Still doing virtual reality episodes in 2005? This one has a pretty good premise, though: our heroes find a long-lost ship used by the Ancients more than 10,000 years ago. Its crew are all in stasis pods and don’t know that they’re in a constant virtual environment loop while their bodies have been slowly aging away and are past the point where they can be revived safely. Sheppard and McKay get some good, healthy jabs at each other after the events of “Trinity”, and our son was amused by Teyla demonstrating that she has overheard enough technobabble to stall on McKay’s behalf. Not an outstanding hour, but it’s simple and entertaining.
Like I noted with the last episode of Atlantis that we watched, I’ve enjoyed pointing out where MGM and the network looked for some notable stars from other SF TV shows for guest parts. “Babylon” marks the first of two appearances by William B. Davis as Damaris, one of the Priors of the Ori. Davis, of course, was the Cigarette Smoking Man in The X Files along with sixty-eleven other things. By every account a heck of a nice man in real life, onscreen he’s the perfect choice for a really creepy old dude. He doesn’t really do much in this appearance, though. Just the sight of him is enough to know that things are lousy.
Our son was fascinated by the community in this story and grumbled that they didn’t spend even more time on it, despite much of the episode – what felt like the whole story – being centered around it. Our heroes go in search of a legendary group of Jaffa called the Sodan who freed themselves from slavery five thousand years ago and live in an isolated village protected by Ancient tech. As is common with television tradition-and-honor-before-common sense warriors, there’s a bit of samurai code to them. The Sodan are led by a tough guy played by the great Tony Todd, who we saw in a Xena episode last year, but he’s falling sway to the Prior’s silver tongue and is about ready to throw away all that tradition and honor for the Ori’s hocus pocus. Mitchell’s able to get through to one of the Sodan. We’ll see later in the season it does not go well for the rest of them.
I like how MGM and the Sci-Fi Channel were always looking to cast actors from fantasy and SF TV shows, mainly the Treks and Farscape, to wring a little publicity from them and try to get a few thousand more viewers to stay home on Friday evenings and give Stargate a try. And so one day in August 2005, a few thousand people who enjoyed watching Firefly on DVD, probably more than the ones who watched it when it was first broadcast, tuned in to see actress Jewel Staite looking not a darn thing like Kaylee.
I kid, I kid, and for all I know, the Sci-Fi Channel didn’t say a word about Staite being in this episode, but it amuses me to imagine somebody in their promotion team seeing shots of Staite in her Wraith makeup and realizing that everybody who fell in love with Kaylee in her pink frilly “Shindig” dress would be getting something very different here.
Anyway, this is not as much a two-parter as it is a case of everything that happens in “Instinct” fueling the events of the next episode. Part one is a splendid horror movie where a monster in the woods attacks the people of a small village three or four times a year, and it turns out a young female Wraith who was adopted as an infant refugee is living in an old mine shaft by a fledgling scientists who says that it cannot be the girl; he has developed a chemical that stops her from needing to feed on humans. But it turns out he’s wrong, everything gets worse, and she infects Sheppard, who, in part two, starts mutating himself, so everybody needs to find a cure. This half is mainly studio-bound and doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before, although there is an interesting callback to the previous season’s “Thirty-Eight Minutes” as well as the two most obvious Redshirts who ever Redshirted. They might as well have named the two characters “Expendable” and “Lucky.”
“Ex Deus Machina” begins with a fabulous cold open. We see a Jaffa soldier running through a dark forest, and naturally assume that we’re on some alien planet somewhere. Then he gets hit by a Nissan Pathfinder or something. He’s on Earth!
The bigger surprise is that the Trust is still active. They were last seen midway through the previous season, and now we’re back for more tales of extraterrestrial conspiracy. This feels very strange in relation to what’s happened since. There’s been all the massive wrapping things up that brought season eight to an end, then all the new normal and the Ori and Priors this year, never mind all the huge events happening on Atlantis, and suddenly our heroes are again working with government agents from the back of surveillance trucks, getting gossip in diners, and spying on limousines with binoculars.
