Stargate SG-1 7.13 – Grace

On the plus side, I really like the attention to continuity and detail. Earth’s flying battleship, last seen toward the end of season six in “Memento”, has been stuck on an alien planet having its engines overhauled and repaired. They haven’t cut corners or sped things up for teevee time. It’s been grounded there for the better part of an entire year. And I also really like that they gave Amanda Tapping a dedicated hour. She’s the only person onscreen for most of the running time, thanks to a weird accident, a concussion, a strange gas cloud, and a never-identified hostile gang of aliens.

There are a couple of scenes back at the base with everybody worried, but most of the dialogue comes from Carter having short conversations with hallucinations of her teammates and her dad, and that’s where we get into what I don’t like: men telling the show’s female lead that she needs to think about finding some love in her life at last. Y’all boys shut your mouths and let our Carter reverse-engineer some quantum hyperdrive dilithium propulsion-plasma housing Kryptonite electrons and reverse the polarity of the neutron flow. And speaking of technobabble and dilithium, I was quite right to think that this felt like the sort of thing they’d do on Star Trek. According to the Stargate Fandom Wiki, both Voyager and Enterprise did episodes where one of the crewmembers wakes up alone on their ship stuck in a gas cloud and starts hallucinating the rest of the cast!

Mind you, I still think they should’ve brought back that gang of aliens in the great big ship…

Stargate SG-1 7.11-12 – Evolution (parts one and two)

After several entertaining one-offs, SG-1 reached a big midseason split with this epic two-parter. The first half was shown in August 2003, the second almost five months later in January 2004. It brings back three of the recurring good guys, played by Tony Amendola, Carmen Argenziano, and Bill Dow, introduces Enrico Colantoni as an old black ops buddy of Jack’s, and gives Anubis a new army of unthinking zombie-like drones in indestructible armor called Kull Warriors.

Like I was mentioning when the season started, the show has perfected keeping two big set pieces going on, so while half of our heroes are sneaking around an enemy base, the other half is dealing with an unexpectedly real-world problem on Earth. Looking into the origins of the Kulls, Daniel unfurls a plot thread that goes back four seasons, to his grandfather’s research into alien skullduggery with the Mayans. So he and Dr. Lee head off to Honduras to find a secret temple, and are kidnapped by anti-Honduran terrorists who have a camp in Nicaragua.

I thought this was a really good adventure, and interestingly it ends with three of our heroes having had the daylights knocked out of them and bound for a few weeks off the active duty roster. Our son liked it a lot, too, and we talked a little bit afterward about zombie lore. We also paused midway though the story to discuss what black ops are, because it suddenly struck me that the show’s occasionally mentioned O’Neill’s background a time or two and he had no idea what that meant. Maybe one day we’ll show him some Mission: Impossible, even if nobody’s hands really get dirty in that program’s fanciful kind of black ops.

Stargate SG-1 7.10 – Birthright

And then there was that time that actor Christopher Judge, who had written a couple of pretty good episodes already – most recently “The Changeling” in season six – decided that his character needed a space girlfriend. So he wrote another pretty good episode and passed it along with the hopes that actress Jolene Blalock, who had a regular part in Star Trek: Enterprise, might be available to play Ishta. Judge, you sly devil, you.

I tease, but this is another pretty good episode from Judge, who clearly worked out a lot of the backstory of Teal’c’s people, and how they can one day – and that day’s coming soon – be free from their oppressors. A big chunk of that is getting the Jaffa free from hosting symbiotes, which their physiology demands from puberty, the result of centuries of genetic engineering. Teal’c and his mentor have been taking an experimental drug instead of a symbiote, and now they meet a new group, Ishta’s gang of rebels, who need new symbiotes for the children in their ranks. The humans want to give these rebels the option of the drug, but isn’t that just trading subservience to the alien baddies for reliance on a drug from Earth? How can they be sure humanity can be trusted, or even that the drug will work long-term when their kids need it now?

