Last week, I wrote that this time around, I’m finding season eight not as good as I remembered, but I think it’s still very interesting from a production standpoint. At the time they were preparing these episodes for production in 2004 and deciding what stories to tell and when, everybody had agreed that this was the final year of SG-1 and they had to wrap up all the business with the System Lords and the Replicators and freedom for the Jaffa. This was all planned for the final five episodes of the show, and so it left them a little leeway to tell a couple of smaller tales and give some recurring characters one last curtain call. It also meant that they were gonna run out of money doing all the big things they wanted to do, which is why they needed yet another clip show for episode fifteen. Ah, well.
So this week, Harry Maybourne gets a last hurrah as we say goodbye to actor Tom McBeath and his amusingly slimy character. We last saw him back in season six, and since then, he’s found a new planet and a parlor trick in interpreting some Ancient writings – literally Ancient, though they have been there a long time – which foretell the future. He’s used this to become a wise and beloved king, and knows that SG-1 will show up to fight a new invasion by some old Goa’uld. What he doesn’t know and didn’t consider is how many of his subjects will die in the crossfire. The kid really liked this one, and was paying so close attention that he realized the hidden Ancient ship was an Atlantis puddle jumper before the grownups did. Then again, he’s much better at recognizing props and spaceships than he is actors and cars.
Okay, so a screencap of a briefly-seen hallucination of something that might have some big teeth is probably one of the more… let’s say eccentric choices I’ve made for a screencap for this blog. I guess that means the jerk who keeps pilfering my images for his classic TV blog will give this one a miss. But I picked it because, for the first time in a long time, something onscreen really got under our son’s skin, briefly, and gave him enough of a fright to send him hiding under a blanket. His much-loved security blanket stays in bed these days, but we have cozy and comfy light bamboo-fiber blankets on the couch, and one of these hallucinations was all he needed to hide his head from the others.
Anyway, I wonder whether “Hot Zone” was originally intended to immediately follow the two-parter “The Storm” and “The Eye”, because it deals with a damage assessment of the flooding. In one of the “suburbs,” a search party finds a previously unknown bio-lab and they let something out. The strange infection kills its victims in precisely the same time and in precisely the same way. In the way of these things, somebody refuses to shelter in place and insists on returning to the “city” so he can infect everybody. How prescient of the writers.
I don’t talk about the acting on Atlantis nearly enough. More precisely, I don’t talk about how good David Hewlett is. Faced with his imminent death, he gives a hell of a good farewell scene, perfectly balancing the character’s sadness that he didn’t accomplish all that he wanted with his hilarious, petulant selfishness. Everybody else in the series is really good as well, but I think everybody’s at their best when they are playing off Hewlett, especially Rainbow Sun Francks, who knows just how to poke holes in him.
Funny sort of synchronicity with today’s viewing. I pointed out that this morning, we saw Martians killed off by Earth bacteria, and this evening, we watched people from Earth get killed off by alien bacteria. I often call our boy “Baby Drax” because he can be so literal. He corrected me. “This wasn’t bacteria, Dad, it was nanobots!” Not the same at all, no…
So back when we first started watching Stargate, I said that the world of this series is “really chaste and sexless.” That’s why the introduction of Vala Mal Doran is like a long, long overdue atom bomb. The show had brought in several actors who were familiar to SF fans over the years, usually from the Star Trek franchise, but Stargate typically reserves its lighter touch for smaller stories without guest stars. Since the show is otherwise really serious and often quite heavy, that means that none of these familiar faces really got to let their hair down and have lots of fun. Claudia Black got to have fun. Vala is my favorite character in the whole franchise.
While Amanda Tapping and Christopher Judge were off filming the previous story, Michael Shanks got to team up with former cast member Don S. Davis for this one. General Hammond decides to command the Atlantis rescue or recovery mission himself, brings Daniel along, and the flying battleship gets hijacked by a space pirate. It begins with one of my favorite scenes from the whole series, where Daniel protests that he should go on the Atlantis for reasons x, y, and z, O’Neill says that he can’t, and Hammond, apparently oblivious to their argument, beautifully undermines O’Neill because he needs Daniel… for reasons x, y, and z.
But then Vala shows up and steals the ship out from under everybody. The beauty of this is that it feels like SG-1 just goes crashing into another series entirely. Before this, SG-1 only rarely hinted at a universe outside of worlds of Goa’uld control and human slaves. But Vala – while herself possibly a former host for a Goa’uld and old rival of a recent enemy, Camulus – is from a universe of pirates and illegal weapons trading and dodgy deals with weird aliens. Daniel takes the alias “Hans Olo” at one point just to drive it home.
