Once you get past the episode being written, in part, for the slowest possible member of the audience, they had a lot of fun making this parallel universe story. I’m sure anybody reading this was exposed to the concept at a very young age. We take it for granted now, at last, but when this was first shown 15 years ago, MGM must have figured that it’s just possible somebody tuning into the Sci-Fi Channel to watch this might just be a newbie, meaning poor Beau Bridges had to play General Landry as twelve steps behind everyone else while they catch him up. It does result in a funny line about the SGC becoming the Grand Central Station of the Multiverse, but really, he should have said “Okay, parallel universe scenario, Carter, get to work,” and saved a minute. With the constant references to older, similar weird situations in earlier episodes (including two non-faves), they should probably already have a code name for this and a battleplan laid out.
What they did with this story was playful and amusing and pretty smart, and brought back some familiar faces like Teryl Rotherty and J.R. Bourne, whose characters had died in our continuity, but with (at least) eighteen different SG-1 teams in the base, they really didn’t do nearly enough. Amanda Tapping has to deliver a gigantic load of technobabble, even for this show, and I swear they could have cut almost all of it to give us more silliness.
So there are all these new SG-1s at play, and we only meet two and glimpse a couple of others, apart from the Room Full of Sams, and that feels like a missed opportunity. By chance, we came to this episode the same weekend as Spider-Man: No Way Home, which doesn’t waste a minute with explanations of things the audience has understood for many years, but I thought that was also a missed opportunity. Only two guest universes? With Maguire and Garfield only mentioning characters we’d already seen? I wish both productions had gone a little bit bigger.
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.
Like I noted with the last episode of Atlantis that we watched, I’ve enjoyed pointing out where MGM and the network looked for some notable stars from other SF TV shows for guest parts. “Babylon” marks the first of two appearances by William B. Davis as Damaris, one of the Priors of the Ori. Davis, of course, was the Cigarette Smoking Man in The X Files along with sixty-eleven other things. By every account a heck of a nice man in real life, onscreen he’s the perfect choice for a really creepy old dude. He doesn’t really do much in this appearance, though. Just the sight of him is enough to know that things are lousy.
Our son was fascinated by the community in this story and grumbled that they didn’t spend even more time on it, despite much of the episode – what felt like the whole story – being centered around it. Our heroes go in search of a legendary group of Jaffa called the Sodan who freed themselves from slavery five thousand years ago and live in an isolated village protected by Ancient tech. As is common with television tradition-and-honor-before-common sense warriors, there’s a bit of samurai code to them. The Sodan are led by a tough guy played by the great Tony Todd, who we saw in a Xena episode last year, but he’s falling sway to the Prior’s silver tongue and is about ready to throw away all that tradition and honor for the Ori’s hocus pocus. Mitchell’s able to get through to one of the Sodan. We’ll see later in the season it does not go well for the rest of them.
Summing up this episode once it was over, our son said that he wasn’t sure what to think of it, beyond not liking the Ori and their Priors, especially since this story has shown, as Marie put it, “they’re here to play hardball.” So this builds on the earlier installments this season, but also lets Daniel get a good point in that won’t be explained for a few more weeks. We don’t know why the Ori are so obsessed with converting new worshippers. (The truth is ugly and also explains why they have to kill non-believers. More on that in episodes 10-11, I think.)
So this clown, who we met earlier this season and was since made into a Prior, has a deeply ugly scheme to convert a poverty-stricken planet. He infects everybody with a nasty disease – possibly the same one that SG-1 dug out of Antarctic ice in season six – and only cures them once the people beg for his help. Earth medicine won’t work, and neither will those handy-dandy Goa’uld healing devices the show’s always had around, so it’s accept Origin or die.
There’s a little more to this story that’s a lot more entertaining. The poverty-stricken planet is one that Vala ruled for many years when she was host to the System Lord Qetesh. But Vala being Vala, once the System Lord symbiote had been removed by some of Earth’s allies four years ago, Vala kept up the charade, for treasures and massages, although to her small credit, she did at least stop the mass executions. Something I really like here is that this series has shown us humans being tried for the crimes of their symbiote villains a couple of times before. This time, Daniel objects that Vala should only be held responsible for what she did in the last four years, and the locals, happily, immediately agree, saving a lot of time. Not that she wasn’t a completely indefensible jerk four the last four years, but let’s make sure we’re trying the right villain, you know?