I think it’s a fascinating moral dilemma and it’s a very nicely-directed story with lots of location filming, but unfortunately our son was not very impressed. He said he couldn’t really connect with the problem and didn’t understand it much. Plus, there are lots of scenes with Judge and Blalock quietly talking about their dead lovers and letting go of things past. He’s been around the block enough times to know this sort of talk leads to smooching.

Stargate SG-1 7.9 – Avenger 2.0

Tonight’s episode is a follow-up to the delightful “Other Guys” from season six. It’s set mostly in the base, and most of the regular cast other than Tapping and Davis have very small appearances. Patrick McKenna is back as the big dreamer Dr. Felger. Unfortunately, Coombs isn’t with him for this one, but it’s an amusing premise: Felger’s theory that he can send a virus to knock out Stargates on other planets has a very unexpected side effect: the gates transmit the new information to each other, and, within hours, the entire network – apart from Earth – has been shut down.

While it’s not as funny as “The Other Guys,” there’s still a lot to like here. O’Neill isn’t in this episode much, but he manages to be entertainingly rude to Felger in each of his scenes, and you can’t help but root for the poor guy. He may not have a lick of common sense and writes a lot of checks that he can’t cash, but he really does try. This would sadly be Felger’s last appearance, which meant that we never got the chance to see him get on Rodney McKay’s bad side in Atlantis. That could have been hilarious.

Stargate SG-1 7.8 – Space Race

“Space Race” is among the most off-kilter and unusual episodes of the Stargate franchise. It follows up the events of “Forsaken” from the previous season and reintroduces us to the Serrakin, who share a planet with humans and have technology centuries in advance of Earth. And instead of the standard alien invasion / massive technological problem, it’s a lighthearted show about an annual racing event with spaceships.

I think you could make the case that this installment leans a bit too hard on the tropes of auto racing movies, from plucky outsiders whose talk of winning the big race exceeds everybody’s expectations of them to another racer with a big attitude and a loud mouth to the inevitable sabotage the night before the event. And it is a little too much to have the TV commentary done by a couple of vapid knuckleheads acting just like the bozos on our planet. But it’s entertaining if you put your brain in neutral, and there are winks where they’re needed, which probably would have been more obvious on the original broadcast in 2003 than on home media. It’s a little hard to tell because of the way the home editions are edited to appear as though there were never any ad breaks, but each time the vapid knuckleheads close out their commentary to go into an ad, it’s with an extra promotional message for one of the kajillion products from the race’s sponsor. I appreciate the teeth.

Stargate SG-1 7.7 – Enemy Mine

This morning’s episode is a splendid one done mostly on location, with Richard Dean Anderson only present for a portion of it. During seasons seven and eight, he really started reducing his Stargate obligations. His father passed away during the production of the previous episode, and he eventually decided to move back to Los Angeles to spend more time with his daughter. Amanda Tapping didn’t join the location shoot at all, and Steven Williams, returning for a short visit as General Vidrine, is also present in studio only. But we do get a new character, Kavan Smith as Major Evan Lorne. He’ll show up again in a couple of years in Atlantis‘s second season, where he’ll become a recurring player.

And speaking of recurring, this episode features the return of Chaka, last seen two years previously. I guess they couldn’t have done an episode with the Unas in season six, when Daniel wasn’t around, because nobody other than Daniel can be bothered to learn their language and customs. The plot this time is that an SGC mining operation on a planet thought to be abandoned and uninhabited, after three months of limited results, hits paydirt when they encroach on the territory of what turns out to be a very, very large tribe of Unas.

So a lot of this episode is Michael Shanks talking in a made-up language as he and Chaka, who agreed to come help and meet Unas from another world, negotiate the humans’ right to be here, meaning we’ve seen this before in seasons four and five. But it’s given an extra frisson and urgency because the Pentagon wants these resources at any cost, and this tribe isn’t going to budge without a lot of bloodshed. Fascinatingly, it’s revealed that the military’s flying battleship is still parked on the planet where it went down last season, which is a great little added detail!