And this universe is fun and it’s sexy. Vala initiates things talking dirty to throw him off his game, and their fighting/flirting is hilarious and hot. After he zats her, she wakes up in the battleship’s brig in crew coveralls, her stolen armor confiscated, complaining that she’s hungry. “You’ve seen me naked already, the least you can do is cook me dinner,” she protests. The best thing is that the show’s producers knew they were onto a winner with the character and brought her back. Late October? I suppose I can wait that long.
There’s a very cute bit of misdirection in this very fun episode of Atlantis. The heroes encounter these little light bugs who seem harmless enough, and later on, the chips are down and they’re in serious trouble with a Wraith who’s been hiding on this planet, hibernating and feeding on his own crew when their supplies ran out. The light bugs show up again, and suddenly they don’t just look like a resolution to the problem, they reminded us all of some very similar light bugs from back in SG-1‘s fourth season. Surely it wasn’t just us. Everybody was expecting these dots to turn into super-aggressive mosquitos and sting him to death, right? They don’t – there’s a much more explosive end in store for this jerk – but as our son put it, “I was expecting them to turn into a swarm of piranhas!”
One of my all-time favorite dumb visual effects in Doctor Who – yeah, yeah, it’s a long list – is in the first episode of “Mawdryn Undead”, in which the astral plane is depicted as looking like the opening of Tic Tac Dough. Here’s the Stargate equivalent, in which a subspace communication between two Replicators in different galaxies is conducted on the set of a music video by Bonnie Tyler.
Anyway, back when we started blogging about Stargate, I said that my rule of thumb was that seasons 1-2 were largely terrible, 3-5 were entertaining and competent, and 6-8 were all really excellent. I was wrong. Looking at these again, the show really peaked in years 5-6, and these two, while largely, again, entertaining and competent, have more than their share of duds and turkeys than I remember. Case in point: “Gemini,” which is so painfully obvious that if you don’t figure this one out, you must not have watched much TV since “Total Eclipse of the Heart” was in the charts.
So at the beginning of this season, we got a last-minute revelation that the Replicators’ unstable and immature leader had built himself a Samantha Carter doll to play with. Several months later, Replicarter contacts the SGC saying that she’s escaped from her abuser and wants to be destroyed, but of course, the humans can’t do anything that sensible, and before you can say “curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal,” a trap gets sprung.
The kid wasn’t impressed, I wasn’t impressed, Realcarter takes this all way too personally, and I’d say that at this point we’re just twiddling our thumbs waiting for things to really get moving and for the show to throw Replicarter and the Goa’uld at each other. But first we have to wrap up two other very old plot threads and introduce a really great new one. Looking forward to Saturday.
When we met the Genii in episode eight, I was saying how I ended the episode hoping somebody would give Colm Meaney’s character a good knuckle sandwich. Compare to the Trust over in SG-1, who are just a bunch of faceless nobodies, really. Meaney will appear again next season, but this is the last appearance for Erin Chambers’ character, who will be referenced a few times in the future.
But we get a great new villain this time out. Robert Davi, a good actor who’d played heavies and mob bosses all through the eighties and nineties before taking a lead role as a hero in NBC’s Profiler for four years, is actually quite perfectly cast as Commander Kolya, who leads a Genii strike force to seize Atlantis while it is badly short-staffed. A massive hurricane, which seems to form every twenty-ish years, is bearing down on the city. Once upon a time, its citizens would just power up the shields, but they don’t have power for the shields anymore, so they evacuate.
Most of this is an incredibly entertaining cat-and-mouse game and it includes a terrific moment that our son loved: Sheppard interrupts the Genii’s plan to call in reinforcements with a very clever trick. It’s the sort of thing that’s guaranteed to make a baddie want a second shot at you. Kolya will return a few more times. You can’t keep a good archenemy down. In fact, you shouldn’t try.
Strangely, I thought that our son would have enjoyed this episode a lot more than he did. It’s an all-action story with a wild mystery at the beginning, lots of gunfights, and Earth’s flying battleship. Unfortunately, it’s also so dense with continuity that even a patient and attentive kid like him could get lost. Doubly unfortunately, he also wasn’t paying attention to the “previously on” bit, because the thing that lost him was the subplot about a baddie from last season having a ship abandoned, cloaked, in orbit. He protested that they should have shown a clip. I put the DVD in to get the screencaps, showed him that it did, and he said “…oh.”
So this is a story where Earth’s Stargate is down, meaning that the new Alpha Site, which we visited two episodes previously, has to be used for Teal’c to learn who has been killing thousands of alien soldiers, both the ones loyal to the baddies and the rebels. Someone is using alien chemicals to start a chemical warfare attack on Ba’al’s planets. I thought this episode had everything short of some recurring characters and a high-profile guest star, with conspiracy stuff on Earth, the battleship, lots of alien soldiers, sneaking around on spaceships, but perhaps the kid is right and it was a little too dense with what has come before.
