Stargate SG-1 9.10-11 – The Fourth Horseman (parts one and two)

Our son doesn’t normally rank what we’ve watched on a scale of ten, but he said that he gave this one a four, and that sounds about right. It’s the big midseason cliffhanger, shown in September 2005 and January 2006, and they pulled in many of the recurring actors for appearances as the Ori and their Priors launch a plague attack on Earth. But it is talk, talk, and more talk, with padding around this one character, played by a twelve year-old, that almost had me falling asleep.

Don S. Davis and Tony Amendola are back for the big event, as they often are, and we say goodbye to Louis Gossett Jr. and William S. Davis, who make their final appearances here as their characters are killed off. Part one ends with the downbeat cliffhanger that Gossett’s character has joined the baddies. Later, Teal’c convinces him he made the wrong choice, and the Ori kill him for it. Weirdly – and I mean very, very weirdly – Julian Sands makes another appearance as the villain who turns Gossett, and he gets a big “guest starring” credit, but it’s only repurposed footage from his previous appearance. Heck of an agent the man has for his repeats to get a new special credit.

But while the narrative is disappointing with all its talk and padding, I do think that it’s still interesting to watch Earth’s media and governments start panicking about a virus that ends up killing about 3000 people. That’s not a small number, but with COVID’s omicron variant picking up, it looks like the sort of ugly result we’d just wish for today. And it seems to bring this season’s running subplot about the Jaffa learning to govern themselves without interference from some so-called god or other to a close.

In fact, it does a very good job making most of these eleven episodes feel like an ongoing narrative, with the plague introduced in episode five, the planet with Tony Todd and his samurai-like warriors from episode eight, and resolution to the ongoing family issues between General Landry and his daughter. It even brings back the character played by Sean Patrick Flanery in a godawful episode that we skipped back in season five, now played by a much, much younger actor. But as interesting as the writing is, and tying all these things together, it certainly isn’t very fun.

Stargate SG-1 8.19-20 – Moebius (parts one and two)

I’m telling you good people, you can lead a kid straight up to a reference, but you cannot make him recognize it.

I told him when we watched “Time and Punishment” to remember the ending. I asked him last month if he remembered how it concluded with Homer Simpson shrugging “Eh, close enough.” In an alternate timeline shown in this SG-1 two-parter – intended as the series finale – the retired Jack O’Neill runs fishing charters from a boat named Homer, written in that program’s font. I told him between episodes to watch for another big Simpsons reference, to keep it in the back of his mind. And even in a story where Carter says that traveling back in time is a terrible idea because she might step on the wrong bug – Bill Potts knew better – the show closes with a repeat of the end of episode 18, only time has been changed, and there are, at long last, fish in Jack’s pond.

“Eh, close enough,” Jack says. And the kid didn’t connect the dots.

And she’s so kind, I think she wants to tell me something,
But she knows that its much better if I get it for myself
– Dar Williams

Anyway, the kid completely loved this one, obviously. It’s really, really fun, and has several great gags. Full credit to the show’s producers for deciding to go out with something light and silly and clever and ridiculous. It’s a great time travel story, where our heroes make the deeply dumb decision to go back 5000 years and retrieve a ZPM – that’s the macguffin that they badly need over in Atlantis – from its last known location. This creates an alternate timeline where Ra, the villain from the original film, abandoned Earth as he originally did, but this time, he takes the Stargate away with him. But SG-1 left a camcorder and tape behind, sealed in a canopic jar, to tell the new future how to fix things, and a very unlikely bunch have to somehow come together to do it.

While the last several episodes of the show had given final bows to many of the recurring characters and close out their storyline, this one gets to revel in the past, and bring Don S. Davis out of retirement, and Peter Williams back to play Apophis again. Even Jay Acovone returns as Kawalsky, who originally died way back in episode two. About the only old face who doesn’t return is Jaye Davidson as Ra, which wouldn’t have been all that likely, I suppose.