And it’s not just great because – hooray! – Cliff Simon is back because Ba’al has decided to come live on Earth and has picked up a pretty blonde girlfriend. Given the choice of having the conspiracy be the new big bads or the Ori, I’m sorry, but the fellows in suits win every time. The kid really enjoyed this one, from all the twists to a big shootout in an office cube farm to Cam hearing a description of the ruffians blowing up cubicles and remarking “It’s either Jaffa or KISS is back on tour.”
Our kid figured correctly that he’d enjoy this episode. It begins with the discovery of dozens of wrecked ships in space, debris from a battle waged above a planet ten thousand years before. Beneath it is a superweapon that does not work correctly, a power source that could change everything, and all the fuel that Rodney McKay’s ego needs to start making terrible mistakes. Eventually the weapon starts firing again, but it can’t be shut down, and it ends with a big bang, satisfying our son completely.
Although this is the main plot of the episode, it’s by no means the more interesting of the two, which is curious because I don’t remember this installment at all. Obviously some things are going to fall out of my crowded and occasionally broken brain, like entire recurring characters in SG-1, to make room for critical things like all the random appearances by British character actors in ITC shows, but this story reveals a very important point about Ronon’s character that I got wrong when I wrote about him earlier this month. He’s not the last survivor of his planet, Sateda, although there’s one fewer before this episode ends. There are ex-military and civilians scattered around the Pegasus Galaxy, and at least one story down the line revolves around this in a major way.
I honestly didn’t remember a thing about any of the Satedans, which is just fine. It was extremely entertaining watching Ronon and Teyla’s subplot unfold and not have a clue where it was going. Just like the first time!
Of course, the big thing from a continuity perspective about “Beachhead” is that Amanda Tapping rejoins the cast starting with this episode. It’s also the Ori’s first attempt to build a gigantic “supergate” in space, through which they can fly an armada. So of course our son loved this one to pieces, because it’s a really special effects-heavy piece with lots of gunplay and hundred mile-wide explosions and planet-crushing force fields. Louis Gossett Jr. returns as Gerak, and at one point one of Earth’s flying battleships is raining missiles down on the planet alongside three of his big pyramid battle cruisers, and I can imagine our kid jerry-rigging some Lego constructions to recreate it.
It’s also goodbye – for now – for Claudia Black as Vala Mal Doran, but she’ll be back before too long. And happily, we meet a really great new villain. Nerus is a minor System Lord played by Maury Chaykin and he is so incredibly fun. He’s apparently a very clever technician who came up with all sorts of advancements while in the service of one powerful Goa’uld or another, and he knows on what side his bread’s buttered, because he figures getting in the Ori’s good graces is the right move. So he promises the stars with his intel, in exchange for a gigantic meal that might make Chaykin’s best-known character, Nero Wolfe, proud, planning, of course, to stab everybody in the back, because he’s a Goa’uld and that’s what they do.
Before he gets marched to his cell in Area 51, Nerus gets to enjoy chicken for the first time and thinks it’s completely amazing. Our son couldn’t help but comment that Nerus should try it fried. I’m glad that Nerus enjoyed the chicken, because there probably isn’t any saucisse minuit or anchovy fritters where he’s going.
Don’t feel like typing much tonight. “Condemned” is a fine episode, and it’s the first one where Ronon goes off as part of Sheppard’s away team. They find another technologically advanced planet which has made a deal with the devil. The Stargate on this world is on a big island, and they decided that’s where they’ll dump all of their civilization’s dangerous criminals. That way the Wraith will periodically cull the small population near the gate and leave the rest of them alone. This is one of those stories where nothing goes right for anybody, and it’s pretty entertaining watching the situation get worse and worse.
Summing up this episode once it was over, our son said that he wasn’t sure what to think of it, beyond not liking the Ori and their Priors, especially since this story has shown, as Marie put it, “they’re here to play hardball.” So this builds on the earlier installments this season, but also lets Daniel get a good point in that won’t be explained for a few more weeks. We don’t know why the Ori are so obsessed with converting new worshippers. (The truth is ugly and also explains why they have to kill non-believers. More on that in episodes 10-11, I think.)