While some of this story feels like business as usual, it’s still a treat to see unfold, it comes to an unexpected climax, and we all enjoyed it very much. Sadly, the character of Chaka isn’t used again after this one. As with the previous episode, though, I feel like there’s a really good story that must start up after the credits roll. The new peace on this planet to get the mining going seems like a fragile one, which is going to occupy a great deal of Daniel’s time for a few weeks, and part of me just wants to see the USAF personnel taking language classes and trading Earth trinkets, chocolate bars, and lighters with the Unas.

Stargate SG-1 7.6 – Lifeboat

“Lifeboat” is a fine example of the way that the demands and requirements of an action-adventure teevee show sometimes get in the way of the good stuff. The sci-fi material is interesting, even if it seems like it was all designed to give Michael Shanks a lot more to chew on than he usually got to do on this series, and I think it’s another fine example of a continuity-free hour from this period of the program. But I’m so much more interested in what happened next. Like the previous episode, it ends with a massive refugee crisis that Stargate Command will get to sort out, and it suddenly struck me that everything that follows the end credits would be incredibly interesting to see.

Somewhere around a thousand survivors of this ark ship are going to wake up from cryosleep to learn the ship crashed, they’re nowhere near where they were meant to go, and Earth’s got to find a new planet for them to start over with extremely limited resources. How do they decide on a new planet? Does Earth help with food and supplies and building material? Do we get to have a new treaty with the government that takes over after their sovereign meets his weird fate? I bet there’s a fun story there, albeit not necessarily one that would work in a conventional TV hour. It’d be a much more interesting frame story for the next clip show than what they usually come up with, though!

Stargate SG-1 7.5 – Revisions

This episode’s guest star is a remarkably interesting location: the shuttered Fantasy Garden World park, a quasi-medieval village underneath a castle. It was mostly closed down by the early 2000s and its few rides removed, and was occasionally used as a filming location for Vancouver-based TV series and, I understand, some music videos. Remarkably, this was the first time that Stargate ever found a reason to use this site, but Atlantis would stop by once or twice a bit later on. Visually, the hour is a complete treat, since the director found all sorts of reasons to keep the camera moving around and through the twisty little avenues and streets.

Storywise, it’s also really entertaining. The little town is in a biodome in an otherwise hostile environment. A few centuries previously, the residents retreated into this protected world as the rest of their planet became toxic. Fortunately, it’s just half an hour’s walk – with a hazmat suit – from the Stargate, otherwise things would have gone very differently. The thousand-plus residents are all connected by a “link” they wear on their faces to a central computer, but it looks like the computer can make changes to the population’s needs without letting anybody know what it’s up to. I wouldn’t say the story is radically original or weird, but it does present our heroes with an extremely interesting problem: how can they convince the residents that there is a problem when the computer can wipe their memories of any reason to think a problem exists? It’s a genuinely well-done hour, and a nice break from all the ongoing continuity that informs most of the episodes at this point in the show.

Stargate SG-1 7.4 – Orpheus

I enjoyed this one, though I have to admit it feels a little long waiting for the good guys to finally get the rescue going in the third act. Most of the time, the Stargate universe doesn’t do as good a job as this one does emphasizing the time between adventures. This one recounts the events of “The Changeling” in the previous season, and explains that shortly after that story, two of our heroes’ allies were captured on a mission behind enemy lines. They’ve been in a prison camp for months, awaiting rescue, and Teal’c, recovering from an injury on duty, doesn’t feel like he is strong enough to be part of the team.

Anyway, our son enjoyed this one, particularly the anticipation of the big finale when O’Neill decides they’re going to take out an under-construction mother ship. Tony Amendola and Obi Ndefo are back, giving more definition to the ongoing storyline of the baddies’ troopers building into a rebel army. It’s a good story overall, though I confess the mischievous side of me had the most fun with a short scene where Sam tells Daniel about a very silly film that he missed while he was away: M. Night Shyamalan’s dopey sci-fi movie Signs.

