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?
Tonight’s episode of SG-1 introduces David Hewlett as Dr. Rodney McKay, who makes no friends at all as he smarms and condescends and talks down to everybody around him, taking such a particular delight in mansplaining to Major Carter at every opportunity that his comeuppance at the end of the episode is doubly delightful. McKay will be back often, and is frequently quite delightfully annoying, but his edges will get sanded down quite a lot before he becomes a regular on Atlantis.
This is a big follow-up to “Desperate Measures” and also ends the revenge storyline between Teal’c and his enemy Tanith. Peter Wingfield doesn’t get a credit or dialogue and that might not have even been him in long shot when Teal’c blows him up, another ignominious end to one of the villains in this series. As before, O’Neill and Maybourne team up to deal with Col. Simmons and his NID goons. The story ends with Simmons and his Goa’uld prisoner arrested, but as is often the case, the details of his downfall are dealt with offscreen. We won’t see them again for almost a year.
Our son was honestly a little restless again this time. This is another story that leads with an all-action teaser with lots of explosions, but it’s mainly people rushing around arguing about various conspiratorial dealings or scientific jargon. He finds the characters and their situations so endearing that he puts up with it a lot better than he would have even a year ago, but he’s just going to have to trust us that McKay eventually becomes one of those characters that you love to hate, emphasis on the love, because right now he’s just rude.
Back to Earth for another conspiracy story, and this one turns into something much like a better than average X Files installment. Major Carter gets abducted while outside the base. It’s not random: somebody in the civilian sector is desperate enough, and wealthy enough, to start paying for access to records about aliens with healing powers. And thanks to the incompetents running the Russians’ Stargate operations, there’s another Jaffa on Earth besides Teal’c, and the long-growing alien inside this guy’s body has reached maturity and needs a new host.
So there are threats and double-dealings and appearances from both Tom McBeath’s and John de Lance’s utterly untrustworthy characters, and some great dialogue between Jack and Maybourne. Marie commented that this wasn’t a funny episode and she shouldn’t be laughing as much as she was, but Richard Dean Anderson’s delivery was really tickling her. The kid followed suit, but that might have been because he’s really sick of Maybourne and wishes that somebody really would finally just shoot him. The story ends with the alien finding a new human host and reaching an agreement with Col. Simmons, which opens all kinds of ugly possibilities which play out over the next year or so.
Surprisingly, this is the first time that Stargate filmed at the former Crease Clinic location of Vancouver’s Riverside Hospital. It’s a familiar sight to anybody who watches TV shows made in town. It was seen frequently in the first couple of years of The X Files, and is still used all the time by contemporary programs like Dirk Gently and the Arrowverse series, where it’s used regularly as Mary’s clinic in Batwoman. You’ve probably seen it a time or ten yourself.
And now back to the summer of 2001, and we resume Stargate SG-1 after skipping a couple of episodes. 5.2 is a clip show, and 5.3 is the worst episode of the show I’ve ever watched (although, as I mentioned earlier this year, I’ve never seen episode 1.4, which right-minded folk swear is even worse). 5.4 certainly isn’t bad. There’s a fun little mystery about the identity of somebody who claims to be the fifth member of SG-1, and why everybody else in SG-1 swears that he has been part of their unit for weeks.
By skipping the previous episode, we missed the first appearance of a new recurring antagonist. John de Lancie plays Colonel Frank Simmons, another mysterious military bureaucrat who seems to have a blank check to go wherever he wants and investigate anything he wants. He kind of takes the place in the narrative of Tom McBeath’s Colonel Maybourne, except Maybourne could at least be trusted, if the chips were down, to pick up a gun and shoot at the real enemy. Simmons would probably pick up the gun, shoot you, and surrender. But de Lancie has had a long career of playing jerks and villains, and at least is entertaining to watch as he’s being rotten.
I thought it was interesting that it looked like Richard Dean Anderson was needed for one or two extra days on location, the tradeoff being he wasn’t needed in any of the studio scenes set back on Earth. Even when it’s a pretty good story like this one, I can’t help wondering about the behind-the-scenes scheduling to make it work. And the kid was very happy with it, especially since he didn’t enjoy the last thing we looked at at all.
See, we had skipped an episode from season two, “Holiday,” which was a bodyswapping story that I didn’t remember liking very much the first time around. After we’d watched the really entertaining bodyswap installment of Farscape, “Out of Their Minds”, a couple of evenings ago, Marie mentioned how much she’d enjoyed Christopher Judge’s perfect, and hilarious, impersonation of Jack O’Neill in “Holiday.” So we dusted it off and watched the kid squirm and make annoying little grumbles all the way through it. This has lots of explosions and shootouts and Teal’c gets to go home with a whacking great big bazooka-like staff cannon, so he had no complaints. He’s nine; it’s the little things.