We’ll get to the surprise renewal of SG-1 in a couple of weeks, and how the producers had to scramble to put the band back together when Richard Dean Anderson really called it quits, and Amanda Tapping was not available for several months since she decided to take advantage of the program ending to have a baby. Season eight honestly was not as consistently good as I remembered it this time around, but the last five episodes gave the series a solid finale, and this two-parter a downright great ending. I’d say it’s almost a shame it didn’t really end here, except that I like some of what’s coming next quite a lot.

Stargate SG-1 8.12 – Prometheus Unbound

So back when we first started watching Stargate, I said that the world of this series is “really chaste and sexless.” That’s why the introduction of Vala Mal Doran is like a long, long overdue atom bomb. The show had brought in several actors who were familiar to SF fans over the years, usually from the Star Trek franchise, but Stargate typically reserves its lighter touch for smaller stories without guest stars. Since the show is otherwise really serious and often quite heavy, that means that none of these familiar faces really got to let their hair down and have lots of fun. Claudia Black got to have fun. Vala is my favorite character in the whole franchise.

While Amanda Tapping and Christopher Judge were off filming the previous story, Michael Shanks got to team up with former cast member Don S. Davis for this one. General Hammond decides to command the Atlantis rescue or recovery mission himself, brings Daniel along, and the flying battleship gets hijacked by a space pirate. It begins with one of my favorite scenes from the whole series, where Daniel protests that he should go on the Atlantis for reasons x, y, and z, O’Neill says that he can’t, and Hammond, apparently oblivious to their argument, beautifully undermines O’Neill because he needs Daniel… for reasons x, y, and z.

But then Vala shows up and steals the ship out from under everybody. The beauty of this is that it feels like SG-1 just goes crashing into another series entirely. Before this, SG-1 only rarely hinted at a universe outside of worlds of Goa’uld control and human slaves. But Vala – while herself possibly a former host for a Goa’uld and old rival of a recent enemy, Camulus – is from a universe of pirates and illegal weapons trading and dodgy deals with weird aliens. Daniel takes the alias “Hans Olo” at one point just to drive it home.

And this universe is fun and it’s sexy. Vala initiates things talking dirty to throw him off his game, and their fighting/flirting is hilarious and hot. After he zats her, she wakes up in the battleship’s brig in crew coveralls, her stolen armor confiscated, complaining that she’s hungry. “You’ve seen me naked already, the least you can do is cook me dinner,” she protests. The best thing is that the show’s producers knew they were onto a winner with the character and brought her back. Late October? I suppose I can wait that long.

Stargate Atlantis 1.9 – Home

Unfortunately, the “you think you’ve gone home but you really haven’t” trope is one of those that fantasy and SF TV just can’t resist, so this one is a big ball of nothing. We saw this before on one of my least favorite Farscape episodes, although strangely I’m also reminded that the terrible nineties Land of the Lost did it and it was better than their average. Or maybe I just liked seeing the tyrannosaur in a suburb.

Anyway, the kid saw through this immediately because Don S. Davis is back in a guest role and General Hammond is in charge of the SGC. Garwin Sanford also gets to return as an imaginary version of Weir’s fiancĂ©. There are Monty Python and Outer Limits references, and Sheppard’s deliberately over-the-top bachelor pad has a giant poster of Johnny Cash on the wall. Unfortunately this story gives away far too many clues that something’s wrong even if you hadn’t tuned in to the SG-1 that aired one hour before this and saw that General O’Neill is in charge of the SGC.

Stargate SG-1 7.21-22 – Lost City (parts one and two)

The existing sources for information about Stargate, while scattered, feel fascinating but a little incomplete to me. I think that the story of everything that happened between 2003-04 to bring this phase of SG-1‘s production to and end and launch Stargate Atlantis is incredibly neat and full of stops and starts and course changes, and I really would like to read a thorough and deep dive into things like we can enjoy with the production of classic Doctor Who. It seemed for a time that SG-1 would end in March 2004, to be replaced by Atlantis. When SG-1 was renewed, I think a few people were very surprised, especially since they were going to have to find new things for both Richard Dean Anderson and Don S. Davis to do, as both actors were ready to move on from their regular commitments.

