Stargate SG-1 7.16 – Death Knell

I really admire the way this show is willing to do the opposite of tie up loose ends. It unravels them completely. As ever, there’s a lot going on offstage in SG-1. Over at the new Alpha Site, where the humans work with their two allied groups, they’ve been working on new weapons to deal with the indestructible Kull Warriors, who were introduced in the big midseason cliffhanger adventure. But as they established in a story in the previous season, the alliance is really tenuous because the two alien groups can’t trust each other. And then one of them reveals their location to Anubis, who sics two or more of the Kulls on them.

I like how they don’t tell us who’s to blame. Maybe some of the Jaffa who went on a recruiting drive were captured and talked, or maybe it was a Tok’ra spy who has a high-level position within the ranks of Anubis’s latest enemy. Whichever, nobody can get to the bottom of it and in the end, it doesn’t matter. Nobody wants to listen anymore, and the episode ends with the three forces going their separate ways. Carmen Argenziano’s character of Jacob has been around what feels like every three or four episodes for the last two seasons, but this is the last we’ll see of him for a year.

The kid was really not impressed with this one. I thought they did a good job balancing the negotiations on Earth with Sam trying to get away from the last Kull – it knows she has some of the Kull-killin’ prototype tech with her – as Jack and Teal’c try to find them. There’s great location filming, some tense situations, a few shootouts and a mammoth explosion, but it wasn’t enough. The unresolvable debates back at the base really weighed this story down for him and he tuned out. “I just don’t like everyone arguing and everybody unhappy,” he said. “Why can’t they all just get along?” You’d think that after all this time they’d agree.

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 7.3 – 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 6.19 – The Changeling

Hmmm. Think we may have found out why episode 17 was a clip show! “The Changeling,” which was written by one of the stars, Christopher Judge, features several recurring actors, Peter Williams, Michael Shanks, Tony Amendola, and Carmen Argenziano, multiple locations, including the same bridge that was later used in the first episode of Batwoman, where young Kate and Alice and their mother went into the river, and a whole passel of extras. True, they went a little light on the special effects and gunfights this week, but there’s just so much more going on in this episode than a typical one that it sure looks like they needed to cut a corner somewhere else.

A Doctor Who story that was made seven years after this episode, “Amy’s Choice”, had a somewhat similar premise of two competing realities, each of which seems like a dream to the people who wake up in the other one. Our son did not like that Who, and he didn’t like this either, struggling to come up with a tortuous analogy that understanding this was like holding on to a very high set of monkey bars with grease on the metal. The kid likes television better when he’s on surer footing.

Stargate SG-1 6.9 – Allegiances

This makes two in a row. This season’s finally looking up for our unsatisfied kid. “Allegiances” is a really good episode that rounds up three of the show’s recurring players, Tony Amendola, Carmen Argenziano, and Obi Ndefo, for a location-based story full of extras and lots of anger. The story reminds us that the humans and one bunch of their allies have been sharing an alpha site whose location is unknown to the villains. Suddenly, they have to provide refuge for another bunch of allies, but there’s very bad blood between these two gangs. Almost immediately, there’s sabotage and murder.

The kid suggested that it was a bit like a game of Clue as they tried to determine where everybody was at the time of the first killing. Then the fellow they were holding for it also turns up dead in his cell. Lots of location stuff, lots of fighting, lots of gunplay, big desperate situation in the end, and a villain everybody sincerely hopes they will never run into again. I enjoyed this one a lot, and I’m glad the kid did as well.

Stargate SG-1 6.3 – Descent

Another in a long line of Stargate stories where they have a big problem with some technology refusing to cooperate and a situation that just gets worse and worse. There’s lots to like about this one, apart from the bright, helpfully see-through ocean water, which is hardly a problem exclusive to this series, but the most interesting facet is Jonas completely freezing and blowing his first firefight. It’s a very good thing Jack was on another ship and didn’t see that. The character’s drive to do better in his next trial by fire ends up saving the day, which is admittedly kind of obvious, but it’s done quite well.

