Stargate SG-1 6.13 – Sight Unseen

Every once in a while, the episode of the show that you’re watching does a hard swerve about halfway through. I like “Sight Unseen” for the neat way it does this. Our heroes bring home some very ancient tech from a long abandoned planet, and slowly but surely everybody in the base starts seeing really big and remarkably ugly, albeit intangible and harmless, insects. They pass through walls and the ones with legs can walk on tables and sit on the windshields of cars, but nobody can touch them. They are, however, really big bugs, and surprising enough to give anybody the shock of their lives, and then people in the nearby town of Colorado Springs start seeing them as well.

So this is the sort of problem that the government has a solution ready to deploy: there was a chemical leak causing hallucinations. Happily, Sam and Jonas find a solution in record time and reverse the alien artifact’s effects, but one guy got through the military cordon, and the farther he travels, the more people will start seeing the bugs and the longer it will take to painlessly get the effects reversed.

The manhunt is played very, very cautiously because the guy is a well-meaning but very, very paranoid Gulf War vet, who came home with a severe case of PTSD and believes that he was experimented on in the Gulf. It’s a neat trick, because the alien bug business is played very broadly, with a few scenes that our son found incredibly entertaining, but once they get that under control, the remainder of the story requires sensitivity and tact, and for Colonel O’Neill to handle the situation with considerably more human diplomacy than he usually demonstrates in across-the-table negotiations on other planets, like the most recent one. I like that the character can show far more empathy with a troubled vet than blowhards on other planet, and admits that the intangible bugs are alien.

It ends with everything relaxed enough for the writers to engage in a delightful in-joke at Richard Dean Anderson’s expense. As I mentioned when we were watching some of MacGyver, that show did pretty well for ABC, but it was never honestly a hit. In the 1986-87 season, it often ranked third in its timeslot against CBS’s successful Monday comedies and, disgracefully, ALF on NBC. (“The Wish Child”, for example, pulled a 13.1 rating against ALF‘s 15.6. Source.) The vet mentions “ALF, you know, on TV, the puppet?” and O’Neill simply replies “Never saw it.”

Stargate SG-1 6.12 – Unnatural Selection

So last time, our heroes get a great big flying battleship – amusingly, O’Neill wants to call it the Enterprise, but is told no – and this time, we meet the next stage of the Replicators’ evolution: human-form versions, led by the actor Ian Buchanan, who some of us might recognize from Twin Peaks, but millions more probably recognize from the many years he spent on the daytime soap The Bold and the Beautiful. As I was saying last time about the flying battleship, I can’t swear this is a development I really wanted to see, but grudgingly, I have to admit it has interesting payoffs in Atlantis down the road.

Why don’t I like it? I like the erector-set bug Replicators because they don’t follow the sci-fi baddie template. There can’t be any appeals to the humanity in things that cannot talk, they just destroy, consume, and grow. To this episode’s credit, they don’t go down that road, probably because our heroes already know it would be pointless. Instead, they find a chink in the armor, and O’Neill immediately exploits it, which is a very good and very correct use of his character.

The kid was thrilled and excited by this one, and even deduced that the episode’s title has to do with the Replicators’ wrong-headed evolution. He really seems to love last-minute escapes. The flying battleship – which can launch from a planet’s surface remarkably quickly – takes off with seconds to spare and he just about snapped in half from clenching his fists in excitement.

Stargate SG-1 6.11 – Prometheus

Over dinner, we talked about suspension of disbelief and leaps of faith. That’s because in tonight’s episode, we learn that the Stargate Program, which has so far developed two failed fighter jets that have been jerry-rigged, poorly, for prototype space travel, has had much greater success building a whacking big space battleship / star destroyer thing. They try smoothing this over with some dialogue that explains this has actually been in the works for a quarter-century and only sped up thanks to the alien tech that Earth now has, but it’s still incredibly, massively unlikely, and you just have to go with it because this series and Atlantis are going to lean a lot on this USS Enterprise business going forward.

