In one of Atlantis's many unexplored labs, a mysterious Ancient device suddenly encompasses Dr. Rodney McKay in a shower of light. Soon afterward, McKay becomes capable of telekinesis, mind-reading and more. In fact, the Ancient device has manipulated his DNA, setting him on a path to evolve into a higher form of human life - in a matter of days.
Both McKay and Sheppard are initially thrilled that their city houses a machine capable of turning people into superheroes. Drs. Weir, Zelenka and Beckett, however, are less optimistic. Weir theorizes that the device represents one of the Ancients' many experiments with Ascension, the process of evolving into a nearly omnipotent energy being.
But physically evolving, as McKay is doing, is only the first step toward true Ascension. The ultimate transformation also has a profound mental - and even arguably spiritual - component. As Weir researches the subject, she discovers that the Ancient device is flawed. It irrevocably accelerates only people's bodies to the point of Ascension, but because humans weren't built to handle that strain, they will die unless they can actually Ascend. In other words, McKay must either figure out the spiritual side of Ascension - or die.
With typical scientific-mindedness, McKay decides that the meditation practiced by those wishing to Ascend is actually just a way for them to place their brains in the proper electro-chemical state - with an EEG of 0.9 hertz - for the evolution to take place. Weir suspects that he is being too literal, but McKay, undaunted, has Beckett hook him up to a brain monitor and starts struggling to lower his EEG.
He fails. Finally, he concedes that he needs to try a little meditation. Sheppard, who briefly lived with a group of people preparing to Ascend, teaches McKay the basic technique, but to no avail. McKay is impatient, more interested in jotting down the new equations that keep popping into his mind than on seeking inner peace. Even with Sheppard's help, he can't get his EEG rate anywhere near 0.9 hertz.
Taking a break, he makes an effort to be kind to his friends - sharing a tea ceremony with Teyla, writing a book of praise about Weir, and healing an old wound of Ronon's. Then he resumes work with Sheppard. As McKay concentrates, however, his mind's advancing powers finally surpass his body's strength. He collapses, near death. If he's going to Ascend, it's now or never...