Stargate SG-1 8.2 – New Order (part two)

The Sci-Fi Channel definitely made the right choice in airing these two episodes as a single feature. Part two is far better than the first half, and illustrates just how badly the show needs Richard Dean Anderson’s wit and light touch. Somebody must have realized that if he ever were to leave the show, then they will have to radically rethink all the personal dynamics of the cast. Amazingly, they get it just about perfect in year nine, and it’s such a shame the program will eventually get bogged down with such unpleasant villains.

So anyway, we’re back on familiar ground, with Erector-set bug Replicators getting blasted into blocks and weird new weapons being developed to stop them. Unfortunately, there’s a Human-form Replicator who’s got Carter in what can only be described as a virtual reality prison, which seemed about ten years behind the times in 2004 and is so predictable that even our son wasn’t surprised when he starts looking like Carter’s boyfriend Pete, who was introduced in “Chimera” and has been offscreen since. Still, everybody else’s plot is interesting.

And back on Earth, there’s a really fascinating development which the show sadly doesn’t really use anywhere near as well as it might have. Three villains had come to Earth in part one, and that fellow in the middle, Camulus, played by Steve Basic, says he doesn’t want to go back with the rest. He asks for asylum on Earth. We’ve never had a Goa’uld switch sides like this before, but he knows that he’s lost and doesn’t have the resources to fight Baal.

We did give our son a big clue in that Torri Higginson’s character would be moving over to Atlantis, but the other predictable thing for him is the closing revelation that O’Neill, promoted to brigadier general, gets to be the new commander of the SGC, which will allow Richard Dean Anderson to take a regularly short workweek and not have to go out on location shoots as often. It’s a move that makes a lot of sense, apart from SG-1 not getting a fourth member to replace him. The program has shown us repeatedly that four is the ideal number for a unit. Until it becomes five, anyway.

Stargate SG-1 8.1 – New Order (part one)

July 9 and 16 2004 saw one of the biggest publicity blitzes that the Sci-Fi Channel had ever undertaken. They really pushed the debut of SG-1 season eight and the launch of Stargate Atlantis. For the previous seven years, I was only vaguely aware that a TV show based on that silly Stargate movie even existed at all, somewhere, but that summer, they penetrated my bubble and made sure that even I knew about it. I didn’t watch it, mind you, but I heard people talking about Atlantis. There was definitely buzz, probably more than the franchise ever had.

Unfortunately, I’d love to say that SG-1 took advantage of this buzz with a ground-level, action-packed, and viewer-friendly relaunch and a two-hour event to thrill new audiences. Instead, they carried on, business as usual, with an extremely dense continuation of everything that’s been seen before. The “previously on Stargate SG-1” montage covered two episodes, but many more than that were necessary to make any sense of this. Even stranger, the previous story had been shown as a two-parter over two weeks but the DVD presents it as a single movie-length episode. This was shown as a movie but the DVD splits it in two. Make up your mind, guys!

So the kid was kind of disappointed in this, because the amazing revelation of the Antarctic outpost station of the Ancients that we saw last time, with its underground super-cannon and stasis chamber, is only talked about. And talked about, a lot. The action is with a separate plot, as Sam and Teal’c deal with the return of one of the human-form Replicators that we met in season six. Back on Earth, Daniel and Dr. Weir, now played by Torri Higginson, get to talk endlessly about the outpost with three of the villains.

The peace treaty is actually the episode’s biggest surprise. I couldn’t resist; when the Gate is activated off-world, I told our son “You won’t believe who that is.” In the weeks since the previous episode and the apparent death of Anubis, all the System Lords were taken off-guard when Baal struck first against all of them, and now three of them – two new-to-us and the welcome return of Vince Crestejo as Yu the Great – have swallowed their pride and come to try to get Earth to use some of that underground super-cannon action to take out Baal. Even he’s offscreen! One great little touch, though, is that Yu’s First Prime must remain on-hand to cover his master’s ever-increasing senility. As we learned a year previously, this villain is dying.

This really does feel like a miscalculation on so many levels. This is all seen-it, done-it stuff for fans with long memories, and not the hundreds of thousands who tuned in for the first time that Friday night in ’04. We’ve even seen Yu the Great at the same conference table before, back at the beginning of season three. We’ll see how things go when we check out part two later tonight. I know it gets more exciting, but will our son manage to stay awake for it?

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 7.19 – Resurrection

Here’s an interesting situation. “Resurrection” is clearly one of the season cheapies. The entire episode is set in a group of apparently abandoned factories in Los Angeles where some of Colonel Maybourne’s old goons from the NID have been continuing alien experiments. So there’s some location work in some ugly, dark old warehouses and industrial plants and all the rest is in dimly-lit studio sets. Richard Dean Anderson and Don S. Davis are credited, but not present. It was written and directed by two of the show’s stars, Michael Shanks and Amanda Tapping. I wonder whether they were told that yes, they could write and direct, but they’d have no special effects and only four other speaking parts. Grace under pressure, I suppose.

Although, credit where it’s due, given the opportunity to write a script and give himself a space girlfriend like Christopher Judge did to my playful amusement, Shanks tactfully resisted asking for somebody like Tricia Helfer or Jeri Ryan so he could smooch a big-name sci-fi guest star. The guest’s name is Kristen Dalton and Shanks doesn’t smooch her.

Well, I enjoyed this one, even if our son didn’t. There’s an interesting little continuity connection with season four’s “The Curse”, which revealed that two of the long-dead villain Ra’s underlings/adversaries had been sealed in canopic jars. One had died in captivity and one became a recurring villain for a while. This time, we learn that a third, Sekhmet, had also been imprisoned. The Goa’uld symbiote had been extracted from the jar and its DNA harvested by these almost-as-bad-as-the-bad-guys rogue NID goons for several years. It tickled my X Files nostalgia circuits with all the running around in warehouses with flashlights and a cigarette smoking man who won’t tell anybody what they want to know, but our son just saw it as 45 minutes of arguing with the lights out. There are a few moments of levity as Bill Dow’s recurring character tries to disarm a bomb, but no, this one wasn’t for him.

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.

Stargate SG-1 7.10 – Birthright

And then there was that time that actor Christopher Judge, who had written a couple of pretty good episodes already – most recently “The Changeling” in season six – decided that his character needed a space girlfriend. So he wrote another pretty good episode and passed it along with the hopes that actress Jolene Blalock, who had a regular part in Star Trek: Enterprise, might be available to play Ishta. Judge, you sly devil, you.

I tease, but this is another pretty good episode from Judge, who clearly worked out a lot of the backstory of Teal’c’s people, and how they can one day – and that day’s coming soon – be free from their oppressors. A big chunk of that is getting the Jaffa free from hosting symbiotes, which their physiology demands from puberty, the result of centuries of genetic engineering. Teal’c and his mentor have been taking an experimental drug instead of a symbiote, and now they meet a new group, Ishta’s gang of rebels, who need new symbiotes for the children in their ranks. The humans want to give these rebels the option of the drug, but isn’t that just trading subservience to the alien baddies for reliance on a drug from Earth? How can they be sure humanity can be trusted, or even that the drug will work long-term when their kids need it now?

I think it’s a fascinating moral dilemma and it’s a very nicely-directed story with lots of location filming, but unfortunately our son was not very impressed. He said he couldn’t really connect with the problem and didn’t understand it much. Plus, there are lots of scenes with Judge and Blalock quietly talking about their dead lovers and letting go of things past. He’s been around the block enough times to know this sort of talk leads to smooching.