Well, I may wish that they waited a little longer – like, another quarter-century of development time – before introducing this kind of massive change to the narrative, but I don’t think you can fault the actual production, which isn’t bad at all. The only thing I think was disappointing was that they kind of unceremoniously killed off John de Lancie’s entertaining recurring character when I wish that they did a lot more with him. It’s got lots of Major Carter being incredibly resourceful and it’s very nicely directed, and General Hammond gets the sort of national security-protecting moment that makes him a villain in my “truth is out there” eyes but a hero to this world, which is always at least a little amusing.

The kid was incredibly pleased. Earth has a big spaceship now! What’s not to like?

Stargate SG-1 6.10 – Cure

It’s another bomb for our son this week; he couldn’t stand this one. “Cure” brings our heroes, and eventually some of their allies, to a world whose tech is a few years behind Earth’s, but they’ve got a miracle drug that they synthesize from a Goa’uld Queen that they found decades previously, and on whom they’ve been experimenting mercilessly. Over time, the drug’s proving to have some nasty side effects and these people need help.

I think the problem, dramatically, is that almost all the important decisions in this story were actually made a very long time ago. Each revelation isn’t over something new in the plot, it’s a newly-discovered wrinkle in the backstory. As such, nobody really does anything to move the story along or push it in a new direction. All the actors have lines, but they don’t have anything to do. The moral and ethical questions are interesting, but if our heroes had waited about four months to visit, the problem would have resolved itself without them.

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 6.8 – The Other Guys

Once upon a time, among the cats in her household, my sweetie had two particular standouts. One was always rushing headfirst into trouble, guaranteed to find it. On one occasion, he came back from some outdoor play slightly wounded, with teeth marks around his shoulders as though he had put his entire head into a larger animal’s mouth. His brother was not quite that reckless. He was a little chubby and a little nervous. He knew he was being led into mischief but couldn’t do much of anything to stop it. The cats were inseparable and their names, of course, were Felger and Coombs.

I knew that our son would adore “The Other Guys” and I wasn’t wrong. This is one of Stargate‘s masterpieces, and it would be a standout in any program, but it’s Richard Dean Anderson who turns this into one of the show’s four or five best hours. Colonel O’Neill simply can’t believe that these idiots – civilian scientists doing research at a long-abandoned alien site – have followed them on an undercover mission, and he gets increasingly exasperated as it goes on. (Anderson had years of practice dealing with Jack on MacGyver, and I enjoyed finding similarities in his performance here.) It turns into absurdity instantly, and every time Felger and Coombs try to behave and stay out of trouble, the situation spirals further out of control and they have no choice to dig further in.

Felger is played by Patrick McKenna and Coombs by Jay Billingsley, and they may be overeducated idiots who can’t stop arguing about Star Trek, but they’re so wonderfully human and funny. They’re here to show everybody in the audience with a silly fantasy about going into action with SG-1 that no, that would really be a terrible idea. I love how even after watching sixty-eleven space aliens on Trek, Felger’s “Jaffa” voice sounds precisely like that of a man who is squeaking “please don’t kill me” between every word.

It all ends triumphantly, even if Felger doesn’t quite get the girl like he hoped he would. Was the whole event a fantasy? Felger gets a second appearance in season seven that suggests that what happens here was not entirely a product of his fanboy imagination. That’s good; even if some of it was misplaced here, there should always be room for daydreamers.

Stargate SG-1 6.7 – Shadow Play

“What I want to see is crazy adventure, not a bunch of people talking in a room,” our son grumbled. I’d mentioned before that this season really, really isn’t doing it for him, and here’s the hour that’s annoyed him the most so far. It makes me wonder whether the move from Showtime to the Sci-Fi Channel didn’t come with some serious production and budget issues for Stargate SG-1 initially. In time, we’ll get back to grandiose action set pieces and lots of sci-fi ships and explosions and big mobs of extras, but there’s been a conspicuous lack of these for the first seven weeks, along with an hour that didn’t even have the show’s star in it, plus the next episode sidelines all the regulars to focus on other characters.

