Stargate SG-1 9.20 – Camelot / 10.1 – Flesh and Blood

Despite a few good episodes to come, including the hilarious “200” and my all-time favorite, “Unending,” plus Claudia Black every week, Stargate SG-1 ended its run with the season I like the least since its first, and the cliffhanger season finale / season premiere resolution kind of demonstrates why. Season nine suffered a little because the evil Ori and their Priors were so humorless and awful. Season ten just ramps it up and makes them too powerful. We kind of nailed it down with our son, who normally would have enjoyed a series of big space battles like this one gives us, but not when the heroes are on the losing side. It all gets way too tedious and dispiriting. Mitchell says toward the end that he’s tired of them getting their butts kicked, and so is the audience. You need some wins, not just last-minute escapes when something else fails to work.

Even worse, there’s the lamest ongoing plot this series ever embraced. I asked the kid whether he remembered Gabrielle in Xena having a demon baby who grows into an evil adult and says “Hello, mother” all the time. Even casting Morena Baccarin won’t fix this one. But I’ll enjoy seeing “200” and “Unending” again, along with “The Pegasus Project” and “Bounty” and the times that Ba’al shows up. The disappointing Ark of Truth movie put this storyline out of its misery; the wonderful Continuum ended the series triumphantly.

When SG-1 was first broadcast, I was only vaguely aware that it was on at all. As I recounted back when I started writing about this series two years ago, if a show’s built around the military and machine guns, then I’m probably going to be either ambivalent about it or actively repelled unless there’s a lot of fun to pull me in. So I didn’t pay any attention to SG-1 or Atlantis, apart from skimming past the listings in Lee Whiteside’s old weekly Usenet updates about what was on TV that week.

SG-1 was finally cancelled in August 2006. A couple of weeks later, some girl took me to Atlanta’s DragonCon, which is held every Labor Day, and there was a fellow in military fatigues carrying a sign reading SAVE STARGATE SG-1. I remembered that the show had to have premiered before my older son was born in the spring of ’97, so surely ten years was a long enough run, and I have to stand by that. The show did well to adapt and bring in new characters, but it never really recovered from Richard Dean Anderson retiring, and a decade’s enough for a show like this. It was, then, the longest-running American fantasy show, although both Smallville and Supernatural would surpass it. Atlantis ended with five, which was at least one too few. I really wanted to see how they were going to resolve the great big change that its hundredth episode provided. Universe was an ugly waste of time. We gave up on that after eight or nine episodes. A guest appearance by Janelle Monáe was the only thing about it I care to remember.

Amazon owns the show now, since they bought MGM. Maybe one day we’ll see a six episode run on Amazon Prime one day, and no Blu-ray release, which is how Prime programs seem to work. We’ll probably tune in, unless it’s a hard reboot, in which case I won’t bother.

Stargate SG-1 9.19 – Crusade

Hooray, Vala’s back! said everybody other than our son. We’re pretty sure that he likes Vala, but he sure didn’t like this episode. It’s mainly a showcase for Claudia Black, who updates her SG-1 pals what she’s been up to since she vanished back in episode six, having an adventure on a redressed version of the medieval village set from the beginning of the season. It introduces a couple of characters who’ll show up a few more times in season ten and in one of the wrap-up movies, but our son was bored out of his skull, radiating waves of frustration. “You should have felt a tsunami,” he clarified.

Stargate SG-1 9.18 – Arthur’s Mantle

I decided to go ahead and quit writing about Atlantis. Enjoying this season very much, and even though the kid didn’t appreciate the smoochy stuff in episode sixteen’s body-swapping episode, it was still a fun one. Earlier in season two, somebody else was in McKay’s body, and Caldwell was host to a Goa’uld, but he got better. Now it’s Sheppard and Weir’s turn. But I bid farewell to writing about Atlantis here, though we’ll continue watching the show through its conclusion in the spring, probably.

I will continue writing about SG-1 over the next couple of weeks, though. “Arthur’s Mantle” is mostly a very fun runaround with some of our heroes out of dimensional phase and invisible, like what happened to Daniel back in season three’s “Crystal Skull”, but there’s a much more intense invisible B-plot. Tony Todd makes a final appearance as the leader of the Jaffa-gone-samurai who were introduced earlier in this season. The village is wiped out by an enemy using a cloaking device, so Teal’c gets another device and goes after him. It’s a little like Predator, with zombies.

Since he disliked the last episode so much, I’m glad that our son really liked this one, and laughed a lot as the problem somehow escalates. I’m surprised that I’d forgotten it, because it’s really hilarious. They had a lot of fun with the invisibility problem on the base, and using Bill Dow as comic relief is always a good idea; the guy has perfect timing. I probably won’t forget this one again; it’s a great one.