Stargate SG-1 7.3 – Fragile Balance

I’d have thought that week three of a new season might have been a bit early for a comedy episode without the star actor for most of the runtime, but I suppose it worked out just fine. That’s in large part thanks to the really, really good impersonation of Richard Dean Anderson by Michael Welch. Then just sixteen years old and already with three dozen credits behind him, Welch has grown into one of those “oh yeah, that guy” actors with more than a hundred parts, and his impression of Colonel Jack O’Neill is downright uncanny for a teenager to have pulled off. Since the whole production rested on his shoulders, it looks from a distance more like a gamble than a comedy break, but darned if it doesn’t pay off.

This one isn’t a time travel episode, surprisingly. A rogue scientist from one of Earth’s allied races decided to borrow O’Neill for experimentation – there’s an in-universe reason, but it’s lengthy – and left behind a clone with memories intact for the week that he needs him, but a flaw left the clone stuck as a teenager. This results in a whole bunch of continuity references to similarly unlikely sci-fi stuff happening in the series, including why Jack’s in no hurry to go into stasis again while the Tok’ra figure this out. Teen Jack also gets to remind Carter that he is still her superior officer and shouldn’t be called “kind of cute,” and then retreat to the base guest quarters and grumble in front of his Playstation.

Admittedly, it does get a little strained at times – O’Neill is surely smart enough to know that without even an attempt at a fake ID, nobody is going to sell him any beer – but the comedy is appropriate for the situation and our son really enjoyed this one. He liked it better when it was just being funny and before they figured out what was going on, but I think we can call it a win.

Stargate SG-1 7.2 – Homecoming

As I’ve mentioned often enough, I really, really enjoy seasons six through eight of Stargate SG-1 a whole lot. One reason is that they’ve got the execution down to a science. They’ve figured out that the show needs a whole lot more than creeping around the enemy motherships looking for a way out, because we’ve done that enough back in the first few years and we need something different. “Homecoming” balances all that stuff quite expertly with some negotiations with other villains and a heck of an interesting story about what’s happening on the planet below.

Anubis’s mind probe from the previous episode has brought him to Jonas’s home planet in search of the super-rare MacGuffin “naquadriah.” So while Jonas and Daniel are creeping around on the enemy mothership, Anubis’s forces occupy the capital city, Kelowna, which we first visited back in season five. The three power blocs on the planet still can’t get their crap together even when a city-sized spaceship is parked right above the skyscrapers. Our son loved that visual, by the way, and not only because the special effects team made it look so good, but because he’s a silly ten year-old kid and it amused him to imagine the skyscrapers puncturing the big spaceship and it deflating like a balloon.

Even more interestingly, they’re doing something downright different with the System Lords. Again, this is something I’ve mentioned often, but the baddies are typically very, very run of the mill and have just the one note: they all do the same thing. But last time, Yu the Great withdrew his forces and sped to another part of the galaxy. That’s because, as his First Prime quietly confesses to Teal’c, his master is getting increasingly ill. Yu is deteriorating mentally; he has aged out of the ability to take a new host and his mind is going. He thought he was supposed to battle Anubis thousands of light years away.

Interestingly, Vince Crestejo isn’t in this episode; it’s explained that Yu spends so much time in his sarcophagus attempting to heal that he’s trusting decisions to his First Prime, who doesn’t know what to do anymore. So he and Teal’c strike a deal with Ba’al to come take down Anubis. And this works really, really wonderfully: it leaves the audience on a knife’s edge, wondering whether Ba’al is going to end up betraying everybody as well.

So it all ends okay in the end. Anubis meets another huge setback, Ba’al amasses new power, the big jerk Commander Hale from Kelowna betrays everyone and gets killed for his efforts. It works out great for everybody except poor old Corin Nemec. The life of an actor is tough and full of things getting moved around by producers and studios that leave people thanking you for your time. Michael Shanks left the program after five years, and then there were some real world behind-the-scenes negotiations, and now he’s back with one of those slightly more prestigious “and the actor as the character” credits, meaning there’s not room in the show for Jonas Quinn anymore. So it’s a shame to see Corin Nemec go for now – he’ll return for a guest shot about halfway through the season – and an even bigger shame that they couldn’t find a role for him on Atlantis the following year. I still wonder why that never happened.