Well, I wouldn’t say this show went out with a bang. For its final episode, completing its midseason of thirteen hours, the producers of Legend finally remembered that they could do something with the third member of the team. Ramos, played by Mark Adair Rios, has been very much in the background. He’s a Harvard-educated and humorless scientist, all business and never smiling, and usually overlooked. We don’t know anything about him as a person. And this episode proves that this has been a problem: Ramos provides a perfect opportunity to tell stories about the bigotry that all people of Mexican or native descent faced at that time.
This time out, Ramos brings the remains of a corpse found in the hills outside the nearby town of Bell to the sheriff, who’s a condescending racist jerk. Veteran actor John Vernon plays the big landowner who knows a lot more than he’s telling about the theft of cultural treasures. Ramos is in over his head, and unfortunately that’s because he’s written astonishingly out of what character we’ve seen before. He’s always been a careful, rational, quiet scientist, but instead of using him in a clever way to build an interesting case against the villain, he’s swearing vengeance and trying to do it alone. Pratt even warns him that he’s talking like a character from one of his crummy books right before that character gets killed, which you’d think would give a man as smart as Ramos pause. It’s a massive missed opportunity. Clearly more needed to be done with Ramos, but this wasn’t it.
I wasn’t really sure what to expect with this show going in. Despite a couple of misfires, like this one, it more than met my expectations. Legend was whimsical, and occasionally very smart, and I was entertained. Unfortunately, the ratings weren’t strong enough to warrant a full season for the fall of 1995. I think a second season could have been very good. Maybe they could have introduced a couple of regular parts for women, and UPN certainly could have done a better job promoting the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine connections with the writers and producers to get more adventure-teevee fans to tune in. But certainly the opportunity was there for this to build into a sleeper hit if the network had a little patience. But honestly, UPN was in money trouble right out of the gate and they didn’t need sleeper hits, they needed big hits.
But of course, if Legend had turned into a hit, then Richard Dean Anderson wouldn’t have been available for Stargate SG-1 in 1997…
Well, this was very fun! In what feels like a detour into what a second season of Legend might have been like, our heroes decamp to San Francisco for an adventure with Pratt’s mother Delilah. She’s played by Janis Paige and runs a “salon” of bohemians, artists, and oddballs. No wonder Ernest turned out to be a writer. They’re helping a young woman played by Molly Hagan find her family, lost about twenty years previously. Other very familiar faces include Patty Maloney, who plays the Pratt family maid, and James Hong, who plays a man who has purchased a very familiar space…
Well, here’s one for the Wold Newton / Tommy Westphall fans out there. James Hong’s character is the current owner of Cash Conover’s Golden Gate, from Barbary Coast! I was initially amazed that the facade had remained up on its backlot for the twenty years between Coast and Legend, but the reality is that it’s only seen in a pair of establishing shots without any of this episode’s characters in it, and Legend was filmed in Arizona anyway. It’s more likely that this was just repurposed footage from episodes of Coast without Richard Kiel standing in front of the place. Coast was set in 1870-71 and Legend in 1876. Hong’s character has Ernest Pratt’s old gambling markers. I’d like to think that sometime a few years before he ended up in Sheridan, Pratt, losing his shirt at poker, got roped in to one of Cable and Cash’s byzantine plots. He probably had a last smiling freeze frame shot before the credits with his arm around whoever was playing the redhead dealer that week.
Anyway, the plot of this episode was nothing too out of the ordinary – the person who wants Molly Hagan out of town wants her out of the way of a possible inheritance, can you imagine? – but I enjoyed the setting and the characters and the cast almost as much as my silly speculation. A second year of Legend in San Francisco with all these oddballs and a great character like Delilah Pratt would certainly have been worth watching.
As we watched tonight’s episode, “Fall of a Legend,” I noticed a couple of amusing similarities to an episode of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.. In “Brisco for the Defense,” our Harvard-educated pal introduced the people of that story’s community to the concept of fingerprints, which Bartok does here. Both shows also hold their trials in the town saloon, to save the expense of building a new set. Taking the budget issues even further on Legend, Robert Donner, in his final appearance as Chamberlain Brown, acts as both judge and prosecuting attorney, and explains that his medical testimony as town taxidermist will have to do because the real doc is miles away battling a flu outbreak. Three speaking parts for the price of one!
