. Sheppard is a bit less flippant, in contrast to previous seasons, but that's been the case since the flight from Lantea. McKay is simply McKay, who will only change in the most subtle of ways, regardless of the circumstances. Some will no doubt compare this to "Missing", but at least that episode managed to say something about Teyla and Keller.
One also gets the feeling that the Genii were shoehorned into the story in some valiant attempt to muddy the waters. Unfortunately, the end result was evidence enough that the attempt failed. The Genii were treated so generically that any assassination squad would have served the same purpose. Granted, this incident could come up in the future to redeem the idea, but for now, it felt unnecessary.
In the end, the real problem is that this episode was reminiscent of so many other Sheppard/McKay adventures from previous seasons, and such comparisons only serve to remind the audience how often those characters have been overused in the past. In fact, much of the emphasis on character development this season was a response to that criticism. The episode feels like a step backward as a result.