Stargate SG-1 9.17 – The Scourge

Months and months ago, I spent maybe sixty seconds, if that, commiserating with our son, who doesn’t like bugs, that when I was a kid, cockroaches freaked me out as well, on account of some great big ones in the film of Damnation Alley. So tonight I said that I had considered skipping tonight’s episode because, well, you may remember, young man, I said, back in the summer I mentioned a movie that gave me the heebie-jeebies when I was about your a–

“Not the giant cockroaches!” Unreal. This child can’t remember anybody’s name, whether actors or friends, has lost at least twenty bucks to the washing machine because he forgets to clean his pockets, and thinks restaurants in Blue Ridge GA are actually in Fayetteville TN, but he remembers The Thing With Two Heads and a one-off, months-old mention of oversized palmetto bugs.

So anyway, yes, “The Scourge” is a gross-out episode with a trillion carnivorous bugs. It owes a considerable debt to both Damnation Alley and that bit from Creepshow with E.G. Marshall. It features the return of Robert Picardo as Woolsey, only the writers chose to make him more stupid this time, I’m pretty sure they used that cave set in a couple of episodes of Atlantis, and the kid, who had a blanket over his head for much of this, is unlikely to ever forget it.

Stargate SG-1 9.16 – Off the Grid

“Individually frosted cakes!” That might be one of the best lines in all of Stargate.

Sadly, “Off the Grid” sees a second and final appearance of the wonderfully evil and gluttonous Nerus, who we met earlier this season. He’s called upon to help with a weird situation where Stargates are vanishing and going offline. It’s a very amusing episode with Mitchell in fine form, and lots of gunplay on board a Goa’uld mothership just like the good old days. The only real disappointment is learning that Earth didn’t really suffer as major a setback in losing a flying battleship in the previous episode as it appeared; they had the replacement all ready to go.

Stargate Atlantis 2.15 – The Tower

Well, if SG-1 had a gigantic loss in their column in the previous episode, Atlantis came out ahead in this one. I really enjoy “The Tower” because it hits the ground running. It has to; there is a lot going on in this one.

So our heroes find a feudal planet where the villagers are being horribly exploited by their ruling class. Their lord protector, and his bloodline for many generations, can enforce absolute loyalty while also protecting everyone from the Wraith because they live in a giant city-ship, a mostly dormant sister to Atlantis that has been overgrown by the forests; its purpose and history long forgotten. Unlike Atlantis, they’ve got a healthy stock of the drone missiles. They’ve also got a crazy amount of court intrigue as the vulgar, scheming, stupid, and conspiracy-minded royals jockey for the next place in line. The lord protector is played by Jay Brazeau, who had appeared in a couple of SG-1 installments, starting with “Tin Man” back in season one. One of the scheming members of the court is played by Chelan Simmons, who had played Gretchen in a couple of episodes of Wonderfalls the previous season, and whose bare back is shown below as Sheppard continues his drive to be more like Kirk.

Despite the smooching, our son really enjoyed this one as well. It’s a fun story with an unexpected twist and a great resolution. Obviously a little money was saved by simply redressing the main Atlantis set as the interior of the Tower, but our son was glad that they returned to Atlantis at the end. He prefers to see the place without all the candles and tapestries.

Stargate SG-1 9.15 – Ethon

This blog’s oldest recurring joke is that our son can almost never recognize actors in other roles. This time, he needed prompting that a guest part is played by Ernie Hudson, despite the kid being Ghostbusters-gaga for the last five weeks or so. But he can recognize places just fine. This time, I started the episode, and paused on the opening shot until everybody could join me on the sofa. The kid immediately knew where this was: the planet our heroes visited last season in the story “Icon”. Nothing went right then, and everything goes worse this time.

I’ve always liked the fact that the heroes of the Stargate universe never have it anywhere as easy as the heroes in similar programs. This week, they take a huge, huge loss. One of Earth’s two flying battleships is destroyed, along with forty-some personnel, and, almost adding insult to injury, the peace that they broker at the cost of all those lives is shown to be even more tenuous than it was when we last left these squabbling cold war knuckleheads, and the story ends with the planet’s future uncertain, but they’re no longer able to make contact through the gate and can only assume they’ve blown themselves up. When we first watched this series, I remember thinking that surely one of the two flying battleships was going to go down in a big season finale cliffhanger. No, it goes down in a stupid, pointless mission of mercy where everybody fails, a hideous waste of lives and resources. I think that it’s very rare for an action-adventure hour like this to do something so grim and so bleak, so props to everyone in the production team for doing it.

Stargate Atlantis 2.14 – Grace Under Pressure

Marie called this one of the iconic episodes of Atlantis and I think I’d agree. It’s a tour de force for David Hewlett, who carries the episode by himself for several minutes. McKay’s Jumper has crashed into the ocean and is sinking to the bottom. As he starts to lose hope, and blood, he hallucinates that Carter from SG-1 is there with him. Most of the rest of the episode is a two-hander with him and guest star Amanda Tapping. But is his hallucination there to help him focus and spur him to decisive action, or distract him from the reality of his hopeless situation?