And of course, they needed to end the threat of the Big Bad, Anubis, and set up Atlantis, and resolve the story of Ronny Cox’s recurring irritant, Robert Kinsey, and introduce a new character who would become one of the major players of Atlantis, and here, they decided that they’d unfortunately moved ahead with the wrong actress for the role. But remarkably, none of this messiness is onscreen in “Lost City.” The show feels confident and relaxed and it looks like it’s going to go out in style. The first hour has some slow moments of very nice character interplay, especially with the gang just sitting around Jack’s house drinking Guinness, and the second is just on fire with action and desperate situations as Anubis attacks Earth.

So joining Cox in this story, it’s Jessica Steen as Dr. Elizabeth Weir. She would be recast before moving on, just one of those little weird things that feels to me – with no real evidence, I admit – like it happens in television to women more than men. At least Steen got two episodes aired. The original actresses who were cast as Sarah Jane Smith, Emma Peel, and Kathryn Janeway didn’t. Tough business. (Well, okay, there’s Marty McFly.)

There are really only two things in this story I don’t like. First, there’s a traitor who’s so obviously going to betray Teal’c and Bra’tac that he might as well be wearing a “Bad Guy” T-shirt. And second, well, we skipped the clip show that preceded this, but it did have a frame story that introduces William Devane as the new US president, and briefly brings back Robert Picardo as Woolsey, who explains to him that Robert Kinsey can’t be trusted. The new president actually fires VP Kinsey, which… would be a stunning development in the world of this show. Okay, so technically it isn’t “fired” so much as “blackmailed to resign.” Still, I know we’ve got four more hours of setup and new characters and enemies to meet to launch season eight and start up Atlantis, but I really want to read the Atlantic and the Huffington Post of this show’s Washington instead.

Stargate SG-1 7.17-18 – Heroes (parts one and two)

“Heroes” is astonishing. It’s a masterpiece. It’s the one that was nominated for a Hugo – it lost to a Battlestar Galactica – and I love it for lots of reasons. The main one is that Saul Rubinek is on fire in this story. He plays a documentarian who the lame duck president has commissioned to tell the story of Stargate Command for the day down the line that it becomes public. Nobody at the SGC wants to cooperate with him. They are all bent on keeping secrets.

In part one, Rubinek’s character is used as a foil for the other characters, and a odd-feeling frame story back at the base while another unit, SG-13, has an adventure. This unit is commanded by a colonel played by Adam Baldwin, who we all remember from Firefly the previous season. But in part one, they fall into trouble, and the episode ends with three other units heading out to rescue them. Part one was entertaining, but part two is next-level. It starts with Rubinek, once again kept from filming anything interesting, absolutely tearing into the base personnel for getting in his way. Secret military stuff is the way of Mao and Stalin.

As I’ve mentioned about Stargate previously, they totally had this coming. The only thing I’ll complain about the scene is that Rubinek gets to have a career-high shouting match about the truth and the public right to know against a bunch of extras who can only respond with silence. Would love to have had that scene played out in General Hammond’s office.

But this is still a brilliant episode for Hammond. Don S. Davis gets a fantastic new antagonist when Star Trek‘s Robert Picardo stops by for what was intended as a one-off appearance as another civilian oversight obstacle, but everybody liked Picardo and his character, Woolsey, so much that he’ll be back quite frequently. Picardo and Davis go at it in a blindingly good scene built around the death of one of the base personnel, and the show masterfully makes the audience think that it’s Jack O’Neill who died.

I know this misdirection couldn’t have worked with us as well as it did the audience that night in 2004. It was an open secret that Richard Dean Anderson was ready to retire and move back to Los Angeles, where he was already living part-time again; his absence from every peripheral corridor scene and gag is, despite the best possible efforts of the production crew, incredibly noticeable. Hence O’Neill getting injured, getting alien viruses, getting completely sick of squabbling diplomats and just leaving. At the time this was shown, audiences knew that the spinoff, Stargate Atlantis, was in development and was anticipated to debut in the fall. What they didn’t know was whether SG-1 was coming back, but if it did, it would be reasonable to expect that Anderson wouldn’t be rejoining the show.