So this clown, who we met earlier this season and was since made into a Prior, has a deeply ugly scheme to convert a poverty-stricken planet. He infects everybody with a nasty disease – possibly the same one that SG-1 dug out of Antarctic ice in season six – and only cures them once the people beg for his help. Earth medicine won’t work, and neither will those handy-dandy Goa’uld healing devices the show’s always had around, so it’s accept Origin or die.
There’s a little more to this story that’s a lot more entertaining. The poverty-stricken planet is one that Vala ruled for many years when she was host to the System Lord Qetesh. But Vala being Vala, once the System Lord symbiote had been removed by some of Earth’s allies four years ago, Vala kept up the charade, for treasures and massages, although to her small credit, she did at least stop the mass executions. Something I really like here is that this series has shown us humans being tried for the crimes of their symbiote villains a couple of times before. This time, Daniel objects that Vala should only be held responsible for what she did in the last four years, and the locals, happily, immediately agree, saving a lot of time. Not that she wasn’t a completely indefensible jerk four the last four years, but let’s make sure we’re trying the right villain, you know?
“Duet” belongs to a long tradition of Stargate episodes where alien tech goes wrong and actors get to stretch a little while they’ve been bodyswapped or deaged or, in this case, had other people’s consciousness dropped in their body like a time-share. Previous SG-1 examples include “Legacy” and “Fragile Balance”. This time, David Hewlett gets to stretch and pretend he’s a mischievous woman who enjoys working out before bed and sleeping nude, then waking up as himself, very embarrassed and very, very sore.
The story’s very funny and has some great moments, not least of which is McKay’s date with a botanist, during which he manages to have two Cyrano wingmen to assist him. We all enjoyed it, but I do think they missed a little opportunity. We could have enjoyed this episode even more if we knew who the other consciousness in McKay’s brain was. This is Jaime Ray Newman’s first appearance as Lt. Laura Caldwell. If we had gotten to know the character first, then David Hewlett’s impersonation would surely have been even funnier. Weirdly, Caldwell only appears in the show just one more time, although she’s featured in quite a few of the companion novels, and gets both a detailed backstory and an eventual promotion to captain.
If the previous three episodes of SG-1 were heavy to the point of being ponderous, here’s the lovely “Ties That Bind” to give audiences a breather. This one is a hilarious caper story in reverse. Of course we all loved it. The kid laughed like a hyena throughout it. Is this among the best SG-1 adventures? Absolutely. It should have been as silly and fun as this every week.
Not long before visiting Earth, Vala had pulled a series of swaps, steals, and scams, and now they have to retrace her steps to get some information, which one person won’t divulge without x, which is now in the hands of a man who wants y, which is unavailable without first obtaining z, which is in the hands of those two barely competent, shoot-first traders we met last season. Beautifully, one key link in this mess is played by the great Wallace Shawn, who is tired, resigned, defeated, gullible, and still heartbroken after Vala left him. It’s not a large part, but I don’t think anybody could have played it as well. The casting director must have danced on the ceiling when he agreed.
A big transition episode, “Runner” was mostly filmed on location in a forest that serves as a planet with a badly depleted ozone layer and dangerous solar radiation. This is the last appearance for original cast member Rainbow Sun Francks for a little while. He’ll appear just twice more this season. His place in Atlantis’s military hierarchy is filled by an interesting choice: Kavan Smith as Major Evan Lorne. This is a character we actually met before, briefly, in a nice bit of continuity. He was introduced in the season seven SG-1 story “Enemy Mine” about two years previously.
But the big addition is, of course, future heartthrob Jason Momoa as Ronon Dex, who’ll be a regular cast member through the end of the series. I think that his planet may have been the most technologically advanced in the Pegasus galaxy, meaning that it was the biggest threat to the Wraith. He may be the only survivor. He kind of fills the position on the team that Wolverine does in the X-Men: the fighter who gets results by ignoring orders. Of the two, I kind of like Lorne a little better because anybody who has to deal with Dr. McKay’s mouth has my sympathy, but Ronon is fun, too. A few years later, when I read that Momoa had been cast as Aquaman, I said that was the most interesting thing that has ever happened to Aquaman. I’ve never actually seen Momoa in the role, because I’m still not interested in Aquaman, but I can believe he’s pretty entertaining as the character.