I was impressed that our son did some critical thinking about the situation. This time, the tech that’s about to go all kinds of wrong is an alien mothership parked at the farthest edge of Earth’s orbit, with no shields or engine power and no life signs aboard. I suggested that my first thought, as they gingerly approach it to see what’s up and what might be salvaged, was that it could well be full of Replicators. But our son said that wasn’t likely: their scan shows the hyperdrive engines are intact, and the Replicators would have either taken that apart or upgraded it immediately. That’s true! The kid got ahead of me, which is awesome.

Stargate SG-1 5.21 – Meridian

I have always been a little disappointed with last night’s long goodbye to two characters in Doctor Who, but that’s nothing compared to our son’s restless, exhausted, eye-rolling, face-hiding exasperation to this morning’s long goodbye to Daniel in Stargate. The episode begins with him already suffering from radiation poisoning. Michael Shanks gets a couple of flashbacks showing how he’d acted heroically and saved lives on the new planet they’ve visited, but otherwise he deteriorates and, eventually, the character dies, for now anyway. The kid was completely detached from this and didn’t want to bother with it at all.

“Meridian” introduces Corin Nemec as Jonas Quinn, a scientist from the new planet who will take over from Shanks in season six. Nemec spent some time in Atlanta as a teenager, and actually went to school with a couple of my good friends. Nemec got to be on the cover of the SG-1 Blu-ray set instead of Shanks, because the company that put it out used a photo of the season six cast. Doesn’t seem right, but it could’ve been worse, I guess. They could’ve used the cast of season ten instead.

Well, I like Jonas Quinn and I’m looking forward to revisiting the interesting new dynamic that his character brings to the show. The thing I don’t like is that this is where we really go full-bore into the whole business of the Ascended Beings, who were formerly the Ancients of our physical universe. The show has scratched at this before now, notably in the alternate timeline story “Absolute Power” in season four, but from now it’s going to be a major component of most of the ongoing storylines, with Daniel and Anubis and Oma Desala coming and going from physical forms to Ascended to Descended to hanging out in diners reading extraterrestrial newspapers. As I keep saying, the series gets consistently really good every week from about here on, but I’d like it even more without this stuff. (Didn’t Babylon 5 do the “beings of pure energy who left the physical world behind” business five or six years before this, anyway?)

Stargate SG-1 5.16 – Last Stand

Sadly, this episode is Morrigan’s second and final appearance. She gets maybe three lines across both parts. So why do I say sadly? Because the actress is freaking gorgeous and I love that outfit. She could’ve come back two or three times a year and I’d have been just fine with that.

Anyway, no, the second half of the story is not as good as the first half, because what seemed like a promising introduction to a bunch of new villains takes a distant back seat to Osiris dominating the story by telling the other seven System Lords that s/he’s joined the service of a villain so vile that all the assembled System Lords deposed him and banished him to a distant corner of the galaxy a thousand years ago. He’s called Anubis, and though he doesn’t show up in this story, a solid majority of this bunch votes to allow him back in. Anubis will become the dominant villain over the next three seasons, as the show becomes consistently solid and watchable every single week.

(Actually, the promising “Mardi Gras” of colorful villains takes such a distant back seat that one of them, Svarog, not only doesn’t get any lines but the actor is uncredited. Apparently, Stargate‘s fandom has not uncovered the identity of the actor who plays him. Somehow, it reminds me of that Batman episode with six master villains played in long-shot by stand-ins.)

This is the last onscreen appearance of Kevin Durand’s character Zipacna, although he’ll be mentioned from time to time after this. Courtenay J. Stevens makes a last appearance this week as well, since he gets killed off along with a huge swath of the humans’ allies the Tok’ra. If all this wasn’t bad enough, Anubis sends word that just because there’s a treaty between Earth and the System Lords keeping the planet off-limits, Anubis is not a System Lord – yet – and is not bound by it. Yeesh.

I enjoyed this story overall because of the dense world-building and the huge blows that the heroes take. Our son was less taken with it, since just about all the action and the shooting was in part one. It’s a downbeat story, as the series really needs from time to time, but I think this one ended on such a low note that he rolled his eyes and curled his lips. “It had a few good moments,” he shrugged.