For what it’s worth, I think these first two months of season six have featured some really good and really intelligent scripts, and the grownups can’t wait for the next episode, which is a firm favorite. Wondering whether they had to start running before the money caught up doesn’t mean these installments are at all bad, just that they don’t get the nine year-old’s seal of approval.
Anyway, clearly the Sci-Fi Channel saw that at least one of the show’s regular tricks at Showtime was worth continuing: hire a guest star from another popular SF program with an active fan base. This time, it’s Dean Stockwell from Quantum Leap, playing an old professor of Jonas’s who gets involved when Jonas’s countrymen ask to reestablish diplomatic relations with Earth.

There’s interesting wheeling and dealing and a fascinating sense of perspective. Earth suddenly gets thrust into the same situation that their since-annihilated allies, the Tollan, were in, because Jonas’s people, from the nation of Kelowna (on the conveniently-named planet of Kelowna), need assistance against two aggressive other countries. Kelowna’s tech is decades behind Earth’s, but they have access to a very useful and very powerful radioactive isotope that nobody else in the universe seems to know about. But Earth has bad experience interfering between the affairs of warring nations; they bring up the events of season four’s “Other Side” to drive that point home.

It’s a great moral argument, and it’s played well, the morals are fascinating, and Stockwell’s character has a secret that could really change the negotiations… but our son is, in the end, correct. It’s a bunch of people talking in a room. Things’ll brighten up for him, though, I’m sure.

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.”

Stargate SG-1 6.5 – Nightwalkers

Last night, I was talking about recognizable filming locations, and tonight, three-fourths of the Stargate team went out to Steveson, a popular neighborhood of Richmond, British Columbia, to make an X Files episode. That show had filmed here on the same main street a couple of times in its first season, nine years previously, just to nail the point home. I’m sure the regular customers of Dave’s Fish and Chips and the Kisamos Taverna got as much of a smile seeing their favorite restaurants onscreen as I do seeing the Krog Street Tunnel.

Unfortunately, “Nightwalkers” is all style and no substance, with very strange plot holes. While they did a good job conveying the paranoia and quiet menace of a good X Files, this investigation of a small town where a Man Who Knows Too Much has vanished looks like it was built around set pieces – oh, we need to have a bit where the heroes nearly get into a bar fight with alien-controlled locals – before they figured out what the plot was, because there’s no reason for those aliens to have been hanging out in that bar. If these cloned alien symbiotes know as much as they know about the secret human intelligence services like the NID, then surely they know who Major Carter is, since she was involved with the events that spawned them in the previous season’s “Desperate Measures”. Actually, the kid spotted that before I did. That’s not the first time he’s found a plot hole in this show that I missed.

Stargate SG-1 6.4 – Frozen

And then there was that time the costume department phoned up The North Face and ordered for a wardrobe full of winter wear and The North Face said “Heck, you can have it all for free as long as you show the logo in just about every shot.”

I liked “Frozen” more than the rest of the family, in part because it subverts expectations a little bit. In Antarctica, scientists exploring the site of the second gate have unearthed a body, which, in the way of these things, is somehow still alive. The kid knew where this was going; he’s seen it a time or three in Doctor Who. But as much as it would be amusing for them to have unearthed an Ice Warrior or a Krynoid, or James Arness, who inspired them both, they dig up something creepier: a virus that’s carried by a mysterious and very quiet woman played by actress Ona Grauer.

Our son grumbled this wasn’t one he’d want to rewatch, and I can see why, but the eerie tone and off-kilter pace work very well for me at least. I enjoyed this one because it has a strange and slow feeling, without the frantic danger that typifies the show. And we were able to draw a curious parallel from the frozen intruder carrying a lethal virus without showing any symptoms to what we’ve been dealing with in the last year with the pandemic. The story ends with way more questions than it answers, and sets up the next couple of episodes so they could film them with some of the cast on Earth and others on a different planet.

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.