Stargate SG-1 9.8 – Babylon

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.

Stargate SG-1 9.7 – Ex Deus Machina

“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.”

Stargate SG-1 9.6 – Beachhead

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.

Stargate SG-1 9.5 – The Powers That Be

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?

Stargate SG-1 9.4 – The Ties That Bind

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.

Stargate SG-1 9.3 – Origin

“Origin” is effectively the third part of a three-parter, and it goes into detail about the new bunch of big bads, the Ori and their superpowered human Priors. Our son got a little grouchy about these guys and the convert-or-die policy of their religion. The Priors believe that humans have free will, and would naturally use that freedom to freely worship. Otherwise, they have been corrupted by evil and must be destroyed. And there lies the structural flaw with having this kind of a villain. Their sort shows up in the real world enough as it is, and it’s always depressing and annoying. I really wish they’d have come up with some interesting and challenging additional threats rather than just the religious bores.

On the other hand, our son did enjoy the really fast pace and exciting resolution to this story. And there’s an interesting observation about why this is absolutely the worst possible time for religious fanatics to start a crusade. Our heroes’ allies, the Jaffa, have only just been freed from generations of enslavement to the false gods, the Goa’uld. It’s only natural that charlatans and opportunists would try to step into the power vacuum. It’s just our bad luck that these particular opportunists can back it up. Oh, and our kid enjoyed a great little Buckaroo Banzai reference as Mitchell exchanges meaningless phrases with a Prior. He probably enjoyed the reference more than he did the movie, to be honest.

Joining the recurring cast this time, we’ve got two new faces. Julian Sands makes the first of three appearances as the Doci, the leader of the Priors. Surprised there were so few; I wrongly remembered that he’s in more. Plus there’s Louis Gossett Jr., a powerful leader among the Jaffa who is going to show up in four of the next eight episodes as the big political machinations of Teal’c’s people rumbles in the show’s background. The actors will briefly get some screen time together in the big midseason finale, which I remember as being really stunning. I’m looking forward to that.

Stargate SG-1 9.1-2 – Avalon (parts one and two)

So with season nine of SG-1, they had to move on from Richard Dean Anderson, who appears, briefly, to pass the torch, and, at least initially, from Amanda Tapping, who also makes a short cameo. This story is also the final appearance of Obi Ndefo as one of our heroes’ allies in space. But there’s a pile of new faces, including Ben Browder as the new action lead, Cam Mitchell, Beau Bridges as General Landry, and Lexa Doig as Landry’s daughter, the new chief medical officer at Stargate Command. Cam has to put the team back together because even though the System Lords were defeated, there’s still a lot more exploring that needs doing.

I don’t like season nine as much as I’d hoped because the new baddies this year are so dull that they make me miss the System Lords. For all their conceptual faults, they were at least played by a variety of interesting actors and had colorful costumes. Occasionally they’d get to let a fun, malevolent personality shine through. The Ori and their Priors are overpowered, joyless, old dudes with AARP cards. At least one that I remember we get to will be played by an actor everybody likes, but these guys are out to conquer the universe taking as little pleasure from the experience as possible.

So thank God, basically, that Claudia Black gets to return for a six-week engagement while Amanda Tapping was on maternity leave. I think the producers rewatched her performance in last year’s “Prometheus Unbound” and decided that since she was going to steal the show for six weeks anyway, they’d just give her all the best lines and let Vala be as flirtatious, fun, and obnoxious as possible. Season nine will suffer a little after she leaves, because as much as everybody likes Ben Browder, he doesn’t have that lightness of touch that Richard Dean Anderson brought to make this show relaxed and light. Claudia Black gets the job of keeping the viewers smiling while the situation gets dark. Is Vala my favorite character in the show? By a mile. And we’ll meet my second favorite alien villain in a few weeks, too!

Doctor Who 7.3 – A Town Called Mercy

At the end of last year, we watched all of The Mandalorian, enjoying it thoroughly. I gave our son a crash course in what spaghetti westerns were, so he could understand that it worked for us grownups on a slightly different level than him, and I was glad to see that he retained it. Tonight, the grownups briefly commiserated about what a disappointing story this is, but to its credit, it looks completely amazing. I told the kid that it was shot in Spain, where various studios keep standing “small desert town” backlots for filming. “So it’s a spaghetti western!” he said, and I was pleased that he remembered that. On the other hand, he didn’t recognize guest star Ben Browder despite watching thirty-odd episodes of Farscape. Of course, he disliked most of them. He loved this to pieces at least. Shame they haven’t made a Gunslinger action figure to help out his Doctors deal with their enemies on his bedroom floor.

Farscape 2.11-13 – Look at the Princess (parts one-three)

So midway through its second season, Farscape had a big, complex epic storyline about court intrigue on an advanced planet with very fragile relations with powerful neighbors in its part of the cosmos. It is the sort of precarious situation that this gang of misfits is certain to make worse, and do they ever. “Look at the Princess” is tremendously fun, piling one completely bizarre complication on top of each other, while depicting one of the most truly alien civilizations we’ve ever run into. This gang may look like us, but they’ve used their tech to come up with downright wild and outre solutions to the problems of ensuring peaceful dynastic succession.

Along the way, we get involved with double agents and triple agents and brutal solutions to internal politics, acid baths and old enemies. Our son was pleased by the acid bath and far less pleased with the return of Wayne Pygram as Scorpius. Unfortunately, a big brawl in the acid bath room, where Scorpius, D’Argo, and John join forces to take down a big mean alien agent with disintegration breath, was literally the only thing in these three hours that our son enjoyed, but I thought the whole thing was great.

It certainly wasn’t flawless – I think I’d have preferred it if they just gave Virginia Hey a couple of weeks vacation rather than distract from the court intrigue with her storyline, which doesn’t really go anywhere – and the alien city suffers from what I call “the Peladon problem” after a planet used a couple of times in Doctor Who. It never gels as a genuine environment, with no sense of spatial continuity between the rooms and gardens that we see. But it’s still a very, very good story, and a fine point to end on.

This is our blog’s last trip to the world of Farscape, although I certainly plan to continue with the show myself. The kid just simply does not enjoy this show anywhere as much as I hoped, although he has had a ball with some of the sillier installments. Reading ahead, it seems like the show takes a much more adult edge from about this point forward, so this is a good place to retire things. For the old romantics in the audience, I think I ended on a beautifully high note. John and Aeryn use an odd little “compatibility” drink that the civilization uses to quietly acknowledge to the audience – although not to each other – that they really can make things work as a couple if they can just stop being stupid to each other. Claudia Black smiled and my heart melted, and the kid missed it, because their testing smooch had him hiding under a blanket.

Farscape 2.9 – Out of Their Minds

“You are mentally damaged.”

So the bodyswap episode is as old as the hills, but sometimes the classics work. This one’s completely hilarious, and we all laughed all the way through it. So naturally I choose to illustrate it with a picture of Zhaan and one of the alien baddies, who don’t get bodyswapped.

The kid absolutely hated the first three we watched this season and really loved the next three. Good. I was starting to worry.