Stargate SG-1 5.15 – Summit

First things first: “Summit” features the first appearance of Cliff Simon as a new recurring villain, Ba’al, and he is freaking fantastic. He is by far my favorite of this show’s many enemies. If they gave me the reins of Doctor Who tomorrow, I wouldn’t use the Master very much at all, but I’d offer the part to Cliff Simon. Ba’al is malevolent and smart and has a cunning that far outstrips the blunt-object idolatry of the System Lords, and Simon is completely amazing in the role. There’s another Goa’uld that I also like quite a lot, but we won’t meet him for quite some time, and he’s still no Ba’al.

“Summit” is a major episode in developing the System Lords. Three of the villains we’ve met before – Yu, Osiris, and Zipacna – are all reintroduced, and we meet five others, who are mostly one-offs*, and everybody’s getting together because somebody’s been wiping out their armies. So Vince Crestejo, who we haven’t seen in more than two years, is back, along with Anna-Louise Plowman and Kevin Durand. There are lots more speaking parts in this story than we normally see. Coordinating everybody’s schedule for this one must have been a joy.

Another reason I really enjoy this one and its follow-up: the heroes get themselves well and truly thrashed. While Daniel is infiltrating the System Lords’ summit with our old pal Jacob, Zipacna leads his armies against the Tok’ra. We saw the humans’ powerful allies the Tollan wiped out earlier this year, and now the Tok’ra are decimated. Even more surprising: just two episodes ago, we met Courtenay J. Stevens’ character of Lt. Elliot, newly assigned to SG-17. They all get killed as well. Elliot’s going to survive into part two, barely, but could this situation possibly get any worse? Tune in tomorrow night…

Stargate SG-1 4.22 & 5.1 – Exodus / Enemies

This afternoon and this evening, we watched the split season finale / season premiere of Stargate SG-1‘s fourth and fifth seasons, originally shown in February and June 2001. The first part’s not bad. It features Teal’c trying to get even with his old enemy Tanith, who we met earlier in the season. Tanith escapes – it’s set up in a line of dialogue in the second half and it unfolds a few episodes down the line – not long after what looks like the real problem shows up.

So our old enemy Apophis arrives with his entire fleet to wipe out Earth’s allies, the Tok’ra, once and for all. But he’s walked into a great big trap, unlikely and “ambitious,” and part one of the story ends with his fleet completely wiped out. Part two takes the story into an entirely different galaxy – it’s unlikely, but we’re playing with hyperdrives and supernovae, so we’ll run with it – and Apophis suddenly has a great big problem. His bunch of alien baddies have never met the Replicators before, and suddenly the whole notion of him being a god falls down around his big dumb ears.

When we watched the previous story, “Double Jeopardy”, I made sure to point out that the Goa’uld have no imagination and no interest in new technology. The Replicators don’t care about anything else but new technology. Guess who’s going to come out on top?

So no, part one’s not bad, but part two is a completely entertaining and delightful spectacle. The Replicators have only been seen once before, but bringing them back and turning them into implacable Goa’uld killers is a great idea, and it’s revealed so casually. The director of this episode gives the audience a little glimpse of an erector-set leg and then calmly shows off the writers’ masterstroke.

But honestly, the hour is really the actors running around the spaceship set having gunfights without a lot of heart to it. It’s entertaining but hollow, except for Peter Williams’ performance as Apophis. I’ve grumbled about the quality of the villains on this show before and won’t indulge again, because Williams has often been much better than the limitations of his character. And he completely shines here. Apophis doesn’t get to go down in a blaze of glory, his master scheme doesn’t come this close to succeeding, and he doesn’t even get a final standoff against our heroes. Instead, he is completely out of his element, has no idea whatsoever how to get out of this mess, and I just love this scene where Apophis looks around his new throne room and realizes just how screwed he is. In the end, Apophis dies like a chump. It’s a beautiful, beautiful thing.

So the final tally at this point is that Apophis has killed Sokar and Heru’ur, and SG-1 has killed Ra, Hathor, Seth, Cronus, and Apophis. Lotsa villains down for the count, but Anubis is right around the corner…

That’s all from SG-1 for now. We cycle things in and out to keep things fresh, but we’ll pick back up with season five in about three weeks. Stay tuned!