If the previous three episodes of SG-1 were heavy to the point of being ponderous, here’s the lovely “Ties That Bind” to give audiences a breather. This one is a hilarious caper story in reverse. Of course we all loved it. The kid laughed like a hyena throughout it. Is this among the best SG-1 adventures? Absolutely. It should have been as silly and fun as this every week.
Not long before visiting Earth, Vala had pulled a series of swaps, steals, and scams, and now they have to retrace her steps to get some information, which one person won’t divulge without x, which is now in the hands of a man who wants y, which is unavailable without first obtaining z, which is in the hands of those two barely competent, shoot-first traders we met last season. Beautifully, one key link in this mess is played by the great Wallace Shawn, who is tired, resigned, defeated, gullible, and still heartbroken after Vala left him. It’s not a large part, but I don’t think anybody could have played it as well. The casting director must have danced on the ceiling when he agreed.
“Origin” is effectively the third part of a three-parter, and it goes into detail about the new bunch of big bads, the Ori and their superpowered human Priors. Our son got a little grouchy about these guys and the convert-or-die policy of their religion. The Priors believe that humans have free will, and would naturally use that freedom to freely worship. Otherwise, they have been corrupted by evil and must be destroyed. And there lies the structural flaw with having this kind of a villain. Their sort shows up in the real world enough as it is, and it’s always depressing and annoying. I really wish they’d have come up with some interesting and challenging additional threats rather than just the religious bores.
On the other hand, our son did enjoy the really fast pace and exciting resolution to this story. And there’s an interesting observation about why this is absolutely the worst possible time for religious fanatics to start a crusade. Our heroes’ allies, the Jaffa, have only just been freed from generations of enslavement to the false gods, the Goa’uld. It’s only natural that charlatans and opportunists would try to step into the power vacuum. It’s just our bad luck that these particular opportunists can back it up. Oh, and our kid enjoyed a great little Buckaroo Banzai reference as Mitchell exchanges meaningless phrases with a Prior. He probably enjoyed the reference more than he did the movie, to be honest.
Joining the recurring cast this time, we’ve got two new faces. Julian Sands makes the first of three appearances as the Doci, the leader of the Priors. Surprised there were so few; I wrongly remembered that he’s in more. Plus there’s Louis Gossett Jr., a powerful leader among the Jaffa who is going to show up in four of the next eight episodes as the big political machinations of Teal’c’s people rumbles in the show’s background. The actors will briefly get some screen time together in the big midseason finale, which I remember as being really stunning. I’m looking forward to that.
So with season nine of SG-1, they had to move on from Richard Dean Anderson, who appears, briefly, to pass the torch, and, at least initially, from Amanda Tapping, who also makes a short cameo. This story is also the final appearance of Obi Ndefo as one of our heroes’ allies in space. But there’s a pile of new faces, including Ben Browder as the new action lead, Cam Mitchell, Beau Bridges as General Landry, and Lexa Doig as Landry’s daughter, the new chief medical officer at Stargate Command. Cam has to put the team back together because even though the System Lords were defeated, there’s still a lot more exploring that needs doing.
I don’t like season nine as much as I’d hoped because the new baddies this year are so dull that they make me miss the System Lords. For all their conceptual faults, they were at least played by a variety of interesting actors and had colorful costumes. Occasionally they’d get to let a fun, malevolent personality shine through. The Ori and their Priors are overpowered, joyless, old dudes with AARP cards. At least one that I remember we get to will be played by an actor everybody likes, but these guys are out to conquer the universe taking as little pleasure from the experience as possible.
So thank God, basically, that Claudia Black gets to return for a six-week engagement while Amanda Tapping was on maternity leave. I think the producers rewatched her performance in last year’s “Prometheus Unbound” and decided that since she was going to steal the show for six weeks anyway, they’d just give her all the best lines and let Vala be as flirtatious, fun, and obnoxious as possible. Season nine will suffer a little after she leaves, because as much as everybody likes Ben Browder, he doesn’t have that lightness of touch that Richard Dean Anderson brought to make this show relaxed and light. Claudia Black gets the job of keeping the viewers smiling while the situation gets dark. Is Vala my favorite character in the show? By a mile. And we’ll meet my second favorite alien villain in a few weeks, too!