Unfortunately, the “you think you’ve gone home but you really haven’t” trope is one of those that fantasy and SF TV just can’t resist, so this one is a big ball of nothing. We saw this before on one of my least favorite Farscape episodes, although strangely I’m also reminded that the terrible nineties Land of the Lost did it and it was better than their average. Or maybe I just liked seeing the tyrannosaur in a suburb.
Anyway, the kid saw through this immediately because Don S. Davis is back in a guest role and General Hammond is in charge of the SGC. Garwin Sanford also gets to return as an imaginary version of Weir’s fiancé. There are Monty Python and Outer Limits references, and Sheppard’s deliberately over-the-top bachelor pad has a giant poster of Johnny Cash on the wall. Unfortunately this story gives away far too many clues that something’s wrong even if you hadn’t tuned in to the SG-1 that aired one hour before this and saw that General O’Neill is in charge of the SGC.
I think I’ve figured out our kid’s preferred tempo for an hour show. He really enjoyed “Sacrifices” a lot. It starts with some good comedy, details a problem that isn’t too complex, and builds to a very big on-location shootout. It helps that the shootout climaxes with the villain having an amusing reaction to his impending doom. This villain is Moloc, who we’ve heard about previously but never seen, and he realizes too late that a laser pointer sight on his chest is not some strange alien bug, but a “painting” for missiles to target. Our son does like it when the villains learn they’re “screwed.” Tsk. Where’d he learn language like that?
Anyway, “Sacrifices” is another episode scripted by actor Christopher Judge, and it brings back Teal’c’s space girlfriend Ishta, who we met last year in “Birthright”, along with Tony Amendola making another welcome return as Master Bra’tac. This time, her tribe of rebel warriors needs to be evacuated to a new planet when their cover is blown, and one of their number is getting married to Teal’c’s son. In three days. These rebels are stubborn; of course the wedding can’t be postponed.
Every once in a while, I remember something just perfectly and can pause at just the right point for a quick discussion. Just before the rehearsal falls apart, I figured we could have a little chat about how this ancient, ancient ceremony is so mired in sexism, and how Teal’c himself is still having trouble seeing Jaffa women – although not women from other cultures – as the equals of Jaffa men. We resumed just in time for the ceremony to fall apart, because the bride-to-be evidently didn’t look at the book beforehand and didn’t know there was a bit where she’s meant to kneel in respect to her husband. And the groom-to-be is every bit as outraged as you might fear.
I’d like to think that the meat is the good fight stuff, and it’s quite exciting and very well directed. Teal’c and Ishta and one other dude are cut off and outnumbered. It all turns out okay in the end, with Moloc dead, but interestingly, everybody who’s been urging caution before rising up and killing Moloc is proven correct. Within a couple of days, they get word that Ba’al, who is really overdue for an in-person appearance, has simply absorbed Moloc’s forces and grown more powerful. From this point, things are going to start moving very quickly offscreen. Seems amazing that we’re this close to the end of the Goa’uld arc.
This episode introduces another recurring enemy for the series: a bunch of military greedheads called the Genii, who pose as a small colony of simple farmers, but who actually have a massive underground city and are on the verge of perfecting their first atomic bomb. I like the reveal. It reminds me of the reveal of the Silurian city at the end of the Doctor Who story “The Hungry Earth” a few years later. Later on, they’re creeping around a dormant Wraith ship whose crew is still in hibernation. That reminded me of “Follow That Dinosaur” from Land of the Lost!
Various Genii will become semi-regular pests in the days to come, and this installment introduces us to two, played by Erin Chambers and Colm Meaney. He’s yet another Star Trek cast member to make his way to Canada for this series, and he’s quite entertaining. I really don’t know much about Meaney, but he always struck me as so incredibly likeable before he played this character. Pretty sure most viewers will end this one wanting to slug him, which is how a good villain should make you feel.
“Covenant” feels like Stargate SG-1‘s producers wanted to try something a little different and give a known guest star the spotlight, and make the story about a character played by a name the network could publicize. In the end, though, they went with Charles Shaughnessy, who doesn’t have a long list of Sci-Fi Channel-friendly credits, but who is really good in the role. It’s about an incredibly rich industrialist who has received proof from several sources, including a stunningly fun reveal at one of the commercial breaks, about alien involvement in Earth’s affairs. He’d have made a good ally for Fox Mulder. This guy knows the truth is out there and he wants everybody else to know as well.
It was another bomb for our son, however. This one was way too much about adult consequences. There’s business with the Securities and Exchange Commission and one character kills himself offscreen. I thought it was a good story that used existing continuity really well, as it reintroduced the journalist character who we met two seasons ago and provided a lot more information about the Earth-based conspiracy bad guys, the Trust, who we briefly met in the previous episode. Surprisingly, that’s because the Sci-Fi Channel ran these two in the wrong order; this one should have gone out seventh. I wonder why they didn’t correct that for the home media release.