After the episode, we chatted a little about Legend, Bartok, and Ramos disguising themselves as traveling fortune tellers. They use the word “gypsy” at least twice in the dialogue and it’s also painted on the side of their wagon. That’s certainly a word that would have been used in the 1870s, and I’m not surprised that a program made in 1995 – you guys, that was a quarter of a century ago! – would use the word casually, even as they came up with a tamer-for-1995 word, “Mex,” for a bigot to use in place of several other, harsher words that a nasty creep in the 1870s might have actually said about a Spanish-speaking field worker.
I personally had no idea that many Romani people considered “gypsy” a crude pejorative term, if not an outright hostile insult, for several years after 1995, because I honestly knew so little about the Romani people. So we talked as a family about how we don’t need to use the term anymore; it comes with too much of a history of hate.
It takes a while for language to evolve and for people to quit using words. Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith all deployed “the N word” in well-known songs in the seventies, all in different contexts, but while two of the three still perform those songs in concerts, I doubt they’d use that word in a new song today. I’ve been known to sing along to “Oliver’s Army” or “Hurricane” but replace the word with “figure,” even when alone. “Gypsy” isn’t there yet. It’s not “the G word” yet. Changing the behavior of decades isn’t easy. Maybe catching these things at age eight will help.
I enjoy a good story where the attempted solutions keep creating bigger and bigger and more ridiculous problems. In tonight’s episode of Legend, our hero’s publisher dumps a Prussian baron on Pratt. The baron is in charge of distribution of the Legend novels in Europe, with all the attendant royalties, and has demanded that Legend take him on a buffalo hunt. Two problems with this: Pratt, Bartok, and Ramos really want no part of a big game hunt, and the only buffalo anywhere near Sheridan are on Arapaho land.
Negotiations, lies, baloney and subterfuge later, the Germans end up taking their leave when somehow, an Arapaho spirit called “Thunderhooves” makes a dramatic midnight appearance. All should be well, except three weeks later, the Germans return with a mob of gun-toting maniacs, one of them named Gizzard-Eating Williams, all of whom want to hunt this gigantic beast. Things continue spiraling out of control until a giant mechanical flame-throwing buffalo is storming down the city’s main street, and only Legend can save the day…
Give everybody involved in this one credit: they came up with a plot which I honestly cannot imagine on any other television program. This one was ridiculous and incredibly entertaining. Our son says it’s his favorite episode, and that he was reminded of Godzilla. It wasn’t that big a monster, really…
We’ve been overdue a good dinosaur story. All right, so Dr. Science was a little unconvinced that an old tribe, several hundred years ago, assembled a great big dinosaur skeleton, upright, in a secret cave. But all credit to Legend‘s production team, the reveal is a really impressive one. Our heroes and their colleagues go sliding down an old trap door, Indiana Jones-style, into the cave. Our son enjoyed this whole adventure, but this was certainly his favorite moment.
It’s a fine episode, with lots to chew on and a good mystery about who killed a young paleontologist. There’s a great scene where, after breaking in to a business’s safe for the umpteenth time, Pratt and Bartok discuss plans to come up with better security systems, so that places like this can be protected from people like them. Regarding the cast, this one features the second and final appearance of Ana Auther as Henrietta. Beth Toussaint and regular TV tough-guy Patrick Kilpatrick also appear.
I enjoyed the heck out of this one, and not only because Bartok invents a freeze gun in it. In “The Gospel According to Legend,” a traveling preacher played by guest star Robert Englund comes to Sheridan, but Pratt recognizes him as a con artist from San Francisco who had been locked up in Alcatraz, convicted of embezzlement. Our hero’s ready for conflict, but the preacher doesn’t even pass a collection plate around. Apart from grumbling about Bartok, because he’s a scientist, the guy seems on the level. It’s not like hearing a preacher warn against the dangers of science is anything new or unusual, so what’s his game? It all kept me guessing for most of the adventure.
And it gave us a great opportunity to have a chat with our son about people who claim God’s always on their side afterward, especially the ones who don’t like what science might be telling them. He replied how we have to watch out for people like that in TV shows like this, and sadly we had to tell him that this is a conversation that more people in the real world need to have about everybody.
Well, the first five Legend episodes were a lot better than this. “Knee-High Noon” does have some very good gags, particularly the ones involving a Trojan cow used for rustler surveillance, but otherwise the plot is incredibly predictable. Mary-Margaret Humes, from Eerie, Indiana, guest stars as a conniving stage mom who arrives in Sheridan and aims to introduce a Legend Jr. character to Ernest’s line of dime novels, with all the attendant royalties, merchandise, and personal appearance fees. Since she didn’t anticipate that Ernest actually does make enemies while working as Legend, nothing happens that’s in any way surprising. At least we enjoyed the terse, three-word solution to the problem that Ernest’s publisher wires to Sheridan.