I was reminded of a couple of other things that we’ve watched for the blog. Two seasons previously, it was Amanda Tapping who was stuck on a broken down ship hallucinating her co-stars in SG-1’s “Grace”. And, of course, we saw an episode of Xena: Warrior Princess, “Tsunami”, in which seven actors got to work in a submerged set. Despite this story not having any of the action that our son enjoys best, he really liked this one a lot. McKay’s arguments with himself, and constant reminders that he is arguing with himself, and not Carter, had him amused, and the desperation is done so well that he stayed riveted, unable to guess how his friends would rescue him. It probably helps that he’s predisposed to like anything dealing with shipwrecks anyway. Plus all those years watching International Rescue pull off similarly unlikely last-minute saves has kept him primed for this sort of television.

Stargate SG-1 9.14 – Stronghold

Well… we’ve seen this before. This is SG-1 by the numbers, with more political intrigue among the Free Jaffa, and somebody gets kidnapped by a Goa’uld and needs to be rescued. There are some amusing little touches along the way. Reed Diamond, who played the dress code-flouting Kellerman on Homicide, has a small role as one of Mitchell’s friends, and Mitchell loses his temper and wrecks a hospital vending machine. There’s a big shootout in a quarry with lots of explosions which our son enjoyed a lot, and the memory tech from two episodes ago gets an interesting use.

But really, the best thing about this episode is Cliff Simon making another appearance as Ba’al, or more likely one of the clones that we met in “Ex Deus Machina”, and wearing a completely terrific jacket. Not sure about that turtleneck, though.

Stargate Atlantis 2.13 – Critical Mass

See, there’s a reason I’m supposed to get a screenshot right after we watch something together, even if I am lazy and don’t feel like writing anything. We watched “Critical Mass” three days ago, and I said to myself “there’s the pic for the blog post,” and then I forgot what it was. So here’s Jaime Ray Newman in her second, and, annoyingly, last appearance in the series as Lt. Cadman, along with Torri Higginson. We met her in “Duet” earlier in this season. I really would have liked it if they’d have kept her around as they did Kavan Smith’s character; it provides a nicer feel for the program when there are lots and lots of recognizable characters.

That said, MGM honestly did a really good job keeping recurring players around for precisely that reason, including three in this story I’ve never mentioned before. The plot concerns the Trust, that Earthbound conspiracy from SG-1 most recently seen in “Ex Deus Machina”, learning about the potential threats in the Pegasus Galaxy and planting a bomb in Atlantis. So apart from Bill Dow and Beau Bridges from SG-1 getting some screen time, there’s Agent Barrett, the NID guy who’s always discreetly crushing on Carter, and Dr. Novak, the hiccupping engineer on the flying battleship crew, and Cavanaugh, the ponytailed nerd who hates Weir and probably votes Republican while telling everybody he’s a Libertarian.

Actually, Cavanaugh’s kind of interesting because it’s so rare in this series – or really, I think, any action-adventure series with a big chain-of-command structure and a deep bench of recurring players – to have any character who is ostensibly one of the good guys who constantly tries to undermine the person in charge. I mean, you just can’t imagine anybody on the Enterprise writing formal complaints to the Federation ombudsman about Captain Kirk. It’s almost a shame that they made this character such a creepy, one-note stereotype. He’s probably publishing screeds about objectivity in gaming journalism when he’s not sending powerpoints to the SGC about all the times McKay was mean to him.

Favorite moment for our son: the episode is topped and tailed by Zelenka, who I’ve also never mentioned even though he’s in quite a lot of the episodes, leaving and returning from a mission that he did not want. Despite hating children, he had to go on a repair mission to the planet of all the kids back in season one, and they made a coloring book out of his face. He comes back all painted with his hair in woven knots and our boy laughed himself hoarse.

Stargate SG-1 9.13 – Ripple Effect

Once you get past the episode being written, in part, for the slowest possible member of the audience, they had a lot of fun making this parallel universe story. I’m sure anybody reading this was exposed to the concept at a very young age. We take it for granted now, at last, but when this was first shown 15 years ago, MGM must have figured that it’s just possible somebody tuning into the Sci-Fi Channel to watch this might just be a newbie, meaning poor Beau Bridges had to play General Landry as twelve steps behind everyone else while they catch him up. It does result in a funny line about the SGC becoming the Grand Central Station of the Multiverse, but really, he should have said “Okay, parallel universe scenario, Carter, get to work,” and saved a minute. With the constant references to older, similar weird situations in earlier episodes (including two non-faves), they should probably already have a code name for this and a battleplan laid out.

What they did with this story was playful and amusing and pretty smart, and brought back some familiar faces like Teryl Rotherty and J.R. Bourne, whose characters had died in our continuity, but with (at least) eighteen different SG-1 teams in the base, they really didn’t do nearly enough. Amanda Tapping has to deliver a gigantic load of technobabble, even for this show, and I swear they could have cut almost all of it to give us more silliness.

So there are all these new SG-1s at play, and we only meet two and glimpse a couple of others, apart from the Room Full of Sams, and that feels like a missed opportunity. By chance, we came to this episode the same weekend as Spider-Man: No Way Home, which doesn’t waste a minute with explanations of things the audience has understood for many years, but I thought that was also a missed opportunity. Only two guest universes? With Maguire and Garfield only mentioning characters we’d already seen? I wish both productions had gone a little bit bigger.