Obviously, it wasn’t Anderson’s character who dies. But the show spends twenty minutes making us believe that he was killed in action before giving us the brutal gut-punch that it was Teryl Rotherty’s character of Dr. Fraiser, who’d been a solid and important part of the show for about 120 of the previous 149 episodes, who died in the ambush. Brutal doesn’t cover it; the way it’s revealed to the audience is downright cruel. It’s amazing, amazing television, and there’s nothing left but to rail against the unfairness of it.

Our son really didn’t like it, unsurprisingly. But I was pleasantly surprised that he was not bored; he was just unhappy. This is an hour that puts audiences through the ringer and doesn’t give much light to them. He didn’t want to talk about it, he didn’t want to remember it, he just wanted away from it. “I know you didn’t like it, but did it make you sad?” I asked.

“I really don’t like it when shows make me sad,” he replied, and went to the kitchen for a cookie.

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 7.15 – Chimera

This is the episode that introduces David DeLuise as Pete, Sam’s boyfriend. You get so used to the fellows in this show having space girlfriends that Pete being a cop from Denver seems so bizarre. Sam took all the hallucinations of the fellows from a couple of episodes ago to heart and had her brother fix her up with somebody. She’s so in like with him when this one starts that she starts humming the program’s theme tune. We asked the kid, who really didn’t enjoy this story much at all, whether he thinks the relationship will last. “He’ll probably get taken over by a Goa’uld,” he said.

Speaking of whom, here’s Anna-Louise Plowman back as Osiris. She hasn’t been seen since the end of season five, probably because there wasn’t a really good reason to bring Osiris/Sarah back during the season where Daniel wasn’t around. She’s trying to poke and prod at Daniel’s subconscious to find some Ancient Secrets, and the two plots come crashing together when Pete decides to stake out Sam while she and the team are staking out Daniel’s house to catch Osiris in the middle of the night. Osiris gets extracted and, presumably, killed, and Daniel’s old girlfriend isn’t seen again.

But Pete’s going to stick around for a little while. I paused the episode to comment, with a growl, that Pete’s pillow talk is absolutely appalling. I don’t know what it is about teevee boyfriends, but I’m willing to wager that if I’d been wining and dining Major Carter and she shared that she does classified government work on deep space telemetry that occasionally requires her going out of the country with no notice, I’d respect the “classified” bit and wouldn’t poke or prod and certainly not use the trust guilt card on the first freaking morning together. How soon until this fling ends, again?

Stargate SG-1 7.14 – Fallout

“Hey, it’s the Mole!” our kid said, and he’s not far wrong. Give me or him a great big underground tunneling machine with a big ol’ drill on the front, and we’re going to see the Mole.

This morning’s episode is a final appearance for Corin Nemec as Jonas Quinn. Having been written out of the show with Michael Shanks’ return at the beginning of the season, he came up with a story to get the team back to his home planet for another mission. Jonas’s planet has three constantly-squabbling nation-states, and experiments with the planet’s super-Macguffin looks like they’re going to end up causing an extinction-level event. Interestingly, all the negotiations come down to offering to resettle the population on the planet Madrona, which was visited briefly once way back in season two. You’d think a much more sensible solution would be to evacuate each nation-state to its own uninhabited planet, but the diplomats are so mad at each other about whose fault this is that they can barely bring themselves to entertain it.

The episode was shot during a period where Richard Dean Anderson was spending more time in Los Angeles and less in Vancouver, so they found a fine way to keep him offscreen for most of this one. The bickering diplomats drive Jack so crazy that General Hammond okays him getting up and leaving! Overall, it’s a pretty cute story, and it’s nice to see Corin Nemec one last time.

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.