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 8.18 – Threads

“Threads” is an extra-length episode that was originally broadcast in a 90-minute slot, and our kid really hated it. Their goal was to wrap up absolutely everything, all the outstanding continuity, clearing the decks for a big, fun two-part finale without all the weight of loose ends. This one even introduces a whole new loose end: O’Neill has been seeing a CIA agent named Kerry for a few weeks, but that gets wrapped up as well, so that he and Carter can finally begin a relationship. But wait, you say, wasn’t she engaged to Pete? The guy who’s been barely mentioned and not seen since “Affinity”? Yeah, she breaks off their engagement. And her father dies, so it’s farewell this time to both Carmen Argenziano and David DeLuise, making their final appearances in the series.

Okay, so technically O’Neill and Carter don’t actually formalize anything onscreen. Then there’s the fact that the series continued with occasional guest appearances from Richard Dean Anderson showing that his character does not actually retire from the USAF as it is strongly hinted here. But I’m pretty sure that “I can’t believe we didn’t do this years ago” is all the meat that fans of that ship needed. It works, offscreen, from here if you’re willing to let it.

Our son was very, very bored with this one. It’s all talking, with the action offscreen. On Earth, it’s deaths and breakups, in space, all the money for big battles needed to be spent in the next story, and then there’s the Astral Diner. Happily, mercifully, this story also mostly wraps up all the business with the higher planes of existence, and finally answers the problem posed two years previously why Oma Desala never stopped the supervillain Anubis.

But it’s all so dopey! Daniel is trapped in a diner whose appearance was pulled from his memories, and populated by Ascended Beings who ignore him while he and Oma Desala and a mysterious loudmouth argue about free will and death and good and evil and coffee. It all plays out precisely like those deeply bizarre tangents that Steve Gerber would write in 1970s Marvel comics like Man-Thing and Omega the Unknown, where you thought you were buying a comic with a monster or a superhero and you got people on roller coasters having a mid-life crisis and talking directly to the reader. That fine character actor George Dzundza plays the loudmouth in the diner, and his identity is a nice surprise, but I’ve said before that the higher plane of existence business has been the weakest thing about Stargate and they were determined to wrap it up as goofily as possible, weren’t they?

Stargate SG-1 8.16-17 – Reckoning (parts one and two)

So, the final five episodes of the series, or at least that’s what they planned. You might could read it as a three-parter followed by a two-parter, but I kind of see it as a pair of two-parters with a interesting loose-ends story between them. It begins with one of our favorite villains, Yu the Great, being killed, and ends with every Replicator in this galaxy wiped out, their threat finally destroyed. And in between, the Goa’uld Empire falls. Big event TV, in other words.

Naturally, Tony Amendola and Carmen Argenziano return for all the chaos, because it makes sense to bring back recurring players at a time like this. We also get a surprising guest star for the first three hours of this farewell tour: Isaac Hayes. Plus we get some explosions and other visuals from previous stories and the return of the great big stone prop from “Window of Opportunity” because that thing probably wasn’t cheap. Well, when you go bigger than the budget, you cut corners where you can!

It’s a shame to see Yu go, but my absolute favorite villain on this series, Cliff Simon’s Baal, just owns this one. These are among his worst days. Baal is inches away from complete domination over all the System Lords when the Replicators make their move and start wiping out his fleet. In the end, he’s still sneering but he has to form an alliance with the humans and the Tok’ra to stop the erector-set bugs from spreading everywhere. Simon is just a joy to watch. He’s like a volcano in this one.

All told, this is a very fun story. Hats off to everybody involved; they separated our heroes into four places of action and the stakes get higher and higher and things get worse and worse. Our son was in heaven. He was so excited by everything that happened in this one, with great dialogue to outer space visuals to lots of gunfire and explosions, paced just perfectly. It’s a really thrilling story, directed extremely well. You might could make the argument that it’s all sizzle and no steak, but that’s okay. It sizzles really nicely and we’ll get the steak next time.

Stargate SG-1 8.4 – Zero Hour

I think Richard Dean Anderson might’ve got more screen time in this episode than any five installments from season seven. He’s in the center of nearly every scene in this mostly in-the-base story about him dealing with the bureaucratic expectations of his position. Over the course of five days, everything that can go wrong does.

It starts out really, really amusing, but the minor and funny headaches quickly turn into massive ones. Among the many issues, Ba’al shows up as a hologram to announce that he’s captured SG-1 and will only trade them for his rival Camulus, who requested asylum two weeks ago, and Dr. Lee tries to deal with a plant that enjoys the artificial light of the SGC so much that it basically turns into a Krynoid. The best moment out of many very good ones: Ba’al, as bad guys do, asks “You dare mock me?!” and Jack replies “Ba’al, come on, you should know. Of course I dare mock you!” Good stuff, with a couple of really amusing twists.

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.

Stargate SG-1 6.6 – Abyss

“There wasn’t even one explosion in that,” our son grumbled. Kind of drives home how a nine year-old is definitely viewing the show through a very different lens right now. I am really enjoying this run of episodes all over again for all the character conflict and interesting production decisions – this one is definitely one of the cheapies – but he’s been dissatisfied since this season began, unfortunately.

Anyway, this is the first time we’ve seen Cliff Simon’s excellent villain Ba’al since he was introduced the year before, and also the first time since Simon’s tragic death in March. This is where he became my favorite of the show’s bad guys, a patient, ruthless, and incredibly intelligent opponent. Much of the story is a two-hander between Simon and Richard Dean Anderson…

…but the meat is the two-hander between Anderson and Michael Shanks, who makes a return visit this week as Ascended Daniel, coming back to our plane of existence to help Jack ascend, because there doesn’t seem to be any other way out of the trap he’s in. There’s such great chemistry between the actors, and there’s an amazing moment where Jack loses his temper, and he can’t keep up the sarcastic front any longer, letting the real and unpleasant Colonel O’Neill come to the surface. It’s great stuff.

As a very nitpicky aside, while I do enjoy this hour a great deal, they missed a trick by giving it (yet again) another forgettable title unrelated to anything that actually happens in it. Ba’al’s fortress has all these gravity traps within it, and Jack’s prison doesn’t need a door, because one little control knobs turns the far wall into the floor, with the door in the ceiling. Surely it should be titled “Oubliette.”

RIP Cliff Simon, 1962-2021

We read some other very sad news yesterday. Actor Cliff Simon, best known as the recurring villain Ba’al in the second half of Stargate SG-1, was killed this week in a kiteboarding accident in Malibu, Caifornia. Simon brought a malevolent and energetic sparkle to the character, and made him easily my favorite among all of the program’s many recurring villains. He did several other guest star parts on American TV and hosted Into the Unknown for the Travel Channel last year. Our condolences to his friends and family.

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…